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Third place winner Mary Grace Hren Hoosic Valley High School

Universal Travels of the Mind

I have a very vivid memory of myself, at the tender age of about three or four, sitting on my father’s lap as he read a story to me. As he finished the story, he turned to me and looked deeply into my eyes. Smiling he said: “you know, sweetie, sometimes you don’t have to move to take a trip.” As a child, I had no idea what my father meant – so I asked him. In response, he told me that in my mind there lie a glorious and wonderful place that has no bounds; a place wherein I could be free to do, and be, anything that I desired. Further, he told me that through my “mind’s eyes” I could explore every corner of the boundless expanses of my mind – that there would be no mountain too tall to climb, no sea too deep to explore. Admittedly, at such a young age I did not quite fully comprehend what my father had said. Today, however, as an avid and passionate reader of all works, my father’s words resonate strongly with me. Quite interestingly, what my father said to me all those years ago is a lot like the words of American author Twyla Tharp, who once said: “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”

For many people, reading may be a simple pastime activity, but for me it has become much more than that. I believe that literature is a form of Art. Regardless if it is fiction or non-fiction, a book represents an artistic harmony of words and phrases that, when combined, form a beautiful three-dimensional quilt that I can wrap myself in. In fact, if someone were observing me reading a book, it may appear to them that I am merely sitting at my desk or lying on my bed in my bedroom with a book in my lap. Indeed that would be the outward image/projection of me. Yet, in my mind, I am wrapped tightly inside that quilt, existing in a different dimension altogether. Through the simple act of reading, I can escape to a place where no one else in the physical world can follow me. I can travel with the natives in the South American rainforest, or I can escape from fire-breathing dragons in a medieval village, or I can float into space or walk on the moon. Through reading, I can create the world and universe that I want to be in – even if just temporarily, and although I may be physically located in my bedroom, in my mind I am thousands of miles away, experiencing a completely different dimension of existence, running away without leaving home.

The joy of reading (and what I would now admit is an obsession) began for me soon after I was able to read independently. Very early on in my youth, and as the eldest of four (my younger three siblings are triplets and are just 2 years younger than me), I quickly found solace and peace within the pages of books like Dr. Seuss, The Magic Treehouse, and The Giving Tree. As I read about the adventures these characters, they became my adventures too. As the characters struggled or faced hardship, or overcame their problems, I shared their trial and tribulations.

Today I am so grateful that I learned how to read and that I can find time every day to read for pleasure. I know that I will forever treasure those simple words that my father said to me: “you don’t have to move to take a trip.” Without question, reading has allowed me to tap deeply into my mind, to learn and experience so many things that go far beyond my physical existence. Reading has empowered me in ways that I can’t fully articulate and in ways that others probably could not understand. But since the day I learned to read, I have been free to run away without leaving home.