Posted by: johnbarell | August 12, 2011

Imagination is all!

Imagination is all!



Growing up with radio as a link to the outside world was an amazing blessing.

Yes, there were newspapers during World War II when I was just a boy, but before I could read I understood the spoken English language.  My evenings were consumed with listening to news broadcasts from the major theaters of combat, Europe and the Pacific.  Even though I cannot remember a single broadcast during the War, I do recall the end of that world-shattering conflict and thinking, “What will there be on the radio now that the war is over?”

Radio was the “frigate,” as Emily Dickinson said about books, that took me “lands away.”  The voices of men reporting on the great human dramas of our time helped us create the scenes in our minds of what it was like to live through the attacks on London (“This. . .  is London,” said Murrow), to storm the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, and to struggle to survive during the Battle of the Bulge.

Before I

could read, I could imagine and this was, in retrospect, a blessing because I developed the capacity to wing myself away from that four foot high Philco radio I sat in front of, away, far, far away to anywhere on the planet and beyond.

Radio was a blessing because it developed your imagination. All you had were sounds and you needed to create pictures that explained and made clear what was going on.  I can still recall the one program where they dramatized how one Texas Ranger became the Lone Ranger.  Over six decades later I can picture men—certainly, “bad guys”–high up on a yellow bluff overlooking a canyon where I think the solitary rider was traveling.  They shot at him and he was befriended by his soon to-be “faithful companion, Tonto.”

It is the primacy of imagination that envisions worlds far away from the present, distant from the dailiness of our own lives.  Imagination is what fuels our curiosity, our sense of wonder at what we are experiencing.

Perhaps World War II prepared me for being able to “live” with Admiral Byrd in is frontier town of Little America.  I had spent so much time as a boy conjuring pictures in my mind, peopling strange places with invented characters, listening to the sounds of battle, of camaraderie and of attempts to make peace, that I was well prepared for the tunnels of that outpost carved into the Ross Ice Shelf in 1928.

A few years later, when I wrote to Admiral Byrd I wondered if there was a possibility of discovering oil in Antarctica.

He wrote back, :  “You are entirely right about the possibility of discovering oil in Antarctica. We found enough coal in the mountains near the South Pole to supply this nation for a long time.  I am almost sure there is also oil at the bottom of the world.”

Imagine being fourteen years old and being told that “You’re right!” by the leader of four expeditions to the bottom of the world!  So much more meaningful than getting problem 15 correct in algebra!

That’s part of what imagination does for us, it not only takes us “lands away” where we can “visit” and “see” strange, intriguing landscapes, but it also enhances our power to wonder  “What if. . ?”  To consider alternative possibilities, so important in good problem solving and critical investigations.

That’s the thing about imagination—it’s the power to control who we might be, when, where and how.  It’s the power of make a block into a truck, a tree or a fire station. The power to wing yourself down to Little America, out to Mars  and into whatever future we can dream up.

And it’s all fun.

Radio and, surely, reading stories and more stories of adventures in Antarctica, or any place on earth, is what fuels our imaginations, leads to our becoming inquisitive about the world and our potential lives.

George Bernard Shaw once noted, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”  (





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