Keep Out and Miss Out

I love walking. Most mornings I wake early, slip quietly through my door and head out for a 5- to 8-mile pre-dawn walk, armed with headphones and Spotify or the latest podcast, or sometimes the company of a friend. In addition to that daily routine, my job requires that I walk in my neighborhood frequently. Sometimes I am passing out flyers announcing the latest event we are hosting, other times I am just walking to see who is out and about and hoping to meet more of my neighbors. This is one of my favorite parts of my work, aside from the ubiquitous menacing Chihuahuas – those that announce their presence long before their staked-out territory begins (preferable) and those that use the ambush method as you happily stroll onto the porch (not preferable).

Walking provides the comfort of friendly faces, the anticipation of meeting a new friend and the intimate glimpse into the life of the neighborhood. All of this makes this an enjoyable, important aspect of my work.

I have almost without fail felt welcomed on those strolls, except by the Chihuahuas. Even those not interested in an Easter egg hunt, or the city’s weatherization program or a back-to-school party have received the invitations and information with kindness.

Recently I have noticed an increase in the number of “No Trespassing” or “No Soliciting” signs posted on homes in my neighborhood. On one block in particular, the signs actually outnumber the Chihuahuas. I understand the concerns of folks – especially those without protective Chihuahuas -- as home burglaries have recently increased in number. And the Texas Penal Code in Section 30.05(b)(C) allows for the punishment of trespassers if there is a “sign or signs posted on the property or at the entrance to the building, reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders, indicating that entry is forbidden.”

The following means of notifying potential unwanted visitors to your land has also been codified: “The placement of identifying purple paint marks on trees or posts on the property, provided that the marks are:(i) vertical lines of not less than eight inches in length and not less than one inch in width;(ii) placed so that the bottom of the mark is not less than three feet from the ground or more than five feet from the ground; and (iii) placed at locations that are readily visible to any person approaching the property and no more than: (a) 100 feet apart on forest land; or (b) 1,000 feet apart on land other than forest land.”

I haven’t seen this in my neighborhood. I just find it fascinating. According to some, purple is used because it can be seen by people with colorblindness, it is easily seen in a natural environment and isn’t already being used by the Forestry Department for other purposes. I am often confused as I approach these signed houses. Who are we trying to keep out of our homes? Are all unknown visitors unwelcome? Is a simple invitation to a party “solicitation”? Am I trespassing to talk to you about a weatherization program?

I am more confused when the “No Trespassing” sign is flanked by a “Welcome” sign inches away, or even more perplexing is the statue of Mary with her arms outstretched to me as I eagerly approach, only to look up and read, “Trespassers will be Prosecuted.”

My job is made more difficult by these signs. It is tricky to meet neighbors and encourage others to meet their neighbors amid confusion about whether one is being welcomed or warned. We are all missing out by keeping each other out of our space.

Maybe the welcome signs outnumber the trespassing signs on your block. You may not have posted with paper or purple paint, but how have you modified your domicile to keep out unwanted visitors? Gates and guards who screen your solicitors? Privacy fences and backyards? Garage doors that open remotely and admit you unbothered into the safety of your abode?

Or maybe you just made sure your house was in a neighborhood where people look like you and believe like you and vote like you, thus reducing the risk of uncomfortable encounters.

If we are wary of all we don’t know and welcoming only of those we do, the signs all point to this: isolation, narrow-mindedness, and very little growth. And you may even miss a party or two.