‘Campfire Stories’: Keeping a childhood promise to an earthworm


Local author Ilyssa Kyu, who will be appearing at booked, 8511 Germantown Ave., this Saturday, Sept. 16, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with Dave Kyu, her husband and co-author of the just-released “Campfire Stories, Volume 2: Tales from America’s National Parks and Trails,” is determined to keep a most unusual, maybe even unique, promise.

“In all of my work,” she said last week, “I’m in constant pursuit of keeping a promise to an earthworm I met when I was five years old — to protect it and all the other ‘wormies’ in the world.”

Ilyssa grew up near Flourtown and now lives in Glenside, but she dreams of living in a small seacoast town. 

“When not dreaming of my next pursuit, I can be found playing in nearby creeks with my two girls and plotting our next adventure,” she said. 

Dave was born in Seoul, South Korea, but came to the Philadelphia area as a child and grew up in Lansdale. He studied sculpture at the Tyler School of Art and earned a bachelor of fine arts in 2007. Ilyssa went to the University of the Arts for Industrial Design, earning a bachelor of science in 2011.

Why “Campfire Stories?”

“Dave and I found ourselves traveling to national parks and going camping regularly after we fell in love with the outdoors together early in our relationship,” explained Ilyssa. “We were intending to go on a trip to Toronto, but when the city shut down due to a sanitation strike, we rerouted to Acadia National Park and tried camping for the first time. We did everything wrong and thus had a few very uncomfortable nights, yet we fell absolutely in love with it.”

They found themselves sitting at the campfire at night, eager to learn more about the places they traveled to. 

“Since we didn't grow up going camping, we didn't know any campfire stories to tell,” Ilyssa said. “We decided to create our own collection of stories.”

Volume one of “Campfire Stories,” which took two years of research and writing, was published in 2018 by Mountaineers Books. “Campfire Stories, Volume 2” is a collection of modern prose, poetry, folklore and more, and features new and existing works from a diverse group of writers who share a deep appreciation of the natural world. 

While the original “Campfire Stories” captured many historic tales reflecting the first 100 years of the National Park Service, this completely new collection has contributors with a range of diverse voices, including people from many racial backgrounds as well as gender identities and sexual orientation. 

“Campfire Stories, Volume 2” focuses on seven iconic national parks and trails: Grand Canyon, Everglades, Olympic, Glacier, and Joshua Tree National Parks and the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails. Each story includes an “About this Story” reflection and offers insight into how Dave and Ilyssa discovered the tale, why they selected it and some background about the writer. Dave and Ilyssa also share their own thoughts on each of the parks they visited.

According to Jessi Loerch, of Washington Trails Magazine, the Kyus' new book “is a lovely mixture of poetry and prose. Some stories are daring tales of rescues; others are relaxed musings on the power of just being in nature's beauty. The book really does belong around a fire. It even begins with tips on how to tell great campfire stories that will captivate your audience. You should bring it on your next trip and read (the stories) aloud.” 

Dave told the Local that he and Ilyssa hope their new book “captures the readers' imaginations about these incredible places. That it inspires them to visit, to have a richer sense of meaning and place and feel motivated to preserve and protect them.”

Dave emphasized that for him and Ilyssa, campfire stories are not just ghost stories.

“There is so much more about the landscape,” he said recently. “There are the animals, the flora and fauna and the people who fought so hard to create the national parks, and also the indigenous communities that had been there before they became national parks.”

Dave’s favorite park is Yosemite, for its “beautiful views, an incredible community of people,” while Ilyssa describes Acadia National Park as “our soul home.”

Both Dave and Ilyssa say they hope that reading the collection will inspire people to understand what makes the parks so special and come to a deep appreciation and love for the natural world. 

“Our focus is on the national parks, but we just want people to get outdoors, including your local parks,” Dave said. “We want everyone to join us in protecting these places.” 

The couple is not sure whether there will be a third volume of “Campfire Stories,” but if there is, there should be no shortage of material since there are 423 national park sites, 63 of which have the “National Park” designation in their names. The others fall into different categories such as National Historic Sites, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, etc. There are 85 million acres in all.

For more information, visit campfirestoriesbook.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com