I took to heart certain childhood lessons:
- if there is a line - don’t cut
- naps are important
- ask first before playing with other people’s things.
I knew the rules and learned that each year, with a new teacher, that they were going to change. You had to pay attention or there would be consequences.
Kids talk. Word on the playground would let you know which teachers would let you get away with a “darn” or “heck” and which would send you to the office for rolling your eyes. I knew from the beginning that it was better to absorb the scolding of your classroom teacher than it was to be sent away to be disciplined by the Principle. News of a trip to the office would get home long before the bus and mom could get quite a steam going by the time I walked through the door.
I was reminded of the parallel between the classroom and field this last season. I observed a hunter climbing through a neighbor’s fence and out onto the county road. He didn’t have a weapon or a vehicle in site and it made me curious.
He was wearing the latest in quality camouflage and expensive boots. The sweat on his brow testified that he had covered a good deal of ground before slipping out of the private property that adjoined the game-production area. I rolled to a stop, lowered my window and asked if he needed a ride.
I’m nearing thirty years in the classroom now and many of my past students have matured in unexpected ways. So I wasn’t that surprised when the hunter called out my name and mentioned having gone through my class a dozen years back. The man in the passenger seat didn’t much match the boy I recalled, but the smile and voice brought him back to memory. He had been a good kid.
He said he was active duty military and stationed back east, that he was just home for the holidays and had found a buck on the public hunting ground. His shot hadn’t immediately anchored the deer. It had jumped the fence onto posted property and my former student had broken several of the rules he should have learned on the playground in tracking it down and finding it dead.
He volunteered that the deer hadn’t gone far. That he had left his rifle on the public side of the fence before he took up the trail. That he had been really surprised when he had knocked on the landowner’s door and asked if he could drive onto their place to recover the buck. He relayed some of the butt chewing that he had received with wonder. The lady of the house had been ticked. I knew her husband, another former student, and thought silently about how lucky the hunter had gotten off meeting with one instead of the other.
An unwritten rule of the playground was that you handled as much as you could by yourself. Tattletales were weak and ostracized. The code of the western rancher isn’t much different. They will call in a warden if it looks like they need backup or are outnumbered. But they prefer to handle the vast majority of life’s conflicts on their own.
Intentional trespass is an automatic revocation of hunting privileges for a year and a confiscation of game. From a rancher’s point of view, a two-minute lesson in property rights and a verbal stream of righteous indignation is a Christmas gift. Pressing charges would require a level of involvement that compounds the problem for both parties. Yet hunters seem to hear through the grapevine which landowners press charges and which ones only bluster. Sometimes it seems that too much bluster with no punishment only invites more troubles in the future.
My former student/hitchhiking hunter admitted that he should have done things differently. The boundary was clearly marked and he had been in the wrong. He should have asked first before pursuing his deer. Depending on the day, and who he met at the door, he might not have gotten permission and lost his trophy to the eagles and coyotes.
No matter how you look at it, he makes Santa’s naughty list for this year.