A typical mid-summer Saturday morning, cleaning the garage. The tools from making Jeep repairs littered the floor. Folding camp chairs left out from the Fourth of July picnic and fireworks blocked the path between the garage door and the house entrance. Switching tackle from early mornings plugging for stripers and afternoons wading for smallmouth had left Plano boxes shuffled and sitting on the work bench. There are many other adventures to be had on a Saturday in July, but this chore needed done.
Under the work bench, still clinging to the mountain mud in the little tread remaining, rested my Sorel felt lined boots. Holding them in my hands, I knew from the cracked rubber and worn leather, it was time to retire the old friends.
I then counted the years. It had been twenty years exactly, almost to the month since I purchased the boots from my then favorite local sporting goods store. A store I had worked at when I was a teenager, in a time before mega outdoors stores.
I remembered the day of the purchase as if it was last week. I had stopped by the store for some fishing tackle, when I noticed the display of boots at the end of the isle. The sign said 50% off. I always wanted a pair when I had worked at the store, but the $90.00 was too rich for my hourly wage.
Seeing the boots, I asked to borrow the store phone. Remember, cell phones were not standard issue back in 1990. Calling my newlywed wife of only a few months, I asked if I could put the $45.00 on a credit card. A purchase of that magnitude required approval from both parties. Money was tight in the Aughenbaugh house and we were saving to buy a house. I explained the bargain and the need for the boots. I must have been very convincing, as she agreed to the purchase.
At the time of the acquisition, I was spending my falls and winters deer hunting in the cold western Maryland mountains. I had worked a deal with an outfitter. In trade for setting tree stands, posting property lines, and even guiding deer hunters during bow and muzzleloader seasons, I, in turn, was allowed to hunt the property and stay at the lodge. The new boots were exactly what I needed.
The eight inch high leather uppers were triple stitched to the rubber bottoms. For warmth, removable felt liners fit inside of the boots. A simple style boot sturdy in its simplicity. By the time winter arrived, I had covered the leather with several coats of mink oil.
That winter, I shot my first western Maryland deer during subfreezing temperatures. I was hunting in my new tree stand constructed from scrap lumber borrowed from a construction site. The huge multi trunk oak sat on top of the mountain at the end of a ridge. I could see two hundred yards down slope and watch the rushing water of the Yochegeny river pass from my constructed perch. Two years ago, I returned searching for the old stand, only to find the rotting remains of the once towering oak.
My Sorels became standard winter wear in the following years. It took cold temperatures and snow to bring them out of the closet. Nothing worked better to keep my feet dry and warm.
I wore them through four or five blizzards shoveling the sidewalks and driveways of the two houses we have owned since the purchase when we lived in a small two bedroom apartment. If I remember correctly, I wore them to the hospital for at least one of the births of my two daughters, both born in February.
With the arrival of my daughters and the responsibility that comes with having children, my ventures out to Garrett County lessened. A trip taken at least one weekend a month turned into just a few times a year. I hunted closer to home, but never forgetting my kinship with the mountains. The girls are now teenagers and I hope to expose them to the mountains of western Maryland.
This past year, I joined a Garrett County rod and gun club with over 3,000 acres of hunting terrain. At the end of last year’s deer hunting season, a friend and I headed up to the club property for one last deer hunt.
The console in the truck read 8 degrees when we arrived and parked on the snow covered shoulder. Like I had been doing for twenty years, I slipped on my now old sorrels. I quietly worked my way along the cold morning, following a stream, up a draw, and up and over the mountain in search of whitetail.
I was only a few hundred yards from returning to the truck, when I spotted movement. Several deer walked parallel to my trail sixty yards lower on the slope. An hour later, I loaded a deer in the back of the truck. My toes never got cold, and my feet remained warm during the two mile hike in the snow covered single digit weather.
Changing my boots for the ride home, I noticed the rubber of the boots had begun to crack. Not wanting to believe their life over, I packed them away in the garage. But as I clean the garage on this summer day, there is no denying the cracked rubber and worn out leather. I feel their time has passed. The sporting goods store where I purchased the boots many years ago is still open for business. Maybe I will drive down to see what they have on sale.