I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m using the dual stories of William Mulholland and John Muir to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.
This week I started to reread Rivers in the Desert by Margaret Leslie Davis, which I came across years ago. I’ve been kind of obsessed with Mulholland for a long time. I decided last week that I was going to structure the collection after the first part of the Old Testament, Genesis through Exodus. Both men had different views of California as the Garden of Eden, and they both hoped to bring a kind of Exodus to the promised land. Both had great floods. Well, you get the idea. It goes on and on.
I started to reread this book and realized that Davis has structured her work in the same way, Genesis through Exodus. Okay, so the idea was hers first and maybe that’s what put it in my head, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t use it. It will be my homage to her. Certainly both men had a biblical sense of their own.
She does something else that I like. Most people hate Mulholland, especially since he was used as the villain in Chinatown. I think he’s much more complex than that, and he certainly was well intentioned. His part of the story is going to be a tragedy. Tragedy is not defined by the death of someone. Death can’t be tragic in fiction. After all, everyone dies. Tragedy is the downfall of a great person. By definition that person need to start off as being great.
And that’s kind of the way I think of him. He erred greatly, and he violated his ethics many times, but it all came from a place of great intentions. He was someone trying to do good things. What he wanted to do was to create a Garden of Eden in Los Angeles, but that’s hubris. He was taking on the role of God. Muir wanted to preserve the Garden of Eden in the mountains. That’s the role of people.
Muir died sad, but not tragically. His story is the quest of the hero.