What comes to mind when you hear the term, “Anytown, USA”? Do you picture strip malls with big box stores, franchise restaurants, suburban minimansions, and orchards of street lights? Or do get lost in nostalgia for times of yore when Middle America had its heyday?
I’m author Gwen Alyce Clayton. I wrote about my concept of Anytown, USA in my Rivervine Trilogy. Today, I’m going to tell you what inspired that concept and why I was compelled to write about it.
My definition of Anytown, USA is a place that looks exactly like every other city in America. It’s devoid of charm and any kind of unique identity. Why on earth would anybody want to live there?
It actually started in the summer of 1987 when I spent the summer with my family in France. My cousin wanted to take me to lunch and then shopping, which I was all excited for. But instead of charming French cafés and boutiques, we ended up at cafeteria-style restaurant inside a mall with all the same stores we had back here in the States. I was really disappointed.
A few years later, I was living in Sacramento and my parents would visit from Reno. One thing they loved to do was go to Trader Joe’s. But then Reno got a Trader Joe’s and I was crushed. That was one fewer thing for us to do together—something that was unique to the city I lived in.
As time went on, I saw of my favorite coffee houses close after Starbucks moved into the same shopping centers. The local pet store closed when PetSmart came in. Entire neighborhoods turned to blight as more young, urban professionals moved into the brand-spanking-new condos and track homes.
Then, in November of 2001, I started working for the Elk Grove Citizen as the Lifestyles editor. I covered story after story about the conversion of agricultural land to urban uses. And those “urban uses” were not cute, Victorian homes with wraparound porches, vegetable gardens and flower beds. They were ginormous estates, sometimes ten to an acre. No gardens whatsoever. Tiny porches, if any at all.
And no place for me to park when I’d go interview people because their entire sidewalk was driveways, and we all know you can’t park in front of a driveway. I later learned that these subdivisions had home owners associations that forbid street parking all together. That’s ridiculous!
I was aghast! I told myself, “There is no way I would live there. I don’t to hear my neighbors getting jiggy at night or smell their bacon in the morning.” I hate bacon. I’m like, the only American who hates bacon. Anyway …
During my time in Elk Grove, I frequently covered a place called Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. I harken back to this place in the scenes I wrote in my books where I talk about the local wildlife refuge in Rivervine. It was here at Stone Lakes that I learned about the environmental hazards of wildland conversion. When humans convert wildland to urban uses, it impacts the water quality because now you have effluent percolating down into the water table, and you have less natural area to soak up rainwater when it falls. That’s one of the reasons why droughts and floods are directly related. Natural land stores water, and releases it in times when rain doesn’t fall. When we strip the topsoil away during construction, we lose that, along with the trees and other plants that help prevent erosion. When rain falls on concrete, there’s nowhere for it to go, so urban streets end up flooding, causing problems with city wastewater storages and treatment facilities.
I would be disingenuous if I didn’t admit that this was also where I learned about deep ripping. Deep ripping is an agricultural practice that uses large machinery to till the soil to a depth of three to five feet. This is needed in wine grape planting in order for the roots to penetrate the heavy clay soil. The problem is that deep ripping also diminishes groundwater recharge, and increased storm runoff.
When it came time for me to write about my winery, I sure as hell wasn’t going to have my characters deep rip the soil. I made those grapevines mysteriously regrow after decades of being dormant. I’m telling, ya ghosts can do anything. That’s why I like writing fiction.
One of the columnists I worked with at the Elk Grove Citizen was a woman named Elizabeth Pinkerton. Her column was called “History Happened Here” and, as the title would suggest, she wrote about the history of Elk Grove and the surrounding areas. Frequently, she would write about the Miwok. I realized that if I were going to write a story about a haunted winery with a ghost who lived during the 19th century, the Miwok would have had a significant influence. But I’ll talk more about that next week when we get to Amador County.
That concludes our tour of Elk Grove, California. Tune in next week when we talk about what’s really important: wine.
Elk Grove Citizen: http://www.egcitizen.com/
Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/stone_lakes/
History Happened Here by Elizabeth Pinkerton: https://amzn.to/2TrwEAs
Deep ripping a vineyard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRVpD0nL8tY&t=3s
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