When I was 15 years old I worked at a summer camp. I wasn’t a counsellor, because it was a camp for boys, but there were some female staff there — the sailing and swimming instructors, the office assistants, and the people like me who worked in the dining hall, basically as glorified waitresses. Cleaning up after 200 messy campers three times a day might sound like thankless drudgery but it taught me a lot about the value of hard work — plus I was only 15, so I couldn’t really legally be employed anywhere else. There were parts that were super fun too — I mean, the pay was ridiculous, and the hours were horrendous, but I was working with a bunch of other girls who were awesome, and we had some really good times. The best thing about it was being in the Georgian Bay, which — take my word for it — is the most beautiful place in the entire world. There are literally no words to describe how much I love it.
Anyway, one of my tasks that summer was to sweep the dining hall after every meal, which I enjoyed, partly because I really like sweeping and partly because sometimes, when I was feeling in a particularly reflective mood, I would sneak underneath one of the big oak tables and lie there staring at the rafters for a while, just zoning out. One of the camp’s traditions was that each year, the winners of the prestigious end-of-summer contest were granted the honour of choosing a saying or a motto that would be carved in wood and hung along the huge beams that ran across the hall, for future generations to ponder. I only remember a few of them: ‘In the Boy Is Seen the Man’ was one, and there were other lofty standards pertaining to sportsmanship, nature, camaraderie, etc. The best one, though, was ‘The West Wind Shapes the Pine’. There’s something so majestic about it, and so uniquely Canadian. If you are familiar with the work of the Group of Seven you’ll be able to picture just such a windswept pine, bent by decades of howling westerly gales.
I was thinking about this saying today. Like the mighty pine, we too are shaped by the forces that prevail upon us, sometimes brutal and unyielding. Despite repeated battering, though, we remain standing — bent, perhaps, but not broken. At least that is the goal.