Passing of the Shoe Tree


When last I saw it in 2009

I learned earlier this week of the demise of the Shoe Tree of Nevada. This is just what it sounds like. A tree in Nevada covered in shoes. It is located next to a primitive turn-out on Highway 50, about 40 miles east of Fallon. Some time in the wee hours of New Year’s eve, someone came along and took a chainsaw to the 70ft cottonwood. I first noticed it in 2003 on one of my sojourns to the southwest. Normally, it’s just a motor vehicle sprint across Nevada to get to destinations in Utah, but on this particular morning, as Mary and I were zooming along, I caught a glimpse of what looked like something growing in the tree next to the turn-out. It looked almost like caterpillar nests I’ve seen – only these were huge. We hit the breaks, turned around and had a better look.

Shoe Tree. Highway 50, NV. 2003 ©David Gardner

What we saw was kind of baffling. What the hell is a tree covered with hundreds of pairs of shoes doing out in the middle of nowhere? We photographed a bit then hit the road again. The place stayed with me since that morning. While there, I had the urge to add my shoes to the collection. I began looking for a pair I could throw up there, but I also began to wonder why I wanted to. It really goes against everything I believe about living in the environment. A closer inspection of the tree reveals piles of shoes at the base – the one’s either fallen from above or never quite lodged. All that old rotting rubber is really pretty revolting once you think about it. But I don’t think most people do. Nor do they think about why they want to add them.

Stump of the Shoe Tree

Over several years of passing by and revisiting the place, I have formed a theory. I now think of the spot as a sort of meeting place for travelers. A conversation began with the tossing of the first shoes. Others passing by, joined the conversation by adding their own shoes. Except that a shoe in terms of conversation doesn’t mean anything. We throw them up there with some personal intention, but it can only be known by the thrower. The shoe doesn’t inherently contain the meaning. So in essence, it becomes a conversation where no one knows what they are talking about. Does this sound at all familiar? Apparently someone did not like the way the conversation was going and decided to end it by cutting it down. The tree was really the beginning of my photo project, Marking Our Place in the World and is also the name of this blog.

The place is not without controversy and is also a spot of continual vandalism. On what is left of the official Shoe Tree sign, propped up on a graffitied post, several people have left their scrawled thoughts. One is: “You are killing the spirit of this tree with all the shoe’s. This tree is alive and has a spirit. God created this tree and not to be burdened with all the shoes. Instead, donate your shoes.”

The response next written next to this:

“Fucking dumb hippies – take a shower, buy a new life”

also this:

Get a real job – white trash

Shoe Tree with foliage, 2008

I do hope those responsible are prosecuted, though it is kind of irrelevant at this point. The tree is gone – it’s not coming back. Although according to the news story,  people have been leaving their socks in a nearby bush. So perhaps the conversation continues still.

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