We spent part of our recent Pacific Northwest vacation in Olympia.
I know exactly one person who lives there, but she doesn’t know me – the artist Nikki McClure, whose work I admire.
We were exploring the center of town, when I spotted Browsers Bookshop, and of course we had to go in. About three minutes later, Nikki McClure walked in. She was there to sign copies of her most recent book, Waiting for High Tide.
But it gets weirder than that. After I finished browsing and had chosen a couple of books, I introduced myself to the bookstore owner, Andrea Y. Griffith. Turns out, Andrea knew my name. We are both former medical librarians, and apparently a few years back I edited an article she wrote for a Medical Library Association conference.
I love Andrea’s bookstore, which has been in business since 1935. Andrea and her husband recently bought the shop and are reviving it. She’s doing a terrific job. I enjoyed browsing the store; I saw many new and intriguing titles I’m unfamiliar with, and she had an excellent selection of titles about the Pacific Northwest and nature, as well as other categories. I could tell immediately that the book selections are carefully curated – that’s of course what you can expect from a librarian.
I encourage you to read a bit about what Browers Bookshop is all about here.
I purchased the young adult book The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes, who is from Olympia, as well as another book I’ll tell you about in my next post. The artwork on the cover of The Eagle Tree pulled me in, and since I’d been awed by the massive and venerable old trees we were seeing in Olympic National Park, I thought the book would be a good traveling companion.
It’s about a 14-year-old boy, March Wong, who is on the autism spectrum and obsessed with trees. Written in first person from the viewpoint of March, the novel often reads like encyclopedia entries because that is how March expresses himself, so you have to be fascinated by trees to bond with this book. I took to it immediately, as have many other readers, although there are some readers on Goodreads who disliked it for this reason.
I loved learning about the ecosystem of trees and watching March become willing and able to connect to other people as he tries to save the Eagle Tree, a monolithic Ponderosa Pine, from being cut down. Even though the tone can be factual and didactic, it’s really more expressive and lyrical than anything else, which is a tribute to Ned Hayes’ fine writing. I highly recommend this book to young adults, and their parents.
I was impressed when I saw that an author’s talk sponsored by Browsers Bookshop featured local actors performing scenes from The Eagle Tree. This is an independent bookstore that goes above and beyond to enrich the community and promote local authors.
Here is some of what March Wong has to say:
“I do not like this idea that we have begun to kill off—at great velocity and accelerating speed—all of the things that sustain us. I didn’t like it at all when I first thought of it, but most people around me do not seem that disturbed by it, even though the knowledge of this is obvious and readily available to anyone who looks up trees on the Internet. At least, no one seems bothered, because no one has taken action to amend it. So they must not care. That is the only explanation I can think of for the lack of reaction to this fact.”
“Most of the trees are already dying. All across North America from Mexico to Alaska, forests are dying. Seventy thousand square miles of forest—that’s as much land as all of the state of Washington—that much forest has died since I was born. What if I am growing up in a world that will not have trees anymore by the time I am my grandfather’s age?”
“There is an ocean of light around us. We are surrounded by it, we swim in it, we move through it every day.”
8 thoughts on “The Eagle Tree”
Some gorgeous pictures from the PNW. It’s so great that you got to know the owner of that bookstore. We need more independent places like that. I like Powell’s Books. and The Last Bookstore in LA.
I love Powell’s too. I’ve never been to LA but if I get there I have to see The Last Bookstore too. I’ll bet there are some good ones in Chicago.
Hi Val, Before April moved from Rochester recently, she gave me a delightful little illustrated recipe book by Nikki McClure. I appreciated learning more about the author from your blog. Your tree photos are stunning. And as I looked at the images you have captured, I couldn’t help realizing that you have passed your artist’s eye to your sons.
Thanks, Judy. Did you happen to see Nikki’s video, it’s delightful. In case you didn’t here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRBGoraYG3M
Valerie – thank you so much for writing about the bookshop! I could not believe our connection. I was in awe for about 24 hours – the world can be so small and so lovely. I am going to make sure Ned sees this post. Please, please come back to Olympia and let me know when you are coming – I would love to go for coffee or lunch.
Andrea, I felt the same way. I wish I’d had more time there because I would have loved to have coffee or lunch with you. I’ll be back!
I think that’s a book right up my alley. Just a couple of weeks ago, when the sunshine was pounding down, and I was feeling particularly exposed to the rays, I thought to myself that one of my worst nightmares would be a world without trees. How wonderfully serendipitous that you somehow linked up with people you already knew – it was like your visit was meant to happen!
Anna, as I’m traveling around the PNW I feel the same way, I keep thinking about what if there were none of these magnificent trees here? So reading the book while being here is both great and disturbing, too.