So long old school

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I looked for my webs.

Not that anyone ever called them that.

I am referring to snow shoes, the old variety made from rawhide and ash.

I have heard them called toboggans, but not often.

As kids we called them bear paws because those were usually the style of shoe we wore when we made trails between the aspens in the swamps that were mixed with balsam fir and where sometimes grouse busted from snowy burrows.

Later, the trails followed the creek to the beaver pond and up a hogsback, through a fencerow and across a vast windblown field before returning to the shelter of the creek bottom.

The snowshoes by then were modified bear paws, and later, the Maine woodsmen type shaped like a teardrop.

It doesnít matter.

I couldnít find any of them and considered the storage unit.

Maybe they are there, or maybe they were sold at a garage sale, left behind on a move, or given to a kid who was just learning the woods in winter.

The same kid got three pair of leather caulk shoes that are called boots by most people but Bert Russell in his many books about North Idaho lumbering called them shoes and the description fits.

He wears one of these plyable and dexterously showy pairs in a picture while balancing on a tugboatís tow rope holding a pike pole because back then, you walked the tow rope from the brail of logs to the boat for lunch, and back.

They were the kind of boot that laced up almost to your knees and had nails driven into leather soles that the shoe repair man at Neider Avenue says are almost a thing of the past.

Those soles, back then, he said were made of back leather that could be an inch or more thick and it was piled on.

That leather these days is a product of the old country ó Europe, he meant. Spain, Italy and some of the hinter countries that are known less for imports than hard vowel sounds and maybe dark local tobbacco, tea and scimitars.

They donít grow cows that old in America anymore, the man in the shoe store on Neider Avenue said.

Most of the cattle that go to U.S. markets are young and their back leather is better for purses or briefcases, but shoe leather, the thick stuff you need a razor-sharp splitting knife to cut is more or less relegated to the history books.

And who reads those, anyhow?

The kid, it appears, got some antique cork boots with old cow heels and small nails sticking out, so he could walk on logs without falling off.

New boots have screw-in caulks like golf shoes. And snow-shoes, these days, use alumin-im, hard vinyl, neoprene and a variety of polymers made by stringing a bunch of hydrocarbons together with double carbon bonds known as covalent.

The covalent bonds donít decompose like the leather did.

Put them in the ground and unlike a red Solo cup, they are not decomposable in 14 years but maybe 400, or, more likely 1,000.

We made snowshoes in wood shop when I was in the seventh grade, and not only is the skill of steaming and bending ash strips so outdated that only a few snowshoe makers worldwide recall the art, wood shop is as well.

That was where we learned not to cut off our fingers on the band saw, or let our hair fall into the spinning blade of a table saw, which we were told would leave us scalpless.

We kept our fingers and our scalps by being careful, and turned out cherry wood jewelry boxes, book shelves, coat hangers and rawhide-laced snowshoes with inner tube bindings, a useable commodity more durable than what is sold in outdoor catalogs.

I couldnít find my snowshoes though.

I looked in the garage and then recalled how my family had a tendency to list my belongings in the classifieds after I left town.

The snowshoes I chased grouse on in winter, or shed antlers, or animals in general, are probably on someoneís wall as decoration. A lot of what we did is that. Decor.

That is why this year Iíve made a resolution. I plan on doing something new. Maybe even virtual.

Something that defies reality and isnít made for a wall.

Like Dada art.

So long Andrew Wyeth.

There may be polymers involved. Molded hydrocarbons with racing stipes. Cool stuff. I may not leave the couch.

Instead of leaving no trace, Iíll leave a legacy of non-decomposables. Real landfill stuff.

Those webs, those old tobaggons ó if they were given away or sold, and arenít hanging on a wall ó they are probably decomposed by now. Bug meal, worm food, unlike plastics.

Pshaw to that. Itís a new year! So long moldy old school. Itís time to ring in the newly everlasting.

Ralph Bartholdt covers justice and the outdoors for the The Hagadone News Network.

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