Week 22

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.

Water coming out of the Sierra is strange. You’d think that in drought years it would dry up entirely. We’ve had several arid years in a row now with almost no snow pack and little rain, but the streams keep coming. They’re low this year, but still fuller than you would think.

But water isn’t located in a single source. Looking up at the snow caps and assuming all the water is stored there is natural, and there is a lot of water there, but water also gets trapped in the vegetation and the trees. Every animal is its own watershed. Every person is a reservoir for a short time.

What fascinates me, however, are the caves. The Sierra Nevada is filled with cavities formed by years of water dripping slowly through cracks in subterranean granite and marble. A stream disappears on top of a hill only to reappear halfway down. Or more often, a small part of a stream seeps subtly into the ground, so we have no idea it’s leaking away. Miles later, and years later, it works its way back into the stream.

What spills into the reservoirs is a mix of water that came out of the sky a year ago and many years ago. It’s strange to think of all that ancient water mixing with water that was a part of this year’s rainfall, strange to think about the years it spent being squeezed through the sieve of the mountains.

This is the best part of research for me. I’ve been reading about Muir and Mulholland, but you can’t talk about those two without talking about caves and how water disappears and reappears. The two men had a different relationship with the nature of water. Muir had faith that it was there and would keep flowing. Mulholland was terrified that it would go away. And I got to find something out that neither of them knew.