Death of a Cottonwood

Beloved Shoe Tree Gets Axed
Near America’s Loneliest Road

When a tree falls in the desert, and no one is there to witness its toppling, does it still makes people mourn it? That’s what everybody is wondering now that a 80-year old cottonwood was toppled by who knows who off Highway 50, in Nevada. There are many trees like that all over the U.S., of course, but what sets this one apart is, or rather, was its collection of shoes.
Middlegate folks will tell you that once upon a time in the 1980s, there was a newly wed couple quarreling and that the groom was the first one to hurl his bride’s shoes up the tree, hoping she would see his ways. He left but came back, according to local lore, and, after she asked him to hurl his own shoes into the tree, they’ve lived happily ever after.
It could be. After all, in this stretch known as the “loneliest road in America,” such a story makes for a reassuring contrast to the legend. But what happened next no one could make it up. Travelers and passersby started spontaneously adding their own shoes to the tree, as if contributing to a natural-born sculpture, and before long, it was sporting hundreds of pairs.
Worn-out sneakers and too-tight pumps, ballet slippers and snowshoes. Horseshoes knotted with baling twine. Plastic stilettos from brothel courtesans (or so the locals say) could be seen from miles and from that to the tree becoming a tourist attraction came as no stretch.
In fact, there were so many shoes in the tree that, every few months, state workers hauled off several truckloads’ worth — as well as couches, bicycles and kitchen sinks that littered the ground nearby. All so Middlegate’s most distinctive feature would continue to have its place in the sun.
Until December 30, that is, when someone downed it with a chainsaw. Nobody saw it when it happened, but as soon as word got out, mourners started to gather for impromptu memorials. An official one, Sunday before Valentine’s Day, gathered several dozen people who came from all over to pay their respects.
Facebook groups lamented the tree’s “murder.” “Middlegate Shoe Tree — Rest in Peace” has nearly 1,500 members. The group “The Shoe Tree Conspiracy” intends to create art, perhaps sculpture, from the cottonwood’s Nikes and Keds. The Churchill County history museum in Fallon scooped up cowboy boots and flippers to display alongside a chunk of the tree.
And so there it is, folks, the lives and times of a shoe-displaying tree that touched the hearts of many people in the middle of a Nevada no-man’s land. So intense the feelings it evoked, it wound up rubbing the wrong way one or more vandals, who really had nothing else better to do and will, most likely, remain unidentified.
So, we must say, if a tree gets felled in the desert, and no one is there to see its murder, yes, some people will hear its cries and memorialize it with songs and poems. And perhaps a Facebook page or two.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.