Let’s see. How many times in my life have I seen or been part of perfection? There was the time in junior high school when I got 100 in every subject except sewing. But Miss Trager, the sewing teacher, gave me a 60 and she meanly wrote the 60 in red ink on my report card, so I didn’t feel perfect at all.
Then there was the time I made the perfect catch. I was about 10 and I was playing stickball with some kids in the street in front of my house. I made an incredible running catch of a short fly ball before falling into some bushes along the sidewalk. As I made this perfect catch, my father came round the bend on his way home from work. He didn’t believe I had caught the ball on the fly. He thought I had caught it on one bounce. And even though I showed him my hand with the ball wedged between my second and third fingers, he said, “It’s impossible.” His not believing me spoiled the perfection of the catch.
Just the other day, I caught a bottle-top as it spun off a bottle I was opening, hopped crazily around on the counter and then dove towards the floor. I caught that bottle-top in my hand in mid-air, just like when I was a kid I caught a butterfly with my thumb and second finger in the garden behind my house. My fingers felt strong and perfect that day. I put the butterfly in a covered jar with some lettuce for it to eat and the next day it was lying dead on top of the lettuce. That spoiled my perfection.
I once had a perfect nine holes of golf. I hit every green in regulation, made three birdies and scored a 33. But then I shot 38 on the back nine. So the back nine’s ordinariness cancelled out the front nine’s perfection.
And then there is the painting by Charles-Francois Daubigny at the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York City. The first time I saw it, I gazed silently at it for a few minutes as its spell descended on me – mysterious but utterly concrete. It’s the screensaver on my computer now, and I see it every day. Unlike a gorgeous view out your window that you quickly stop seeing, I see, really see, the Mill at Optevoz every time I look at it. And every time it seems to me that the painter has incarnated utter peacefulness through the medium of oil paint.
It’s a scene of cows coming home at end of day to some small barns by a brook. The light . . . . the way it filters through the haze and valley in the background. And the trees in patches; and the way the haze rising off the water is rendered. Just look at the way the stones are painted – you can see the water shining on them. (I tried to make the image bigger, but I can’t.) And the brook, watch where it turns around the tree. You can almost see it after it turns. It’s a small picture, yet what a great sense of distance Daubigny has gotten, and how carefully painted that distance is. And again that light, that uncanny twilight. A patch here, a patch there. And there, there at the far end, the suggestion of the setting sun behind a tree.
You know that excited feeling you get when you’re driving to the beach and suddenly – some sensation of smell or change in the air – you know that the ocean is near? Well, that’s how I feel every day when I boot up my computer and know that Daubigny’s Mill at Optevoz – perfection – is rising through the mists of cyberspace and coming towards me.