It’s So Beautiful, It Almost Looks Fake.
My mom was not a good cook, having been brought up in the time of “Mock Apple Pie” made with Ritz crackers and without apples (?), and Salmon Loaf (yeeesh), white bread, white rice, white crackers, Taster’s Choice instant coffee, and canned vegetables extraordinaire. She is also NOT where I got my green thumb. Once we gave her a few pots of silk flowers to provide some color and “life” to the dining room plant shelves where all her living plants went to die, and she forgot they were silk, watered them, and their color ran down into our carpet. Not a joke. She killed the fake plants.
When she saw my plants in my apartment in college, she said “they are so beautiful, they almost look fake.” How is it that we have gotten so comfortable with fake we judge perfection against it? Maybe this is the root of much of our discontent in life. We have warped the idea of perfection to mean something without flaw, instead of something that has achieved a complex beauty and function within its capabilities, and in conjunction with everything it affects and is affected by.
Perfection should mean, perhaps, achieving a complex beauty and function within current capabilities, and in conjunction with everything it affects and is affected by.
We recently had our driveway paved with porous asphalt. I LOVE it. Our driveway is now a big French drain, helping rainwater to perc into the soil and get back to our aquifer instead of running quickly off into the street storm sewer, or worse, running up against our basement walls and working its way into our sub-levels spaces. This was one of the first residential application this company (Luizzi Brothers of Albany, NY) has done, and they did a wonderful job. They prepared by removing soil to a depth of about 2’ and replacing that with stone to allow for water storage capacity. They loosely tamped it and then applied 4” of a special mix asphalt and pressure rolled it as well. When they finished, the lead guy started telling me that this is a rougher look asphalt, and I should not be disappointed with the appearance, “this is what you get with porous, and it can’t be smooth and perfect like regular asphalt.” He expected me to be disappointed in the look of it. Huh. All I see is perfection – a system that works with nature instead of against it. A paving option that will wear well and not heave in freeze/thaw cycles. A reasonable expanse of consistent yet pleasantly textured surface that will make driving and shoveling easier, and that will help reconnect some water to nature’s systems. And no sealing needed (or wanted).
I showed photos of our house to a friend last week, to illustrate all the things we do in a relatively small space. I love the colors and layers of space we can experience on the first floor, the cleverness of movie screens tucked into the ceiling inside, and hidden in arbors outside, the ability to hang laundry, or have dinner, or do yoga in our backyard. I also love our dark, vibrant, blue house on our street of houses of all basic beige and white. She asked if our siding was vinyl and I said that no, it is painted wood clapboard. She said “Oh, it is so beautiful I thought it was vinyl, even the trim looks like vinyl”. Again, huh. I had to work a bit to realize she meant this as a compliment. All I could think of, besides the toxic burden of vinyl and the limited color palate, is “wood textured” vinyl. Somehow, even though properly prepped and painted wood does not show texture, many synthetic materials use an applied repetitive and totally unneeded “wood grain” pattern to be attractive.
What do I take away from these conversations and experiences? A few things.
First, we are just beginning to understand the effect of nature on our well-being as humans and as members of the natural orders of life. Patterns of nature such as fractal patterns, the pattern of waves on the sand at the edges of the beach, and the wood grains and stone layering as well as auditory stimulus that is beyond pattern such as the sound of rain, or wind in the trees, the movement of grasses in the wind, all touch us and heal us. These patterns in nature are not “perfect” by today’s definitions, and we are missing out by not including at least these different tactile, visual, and auditory influences.
Second, we are one with nature, a component species in a complex and many layered, mystical and magical, many-dimensional web of being. We are perfect if we allow ourselves to be so. For us to achieve this we must understand that perfection is not simple, or even predictable. It is maybe messy. It is certainly also mystical, magical, and many dimensional. The more we introduce natural elements into our buildings and outdoor spaces, even in dense urban environments, the more we will learn to work with nature’s systems and the more they will influence and support us. The more we will begin to understand that perfection is not one limited end goal, to be achieved in one way.
Finally, we can achieve more in all aspects of our lives if we stop seeking an unrealistic and inappropriate definition of perfection. Let’s move away from the “perfect” carpet of freshly mown grass which is sucking up water and using energy and time to maintain. It is possibly causing us to pollute the water supply with pesticides and fertilizers. If we do this we can achieve true perfection that allows interdependence of many plant types, works with various weather and soil conditions, and allows beauty and variety to exist in our own backyards. If we release ourselves from a narrow and restrictive definition, we can grow, discover, and truly prosper in the ways that are appropriate to us as individuals, and to us as parts of this amazing whole planet.
Imagine if we redefined “perfection” to include the richness of complexity, discovery, and interdependence. Maybe even appreciation of iterative progression. Fashion would change, body shaming would go away, acceptance of cultural differences would grow, and anxiety would decrease.
This idea is so beautiful, it almost looks real. It almost looks like nature has already achieved it.