Shoe Tree

Zipping along through the Gold Creek Wilderness Study Area in Oregon, Len and I drove past a roadside tree and then looked at looked at each other quizzically. “We’re those shoes?” we asked in unison. “Let’s turn around!” 

Pulling off the road, we saw perhaps a hundred pairs of shoes had been slug up into the tree. Almost all of them tennis shoes, most of them nice. Mind you, we’re in the middle of nowhere. Someone would have to drive a long way out here—on purpose.

Click on photo to enlarge

A bit of internet research reveals that slinging shoes over telephone pole lines could mean anything from exuberance at passing a sexual milestone, to gangs marking their territorial boundaries. I also learned that the Southwest has a similar practice of placing boots upside down on fenceposts by the side of a road. And in the military, some soldiers pitch their boots over wires when leaving a post. But I didn’t find a single thing about slinging shoes into a tree. Particularly a tree in the middle of nowhere.

If you’ve pitched your shoes in a similar manner, why?



63 thoughts on “Shoe Tree

  1. Oh my, interesting! I can´t imagine why they would be there. Perhaps it was a sports team celebrating a victory. (or a stag night) There could be a story there.

  2. We have a similar tree alongside the road on our way to the cottage – and here’s a link to another one near Barrie, ON. I’m not a fan, personally. I fit into the “eye sore” category, and I especially hate it when people nail the shoes into the tree. I think people see the tree and spontaneously add on. You might be surprised by the number of people who drive by the middle of nowhere.

  3. A photo in my album shows Ukrainian girls tying pastel-colored ribbons in a tree to show their wish to marry. Your shoe tree is puzzling, but provocative.

    I’ll return to see if another reader has a bright idea. 🙂

  4. I’ve seen shoes slung over telephone wires. I always marvel at how someone did that. Must be a pitcher or a quarterback. A shoe tree…..must be a bottle tree close by…..

  5. Laurie, you hit on a big trend. Here’s what I found …
    “In 2000, disaster struck. A wind storm felled the Great Beaver Shoe Tree — perhaps aided by the unnatural burden of hundreds of waterlogged hangers-on. The road department hauled off the branches and fallen footwear, and the mighty loss could be felt across all of Shoetreedom…
    But something magical happened. In subsequent months, locals and visitors continued to bring their cast-offs, heaving into the trees surrounding the gap. A few trees contended as replacements for the Great Shoe Tree.” End Quote
    Apparently, on some shoe trees, shoes have messages written on them in magic marker.
    I found a list of states (some with multiple shoe trees) on this site:
    By the way the list shows one in Kuna, Idaho with only 3 pairs of shoes. Oregon has 5 shoe trees. There’s even on in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
    I hate to be a kill joy, but this creative practice is NOT good for the trees. 😦

  6. Hi, Laurie, we’ve got a tree like that in Snohomish, a town a little north of Seattle. It has hundreds of shoes hanging like ornaments from every branch, and they’re mostly sneakers and athletic-type shoes. My understanding is that kids from the local high school are the “decorators,” though I don’t know what event or milestone qualifies them to hurl their shoes. Not sure I want to know.

  7. I have seen shoes up in trees and over wires, but have never been inspired to mimic these feats. I am betting there are hundreds of different motivations for this.

  8. I always wonder about how and why a shoe is hanging from a wire when I see one. When we were in Maine a few years ago, some of the little islands off the coast would have trees decorated with buoys – they were colorful and somehow, welcoming. But shoes – unless they’re worn out, shoes are not cheap so tossing them away seems kind of silly to me.

  9. We have a shoe tree here on Beaver Island. A few years ago, it was the location (rather a facsimile of it, on the stage) of a play written about island lore. It remains a mystery here, too, how the act of flinging shoes into the tree got started, and why it persists.

  10. I skimmed through the interesting comments and noticed that it hadn’t been mentioned yet and so I jumped at the chance. In Big Fish, one of my favouite movies, the protagonist tosses his shoes over a wire. I interrupted the act to mean: I’m home. I don’t need my shoes anymore because I don’t plan to leave. A few days after watching the movie I saw a pair of shoes tossed over a wire on my island home. : )

  11. Hi Laurie
    We have similar things here in New Zealand, shoes in some, bras in others – or on fences.
    As to who started them or why, I have no evidence.
    I suspect that it is some aspect of a sense of fun, a sense of daring, a sense of the ridiculous, a sense of starting something that others might follow.

    I do find it amusing to be driving in some far flung, out of the way place, and come around a corner to see a fence decorated with hundreds of bras – but that might just be my sense of humour, and a “having grown up in the 60s” sort of thing.

    I have never myself contributed shoes, bras or any other sort of clothing item.

    A few years ago we had something similar happen with rocks on one of our local rocky beaches.
    Someone built a cairn. Someone else built another a bit larger. Within a few months there were thousands of little rocky spires 3 – 4 ft high. They’re all gone now. A big storm redistributed the lot of them.

  12. Awesome, Laurie… In some neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and other Argentine provinces …. sneakers hanging from light cables mean that there is a dealer willing to sell drugs in the roundbouts, hence it is also something related to gangs marking their territorial boundaries, as you pointed out above. This tree though, seems to have a more trascendent meaning….Who knows what it stands for? 😉 Love & best wishes 🙂

  13. Maybe a shoe fanatic ran out of places to keep shoes at home. Or these are discarded shoes not longer wanted? if the latter, why. not give them away to charities that take used clothing.

    Or perhaps somebody’s bad idea of art or a bad joke?
    Who knows? But I bet the smell was ripe.

  14. Hi Laurie! Very interesting! I love a mystery. I grew up in NYC and when my family and I visited a certain part of town we would see sneakers hanging from telephone wires. We found this curious but never knew what it meant. I’d love to know why there were so many shoes hanging off that tree. I’l be thinking about this for a while. Ha, ha! 😉

    • Vashti — Curious, isn’t it?!

      Thank you for following Tuesdays With Laurie. I just followed your blog as well.

      If you send your email address to me (Laurie Buchanan at me dot com) I’d like to email you a .pdf file with 365 Internal Inventory Questions for a year’s worth of journaling.

  15. Ha! This was an amazing discovery Laurie! I’ve seen sneakers over telephone wires in our urban/suburban environs but never a tree with as many as birds! I did always think it meant something positive! 🙂 I’m always pitching my shows, but so far no dividends! 🙂

  16. I did see a video of a couple of men in a truck who stopped besides a huge tree, then opened up the back doors, to reveal a contraption , that looked like a huge catapult . One man ( a rather large man actually) hooked some boots on the contraption and catapulted it through the air , aimiming them for the tree , and much to my amazement made it , but why is a mystery .

  17. I took some pictures of the Kuna tree and two in Oregon this week. They turned out pretty awesome.
    You can find them on Instagram or Facebook akfishinggirlphotography

  18. I’ve had a good time reading all the comments to your post here. Every so often I see a pair of shoes hanging over a telephone wire, and think, “hmmmm.” I like to imagine the person doing that even more than the reason WHY. We humans are strange creatures, truly. I feel kinda sorry for the tree branches, needing to carry all of those shoes (and think how heavy they are during a rain storm). I wish a big wind would blow them all away into shoe heaven.

  19. Laurie, how odd!! I’ve only seen this on American films (then over the wires as you describe) and never in real life…what gets me is how people have to drive out a long way for the specific purpose of flinging their shoes up the tree! Will they just be left there or is anyone responsible for getting them down? In winter out on walks I will see odd gloves on tree branches that have been lost and put there in hope its owner will find it…that I feel is heartwarming and cute.

  20. Well, I live in NYC and depending on what street you walk on there will be old sneakers hanging on the power lines the traffic lights are on. Especially up in Harlem and the Bronx. It’s very old school.
    Dropping by from Susie’s party. Very nice blog!

  21. What a mystery Laurie!👀. I guess hanging their shoes would mean we’ve been here or we’ll come back soon haha or maybe they want to share their shoes to others who might need them???Thanks for sharing😊

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