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By: Sean Fleming

These are my boots. Two years ago on a snowy morning in January I drove up I-94 to the Fergus Falls DNR office to sign some paperwork and begin my first term in the Conservation Corps as a crew leader. I met the other three leaders I would be working with, and we packed our belongings into a giant white truck and traveled to Camp Friendship for orientation. They gave us our boots, and that week I used them to tromp through snow and slide across a lake playing broom-ball late into the night.

These boots tripped over buckthorn stumps while we waited for our crew members. When the crew members arrived, these boots trampled through a burned forest looking for smoldering peat. These boots marched ahead of dripping flames of diesel while a prairie fire thundered behind them. They’ve been to North Dakota twice. With their soles, I finished miles of the North Country Trail, scrubbing away at the Pulaski gouges. They’ve been to New Jersey and stood in salt water in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. They’ve been covered in sheet-rock dust and cracked asbestos. These boots have been on fifteen rivers. When the water was too shallow for a canoe to pass, I went home with soaked feet and tried my best to dry the boots out with a campfire at night.

For two years, almost every day, I have woken up at six, cooked some eggs, packed a lunch and laced these boots onto my feet before heading off to work. At night I’ve come home, collapsed in a chair and slowly unlaced these boots, while I unwind, too tired to even remember the day.

Sometimes I imagine there is a place far out in a bog where I cut a stray buckthorn, or to go to the bathroom. I imagine I left a boot-print in the mud that solidifies. I imagine centuries from now some other human, or some other creature discovers that boot print and wonders what it was we were doing? What did they care about out there in the forest? What was it they loved?

These boots are just husks of leather, soaked with gasoline, bar oil, and herbicide, and held together with frayed stitches. Their pathetic condition is my pride. I’ll continue to use them for work. I’ll cut trees; I’ll farm; I’ll hike, and hunt, climb. When they fall apart, or when the soles on them have worn flat, I’ll bury them beside a trail somewhere and let the earth have them back.