If These Boots Could Talk


SCA Alum Eli Livezey has more than 300 miles of Service on his boots

I had two job offers for the summer before my junior year of high school, and I went for the one that came with new boots. The job was with Student Conservation Association (SCA), a program that offers youth the opportunity for real jobs in the conservation field. I was assigned to a crew working on trails in Washington DC. Since then, I have been a part of three additional SCA crews in DC, Maryland and South Dakota. During all these crews I wore the same pair of Timberlands. They’ve changed since I got them, and I’ve changed too.

When I got my Timberlands, they had smooth dark brown leather, crisp laces and a new shoe smell. The corners of the tread were sharp and unused. The sole was stiff. The boots were designed for size 11 foot. At first they were hard to walk in because they had not been broken in.In my shoes, I’ve built boardwalks in Washington DC’s Rock Creek Park, hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, and installed steps made from logs found nearby in Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland. I cleared invasive species at Dumbarton Oaks Garden in the Georgetown section of DC and backpacked alone with a friend in Pennsylvania, my first trip on my own. I also became vegetarian.

In Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, I installed sign posts to mark trails in prairies filled with seemingly docile bison (that at one point charged us and forced us to climb nearby trees). On our last day, my work partner and I had four posts left to install. We normally completed just one or two in a day. We hunkered down, found our rhythm, communicating with body language instead of words because we had already done this 42 times over the last three weeks. All I was thinking of was doing the best work I could, living up to the expectations of the park rangers, going back to base camp, and making dinner. We got it done—just as it started to rain. I kicked the post to make sure it was sturdy and fell back on the ground because it was like kicking a brick wall.

At school, I never felt like my hard work ever translated into anything tangible. Because I have learning disabilities, school has always been difficult for me, and my grades have not always reflected how hard I’ve worked or what I know. At SCA, it was different. Hard work created something. Hard work made a difference. Back at school, I applied that lesson into my class work, and my output and determination reflected it. My priority in school is to understand the material first, get a good grade second.

When I wore my boots, I felt like nothing could hold me back. I gained a strong work ethic and a passion for the environment which now defines me as a person. After my experiences with SCA, I am now a more confident, resilient, imaginative individual with a strong drive for quality and discovery. SCA has taught me to overcome any challenge that may present itself in my path. This attitude has turned me into a proactive, engaged student with a strong drive for learning that spans across many academic studies.

I figure I have hiked more than 300 miles in my boots. They’re stretched and worn. The laces are frayed, and the soles have lost traction. I’ve changed too. I grew taller. My mind has stretched and developed. My old boots might not be useful to me anymore, but the experiences I’ve had and the confidence I’ve gained will stay with me forever.

P.S. I just started work on the Old Faithful Crew made up of SCA veterans and crew leaders. Everyone is more experienced on this crew. They tell me I’ll be getting a new pair of Timberland boots. I think I’ll get one size up this time.

Eli is a two time SCA alum & current SCA crew member.

Photos: Top, Eli & teammates at Badlands National Park, Bottom, Eli & crew mates in South Dakota, both taken by Rachel Wasbotten