There was a left. There was a right. They were a pair of women’s Keen Venice H2 sport sandals in cameo/apricot, size 7.5. For six years, my feet lived in those shoes, having discovered the stability of Keens several fly-fishing seasons before. They were comfortable beyond measure, sturdy crossing the kitchen, the airport or the red clay of a northern Wisconsin trail. I wore them to work, to collect agates and to protest. Lately, I’ve worn them not all, kicking them carelessly to the shadow of the car as dogs and I spilled out onto Friendly Valley Road, so eager to get our toes scoured by quartz sands along the beaches of Lake Superior.
That’s how it ended. Two careless kicks, right then left, and a bear ate my Keens.
Six years ago, it was a Pointer pup, half roan, half liver and all fangs who first developed a taste for my sport sandals—specifically the left back strap. It was only my second pair of Keens in a lifetime and they were brand new. To my horror, I found the pup quietly sawing through the ankle strap with teeth as sharp as battle axes. To the credit of quality materials and shoemanship, the left sandal survived, frayed but intact. Only a few people ever noticed, yet many have gazed upon my Keens.
If my Keens could sing they would harmonize heartily, “I’ve been everywhere, man. / Crossed the desert’s bare, man. / I’ve breathed the mountain air, man. / Of travel I’ve had my share, man. / I’ve been everywhere.”
Both my Keen Venice H2 sport sandals in cameo/apricot, size 7.5 have journeyed as far as wandering hobbits. Camping trips, to be sure, which led us to the Northshore of Lake Superior, that rugged mass of ancient rock weathered by glaciers, water and wind. How sturdy my feet felt in Keens as my husband stood too close to precipices over Superior shores as if my own stability to steady his dangerous steps. What a comfort it was to slip so easily into these sandals and trot off to the Forest Service semblance of an outhouse without having to don socks or lace shoes. There would not have been a single campfire meal prepared without my feet comfortable and steady in Keens.
From the granite dells Prescott, AZ to the humid prairies of Kansas, my Keens have walked beside the children I love—my own and my nieces and nephews. We’ve been to countless Midwest graduations and a few weddings in six years. My Keens carried me to NYC on an Amtrak train, through the subways and back to Chicago where I hopped on the Megabus with my 20-year old daughter in time to witness a fight between passengers and the bus driver and Chicago’s finest who just wanted to see us all gone. Go we did, only to stop as another passenger had a heart attack. My Keens kept me grounded as I found myself the first—and only—responder until the ambulance arrived.
Other astonishing adventures have come and gone, witnessed by Keens. Who would have thought that I would ever get to hitch up a real sled dog to a skijourring belt around my waist and run it through the woods of northern MN? Okay, I did not run, but my Keens were able and ready had the dog bolted with me. Later that day my Keens carried me to neighboring homesteads where the Communist Fins once carved out saunas, cabins and manifestos. I ate fresh blueberries in coffee-flavored yogurt, sat among honey bees and walked through a community completely off the grid. From Brimson to the Alamo, from New York to Nevada, from the Cramer Cabin at McGregor to the Bridges of Madison County, and all the airports, road trips and jeep trails in-between, my sandals have sported my travels.
My Keens have seen miles of Lake Superior shoreline and have even ventured to Lake Michigan as I explored the peninsula of cherry-famous Door County, WI with my eldest daughter and a group of geologists. We saw summer-blue lake, blooming trillium and goats feeding on a sod roof. My Keens have scanned the Kenai River of Alaska and stepped aside as salmon were hooked and netted (my sandals were satisfied to let others fish as I took time to plot scenes and characters for my novel).
In fact, my Keens were constant as writing companions. They’ve been to three retreats—two along the Mississippi River, dividing MN from WI in the south and one on Madeline Island in the north country of WI. Sometimes the sandals have lingered long on my feet because I got so focused on writing that I forgot to slip them off. This entire summer has been a collage of adventure all in the name of writing, and every day, without fail, both my Keen Venice H2 sport sandals in cameo/apricot, size 7.5 have been there.
When I lost my house, few things came with me—I took only what was important. My writing, of course, my laptop, printer, pens, small desk, three blue milk crates of books, Nikon D80, dogs, three pillows, bed and Keens. Without a fenced back yard, I make frequent trips to potty the dogs. In the morning, sometime between birds heralding the break of dawn with beak songs and the squirrelling hour (just so you know, gray squirrels sleep in and like to scurry and sneer at dogs around 8:30 a.m.), I walk both dogs. The male pulls like the beast he was named for—Grendel—and the female can sense weakness, waiting to blitz-pull when you least expect her to. Both froth in frenzy when they see other dogs, especially edible ones. Gentle leaders have been a saving grace, but no more than prayers and Keens upon my feet. Thus we walk in strength, spirituality and stability every morning.
So without a thought, I kicked off those two cameo and apricot colored Keens the way we might casually wave to a friend never suspecting it would be a last good-bye. When I returned from the beach my Keens were gone…gone! I looked under other cars and I swore that I would look at other people’s feet in town thereafter, but nothing could alleviate my sorrow, my two strappy friends were vanquished.
Later that night, as an isolated thunder storm rumbled outside my bedroom window I prayed for God to return what was lost. Rain started to spatter and I grew so hopeful that my Keens might be there along Friendly Valley Road that I went to my car. Realizing that a midnight thunderstorm trek to Lake Superior may not be the wisest—after all I had no Keens upon my feet—I decided to wait until the birds called.
First thing in the morning, both dogs and I clambered into the car, drove excitedly to the beach. As I turned down Friendly Valley Road, there was my right Keen Venice H2 sport sandal in cameo/apricot, size 7.5. It was wet, sandy and blissfully intact. But where was my other sandal? The dogs and I searched the grass and willows only to find the chewed remains of the left Keen. The ankle strap that had survived a pup six years ago was entirely gone as was a chunk of the gray foot bed.
It could have been a kid who took them at first, or a dog, but the best demise for Keens that have lived so well is to say that they were eaten by a bear. That’s my tale of two keens and I’m sticking to it, man.
PHOTOS FROM A LIFETIME OF MY TWO KEENS: