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.
I spent much of this week studying the work of John Muir. It’s hard not to like him. If you’ve never read My First Summer in the Sierra, you should do so now. It’s a beautiful meditation of the man’s journey through the Yosemite area. He wasn’t the first person to visit those mountains, but his love and enthusiasm for it helped to popularize it, and of course, he was key in turning it into a national park. It’s a beautiful book, and he was heroic in it, but his grace and wisdom and intelligence pose a major problem for me.
The structure of my collection has the youth of Muir and Mulholland as a reflection of the Garden of Eden story. Both men saw California in those terms. Mulholland wanted to bring water to make it an Eden while Muir wanted to preserve the garden he found. The story of Eden ends with Adam and Eve being cast out for their sins. Muir left at the end of the season, but by choice. He wasn’t cast out and what kind of sin could he be said to have.
The only thing I can think of is that there is some level of unconscious racism on his part against some of the Native Americans. At one point, he calls them dirty. He doesn’t dwell on it, and he even seems to feel guilty for feeling it, but it’s disturbing. That might be his original sin, but it seems a distraction to the story. He was also up in the Sierra to use it to graze sheep. That might be his sin as well.
Frankly, I don’t know. It needs to fit the narrative of my story, and I’m not sure either of these things do.