Yesterday at dusk, while my daughter in her snowsuit gathered icicles and arranged them in an order known only to her, I walked in the cold along our road, the fresh snow recently plowed and sprinkled with brown dirt. How is it the sky can hold that lightest and palest of blues, complementing the frosty earth? Across the valley, Mt. Mansfield’s ridge gleamed with snow and sunlight.
Walking along the road, I imagined myself a wild creature, a woman around a wolf’s rangy body, my pelt matted with balls of ice, my lungs pulling greedily at the air, eyes keen and cunning, utterly watchful, without fear. Imagination is a word used too mundanely, like a child’s activity we toy with and too often cast away. I used the force of imagination today, descending into the bowels of bureaucracy, through windowless rooms with numbered forms and lengthy procedures and strangers weeping; I carried with me the hoary scent of wet fur, the wildness of snow and open skies, the singleminded hunger for survival.
Around our kitchen door, my child’s icicles glowed in the light through the windows tonight, widening the circle of the world she created.
Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone. It gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we’ve never met, living lives we couldn’t possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character’s skin.
– Ann Patchett