The Firelight Girls by Kaya McLaren

I spend a lot of time in archives these days. My husband is the archivist for Holden Village, a remote mountain retreat in the North Cascades of Washington State. We go there two or three times a year to work, and he puts in about 20 hours each week on that collection when we’re at home. For a project of mine I recently spent five days in two visits in the Archive Center at King’s College, Cambridge. And last summer, for the same project, I spent a week in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Archives in Chicago.

But one of my favorite archive activities is meeting almost once a month with some very dedicated volunteers working with the archives at Camp Sealth on Vashon Island. Camp Sealth is a special and important place for all of us. Through our time there as campers and on staff (for me, 8 years as a camper and 5 summers on staff) and in the Camp Fire program, we were shaped, taught, challenged, and given remarkably rich opportunities as girls and young women. The friendships we forged there are lifelong treasures. As we work with the Sealth and Seattle Camp Fire memorabilia, we regularly give thanks for every part of what we experienced. And we laugh a lot!

The Firelight Girls by Kaya McLaren is a novel that relates experiences much like ours. The camp is Zanika on Lake Wenatchee. The book, dedicated to the author’s friends from camp, tells the story of women old and young and their deep attachments to the place that formed them and gave them a sense of home and worth. The plot is about a few of the former campers and staff gathering one last time before the property is sold. The author goes back and forth with each character from her younger days to 2012, the time of the novel. These old friends also welcome an essentially abandoned teenager into their relationships and give her a new sense of purpose and value.

As I read this book, I identified a lot with the descriptions of their activities and reflections. Many of the rituals they loved and the songs they sang were the same as Sealth. There’s another story here, as Camp Sealth, 100 years old this year, is the mother camp for Camp Fire camps all over the Pacific Northwest. Whether this kind of experience is in your history or not, The Firelight Girls is an enjoyable and worthwhile read. When several of my Sealth friends have finished reading it, we’re going to have our own book discussion and, once again, laugh and give thanks for our heritage.

Below the book cover is a picture of the Sealth staff of 1966.

Camp Sealth Staff, 1966

2 thoughts on “The Firelight Girls by Kaya McLaren

  1. Well written. With all of the many significant endeavors in your life, my heart is warned that our work at camp is also valued by you. Yes, camp life those many summers ago, greatly impacted our lives in both youth and adulthood. I sang the songs you taught me to my babies and grand babies too. The words teach hope, values, and responsibilities. The silly songs teach us to be joyful.
    But, without a doubt, the friendships gave us a real sense of belonging, and self worth. The skills we learned created self reliance. I hate fad words, but you cannot canoe fir hours in turbulent tides, then sleep in a tiny tent made from an army poncho, while sliding down the muddy hill in rain, to not develop grit.
    I look forward to discussing this book. It tugged at my heartstrings. Thanks Nank.


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