We Don’t Climb Trees


I try to mind my own business – which is hard, because it seems there are so many people who could benefit from my wisdom. But …

There are times when I have to stand up and be counted. Have my voice heard. Rail against the injustice. Even if it’s done on an obscure blog that only 7 people have ever read. And one of those is my Mom, so I’m not sure Google counts that as a view or not.

I was at the dentist’s office the other day. Wait. Wait! It’s not another “Dentist Story”. Really. The setting was the dentist’s office. That’s all. Honest.

In the “stall” next to me, a very young brother and sister were getting their teeth checked for the first time. The dentist was counting their teeth, giving them rides up and down on the chair, and generally making a trip to the dentist appear to be like a trip to the fair. If they still had fairs.

Now the fact that I never had fun at the dentist is not where the injustice in this story happens. If you can believe it, this is not about me. Well, I’m sure it is. Maybe it’s not overtly about me.

From what I gathered – I was staring at the ceiling with a drill, some sort of pick, and I think a small basketball in my mouth, so my attention wasn’t focused on the outside world – the sister was in the chair, and the little boy, who was maybe 3 (get them young!), was looking out the window.

“Daddy! Look at the trees! Let’s go climb them!”

As much as I could, with the dentist’s hand – and possibly her foot – in my mouth, I smiled. You see, I loved climbing when I was young. Trees. Barns. Monkey bars at school. My Mom was convinced that I was part chimpanzee, at least on my Dad’s side.

Who am I kidding? I still like to climb stuff.

There is something about climbing. It unites your body, mind, and spirit in a way that few things do. Yes, your body is the vehicle for the climb, but your mind must be active. You need to plan your route, look for appropriate hand and footholds, and, if climbing trees, be on the lookout for a dead branch that won’t hold your weight.

But your spirit … Oh, my friends, what does a climb do for your spirit! Upon reaching the top, you are swept into a feeling of ecstasy and wonder. At the very least, a job well done. Mission accomplished. Fear and danger overcome.

At best, a sense of wonder, excitement, and the knowledge that you are one with the world. Yes, I was a tree hugger before it was cool.

And so I was excited for the little boy. I pictured myself helping my sons into trees when they were young –  and smaller than I. The excitement on their faces. The lure of adventure. These were the things I imagined for this little guy.

Then his father said these 4 (or possibly 5, depending on how you count contractions) words that no father, mother, or grandparent should ever say:

“We don’t climb trees.”

You don’t climb trees? What the hell? Pardon my French, but this is outrageous. You don’t climb trees? This is not an OK thing to say. Not only is climbing a tree a religious experience, it is one of the true joys of life. You don’t climb trees?

The father continued on. “Climbing trees is dangerous. You will get hurt if you climb a tree. You could fall out of the tree and get really hurt. We don’t climb trees.”

I didn’t know what to say. Well, I couldn’t say anything, as there were potholes being filled in my oral pathway, but my flabber was so gasted that I was speechless.

I’m not saying the father was wrong in his assessment of tree climbing. Yes, if you climb enough, you will get hurt. Skinned knees and hands. A branch in the eye. Momma birds will attack you if you come close to her nest.

And yes, you will fall.

But you have to weigh the pros out as well. You need to remember the feeling of accomplishment that you get. How you overcame adversity. How you experienced pain and kept on going. How, in spite of wearing old, brown, suede, worn-smooth Converse runners, you made it from point A to point B. And lived to tell the story.

These things are not only required, but they are our birthright. Better a broken body than a broken spirit. Or worse, a spirit that lives in fear.

What did that little guy learn that day? Not only can’t he climb trees now, but he won’t be climbing anything in the future, either. Plus, the world just became a little scarier. Now even the trees are out to get him.

Society is obsessed with safety.

I was fortunate enough to have grown up in an era when it was OK – expected even – to get hurt. To try new, and often dumb, things. I learned a lot of lessons the hard way, but I did learn them.

I tried to give those same experiences to my sons. I remember putting them both into our big willow tree for the first time. The nervousness in their eyes. Fear even. The few tentative handholds. The confidence in their ability to go higher. The shining eyes after they made it to the top and experienced the thrill of accomplishment.

These are experiences that have become a part of who they are. Was I worried about them when they were high enough to break something on the way down? Damn right, I was. Was the risk worth the reward? Absolutely.

Nowadays, everything is safe. Playgrounds have thick padding, and all the “dangerous” items have been removed. Helmets are required for everything. Trampolines are a thing of the past. Safety labels assume that you are brain dead. “Hoisting this 500 pound refrigerator on your back may cause injury.” Really. I’m amazed we don’t have airbags on bicycles.

But safety is like a unicorn: a nice idea, I guess, but it doesn’t exist. It’s a myth.

A friend of mine, who carefully and faithfully saved his beans over a lifetime of work, had about half of his net worth wiped out by the recent “market correction”. It’ll come back, but his retirement has been compromised.

I’m not saying don’t save for the future. You should. It is not only prudent, but it is also wise. Just don’t think that it makes you “safe”. Things happen.

I’m not a political guy. I don’t follow the news. But even I heard about Bill C-51. I don’t even pretend to know the ins and outs of it, but I suspect it was passed to protect our safety.

I think I mentioned that I think safety is a dragon: it flies, is scaly, has that cool ability to shoot fire, but, ultimately, doesn’t exist.

So we give up a few more rights and freedoms to be kept safe. I can now be held for something like 7 days if CSIS decides that I’m an unsavoury character.

All in the hopes of keeping me safe. All because we live lives of fear because we aren’t allowed to climb trees anymore.

How about that? Worldwide attempts to combat terrorists all comes back to not letting little boys (and I only use boys as an example. I also hope that girls are climbing trees and doing dumb stuff, too. Why should boys get all the fun?) climb trees.

What a funny world we live in.

And so … take some risks. Maybe you’re past the stage where you are climbing stuff. Although, really, are you? Or are you just afraid of what people would say if they saw you at the top of the tree in your front yard?

Anyway, find out where you can be a bit “unsafe”. Push through your fear. You might just discover that the pain was worth it. Required, even. A difficult path makes the destination that much sweeter.

After all, you wouldn’t stop having sex just because it might be messy and just a bit awkward.

So, the next time we meet, go ahead and say what you want about me. Pie in the sky. Not grounded in reality. Pollyanna. Idiot. Fool. I’m a peace loving Mennonite, so I’ll take it in stride.

But, if you say “We don’t climb trees”, and I don’t have a mouth full of dental instruments, I might just have to punch you in the mouth.


  1. Hey Ron!
    I’ve been on a search for trees to put in my boring back yard, where they took out the life (trees and native plants) to put in a house – which we now live in. Found your blog … and thank-you for writing ‘we don’t climb trees’. I wholeheartedly agree and as a mother of a 9 year old .. we go often go out in search of trees to climb, cause thats what kids should do … so many parents overwhelm their kids with organized sports.. when you can teach self esteem and confidence and love of nature by the simple act of ‘climbing a tree’


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