Camp Indralaya, Orcas Islands
Sept 9th, 2005 – Sept 11th, 2005
Plum Pickin’ Work Party


Having first heard the word a year back from my best friend, I had always meant to visit the Camp and see for myself a Theosophical Retreat. But it wasn’t only Theosophy that was the draw, the Camp Mission statement, as well as the location were ideal. So now standing on the foredeck of the ferry staring at a sea-worn sign that read “Orcas Island”, I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming.

We caught the 9pm ferry from the city of Anacortes. I was with my friend’s family on an invitation with the intention of attending the autumn Work Party, which provided for room and board and meals in exchange for our work. It wasn’t even difficult work, and our cabin was a furnished beautiful 2-bedroom space, with a chimney and stove heater, full kitchen, and private bath.
Our arrival was a bit of an adventure, first arriving later than planned so having to resort to the late ferry. When we finally arrived on the island, it was pitch black. My head was out the window and eyes fixed on the night sky. The milky was a blurry cloud, true to it’s name, but I could make it out. Definitely more stars than I had seen in a while.
We found a small sign emblazed with the camp title, and turned into a pebble road sheltered by bridging tree branches and populated by scattered deer and rabbits. Already, I felt that I was away from civilization and city, and it’s always a wonderful feeling.
We found directions to our assigned cabin in the cafeteria, we’d have Spruce Cabin to ourselves. Another adventure: we’d forgotten our sleeping bags. Armed with a flashlight, I and my friend trekked back to the cafeteria (it wasn’t far, but seeing as it was pitch dark out and me having never been in the area before, it felt far!). Happily, Camp Indralaya does have a store of things for the forgetful, so that night, we slept under warm comforters with pillows.
I woke the next morning to the chimes of an old fashioned bell, 7:00 morning call. We dressed (a little sluggishly) and intended to attend the 7:30am meditation at the Library. I was the first out the door, and I wandered to get better bearings on our late night trek the evening before. I was joined by my friend’s dad and we went together to find the Library. Dad swore that the Library was in this and this direction (even though there was a clear sign pointing the other way!) so by the time we had found the Library, I felt that it would be rude to interrupt the ongoing tradition. I made my way down a rugged path to the rocky shore and spent my morning breathing the sea air and basking in clear sunlight. It was a meditation in itself.
8:00am. Breakfast. I heard the chatterings of the meditators leaving the Library and made my way back up that path. The cafeteria was the only place I knew for sure and after greeting a few others (everyone was perfectly friendly) was reunited by my friend.
Fast forward. Tasks. My first task was cleaning the pots and pans after breakfast. I volunteered for it and was joined by another camper who rinsed and dried. Again, she was very friendly and open. Chore completed, I had free-time until the next bell and went to explore the vast bookshelves. Most were books regarding theosophical ideas, religions, science, philosophy. Plenty a good read. What excited me the most were the children’s books and youth books. It was nice to see them consolidated and available.
On a ‘job chart’ I had signed myself up for Cleaning/Moving Docks and Cleaning Library Roof. I had no idea what either was, but they sounded interesting and most all the other jobs already had 5+ people signed up. By the time the next bell chimed (I’ve forgotten the hour), I was ready to find out what I was in for.
The Camp directors, Leonie and Minor, were wonderful hosts. Leonie is a very opened and friendly character, forever helpful. It would be very difficult not to like Leonie after watching her for only a few minutes. Minor has a presence and an intensity which intimidated me at first, but his kindness shines through his personality. After the bell, Leonie had us all circle up and hold hands and welcomed us all to camp. She explained some of the jobs and introduced some members who would be leading these jobs. I and my friend would be the only two girls at the docks.
It turned out that the docks job was a lot of work, but at the same time a lot of fun. The docks were plastic platforms (like gigantic legos) that had to be rowed to shore, scraped of barnacles, rinsed, and then lifted onto a platform. My friend and I rowed and scraped, we were much too small to help much with the lifting and the rinsing job was left to one operator. The job would take all day, but we only had to work about 2 hours that morning, and the rest was free time.
There was plenty to explore, beautiful trees and orchard trees, wandering deer and rabbit, a library of theosophy and related topics, friendly people, a shore of cliffs and climbable rocks…
Lunch. Oh yes, the food was delicious too, all vegetarian and home-cooked. There was plenty to choose from, in food and beverage and every meal was different. After lunch, it was back to the docks and this time, we brought another girl, one we had befriended during lunch. There were only 5 youths at the Work Party, and all 5 of us were at the docks now. We scraped, bolted, rowed some more. It was more play than work.
Another hour or so, and there was no more to be done until the tide had receded, so it was free time again. This time, we wandered to the Library and remembered that I had signed up to clean its roof. Already, one of our dock mates was there and we joined him in sweeping off pine needles, moss, etc. and clearing out the gutter. It was a quick job, and the rest was for people taller than us (cleaning above a skylight) so again we had free time that we spent in the Library until dinner.
The Library kept my friend and I absorbed all afternoon. There was an entire section of Theosophy articles, publications, books, dedicated to theosophical authors, many well known. Then there was a section on mystical sciences, such as divination, astrology, zodiacs; and a section for religions, another for theosophy related science and environment, another for history… I could spend weeks in there. We were actually late for dinner because of our absorption.
Throughout the day, there were small meetings, like one to discuss theosophy and its role in the camp.
After dinner was more free time and a campfire where we exchanged bad jokes, stories, and silly songs. It was a time for relaxing, bonding, cleansing all in one. I have never been with a circle of strangers that I felt so connected and comfortable with.
The next day would end after lunch when everyone would catch the ferries back to the mainland. We finished up any left over jobs and were free the rest of the day. I ended up walking away with three new books (and a booklist of those I marked in the Library) and am reading them now.
Overall, Camp Indralaya is a place I would return to, a place for peace of mind and quiet. Like a family of perfect, amiable strangers. The scenery is refreshing, and beautiful, islands and water, cliffs and trees, and morning fogs. I hope to next time attend a program instead, with a prolonged stay.
Happy Camping!

Julie Nguyen Anh Thu