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  • Betsy Singleton Snyder


I am not a cowgirl, but, given any opportunity, my feet dress like one. I am so into boots that I have to take slow, deep breaths when I enter a store with gorgeous beauties lined along the walls. I have similar symptoms when I enter a fav flea market, spectacular estate sale, any bookstore, and an addictive, girly shop near the tiny town of Quittman, Arkansas. Very simply, my heart beats faster when I grab the door handle, waiting to uncover treasures within. The word "quest" comes to mind.

The boot obsession began when I made my way out to the Western United States seventeen years ago. I signed up to attend a biblical interpretation class with a well-known professor whose works I'd studied. The entire adventure, I planned, would take a couple of weeks, so I drove my old convertible, and took along my Golden Retriever named "Bishop." I spent the first five days at a quaint Presbyterian retreat center in Santa Fe. Immediately, I fell in love with the tile floors, stucco walls, arched doorways, and bright candy colors. That vibe is also now intertwined with my boot love.

After the class was done, Bishop and I stayed in another little Spanish-style adobe with a charming kiva in the corner. We toured the city together. I've got photos of him in front of beautiful architecture and mountains. I went to the Georgia O'Keefe museum, art galleries, an art festival, yummy eateries, and, an unbeatable boot store. Impressed by my calm and well-mannered dog sitting quietly outside, the owners let him come in and hang while I tried on pair after pair of boots, each time, a different me from the knee down.

Another reason for this trek out West was that I was in the middle of a divorce, and it wasn't fun or adventurous. I had just turned thirty-nine years old. I was not only mourning the end of a toxic relationship, but the prospect that this experience in commitment might be my last. While that sounds dramatic, I believed I could not handle any further damage to my overly tender heart. On the outside, I looked fine, but inside, I felt like a rag doll, shaken until the stuffings had begun to separate and thin. I'd given the fullest love I could to this man, only to be met with a partner's behavior I would never understand or survive for the long haul. "Narcissism" is an insurmountable obstacle, a force so destructive, I could not see myself anymore, until I went West. All I was certain of is that I was going somewhere new.

As I drove with my dog toward the mountains around Taos, New Mexico, I stopped at a small Roman Catholic church in the tiny town of Chimayo'. El Sanctuario de Chimayo' is a shrine, famous for the story behind its beginnings. It is also a pilgrimage site, with over 300,000 visitors each year. I should probably confess that, not only do I like boots, I also like churches, and this one called to me, personally.

I went through a walled courtyard toward the adobe church with a bell tower on each side, through beautiful carved doors. Other people obviously loved this place, having left slips of paper, photos, and testimonials to their own healings. As I walked around, I noticed a small room that contained a round pit of dirt. The holy dirt is thought to have healing powers. With an open mind, I thought it prudent to at least take a small amount because I wanted to honor my own hurt and embrace the tradition of other, hurting seekers.

Next to the church, I studied an interesting selection of folk charms known as "milagros." Each silver medallion portrayed a petition or request: someone kneeling in prayer, a leg or arm in need of healing, a heart in need of mending. I chose two milagros, a dog and a heart, one for Bishop and one for me. With my sacred dirt and charms, I stopped at the tiny eat spot below and selected vegetarian tamales, then headed on to Taos for several more days. Funny how church, prayer, food and rest allow us to continue our journeys.

For several more days, I was surrounded by mountains, the thick trees and water around Williams Lake, and took photographs of the landscape, and studied Western lore. I finally drove home via Route 66. Not unlike Dorothy on her way home from Oz, I felt different, even as I passed kitschy motels and neon lighting built decades before, as if traveling through another place and time.

Two years later, my new husband and I celebrated part of our honeymoon in New Mexico. I had committed to do a wedding out there, and we'd decided to go on to Oregon afterward to see his family. When we stayed over in Santa Fe, I returned to "my" boot store. This time, I got a red tooled pair, sporting guitars, musical notes, slivered moons, cacti, arrows, and longhorns. The back of each boot heel reads, "Happy Trails."

Honestly, the trail is indeed sometimes rugged and challenging, but my husband and I, an older couple with four kids and numerous cats and dogs, promised one another an adventure. It still feels sacred, like a pilgrimage of unexpected revelation, with cliffs and bluffs to be respected and blue skies above, more than we deserve.

In Spanish, the word "milagro" means miracle or surprise.

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