For the record, the City of Orange will not tolerate the act of tree climbing or tree sitting in a public place because it is considered a "safety risk," according to a grumpy community services employee. My 9-year-old daughter and I learned of this sad policy when we decided to climb our favorite orange tree in the Old Towne Orange Plaza (Circle) during the early afternoon setup for "Treats in the Streets," an annual Halloween event for families.
Here's a brief history of this wise and sturdy tree. We have been climbing it since my daughter was very young. Both of us have never fallen out of the tree or injured ourselves during a climb. Some of our sweetest memories in Orange relate to the enjoyment of this tree. It is one of the last old-growth Orange trees in the entire city and bears some of the best tasting oranges ever. Its gnarly trunk and branches are smooth and dark with perfect handholds and stepping places to accommodate climbers of all ages and sizes. It is a magical gateway to the natural and cultural history of Orange County.
We did not visit Old Towne Orange to participate in Treats in the Streets. We actually went to find vintage clothing items for a period costume I planned to wear for a living history program on Sunday. We found the appropriate articles of clothing at a local business, but were asked to wait a half an hour for an authentic hat to be resized. We decided to wait at our favorite climbing tree in the plaza.
My daughter took off her shoes and gracefully tiptoed up the truck to a comfortable overlook. I was already barefoot, so I scampered over, hooked my arm to a high branch and pulled myself up to my daughter's level. We were as safe and contented as two little monkeys in the jungle when a young and pessimistic city employee wandered over and glared at us. She told us in a stern voice that we had to climb down because it was a "safety risk." I told her that I would gladly sign a liability release form, if she would allow us to continue our fun for a short while longer (until my hat was done). She insisted that we get down immediately with a harsh and condescending tone. Our spirits dropped to the ground like two birds slamming into a plate glass window. After our shock wore off, we carefully climbed back down.
I approached the public servant and tried to reason with her. I asked if the "safety risk" was for us or for the city and she responded "both." I explained our family's long relationship with the tree, but she did not relent. My sweet daughter pulled me aside and told me not to worry. I was so frustrated that I argued a little bit more until the city's representative threatened to call for back up. At that point, I stormed away to join my daughter on a nearby park bench where we distracted ourselves by people watching.
I was more than willing to assume liability for my daughter and myself. If any sort of injury resulted, it would've been our fault, plain and simple. I am tired of our litigious culture. Our community has been homogenized to the point where we can't make decisions without consulting an attorney. From a bureaucrat's perspective, the free spirited behavior that we briefly exhibited must've been a threat to the mundane status quo. I am endlessly saddened by the inability of our public officials to differentiate between wrongful acts of mayhem and innocent acts of joy.
I ask the city, is it safer to encourage your child to climb trees and eat fresh picked oranges or to encourage your child to wander the streets in a suffocating mask and collect mass quantities of artificially processed sweets from strangers?
Is it safer to take a calculated risk and assume liability for yourself or is it safer to avoid all potential risks and assume that the worst-case scenario will happen every time?
Evidently, the city has decided that tree climbing is unsafe, a decision that will further degrade the lives of developing children. How often do you hear of children getting seriously injured or dying from climbing trees? Are tree-climbing lawsuits sweeping the nation? On the other hand, how often do you hear about people getting seriously injured or dying from car collisions, motorcycle accidents, mountain bike accidents, construction related accidents, domestic dog attacks, horse riding accidents, human caused fires, playground equipment incidents, alcohol abuse, or domestic violence?
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If the City of Orange is so concerned for our safety, maybe they should begin by addressing greater social and infrastructural issues that stem from poor urban planning and the mismanagement of our natural and cultural resources.