My wife is researching the barefoot movement for an article, and all this talk of bare feet brought to mind a comment that I friend of mine here in Levanto made.
Talking with one of the older, wiser women from the area, she told him how when she was a girl, the woods in the hills around Levanto were so clean that you could go walking through them barefoot.
Clean in the woods does not mean spic and span, obviously, nor antiseptic; it means cleared, cared for, maintained. It is the opposite of overgrown, which is what the woods around Levanto look like now. If you tried to walk barefoot through the woods today without a trail (and unfortunately even sometimes on the trails themselves), you would get hung up immediately on brambles and downed branches, poking your heels on dried pine needles and stubbing your toes on stones and pine cones, and running into impassable stretches of wild heather.
What has changed? Economy. When our sage woman was a girl, the woods were a trove of resources that people made use of every day. Downed branches were firewood, pine needles were fed to goats, pine cones were lighter fluid, chestnut branches were fence posts, and invasive species like heather and brambles had no opportunity to take root.
It speaks worlds about the extent to which our contemporary world of convenience has denatured us from that which surrounds us, from what nature offers for free. A friend of mine in Ireland once told me of how his grandmother saved potato peels in a special box, pulling them out in the winter, dampening them, and using them to seal off cracks in the walls or drafty spots in the window frames. Hard to imagine now.