Mind's eye

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The Ecotone wiki site is a collection of essays on "place" and its meaning to the writers. My other bursts of

Coming & going
Food & place
Maps as place
Mythical place
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Rocks and place
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"Welcome, welcome to my gallery of imaginary places -- Do come in, the door is a masterpiece of the ironworker's art, yes, but it'll let too much hot air in.

"Do you like it? The floor's New Hampshire marble; we try to keep it polished just to a glow -- I think a bright shine is tacky, don't you? I had the room designed mathematically -- round, y'know, and just over there you can hear every whisper we utter and if I shout, HEY! you can hear six echoes -- well, I never counted but five, but your ears may be better. It's fun to walk in here, you sound like a troop of horses!

"Here, step over to the left, here, and look at this place, it's the first. I picked a gray-blue frame because it sets off the light inside so well -- it's maybe my oldest imaginary place, a house I built from a pile of snow my father made -- I loved digging in the soft material and I imagined a mountain of it that went on forever, made of something that wouldn't collapse if it got too heavy, where I could tunnel like a mole and never be in the dark, for the snow transmitted that pretty blue sourceless light. It had rooms, ice windows --

I daydreamed about it for a long time. They must've read my mind when they built those hamster-tunnel things at McDonald's for kids to play in.

"Now, most of these, along here, arenít original, but they gripped my imagination just the same. Here's a tall white silo lined with white ceramic or plastic or something, and you see as you look up and up that it's like a corridor, with branches now and then -- and if you watch, there are people rising and falling, calmly, and pulling themselves off here and there. Isaac Asimov, one of his Lucky Starr novels, but an image that returns whenever I have to wait for an elevator, even after all these years. Anti-gravity really beats having to wait. An imagination has to start with something, y'know.

"Here, in this alcove -- pink and some enclosure seemed appropriate -- an adolescent imagination starts creating places
... Ö here's Shehezerade -- oh, oh, well -- I didn't mean to embarrass you, let's just skip onward, then, shall we?

"Now here's a more proper place -- 221B Baker Street, a reader's vision to be sure, but one I return to. Not much is left that I can call my own, that hasn't been overwritten by PBS, though. Tell you what, though -- I refused to have those bullet-marks 'spelling out a patriotic VR.' Even in Victorian London you couldn't shoot up a wall like that and not have a mess that would get you turned out of doors within the hour. I don't believe it and never did. I think the TV producers thought so, too, because I don't remember ever seeing them.

"And here's a whole collection of imagined places, from books. Well-thought-out ones where the details hang together, from Frank Herbert or Ursula LeGuin. No, I suppose it doesn't reflect too well on my reading habits. But here's a late one, one of my best, suggested by an NPR program years ago ...


    "The road, don't you see, is tar and stone, worn smooth by the years since it was laid down and by the traffic between Ghent and Styx, and here it comes around a sharp turn and down over the culvert where the brush hangs over some stagnant water -- and there is a mailbox, a few feet back from the road beyond a rut where the mailman stops, at the edge where the thin grass meets the tan dust.

    "Beyond, a ways back to leave some room for a tree, is a bungalow, clapboard and once white, its gable end facing the road over an open porch. The porch is low, with no step, and there's a tattered yellow kitchen chair to one side of the door. A single rusted chain hangs from a tree branch where it has become part of a gall in the wood. It must have supported a swing once.

    "The sun is just up, long enough for the birds to have finished their morning song and gotten down to business, but not high yet. It glints off a couple of cars in the rutted driveway: A brightly colored subcompact, maybe a Focus, sits behind an old, rusty, faded green Oldsmobile. The Focus's back seat is a litter of fast-foot containers, clothes and empty packages. The Oldsmobile is spotless inside.

    "The sun dapples the scanty lawn and leaves the porch in shade. Beyond the house, the woods are just a suggestion of green, flickering movement.

    "You've had your back to the road too long. A motor accelerates and is gone.

    "Beside the mailbox is something new. Someone has left-- a wedding cake. Three layers.

    "Its white icing is perfect, with all the gewgaws and decorations you might expect. It's like a bubble, sitting on the dusty ground so far out of place -- innocent and vulnerable, so vulnerable you expect it to pop and disappear before your eyes. On top are the traditional people in white and black. Someone has taken the trouble to leave part of a pasteboard box underneath. What could it mean? Who would have left it? Why? For whom?

    "In the field across the road, a red-winged blackbird sings.

    "A screen door slams.


"The NPR show wanted you to finish the story, but I thought the story was finished -- just as it fired the imagination. But you look hungry, and we're almost done.

"Here, pull the curtain. It's just a window, but it's sort of an artist's statement. All you see is the parking lot, but see, it holds a myriad of imaginary places over and adjacent to the real ones.

"See that SUV -- it isn't yours, is it? -- It represents someone's mental place, where they expect to go rough and ready across the dirt or the snow, or at least over some smaller car in an accident, even though the probably never will. It's a dream, and you won't shake the driver out of it. Or that gun-rights sticker on the pickup truck -- Bubba there doesn't even practice with the one he has, but in his heart of hearts he knows he's ready to take on criminals or dictators, and youll never shake HIM of that, either. And all you see -- or I see -- is partly imagination, things you notice and don't notice because they belong in the mental world you inhabit. You want to see what you're missing sometime? Talk to a child about what SHE sees. Ha -- did you notice the doghouse under the tree down at the end? No -- you werenít expecting it.

"Oh, well, sorry. I didn't mean to get preachy. I suppose you'll be going now -- here, the exit's down here, and if you HUMMMMMMMM just so in the passage you can make it vibrate like a bell -- and thanks for coming. Have a good day, then!"

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