No Trespassing: Subtle Rebellion for the Sake of Autonomy

On a recent run, I pranced through no less than three “No Trespassing” signs at the end of a dead-end country road. Desperate for dirt to escape the monotonous asphalt and charged by the early morning sunlight, I found the risk worthy, if not essential.

I knew that the dirt roads were there because I had ignored these signs many times before. In fact, in my previous escapade through the prohibited area, I returned to the normal road to find a man dressed in camouflage standing in a field holding a shotgun. I tried to stride by unnoticed, but he stopped me.

“There were three coyotes sitting up on that hill watching you,” he said.

I could not decide which unsettled me more: the man talking to me with a gun in his hand, or the image of three predators stalking me while I ran oblivious.

“The coyotes have been killing off the deer lately,” he continued. “I’m trying to get them.”

Though I despise hunting and thought the man’s attempts were likely quite illegal, I made the wise decision not to argue. Instead, I smiled politely and began to run again, wary that I had just turned my back to a gun and that, compared to a coyote, I was probably an easy target. Alas, I survived the rest of the run with no gun wounds and no trespassing violations, but I did not return to that route for a week.

This view is great, until it never changes.

This view is great, until it never changes.

When I did, I again had no qualms about the signs. Until I reached the point on the road where I could connect to another dirt road that is much less prohibited. To make that connection, I had to go past a bridge that often has construction remnants strewn about but rarely has human life present. I usually pass through that area without a problem, but this day, right before I turned the corner, I heard construction noises and voices getting closer with each step.

I darted off on a side trail, hoping it would spit me out onto the less prohibited trail that I sought. When it instead gave me a dead end, I navigated over loose rocks and scrambled up a dirt hill that did not, in fact, lead me to the trail. It took me to the area I had been avoiding all along; the area with real live people who definitely knew that there should not be a running girl emerging from the heart of their construction. So I ducked down and, in lieu of braving the rocks again, chose to bound through the knee-high grass as fast as possible because I am terrified of snakes (and I saw one on a hike the day before so clearly they were after me).

When I finally returned to that damn country road in safety, it became apparent that the lengths I took to avoid human interaction–and, likely, repercussions–were slightly ludicrous. I chose the possibility of encountering a snake or rolling an ankle over the possibility of getting in trouble with a random person I would never see again. But it also became apparent that I did all this because the ability to run on that dirt road–albeit illegally–means my own liberation.

The only thing missing here is some dirt.

The only thing missing here is a dirt trail.

Not only is it an escape from the road and a cushion for my legs, but it is a step into a path that I would guess not many brave. The “No Trespassing” rule is in place for a reason, but like many rules I find it unnecessary and intend to break it. I do not think that my running presence on a dirt road three miles outside of a small town will cause any trouble for anyone or anything, so the fact that a rusting sign can imply this irks me a bit.

I’ve never been one to thrive on excessive rules and regulations, or even societal norms for that matter. Things like school dress codes and texting games do not appear to advance civilization, so I do not prescribe to their influence. Even the obligatory greeting conversation (Person 1: “Hi, how are you?” Person 2: “Good, you?” Person 1: “Good.”) seems like a meaningless formality. These rules simply encourage people to embrace conformity and avoid intentionality in their thoughts and actions.

Even really big, really important rules are often wrong. After women could finally vote, they still could not compete in collegiate athletics or even run road races. We put way too much trust in our executives to make the right decisions and spend too little time considering their impact. I’m not advocating for anarchy here; I am simply calling for more thought about the guidelines and expectations that govern most details of our lives.

The feelings I got when I avoided that construction worker were the same I’ve had when I’ve pulled borderline all-nighters mid-season or loitered in dark parking lots until cops kindly request that we leave. Uneasy about the technical wrongness of the situation, yet thrilled that the incident will succeed without any formal consequences.

IMG_4717 - Version 2

Hay fields tend to go on forever.

There is a certain elation that accompanies getting away with something, and if it is a silly rule then this elation comes guilt-free. If you’re sneaky enough, you might even inspire others to go out and be the rule-breakers they wish to see in the world. Because civil disobedience is in.

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4 thoughts on “No Trespassing: Subtle Rebellion for the Sake of Autonomy

  1. I would be careful to judge the legality of others before you know the applicable codes. Coyotes are open season all year with a furtaker’s license which happens to be free if it’s for use on land you own.

    Concerning property you’re consciously acknowledging that you do not own the land you are using. You could relate it to someone entering your house and sleeping in your bed while you were gone if by the time you returned he was gone and you had no idea he ever used your bed. Now the land he moved across and the bed he slept on is your property, but you have no knowledge of this person or that they used your bed. By your argument there is no harm done. Rather, if you found out this stranger was sleeping in your bed you might feel inclined to lock your door more securely. In the same way–arguably less extreme–if the owner of the property found out that it was being frequently used against his will, he might invest in a fence. This issue being that a proper fence is much more expensive in initial cost, upkeep, and environmental impact. There would have to be a very large inconvenience to the property owner for him to put up a fence.

    Thankfully the property owner found another inexpensive way to express his consent of use on his land, a sign. It just requires respect and voluntary compliance in most cases. In the end, no it’s probably not a big deal to use someones land if you had to, but you should be respectful of people and their property.

    I’ll leave with this: Old English law that the American colonies used called Livery in deed required the parties to physically be on the land in question, pick a piece of it up, and hand it over to the buyer.

    • Very good points, sir. I am not privy to hunting laws but the coyotes he was hunting were on land he did not own. You are correct to think that I would not appreciate someone sleeping in my bed without my knowledge. I should point out that my running on this property is a pretty isolated case and a product of circumstance. When it is feasible and accessible, I am perfectly happy running on open trails; however, in this instance, as I said, I was pretty desperate. Thanks for your thoughts, I appreciate your perspective!

  2. I’m not one for excessive rules or regulations either, but I think private property should be respected. I mean, by trespassing on someone’s property you’re not rebelling against some abstract authority figure or a government bureaucracy, you’re just walking on someone’s legally owned property. I don’t think walking on someone’s property when they don’t want you to is civil disobedience– it’s just kind of inconsiderate. Sure, you can have a debate about whether it even makes sense to own land, but in the mean time, I’ll keep off what’s not mine.

    • True, but I think there’s a difference between mostly abandoned roads occasionally used by a company and residential property. Obviously running there isn’t a huge political statement. It’s mostly for my own peace of mind, but I don’t think it’s inherently disrespectful.

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