Monday, March 14, 2011

The Original Paradise

During my walk yesterday, just supervising Winter’s rapid retreat, I came across a green door in a wall. A modest house, a proportional wall, a pleasing door. The photos show the exterior and then the space the walls contain. I was pleased, struck, and memories arose, quite curious memories, memories of the time long ago when Brigitte returned to school and we became life-long students of biology. If this sounds like a non-sequitur, be patient. We used to sit around endlessly and talk about the cell, and I can still hear Brigitte saying: “In the beginning, there was the wall!”

Yes. The first assertion of life’s presence is the cellular wall. It carves the first ever private space out of the vast chaotic random. The wall of the cell, to be sure, is already a very complex something, but it is a final something, a triumph! Closure, you might say. At the same time it’s the beginning of something destined to become enormous and always magical. Life. Or at least its manifestation in the order of matter.

Long before the cell came into my conscious view, architectural enclosures had already fascinated me—the Roman atrium, the courtyard, the vast hollows of cathedrals. Humanity’s first habitation was in Paradise, and it had pleased me to discover that that word derives from the original Persian words for surrounded and wall, pairi and daeza: the walled garden.

The rest of my walk turned into a contemplation of this very basic subject, the inner and the outer—and I examined every enclosure for its meaning. Low, decorative walls easy to see over spoke of a desire to define but yet to invite eyes to admire. Bald wire fencing told me to say out—and that I would be closely observed as I passed. If they were further thickened by hedges, the wire meant to keep out animals; it was the job of the hedges to block intrusive human eyes. Wrought-iron proclaimed the presence of money, the stature of the owner, sometimes high taste. Tall solid walls always proclaimed that two realities exist—one within and one without, and the within is sacred.

Inside and out. Another pair in the endless duality. But these enclosures also emphasize that those two are never equal. It must have been a dark day indeed when Adam and Eve, heads bent, had to pass through that gate east of Eden.


  1. These photos make me aware of the failure of walls to keep the outs out....perhaps. You seem to have taken the shots from outside and then from inside the green wall. Am I right?

  2. Reading this so many walls come to mind. Most of them intended to separate the “ins” from the “outs”. But manmade walls don’t always work as designed: the Seawalls in Japan, meant to keep the outs from coming in, were overwhelmed by the power of the tsunami; the Berlin Wall, as those “Walls of Red Wing” mentioned in one of my favorite folk songs, were both built to keep the ins in. The Berlin case shows that some can be overcome by sheer “people power”. Those of Red Wing, not often, as far as I know. Israel’s walls, designed to keep terrorists out have also not lived up to design, as have those Walls of Jericho, they crumbled… The Chinese Wall still stands.
    Nature’s walls (those cell membranes) are also not impermeable; they have selective permeability. All I can think of is that WALLS have multiple purposes and are, as all things nature-made, often copied by us. They are wondrous to contemplate, even if they don't always succeed.

  3. I enjoyed this article.
    I tried to make a list of all the private spaces I occupy in a day:
    the bedside illuminated by a lamp on a table strewn with books and an alarm clock, the study, the bathroom, the car, the sacred space of the kitchen, the dining area, even down to that established by opening a book and being engrossed in reading.

    We traverse hundreds of these every day it seems, constantly going from inner to outer. Sort of gives me vertigo thinking about it.


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