Monday, April 28, 2014

115. Clean Socks

"How many pairs of socks did you have with you?"

I am standing in the middle of a fancy house party, tastefully heeled boots on my feet, and a drink held in my subtly nail polished fingers. It is Saturday night, and it's a spring potluck at my friend's ceramic studio and home in a beautiful old New England house. I am feeling very aware of how adult everything is, from the organic potluck food to the conversations about securing mortgages, local politics and gender. I can usually hold my own in these situations because (whether or not the ninja turtle action figures in my glove box would argue differently) I am actually an adult.

However, every once in a while, in the midst of actively listening with all of my aging adult female cells, I am seized by an irrational fear that I will wholly and completely forget how to act like a grownup. I'm not sure where these fears come from, except that maybe it's because I work with children, and a lot of my daily conversations are about explosions. I space out for a fraction of a second, imagining myself regressing spontaneously into an awkward 13-year-old, screaming "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" and then high-knee sprinting away with both of my arms above my head, wiggling my fingers and chittering like an angry squirrel.

I blink and make eye contact again with the earnest, kind woman with whom I have been chatting. I don't space out because I am bored with the conversation. Actually, the more absorbed I am in an adult conversation, the more anxious I feel that I might suddenly drop the ball to reveal that I've been lying all along, and I'm actually just an adolescent with some aberrant gray hairs. She has asked me how many pairs of socks I had. Right. Head in the game, Clever Girl.

"I had 3 pairs of socks, and I would switch socks halfway through the day."

"Wouldn't you then run out of socks in a day and a half?"

"Oh, heavens no," I continue, gesticulating animatedly along with my story, "I would hang the morning socks on the outside of my backpack to let the sweat evaporate off! Then they'd be ready to wear the next morning. After a few days they would be so stiff that they would just hold the shape of my foot without my foot even inside of them! You know, because of all the dried sweat... buildup..." I start to trail off, becoming aware that I have potentially diverged from standard adult discourse techniques. I start talking again, quickly.

"But, when possible, I would thoroughly rinse them in a creek or a lake, always downstream from a place where people would collect drinking water, of course. This would purge the wool fibers of the salt, and allow the material to return to its standard texture."

This last part is a complete lie. Not the part about rinsing the socks, no, we definitely did that. I am lying about the idea that rinsing the socks out in a creek would clean the socks at all. If anything, it just moved the salt around to create a more even coating of stiff itchiness. I can still remember the sensation of putting on a pair of socks for the eighth day in a row, and deciding that it felt a little like putting my feet into perfectly flat, foot-shaped leather gloves. But the sentence had sounded good in my head so I just went for it.

I do my best to reroute the conversation about the Appalachian Trail, bringing it back around to the serenity of nature and the beautiful community of hikers. I am successful, and I am able to wax much more eloquently about the philosophical trappings of a long distance hike.

But some of the greatest things about hiking just aren't pretty by any adult standard. Sitting in a laundromat, wearing nothing but rain pants and a rain jacket, watching your filthy socks tumble over and over in a washing machine, knowing that they will be soft and warm and clean after they come out of the dryer, even if it's only for a few minutes until you jam them back into your filthy hiking boot bricks, can be one of the most treasured sights in the world.

Used socks drying on hiking poles.

Clever Girl

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