The Last Shade Tree begins in the California I knew as a child—surrounded by live oaks, dusky green, with severed limbs poking from the golden mounds of wild-oat grass. In the spring, apricot orchards bloomed pink against an emerald carpet spiky with yellow mustard flowers. The ocean and the coastal redwoods were close by—and not too far away were the towns, cities, and parks: Monterey, Bolinas, Berkeley, San Francisco, Point Reyes, Lassen, Yosemite, the Pinnacles. The rolling summer-yellow hills are still there, but the apricot orchards lost out long ago to the gridlock of Silicon Valley.
Two important California locales in The Last Shade Tree never existed. Do not send a college application to Santa Margarita or try to visit the scruffy seaside town of Puerto Seguro. Puerto Seguro has the feel of old Monterey, CA; and Santa Margarita is reminiscent of UC Santa Cruz, and UC Santa Barbara.
In the following pages, the characters from The Last Shade Tree tell you about the places they knew. Some of those places have disappeared while others continue to flourish—even if renamed. Santa’s Village on Highway 17 near Santa Cruz, CA; Agnews Insane Asylum in Santa Clara, CA; and the Sequoyah Orphan Training School near Tahlequah, OK, all came to an end during the last century. However, Sequoyah Orphan Training School is now Sequoyah High School, run by the Cherokee Nation of Tahlequah. Baffin Island’s chilly town Frobisher Bay is still there; it was renamed Iqaluit (place of many fish) in 1987. The High Tatras have not moved an inch but are no longer in Czechoslovakia. In 1992 the country was divided in two and renamed, and the High Tatras became the northern border of Slovakia. Cosmopolitan and bilingual Montreal still reigns in Quebec, Canada.
The characters in The Last Shade Tree never stay anywhere for long. They are travelers, nomads. They reach faraway places, each experiencing a locale differently—with terror, malaise, or lasting love. And no one looks back.