“What are you doing?” the woman said, not impolitely. She’d walked over from a narrow path through the half-acre patch of mostly weeds to see what I was photographing. “See for yourself,” I said, pointing. My camera sat atop a sturdy tripod. I’ve added foam padding to the outer tube of each leg, which makes the weight more comfortable when carried atop a shoulder. It also makes them look rather odd, like fat aluminum hotdogs in camouflage buns, since I’ve wrapped each of the three legs with camo duct tape—a bit tattered now after a few months of field work. I saw the woman hesitate, thoughtfully eyeing the setup, and perhaps wondering what such a ratty, makeshift affair said about the trustworthiness of its owner, before bending to peer through the viewfinder. “Oh, my,” she said after a moment. She glanced over her shoulder at me, smiled, then bent for a second, longer look. Then she raised and looked at the small clump of purple coneflower, at which my zoom lens was aimed. The coneflower blooms were just starting, though most were yet in the greenish stage. A few were opened and showed light petals; fewer still had more than a hint of the purple-pink yet to come, or the distinctive rearward thrust of the petals which give the plant its name. I’d focused on a single blossom—one of only two or three showing color. I thought it looked pretty nice, filling the frame, with the dark-shadowed woods blurred in the background, which made the bright but still-immature flower “pop.” Good images often depend on isolation and contrast. “That’s really nice,” the woman said, “but…”—she looked at the clump of conflowers, then at me and smiled apologetically—“…but why did you choose the imperfect one?” Ahh-h-h. I might have known. She was dressed more for a patio than a path—shorts and a tank top, spotless white sneakers now sprinkled with weed seeds and bits of vegetation from her brief foray into the off-trail wilds. Her bare legs and arms were tanned—but bore no old scratches or still-bleeding recent lacerations, so brush busting wasn’t in the usual cards. She did have a nice pair of expensive binoculars around her neck, and a little shoulder bag that might have held a field guide to birds or plants, though I thought it just as likely the book could be a compact dissertation on the wines and cheeses of France, in case her morning amble provoked a sudden desire for a glass of Pinot gris and a bite of brie. I tried to be charitable. “That one seemed to work best in the frame,” I said, “with the light and all.” “Oh,” she said, and looked at my setup again. We chatted amicably for a few minutes. I removed the camera from the tripod and, shielding the viewing screen with my hand to make it easier to see, showed her several of the wildflower shots I’d taken earlier—of course choosing only those which showed the most exemplar perfection. As we talked I couldn’t help but notice her perfect teeth, perfect nails, perfect hair, perfect eyes, perfect makeup…all perfect, perfect, perfect. She doubtless lived in a perfect house on a perfect street. “Thank you,” she said, when leaving, favoring me with a perfect smile. “You take lovely photos. Maybe you’ll find a better coneflower to photograph.” I nodded and thought how small and dull a world it will be when imperfection is no longer to be found, let alone appreciated. When dogs no longer pee on the living room floor. Or you can’t wear a ragged old sweatshirt to the grocery. Or an old man with ill-combed hair and liver spots on his wrists, shuffling along behind a walker with scuffy tennis balls on the legs, is not welcomed at a fancy restaurant because he’s not…perfect. What fun is perfect? Where’s the room for growth or improvement? A smart woman would know there’s mystery and allure in imperfection, endearment, too. As hard as the concept may be to grasp, it is possible to be too flawless! Of course, I say all this, not from the rarified air of that ultimate perfect peak, but from the knee-deep bog of pure commonness—proletarian, unrefined, dinged and dinted, whose imperfections were many to start with and have only multiplied over the years. I like my cheddar sharp and have actually drank and enjoyed wine dispensed from a box. In all my travels, I’ve dined in only two restaurants deemed perfect enough to have been awarded three Michelin stars…but I’ve eaten in country cafés all over the land where the food, if less fancy, was just as tasty. The most interesting and wonderful people I ever met were invariably imperfect—often to degrees nigh unimaginable. Yes, that purple coneflower bloom was rather tatty. Several of its drooping petals had been chewed on, its color was not yet prime, and it tended to lean from the weight of its exuberance. I can understand that, uh, perfectly—my exuberance has caused me to lean, my color is less than prime, I’ve been chewed on a bit…and I droop. But I’d rather live in the thick of life than to sit safe and perfect at the edge. As a friend of mine likes to say, “If you ain’t makin’ a mess purty regular, you shor nuf ain’t havin’ fun!” Amen and amen! I say perfect is long overrated as either an ideal or aiming point. Viva imperfection!