Ever wondered about those orange marks on trees?

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I married a man who chose the word “reckless” to describe himself in his senior yearbook. He could pick two adjectives out of the whole entire Webster’s dictionary and that’s where he landed — reckless. Had my high school been into such things my two words very well might have been “not reckless,” so there you go. Opposites do attract. 

That’s why I get nervous when he invites me on an adventure, but last Saturday our two hours in a desolate corner of Copiah County turned out all right. That’s when he gave me a glimpse into a world he and one of our sons have been sharing during the winter months. They’ve had a sideline gig working for a forester friend. They do something called boundary line painting.    

First, let me say boundary line painting is not for the faint of heart. It’s active work — crossing hard terrain while splashing orange paint on select trees. Companies that own large tracts of land want their property lines to stay marked, so every few years someone gets hired for the job. It’s best done in the winter when the woods aren’t so thick and leafy. And snaky. My guys were winding up their season — 116 miles of painting timber lines — when I decided to tag along.

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First, we parked their truck in some place off the grid and unloaded equipment. With the aid of a GPS mapping app, they discussed strategic spots around the plot. 

“Got your brush?” the younger asked the older. They suited up in tan overalls, a special thick kind to handle thorns and such.  My son checked the gate while his dad used a cable lock to secure four-wheeler ramps. About that time, I looked up into one of the bluest skies I’ve ever seen and noticed this crow flying solo directly overhead. He cawed a few times, and it sounded just like he was laughing at me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a pair of those overalls.

“Come on, girl,” my husband finally called out. We jumped on the four-wheeler and followed a dirt road past a few hunting stands to where the app showed him to begin. He put his backpack on and plundered through a Rubbermaid tub that was filled with paint buckets and a layer of Spanish moss.

“Absorbs spilled paint real good,” he tried to tell me, but I knew better. He just wanted to plant it on the live oak in our front yard.

“You know that stuff has parasites in it,” I pointed out.

“Everybody in Natchez would be dead by now if that were true,” he answered.

With that settled, he pulled out his phone, got some music playing on a speaker clipped to his backpack, and set off on foot. I followed behind. A minute later he eyed a tree with a faded orange mark and took out his brush, quickly taking care of business on both sides. Then it was off to the next one about 30 yards away. I pushed through vines and soggy leaves, trying to keep any flying paint from finding me.

He was always looking for the next tree.

A half-hour into our adventure, the boundary line painter showed me a big “X” on a tall oak. “Means it’s a corner tree,” he said. To see if he was right, he looked at the blue dot on the map app, and it had moved to a corner spot on the tract. Booyah.

He showed me what was left of some yellow markings on the tree. “That’s lead paint. It’s from years ago, when the timber companies could use it. It lasted a lot longer.”

I did most of my walking in an old fire lane cut by some long ago crew. He was always a few yards away, paint brush in hand. Once, we came to a ditch and he reached out an orange hand to pull me through. It was almost romantic. At the top of a hill, I asked him about his glasses.

“Wire mesh,” he replied, alluding to their ability to withstand briars. Then he showed me a bell he wears to warn hunters that he’s not a deer. “Good,” I nodded.   

We got into a rhythm, with me in the fire lane scouting the trees for him. “Do you see it?” “Yes, it’s over there.” It was like a game. It was fun.

Before long, the work was done, but along the way I found the skeleton of a wild boar and crossed a stream that went over my boots. And I did something sort of reckless, too. I got orange paint on my favorite flannel shirt. I think I’ll keep it as a souvenir.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.