Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lost innocence


When my friend the sculptor John Holstead was last here on the island he left as a gift a beautiful guidebook to the wildlife of north Florida. Our flora and fauna have enough overlap with Florida to make the book useful. But I see now as I am using the book to identify a bird that there is a place in north Florida widely thought to have been the site of the Garden of Eden.

Literally. The guidebook doesn't make clear why this particular landscape rates being the primal paradise, but it is not unusual for biblical literalists in various places to claim their own locality as Adam and Eve's abode. The Mormons, of course, put Eden in Missouri, conveniently close to where Joseph Smith tried to establish a colony of followers. He was not the first or last prophet to bring Genesis home.

My Wildlife of North Florida book makes a pretty good case for a North Florida Eden, but it has nothing to do with religion. The beautiful Photoshopped assemblages of creatures have a familiarity about them; for example, the double-page spread of "white waders" -- egrets, stork, ibis and spoonbill -- somehow reminds me of the foreground aviary in Hieronymus Bosch's Eden.

This much is true: Any place can be a garden of innocence if we make it so. And if we have been thrust out of Eden into a damaged world, we can't blame it on a snake or a peeved deity. We have no one to blame but ourselves.