Island Journey with the Evangel 11
The Evangel Goes to Camp: the 1960s at Camp Woody
The Evangel Goes to Camp!
A Week at Camp Woody in the 1960s
Celebrating 50 Years of Camp Woody: 1956 to 2006
The Evangel approaches the Woody Island dock in this photo taken by long-time Woody resident and author Yule Chaffin.
A camper’s first view of Camp Woody, as it looked after the chapel (right, white with orange roof) was moved into place in 1961.
In part one of “The Evangel Goes to Camp” I gave a brief overview of the history of Christian camping in the Kodiak area, including the camps on Long Island and the beginning of Camp Woody. This section is not a history, but a memory. In this narrative, it is the 1960s, and for some of that time I was not old enough to be a camper yet. But I’d been there every summer since it opened, and I had total access behind the scenes, and I tagged along for almost everything that happened. For the purpose of this article, I am a camper, and I throw in bits and pieces of many years. As with the other “Evangel Adventures,” I am not sharing specific events from specific days, but memories of how things were, and what was typical from year to year. The photos in this section are mostly from the mid-to late 1960s, with a few earlier and later photos thrown in when it helps to tell my story. This is a long article, because there was no practical way to divide a week at camp into parts. This chapter begins and ends with a voyage on the Evangel, because that’s how we always got there.
Travis North shot this photo of me on the south end of Woody Island in 1969.
It’s almost time for the Junior High camp in late July. My parents, Rev. Norman and Joyce Smith, are serving as pastor and dean for the Junior High camp. For some of the other camps, the Evangel crew will be there to transfer passengers, but then we’ll take a trip to some of the villages, always getting back in time to move more campers. This time, I get to stay at camp the whole week. So let’s go to camp!
The beauty of Woody Island is almost beyond description. Almost any angle will yield beautiful views such as this one, taken near Garraboon, shooting back toward Kodiak. Travis North photo.
Getting Ready for the Campers
It is deep summertime on Woody Island. The rain and fog of June has been replaced with bright sunshine and the vibrant colors of the intense growing season. Everything is green beyond description. The salmonberry bushes are already laden down with deep red, ripe berries. There are occasional rainstorms, but they last only part of a day before the sun peeks out between the clumps of clouds, giving way in the evening to dramatic sunsets. The temperature had been in the mid-70s, making Alaskans break out the t-shirts. The black sand beaches shine with the heat of absorbed sunshine. And I am on the most beautiful island in the world, having the time of my life! But I am not used to the peace and quiet. We are between camps, and the place just seems like a ghost town without the hustle of dozens of active kids.
The staff has been busily getting ready for the next group of campers. Dad brought the camp pastor, the cooks and a couple of new counselors over from town this morning in the skiff. They are all volunteers from Kodiak, who have taken time off from work to help out at Camp Woody. A few of the staff get to stay all summer. Some are college kids who have come from as far away as California or Arizona to work at Camp Woody. It is time to go back to town to get the Evangel, move it from its stall in the boat harbor to the loading ramp, and start packing in the campers and their gear. I join Dad for a quick skiff ride in to Kodiak, and we move the Evangel to the float closest to the boat harbor’s ramp.
Getting There is an Adventure…
The kids arrive in a flurry of vehicles, and start bringing their gear down the ramp. We collect the first campers to help us load everything into the Evangel’s cabin. Heavy stuff goes down below, and sleeping bags go on top, in the bunk area behind the pilot house. I’m pretty good at arranging the sleeping bags in some sort of reasonable order so that they will be easy to retrieve at the other end of our voyage, and I can handle most of the suitcases and duffel bags. Soon it is time to head out. A few stragglers have stashed their gear, and the Evangel heads out of the boat harbor with its top deck awash in happy, excited young campers. There are kids at the bow and stern as well. My favorite place is at the top of the pipe ladder right next to the pilothouse door, with my hand on the railing, which forms a natural seat from which to view our progress. I choose the side that’s mostly out of the sun. Once, the Coast Guard stopped us on one of our trips to Woody Island, and inspected our safety gear. We had more than enough life jackets for all on board, and had a large skiff and a rowboat along. They were impressed, and sent us on our merry way. The life jackets are stowed in little plywood compartments nailed across the ceiling beams in the main cabin, and even the cushions on the two downstairs benches are flotation devices.
Campers unload the gear from the Evangel, forming a chain to pass the bags to the waiting truck on the dock. The camper second from the top is Emil Norton, Jr.
It’s only a mile or so of water between Kodiak Island and Woody, but there is one patch where the tide rushing through the channel between islands causes frequent turbulence. Most of the time, the rough patch is right off the face of the dock at Woody. Sometimes, the tide rushes past the dock so quickly that the float actually seems to develop a wake. But today, tide and weather conditions are great, and we slide up to the Woody Island dock’s float without so much as a ripple. A counselor has brought the camp’s old flatbed truck down to the dock, and the fun begins. The campers form a chain up the ramp, and pass the bags one to the other. In very short order, everything is on the truck. The campers race up to the campground, eager to get started.
Mealtime at Camp Woody
Soon, the kids have been assigned cabins, have met their counselors, and are off to stash their gear and to claim beds. The camp bell, rung by one of the cooks’ helpers, loudly calls everyone to supper. The campers all arrive by cabins, to sit with their counselors at the ex-military picnic tables that fill the dining hall. There’s great food tonight. In spite of a tight budget, the camp has excellent cooks, who make the simplest of meals taste marvelous. Tonight it’s spaghetti, with the noodles broken short and the meat and sauce thoroughly blended in, casserole style. Years later, when I am first served authentic Italian spaghetti, I will be appalled that the cook didn’t finish her job, dumping the sauce on those long stringy noodles! There’s garlic toast, green beans, and large plates of crispy rice treats for dessert. Fresh, naturally cold Tanignak Lake water is in every pitcher, but there’s an endless supply of hot cocoa and Russian tea (a local concoction made of powdered orange drink, instant tea and cinnamon that will later be called “chai” by some enterprising soul in Oregon or San Francisco). The plates are mostly similar patterns of pastel china, but quite a few thick Navy surplus plates sneak in. All the cups are Navy issue thick, handle-less mugs which are a little heavy for my little hands, but warm the soul on those clammy rainy days.
The dining hall stands ready to receive the campers. The shelves in the background used to be the built-in drawers and closet of the original CAA apartments that were torn out in 1956. To the right of the unidentified staff member is a series of holes drilled into the yellow post, labeled with a list of the items needed for setup: cups, glasses, plates, bowls, napkins, etc., each indicated by a matchstick stuck into the hole. No matchstick means you don’t set that item. All over the old kitchen there were little signs like that, written by Marianne Boko, which greatly increased efficiency. You can see the evidence of an old wall in the ceiling above. Travis North photo.
Camp traditions are introduced with the first meal. Previous campers, old hands with the routine, are first to check on camp etiquette: a hapless newcomer has happened to place his elbows on the table. Suddenly, a song erupts! “Get your elbows off the table, (insert name here)…we have seen you do it twice and it isn’t very nice, get your elbows off the table (insert name here). ’Round the table you must go, you must go, you must go…” Of course, since there is a center table, off that kid goes around it once, before sitting down to resume the meal as if nothing has happened. It’s all in good fun, of course. But repeat offenders get the dreaded “’Round the building you must go…” which steals a lot of food time from the hapless malefactor.
Mealtime madness and happy mayhem continues as the plates are being cleared (each cabin has assigned meals, so some of the campers are busy cleaning off the tables). Each table has been given a #10 can and a scraper, and we clean off the plates and stack them neatly for the cleanup crew. Dad then takes on his role as a party animal, 1950s style, and leads the campers in a few of the dozens of crazy songs Camp Woody seems to have collected. One or two of them are practically operatic in complexity: “It’s cheese, it’s cheese, it’s cheese that makes the mice go round (repeat twice).” Then the chorus involves shoving yourself into the shoulder of the guy next to you on the bench and vice versa, singing loudly, “Oh, rolling over the billows, rolling over the sea, rolling over the billows of the deep blue sea…” You work your way up the food chain in the verses, until finally, by semantic sleight of hand, the last verse lands on “It’s love, it’s love, it’s love that makes the world go ’round…” I told you it was an opera!
The dining hall is filled with campers in this photo from Travis North’s collection, taken in 1971. At that time, Camp Woody’s capacity was about 60 campers plus staff.
The next saga song is a series of puns on names of states, with various tables asking the questions and others answering in song: “How did Wiscon sin, boys? How did Wiscon sin?” Then the most knowledgeable table bursts forth with, “He stole a New Brass Key (Nebraska)…” Of course, being proud Alaskans, we add our own verse: “What did Della Wear, boys, what did Della Wear?” We shout, “I dunno, but I’ll Ask ’Er (close enough to “Alaska” if sung loudly enough!) Not surprising at all that I should take my love of puns and silly songs into adulthood!
The source of many of our songs (silly, sentimental or spiritual) was this little songbook from Baptist Youth Fellowship
Oh, by golly, there’s more. There’s a key and tempo raising song that goes, “Swing me up a little bit higher, Obadiah do, swing me up a little bit higher, say you love me true. Swing me over the garden wall, swing me up till I nearly fall, Swing me up a little bit higher, Obadiah do ooo” (in which the “ooo” is a half-step higher and a bit faster). Then there are the rounds. Dozens of them, with parts for everyone, and harmony swelling in the old Navy barracks until everyone is in a thoroughly relaxed and contented frame of mind. “White coral bells, upon a slender stalk…” “Let us sing together…” And yet another song with bizarre puns in it: “To ope their trunks the trees are never seen, how then do they put on their leaves of green? They leave (leaf) them out!” That seems to be the ultimate weird song: a pun and a round all at once! The strains of that strange, happy, familiar music are etched deeply in my young mind. By the first note of any of those songs, I am instantly and completely in the comfortable clutches of Camp Woody, in all its weird, wonderful glory. And we haven’t even left the dinner table yet!
One of Camp’s unsung heroes: Mrs. Beryl Torsen, who spent many years as one of Camp Woody’s marvelous cooks. Here she’s frying some salmon in the camp kitchen. (Travis North photo)
Eventually, most of us leave the dining hall, dismissed by tables. There is a game of volleyball going on, and some campers are down at Mirror Lake using the rowboats. Meanwhile, my cabin group is busy washing the dishes, in Camp Woody’s three stainless steel sinks: soapy water, clear water and a weak bleach solution. The huge sinks are one long piece of welded steel, and they take up most of the wall. The sink area was originally the kitchen of one of the apartments, and the original sink is in use for cleaning pots and pans. Eventually, all the plates are stacked, the silverware has been sorted, and all the mugs are stacked precariously on what was once a built-in chest of drawers in a bedroom, but now holds all the folded towels. Cabin groups learn quickly to sing or tell jokes or something to make the time go faster, and of course, no cabin has to do KP more than three times in the week. Finished, prune-fingered (yellow gloves always leak anyway), our cabin group scampers off to join the other kids.
After a night in which most of the campers are far too excited to get much sleep, the campers are awakened by music playing on a loudspeaker. The sound comes from a tube-powered Voice of Music phonograph that we take with us on the Evangel. The Billy Graham Crusade Choir sounds a bit odd bouncing off the walls of the main camp building, but it signals a new morning and new adventures. Some mornings, when campers seem a bit sluggish after a day of hiking, Dad will put on his awful xylophone record, which is simply impossible to snooze through! Campers rush out to the flat area beside the craft house to await the breakfast bell. The boys look like something the cat dragged in, and the girls have nicely combed hair and are trying to be sure their ensemble matches (Junior High kids all)! But everybody’s hungry, and when the bell rings to summon everyone to breakfast, we all rush eagerly down the short, steep hill to the dining hall. We take our places with our cabin groups on the long benches, and soon are devouring eagerly devouring the French toast.
After breakfast, everyone except the KP cabin gets to go and play. When the dishes are done, Dad rings the bell at the pole, and the campers go to their cabins to get their Bibles. We walk down a pretty trail through the trees to a point that juts into Tanignak Lake. There is a clear spot on the point, with trees and the lake beyond, and there some previous group of campers have cleared a spot and made an outdoor chapel, with logs and planks to sit on, a lectern made from a cut log, and a rough cross made from a cut spruce sapling. We will come out to Inspiration Point every morning for devotions let by the camp pastor, then we’ll break to find a secluded spot in the woods to read the verses we have been given and have some “quiet time.” One of the features of Camp Woody is training in personal devotions, and in this beautiful setting, it is not hard for even the most rambunctious campers to participate. I go out to the very tip of Inspiration Point, surrounded on three sides by peaceful lake waters, and read my Psalm out of my new Revised Standard Version Bible, and am startled to see a loon swim idly by, unconcerned by my presence. Later I hear it singing its unique song (as heard in the flutes of Grieg’s “Morning”) before the bell summons us all back to the dining hall. Incidentally, that Bible is the same one I so ingloriously lose later somewhere around Anton Larsen Bay in the article, “How Not to Visit Port Lions.”
This photo from the early 1960s shows Rev. Norman Smith leading morning devotions at Inspiration Point, shortly after it was cleared and the cross was put up. The lily pads of the lake are just visible between the campers and the trees beyond.
Away for the Day: A Cabin Group Project
The bell has summoned us to the dining hall again, where the dean, my Mom Joyce Smith, instructs the campers on our daily morning activities. Each cabin group is to be paired with another (one boy’s cabin with one girl’s cabin) and work every morning on some service project that can be used by the camp. Mom points out that the outdoor chapel we just visited was made by a group of Junior High campers on a previous year, and mentions several trails that need repair and signs. But almost any outdoor project would do nicely, because the point is to make something together that can be used later, or to improve our access to remote parts of the island. The cabin groups pair up and scatter, but not before getting a couple of boxes which contain their lunch. It’s beautiful weather, so the teams will be eating out. Our group will be blazing a new trail. We busy ourselves with finding a way to bypass the Garden Beach trail section where it cuts through Johnny’s property on the other side of Mirror Lagoon, because even though we are good neighbors, we’d like to stay that way. It’s impolite to have herds of kids run past your neighbor’s back door if you can avoid it.
My cabin group poses near the camp bell in Junior High camp, 1968. I’m in the center of the back row.
A project from 1964: a small campsite and altar in the woods on the trail above Tanignak Lake (photo taken by my sister Jerilynn).
The first day, we scout out the new route, which winds along an existing trail on the north side of Tanignak Lake and then cuts through the forest for a ways before rejoining the existing Garden Beach trail. It’s the new detour that is the tricky part. The group determines that some planks will be needed to get across a swampy spot, so some go back to get a few old boards from camp. Others determine where and how often signs will be needed. The work (if you could call it that) is fun, like building a fort or some other kid project would be. Eventually, it’s lunchtime, so we hightail it to Garden Beach (testing out our trail, of course) and eat the sandwiches we’ve been carrying. In the boxes are some little booklets that contain the curriculum for the week: a Bible study on a particular theme. After lunch we get them out and lounge on the rocks and logs while we go over the material. This year it is about being an authentic (as opposed to a phony) Christian, and it’s called “Sincerely Yours.” It’s a testament to the skill of the counselors, but the lessons manage to thoroughly engage the campers. They are also reasonably brief, and that helps, of course!
A rainy day scene at Camp Woody: trying to get everybody’s stuff dry in front of the little heater at the end of the dining hall. Notice also the hodgepodge floor that still shows evidence of the apartments that were removed to make the dining hall. The area to the upper right still has linoleum on the floor. All the picnic tables were donated by the military and brought from the base to the Evangel by truck.
The following day it is raining, so we use the craft house, and paint a few signs. Some of the teams opt to stay out in the woods, because it isn’t a really heavy rain, and they can still do their projects. But we all collect for lunch in the dining hall. After lunch and dishes, we go to our bunks for a full hour of rest time. It seems strange to take a nap when there’re all kinds of things to do, but that’s the point. It’s going to be a late night tonight, because the teams are going to put on stunts in the barn after supper. During the afternoon, the cabin groups have their booklet discussions, and also plot secretly about what skits they want to put on. Again the counselors come through. One of the counselors in the group I’m with is in the Navy, participating with the assistance of his base chaplain, and he’s done a lot of camping before. He loads the group up with several good ideas. We pick one, and the campers start practicing, to hilarious results. How are we going to pull this off if we can’t even keep straight faces?
Stunts in the Barn
Everyone is a bit excited at supper, at the prospect of having to perform skits in front of the whole camp. After supper, we trudge up the gravel road, past the foundation of the mission building that burned in 1937, and cut across a grassy patch to the Mission’s barn, where they store hay for their herd of cattle every winter. It’s empty now, a former Navy storage building with no heat or lights. We all get our feet a little wet trying to cross the grassy patch, and scramble in the end door. The barn has a large sliding door, and it is open, providing enough light once we get inside and acclimated. The hay smell and the original World War II bare walls and rough planking make for a memorable location for some more famous Camp Woody madness.
Stunt night in the Barn: more Camp Woody mayhem! (Travis North photo)
There follows a long succession of silly little dramas, flubbed lines, lame puns and regrettable plots. But that’s what skit night is all about, and everyone is having a great time. One group gets out a plank and a couple of bricks, and a blindfold. I know what’s coming next, having been its victim a few years ago when I was too young to really appreciate being made fun of. Two strong lads lift the plank off the bricks. The blindfolded person stands on the plank, which is suitably jiggly, holding on to the shoulders of two campers who are on either side of the plank. As the plank is raised (only an inch or two off the bricks) the two conspirators slowly sink down until only the tips of the victim’s fingers are touching their shoulders. The blindfolded one believes his senses. When the plank is suddenly dumped, he believes for all the world that he has fallen five or six feet, when he has only stepped about eight inches to the floor! Mean, but effective. There are more lame dramas ending in even lamer puns, including one where the punch line is something about the dreaded “Vindoe Viper” that ends up being about cleaning the windows. It’s all pretty simple stuff, but we are all in stitches anyway by the time skit night’s over.
The chapel at Camp Woody gets its first repainting, in 1968. The roof color is “Industrial Orange,” typical of the FAA color scheme of the time. We were donated some of the paint, so we continued the tradition, and kept the roofs of the two buildings we got from the FAA in traditional colors. It gave Camp Woody a festive look.
In the Chapel
After the skits, we are given some free time before chapel. The rainy weather stopped sometime before supper, and it looks like a good day tomorrow. I know because I saw him, that Dad has checked the tide tables. We will probably hike around the island one of these mornings, if it stays clear. The bell rings for chapel. At Camp Woody, we have a worship service every evening. If we are out at a beach, we sometimes hold it there, but usually we climb up the steps into the old FAA power station that now serves as our little chapel building. Tonight we will worship in the chapel. As we file in, Mom is already playing the little organ, imported from the Evangel. When we are all seated, we begin singing. I look around; the place still looks like a generator shack inside, but it’s got cathedral ceilings with exposed beams that vaguely resemble the construction of the Community Baptist Church in Kodiak. The walls got repainted, but therein hangs a tale: we ran out of yellow paint, so we decided to mix mustard in with white paint. We got a very similar color for all the walls, but the mustard soon made the walls moldy, making the walls worse than they were before.
The chapel interior shines bright yellow in a sunny morning service around 1962. The speaker is Rev. John Molletti, and Rev. Norman Smith is in the white shirt on the right side of the front row. The original holes for the generator exhausts are still visible in the ceiling. (Camp Woody collection)
The discolored yellow walls don’t matter, because the acoustics in the chapel are amazing, and all the young voices singing sound like angels to me. Our dog (and the most popular person in camp) Oscar has wandered in, and is now lying near the pump organ, pretty much at Dad’s feet. We sing much more meaningful songs at chapel than at dinnertime. Besides, among the million other things on import from the Evangel, we are using the Youth Sings songbook, which has some very good songs in it. “Only to be what He wants me to be, every moment of every day…” “Following Jesus, ever day by day, nothing can harm me when He leads the way…” “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me…” “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before…” Many of these songs came from youth camps, and they fit the mood perfectly. There are a few hymns as well: “The Old Rugged Cross,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow.” The Junior High camp theme song is the hymn “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus,” and we sing that right before Dad begins his short message.
Rev. Norman Smith leads singing in the chapel at Camp Woody in this blending of two movie frames shot by the author in 1970. The following year, Bob and Marianne Boko paid for and remodeled the interior of the chapel with beautiful new paneling and paint. The butterfly pattern on the windows was made by Evelyn Pratt (Heflen) using bits and pieces of beach glass. Behind Dad is the painting “Christ Our Pilot,” which hung for years in the Evangel.
I don’t really think of either Norman or Joyce Smith as my parents at this moment. I’m a camper, and I happen to know the dean and pastor really well! Rev. Norman Smith’s sermon is a piggyback of today’s lesson in the “Sincerely Yours” booklets. He talks about the walls that separate us from each other, walls that we make ourselves. He uses the Ephesians passage about the “wall of hostility” between us and God, and between us and each other, that Christ broke down on the cross. It is short, memorable, and to the point. Nobody even notices that Oscar is now fast asleep and snoring loudly at his feet. There’s a peaceful, even thoughtful mood among the campers as we head off toward our cabins, and it’s not all brought on by tiredness. Camp Woody always presents a vibrant, relevant, relational kind of faith, and it is definitely contagious.
Quickly the camp falls into its routine, as another day ends and a new one begins. The cabin groups go back out to their projects, and this time we carry with us a famous Camp Woody lunch. We are all given aluminum foil, shredded carrots and potatoes, a dollop of mushroom soup and a wad of shredded beef to wrap tightly in the foil. We write our names on our packets and box them up. When we get to our beach, we start a campfire, and then some of us continue working on the trail while a few stay behind to watch the fire. When the coals are hottest, in go all the foil stews. Camp cuisine being an acquired taste, I devour mine, once it’s ready (burned on one end, raw on the other, just like always).
The author, closest to the camera, sits with his cabin group on a log at Garden Beach in 1968.
A group of campers makes foil stew on the beach. (T K North photo)
Foil stew in all its glory! It helps to be hungry, and I always was after running around on Woody Island for hours. (T K North photo)
An Evening at the Beach
One day after supper, we are told that we will be spending the rest of the evening down at Chabitnoy Beach, named for Ella Chabitnoy, whose now vacant house is on the bluff above the dunes. Ella is responsible for teaching Yule Chaffin and my parents the original Native place names on the island. “Ehuzhik” replaced “Long Lake,” “Tanignak” replaced “Upper Lake,” and the picturesque rocky point on the southern end is called “Garraboon.” It is a few steps from the curve of the FAA road to the trail across the meadow, and it’s a short walk from there to the wide, long sandy beach which stretches from the mouth of the stream below Mirror Lake, under the dock, around the point and all the way down to the cliffs beyond the Mission’s corral. The meadow is worth a look, for it is covered with purple lupine, and dotted with little groundhog burrows. Whenever we walk past, we hear the annoyed high pitched “chi-chi-chi-chi” chatter of the little rodents as they duck into their holes. Parallel to the beach, this meadow is the largest stretch of open land on the island, and from the right angle, the mountains behind the Navy base give it the look of some place in Switzerland.
But we’re not there for the meadow tonight. There’s still plenty of light left, but the real focus of the evening is the large campfire that is burning on the wide beach below. The beach is so vast that we can have multiple campfires during camps all summer long and not exhaust the firewood that has collected during last year’s winter storms. Tonight Dad and his cook helpers have built a splendid fire (a job I often helped with when I was too young to be a camper). A tee-pee of logs is blazing brightly, nearly four feet tall. There are bigger logs arranged informally in a circle, and after running around, skipping whatever rocks we can find on the sandy beach and otherwise exhausting ourselves, we are drawn to the circle as if by a magnet.
A large campfire blazes on Chabitnoy Beach on Woody Island, in this photo by Travis North.
The highlight of tonight’s campfire is toasted marshmallows, with sections of Hershey bars and graham crackers – S’mores! There are plenty of sharpened alder branches for us to use for the roasting, and all the campers set themselves to the delicate task. Too close, and you have a flaming torch to salvage. Too far away, and it’ll be breakfast before you get your marshmallows toasted. I’m pretty good at this, so I get mine a nice golden brown all over by hiding it behind a log that has fire beneath it but not around it. The hot air swirling around the logs works perfectly; sticking marshmallows in the flames does not. We eat S’mores until we want n’more!
During our dessert creation time, Dad begins to sing, and soon we all join him. It’s yet another set of songs, somewhere between the craziness of the dining hall and the sanctity of the chapel. These are certifiable campfire songs. “Tell me why the stars do shine, tell me why the ivy twines, tell me why the ocean’s blue, and I will tell you just why I love you!” “The call of the fire comes to us in the twilight…” and one which reflects the simplicity and innocence of a long bygone era: “If there were witchcraft, I’d make two wishes, a winding road that beckons me to roam, and then I’d wish for a blazing campfire, to welcome me when I’m returning home. But in this real world, there is no witchcraft, and golden wishes do not grow on trees. Our fondest daydreams must be the magic to bring us back these happy memories.” What simple sentimentality. But the sound of Norman Smith’s clear, strong voice and the mesmerizing orange glow and crackle of the fire make this moment as magical as one could wish for.
Without being conscious of the segue, I find we have begun our evening chapel service. The songs are spiritual now, but still they suit the mood of this beautiful beach in the orange glow of evening, around this fine fire with good friends. “Over my head, there’s music in the air…God’s love reaches everywhere!” “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…soldiers of the cross. If you love him, why not serve him…soldiers of the cross.” “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart…” “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me!” There is no altar call. There is not even much of a message, except Dad’s quiet words between songs about the beauty of nature that shows the love of God and how our hearts are empty until we find our way to Him.
A spectacular sunset over the Three Sisters, taken from Woody Island. Travis North photo
Then we finish our evening service in God’s own cathedral as a few stars begin to twinkle over the island behind us, the sky behind the Three Sisters still ablaze with orange sunset. Dad leads us in two of his favorite songs, and I realize that he is getting at least as much out of this service as we are. He is truly at worship as he quietly sings, “Evening Star up yonder, teach me like you to wander willing and obediently the path that God ordained for me…Evening sun descending, teach me when life is ending, life shall pass, and I like you shall rise again where life is new…” As a benediction to an impossibly beautiful evening, we all stand and sing, “Day is dying in the west. Heaven is touching earth with rest. Wait and worship while the night sets her evening lamps alight through all the sky! Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of Thee, heaven and earth are praising Thee, O Lord, most High!”
Without being told, we all walk back to our cabins in silence, awed by the almost tangible presence of the God of the Universe.
Around the Island
But we are Junior High kids, after all, and full of boundless energy. That energy is put to serious test a day later when we are roused at five in the morning and sent down the road to the Chabitnoy beach again. There are a couple of campfires waiting, and we find our breakfast waiting as well (sort of). We each are given an egg and a paper cup, and told to go get some sea water. Then we place the egg, seawater and paper cup in the coals of the fire, and watch as it soon begins to boil! The paper burns down to the water level and stops, boiling our breakfast perfectly. We have our alder sticks again, and this time, we cook strips of canned bacon over the open flame. There are thicker sticks available as well, and we wrap biscuit dough around them and cook “doughboys.” The camp cook has thought of everything: cans of peanut butter and jars of jam appear out of the boxes. What a feast! When we are finished, it is still a little after six. The sun has been up for hours, and the tide is way out, exposing the vast tide flats that lie off Chabitnoy Beach. Our task today: hike around Woody Island!
The island of Woody is only about six or seven miles in circumference (hard to believe, since it contains so many vastly different environments within its shores). But the hike will take many hours, and not just because walking on soft sand eats up time. There are many places to stop along the way, and we will all collect for lunch at the halfway point. We start off in a blaze of glory, armed with oranges and jelly-rolled pancakes for energy. The trek around Garaboon point is dramatic, for as we turn the corner, the last vestiges of civilization fade, and we break from the shade of the high points of rock into bright sunshine. The beach goes from wet to powder dry, and changes from soft sand to patches of oval rocks which rattle underfoot. Eventually there are sections of solid rock, which we clamber over with relative ease. Where the beach makes a sudden seaward turn there is a small stream flowing through the mossy forest floor on the cliffs above us. I stop and take a long drink at one of my favorite resting spots.
The Arch, or Natural Bridge on Woody Island, has been appreciated by hundreds of campers over the years. Here, David and Ingrid Cook, counselors who returned later to be houseparents at the Kodiak Baptist Mission, examine a sea creature stuck in a tide pool with the arch in the background (1969).
This photo was taken from the back side of the arch, looking out toward Chiniak Bay, 1964, taken by my sister Jerilynn.
Along the rocky beach I find the remains of a small sapling, bleached white in the tides, its roots forming a hand-like feature at one end. I promptly employ it as a walking stick. Around a couple more bends and we come upon an automatic stopping spot, the beautiful Natural Arch. The tide has worn away a section of softer rock through a slate cliff, making a passageway. The large outcropping has separated from the cliff behind, leaving a fine bridge for us to walk under. The tall arch is crowned with its own stand of spruce trees, whose branches cannot reach the trees on the cliff beyond. It is a place that fires the imagination, and the campers play and frolic in and around the arch for some time. Eventually we need to keep walking, if we wish to find our lunch spot. We head overland (the point beyond the arch is one of the few always-submerged spots on the coast of Woody) but after only a few feet of forest, we find ourselves on the other side of the point, in a pretty, secluded little sandy beach which always reminded me of a castaway’s shelter or a pirate’s hideout.
A strong surf rolls through the rocks on the reef near Sawmill Beach, summer of 1967. The two campers had matching orange sweatshirts!
On we go, around the rough rocks below the FAA station to the sandy beach around the bend, and then on past more rock outcroppings until we clamber over a reef and onto the longest stretch of sandy beach on the island. At the mid-point of this long, dramatic beach is a picturesque pond and stream, with the ruins of the old Army sawmill beside it. Sawmill Beach is the favorite picnic spot on Woody, because it has it all: a wide, soft-sand beach, a stream, a beautiful little pond, and an area of old logs and beach grass as wide as the pond, back from the beach, and sheltered from the offshore winds. Besides, it is the terminus of the old logging road, and deep forest is only a hundred yards up from the sand dunes. From any angle it is inviting, dramatic, and exciting.
Sawmill pond on Woody Island in this composite of two photos by Travis North. The remains of the Army sawmill are visible to the far left.
The cooks and crew have arrived from camp, the flatbed truck is parked just out of sight in the trees, and a fine campfire is already blazing. The boxes with hot dogs and all the fixings await us, and believe me, we are ready! The campers I was hiking with were at the front of the line, and so we busy ourselves with various amusements while waiting for the stragglers. I go down to the little stream that exits the old millpond and start rolling logs in to make a dam. One of the campers, named John Howard, helps me out, and soon we have a swirling pool building behind our little retaining wall of driftwood. I promptly christen it my “Dam John Howard!” He shoots me a look, but decides it’s a funny enough name.
Lunchtime arrives with the last of the campers. In proper safety style, the counselor in the rear informs us that all are accounted for. Kids who stay on the beach can’t get lost, but sprained ankles have been known to happen. No mishaps this time, we dig in to our hot dog feast, ravenously hungry. Some cook from some camp lost to memory brought mayonnaise and chopped onion as well as the usual ketchup and mustard, and I christen the mayo and onion combo the “Camp Woody Special,” as memorable as any Coney Island creation, made more delicious by the hike, I’m sure. I down three of them before sliding in satiated contentment down onto the sand, my back to a log and my face to the ocean. The sun is overhead, and the dark sand sparkles at the tideline, reflecting a brilliant blue ocean.
I don’t know how we manage it, but we muster enough energy for a game of touch football after lunch! But exhausted campers must still reckon with the fact that we are on the opposite side of the island, and if we want to find our sleeping bags (not to mention suitable toilets) we’d best get a move on. We are at the halfway point, but the longer we wait, the less likely we are to be able to get around the rocks out from Crab Lagoon, an area with no trails in the woods and jagged reefs on the shoreline. We all decide not to even bother, and we hike around a small point to the next beach, which is near Ehuzhik Lake, and hike inland on the lake trail. After hours of plodding sand and sharp rocks, the mossy trail through the oldest stand of virgin spruce on Woody is like walking on a shag carpet. It’s nice to be in the shade, too, for more than a few of us are very pink from the double reflection of sun on beach and ocean. Sometime around three in the afternoon, we all straggle into camp, and promptly sag into our bunks, even though no rest time has been declared.
The Last Campfire
It seems impossible to believe, but one morning I wake up and realize that today is the last full day of camp. Some of us go through the day’s activities with a kind of desperation verging on depression, at the prospect of having to leave. We live in Alaska, there are fine beaches, forests, lakes and meadows within driving distance of Kodiak, but this is Woody, and the camp experience is unique. What many are starting to realize is that they have met God here, and secretly don’t want to leave Woody for fear of leaving Him behind. Well aware of this, the camp leadership tailors all the teaching toward the idea of walking with Jesus anywhere, and standing for Jesus, even if alone. Many of these young people have made decisions to follow Jesus, and the counselors are busy helping baby Christians cope with the idea of living for Jesus away from the spiritually-saturated environment of camp.
Campers gather for a final service at High Inspiration Point, above Tanignak Lake. High Inspiration Point is a spectacular worship center on the bluff overlooking Tanignak Lake. The worship site was built by a team of campers as a service project in the early 1960s. (Jerilynn Smith photo, 1964)
That evening, there is a special campfire service, held at a very special place. High Inspiration Point is in a clearing about midway down Tanignak Lake, high on the hill overlooking the water. A semi-circle of benches faces a fire pit with a single wooden cross outlined against the sky, dark forest, and placid lake water below. It is the place where decisions are made, where lives are changed. It is interesting tonight that I notice how the cross stands outlined against the hills of Kodiak, and the faint outlines of the buildings are sometimes visible. It is a good place to put life before and after camp into perspective.
The songs at our campfire are compelling and direct. “I’d rather walk with Jesus than roam the paths of sin, I’d rather have His friendship than Earth’s best honors win…” “I have decided to follow Jesus…Tho’ none go with me, still I will follow…no turning back, no turning back!” Rev. Norman Smith asks the campers to share what they have learned, and how they have grown, by picking up a stick, throwing it in the fire, and giving their thoughts. It starts slowly, but soon many campers come forward, and speak of the beauty, the fun, the adventures, the people who have meant so much to them. But many share that they have met Jesus for the first time, and others, taking their cue from the “Sincerely Yours” booklets, declare their desire to be authentic Christians instead of Sunday ones. There are few dry eyes, yet none of this has been twisted out of them. There have been no “altar calls.” But campers have been invited nightly to talk to their counselors, and all this has happened slowly, subtly, and deeply.
A Tearful Farewell
Our final meal at camp is the following day at lunch. We have spent the morning cleaning, packing, throwing unrecognizable items of clothing into our luggage for Mom the Archaeologist to discover on our return home. Then with trepidation we head down to lunch, our last meal together. The happy voices demonstrate that strong friendships have been forged this week – some that will last a lifetime. Then the campers energetically participate in our last songfest together, and Dad pulls out some more of the oddball ditties that have become such favorites.
There’s a crazy song with a pretty tune from Switzerland, “Oh Vreneli, my pretty one, pray tell me where’s your head…” Then the boys and girls split parts on an old spinning song called “Sarasponda.” The boys start with “Boom da boom da boom da…” in the best bass monotone we can manage. Then the girls chime in with “Sarasponda, Sarasponda, Sarasponda ret set set…” Then we all join in with the chorus, “Ah do ray oh! Ah do ray boom day oh, Ah do ray boom day ret set set! Aw say paw say oh!” Then we stay ethnic and go to Australia for “Kookaburra,” ending with a verse we wrote: “Kookaburra sits on the old fence rail, he’s got splinters in his tail! Cry, Kookaburra, cry, Kookaburra, sad your life must be.” The amazing thing is that around the table, we don’t have any songbooks, and these kids have memorized these songs in a week! That’s because in its own bizarre way it is a lot of fun to sing these songs and not take ourselves too seriously.
Finally the meal is nearly over. We get more serious for just a little bit: we sing our camp’s theme song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” and then Dad closes with the perfect good-by song for this camp: “Carry away a song, carry away a song, keep God’s message of love in your heart, as you travel along. Tho’ the road may be weary, sing a song that is cheery, Live the happiness Jesus imparts and carry away a song.” I do believe I have!
The campers all gather around the ramps that lead to the cabins of the main building for a few dozen photos. Everyone seems to have a camera, but I’ve taken photos of everything that moved it seems, and I’m going to have a few hours’ work in the darkroom getting them all developed and printed.
Senior camp, 1969, poses in front of the camp truck before heading to the boat. Randy Weisser (the future missionary) is third from left. Far right is Father Bullock of the Episcopal Church, a great camp supporter. To his right, sitting on the truck, are Dave and Ingrid Cook, who served as counselors that year and came back to work at the Kodiak Baptist Mission as houseparents. I’m the guy in the center with the guitar, posing like a member of the New Christy Minstrels. Beside the guy with the foot ball is Cathy Norton (Pope). (Travis North photo)
Always Next Year! Back to Town on the Evangel
Now the dreaded moment comes; the bags are stashed on the flatbed, the campers are walking to the dock, the campers are forming a line down the ramp to the float below, the bags are stashed, the line is untied, and the Evangel leaves the dock. Its deck is covered with happy but tired campers, enjoying the boat ride and wishing the boat were headed in the next direction. Most are already planning to come back next year. I sit on the main cabin deck near the exhaust pipe, and listen to the stories the kids are swapping about some of their adventures. I do not live in Kodiak, but in an outlying village, but I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my peers from town. I will run into many of them again next year at Camp Woody, and most of them when I move to town to attend High School. Anyone who has ever been to camp has an instant common culture to share, a common set of experiences, and a common love for the island and its beauty. It’s a testament to the staff and the counselors (led this week by my parents) that many of them also now share a common faith in the “God who touches Earth with beauty,” as one of the chapel songs put it.
The Evangel (sold to the Sea Scouts in 1965 and known until 1970 as the SES Chinook) strikes a familiar pose in 1969: approaching the float at the Woody dock to pick up campers. After Dad bought the boat from the Sea Scouts and restored it in 1971, we renamed it the Evangel and resumed the Woody runs until 1977. (Travis North photo)
Campers pass their bags down the ramp to the Evangel in this movie frame from 1970.
Camp Woody is still going strong. The Smith family has not been closely associated with it for over twenty-five years, although I did have the privilege of walking in my Dad’s shoes, however slightly, when I was invited to be the lay pastor of a Junior High camp in the late 1990s. So many little things had changed, but the most important things had not. The camp is still a wonderful place to serve with fantastic Christian workers, an unbelievable location for observing the beauty of God’s creation, and is regularly a place where many young people begin their walk of faith and grow into Christian maturity. I am honored to have been there for so many years, and very pleased that the work goes forward so successfully today.
There will be more adventures at Camp Woody. Companion articles will chronicle the period from 1971 to 1977 when the people of my generation took the lead, and when so many of us were changed forever by the miracle of Camp Woody.
Rev. Norman Smith unties the mooring lines for the Evangel at the Woody Island dock, 1964. Yule Chaffin photo.
The boat, loaded with campers, approaches the boat harbor in this 1968 photo from the Camp Woody collection.
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Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to: Tanignak@aol.com)
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