The road down which I habitually walk is, in places, sandy. As in, slogging across the dunes in order to get to the tide-flattened beach sandy. As in crossing the desert with a camel sandy. As in, I shuffle more than stride sandy. And in those sandy places my footprints are particularly distinct.
I don’t always notice them, but this day, as I turn and head toward home, I do. And there before me is prima facie evidence of the fact that I am slue-footed. Some folks call it duck-footed or out-toeing. Not country people. Country people call me slue-footed. It means that I walk with each foot at a slight angle, probably no more than 10 degrees, away from my body. Instead of a double straight line, my footprints are similar to the underside of what embroiderers call feather stitch.
It looks, I suddenly notice, like I’m trying to walk in two directions at once. Both north and south simultaneously. This is not like me. I don’t vacillate. I am not double-minded. I know where I’m going, what I want, what I believe. It makes my stomach lurch to think that my anatomy might reflect something contrary to the way I see myself.
On Friday, when the immediate danger of Hurricane Ian has passed us by, I text my friend in Hilton Head. She and her husband moved there from the inland a couple of years ago. This was their first hurricane. She responds that there was a lot of rain and a strong wind that was still howling, but no damage. She asks about us, about our houses, about the cotton. I am grateful to report that all is well.
We start talking about what had been predicted — a path much closer to both of us, storm surge, flooding, six to eight inches of rain. “Amazing,” I tell her, “how quickly they can change direction.”
“True,” she agrees with me, “in so many things.”
I stare at my phone and see my footprints in the sand. I nod my head, acknowledging the blessing of changed direction, and then I shake it, considering the hubris contained in my straight lines. Unbending, unswerving.
Have my straight lines created a storm surge in my own or someone else’s life? Have I walked through flood waters I could have avoided? Could changing my direction by only a few degrees have changed the trajectory of, well, everything? Has my slew-footed walk been whispering something important to me in all these thousands of miles up and down this road? And, if it has, what does it mean that I didn’t hear it?
There are always, I have learned, more questions than answers. And the questions that do have an answer often have more than one. Like a geometry proof rather than an algebra equation.
It is probably too late to change my stride. It is an improvement I am not going to attempt. But I am going to watch my feet and when they point somewhere interesting, I am going to at least think about changing my direction.