Camp Auburn leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime | Whale’s Tales

I remember watching when I was a kid as my older sister and then my three brothers hit sixth grade, and the Auburn School District whisked them off to a mysterious place called Camp Auburn for a week.

Those were the days when sixth-graders ruled the roost of Auburn’s elementary schools, years before they were promoted to the lowest rung on the newly designated middle school ladder.

Each time my siblings went out that door, I felt a million needles pricking me all over. I could hardly wait for my turn. Because my brother, Jack, was three years older than I was, however, I had no choice but to cool my anxious heels.

My turn finally came in the late spring of 1974. and Camp Sealth did not disappoint. The bus ride to Vashon Island gave me the thrilling sense of embarking on a grand adventure.

Which it was. Camp Auburn would be for me – and I suspect for many of my classmates – the brightest shiner in the primary school firmament.

On arrival at camp, the powers that be assigned us to cabins where we would bunk with cabin mates from schools that I had heard about but never seen. To my 12-year-old mind at the time, Evergreen Heights, Lea Hill, Washington Elementary and South Auburn had an exotic ring to them.

I can still recite verbatim the songs the camp counselors, standing before the chow hall, sang to get us to eject from our gobs the wads of chewing gum we‘d inserted there, as follows:

“Put your gummy in the bucket, put your gummy in the pail,

We are here to take your Wrigley’s every mealtime without fail.

T Berry Shuffle, Juicy Fruit, too.

Put it in the bucket and we’ll love you if you do…”

When we’d ditched, ptui!, our chewables. thus earning entrance to the hall, we sat down at our tables. Then we had to stand and sing a song we’d put together as a poke at another table, and often a dig at the teacher keeping order there. All of it in good fun. One of the ditties, with the teacher’s name left out of my account, was as follows:

“Down by the garden, down by a rose, we spied old [teacher] a-picking his nose.”

Then came the food, which was plentiful and tasty.

There were school lessons out in the woods. See, our teachers expected us to actually learn a thing or two during our stay.

On a dock one afternoon, I got my first look at a particularly ugly denizen of the deep. a dogfish, with bug eyes creeped me out.

In the evenings came the crowning glory: sitting around the campfire singing songs as the shadows fell and the scent of pines enveloped us. When that was done for thee night, we returned to our cabins with the delicious fragrance of campfires clinging to our clothing. I still love that aroma.

“Goodnight,” said one teacher as we passed him in the gloaming on our way back to our bunks. “don’t let the beach hoppers (sand fleas) bite.”

I learned only years that one of my friends had a crush on a pretty counselor, to whom he sent love notes. It must have seemed comical to the girl, who was a high school senior.

I remember it all as if it were yesterday. The best of times.

I was pleased to learn this week that Camp Auburn still lives, though the setting has changed to Lake Retreat in Ravensdale. Seems that through a grant awarded by an organization called Outdoor Schools WA, every fifth-grader in the Auburn School District will get to enjoy their own version of that experience this spring, free of cost.

May all your days at camp be sunny, kids, and the friends and the weather equally warm.

Robert Whale can be reached at