Count update: 234/400
So there I was minding my own business…
It was still full dark at 5 am. I had just woken up, but was laying in my car. The evening before, I had pulled off a rural country road. I backed onto a field entrance, next to a rusty padlock on a metal gate. The land beyond the gate was farm pasture with no livestock in sight. In fact, there were no houses, buildings or anything else in sight. Traffic was less than one car per hour. I enjoyed the silence broken only by the begging call of a nearby great horned owl as I drifted off to sleep. A car pulls up and stops. As the sweeping beam of a spotlight washes back and forth over my SUV, I have a hunch what this is about. I turn on my light and roll down the window as a boyish, slight sheriff’s deputy in an oversized uniform asked me to step out of my car. I put my bare feet on the gravel and handed over my driver’s license. As he examined it, I pointed out that I thought sleeping in my car was a legal activity. He agreed, but then questioned my ownership on this land it was parked on. Once he established that I did not own it or know the owner, he informed me that I could not sleep there because it blocked the farmer’s entrance to his pasture. I pointed out there was not a “no trespassing sign”. I was parked just 20 feet off the road, not disturbing anything, and that I could easily move if the owner needed pasture access. The officer was very professional but he wasn’t having any of it. He instructed me to stand in his headlights as he returned to his warm car to radio my license. As I waited irritated, barefoot and chilled, I considered pressing my case further, “It would be a rare event that the owner of this pasture had a spontaneous inspiration on that February night between 10 pm and 5 am to suddenly bolt out of his bed and plow up his pasture right there and then. But okay, let’s assume for a moment that it is a common Louisiana farming practice. His mission would be delayed by the amount of time it takes me to drive my car 20 feet onto the roadway so he could get his equipment by. Easily less than 1 minute. Assuming this spontaneous farmer is a careful planner and remembers to bring the gate key, he would have to dismount his vehicle to remove the paddock providing me extra time to move. I also reasoned that the farmer would probably need a flashlight and a can of WD-40 along to get the old lock to work. Now we have already established that I can walk on gravel in my bare feet, so we can assume that I can also drive my car 20 feet without any delay to put on shoes. So Mr. Officer, if we work out the math, the farmer’s actual delay in entering his field would be less than 15 seconds. With all due respect Mr. Officer, I have to ask how exactly am I putting modern society at risk by sleeping in my car at this tiny spot in which no other human has passed by in months or years?”
… but when he got back out of the car I bit my tongue and kept my thoughts to myself. Instead I was polite and enthusiastically explained that I was traveling on a bird watching trip hoping to find and identify 400 species of birds in the US. By his eye roll, I could immediately tell we were not kindred spirits. His expression showed he was thinking, “that’s not even a real thing”. By now, the first bit of daylight was threatening in the east and I heard the first Cardinal of the morning singing. Still trying to persuade the cop that there was legitimacy to my existence in his County, I doubled down and blurted out , “hear that? It’s a Cardinal.” Epic fail! He wasn’t buying it.
By now a second squad car rolled up, and a more senior deputy got out. I know this is supposed to be a serious event, but I could hardly keep for laughing out loud thinking, Junior called for backup? For this situation? Really?
The second officer was also very professional, but after my limited success enlightening the Junior officer on the merits of birdwatching, I decided less detail was better. I simplified my story to: “I was sleeping”.
It had been a long wait. The radio voice finally came back stating that they could not find anyone with my name. Junior then repeated my name into his shoulder mic, this time including my last name! This time the voice came back much faster with an “all clear”. The second officer then left and junior told me I was free to go, but could not sleep in that spot. I moved on. In all I was detained a good 30 minutes. When I recounted the experience to my wife, Ann, she asked me if Junior escorted me to the county line. He did not, but I thought to myself why not? Who knows, maybe he got another call, or maybe he is not old enough to have a driver’s license?
So that was the end of my Louisiana crime spree and it was on to Mississippi! I followed the southern coast so I only saw a small piece of the state. But I did stop and enjoyed Buccaneer State Park where I heard and saw the Clapper Rail in the fading light. I also got all bit up by no-see-um insects. They provided 24 hours of intense itching entertainment. Still, was worth it for the Clapper Rail.