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Yes, Trespassing

Other than being pulled over a time or two for hurrying on the highway, my husband has never come close to being arrested.

Until now.

We are a family of hikers. You have to be, living in the mountains of western North Carolina.

It’s a downhill constitutional to the mailbox, and steep enough coming back up to pull out your inhaler. Depending on where you park at church, you might either be surveying the steeple as you descend or singing songs of ascent like pilgrims huffing their way to Jerusalem. To reach Sweet Onion, our favorite restaurant, it’s such a sharp pitch downhill after you park that patrons practically skid through the front door.

The first inhabitants of these hills, the eastern band of Cherokees, called the region Shaconage – Land of the Blue Mist. No wonder we have such an ambiguous way of seeing things. Your vision pardonably gets a little blurry when you’re surrounded on all sides by such shrouded beauty.

So maybe that explains why law-abiding is a slightly debatable matter when residing in the foothills of the Smokies.

A few weeks back, my husband and youngest son shrugged on their backpacks to explore a trail Jordan had discovered online that looked promising. It wound uphill through several thousand acres owned by the local water company, and was duly posted with a “No Trespassing: Call This Number” sign at the trailhead.

Mike checked his cell service, dialed, and waited. No answer.

Knocked on the door of the small office nearby. No response. What to do?

Oh, the siren call of the cerulean skies! The downshifting of light through the verdant forest! The itchiness in their feet to reach the views atop the Blue Ridge! They grabbed their trekking poles and set off.

Mike estimates they’d hiked near to four miles along an old logging road when they heard rumbling. My men stepped off the trail to let a big pickup pass but it pulled up alongside instead.

A pair of broad shoulders appeared topped by a glowering face that had seen more than a few miles of dirt road. His companion wore a matching scowl.

“Whatcha boys doin’?”

My husband, ever the friendly fellow, cheerfully explained the afternoon’s objective- to picnic at the top of the ridge where the advertised views were said to be spectacular.

The pickup driver was not impressed. “Didn’t ya see the NO TRESPASSING sign down thar?”

Well, yes they had, but seeing as they weren’t looking to hunt or fish, they had supposed it was ok to proceed.

“Waahl, y’all sposed wrong,” The driver spat a wad of brown juice at Mike’s feet. “Git in the truck. We’re takin’ ya back down.” He jerked his head towards the bed of the truck. “Ya ain’t ridin’ with us.”

Now this was a first. Most everyone we’ve met in our county has been kind to a fault, but this one had a burr in his saddle about something. The guys climbed in among a muddle of chainsaws, hatchets, and weedwhackers. Later Jordan swore he’d heard dueling banjos off in the distance. They rattled back down the trail.

It got worse.

Two squad cars were waiting at the trailhead, one for each offender, with three boys in blue leaning against the doors, arms crossed over bellies, eyes shielded by reflective glasses.

Same question, this time with the force of The Law.

“Whatcha boys doin’? Don’tcha know the laws about trespassin’? They’s only two reasons people go up there.”

Mike was dying to ask what those two reasons were, but the day was getting uncomfortably warm.

He repeated what he’d told their captors. Saw the sign, tried to call, no response, beautiful day, what harm was there… Maybe what we’ve got here is failure to communicate, ha ha!

Do not use lines from old movies when you are about to be handcuffed.

The sergeant was unsmiling. “Hand over them packs, and lessee what you got in thar.”

The junior officers dumped the contents on the ground and poked through sandwiches, trail mix, and sunscreen. They glanced at hiking maps, rifled through pockets. They looked bored.

Eager to mend fences, Mike mentioned bear scat they’d spotted on the trail.

“Yeah, and yer lucky ya didn’t meet up with one,” an officer snorted. ‘One of them’ll knock ya into the middle a’ next week.”

Inspection complete, the guilty were released with a warning.

“You boys mind them trespassin’ signs, ya hear? Round here they shoot first and ask questions later.”

My menfolk came home chastened but grinning at their brush with justice mountain-style.

Lord, forgive us our trespasses.

That prayer has never had more meaning than it does now.


Maggie Wallem Rowe is a national speaker, dramatist, and author from western North Carolina. Her first book, This Life We Share: 52 Reflections on Journeying Well with God and Others, released from NavPress in 2020. Her second: Life is Sweet, Y’all! Wit and Wisdom with a Side of Sass, will be published by Tyndale House this coming March. Maggie and her husband,Mike, are the grateful parents of three adult children, two bonus kids, and six grandchildren.


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