Mallo My!

Discussed in this essay:

The Nocilla Trilogy: Nocilla Dream, Nocilla Experience, Nocilla Lab, by Agustín Fernández Mallo. Translated from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 560 pages. $30.

The May 18, 2004, edition of the New York Times carried an article by Charlie ­LeDuff, under the headline middle gate journal; on loneliest road, a unique tree thrives. The article begins with a solitary man hitchhiking from San Francisco on the transcontinental US Route 50, which runs 260 miles through the Nevada desert, from Carson City to Ely, “a whorehouse at each end and not much company in between.” After a few paragraphs, ­LeDuff shifts his attention to a local curiosity: about halfway through the desert, near the tiny town of Middle Gate, a collection of cottonwood trees has put down roots despite the arid conditions, and passing travelers have covered one of them with thousands of shoes—“snorkeling flippers, tennis shoes, work boots, flip-flops, high heels, pumps, baby booties.” ­LeDuff speaks with locals who explain how the tradition of tossing footwear on the tree began two decades earlier and offer their own philosophical gloss on the phenomenon:

The shoes are like some kind of letter or photograph or stain, the locals explain, some proof that something happened here, that there are other souls traveling on the road of loneliness.