Splish-Splash, These Old Shoes Are a Blast

My daughter dangled a pair of ratty blue sneakers above the trash, dancing them on their strings.

"I don't know if I should throw these away," she said. "I already have a pair of creek shoes."

Before I could add my 2 cents (you can't have too many creek shoes), she made her decision and bopped from the room, swinging the frazzled shoes.

I smiled. She's 16 and takes her fashion cues - from footwear to pore strips - from the latest teen magazines. Yet even she can't resist the appeal of a perfectly battered pair of creek shoes.

Only sneakers that have outserved their purpose on earth will do for creek shoes. When their toes tatter and curl and the soles slope and slap, they're ready for this grandest recycling tradition. They're ready to tread rocks and water at places like Bee's Bluff, Cow's Creek, Slick Rock, and Big Sugar.

Where I wade in southwest Missouri, we aren't blessed with beaches of soft, wimpled grains of sand. We're blanketed with rocks of character - some smooth and skippable, but others gnarly and as jagged as George Washington's profile.

This is why we keep our creek shoes handy. You never know when you'll come upon a wading creek in 90-plus-degree weather and get an overwhelming urge to step right in. You can't do that in $100 leather loafers or dressy red heels.

IN my family, some of our creek trips through the years have been carefully orchestrated - the minivan layered with inner tubes, ice chests, lawn chairs, and 10 pounds of reading material for a one-day visit. But other trips are spur-of-the-moment, creek-shoes-only, such as when my mom calls on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

"You want to ride over to Center Creek and stick your feet in the water?" she asks. I repeat the question to my nine-year-old son.

Silly question.

"Then grab your creek shoes," Mom says. "I'm on my way!"

After clearing the roughest rocks on the bank for a patch to sit, we remove our good shoes and place them high and dry. We wriggle into our airy creek shoes with the skinned soles and the chewed laces.

My son hits the ankle-deep water first, sending crawdads skittering and minnows swirling. They spurt away too fast for little hands. Instead, he plucks up a copper-colored rock and studies its hollows and bumps.

Mom rolls her green-polyester pant legs over her stark-white knees and ventures in. "Ooh, that cools me clear to my brow!" she says.

And it does.

As I bask in the sunshine, I study my feet. In all my creek-going years, I've known just a few toughfoots who could shed their good shoes and step barefoot, without grimacing, onto these rocks.

Not me. By summer's end, my tan line will begin at my ankles at the top of these pathetic shoes. They will have earned another toe hole where water and pebbles can seep in. Between creek trips, the shoes will bake dry, stiff, and crunchy on the front porch.

These demoted shoes, unfit for work or even for strolling the supermarket, are my favorite.

And two pairs of creek shoes?

Ah, what luxury!

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