For decades, artist, educator and naturalist Lynn Guenther has aimed to create a robust arts and sciences curriculum for students across Santa Cruz County. Guenther has served at local schools, museums and municipal organizations, and during that time, she says she discovered a passion for teaching local history.
“I just love introducing kids to the history of where they live—the natural, the cultural, everything,” she says. “Especially about our watersheds, about how they have helped Santa Cruz thrive. This is a very unique county.”
This passion for local history has resulted in Guenther writing her first novel, Light of the Bay, which is out now.
Guenther says she started working on the book 10 years ago, digging through local museums and libraries. When reading Frank Perry’s Lighthouse Point: Illuminating Santa Cruz, she learned about Laura Hecox, a local legend who spent 50 years living and working as
a lighthouse keeper at Point Santa Cruz. In 1905, Hecox donated 2,000 items from her vast
personal collection of historical artifacts and scientific specimens to the newly established Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.
Guenther chronicles Hecox’s life, adopting her voice to give readers a firsthand view of historical events such as the Gold Rush, westward expansion, the persecution of Native Americans and immigrants, the fight for women’s suffrage, the conservation movement
“Laura is an amazing role model,” Guenther says. “She really knew how important it was to preserve the past and was interested in everything—in coins, architecture, animals. She was so scientific. It was interesting to go into her mind and learn about the people she admired. I got to know her pretty well.”
Other local historical figures appear in the story, including Dr. Charles Anderson, Martina Castro, Theo D’Estrella, Georgiana Bruce Kirby, Josephine McCracken, London Nelson, Charley Parkhurst, Douglas Tilden, and Sarah Winnemucca.
“Not everyone is familiar with these interesting characters,” she says. “I try to show what their personalities might’ve been like. Give perspective on some of their stories.”
Guenther says that writing Light of the Bay was challenging but sped up in the past few years.
“In the past three years, I’ve been fighting cancer,” she says. “I really wanted to sit down and finish this book. I have many people who have supported me on this journey; I’m very grateful to them.”
Light of the Bay is out now. The novel is ideal for fifth-grade readers and up, Guenther says, though older readers can enjoy it.
“My main goal is to bring this history alive to a younger audience,” she says. “My dedication to teaching this runs deep. How can we take care of our home? This is the primary thing I want to relay. People need to understand this history, our place in it and we have a responsibility to
protect its future.”
‘Light of the Bay’ is available at Bookshop Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History and online. It is available at all Santa Cruz Public Libraries.