What’s the Message?

By Sal Citarella

I’ve always liked to ramble off the road. Whether it was Van Cortlandt Park in NYC, or South Mountain in MD or the Marin Headlands beyond the Golden Gate in CA, as long as there’s dirt under my feet, I’m happy. My problem is that sooner or later, I would run across a sign I would have to wrestle with, “What’s the message?”

Take, for instance, No Trespassing! Well, that’s bold, but it’s also redundant. I hate to be a touchy grammarian about this, but isn’t trespassing, by law, prohibited?

Definition: trespass verb [I] (BREAK LAW) to go onto someone’s land or enter their building without permission.

So, what does No add to it? Would you expect a sign that said, Yes Trespassing? Would Trespassing Prohibited be any less redundant? Or Trespassing By Permission Only?

Why not just Private? Well, in my area, we have many roads, paved and unpaved, that are signed, Private. From my time on a city council, I learned that that designation merely meant that the city was not responsible for the upkeep of the road. Maintenance was the responsibility of the housing development or ranch that had installed the road. It doesn’t mean that entry by the public (runner) is in any way prohibited. After all, the Amazon driver has to be able to get there.

One of my favorite ridgelines, over my current home, is owned partially by the county and partially by a private ranch. In the past there had often been horses grazing there. When I first wandered into the area, there were several derelict vehicles strewn across the dirt road which I assumed indicated some sort of border. This never discouraged me and one fall day when I was just about to reach the crest, I encountered a man with a rifle on his shoulder. He advised me that it was deer season and suggested I turn around immediately. I thought that an excellent suggestion and took his advice. Since then, the parties have reached an agreement and the upper trails, though still on private lands, are now open to the public (runners).

How many times have I encountered a fence in the middle of grasslands with a sign on the wrong side? Leaning over, I would read, upside down, Private. Keep Out. But it was on the wrong side of the fence!

One day, having encountered signs like these, I stopped at a remote house and asked the woman who answered the door, how I could get back to something I recognized. She directed me down a dirt road, which at the end, was marked Private. From there, I knew I was only an hour from home.

What does Posted mean? So, some property owners put up signs. All property is owned by somebody, even if it’s only us taxpayers. Does it have legal ramifications? Don’t they have to catch me first?

Then there was the year my buddy and I ran the Death Valley Marathon; it rained. That put a bit of a damper on what was a unique experience anyway. Furthermore, it had snowed in the hills where the race was usually run and these had been closed by the state highway department. Well, after having successfully navigated 26.2 miles of shoe-sucking mud on the valley floor, I decided that on the way home, we would at least see the mountains that we hadn’t run. I simply drove around the Road Closed sign and continued cautiously over the mountain. All went well until we encountered the California Highway Patrol. The patrolman inquired nicely if I had seen the sign and I replied, nicely, that I thought the road was closed only at that other end. He smiled and said I should get the (censored) out of the area.

There is one sign I have encountered a few times that I consider clear and unambiguous: Keep Out! Trespassers Will Be Shot!

If there is a hierarchy of evil among all these signs of omen, I vote for this last one.

I’ve resolved this sign conundrum in my own mind by determining that if it does not say Keep Out, Sal, it simply doesn’t apply to me. Making up your own mind on these issues is Not Prohibited.

Categories: Features

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