Submitted by Jeff Buster on Sat, 06/14/2008 - 14:34.

When I was a kid…building a  picking box tower in a lemon grove…

One of the best states of mind that one can be in is the state of mind where you are unconsciously submersed in “imaginative play”.   Let’s skip over the existential question of whether you are at your happiest when you are conscious you are happy, or when you are so happy you aren’t even aware about being happy. …


Instead, let’s consider  whether adults have the capacity to be as happy as children, and whether adults who may struggle with unhappiness can re-learn “imaginative play”.  


Kids can be involved – submersed – in imaginative play when they are alone, or when they are with their friends and siblings.    I think there are certain criteria necessary to create the overall  ambiance required for entering into the state of true imaginative play.    The first and primary criteria is that the mind must be deeply involved and engaged.   When the mind is cranked up processing lots of signals - coming in from, and going out to - eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, and feet  the entry to the land of imaginary play is near.   


We’ve all had the experience of  watching kids under about 10 years of age  “space out” when they are pretending – creating imaginary worlds for themselves, their friends, and their toys.   And we’ve watched older kids – and adults too – have that same “spaced out”, lost- in-another- world look on their face.   Often, learning something new can produce that look.  




Let’s not get too serious and introspective here…let me recall the great time my brothers, neighbor kids, and I had building dangerously high fort-towers out in the citrus groves.  


 The building blocks for these towers were the sturdy wooden boxes which the fruit was put in after it was picked.   Each box was about 2 feet long, 1.5 feet wide and 1 foot deep.  The newer boxes were aromatic from the pungent pine wood.   Of course these empty boxes weren’t  available every day in the groves  - they were only in the groves a day or two before the picking crews came to the grove to harvest the fruit. 


So the kids in the neighborhood had to act fast.   I don’t know how the news that boxes had been distributed in a grove (about to be picked)  spread around among the kids so fast, but it did and we somehow showed up after school, or in the summer, soon after the boxes hit the ground.  


The first job was to collect boxes from all over the grove and carry and drag them to the location where the fort/tower was to be constructed.   Gathering them all into one location was about the only “damage” that was caused by our play – the pickers would have preferred that the boxes remain distributed throughout the grove so they would be close to their ladders as they filled their picking sacks with fruit off each tree.  


But never mind the pickers.   One by one, with the bigger kids bringing two at a time (they were pretty heavy), the boxes would be brought into the center of the grove. 


Just as a mason has different assembly patterns with brick, of course there were different assembly patterns with the boxes too.   Each box course/level had to be staggered in order to overlap the boxes and  lock the tower together as it increased in height.  Sometimes we would create internal spaces with the boxes which we could crawl into.  Other times we went for ALTITUDE as was the situation in the sketch above.   


I remember that tower.  


It was crazy high. 


My oldest brother was the alpha on top.


 We kept passing box after box up to him and he went round and round setting box on top of box.  After he finished a new higher row of boxes he would step up on top of them. 


Pretty soon he couldn’t reach the boxes we shoved up to him.  


 Since we didn’t have a rope to pull the boxes up we built a staircase out of boxes on the side of the tower.   As additional boxes arrived from the all-through-the-grove collection team, they were carried up the staircase and raised high up to my brother. 


Pretty soon the tower was so high – I’’ bet it was 22 feet anyway – that it began to sway back and forth as my brother continued to build it and shifted his weight from side to side. 


Now this was getting kind of scary…but we kept pushing boxes up to the alpha and he went higher and higher


Then someone got an idea – it could have been Jerry – let’s start taking the lower stairs away and sending those up to the top.   


So the staircase was dismantled leaving Jerry on the top of the last step about ten feet up.


Jerry jumped down into the soft dirt. 


My brother was now on the very top of the tower.  He was way up above the tops of the lemon trees and must have been able to see for miles.


  It began to dawn on me that the farmer could probably see my brother too.  


That might not be too good.    We could get into trouble and have to take all the boxes we had collected and spread them back out through the grove.


It seemed to me that Jerry was thinking the same thing…


“Let’s get out of here”  spread though the kids on the ground.  


But what about my brother? 


 How could he get down if we left? 


 The tower was much too high to jump down – and the tower would probably kick out and collapse on top of him if he tried to climb down the side of the tower.  


Some of the kids began to run off through the trees.  


Certainly I wasn’t going to be of any help to my brother because I was too small to hike far out in the grove to gather more boxes for another huge staircase.


But quickly my brother showed why he was the alpha.   I’ll never forget his elegant solution:


As the tower swayed back and forth, he got down on his hands and knees on the top of the top boxes and began to crawl around in circles.  As he went in circles he would put his fingers down between two boxes and tipped a box off the tower. 


Down went the box.


Then he would crawl down onto the level from where the one box had just been removed, and toss off the other boxes on that level.   There were four boxes on each level. 


Round and around he crawled.  


Boxes were raining down. 


It didn’t take him much more than a minute to get safely down to the point where he could jump the rest of the way to the ground.  


Off we ran after Jerry and the other kids.


When we caught up with them near the canal I remember that Jerry looked a little sheepish. 


We never did hear anything from the farmer. 





Are these other types of adult activities “imaginative play”?:  war, work, professional sports watched on TV, golf,  video games, Nintendo, xbox, civic engagement, exercise (running), pets, traveling, preparing and eating food, domestic abuse, graffiti, reading…. 

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Dreaming and growing up

  Where did you grow up Jeff?  It's nice to hear a personal story related here.  I think that blogs capitalize on experiences that resonate with others.  Who will share our memories once we are gone?  Your memory reminds me of my own experiences and leads to a cascade of emotion.   For you lemons...for me cherries :)


Jeff, I think some of us get immersed in blogging and forming networks of various sorts; this probably qualifies as "imaginative play," but we're fairly serious about the intent, setting things straight, molding the life experience.


Our crowd of kids were similarly creative, but some of us got used to it and wound up on the other side of the law--we experienced the exhilaration of freedom too often, and got hooked, and were willing to keep paying the price. Did that happen to anybody in your bunch? (I'm serious now and not razzing about taking pictures in City Hall.) A couple became go-go boys, others joined bike gangs, others became members of the alternative or shadow economy. Some went on to school on scholarship, and carried on the same shenanigans but at a higher level. Freedom to create, to shape life, is the one thing that informs most of our decisions still.

Blogs vs. News

  And not to throw a creativity towel over anyone--blogs are great as a personal outlet, but they will never replace newspapers for recording history.  Unfortunately, our local newspaper has completely lost touch with the reality of reporting the news.  Instead, it tries to mimic blogs and we are left with an empty historical record of the events that affect and ultimately decide our community. 

how to get down from the tower

Wouldn't it be nice if some of our elected officials read this and mimicked your brother's ingenuity and creativity in getting down from the swaying tower? (Excuse me - I know my I know my naiveté is showing) It must feel rather precarious up there atop the house of cards that is our current economy and our current local and national governmental structure. So a creative solution to reform government might be overlooked by leaders who are looking down at the ground so far below them. Taking that first step (getting down on their knees) might just never have occurred to them. As it is the redistribution of the crates has already begun. Unfortunately, the crates being redistributed are the ones at the bottom, not the top. Precarious indeed…


I agree, Laura that we need newspapers and great journalism. I wonder if newspapers and or blogs can help with the top/bottom shift that needs to (will) take place. I am reminded of the Corn King - John Barleycorn - the sacred king whose sacrifice allows the people to eat again. Trickledown has run its course, and we can see that this concentration of wealth among the few is not working. Must we watch while the base of our society, the working class's ability to get by is so eroded that a revolution is nigh? Or could leaders find the ingenuity to sacrifice their high offices and allow for a flatter more flexible organization of offices and a more equitable distribution of wealth. Did someone say that the first world shall retain dominion over the third world indefinitely and that the rich shall rule the poor forever? It seems to me that this formula has run its course and we have begun to watch on all levels of government and the economy, the house of cards begins to sway.

one problem: no alphas visible among elected officials

Can you think of any who would qualify as "alphas"? Perhaps one will step up, or emerge.

Humpty Dumpty

what great images -  kids at play vs politicians atop a jerrybuilt structure pasted together with patronage. Two ways to destroy the structure - either catatrophic collapse and starting over (picking through the pieces for what can be saved) or slowly backing down, disassembling as you go. 


But the second way requires choosing to give up your "high and mighty" position, never likely with entrenched power. The first usually occur abruptly, against your wishes, but forces a fresh start. And the highest up fall the farthest.   Humpty Dumpty - we're back to the wisdom of childhood.

I missed the chance for metaphor

Thanks for the linkage--I missed the possibility for a metaphor, but there is certainly one there.