Thursday, August 30, 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs

I’ve spent a lot of time on the roads of northern and eastern Maine this spring and summer.  A number of camping trips to the coast are under my belt, as well as some trips to some far-flung cemeteries.  (No, I’m not shopping around in advance of my ultimate demise, which hopefully will not be any time soon.  I take requested tombstone photos for an online genealogical group for whom I volunteer with the trite name of Find-A-Grave.  I guess “Graves R Us” was taken.)  Friends and relatives have received visits too, so I’ve been around this year.  Getting out and enjoying this place nicknamed “Vacationland” is something I try to do every year during the nice weather.  A new addition this year is my GPS, which has allowed me to get off the busy highways and see some of the less-traveled roads. 

There is no question that Maine is a stunningly gorgeous place, and I have been fortunate to have been able to see some new corners of it this year.  Other corners of the Pine Tree State have been off-limits however.  A lot of them, actually.  You see, one thing I have noticed in my travels this year has been the apparent proliferation of “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out” signs on properties.  The reasons are not entirely clear to me, but I’ve had time to ponder it while driving and I have some theories.

While crime rates are probably no higher than they ever were here, I think that we are hearing more about crime nowadays thanks to the ease of access to information through so many channels, and so it seems more prevalent.  Along with increased awareness of crime comes increased fear of strangers and the unknown.  Putting up signs that read “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out” may give some people a sense of security, albeit a false one.  “Bad people won’t come near now,” is the subconscious thought process.  Frankly, if someone has malicious intent in mind, I find it hard to believe that a simple sign is going to deter them.  And if someone does not have malicious intent in mind, why worry about them?

It could be a personal safety thing also.  Some years ago in Maine, there was a tragic case in which a young mother was accidentally shot to death in her own backyard by a hunter who mistook her white mittens for the tail of a deer.  It was beyond sad for everyone involved, and raised awareness among landowners in the state that posting their land against hunting might be something to consider.  I have no doubt that the amount of land on which people may freely hunt in Maine has gone down quite a bit, especially since that incident.  Even though I am not opposed to hunting, I cannot fault someone for not wanting unauthorized hunters on their land, especially if it is near homes.  I can’t help but wonder how many of those “No Trespassing” signs might more accurately reflect the landowners wishes if they actually read “No Hunting” instead.  Someone who may not want hunters may be more open to people wishing to hike or picnic on their land.

Then there is the property damage issue.  Motorized all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) have grown enormously in popularity in Maine over the past 30 years or so.  (Full disclosure: I have one and I love it.)  However, they can be noisy and can really rip up the land, especially when used carelessly.  Over the years, I have seen a number of public ATV trails closed, no doubt due to noise, littering, or people who have literally strayed off the beaten path and caused damage to private property.  Again, if a landowner’s qualm is with ATVs but not with people who want to take a walk and maybe observe some wildlife, a more specific sign, such as “No ATVs” might be in order. 

And then there is the cynical side of me, which wonders if there are just a lot of disagreeable types out there who have somehow acquired mortal enemies, or just have become so alienated from society, and they just want to be able to prosecute more fully if someone so much as sets a foot on their property.  This thought especially entered my mind the other day when I saw, the inspiration for this post:  a nice split-level ranch, beautifully landscaped in a suburban neighborhood with a big black and red “KEEP OUT” sign on the well-manicured front lawn.  That’s not a hunting issue or an ATV issue, and on a quiet street in a small town, it’s likely not a crime issue either.  That’s a people issue!  More specifically, it’s an “inability to play well with others” issue.  It’s pretty sad that someone would adopt such a paranoid bunker mentality, but there are some who do.  A few may have good personal reasons for turning their homes into fortresses, but I’d dare say many more don’t and are just being asshats.

Or maybe all the signs are to keep people away from meth labs or pot growing operations.  Unfortunately, such things are not unheard of in rural Maine, where the economy is difficult even during the best of times.

Or maybe there are lots of stereotypical crusty old men who put up such signs to keep those “blasted kids off the lawn”.

Or maybe nudists live there.  Though in Maine, I suspect those are few and far between, and chilly too.

I could go on and on with maybes, but whatever the reason, there are definitely a LOT more “No Trespassing” and “Keep Out” signs around than there used to be.  It’s a shame that more and more of this beautiful state is being sealed off.  Remember the lyrics to the 70s classic rock song Signs by the Five Man Electrical Band?:

And the sign says, "Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight"
So I jumped on fence and I yelled at the house, "Hey! What gives you the right...
To put up a fence to keep me out, or to keep Mother Nature in?
If God was here, He'd tell it to your face. 'Man, you're some kind of sinner.'"

This YouTube video is from a pretty decent remake of Signs by the band Tesla in 1990.

Now I am not saying there are no legitimate reasons for “No Trespassing” and “Keep Out” signs, because there most certainly are a number of them.  Nonetheless, people would do well to consider if their reasons are good ones before slapping one up.

And put some clothes on, for Pete’s sake!

1 comment:

  1. Karen Wood was shot in 1988. I'm glad she hasn't been forgotten all these years later. I worked in the Superior Court House. The court house was busy during the trial but there was an unusual hush.

    People who move in from away bring one of their unfortunate way of not sharing their land. We're fortunate to have land management companies that will share theirs.

    The belief that you can be sued if someone is hurt on your land is still prevalent. Maine has a good Samaritan law that protects landowners from unintentional mishaps and lawsuits.

    Great post!