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Imagination is dwelling on something longer than it takes to inventory it.
You see bent grass in a clearing. You dwell on the angle. You imagine deer must have passed that way, maybe 15 minutes before you got there. You think about the path they took, draw a mental map of their range, the ravine they climbed--once shaded by oak, now by maple.
You imagine the clearing the year before, a hundred years before. Deer bending that grass again and again. People noting the bent grass, watching for deer. Considering all the angles.
In your mind’s eye, passenger pigeons fill the sky. You blink.
You see Canadian geese. You dwell on the formation. V was the first letter of an ancient alphabet. It still is.
You remember white pelicans migrating along the Illinois. Floating. Falling and rising. Today’s geese are flying higher than the pelicans did last year. You think about the troposphere we all share, how if you hiked straight up you’d climb beyond the troposphere before lunch—and run out of oxygen about the same time.
Neither bird would tell you you’re in flyover country. But that’s what they do. And that’s where you are. The only flyover country that matters. The real one that runs north and south, not the heavy-metal pretend one that runs east and west.
You think about migration. Why hummingbirds leave Central America. Why retirees move to central Florida. Migration is a mystery.
You hope the hummingbirds return.
You see a barn without a roof. The front is leaning back; the sides are leaning out. You dwell on the structure. You imagine paint, though no paint is visible. At the end, barn boards always remind us they were trees, that even the prairie had trees.
You imagine the trees that became those boards. Trees running along both sides of a meandering creek. Maybe that one tree at the edge of the field just missed becoming part of that barn back in 1885.
It’s taking forever for the barn to hit the ground, for those trees to fall a second time. Maybe someone will pick up a few of the boards and turn them into a picture frame. Maybe someone will put a picture of a barn into that frame.
What’s the point of imagination? More to the point, does imagination have a point? The imagination seems more like all curves, turning back on itself, moving through time, growing and changing. If we’re lucky and outside, it’s expanding; if we’re unlucky and in front of the television, it’s contracting.
Statistics to the contrary, our main job as human beings is no longer to reproduce—it’s to imagine. Imagination is survival. Imagination separates us from deer, from pelicans and, so far, from robots.
If you think about it, imagination may be the last thing that distinguishes people from those telephone-pole Martians we park a bicycle against in the middle of a December ride.
So help us H.G. Wells.