Land of Little Rain takes its name from the book of the same title by author Mary Austin. The book was written in 1903 while the author lived in Independence, California, which is also the town I call home. Austin, quite ahead of her time in many ways, was actively concerned with environmental issues, women’s rights, and the issues that Native American people faced in California.
While living in Independence, Austin was most concerned with the California Water Wars that were playing out as William Mulholland and Fred Eaton devised a way to divert Owens Valley water, which pools in the deep valley as runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, south to help create a thriving metropolis of millions in Los Angeles. The results of that project – the Los Angeles Aqueduct – are still deeply felt in the Owens Valley, and I see them firsthand in day-to- day life when I’m home in Independence. The concerns over water have not diminished in the 100 years since the aqueduct’s completion; now that California is experiencing the most severe drought on record, how we use one of our most precious resources is again a major issue for us. In many ways, we here in Los Angeles are detached enough from the source that it becomes difficult to really understand the extent of our water problems; we can easily turn a blind eye to huge fountains on our campuses, or lavish displays of non-native landscaping and grass lawns. Life in the Owens Valley, however, presents a very different side of the story.
The three movements of the piece follow three general ideas surrounding water in the Owens Valley. The first, The Rain, is a contemplation of how impactful the lack of rain really is, and also how important it is when it arrives. The second, The Land, is an exploration of how the landscape responds to the introduction of water and then its eventual removal. The third, The Result, is the most abstract – a look at the tragic environmental reality facing such large parts of the Owens Valley landscape, and how that reality relates to the issues facing California at large.
2 cellos, piano, celesta, vibraphone, percussion (bass drum, crotales)