In the American West we take vast areas of public land to be the norm.
So I was not prepared to find mile after mile of forests being posted with signs that read, Private Property / No Trespassing, when I set out from New Jersey, hitch hiking in the spring of 1969. I was always careful to sleep between the side of the road and the posted property line.
As summer turned to fall in the Catskill Mountains I came to learn those lines I had slept along beside the roads are the simplest of the lines to post. By far most property lines of the 3,000-acre estate I was staying at ran through wild forest, free of road or trail or cleared brush. And they all had to be posted if the animals and lands of the estate were to be protected from intruders.
To be legal the property line had to have a posting that could be seen from the next posting, so someone coming upon the line would see that the property was posted no mater where they may have come across the line.
As the caretake’s helper it was obvious I — the only person with no experience with the wooded property lines — was just guy to go replacing backwood posters.
And how was I suppose to know where the line was? Well, after replacing each old poster I’d look to see the next one somewhere on a tree, probably in the same direction that I’d been breaking through the forest.
Unless, of course, the property happened to make a corner at the tree I’d just put a new poster on. Or unless the old poster on the next tree had been torn off by wind or animals or hunters.
In the case of missing posters the solution was to keep breaking through the forest hoping to see another worn poster. If I couldn’t spot another old poster soon, it was time to give up and get back to the last poster I’d put up — otherwise I could get entirely lost in an unknown forest. Once at the last poster I’d replaced, I’d look around to see if a corner had been turned on the property and, if there were still no old posters to be seen, I’d head out on another search in the direction I had been headed. Several times I managed to pick up the trail after going back to my last posting.
In the event of the property line changing direction, I was given excellent directions for general expectations: “Go in a straight line for a while and there is a corner that goes at about 30 degrees to the right—it’s just a little past a big fallen tree you’ll have to get over—then that goes straight for a couple of posters before there is another 90 degree right where you can see a rock outcropping on your left . . . ”
For a week or so I was fitted out with a pack of signs, a hammer, a sack of nails and another set of excellent instructions. It was generally assumed I’d get home before I got too hungry and there were, even in the late summer, probably enough little streams if I got thirsty.
And it worked. The property was properly posted before hunting season and I always made it home for dinner!