A Paved Perspective

Thoreau, Dillard, and Purpura demonstrate a spectrum of human experience with nature. Thoreau represents one extreme: he isolates himself from society and lives in the woods. Dillard, on the other hand, lives in a neighborhood with other people, but can immerse herself in nature with a short walk down her peri-urban street to Tinker Creek. Purpura represents the other extreme, finding herself lost and searching for nature in the dystopia of the overdeveloped world. While both Thoreau and Dillard have access to a vibrant nature full of life, Purpura must look for signs of natural life in hotel parking lots, large-scale agricultural fields, and along highways.

Certain aspects of Dillard and Purpura’s writing styles are similar. They both describe the world with vivid detail, focusing on finding the life (and sometimes death) in the world around them. One specific parallel that stood out to me was the mention of “snakes” in both Dillard and Purpura. In Dillard, we see her stalking a copperhead snake:

“Here was this blood-filled alert creature, this nerved rope of matter, really her instead of not here” (Dillard 228).

Purpura’s description is not of an actual snake, but of the liquid coming from a farmer’s pesticide applicator. It seems like Purpura actually stalks the pesticide:

“He’s holding his rope low and firm while it leaks a bright poison as yellow and brief as a corn snake, sunning, then startled, then disappearing back into the ground.”

What stands out to me, beyond the vivid imagery, is the description of nerved rope versus poisoned rope. Even though the copperhead is a venomous snake, Dillard does not emphasize the danger it poses. Purpura, on the other hand, observes a human-made rope that spews something seemingly harmless—a corn snake sunning itself—that in actuality poisons and kills.

Purpura begins to despair about the loss of life and lushness that humans caused. As she looks out on the parking lot of her hotel and describes the loss of “real land,” I was reminded of the Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi.” In the first verse she says:

“They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot”

Especially considering that Purpura is literally in a hotel, writing about its parking lot, this song seemed particularly relevant. The brightness of a pink hotel is similar to the brightness of the yellow pesticide: thinly masked death. I think that Dillard, if placed in the same environment, would see this world similarly. Purpura speaks of the dead trees (“ex-trees”) and the grubs that live inside them. Insects and death are two of Dillard’s favorite topics, especially when paired together. Purpura doesn’t quite get into the detail that Dillard does, and her writing is more like a poem than Dillard’s lyrical prose. But both are textured, moving from smooth to rough and uncomfortable and back again.

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