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As I slid onto a stool at Dullboy, a slim and dim spot in downtown Jersey City with $13 cocktails and beverage professionals instead of bartenders, I thought I'd feel out of place. I was, after all, dressed for a trip to Vermont, a week-long vacation that was supposed to involve tromping through snow and eating a fuck ton of cheese. There, my baseball hat, sturdy jeans, past-its-prime North Face jacket, and flannel-lined puffy vest — which had been what my mom wore to chop wood in the 1980s — would have fit right in.
But I wasn't in Vermont. I was in Jersey City because the clutch of my old Jeep Wrangler blew on the New Jersey Turnpike, and I got stuck here while waiting for the repair, then sucked into an impromptu bar crawl because at a previous bar, I said hello to a guy who then informed me he lived on a boat — sorry, ship.
"I love your boots!" said a 20-something in a backless tank top and open-toe shoes. My car might have broken down, and my vest might have been more Killington then gentrified city, but at least my new boots passed the fashion test.
The boots in question: Duck Feet Arhus Boots, imported to the US from the Netherlands via Rust & Salt, a small company in New Hampshire that just started bringing Duck Feet shoes here in 2015. I saw an ad for them in Modern Farmer magazine (I don't farm. I subscribe for the recipes) at about the same time my 12-year-old Aldo flat brown boots gave up the ghost. I loved those shoes, even if they never really kept my feet dry in the rain or snow. But they didn't look weird or ironic like duck boots, nor were they hard to get on or off like wellies.
I ripped the ad out of the magazine and stuck it into my recipe binder where I knew I wouldn't lose it. Could these nut-colored, shearling-lined, rubber-soled boots — even at $280, about $240 more than my dearly departed Aldos — be the answer? They looked like I could tuck jeans into them without any bunching, a problem with other boots I'd tried and rejected.
The leather/shearling/rubber combo seemed like it would actually keep my feet warm and dry, unlike my Uggs that soaked through on my first pass with the snow shovel. The Arhus boots seemed mildly fashionable, too, at least as displayed by models doing things like walking on rocks and leaning against trees while accessorized by a plaid cape and crisp fall leaves.
It took a 20 percent off Black Friday coupon code and a hotel reservation in Burlington to make me give them a shot.
The verdict when I eventually got out of Jersey City and into Vermont (and no, I did not check out his boat or ship in between, mom): gold. I only took them off for the treadmill and sleep. Strolling through fast falling snow while checking out a Stars Hollow-esque small Vermont town? No problem. Skirting the edges of wet slop accumulated at street corners of downtown Burlington after the storm? Arhus don't care.
After stopping at a gas station to clean brine and muck off the back window of my car, I wiped the same off the boots without a stain left behind, just pebbled leather that, after a few days of tromping, softened and melded to my feet. I thought they'd be too heavy for the constant up-and-down dance that driving a stick shift car requires, but on my way to and from the Cabot Creamery headquarters — where I did indeed eat a fuck ton of cheese — I forgot that I was wearing these bad weather soldiers. I could have rolled down the tops as Rust & Salt recommends, but why bother? I liked the looser look, especially when my feet still stayed warm despite it.
On the last day of my trip — Christmas Eve — I put on my festive red and black plaid leggings and drove out to Cold Antler Farm, home of writer and farmer Jenna Woginrich. She showed me her sheep, her goats, turkeys, geese, and dogs, where her vegetable garden was when not covered in snow, and where she planned to expand her operation over the new few years. At some point, I stepped in the poop of a member of her menagerie. With one scrape of the sole of my boot on a piece of wood, the poop slid off.
"Those are nice," Woginrich said. "You can't put a price on good boots."
I now tend to agree (even if you can, apparently, put a very high price on a new clutch).