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Ghost orchard

Illustration by Julia Ogden (

Before the 1920s, the town of Manzanar—which means "apple orchard" in Spanish— was a place of abundance. Founded in 1910 in the high California desert east of the Sierra, the town withered, along with its apple orchards, when the thirsty (and wealthy) City of Los Angeles bought the water rights to then-fertile Owens Valley and left the valley parched. By 1929, the town had been abandoned. When the former town was chosen as the site for one of the 10 Japanese American internment camps built during World War II, its lovely name became synonymous with a shameful part of U.S. history.

In The Wild Impossibility, one of Owens Valley's remaining apple orchards is a place of refuge for young Maddalena and, years later, a place of discovery for her granddaughter, Kira. A shadow of its former self in 1945, by 2011 it had become skeletal.

Here's the moment in the book when Kira first sees the orchard:

Up close, the orchard looked like a relic of another time, before the water wars, when the desert was ripe and the trees exploded in springtime, white blossoms jettisoned by hard green fruit. Now, their dull leaves edge-curled, thin bark mottled with thirst, the trees stood farther apart than they should have, half of their contingent missing. Twisted limbs spiraled, reaching for neighboring branches that were no longer there. Kira could walk between the trees, arms out to her sides, and not touch a leaf.

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