We drove past Paradise lake and I stuck my head out the window, snapped the camera and a rush of thoughts erupted with the one click. Black and white. This looks almost like a ghost town. No, a post-Armageddon town. No, something more desperate and bleak. Not so much the setting, but the juxtaposition of the word PARADISE with scenery that consisted of a battered barn-like building, a trailer, a dirt road and some cars.
Of course, all those things just might be someone’s idea of paradise. Who’s to say? What’s bleak and depressing to me might be someone’s escape from the things they find bleak and depressing.
Maybe there’s a guy - let’s call him Larry - who lives just down the road apiece from Paradise Lake. He lives in a battered house that needs a new roof and better insulation. The yard is nothing more than dried hunks of brown grass growing between patches of rock and dirt. There are bills spread out on his kitchen table; utility, Exxon credit car, pharmacy. The phone’s already been turned off. Electricity is next. On the wall is a picture of his wife Martha, who died last year of lung cancer. He’s got a kid, a daughter, but she’s off living with her grandparents, who give her things that he can’t, like heat in the winter and a hot breakfast and new shoes.
So he doesn’t want to look at the bills and his wife anymore. He doesn’t want to stare at the thin walls that make him think of freezing winters even though right now it’s summer, hot as hell summer, and the flies are coming in through the holes in the screen, gathering on the counter that hasn’t been wiped clean in a week at least. He walks out the door - doesn’t bother locking it because there’s nothing worth stealing in the house - grabs his fishing pole and starts walking down to Paradise Lake.
Paradise Lake is stocked with trout. It’s surrounded by mountains lush with greenery, bordered with wildflowers and dotted with water lilies. Larry finds his favorite place, where the water-beaten rocks, softened and smoothed by nature, jut out into the lake. He sits on the rock, casts his line and waits. He doesn’t care if he catches a fish or not. In fact, he’ll probably throw back whatever he catches. He just wants to sit there with the sun beating down on his shoulders, enveloping him in a warmth that seeps deep within his soul. He just wants to stare at the clouds that move across the sky, huge, pregnant clouds that remind him of childhood summers, and sometimes the sun will burst forth from behind those clouds, throwing spears of light rays towards the heavens and Larry thinks that Martha is talking to him then, saying hi from above, smiling at him even though he fucked things up so bad.
He smiles back.
A trout bites. A bullfrog leaps into the water, lands on a lily pad. From across the lake comes the shout of a young boy who has caught his first fish. The sun caresses his face.
There’s the other side of this, the side where he goes home and the bills and reminders and pervasive sense of loneliness are still there. But for now, there’s this moment. This paradise.
Larry knows a fleeting paradise is sometimes the only one we have.
Like Larry, we need to own it.