Barefoot in Inuvik | Lessons from the Road
We walked into the library in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The air was crisp but the sun still poked out behind a cloud. The ground was crispy and dirty like it is in the winter. It crunches under my shoes. It reminded me a bit of the streets of Punta Arenas, Chile. The sun shining at midnight, too. It was fall in the Arctic.
Upon entering the library, we were greeted by a sign that asked, “Please remove footwear.” Okay. So we did. I figured this wasn’t a bad idea for a library setting. We used a bit of the WiFi there, albeit slow, to check in and post a few pictures and updates on the blog. Then, we were on our way. We had learned about an interesting talk at the local Aurora Research Institute and wanted to attend that evening. So, we headed to the park to cook up some dinner on the campstove. Food sources were running a bit low, and we figured prices would be high in this disconnected city so we just stuck with a random hodge podge of our dry foods and long lasting produce. So, dinner consisted mainly of fried potatoes & some leftover applesauce. You might be surprised to hear me say that it was delicious. But it was.
So, off to the research institute to learn about some local research projects. Upon entering, we were again greeted with a sign asking us to remove our shoes. Now I was getting a bit curious. I wasn’t sure if this was a cultural relic or something local to do with the muddy wintry conditions, but either way I was finding it to be ubiquitous around town. And I learned something from it. Something about psychology and community.
I learned that when I take my shoes off, there’s an immediate increase in comfort. Not just because my socks are cushy. No, I mean mental comfort. There’s just a huge difference between standing there in a room and hearing the clicks of high heels or dress shoes. It seemed that once everyone popped their shoes off, they began chatting with one another. It was like you just got home from and you jump into a comfy chair and sit around chatting with everyone about the experiences of the day. It felt more like community. I don’t know. Perhaps it might sound so obvious and simple to you. But how many times have you entered a public setting and been immediately prompted to remove your shoes?
How amazing is it that something so simple, taking your shoes off, could envoke such a difference in the mood of the room and thus change the entire experience for everyone there.
If this is the case for others, I thought, and not just me, then perhaps this simple act could be used by other organizations, institutions, and community gatherings. Perhaps people will be more comfortable, more likely to socialize, share stories, get to know one another, and be a community.
For it seems that, with all of our travels, we have found a lack of community. Big cities, of course, lack it. But even smaller towns now too. People tend not to want to talk as much or sit down and share a story. Yet, we have so much to learn from one another. If something as simple as shoe removal in this small Arctic town can teach me about community, comfort and mental well-being … and myself, then what else can I learn from so many random experiences on the road? In fact, we’ve had a lot of little surprises like this since being on the road. Always unexpected, unpredictable. [ Everything from a random afternoon conversation with a friendly biker in a Washington park, to finding a cat in a tree & becoming friends with his adopter, and so on. ]
This is a big reason why we travel & do so in such a free manner, sometimes without a set destination. I could have never predicted this take-away from Inuvik, NWT. I might have predicted snow, cold water, good scenery, bumpy roads, history, and a caribou sighting. I might even have predicted that I’d have to remove my shoes because of getting stuck in the mud.
But I would have never predicted that I would be educated & inspired simply by taking my shoes off.