After much introspection and discussion with Anne, I'm totally revamping this blog. Refractions is now a space for me to muse on the connections and interactions between ideas I encounter in the broader world of ideas, especially academic works, and Pagan ideas, themes, and practices, playing with the ways each contribute to or change the vision of the other, refracting these ideas through multiple lenses. For this re-inaugural post, I start with a simple observation: my car's GPS has trouble finding the shortest routes through Washington DC. When I started thinking about this in the context of ideas about humans and computers, it turns out that this is a refraction in microcosm of something important Paganism has to say about the macrocosm and our need for the natural world.
I coined a name for my observation: the illogic of straight lines. The programming of my little device seems to be stubbornly convinced that because a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, a straight road must be the fastest path as well. DC abounds with straight roads, thanks to its extensive planning, starting with L'Enfant's plan for the city layout. This physical manifestation of Enlightenment rationality relied on a grid of streets interpenetrated by major diagonal avenues which should, in theory, provide excellent access to any location. My GPS, nicknamed Betty, certainly buys into this theory. Time after time, it will insist on sending me down miles and miles of roads constantly interrupted by streetlights and traffic circles, which make the "expected arrival" times anywhere from laughably optimistic to just wildly inaccurate.
In the case of DC streets, the mismatch between theory and practice creates some alternatives. The theoretical street grid is built on top of a non-manmade landscape which doesn't always go in straight lines. In fact, in nature, truly straight lines are incredibly difficult to find. In some parts of the city, a mostly-level topography with few insurmountable interruptions makes the grid neat and dependable, much like the checkerboard pattern of easily-surveyed lands in the Midwest. In other areas, the environment could be made to accommodate the vision of ruler-wielding surveyors, as testified by former wetlands that now support urban densities. But some things were too much to deal with, especially Rock Creek. Now there's a beautiful parkway which follows the meandering path of the creek, providing drivers with a view of mostly-natural surroundings that seem worlds away from the nearby grids and highrises.