People amaze and amuse me. It is a wonderment that never ceases. Often times it can be appalling, the brutal and insensitive nature of humanity, but for the most part, I've always found it inspiring. Man is capable of the grandest achievements - philosophically, artistically, and mechincally - and yet, simultaneously, can be reduced to tearful, hysterical laughter by a really good fart joke. It is this duality of the human spirit that moves me; the sacred and the profane, the high-brow and the low-brow, the earnest endeavor and the flight of fancy.
There is a tree at the Kings Island amusement park in Ohio. I forget which ride it is, one of the big water rides. The line you have to stand in winds through a forest to the attraction. There are many trees along the path, but one in particular was singled out by the throngs of hot, idle park-goers for a piece of impromptu collective art. I've always called it the gum tree. There, on the right-side of the path stands the small tree, it's trunk almost completely covered in globs of chewing gum of every color imaginable. It's not like base graffiti, an essentially one person show of artistry on a public canvas. Sure, graffiti when un-checked results in a collection of various artists in a localized area, but it's not a collective effort on a singular undertaking. Someone, most likely a group of someones, standing in that line decided to all stick their gum on that tree. Consequentially, over the years, more and more people added more gum to the tree, resulting in the myriad of color that exists today.
I discovered a similar phenomena in eastern Oregon. Trees are rare here, unlike the heavily logged mountains of the eastern part of the state. Driving across the plains of eastern Oregon, one is generally hard pressed to spot a tree on the stark landscape. U.S. Highway 20 runs laterally through the center of the state, from Ontario, Oregon on it's eastern border all the way to the coast. It is a beautful drive, with long stretches of open country. Often times you can drive anywhere from 50 to 100 miles between towns with nary a house in site.
Between the small towns of Vale and Burns, Oregon stands a tree on the side of the highway. Much like the gum tree in Ohio, it has become a living, breathing work of collective art - a piece which has an unwritten history and a fluid, unending future. It exists by the sheer will of its anonymous participants and the spirit of conspiracy. I present to you, in all its breathtaking majesty and glory, the Oregon shoe tree.
While I'm sure no one went barefoot to create this masterpiece, it is arguable that it has required a bit of sacrifice to create and forethought to maintain. Whoever began this must've had some extra shoes and just tossed them into the tree branches. Over the years, people travelling through the area have made their donation to the tree with pairs of unwanted shoes that happened to be in their RV's and trucks. A friend of mine who is from Idaho knows of the tree and says that among her friends, anytime they had to make a trip past the tree as youngsters, they took care to buy some Goodwill shoes for a couple of bucks prior to their trip for the purpose of adding to the tree.
It is an amazing sight up close. The tree is filled with every type and size shoe imaginable. Children's sneakers and adult's atheletic shoes. Boots of all stripes: workboots, hiking boots, cowboy boots, and even a pair of rubber knee-high "hipwaders". Pumps, sandals, wing-tips, and loafers.
Which is what makes this project so astounding on a level that the gum tree cannot begin to approach. This tree, literally and figuratively, represents every walk of American life. What probably began as a prank or a joke, and is probably still fueled largely by mischeivous adolescents, has blossmed into a beautiful statement which an indivudal artist could never capture. The very essence of the art lies in the fact that it was created in cohort and by collusion to create an unintentional statement.
It is certainly one of the most amazing things I have seen in my great American escapade thus far. For me it captures perfectly that dual nature of humanity, particularly the American human. Sometimes it is easy to feel inconsequential, like one's contribution to life and society is of little import. In a grander scheme of things, this may be true, but in the realm of the trivial interactions of humans, sometimes all it takes to be part of something beautiful and infamous is tossing a pair of shoes into a tree.