I remember when we left the San Juan Islands – 10 years ago, this month – standing on the ferry as it pulled away and thinking “I will really miss the madrona trees.” Not that we don’t have madrona trees on Bainbridge, but they’re not as prevalent as they are in the islands, where their distinctive red trunks, peeling bark, gnarled limbs and broad green fingerleaves range all along the shorelines.
So it’s always a treat to come back to the madronas; a bit like greeting old friends. And this one, which stands beside the camp’s amphitheater, is a particularly appealing specimen. Like humans, madronas often have parts that go gray with age, but it’s not unusual for the rest of the tree to continue flourishing. And the warts we humans prefer to excise are frequently significant character builders for these striking trees.
Where am I going with this? I’m not sure… perhaps I’m just wondering why it is that traits we find endearing in one species are so ruthlessly eradicated in another. I wonder if this is somehow related to my people-watching here at camp. Despite the kindnesses the children extend to one another, it’s clear there’s a pecking order – and, as would be true in any gathering of American children between the ages of 9 and 16, popularity is clearly an issue.
But it doesn’t seem to be completely related to appearances; as usual it’s as much a function of confidence and attitude as it is about appearance. And there seems to be a rather fine line between the kind of confidence that includes and is gracious, and the kind of confidence that drifts into arrogance and entitlement. As a parent, one of course hopes that the former is encouraged and the latter discouraged, but there’s no denying that’s not always the case – here, or anywhere else for that matter.
What I wish, of course, is that we humans could see each other with as much openness and appreciation as we see the madronas; that we could appreciate uniqueness, quirks and originality as well as similarity and shared interests. Sadly, I suspect there’s still much work to be done in this arena…