Camp Fire, Camp Sweyolakan, Camp Tannadoonah, Council Fire, fairies, From These Ashes, Helen Gerrish Hughes, mystery, North Idaho, Tamela Ritter, wo-he-lo
I asked Tamela J. Ritter if she had any camp memories. She has conjured up a magical one just for us involving Camp Fire Girls and Camp Sweyolakan in Idaho. “Memory Lake” gives a brief mention of Camp Fire Girls and Camp Tannadoonah in Michigan, but not the praise either deserves, mainly because I’d been homesick over my one-week stay as a young kid. Despite having my sister along, my best friend, Jenny, and my doll, Diane, I’d been miserable. I didn’t appreciate camp until I was older. Thanks to Tamela, I can recall that one-week stay in a whole new light. As she says, it is all about the fire…
Go We Forth From Our Council Fire
Wow. I haven’t thought about camp in a really long time. I went for three summers when I was ten until I was twelve. It was a week-long, sleep-away Campfire Girls camp on Coeur d’Alene Lake in the panhandle of Idaho called Camp Sweyolakan.
Camp Fire was founded in 1910 as the first non-sectarian, interracial organization for girls and was built on the American traditions of pioneering and Indian lore. It became co-ed in 1975. I don’t remember any boys there when I was in the organization in the 80s, but boys weren’t really on my radar then, so who knows.
I was an incredibly shy kid who had trouble making friends and I’m not sure why I was so desperate to go all those summers that I sold a metric ton of Almond Roca (the Campfire Girls equivalent to Girl Scout cookies–and in my humble opinion, a million times better) to pay my way. But, for some reason I did and I loved it.
I don’t remember any friends I made–but I remember making them– or any of my counselors, but I do remember archery, hiking and canoeing, and learning to swim. I remember the day that a small group of us got in our canoes and rowed across the lake, the teenage girls who were our counselors taking off their shirts and brazenly sitting in the front of the canoe in their bras. I was so awed by that bravado then. We camped that night, under the stars, with the fires we had started cooking our meals and told stories, trying to scare each other.
I remember the excitement of the ferry ride that took us out to the camp and I remember it being sad on the return trip when camp was over. I remember the mess hall where we’d sing songs of thanks and if we put our elbows on the table, we’d have to scoop up the fairies we’d squished and throw them over our shoulder. The forest around us was full of fairies and magical creatures too and there were rules and regulations for them all.
I remember legend, myth and fantasy; the romance and danger of nature and fire.
Thinking back on my life, my writing and my novel “From These Ashes” I realize the lessons I learned there have stayed and followed me throughout my life. The appreciation and awe of the outdoors and the great fear and desire that only fire and all it entails can instill in me. I am forever awed by the sense of beauty in the dancing flames, in the crackle of embers blazing and in the smell of pine burning. The sense of danger in the scorching heat and precarious sparks dancing in the wind and finally, the sense of healing and rebirth, the ability to burn away all that has wounded and scarred you and allow you to grow again, stronger and healthier.
It all started there. Funny how I had forgotten that until I was asked to come here and write about camp, thanks Nancy.
Go we forth from our council fire
Into the night, into the night.
In our hearts renewed desire
Burning bright, burning bright.
Loveliness of thought we’ve found,
warmth and friendship’s love.
Forest stillness closes ’round
Sky and stars above.
Blend into the mystic call
May Wokanda’s blessing fall upon us as we go.
— by Helen Gerrish Hughes, copyright by Camp Fire
Tamela J. Ritter was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, her debut novel From These Ashes was published in March 2013 by Battered Suitcase Press. She now lives and works in Haymarket, Va. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook.