For two weekends we worked together. The kids, little and littler carried planks a mile through the woods and stacked them carefully. Several grownups hung cables and attached rope railings. In the end it was impressive. Almost 10 feet above what is currently an unimpressive river we remember the floods of the last few years. We wanted something higher, stronger, more permanent. It is a way to conquer nature and appreciate it at once.
Three neighborhoods came together to build the bridge so we can go over the river and through the woods to school on Wednesday. Last year a group of 17 kids, a handful of parents and one teacher made it every single wednesday all year long. Arriving at school with pink cheeks from heat or cold. Alert, accomplished, independent.
We live in Vermont, a mile plus hike through un-level woods is not your average walk to school. It was one of the reasons we moved to Shelburbia. To join this intrepid walking group.
When we built the bridge this summer I was not too far removed from my service on the Development Review Board. Building a structure on town land struck me as not too letter of the law-y. However the main engineer of the project had gone to town hall and gotten an OK. So I decided not to dig too deeply. We needed to cross the river. The bridge was the best way. To fundraise and go through committees would be slow, and raise the question of liability. Forgiveness rather than permission seemed the way to go now that I wasn’t actually a member of the board.
So we built it and used it and at our invitation another neighborhood starting using it also.
And then the trouble started.
The Gardenside neighborhood passes through the Gardenside condos to access the woods to the bridge. The condo association is worried about liability on their property. The bridge is not on their property.
In all honesty- which I cant really help- I understand the concern about the bridge. It is well built. It is incredibly unlikely that someone will get injured on the bridge. But it is possible. It is more likely that someone will get injured trying to cross the river without the bridge. But the bridge is people-made. Child-made in part. So it seems more risky.
I want the bridge to stay. Maybe add some use at your own risk signs? Preferably hand made in keeping with the woods. To see it come down will be heartbreaking for my boys and difficult for a growing group of kids who start their own hike before 7 am. This can’t be the best answer.
The bridge burning is not the only case of over sensitivity to liability I have seen in the last few days.
A friend and I were spreading pine cones in the park for a school scavanger hunt with the third grade. A woman interrupted us from the abutting condos telling us not to pass the tree line. She said that kids using the park did not respect the tree line and she was worried about them getting hurt on the condo lawn and them being liable.
Luckily I was not alone and my friend took over and thanked her for the information and her concern and I busied myself with pine cones. This is not the same association as the bridge haters. This is the kid haters. Both the school (adjacent to the condo) and the park predated her condo. They must have known there would be children around. Risky, scary loud kids, who can slip and have their parents sue you.
So many things have risk. Everything really. Breathing in the wrong air is risky. The part that takes it from being a fact of life to a faction of life is liability and our litigious society.
I know there is an important place for corporate and civic responsibility, and our legal system helps toe that line. I wonder if anyone has tracked insurance premiums paid, claims made, and claims paid for injuries on personal property. I wonder if the fear is disproportionate to the literal cost. It has another cost though. What keep us out of the woods, off of the hay lofts, off of the climbing boulders, out of the tall trees.
We have had three emergency room visits, one from tree climbing, one from falling off of a stroller (climbing its side) and a third from dropping a bottle of milk on a toddler toe. The toddler dropped it himself or he totally would have sued me.
We are afraid of kissing each others kids, driving them home, loaning people our cars or chainsaws, or houses. When we had weekly parties on the lake my uncle asked if I was afraid of being sued. When young guest cut herself on a zebra mussel my mother asked if I needed to be afraid of her family.
When did it get like this? What is the reality of the risk of injury? I know the risks of avoiding injury…it is a small indoor life. In our own house. Without glass bottled milk. Not a Vermont life.
It has gone too far when kids can’t cross a tree line to pick up a pine cone.