Joan Didion’s “Holy Water”

PoseidonPasadenaP1This semester, my English 1A classes are going to tackle some tough environmental problems, with a focus on water.  We’ll also share what we’ve learned at an Earth Day event we’ll organize.  Water has been on my mind for a while now, and in 2013 I was commissioned by the City of Pasadena to write a poem about water and power which will be part of an art installation in 2014 (part of the poem is pictured). I’ve also been concerned about plastic in the ocean and following a lecture by Chris Jordan, I wrote on this topic here and here, as well as a paper for my degree in Ecopsychology.

In anticipation of where we’ll go and what we’ll learn this semester, here is Joan Didion’s celebrated essay “Holy Water” from her 1979 collection of essays, The White Album. I found it here as part of a special look at water called “Thirst” on PBS.

Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive. The water I will draw tomorrow from my tap in Malibu is today crossing the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River, and I like to think about exactly where that water is. The water I will drink tonight in a restaurant in Hollywood is by now well down the Los Angeles Aqueduct from the Owens River, and I also think about exactly where that water is: I particularly like to imagine it as it cascades down the 45-degree stone steps that aerate Owens water after its airless passage through the mountain pipes and siphons.(1)

As it happens my own reverence for water has always taken the form of this constant meditation upon where the water is, of an obsessive interest not in the politics of water but in the waterworks themselves, in the movement of water through aqueducts and siphons and pumps and forebays and afterbays and weirs and drains, in plumbing on the grand scale. Continue reading