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Writing a Lived Landscape

Four stories cast over a span of two centuries, all centered around one particular piece of land in northern California. It is a collection of neither history nor fiction, but a blending of the two into something Annie Nichol 07F hopes reveals more concrete and emotional truths than either could alone.

Nichol's interests in environmental studies, anthropology, and fiction were joined in her Div III work, titled The Lived Landscape of Gratton Gulch. The fictional Gratton Gulch is modeled on real places Nichol has lived in throughout northern California, and the stories grew from both personal experience of the area and research done at a number of museums, libraries, and archives.

"When I first came up with the idea, I wanted to write from the perspective of the land, and it evolved from there. I wanted to blur the distinction between people and the environment," she says. "The larger goal was to examine the relationships between people and their environment over the last 200 years or so."

The collection begins with a tale of the Coast Miwok Native American tribes and their attempts to resist assimilation into Westernized culture in the early 1800s—told from the perspective of a tree. "I was trying not to anthropomorphize the tree at first. Then I decided to make it as human as possible," Nichol says.

Her other three stories focus on Irish immigrants building a house on the land in the late 1800s, an abused boy living in the 1950s, and a girl who comes to the land to live with her grandmother while recovering from trauma in 2007. Nichols connects the stories with themed "natural histories" interspersed between the fictional pieces, and concerning culture and cultivation, ignorance, violence, and resilience.

Nichol transferred to Hampshire College in 2007, and quickly began working with Anthropology and Asian Studies Professor Sue Darlington, who served as her Div III chair.
"She was a very important part of my education here. And I really feel there was nowhere else I could have gone to college," Nichol says. "I was able to blend my love of writing with other academic interests."

Nichol has returned to California, and she intends to research possible graduate school studies while pursuing publication of her work.


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