|I WAS SERIOUSLY SPOOKED. I drove hard to the nearest town, a stalled-out, wary place, and spent the night. I returned to the tree the next day. The sky had cleared, but the tree was no less scrofulous, just more familiar.
I got out my last pair of thongs. The ladder-toss, from about 20 feet away, failed to reach even the lowest branches and landed at my feet.
I helicopter-spun. Gained some height, not enough distance. The shoes fell into a five-foot-deep gulch, on top of an all-weather steel-belted radial.
I retrieved them and circled the tree. Stalked it. Threw sand to gauge the wind. Tried something new: a bodacious windmill, worthy of a cartoon pitcher in the game of his life.
Up and away those sweatshop flip-flops went. Past dun Birkenstocks, oxblood Rockports, Ponys, Asics, Pumas, Tecnicas, Sauconys. Past the Grinch slippers and the World's Biggest Bra. Past sturdy Reeboks and stately New Balances. Past even a pair of heavy logging boots Paul Bunyan himself must have tossed. Finally, beyond the aerie of a pair of haughty Nikes. Twisting like porpoises, they defied, then succumbed to, gravity.
NOTHING BUT BRANCH.
ABOUT THEN A BIG guy pulled up in a big pickup. Ugly son of a pup, he said, pointing his chin at the tree.
Yeah, he had some shoes up there somewheres from a long ways back. He ranched nearby. Come back in a few months, he said. His fiancée, after the wedding, was gonna nail her dress and shoes to the trunk facing the highway. Just for the hell of it.
That, he kidded me not, was gonna bring a few vehicles to a screeching g.d. halt.
THERE WAS SOMETHING a little too aggressively hearty about the big guy. Suddenly I was road-weary. I'd had my fill of desolation. I was—like that!—ready to get back home. If I balled the jack I could be there in two days. I picked up a fallen shoe-tree branch for Mary Ann, threw it in the trunk, started the car, and floored it east, kicking grit behind me like Broderick Crawford's Buick.
Bryan Di Salvatore wrote about Mountainfreak magazine in May 2000