Paradise Lost

Everything in the garden grows higher than her head 

Lilac and Sunflowers, Wisteria gone mad 

The house sits on a hillside above the West Virginia Turnpike. Close enough to see some kind of an arbor, or trellis system with plants growing over it. To my eyes, glimpsing it from the passenger seat rolling by at seventy miles an hour, it appeared to be an attempt at creating a sanctuary, a buffer against the pervasive highway. Seconds later the house was only a receding image reflected in the rear view mirror. Unimportant, easily overlooked. If I had been driving I likely wouldn’t have noticed it at all. Behind the wheel the highway is reality, not any modest structure on a hill, inseparable from the road yet wholly separated from the rush of people speeding along it. 

The image stayed with me and I began to think about my relationship with the highway. Countless miles crisscrossing the country on its interstates. I’ve always been struck by the sight of a house crowded against the road. Obviously too close. Particularly when the interstate is right outside the front door. Particularly in the country when there is open land alongside and behind the house. I’ve always wondered “Why? Why would anyone do that?” As if the homeowner made the choice to live like that. In my mind the interstates had always been. They already existed when I came of age and got my license and a car to drive on them. I hadn’t yet realized how the world, even the incredibly small bubble of it I navigated was constantly changing, and always had. The interstate was not forever. It is in fact only old enough to now be falling into disrepair. 

I imagined a woman living in that house in West Virginia. She had been there long before the interstate came through. After all the house was small, practical. Not a modern ego driven McMansion or some other display of obscene wealth. She was of an age when life was simpler, quieter, perhaps a touch lonelier. And she invented ways to connect herself with the mystery people travelling along the original road that passed her house. The one the interstate sailed over, a West Virginia state route beneath notice. 

She used to sit on that porch at night, watching the old road 

Making up tales about the drivers and destinations unknown 

But then the interstate came with its invasion of peace and privacy. Built upon massive pylons that connected hillside to hillside, stripping that house of its singular vantage. 

Now lights shine through her windows, shadows travel the walls 

There’s no sleeping in the bedroom so she moved it down the hall 

The interstate disrupted a life that was remote, but not without its rewards. 

The view from atop that lonely hill was nothing short of majestic 

How she loved a sunrise that could give faith to a skeptic 

The interstate relegated sacredness and sovereignty to memory. 

The glare off of a windshield holds no inspiration 

And she’ll never be alone again with her concrete and steel companion 

The interstate offered a choice that wasn’t a choice. 

Nothing she could do except move away 

Now she spends her days with a front yard interstate 

The state often compensates people whose property is compromised on behalf of progress. However insulting, it can feel resistance isn’t an option against a system that really only values one thing. 

Yes she took the money. It was the least they could do 

For bringing in the big machines, leaving her landscape ruined 

But accepting your situation doesn’t mean abandoning your principles. 

She’s never going to spend it. That would be wrong 

In the end we do the best we can with the circumstances we have. 

Trying to find some peace inside her Paradise Lost 

Even when those circumstances relentlessly attack our efforts. 

Trying harder not to breathe too much diesel exhaust 

I think now that what appealed to me about that garden was the idea of creating a space to retreat to in a world that never lets up. It’s an act of defiance in a way. 

Sitting in the garden she can make believe 

The world is not rushing by just below her feet 

I like to imagine the woman living in that house would do things differently given the chance. If for no other reason than to satisfy my desire to stand up to the system. Even in small ways. 

If she had to do it all again she would not hesitate 

To tell them where they could stick that front yard interstate 

I recently watched a movie that used to be on repeat in our house when the kids were young. It had a lot to say about the interstate system and its effects on the lives of the people it disrupted. You know the one, where the hot shot race car learns to slow down and gains a nostalgia for the “before” times. Like the main character in that movie I wasn’t alive to experience those days but I romanticize them anyway. I’ve always felt that pull of the open road, that desire to go somewhere. I love driving. Motorcycling gave me an added appreciation for the back roads, that’s where all the good stuff is. But I use the interstates all the time. That’s how you get places. Touring would be far more costly and restricted without the interstate system. I was on tour when I saw that house in West Virginia. For whatever reason it touched me. Maybe it highlighted that my convenience comes with a cost, maybe I wrote Paradise Lost to remind myself to look around and really see. To notice that things I take for granted and dismiss as trivial have a profound and lasting impact on others. That unawareness leads to indifference which separates us from our shared humanity. 

She no longer cares who they are or why they’re in a hurry 

The  butterflies and the bees tell the better story

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