The little lake in the Big Blackfoot River drainage, where our cabin is.

My wife, daughter, and I were in the West earlier this summer.  We visit there often, as it is home for me.  The highlight of these trips is the time we spend at our family cabin, which is located on the shore of a small lake in Montana’s Big Blackfoot River drainage.  Recently, one of my sisters and I were discussing the fact that the cabin has always been our one “constant” in life.  This, in addition to the beauty of the place, makes it immensely important to us.

I’m back in the East, now, trying to wrap up some writing and prepare for some fall teaching.  My wife left for an extended work trip shortly after we returned from Montana.  I just picked her up at the airport, last night.  My little daughter was terribly excited to see her mom, and she insisted on sleeping with us.  As I lay in bed, I could hear my sleeping wife breathing, and I could feel our girl nestled between us.  Meanwhile, my dog was audibly licking his paws on the floor.  All of this reminded me of our time at the cabin.

I thought, specifically, of another night.  It was late, but I was awake as usual.  Getting up for a drink of water, I looked upon my wife on the bed, with the dog at her feet.  Our daughter was in a tiny mummy bag on the floor–she loves that sleeping bag.  The moonlight lit interior of the cabin and also called my attention to the scene beyond the windows.  Outside, I could see the stars, the moon and its reflection upon the lake, and the outline of the surrounding mountains.  I thought to myself that, at that very moment, life was perfect.

The cabin.

Perfection is something I address in some of my college classes.  The students and I discuss, with the help of both academic and nonacademic sources, how perfection is a fleeting thing in our world.  The sources suggest we should cherish it whenever and wherever we find it because, soon enough, we’ll have to return to our daily lives, which are marked by our social and economic statuses, our need to pay the bills, maintain our health, and so on.  Anthropological and philosophical sources argue that our daily lives are so different—so imperfect—because all of these things prevent us from feeling the sense of connection that we do during the moments of perfection.

Indeed, religious mystics and scholars of mysticism tell us that it is connection or intimacy with our loved ones, nature, or even our creator that characterize perfection.  One such scholar, Margaret Smith, writes that, in mysticism, “consciousness is deepened to a sense of the Beyond as a unity . . . .”[1]  Smith first made this claim in the 1930s, and there much critical scholarship on mysticism has been published since.  But I won’t drag you through all of that.  After all, I’m trying to enjoy the last few weeks I have outside of a college classroom, before returning to the lectern after an extended break.

Regardless, scholars and mystics alike suggest we can we can live our lives in ways that will allow us to achieve moments of perfection as often as possible.  In fact, we should lead our lives in such ways, for it is the moments of perfection that make life most worthwhile.  No doubt, this is why I am drawn to fly fishing, to the wild places where trout live, and to our cabin in the Big Blackfoot River drainage.  At these places, I am most likely to find perfection.

Fly fishing on the lake, just outside our front door.

Norman Maclean might be the most famous fly fisher of the Big Blackfoot River.  In his novella, A River Runs through It, he describes the fleeting moments of perfection in a way that few people ever have.  He suggests, too, that fly fishers may be especially prone to experiencing them:

Poets talk about “spots of time,” but it is really the fisherman who experiences eternity compressed into a moment.  No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone.[2]

A “Bunyan Bug” fly, fished by Maclean in his novella.

That sense of connection, intimacy, or “compression” is explicit in the moment he describes.  Elsewhere in his novella, he compares this sense of connection to electricity (read the entire passage).  At this point in the story, he is sitting with his father, watching his brother Paul fish.  In the larger context of the book, it is not only the connection felt with the larger world of fish and other beings that is important here, it is also the connection felt between the family members:

Everything seemed electrically charged but electrically unconnected.  Electrical sparks appeared here and there on the river.  A fish jumped so far downstream that it seemed outside the man’s electrical field, but when the fish had jumped, the man had leaned back on the rod and it was then that the fish toppled back into the water not guided in its reentry by itself.  The connections between the convulsions and the sparks became clearer by repetition.  When the man leaned back on the wand and the fish reentered the water not altogether under its own power, the wand recharged with convulsions, the man’s hand waved frantically at another departure, and much farther below a fish jumped again.  Because of the connections, it became the same fish.[3]  

 I think we all feel these moments of perfection and connection, on occasion.  If you have trouble finding them yourself, however, you might visit a wild place.  You might even bring a loved one and a fly rod, too.  At the very least, you might take time to reflect, in the quite of the night, upon the connection you feel to the most important people in your life.

Flies owned by Norman Maclean, at the Seeley Lake Historical Center and Museum

[1] Margaret Smith, The Way of the Mystics: the Early Christian Mystics and the Rise of the Sufis ( New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1978), 2.

[2] Norman Maclean, A River Runs through It, and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2001), 45.

[3] Ibid., 98.

3 Responses to “Perfection”

  1. Mike Sepelak Says:

    A perfect piece. Glad you have that center, that simple, joyful place. You’re a lucky man, my friend.


  2. Erin Block Says:

    Beautiful, reflective piece. Made me look in…at a point in the day when the outside world was overwhelming. Thank you.


  3. Kenov Says:

    Mike, in many ways I’m very fortunate. Erin, thanks. Pretty dark day.


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