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May 30, 2007

Shoes on Parade — Episode 2: Middle Gate, Nevada's Shoe Tree


Just in yesterday from Steph Haggarty, formerly of Reno, Nevada and currently sojourning in Queensland, Australia, in response to the previous day's Shoefiti post, the following:

    Hi Joe,

    I thought you might find this interesting, as it ties into your Shoefiti story. There is a shoe tree [pictured above and below] in Nevada on Highway 50 between Fallon and Austin, two tiny towns. If you check out the following link, it has the original "story" of how the phenomenon started. The tree sits alone at the side of the highway and has a deep arroyo to the side of it, which sometimes has water that flows through it... but I digress. An interesting article, nonetheless. And yes, I have a pair of shoes on the tree.


RoadsideAmerican.com offers "A round-up on Shoe Trees, where hundreds of discarded sneakers and other footwear are tossed. The shoe tree blooms with polymer beauty."

They note, "More have been sighted in Nordman, Idaho; Milltown, Indiana; Hodgdon, Maine; Atlanta and Owosso, Michigan; Lyndonville, New York; and elsewhere."


Charlie LeDuff wrote about the Nevada Highway 50 Shoe Tree in a May 18, 2004 New York Times article, which follows.

    Middle Gate Journal; On Loneliest Road, a Unique Tree Thrives

    The Loneliest Road in America is indeed lonesome. As lonesome as a solitary shoe.

    The road, officially known as U.S. 50, cuts through the heart of the Nevada high desert, stretching 260 miles from Carson City in the west to Ely in the east. There is a whorehouse at each end and not much company in between.

    There was a solitary man standing in the middle of the desolation today with his thumb out. He was an oddly angular fellow and psychologically not wholly convinced of anything more than his own existence. He said that his name was Dwight and that he had spent a winter of misery in Frisco and was in search of someplace else. He had bits of sage in his shirt as he had slept in the bush the previous evening, the rides being far between on the Loneliest Road.

    ''There's nothing out here,'' Dwight offered in a slurred, nasal tone. ''I don't mind. I'm just more comfortable in the absence of people is all it is.''

    Dwight was a military brat moving from place to place to place as a child. This has left him bereft of long-term friends, he said, no hometown, no family, no place to go, no place to be, no love.

    ''Love?'' he pushed the word around his mouth like a rye seed. ''I don't know love. I've never been in real love. Not unconditional love.''

    Love of course comes with many conditions. There are the contrivances, bad habits, betrayals. To coexist with these flaws of character requires patience and endurance. Love needs tending to like a tree.

    Proof of this existed about 100 miles back in Middle Gate, in the middle of nowhere or 100 miles east of Reno, depending on how you look at it. But Dwight missed this proof somehow as he had his head down, too involved in his solipsism to see it.

    Just a few miles outside of Middle Gate is a stand of cottonwoods whose roots have found water. In the limbs of one of these trees hang thousands of shoes, the tree starting to bow and crack from the weight of them all.

    The shoes are like some kind of letter or photograph or stain, the locals explain, some proof that something happened here, that there are other souls traveling on the road of loneliness. There are snorkeling flippers, tennis shoes, work boots, flip-flops, high heels, pumps, baby booties.

    There used to be snowshoes and a pair of skis but someone took them, which is fine, said Russ Stevenson, proprietor of the Old Middlegate Station, a bar and grill.

    ''Take what you need,'' said Mr. Stevenson, the tall, sturdy cowboy type once seen on cigarette advertisements. ''Some people buy new shoes just to put in the tree without recognition, to do something right for their fellow man. And people are grateful to get them. One hitchhiker had shoes so worn out with holes he had blisters on his feet.''

    The tree, Mr. Stevenson said in his own plain-spoken way, is an emblem of charity and decency, the way Americans out here wish to think of themselves.

    The population of Middle Gate was 18 until February when Clark Warfield Cole died. They found him in his trailer. They also found a bundle of empty money bags from a Denver bank. The suspicion is that Mr. Cole was a stick-up man before he came to the desert to get lost. This might explain the $100 bills in the soles of his boots. The townsfolk here believe Mr. Cole may have buried the money somewhere on Carrol Summit, he spent so much time there. But that is another story.

    In any event, all Mr. Cole ever wanted was someone to stop in off the highway and play him a game of chess, Mr. Stevenson said. The desert can be a lonesome place.

    And so goes the reason for the Shoe Tree. Mr. Stevenson's wife, Fredda, said the first pair of shoes was thrown into the branches about 20 years ago. It seems that a couple who had just gotten married in Reno stopped to camp under the cottonwood. The husband was angry with his bride for having blown their money in the slot machines. ''He said it was her fault they didn't have any money,'' Mrs. Stevenson said.

    The young wife grew annoyed with the henpecking and threatened to walk back to Utah. The groom told her that if she was walking back to Utah she was going to walk in her bare feet and threw her shoes into the tree. He left his wife standing there and drove to the bar for a beer.

    ''He was here for two or three hours,'' Mrs. Stevenson said. ''I told him, 'With an attitude like that, you'll be fighting for the rest of your lives. Go back there and tell her it was all your fault.'''

    The man did as he was told. The couple patched things up and the groom threw his own shoes into the tree as a sign of solidarity. A year later, Mrs. Stevenson said, the couple returned with their baby and threw his shoes into the tree as well.

    ''Love is hard work,'' said Sherry Milan, the daytime bartender. ''Love is the hardest thing I've ever done.''

    Down the road a hundred miles or so stood Dwight, the loner, the human tumbleweed, pleased to have heard this story.

    ''I suppose it's good to have company,'' he said. ''I had a dog once. Maybe I'll get another.''



Let 100 shoe trees bloom.

May 30, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Well, I think it's time to start a Brassiere Tree movement. (I had a yard sale with a friend once, and amongst all our crap, uh, stuff, we had all these old worn-out, tit-sprung bras [I mean WHO would want them? - but somebody did] donated by us and all our friends, and we festooned an old Christmas tree that was itself up for sale with about a hundred of these old brassieres. We did a booming business, too. Or should I say boobing business...)

It's high time.

Posted by: Flautist | May 30, 2007 5:12:52 PM

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