Paradise Lost

I spend a great deal of time thinking about intimacy. For a PhD student in English literature, Del Mar generally remains quite far from this thinking that is related to the academic work I do. My research focuses primarily on 17th-century English poetry, on questions of the environment, of the intimacies established between poets and their environment. For the past year, Del Mar, my hometown, has become the unexpected center of my academic world; I’ve once again become a full-time resident, invited to reflect on the roots I’ve established here and how this foundation sowed the seeds for much of my thinking about the poetry I study.

Torrey Pine seedlings. Photo Ariel Renner

I see these roots quite literally: in the trees that surround me, characterizing my life in Del Mar. Being back this past year has revitalized and, in many ways, altered the way that I see and experience this city; I’ve established a new intimacy with Del Mar. Largely because of the academic work I’ve been doing here, I’ve become much more attuned to the environment that surrounds me, and particularly, to the Torrey Pine trees that I observe each day from my bedroom window and that I encounter when I go out running or walking each afternoon. Many of these I recognize as familiar figures from my childhood, for my vision of Del Mar has always been framed by the Torrey Pines.


As I’ve spent this year writing about the intimacies developed between poets and their environment, from my desk that looks out at a Torrey Pines canopy, I’ve come to realize that there is perhaps no better, or more familiar, illustration of environmental intimacy than in the relationship between Del Mar and its Torrey Pine trees. I can’t help but think about John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the touchingly intimate lament that Eve (Paradise’s resident gardener) gives after the fall, once she and Adam have been banished from Paradise for eating the forbidden fruit. She addresses Paradise as “thee native soil, these happy walks and shades,” home to her “flowers, / That never will in other climate grow.” I get emotional every time I read these lines, partially because it’s so easy to relate to Eve’s sentiment as someone lucky enough to grow up amongst the Torrey Pines—the trees that, indeed, “never will in other climate grow.”


I remain, of course, keenly aware of the absences that continue to shape the view from my window, the gaps that denote where trees have been removed to make way for new construction or landscaping. However, I’ve also been granted a wonderful new perspective on the Torrey Pine, as my brother is sprouting a new generation of trees in our backyard. While this does not resurrect the trees lost, it provides a small glimpse at a future Del Mar that remains intimately entangled with the Torrey Pine.

Torrey Pines. Photo Ariel Renner