What Would I Do?

A Children's Book Written By Timothy Smith in 1974

This book was written and painted for Joyce Smith (my mother) and her kindergarten class at Baker Cottage Baptist Mission (Ouzinkie Chapel). It is based on scenes of Ouzinkie and Woody Island, Alaska. This project was part of a university class on children's literature. The story panels and artwork (such as they are -- I am no great artist) each have new text commentary written in 2004.

In the school year of 1962-63 I attended 4th grade in California, and I missed Ouzinkie terribly. This story is based on how I felt at the time.

Ouzinkie is famous for its beautiful spruce trees, and Baker Cottage was surrounded with some of the largest trees in the village. The painting is based on the "fat tree", which was a great climbing tree right at the border of the Mission property. Its site is now the middle of an intersection. The picture depicts a fight with shishkas (spruce cones), which we always called "sheeshkee wars".

I loved to row boats in the evening when I was a kid, although I did most of my rowing in lakes on Woody Island or in the bays around the various canneries and communities we would visit with the Evangel. I also did my share of boat painting as a kid. Notice the rowboat is propped up on empty Blazo boxes - yet another practical use for those versatile wooden crates. My mother still has a couple dozen Blazo boxes in various parts of Baker Cottage, although only six actually say Blazo. Others were for white gas and kerosene (Pearl Oil).

This scene is pure Ouzinkie. The beach depicted is right below the Russian Church (the "church hill"), and the attitude toward the pilots is as I remember it in those days. Of course, the Goose is done up in Kodiak Airways colors!

This page is based on the trail leading from the store to Baker Cottage and branching off to where the Andersons, Panamarioffs and Torsens live, the way it looked in the 1960s, before the roads were built. One winter, the trail was all glazed ice, and the kids could sled from Baker Cottage's back porch all the way to the ramp in front of the store (about an eighth of a mile). At night we would strap flashlights to our sleds and keep sledding for hours. By the time I moved to Ouzinkie, only the old grandmothers still regularly wore scarves.

If wind or snow had not ruined the surface of the lakes, we would also do a lot of ice skating. This scene is based on Otherside Lake, about a mile behind Baker Cottage. (The trail went right past our back porch). When it was just below freezing, with the moon out, that was classic skating weather, and we would stay out for hours. The guy sprawled out on the ice was me, likely as not. A little branch or piece of driftwood in the ice was an instant brake. We learned how to fall on different parts of our body, and keep the bruises on rotation!

This scene is Ouzinkie pre-tidal wave. I never did much fishing, but sure appreciated the result. I got pretty good at cleaning the salmon and dolly varden trout that we could catch. The mountain beyond the fisherman is now almost completely covered in spruce trees. They say the spruce forests are advancing southward around Kodiak Island at the rate of almost a hundred feet a year. Afognak, Spruce Island, Woody Island and the Fort Abercrombie area of Kodiak were the first to get spruce trees over a hundred years ago.

The picture depicts a recipe for perok, Russian Alaskan for salmon pie. Layers of cooked white rice and filets of fresh salmon are interspersed with shredded cabbage, chopped hard boiled egg, bacon pieces and even chopped rutabaga, spiced liberally with salt and black pepper. This is all baked in a large rectangular loaf pan between pie crust. One three to four inch high square would be filling, but as a teenager I could down three pieces. Each family prides itself on its own perok recipe, and it is truly village soul food!

The local salmonberry crop on Woody Island and around Ouzinkie can be gigantic if we get enough sunshine in mid-July. A wild berry somewhere between a blackberry and a raspberry, the salmonberry gets its name from its resemblance to salmon eggs. It has a nice, wild, delicate flavor, with lots of bitter seeds for contrast. Berry picking can become an obsession among the locals in the summertime. The season usually is at its best from late July to mid-August, depending on the amount of sunshine we get. This picture is based on the Otherside trail near Baker Cottage as it looked before the roads were put in and people no longer hiked past our back door. The particular section depicted in the painting is still good picking. It helped to provide enough berries for me to make two batches of salmonberry jam in August of 2004.

Once again there is a recipe in the picture. Fresh, slightly mashed salmonberries, covered with condensed milk, and a few spoonfuls of white sugar, became cheetuk, a popular local treat. Baker Cottage had an old shed like this one on its property until we tore it down in 1967. The tarpaper covering was typical even for homes until the 1970s.

I did not write a great ending to this nostalgic tale, I'm afraid! I can tell I was more than a little homesick (and suffering from culture shock) when I painted this little children's story more than thirty years ago. Incidentally, I gave up water colors shortly thereafter. I can't really paint figures. But I hope the scenes give you an insight into what growing up in Ouzinkie was like in the 1960s. It was a wonderful place to live, and I'm happy to say that it still is. There are roads now, but most of the island is still unspoiled, and the forests and beaches are as I remember them, except that the spruce trees are bigger and more numerous every year. And on my last visit (August 2004) I saw a lot of kids doing just what I wrote about in my story. So here's to the village of Ouzinkie, Alaska, a great place to grow up!

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