Week 20

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 the last week doing the most important research of all. I went camping in the Sierras. I volunteer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, where I spend weeks teaching a class: Poetry in the Shadows of the Giant Trees. It was an intense week with nearly too much to remember.

What I get the most out of it is the science. The natural world is endlessly fascinating. I’m not terribly interested in naming all of the species of plants and animals. If I were a real scientist, I would have to know that, but I’m not. It’s much more interesting for me to know how things work and why than what the name of each plant is.

I watched the way that leaves change in size and appearance as they move out of a meadow and into the forest. Down near the water, they are broad and wide because they can afford to lose moisture while higher up they get narrower and narrower until the pine trees have only needles for leaves to retain that precious water. I learned about cave dynamic in Sequoia’s Crystal Caves. I learned about the growth rate of giant trees. I learned so much more, too.

I experienced the mountains as well. I hazed bears to keep them out of our camp and to keep them safely afraid of people. I watched a mother doe nursing her fawn in the middle of a green meadow that was surrounded by the burned out black stumps of trees that had died in a fire years ago. I watched a thunderstorm through the trees.

In truth, none of this was new to me. I’ve lived in the Sierras and traveled to them the years I didn’t, but they still move me each time. I hadn’t been there in a lot of years, and it was a week when I didn’t check my phone or computer once.

How will that help me with my writing? It’s going to add verisimilitude of course, but more importantly it just put me in a great mood.

I stood there on the edge of Crescent Meadow and agreed with John Muir. Muir called it “the Gem of the Sierra,” and he was right. It is certainly the most beautiful place I have ever seen on earth.