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.

Christmas Without Santa

Identical to every Christmas Eve, Adam climbed into bed at precisely 10 p.m. and forced his eyes shut, determined to sleep before Santa arrived at his suburban home. All the familiar feelings flooded his mind–anticipation, glee, curiosity–but an anxiety lingered that he could not shake. Though he had clearly not done anything terribly wrong all year, the uncomfortable possibility that Santa might again skip his house tainted his thoughts. By some terrible twist of fate, the jolly old man had not delivered any presents in the seven years since Adam had moved to McGuire Street with his family. Adam spent hours contemplating this tragedy but still could not fathom any reason other than Santa’s own error. After all, their home had an ideal roof, plenty of sweets and even a roomy chimney.

xmas house

It simply had to be Santa’s fault and not his own; after 30 straight years of presents–even with questionable behavior–Santa could not possibly deem Adam unworthy.

xmas adam

While Adam mourned his own lack of presents silently, he felt terrible for his daughter Elizabeth, who in her seven years of life had not once experienced Santa. Every year Adam assured Elizabeth that on Christmas Eve night Santa would fill the living room with presents and every year Elizabeth awoke to an emptiness only partially filled by Adam’s own gifts for his daughter.

xmas living room

Of course it did not help that Adam’s wife had died in a car accident shortly following their move into the new house, which left Adam alone to care for his young child with only an accountant’s salary to help. Adam budgeted what he could to purchase gifts for his daughter but without Santa’s generosity his attempts were in vain; nothing could match the magical mornings with which he had grown up.

______

The week before, Elizabeth had revealed to her classmate Leah that she did not expect much that Christmas.

xmas chat

Leah immediately fell into a laughter broken only by Elizabeth’s pleas for an explanation.

“You actually believe that?” Leah said, “All that Santa mumbo-jumbo?”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said.

Leah chuckled again and leaned closer to Elizabeth. “I know a secret,” she said, “Santa isn’t real.” This time Elizabeth laughed. Santa not real? The thought was absurd.

“I’m serious,” Leah said, “It’s all fake. I watched my parents put out presents last year but they were all supposed to be from ‘Santa.’ There’s no way he’s real.”

Elizabeth stared back in bewilderment for several seconds while she carefully dissected Leah’s proposition. According to her father, Santa had stopped delivering presents only when he had begun to spend Christmas away from his parents. Her mother had never been alive for a Christmas with her so following Leah’s theory it would be Adam’s sole responsibility to provide presents from “Santa.” Elizabeth’s jaw dropped.

“My dad believes in Santa,” she said, “But he’s wrong. Santa was never real.” Once she recovered from her initial shock, Elizabeth began to form a plan in her mind. She spent the next six days focusing solely on her Christmas plan. Every day after school she went to her room, dragged the craft box from her closet and worked diligently until bedtime. During the day her mind raced with new ideas and at night she slept soundly from exhaustion. She thought of nothing but Christmas morning until the day finally arrived.

xmas elizabeth

Adam’s eyes shot open the second Elizabeth entered his room.

“Wake up Daddy,” she said, “It’s Christmas!” A familiar rush flowed through his body and his heart fluttered with excitement.

“I’ll meet you downstairs,” he said before pulling on his favorite reindeer pajamas and hurriedly brushing his teeth. The anxiety from the night before remained, but nothing could falter his Christmas spirit. Minutes later, he descended the stairs hoping to see anything but the scene he had arranged the previous night.

“He came, Daddy,” Elizabeth said, “Santa came!”

Adam turned the corner to a sea of color and glitter that filled his heart with a joy he had not known for seven years. Feebly wrapped presents spilled from beneath the tree while the two hanging stockings threatened to fall from their weight. Sparkles littered the floor and directed his eyes to the gifts’ labels which read “From: Santa” in suspiciously youthful handwriting. He glanced at his daughter, whose glitter-laden face bore a smile so pure he could not help but grin in return.

xmas final

The two immediately got to work unwrapping presents. Elizabeth eagerly fed gifts to her father, who discovered that Santa had chosen a distinctively homemade route that year. The room soon filled with crumpled wrapping paper and construction paper masterpieces disturbed only by the occasional beaded creation. When they reached the last present, a doll for Elizabeth from Adam himself, Elizabeth beamed and reached under the table.

“Wait Daddy,” she said, “I have one more present for you.” She handed him a small piece of construction paper and his eyes filled with tears as he read the carefully crafted words.

“Thank you,” he said, “Thank you for a perfect Christmas.”

xmas poem