ORINDA -- In her collection of short stories, author Sally Small takes readers down a nostalgic path, through the eyes of several characters, providing a window into a farm life in a small town.
Her words, Small said, ring true because she lived this life, lending a realistic backdrop to her fictional stories in recently published "Pear Season," based on her childhood in the Sacramento Delta.
She gives a taste of that life in "Patrona," one of the short stories: "I walk the orchard enjoying its various greens: a quiet green dampered by the pear trees, fresh green sprouting from the irrigated earth, green refracted by the dew, green muted by the ripening gold and the soil brown of decay. The early morning light slants, seems to rise from under damp earth, from within wet leaves, each leaf, each blade of grass a moist glaze of green. I walk the rows of pear trees appearing to supervise the pickers, but they are hidden in the leaves. Only their worn out running shoes and their frayed pant cuffs are visible on the upper rungs of their wobbly three-legged ladders. In fact I walk because it is too cold to stand still. My feet are wet.
Small's reasons for sharing her stories of family life on the farm are both nostalgic and purposeful as she seeks to promote awareness about the plight of a flat expanse of tangled waterways and islands known as the Sacramento Delta she grew up knowing so well. While "Pear Season" is a colorful, enchanting recollection of idyllic life and summers spent in the orchards, it is also a realization of the effects of modernization as locals deal with the pressures of urbanization as residents from more densely-populated areas of California conspire to drain water from the Sacramento River and its waterways, Small said.
"I'm really concerned that the Sacramento Delta, which is very important to the Bay Area, is about to disappear," she said.
"Pear Season" takes readers into the hearts and minds of farmers, pear pickers, taco truck owners and cowboys whose lives revolve around the Delta.
Small, who grew up in Walnut Grove and has lived in Orinda for 50 years, said her stories pay homage to a life well lived in a friendly, close-knit small town where her 98-year-old mother still lives and her brother runs the family orchard.
"It's important to publish, at least for my grandchildren, so they know this world existed once upon a time -- a world I grew up, lived in and loved," said the Oakland-born Small, who moved with her family to Walnut Grove when she was 6 years old and lived there from 1947 to 1962.
"This is the sort of place where everybody knew you and took care of you," she said.
It was a place where, after World War II, it was natural to go to school with and grow up with Japanese Americans, Filipinos and Chinese who built the levees, Small said.
"This was a safe place for their children and there was a sense that people wanted to put the war in the past and start again," she said.
Small, who has since childhood loved telling stories, said writing stories came naturally to her. A graduate of Stanford University, Small obtained a master's degree in creative writing from San Francisco State and wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nature Conservancy and The New Yorker.
The author, whose novel "Two Sloughs" was published in 2008, looks forward to talking about her book at Orinda Books on Oct. 3.
Even though she grew up in the Sacramento Delta, Small said that there's a connection between her family farm and the Moraga Pear Festival -- the French Butter Pear which, she said, grows in both areas.
While the stories in her book are based on real life, Small said she fictionalized the stories to create well-developed characters.
She recently launched her book at The Tong, a restored site in Walnut Grove that was once a meeting place and now houses an art gallery.
"There were about 100 people there, all locals," Small said of her book launch at her hometown. "It was wonderful because many of them have known me since I was 7. They were surprised and pleased that I would write about their town. I'd like readers to come away with a sense of the small town of the Sacramento Delta and its richness and diversity."
WHEN: 1 p.m. Oct. 3
WHERE: Orinda Books, 276 Village Square, Orinda