Saturday, August 14, 2010

Back among friends

I remember when we first began to realize we would need to leave the San Juan Islands and move closer to Seattle, I would ride the ferry on one of our many house-hunting trips and think, what will I most hate leaving? What is it that keeps me here?

The first answer was always “the community,” and though in many ways Bainbridge has been very good to us, we all still miss the richness of the island communities we lived in. It’s probably because they are so much more rural; people in small towns – especially ones for whom tourists are a constant intrusion -- are more dependent on one another, I think, and so they are careful to build and honor local connections.

The second answer was “the ferries.” Though we have ferries on Bainbridge, too, they are not quite as essential, they’re much more readily available, and the rides don’t last as long. In the San Juans the ferries are an important lifeline to the larger community: they don’t run nearly as often, and aren’t nearly as large, so we come to know the men and women who run them, and learn to appreciate and value their contribution to the community.

But the third answer was always “the madrona trees.” It’s not just the gorgeous bark, or the red berries that we string together at Christmas time to hang on the Christmas tree; it’s the way they grow at the water’s edge, the delightful shapes and patterns that both living and dead trees carve into the relentless green of salal and cedar.

So when I had a few spare minutes yesterday evening, I went down to the dock to photograph the magnificent camp dinghies and was delighted to see this truly classic formation hovering just above high tide level. To me she looks like a goddess or magician who has somehow managed to harness the waves as she stands in her lovely round-bottom boat.

But it doesn’t matter, really, WHAT she looks like: what matters is the way the shapes call out to the imagination, inviting it to consider a delightful world beyond the familiar. Her bark was undoubtedly beautiful when she was young and alive, but she has something to offer even in death – something encouraging for those of us who are moving into the latter portions of life.

Just beyond the edge of cliff on which she hangs, I could see my daughter and all the campers gathered in the amphitheater beyond the dock, arm in arm and singing before the evening fire. A camp is a wonderful community, one that continues through the years even though the campers don’t see one another for months at a time, and the friendships they form here – I know now, from watching my own kids – will keep them afloat through life’s storms as surely as the ferries.

I’m grateful, though we left the islands almost 10 years ago, that those connections -- and the madronas – live on.


Louise Gallagher said...

Everything about this post is beautiful. From the Madrona to your words to the feelings within your words and the connections and ocmmunity and your heart and soul shining.


is beautiful.

Maureen said...

I think you have received inspiration while at the camp.

I just love the madronas. The one in your photo is especially evocative. It reminds me of those swan-shaped boats that tourists used to take out on the Potomac.