Perfect (to me).

Can it be perfect, what I see and hear on occasion? Is perfect even a possibility? If I would change nothing–nothing at all–isn’t it perfect? Or, must we abandon this thought to a philosophical question only, akin to Plato’s theory of Forms or Ideals?

Consider this photograph:


It is true that it is a digital image of a fruticose lichen. We will return to the image, but first the lichen: I was there and can attest that the lichen was three centimeters in height at the time. 3 is a prime number and is ideal at many levels.

A lichen is not a plant; rather it is a composite organism that arises from algae or bacteria that live among multiple filaments of fungi in a symbiotic relationship. And, if we are to thrive, we must do so in symbiosis. Thriving supersedes merely surviving and is the ideal or perfect way to live.

Lichens are not parasites; they produce their own food by photosynthesis, taking nothing from the host substrate. As long as they have access to light, they live. In other words, as long as there is life, they live, and in symbiosis they thrive. Ideal.

Different kinds of lichens have adapted to survive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth. They can even live inside “solid” rock, growing between the grains. Due to their adaptability, lichens have a long lifespan.

This long lifespan and the slow and regular growth rate of some lichens can be used to date events in history.

Quite a life form, it is perfect for what it is.

Let’s turn to the photograph of this other life form, one that communicates and does no harm. Yes, it is a nice photograph with artistic elements, perhaps. And I will say this: there is one thing I would change, not about the lichen, but about the photograph; I would increase the resolution to the maximum so that I could see more of its subject. For now, however, it is sufficient.

You see, it is not only a lichen three centimeters in height, but in my eye it becomes a strong oak tree, mature. It is quite healthy with new growth, an indication that it is still thriving (although it appears that its “roots” are exposed, perhaps because of a temporary loss of grounding). Yet, it is being nourished from the flow of a stream that is above it, and its branches are in full contact with that flow.

As an image, it is well-balanced with a varied but constant light. My eyes are drawn vertically, traveling the entire span of it, from high center up into the branching and then back down to the darkened base. Then there is a pull back up into the branches, and across that stream, back and forth diagonally. Next my eyes wander into the pools and into the darkened caves of the background. Finally, I consider it as a whole, before settling on any one feature that seems most attractive at the time. It speaks to me, even beyond itself. It is ideal. Perfect.

You may be with me so far, possibly so far as to admit that it is at least a fine photo. But you just cannot escape that one thing: the brownish needle-like shape to the left. That seems to stand out as something that should not be there. A thoughtful, careful photographer would have removed it, pushed it aside, and then captured a better image.

But it remains because it was there, part of that moment. And with thought and care, we may realize that it is not just a shape that does not belong. It is a small boat, made of wood, that is used to navigate the flow that nourishes that oak tree. The boat is turned on its side for now, in the image, but that was then. Now is a series of points in motion, and the flow never stops. The image is complete, as is, and I will not edit it. To me, it is perfect.

Of course, you are thinking of changes and that I have overreached a bit, and there are flaws that you notice, and you would frame it differently, and alter the light, color, or background, and why were you even looking at a lichen on a sidewalk anyway, Mr. Mailman? Sure, whatever.

But, I would not. I would change nothing at all about it.

Perfect exists, to me. I see it and hear it, on occasion.