The real tree that inspired my bestselling novel... THE EAGLE TREE

from THE OLYMPIAN

BY MOLLY GILMORE

Contributing writer

 

Ned Hayes’ latest book, the soon-to-be-released “The Eagle Tree,” is already grabbing attention and readers.

 

Set in Olympia, “Tree” is told from the perspective of 14-year-old March Wong, a boy with autism and a passion for trees —one huge ponderosa pine in particular.

 

On Saturday, the Olympia author will introduce the book to local readers at a Browsers Bookshop event that will include performances of scenes and a talk by biologist Emily Teachout.

 

The book — Hayes’ first for a major publisher, Little A — will be officially released July 5, but the electronic version is already available on Amazon, where it was the top-selling young adult book in April and May. 

 

The book has been praised by author and filmmaker Sherman Alexie, autistic spokeswoman Temple Grandin and science journalist Steve Silberman, author of the New York Times bestselling book “NeuroTribes,” a history of autism and a look at what people who think differently have contributed to the world.

 

Silberman called “The Eagle Tree” “a gorgeously written novel that features one of the most accurate, finely drawn and memorable autistic protagonists in literature.”

 

Hayes had long known he wanted to write a book from the perspective of a boy with autism. He taught young people on the autism spectrum in the early ’90s when he lived in California.

 

“I had to learn to think how they thought and see the world a little bit through their perspective,” he said. He was particularly inspired by the perspective of one nature-loving student whose father was a botanist.

 

“I found his passion and his creative ways of working around the neurotypical world to be inspiring,” Hayes said. “He found ways of communicating in a world that sometimes didn’t get him, and that is true of my main character, too.”

 

The rest of the story, though, was inspired by Olympia, where Hayes has lived since 2003.

The tree March loves in the book — one big enough for eagles to nest in — is set in the woods surrounding LBA Park, an area off Morse-Merryman Road Southeast slated for housing developments that became a source of controversy last spring. (Olympia will buy one of the parcels and keep it as parkland, but the fate of the other is still unknown.)

 

“Last spring, I wrote this very quickly when the LBA Woods issue was in the news,” Hayes said. “It came to me that my character would wish to be involved in that, and his voice was very strong. It came out in a big flood in less than two months.”

 

The book also includes many characters based on the city’s residents, including journalist and artist Alec Clayton, the only one whose name was not changed. The Procession of the Species, the quintessentially Olympia celebration of Earth Day, also makes an appearance.

 

Even the Eagle Tree is based on a real tree, a 300-year-old Douglas fir that lives on private property on the west side.

 

“When I saw that tree, something clicked in my mind,” Hayes said. “It came to me fully formed that this character wanted to climb that tree.

 

“The story is really a romance,” he said. “It’s a love affair between a boy and a tree. He loves this tree; he wants to support it. … That passion is something that we all share here living in the Northwest, and that is part of the reason that the story has resonated. People understand that romance with the natural world.”

 

Both March’s passion and “The Eagle Tree’s” messages go well beyond saving one tree, or even one old-growth forest. March is obsessed not just with trees, but with the effects of climate change, and he’s puzzled that the rest of humanity doesn’t seem to care about what he sees so clearly, what is, he says, “obvious and readily available to anyone who looks up trees on the Internet.”

 

“My character cares about these things,” Hayes said. “That’s how all of the concerns about climate change and the environment became central to the story.”

 

The author said he learned a lot about trees while writing the book.

 

“When I started writing the book, I could not tell the difference between a spruce and a hemlock,” he said. “By the time I finished writing, I had done so much research in service of my character’s story that I knew almost as much as he does.”

 

AN INTERACTIVE EVENING WITH NED HAYES AND FRIENDS

 

What: Ned Hayes of Olympia celebrates the release of “The Eagle Tree,” a young-adult novel about an autistic boy and his love for an old-growth tree. Actors Amy Shephard and Clarke Hallum will perform scenes from the book. Emily Teachout, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will speak about the science in the book.

When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Browsers Bookshop, 107 Capitol Way N., Olympia.

Tickets: Free.

Information: 360-357-7462, browsersolympia.com, nednote.com.


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