Thursday, July 31, 2008

A scofflaw in the boondocks

Once upon a time I was a law-abiding citizen, but then I moved out to the boondocks--and we all know what Sherlock Holmes said about crime in the countryside: "It is my belief, founded upon experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

I have already recorded my experience purloining wildflowers from the public right-of-way (read it here); this morning I added to my dreadful record of sin by driving an off-road vehicle on the public road (illegal), accompanied by an unlicensed and unrestrained dog (doubly illegal), who helpfully supervised while I appropriated two trailer-loads of freshly-cut firewood.

In my defense, I did get permission to take the firewood: the county road crew was cutting up a large windfall limb and they didn't want the wood so they said I could have it. If the limb falls in the road, then it belongs to the road crew, right? I probably ought to ask the person who owns the property where the tree stands, but there's no house anywhere nearby and I have no idea whose property that is.

Not long ago I was buying birdseed at the farm store when the cashier noticed my address. "We have some property out there," she said, and when she described the location, I realized that her land is visible from my kitchen window. Here was a neighbor I had never known! "We haven't been out there to look at the property in ten years," she said, and I suspect that she's not the only absentee property owner in the area. If a person can't be troubled to look at her land in a decade, then will she really care if I take away a few loads of firewood?

There's still some wood over there but the chunks are too heavy for me to lift much less toss into the trailer. Normally when I encounter windfall wood on my walks, I notify the resident woodsman, who goes out with an axe and brings back winter heat, but today my woodsman is up to his elbows in bread dough so I thought I'd do it myself. I had one unexpected adventure on my second trip up the hill when I hit a bump and the pin popped out, releasing the trailer and letting it glide slowly down the hill toward the creek. It stopped right at the edge of the cliff, though, and I managed to locate the pin among the gravel, pull the empty trailer back to the road, and reassemble the rickety rig. If I had lost the trailer while it was fully loaded with firewood, I would have had to leave it wherever it landed.

Firewood is heavy, but the burden on my conscience from my scofflaw activities is virtually weightless. I didn't encounter another human being the entire time I was tootling around on the road with the four-wheeler, the errant trailer, and the dog, so as long as you don't tell, no one will ever know.

Except Holmes. He always knows.

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