Visiting Paradise: Reflections on a Place and its Name

What's in a place name, and how frequently does it actually relate to the place? Sometimes geographers look at place names to learn something about a region's topography. For example, in southwest Wisconsin's driftless area, you come across names like “coulee” and “hollow” a lot more frequently than in other parts of the state. My mom who grew up in the area, lived just off Dry Bone Road -- how's that for a place name? "Coulee" and "hollow" and even "dry bone" describe something about a place; offering a sense about what the place looks like, and even about the lives lived there. But sometimes, a name seems to have a more complex relationship to a place: Paradise, for example.

I've been to Paradise twice: once on my honeymoon (yes, literally true), and once last summer. Each time I've come upon Paradise by chance, happening upon it unexpectedly. The first time, I looked around me and agreed wholeheartedly. The second time, it was more like um, …. really?

My first time in Paradise, was in Washington State. We trundled up the side of Mt. Rainier in search of a good hike. In the grand tradition of the honeymoon, we had our picture taken near a waterfall. Then, we came upon Paradise and its amazing lodge built by the park service in 1915. We stayed there in a tiny little room tucked between the eaves under a full moon, and it really was paradisiacal.

My second time in Paradise - in the U. P. of Michigan - the name came up as a kind of ironic comment on a barren highway crossroads at the end of a long day's drive. Fittingly in a way, I met a chainsaw artist on that crossroads. He told me he makes a pretty good living at it during the summer months, but he and his wife high-tail it out of there in the winter. As he put it, there is nothing going on around there once the snow falls. The artist and his wife head for warmer places, and occasionally he visits a chainsaw art convention.

Of course, if you spend a little time around Paradise in the U.P.  you realize the name fits - what with its chainsaw art and waterfalls and all that peace and quiet.

I've decided to make it a point to go to places named Paradise - maybe even branch out into Bliss and Eden and Happy. I'll start with Paradise, Illinois down by Mattoon, and then figure out where to go next.

(Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are my own).


Leave a comment