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Paradise is such an interesting thought. Ever since I was young, I have imagined paradise as being a place filled with trees, flowers, other such flora, an assortment of fauna, and it would be eternally green and shady. Initially it was an obsession with the idea of eternal dusk, but then shade became passable because a certain amount of sunlight would be needed for other people. For me, I would be a night dweller. I've always wanted to live in the trees, curl up and sleep during the heat of day and then emerge from my shadowy dwelling in the evening to enjoy the wonders of the night.
I decided that the trees would be of such a sort as they were tall and thick and close together and you could walk along the branches as if it were a road way in the sky and with fallen timbers one might construct a dwelling to live in. It would be clean and free of pollution. It would be glorious to someone such as myself. But, then again, I have always loved the idea of living in a great forest. I feel closer to nature than to anything else after all...
When I was in elementary school, probably 5th grade, I had a small group of friendly acquaintances that would frolick around my tiny town with me. After causing all the havoc we could "uphill" (the area with the postoffice and all 3 of the towns businesses), we headed for the woods. I was fond of the woods already, since my dad had introduced them to me on our fishing trips. Back then, I clung to all the interests I shared with my father. I even considered apprenticing under him to become a fur trapper in Nebraska.
But the woods. I ended up showing my friends the more interesting areas that I'd discovered in my trips back there. Eventually, after months of feeling close to them, I showed them Paradise. It was really only a small, sandy patch of land that jutted out slightly into our small-medium river, with fairly large trees that I'd managed to drag into critical places to use as bridges. We started forming grand plans to make it our home. We'd build rafts, and boats, and plant vegetables. At age 11, I started transplanting tomatoes out of my garden onto this island. I built a raft. My friends discovered the opposite gender, returned to their video games, or decided that they couldn't tolerate mosquitos. I quit frequenting my island.
6 years later, at a resistance conference in DC, we (myself and newer friends) picked up a guy going to Philidelphia. As we travelled, he started making references to Paradise. The first time he mentioned it, I was the only one in the car with him. He asked if I had a flashlight, and I said that one of the guys might. "I need one that somebody is willing to trade," he said. "I couldn't take strangers into Paradise..." I didn't press the issue. Later, it turned out that Paradise was an 8-story abandoned apartment building. By then, I'd developed a sense of appreciation for the ability that "people like us" have to consider such things beautfiul. On the top floor of this building, our friend lived with a handful of other people. Occasionally police would come in and run them out, but they'd just break back in shortly after. The city couldn't tear that building down like they do so many squats because Nextel had bought it and put a cell phone tower on the roof. I asked if Nextel had made any moves to get rid of them (the squatters). "No way," our new friend said. "The repair guys ran us electricity down to the 8th floor."
I'm not sure how or why, but he ended up giving us a tour. I think his enthusiasm and love for his home overcame his paranoia. We parked about a block away and crept to the building, taking advantage of the shadows as much as we could and trying to walk quietly in boots. On one of the corners of the building, I noted the phrase "Paradise lost??" written in what would equal about an 18-point font. It seemed like such a tiny nameplate for something so remarkable.
He showed us the building, the floor he lived on, and then the roof. From eight stories up, we could see all of Philadelphia that we'd seen driving in, and more. We spent a lot of time just walking around and observing in silence and trying to keep the February wind from slapping us in the face. "I fucking love this city." he announced. He referred to it as home, which was a surprising word to hear coming from a traveller. But I don't blame him for loving it. I really got to contemplate both the beauty and tragedy of squatting for the first time. On one hand, people can live in relative freedom if they're willing to be careful and shrug of a bit of convenience. On the other hand, for the sake of convenience, people are willing to throw away a perfectly good building. I'd make a joke about finding a building in a dumpster, but with the rapid rise in the number of trash compactors, I dread to think what the future may really hold for such situations.