Wednesday, September 10, 2008


It doesn’t always work out this way but, for me, growing up as an only child was a lovely experience, and one which warmly nurtured my inchoate, but burgeoning, creativity. I never had one imaginary friend. I had lots of them. My imagination was populated with all sorts of characters, some from storybooks, some from movies, some legendary figures known to frequent childhood imaginations for centuries, but most totally original. Gleaming elves and glaring ogres, brave knights, wise wizards, recalcitrant fairies, exuberant dwarves, leafy tree people and sparkly water sprites, scores upon scores of talkative animals. Angels? Possibly. Some peeked in my window in the mornings, some accompanied me to school, a few of the less gregarious types resided in my clothes closet, but most waited for me outside under the trees. In all seasons of the year, my dog and I could be found roaming the woods around our house, me bundled up to the eyeballs in winter, often barefoot in summer, and that’s where the more fascinating individuals of my imagination usually made their appearances. These friends taught me to trust that imagination, helped me to see it as a priceless resource unique to me alone, a storeroom of ideas only I could unlatch, anytime I desired, and for the rest of my life. Perhaps if I had not had a treasured dog to confide in, I would have acquired one single, special imaginary friend instead of many. But I loved the ones I had.
And if I’m quick, I can still sometimes catch them grinning in at my window on an early morning, just as the curtain opens.

Aunt Leaf
by Mary Oliver

Needing one, I invented her - - -
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.

Dear aunt, I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,

and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker - - -
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish - - - and all day we'd travel.

At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back

scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;

or she'd slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;

or she'd hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,

this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.

Painting above by Edmond Aman-Jean