Thursday, March 20, 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday (March 20, 2014) -- Preserving Ephemeral Treasures

Admittedly, not everything can be saved to document one's life or that of ancestors and descendants. Even the most dedicated Pack Rat would run more than a serious risk of transcending into the realm of hoarders if there was an attempt to save every scrap of paper and item owned over a lifetime. 

There are some items, however, that clearly deserve more than an undignified and quickly forgotten trip to the local landfill. Some items are deservedly ephemeral in their physical existence, yet they warrant some preservation for the memories and stories they can unleash -- and so their images at least should be preserved. This post provides a case in point.

Shortly after graduating from the College of William and Mary, our older son decided to attempt a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail with one of his best friends. They started late in the season and so unlike most through-hikers they began in Maine and went north to south rather than the reverse (in order to be hiking away from the oncoming fall and winter). One of the obstacles and challenges in the Maine section of the AT is the so-called "Hundred Mile Wilderness.

A simple and much appreciated pleasure in long backpacking treks is the ability to shed one's hiking boots at the end of the day and let the feet breathe; but safety also requires making sure the feet are still protected -- especially if the closest place for help and supplies is up to 100 miles away! All prudent backpackers will therefore carry some kind of light-weight "camp shoes" to wear around the campsite when not hiking. Crocs have been particularly popular for this use because they are light, easily slip on and off, and present no worries about getting them wet. They are almost perfect for wearing when a water crossing becomes necessary during a trek.  

Unfortunately for our son, his Crocs proved to be easily removed from his feet during the crossing of a fast-moving river -- and they quickly, irretrievably disappeared downstream once they were dislodged from his feet. His Crocs are now somewhere in Maine on the feet of a downstream bear or in the backpack of a lucky hiker who found them jammed between rocks and who also has size 14 feet.

As they say, safety and necessity are the parents of invention (I just made up that little twist!) and so our intrepid hiker found himself having to fashion something to protect his feet in and around each night's campsite as he and his friend tackled the Hundred Mile Wilderness -- because of course the loss of the Crocs happened early in this section of the AT!

The rest of the story of the AT trek can perhaps be told another time, but suffice it to say the hikers survived the Hundred Mile Wilderness and more of the AT, but hiking boots also became a casualty of the trek -- thus leaving only the Crocs replacements for footwear when the hikers arrived in Boston. Our son's trail-made sandals consisted largely of some thick paper, nylon twine, adhesive tape, and the ultra-useful duct tape that is often carried by backpackers. They are pictured below just as they appeared when surreptitiously rescued recently from an undignified trip to the local landfill. 

There is probably no hope that our son's great great grandchildren are going to possess and treasure as a family heirloom these marvels born of necessity (is there JPWT??), but perhaps these images of their ancestor's  emergency sandals will survive and be the catalyst for recounting the story of his AT trek way back in 2006. These images of the ephemeral objects themselves will preserve at least one of those most precious of family treasures -- the stories that make up the highs and lows of our lives and those of our ancestors.
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Photograph of the Hundred Mile Wilderness caution sign by Bob Walker and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. From

Photographs of the trail-made sandals by the author and now in the family collection!

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Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
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  1. Oh my gosh, it's hard to imagine wearing those around the house, let alone for part of a trek or in the city! I can only guess at the stories those sandals could tell if they could talk -- but hopefully, your son will tell the stories because of the preserved photos. Good job retrieving and photographing them, John.

    1. Thank you for your comment Nancy!

      Our son and his wife are actually visiting a week from today and I plan to present him with his sandals. Perhaps we can coax some stories out of him them. ;-)