The Landscape of Imagination

Uncovering generations of the same game


Leaves crunch under faded leather sandals. Sand rains from the sky as little feet pick up the pace, sending grains into the air with each flip and each flop.

It’s some years after coodies and just before puberty, the egalitarian period of childhood when boys and girls mingle and frolic as a unified whole. There are three of them. They look like your typical Southern California kids, raised under the sun and near the sea.

That is except for the arrows strapped to their backs.

Freed of iPhones, they nurse wrapped parcels of bread. Instead of emulating the vulgarity of reality television, they’ve adopted the imagination winking at the heart of Hunger Games — sans the bloodshed and brutality, but saturated with all the adventure and abandon. They duck behind palm trees, peeking down the quiet cul-de-sac for potential obstacles to circumvent.

Nearly ninety years ago

when Huntington Beach was still a sleepy seaside town, its oil newly discovered and its surf not yet explored, my grandmother slid down quarries, chasing after her younger brothers and saving them from the perils of made-up menaces. She scouted trails and skinned her knees, transforming her surroundings with her imagination. Back then, she said, they called it Cowboys.

Fifty years ago

before Orange County became a destination or a commodity, before freeways and four-lane roads, before couches turned into playgrounds and flat screens into sports arenas, my parents played outside with their siblings. They may have been 35 miles apart, but they both recall the beauty of creating master plans from nothing but open land. Their game was called War.

Two decades ago

my sister and I roamed Neverland. It was a lawn in the backyard of our small, suburban home, but the vines and flowers and sneaky shift of spring winds were as authentic to us as any. The setting was merely the backdrop. It was our collective imagination that brought the game to life.

I guess they call it Hunger Games now, but the name matters little. The battle for the hearts and brains of our youth has not yet lost in the Apple store. It persists over generations and landscapes, strung across our backs and held close to our chests.

It’s a raw urge within us, a gift from the gut, an innate ticket for the passage through childhood.

We may often be distracted by the glitz and gadgets of popular trends and trendy friends, but look back and look around. Simplicity is beautiful, and the perfect backdrop for a healthy imagination.