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’m about twenty sonnets into the project now, but the research continues. What is perhaps most interesting to me is the number of people I’ve talked to and the way that we all seem to relate to these characters. In the last month, I’ve had to deal with the fact that I have grown to understand Muir and Mulholland in a tremendously flat way.
To me they were stereotypes, Muir standing in as all good and Mulholland as all bad. It surprises me how ingrained into my consciousness that has been. Part of it is my love of Yosemite and the national parks and another part of that is my love for the movie Chinatown, which targets Mulholland as pure evil.
When I’ve talked to people they have had similar reasons for hatred or love. Nearly everyone sees Mulholland as flatly evil because he brought water to Los Angeles, and there is clearly too little water to sustain the population of Los Angeles. These people see him nearly as a terrorist against the environment. The irony is that since I live in Los Angeles, most of the people I talk to live here. They don’t seem to see the irony of what they are saying. Mulholland only facilitated the overpopulation. They are the people who overpopulated the region. So am I.
What he was trying to do in part was make sure that all people had resources so they didn’t starve. Bringing in water was seen as a social good, and he was doing it to help poor people make it in a hostile environment. He was also trying to become rich, of course.
Muir was an environmentalist far before his time. He also clearly believed in manifest destiny and found Native Americans disgusting, but if you bring up these negative beliefs to people, they cannot seem to jibe their preconceived notions of the man with the fact that he wasn’t perfect in all ways. He loved nature; therefore, he was perfect.
I don’t know how this is going to affect the project except to make it more interesting for me.