Friday, September 12, 2008

Sneaky Shoes

What gear does one need to observe nature?

A few of the senses you were born with will do, they are really all you truly need, along with the bit between your ears. Spending time out doors, actually seeing what is happening all about you, will sharpen all your senses and the between the ears bit too. Having said all that, let us talk about the unnecessary but fun accoutrements!

Let’s talk shoes…real shoes…not Jimmy Choo (I really have no idea what those are other than the name, and I had to Google it to check spelling)…but sneaky shoes.

I used to have sneaky shoes, an old pair of Minnetonka moccasins that were made of thick cowhide leather. I SnoPrufed them and wore them all over, stalking about close to silent as shoes get. In short, I wore them out. I could not find another pair like them as Minnetonka is now using cheap, thin suede. So, I started looking elsewhere for new sneaky shoes…

Why moccasins? Why not hiking boots? The great outdoors and hiking boots sound like a natural combination. True, but it depends upon what you want to do. Hiking boots are great for putting miles behind you and support. However, if you want to get near to animals, hiking boots are less than optimal. They are stiff and noisy. It is easier to approach animals closer with more responsive

shoes that allow you to feel your contact with the ground and make more of a natural padding sound that blends with natural background noise. Hiking boots make that great flat tha-wacking, stomping noise of vibram; it just takes way too much effort to keep the noise down. Now I am not saying that mocs are the cloak of invisibility; there is more to stalking than the right pair of shoes, but it does not hurt!

So back to my search… I looked and looked on the internet and kept coming back to Russell Moccasins, and looked long and lovingly, but alas and alack like most lovelies, they were not dirt-cheap and I hesitated. My husband saw me looking at them for the umpteenth time and said, “Why don’t you just go ahead and buy them, they can be your birthday present.” It did not take too much convincing to get me on board with the idea. So, I emailed Russell Moccasin and asked for a recommendation. I wrote them listing some activities I intended to do in them:

“I would be using these shoes for naturalist type activities-to closely approach animals. I live in north Alabama where it is… forested. So keeping sticks out and assorted leaves out of the shoes is a concern… The only large serious thorns are the occasional locust tree thorns; sharp rocks are more of a concern. I'll not only be in the rocky upland areas, but also the swampy bottomland areas so some water resistance is necessary…My ideal moc would take submersion. I'd love be able to get in an out of my kayak with them so I don't have to haul around multiple shoes.”

(Okay, I fudged a bit. Submersion as in getting in and out of a kayak is a bit understated; it is more like: I’ll be wading in a creek for four hours and after that I’ll be up to my ankles in some lovely mud. All right, I out and out fibbed, but I did not want them to think that I would be an irresponsible moccasin owner.) A nice man named Ralph promptly emailed with the following recommendation: “We suggest the Oneida Tracker made from Reddish/Brown Weather Tuff as in the 7" boot Tracker and with an extra thick slip sole between the outer Boarhide molded sole and the bottom or vamp of the shoe.” The Oneida looked like a funky cross between moccasins and chukkas, but it appeared to be what I needed.

What makes Russell Mocs special is that they are custom and handmade to your feet. Measurements were taken and feet outlines drawn, repeatedly (I am not sure why when my husband is so anal retentive about so many things why he was not A-R about foot drawing, but as it was for my shoes I was and multiple drawing were demanded). I mailed it all off to Russell, and received a receipt back noting I would receive my mocs eighteen weeks later! Handmade takes time! I waited with much anticipation; it was quite like waiting for your first pair of REAL big girl shoes mail ordered from the Sears Christmas book! (For those of you born in the latter reaches of the last century the Sears Roebuck Christmas book was pre-internet, pre -UPS/overnight shipping, and the equivalent of say…

Eighteen weeks to the day, the UPS man deposited a package on my doorstep containing the long awaited moccasins. Here are a couple of pictures. (Note: Russell did not supply the mud; it is an accessory I later added.)

I took them out of the box, slipped them on, and jogged in place.

“Hmmm…these don’t feel all that special.”

Then…I laced them up. WOW! They fit perfectly; they were made to fit my feet! How good do they feel? They actually feel better than going barefoot! The mocs are supple and the leather is quiet. They give me excellent contact with ground so I can feel what is underfoot, yet offer enough protection from sharp objects. They also pass the turtle test. The only way I can get more than two steps out on my dock without the basking turtles diving off their logs into the lake is go out on the dock barefoot; they do not alarm immediately at the sound of padded feet. Slipping out on the dock is fine on cool days, but on ninety degree plus days, the sun-drenched dock is a wee bit abusive on my tootsies. Wearing my mocs I can get out as far as I can barefooted, and without burning my feet. Another test they pass is the tying test. With out any compunction I freely admit that I do not possess the ability to tie my own shoes-other people’s shoes not a problem, but my own no way. My bows look normal, but then they fall apart. I am an adult who shamelessly presents her incompletely shod foot to the nearest adult to finish lacing-up. That’s life, my life. BUT, my Russells stay tied! I know!!! Go figure!!!

I have had my Oneidas for several months now and love them more than ever, and they are holding up wonderfully. If the soles wear out I can send them back to Russell and they will resole them. To maintain them I occasionally clean the mocs with saddle soap and treat them with Obenauf leather preservative (it was the product Russell recommended). Obenauf is a natural product and does not have a chemically smell that might scare off animals. The stuff also makes your hands very soft. Are there any Obenauf people out there paying attention? I think you may have missed the boat; perhaps, you should market this stuff as face cream!

Whatever shoes get you out the door and outside are great- cheap or expensive, no matter, but if you want to want to try a different type of shoe, I whole-heartedly recommend moccasins. Whatever brand suits you- terrific, but I do not see how you can go wrong with Russells.

Hey, watch out for me in woods ‘cause you aren’t gonna hear me comin’ in my sneaky shoes!

Check out Russell boots and mocs at

Just a note-Russell Moccasins did not pay me or give me shoes to write this, but if they should so wish to, the gorgeous "Kick It Up A Notch" Oneida Camp Moccasins in the lovely hippo leather would be great.

© Pam Croom 2008

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