Seeking imperfection

Fledgling great horned owl--a fellow fan of imperfection.

Fledgling great horned owl–a fellow fan of imperfection.

I live in an enviable setting–a remodeled farm house amid a grove of cottonwoods and maples, surrounded by the rolling open wheat and alfalfa fields of Washington’s Palouse. The landscape bespeaks freedom. Room to run, to stroll, to escape the everyday cares of work. Yet except for the grove of towering trees that are entering their dotage years, I am more confined here than I would be in downtown Walla Walla. Or Seattle. Or maybe even Manhattan.

Across the road, where alfalfa and wheat stretch to the skyline, discipline rules. No weeds contaminate these crops, though an occasional, ambitious kochia or Russian thistle raises a defiant green head above a uniformly tawny wheatfield. Crops, understandably, must be pure to be profitable. This purity is achieved through chemicals, and therein lies the problem, at least for me.

Although my neighbors might happily provide permission to walk their farmland access roads, I would prefer to get my morning exercise in a more herbicide and pesticide-free setting. Their perfectly groomed, weed-free monocultures are profitable, but not habitable.

So, instead, the dogs and I amble around in the little cottonwood grove, which we share with barn owls, great-horned owls, red-tailed hawks, kestrals, magpies, flickers, brewers blackbirds, starlings, robins, and a few chickadees. The cottonwood grove is not well managed. It includes a few locust trees and big silver maples, neither of which are native. Limbs have fallen on the ground, or dangle, partly broken. The trees are undisciplined. Above all, they are imperfect. But they provide habitat for a huge variety of birds, rodents, and of course, a woman and her dogs. Diversity is hardly rampant here, but there’s a lot more of it than you’ll find across the road.

As any ecologist knows, diversity and imperfection are the engines that drive evolution. That drive survival. Plenty of data argue that disciplined agricultural monocultures are detrimental to both. What I’ve learned from my time in the imperfect grove is that imperfection is inviting. Aesthetic. Intriguing. Even mysterious. That it has tremendous advantages over the perfect for almost everything.

And I’m hoping that includes me. Perhaps those qualities that I see, and that my peers may see, as imperfections, might actually be advantages. OK, there are plenty of physical flaws. We won’t go into those. But quietness to the point of reclusiveness? Maybe. A penchant for collecting saddles? A reluctance to eradicate all the spiders that have made the exterior of my house their homes? The list goes on. Who knows.

What I do know is that I am happier in the grove of imperfection. It’s more interesting. I have more friends there. It’s my preferred habitat. Bring it on.

3 thoughts on “Seeking imperfection

  1. Thank you for the beautiful story, Ellen! Like poetic sound, echoes in my eyes… Hyon

  2. Hi Ellen, Thank you so much for sharing beautiful stories! Like poetic sounds.. echoes in my eyes. Hyon

  3. Imperfection is wonderful in many things – but not in saddles 🙂

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