there once was a man whose feet hurt. everywhere he stepped, prickly things stabbed his skin. if not thorns and briars, it was sharp-edged rocks and gravel. when it snowed, the cold burned. when sun poured over the land, the heat seared. he was tired of blistered, aching, sore, painful feet.

so he covered the world with leather.

it stretched over the prickly things, the broken pieces of what were once great boulders, the icy snow, the desert sand that held heat long after the sun sunk beneath the horizon each day. he walked everywhere he wanted, his toes relaxed, his heels gently rolling with each step. the land was now predictable and safe, and never again did his feet blister, ache, suffer wounds, or cause him pain.

no more arrowleaf balsamroot with its sharply pointed leaves and bright yellow petals, no more pungent sagebrush or leafing lavender. river-worn stones and ragged rocks now lay beneath the leather, springs and creeks and glaciers, too. the world was smooth and even.

the man walked until he stopped. he sat on the leather, and thought about what the world had looked like back when his feet hurt. he thought about how it felt when his feet hurt, and how it felt when they healed from the hurt. he thought about the tickle of lichen on his soles, and of trillium leaves against his ankles. the rub of millions of grains of dry sand, the shock of snow, the hypnotic caress of warm rain puddling around his feet. he thought of his many scrapes and bleeding cuts, how the skin had gradually come back together, how the scars were now fine lines of stories, poetry on his toes. on his insteps. on his rising arches and on the shallow indentation between ankle bone and achilles tendon.

he thought about what lay beneath his leather. he contemplated his feet. and then he took his knife, and split the leather. he peeled it open, and uncovered the springs and talus, the glaciers and rivers, the pine needle covered trails, the thorns and thistles and waving lupine. he stepped onto the pebbly soil and grimaced. stepped again and winced. moved more firmly onto his path, and felt the needles, the rocks, the shells and twigs and heat and cold, the wet, the tickle, and then he felt a stone slice the bottom of his foot and he smiled.


(with gratitude to kim dastrup and bob rolfs, and to shantideva, from whom the roots of this story come.)