I grew up without shoes-we’ll at least in the summer that is. I mean, I had shoes, but getting them on to my feet most days, when I was a child was a battle that I think my mum finally realized she couldn’t win.
There is something extremely liberating about being barefoot, giving those toes a break from their bindings, allowing them to sink into sand or grass or scrape across harder surfaces-because many of us do it so rarely, I think it somehow adds an extra sense to our body-beyond touch, allowing us to recognize familiar textures, but making us pay a bit more attention to them.
Not all my barefoot experiences have been positive. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve stubbed my big toe, not to mention screaming in agony each time a bull ant felt hungry and thought my baby toe looked like a mini croissant. Or how many times I’ve run faster than I knew possible just to get away from burning sand or bubbling bitumen-cursing myself for forgetting I hadn’t actually ever learned to walk across hot coals. And then of course there are the splinters, those little pieces of wood which always manage to find some way of reminding you that you are in fact mortal.
The surface I most like to walk on, is of course, grass. You can find it in almost every part of the world, from mountain tops to ocean edges. It’s the most important plant family on the planet and comes in all shapes and sizes. Grasses directly give us 60% of our s food supply-amazing- with air, water and animals-including us, being responsible for dispursing the sees of most. They stabilize soil and re-vegetate areas all over the globe, and they make great hiding places for creatures great and small.
My favourite grass is of course the stuff of lawns. I’d never really given the history of the lawn much thought until a few months ago when I had the great pleasure of reading Yuval Noah Harari’s excellent book Homo Sapiens. Harari actually believes that we should think twice about having a lawn, but really, he’s speaking in political and cultural terms because, as he explains it, lawns, historically were a status symbol of the nobility. Which makes sense-lawns demand a lot of work and upkeep, and nobility were the only ones who could afford to waste precious land used by so many to feed their communities, and by having a front lawn, they were truly able to flaunt their wealth, not just faking it ‘till they made it’.
I’m fortunate enough to live in a city with plenty of parks and grassy areas. Every chance I get I take my shoes off and relish these unbridled moments. Currently, my city is full of purple snow. Trees called Jacaranda, are, like every year about this time, in full bloom, dropping beautiful vibrant purple flowers like paracutes sending down survival kits to insects. They make a carpet of purple across the ground and attract bees from all over town. Bees love to find the fallen flowers, working their pollenating magic. This can, therefore, lead to some very careful treading across these green grassy spaces.
It’s not just this extra sensory physical experience though which has many of us barefoot in the park. There are plenty of, perhaps not overly scientific studies which prove that being barefoot-on any surface is actually really good for us. Called ‘grounding’, letting your soles run naked stimulates nerve endings in the feet-a kind of reflexology which helps our bodies stay in equilibrium.
Some say that this grounding to the earth directly connects us to the earth’s magnetic field, thereby neutralizing our electrical energies-which is a good thing.
Regardless of what you believe, walking barefoot can be an absolute delight-There are many places where we are not allowed to walk on grass, many parks in Paris for instance, and as Harari tells it, the major lawn at Oxford university only allows being walked just one day a year-a fact I don’t really understand, because, I do it every chance I get.
Short of jumping a fence into some forbidden carpet of green, maybe today, on your way home, you give it a go- even if it’s just a nature strip-why not kick off those shoes and socks, ground yourself down and relish in the magic of the earth.
Just watch out for those bees.
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