Two Saturdays ago, Liam and I had the first major Hotdog Brothers' adventure of the winter. We finished posting the east and south borders of our 80-acre farm with No Hunting/No Trespassing signs. Having lived on this patch of land for the better part of the past two decades, I know that my signs are really just a formality—a way to ask nicely that our boundaries be respected. Most years we have hunters on our land anyway. I do my best to assume that it's accidental trespassing by cityfolk out enjoying their annual walk in the woods while fully armed. But I know that it's not all that innocent.
With the economy being so tough we had several more folks ask us for permission to hunt our land this year. We aren't anti-hunting at all. But we feel that it's important that some portion of our immediate area should be free from the disturbance and the noise. So we thank them for asking and explain why our answer is no.
Finding the actual property lines in these woods and hills is part science, part art. Our land is a giant rectangle, a half-mile on the north and south and a quarter-mile on the east and west. But it doesn't follow the contour of the land at all. Two large wooded valleys and dozens of heads and hollers filled with downed trees, viney tangles, and slippery, leaf-covered slopes make walking difficult.
But I know where certain boundary markers are and I can find the line by looking for clues. A twist of rusty barbed wire sticking out of a tree trunk means I may have found a "line tree." Line trees are trees along a property line where the tree served as a fencepost for the omnipresent barbed wire. Since our farm and all the land around it was open, treeless grazing meadow about 40 years ago, there were wire fences all around the perimeter to keep the cows contained. Remnants of the fence persist.
Loggers hate line trees because they are often the only large trees still standing on a wooded property. But nothing ruins a saw blade like an old piece of fence wire, so the line trees are left uncut. Good neighbors won't cut line trees and I don't post my signs on line trees, either. I post well back from the line, but still plainly visible.
I'd been out posting part of our border a few weeks before. It's no simple matter. I need to take a hammer on a belt hanger, a nail pouch full of short roofing nails, a roll of bright yellow signs, some hand clippers, a hatchet, my binocs, a walkie-talkie, a pocket camera, some water, and a bucket. The bucket is to stand on so I can post the signs high on trees, out of reach. About ten years ago, along our south border, someone walked along our line after I'd posted and ripped my signs down or cut my name out of them with a knife. With the bucket along, I can add a couple of additional feet of height to my reach at 6' 4". So, unless Yao Ming comes along to help, no one is going to reach the signs.
Liam initially was belly-aching about having to go along, saying things like:
"Hey Daddy? When are we going back to civilization?" and "Hey Daddy, how LOOOOOONG did you say this was going to take?"
But soon enough he got into the spirit of the adventure and task at hand. I think he finally got a feeling for how much land we own, and how important it is for us to take care of it.
As we worked our way along the line, spotting line trees, old fence posts, gas lines, and other telltale markers, we fought through the briers and brambles, leaped over the dry runs and rills, hitched over logs, all the while keeping one eye on the line and one eye on the hunt for perfect posting trees. Many of the previously posted trees still clung to their signs. The good ones I left in place. The ragged ones I tore down and replaced. The one aspect I really dislike about this job is having to pound nails into the trees. I use the shortest nails possible—so short that many trees actually push them out as they grow. Still, I always say a quiet apology to the trees I'm posting. I try to choose already dead wood, or trees with extra thick bark, or trees so big that it's clear they have survived much worse treatment from weather and woodpeckers.
As we worked along we found some evidence of other people. Along the township road there is much litter. Once hunting season is over, I'll go out with a couple of trash bags and pick it up. As much as it disgusts me, it also reminds me how lucky I am to come from a long line of people willing to shout "Litterbug!" at those who care so little about their impact on the planet.
Finding an unfortunately placed tree stand complete with bait below it, I knew it was time to ask for help from my neighbor. I needed to know where the corners of our properties met and neighbor Sherm was kind enough to walk out into the woods with us to find it. The tree stand is on the property line, but the baited area is not. It's the work of some new neighbors who live up north and come down here, like thousands of others, to hunt in the southeastern Ohio woods. I hear they're nice enough. I figure I'll meet them one day and we can talk about the border we share.
Mystery solved, Liam and I bid Sherm a farewell and began the long hike down to the bottom of our east valley. Just then the walkie-talkie crackled. It was the girls calling. They were headed down to Beechy Crash from the other side of the valley.
Liam asked excitedly me if Mommy and Phoebe were coming to meet us? I said yes, and that we were going to cook our lunch in the woods. He whooped for joy.
Earlier in the morning, I had packed up two large backpacks of food, drinks, and all the necessary gear to have a campfire lunch in the woods. Julie toted the bags down to Beechy Crash for me and left them, and I knew just where we'd rendezvous for the feast.
Tomorrow I'll tell you all about it.