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One day during deer season I was standing out in the yard wondering what not to do next when a hunter, short, round and swathed all in red like an armed Santa Claus, came down the dirt road that leads into my place. Clutching his rifle, he advanced cautiously, bending low as he followed some deer tracks made about two weeks earlier. Keeping this hunched-over posture, he made the turn and continued up my driveway.
Briefly he disappeared behind the smokehouse and the lilac bush, emerging with his eyes still fixed on those ancient tracks, as intent a Nimrod as you would ever hope to see. He was passing only 40 feet from me, and I stood quietly, wondering if he would crawl under my car when the trail led there. At this point he saw me. Rising erect, he stared as though I had just stepped out of a flying saucer. His jaw dropped as he took in my modest establishment: the house, the weathered barn, the lawn and the circular driveway.
Without a word he wheeled and ran back the way he had come as fast as his pudgy legs could carry him, vanishing over the little rise where the road leads down to neighbor Pratt's place.
"Aha!" I thought. (I often preface my thoughts that way.) "Farmer-sportsman relations must have taken a turn for the worse."
Just in case you are unaware of it, the farmer-sportsman problem has been with us since the invention of the barbed-wire fence. Reduced to its simplest terms, the controversy is this: the hunters demand the right to go onto the farmer's land and plug game, but the farmers usually insist they stay out. State game departments attempt to bring the two together, and the question is often ironed out pretty well in convention symposiums, but under actual field conditions the irate farmer is still giving the hunter the old heave-ho.
The location of my 26 acres gives me an excellent observation point from which to look at both sides in dubious battle. My land lies on the edge of a beautiful stretch of country, 1,735 acres of boulders, swamps, meadows and woods bearing the bucolic designation "State Games Lands No. 56." Back during the Depression it was purchased by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania out of hunting-license fees for $10 or less per acre (just think of it) as a place for hunting minus the old farmer-sportsman problem. Anybody with a license may hunt there.
Our family loves Bucks County and old No. 56. Although but 70 miles from Manhattan's towers, it is a respectable forest. In spring the wild columbine festoons the massive boulders. Other flowers bloom along the little streams, and nine species of frogs and toads provide music from late March until early June. Over the years since No. 56 was set aside, many nongame as well as game animals have increased or come back. Even a pair of pileated woodpeckers are in residence near my house, although I have never found their nest. No. 56, as well as the surrounding countryside, has a goodly number of deer. We watch the does with their fawns all summer, and in the fall they come right into the yard to eat fallen apples.
Strangely enough, these woods with pleasant picnic spots, plenty of space for bird walks, nature study and other outdoor recreations are practically deserted all summer. Multiple use is not in effect here. Once in a while you may come upon a man with a pair of binoculars or, in early fall, a couple of elderly ladies looking for the fringed gentians that bloom in open glades, but generally the area is devoid of human life. Once my neighbor, S. J. Perelman, the writer, was apprehended in there. When asked what he was doing, he muttered, "Taking a walk—eccentric," and disappeared into a hemlock motte.
I've never been able to understand the summer shunning of these beautiful woods. Perhaps it is because people must have things labeled these days. Maybe if they put up some neon signs around the place saying NATURE WALKS ON THE INSIDE or WILDLIFE STUDY FREE they would get more customers than they could handle. But as it stands now the only time you see more than one person at a time there in summer is when you encounter a pair of shy young lovers in fond embrace.
On the opening day of deer-hunting season this sylvan solitude is shattered. At daybreak an army clad in red moves down the old woods road that passes my house. Most of them are not content with just a red coat but wear red pants, shirt and cap as well. Each armed with a rifle, they march into the woods singly and in small groups. A person might think that the British were back again. In fact, it was only a few miles below here that Washington crossed the Delaware.