My book Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden is a history of people who have searched for the Garden of Eden on Earth. This seems like a project with the perfect excuse to travel to all sorts of exotic locales, but it started out as a way to get inside someone’s head. According to family rumor, my great-uncle, an allergist and university professor who died before I was born, had planned to travel to the Garden of Eden, by plane, in the 1950s. My great-uncle, apparently, was a believer both in science and in the literal truth of the Bible. But how could he hold conflicting ideas in his mind at once? If I could figure out where he thought Eden was, maybe I could get closer to understanding this.
In the beginning, the Lord God created man in Adams County, Ohio, just north of Peebles and south of Chillicothe.
On the very western edge of the Appalachians, in the craggy countryside of southern Ohio, the three branches of a small river called Brush Creek converge in a valley lined with pitch pine and chestnut oak trees. A steep rocky bluff rises one hundred feet above the riverbed. And on top of this bluff lies an ancient mound of soil, waist high, built in the shape of a serpent. The snake’s head—120 feet long and 60 feet wide—faces the north end of the bluff, overlooking the river. From there, the snake’s body stretches southward 1,300 feet in loose waves, and ends in a tightly curled triple spiral.