We live in rural Orange County, at the edge of very urban subdivisions and shopping-center sprawl. It’s “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” territory. People get along.
Someone once tore down my Obama sign; next day neighbors put up two more. They stayed where they were. We all “adopt the highway” and pick up trash together a few times a year. We always wave to each other when we pick up the mail.
When we bought our land almost 40 years ago, we sent away for any available archived aerial photography of the area.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service had enlargements going back to 1938, housed at the national field office in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 24-inch-square black-and-white documents told such stories.
We saw roofs of old buildings that no longer existed; we could sometimes find the rudimentary rock foundations. We saw checkerboards of fields that had become forests and woods that were later cleared to become fields. We followed old roadways and paths with our fingers to points on the plats we recognized. We found hog pens, springs, even possible stills.
We crisscrossed the acres, our own and our neighbors’, in exploration of all things historical, natural and curious. We found a grove of wild atamasco lilies one extraordinary spring morning. I found a trash pile with sparkling blue Mason jars, decades old, with their glass lids intact. They’re stored away in some out building somewhere for “safekeeping.”
We take a lot of walks. My wife knows all the names of all the flowers and trees; she can identify all the stars, all the constellations. I’d be just another suburban kid from Jersey without her. She notices the changes in nature.
So it was with some concern one day when she asked me, “Have you seen that new deer stand on the tree towards the east near a rock pile?” Several herds of deer roam the neighborhood. Some folks hunt them, some folks feed them. Down a trail you’ll suddenly see flags and “No Hunting” signs. Archery season started in September; gun season is coming.
I hadn’t seen the deer stand, but I knew where she was talking about. I’d been there recently with a neighborhood logger. We had had an enlightening walk along an old border fence. A well-constructed cedar post and barbed wire fence will last forever. Climbing down from his feller buncher, he pulled a folded Google map out of his pocket.
We quickly realized that both of us already agreed about the boundaries for his prospective timbering. He tucked the map away, and we followed the rock piles and fence posts originally placed there by his ancestors nearly a century ago. He added bright orange surveyors’ tape every 10 yards to mark the perimeter for his crew.
Tree stands take deer hunting to the next level. It’s a bit worrisome to be walking in the woods imagining that there’s some guy 20 feet up a nearby tree with a gun, maybe sighting your way. We don’t like the deer either – they eat our plants, fruits and vegetables – but we don’t want to get shot at.
Most deer stands are simple lightweight metal chairs attached by hooks, stirrups and traction strips to trees. Sometimes they even have ladders that flip down. They can be portable or permanent. You don’t need to be a hunter to appreciate their design. Like a camo-covered mini tree house, they quickly and easily put you up in the forest, where all wildlife is more clearly visible.
The crucial decision about securing a deer stand is where to face it. My wife and I were once out hiking with the dogs and noticed a row of saplings that had been recently topped. We followed the debris to a point up a hill. There was a spiked ladder leading 25 feet up into the trees to a seated platform. A hunter sitting up there had unimpeded aim on deer passing within 200 yards of our house on their way to a creek. We figured it was some kids down the road. I put up a few signs and made it pretty clear that moving their deer sights away from where people live was a good idea.
Turns out this new deer stand was not an evil threat. It was facing away from all paths, people and roadways. Just somebody getting ready for muzzleloader and gun season. The slit-open 10-pound bag of rock salt, a young deer’s favorite trick or treat, tossed in the clearing was a dead giveaway of a November surprise.
We still go for walks out that way. But we keep a close eye on the dogs and wear bright jackets.