Forgive us our trespasses

Soon after setting out on a well-beaten path through the woods the other day, I noticed an orange sign nailed to a tree.

I turned to the woman leading our hike.

“So … are we trespassing?” It was kind of a moot question since the sign I spotted clearly read PRIVATE PROPERTY.

“Umm,” she replied, pausing briefly, “yes.”

“Well!” I responded, quickly reversing direction. “I certainly have no intention of breaking the law. What’s more, I’m shocked, and frankly a little disappointed, that you would encourage such willful, criminal behavior.”

OK, I didn’t utter those exact words, nor did I self-righteously march off in a huff.

Truth is, when faced with obstacles on authorized trails — or sometimes simply piqued by curiosity — I’ve occasionally been known to stray.

It’s sort of like the philosophical query about whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if no one is around to hear it. Using that reasoning, you could just as well ask: If you cut through private property and nobody catches you, are you still trespassing?

That is not to say I would break down a homeowner’s picket fence and trample his begonias, nor would I deliberately intrude in any area that warned of armed security guards or roaming Rottweilers. As my father used to say, I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.

The section of private property we were crossing was in fact a heavily used path — someone, most likely a mountain biker, even built a wooden bridge over a stream. This trail led to a public tract featuring mountain laurel, pitch pines, imposing ledges and other appealing natural features. We were merely taking a short cut to a legitimate park that many others had been using for quite some time, based on how well it was maintained.

I’m not going to identify the land here because I don’t want to trigger more aggressive anti-trespassing measures.

Look, it’s not as if we were dangerous felons trying, say, to sneak across the border, nor were we escaped prisoners on the run. We were just some friends out for a morning hike.

As it turned out, the place we really wanted to see had been blocked by unusually high water.

Only two of the four people in our group were wearing waterproof boots, so we devised a plan in which the man with the largest feet would wade through the flooded section in his oversized boots, accompanied by the woman in her normal-sized boots.

After reaching dry land in 50 yards or so, the guy would take off his boots and wait while the woman carried them back across the wet section. Then one of the remaining hikers would don the big boots, wade across, and take them off so the woman could deliver them to the last hiker. Simple!

It was a wonderful plan that would have worked perfectly if the water hadn’t been so blasted deep.

Long story short: The woman’s feet instantly got soaked when she sank in icy water almost to her knees. She pulled off the sodden boots and returned them to the guy with big feet. The two of them squished the rest of the hike.

I’m happy to report that the other hiker and I kept dry feet. We appreciated their efforts and thanked them profusely for trying to accommodate us. Too bad about the deep water, but, hey, those things happen.

Anyway, we all decided to try to reach the site again in dryer conditions, or at least in warmer weather. I’ll keep you posted.



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