Embracing Imperfection

Still Life With Basket of Fruit ~ Balthasar van der Ast

The times, they are a-changing. Doubt that, and even the briefest foray into your local grocery store will convince you otherwise. Today’s retro shoppers, armed with a list and a cart, find themselves blocked at every turn by store employees pushing multi-level wire racks through the aisles as they gather canned tomatoes and lettuce for harried or lazy consumers who’ve adopted the practice of online ordering.

Some customers pick up their order at the store; others have it delivered to their home or place of business. In either case, technology has freed them from an onerous set of tasks: the need to visit a store, physically pull items from the shelves, and stand in line to pay for them.

Obviously, there are advantages to the new systems. Parents waiting to claim children from school can place a grocery order and pick it up on the way home; the savings in time can be substantial. For the home-bound elderly or others with limited mobility, delivered groceries can be life-enhancing, if not life-saving.

Still, there are limits to what such services can offer. The delivery of milk, soup, or cereal is one thing, but when it comes to bananas, broccoli, or salad greens, I can’t imagine allowing a stranger to make those choices for me — and most of my friends agree.

Raised by mothers who considered fruit and vegetable selection an art, we’re incapable of pulling an orange from a display without considering the uniformity of its color; its weight and firmness; the nubbiness of its skin; or the quality of the scent surrounding it. If we’re buying an orange, we want it to be perfect, and we’re not convinced every employee could recognize a perfect orange, let alone take the time to select it.

Shopping habits aside, this desire for perfection can burrow into other, hidden corners of life, as I discovered when I took up photography. After months spent rejecting multitudes of flowers with missing or tattered petals, bent stems, or broken seed pods in my hunt for perfect specimens to photograph, I was forced to acknowledge an irrefutable truth: in the natural world, perfection is hard to come by.

The tattered and torn, the bent and the broken, the desiccated and dying are everywhere: not only among the flowers, but also among the creatures that share the fields with them. Increasingly aware of one-legged birds, broken-winged butterflies, or scarred and limping lizards, I began to appreciate the wisdom expressed by a variety of naturalists: in nature, the emphasis always is on what is, rather than on what ought to be.

Aging sunflower in rain (Helianthus bedraggledus)

Two artists who spent their lifetimes focusing on ‘what is’ were Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, creators of Harvard University’s famous Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants. A remarkable joining of science and art popularly known as the Glass Flowers, the models were commissioned in 1886 by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum. Financed by Boston residents Elizabeth and Mary Lee Ware, they  were meant to be used as teaching tools, and as the basis of a botanical exhibit designed to attract and educate the public.

At the time, materials most often used for plant replicas — wax or papier mâché — resulted in crude models lacking both detail and longevity. Even the best herbarium sheets provided only a two-dimensional view of the plant, and they faded over time. Professor Goodale wanted more: a way of exhibiting plants that would convey their beauty and vitality. According to an entry on the Corning Museum of Glass website:

Goodale was impressed by the idea of using glass after he saw the zoological models in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, which housed detailed glass models made by Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolf.
Goodale realized that fragile zoological creatures were much like fresh fruits and flowers that quickly decay and could never hold up as an exhibition. He also knew that dried, pressed herbarium specimens and color plates from botanical texts had a limited appeal.

Goodale’s decision to engage the Blaschkas was well rewarded. Between 1887 and 1936, they created approximately 4,300 individual glass models for Harvard, replicating both entire plants and the smallest details of plant anatomy. In the end, the collection included 847 life-size models representing 780 species and varieties of plants in 164 families, as well as over 3,000 detailed models of plant parts.

Northern blue flag (Iris versicolor)

The accuracy of their models is remarkable, but the plants weren’t idealized. This Blaschka northern blue flag, created with buds, leaves, and spent flowers as well as with its spectacular blooms, could have been plucked from a roadside ditch. As Harvard professor of botany Donald H. Pfister points out:

[The Blaschkas] didn’t sanitize the models. So you see bud, you see full flower, and you see spent flowers. That’s how you see it when you go outside and look at the plant. You don’t see perfect flowers all in the same stage of development.

After Leopold’s death, Rudolf moved even more deeply into the world of natural imperfection, replicating the over-ripe, bruised, and fungus-ridden fruits that so offended my mother.

Many illustrate brown rot, produced by the fungus Monilinia fructigena. Because brown rot manifests in a variety of ways, Blaschka created a corresponding set of apples to show the fungus in all its forms.

An apple marred by brown rot
A different presentation of brown rot

Another fungus, Mycosphaerella pomi, produces the condition known as Brooks fruit spot, also called Phoma fruit spot. Susceptible apple varieties include Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan, and Grimes Golden.  The spots may be inconspicuous at harvest, but if infected fruit isn’t placed in cold storage immediately, the spots will grow larger and become more obvious.

Permain apple suffering Brooks fruit spot.

 Several of the glass fruits suffer from apple scab, a serious fungal infection (Venturia inaequalis) that affects both leaves and fruit.

 Pineapple Pippin showing fruit scab

According to Professor Pfister, the value of the glass apples to growers was especially noteworthy. Even in Rudolf Blaschka’s day, familiarity with the diseases and pests that might limit crop production was important. Without DNA analysis, color photography, and other modern tools of analysis, the glass models could help answer the question, “What’s that blotchy thing?”

Blaschka lavished the same care on his diseased specimens as he did on the beautiful flowers he and his father created, but eventually his work, too, came to an end. A 1937 article in the Harvard Crimson feels especially poignant:

Illness and impaired vision have compelled Rudolph Blaschka, 80 year old glass-worker of Hosterwitz, Germany and creator of the whole of Harvard’s collection of glass flowers, to cease active work. This means that the collection has probably reached its final form, the annual report of Oakes Ames ’98, Director of the Botanical Museum, disclosed Saturday.
Since the death of the elder Blaschka in 1895, Rudolph alone has completed the collection of some 720 models of flowering plants, and over 3,000 sections and magnified details. The last shipment, consisting of 15 fruit models, arrived in September, 1936. Since he employed no assistants, and has kept secret the process by which he and his father spun the delicately colored models, there is no successor to Rudolph Blaschka in sight.

Pondering the paucity of perfection in nature, the remarkably perfect representations of imperfection created by the Blaschkas, and our own existence as imperfect parts of the natural world, I can’t help thinking of Annie Dillard, whose realistic, sometimes harsh, but always insightful views of such things is a useful corrective to unrealistic expectations of every sort. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she writes:

I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating, too.
I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering about awed on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air; whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions; and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections, but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down.

Comments always are welcome.
For more on the Blaschkes’ work, see my post The Glass Fleuragerie.
Apple photos are courtesy
Harvard University Herbaria.

142 thoughts on “Embracing Imperfection

    1. The deep purple iris are beautiful, and I can imagine that your photo is, too. I saw my first blue flag of the year last weekend, blooming in a ditch. It’s still a little early for them, but it won’t be long.

      As for ways of obtaining food, there’s one way I enjoy even more than going to the grocery store — visiting the various farms here to pick peaches, blueberries, veggies and figs. The strawberries already are coming in, and it won’t be long until dewberries begin to form. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for all the convenience in the world.

  1. Striking balance between the grateful eye that sees and chooses the perfect one orange and the eye that embraces the imperfection around and within us is surely necessitated by a fallen world.
    I appreciate your sharing the story of the Harvard glass flowers and their makers; it had never crossed my path before. Your weaving skills were put to such good use in this essay.

    1. What a lovely way to put it: one eye to seek and appreciate perfection, and one to regard imperfection with kind acceptance. We need both, to see the world truly.

      When I first came across the story of the glass flowers, I was astonished by the Blaschkas’ skill and dedication. On the other hand, the skill and dedication of the people who clean, preserve, and protect the pieces is equally admirable. They truly are one-of-a-kind pieces, and their loss would be tragic.

  2. Wonderful essay, Linda! I saw the glass flowers long ago as a student, but didn’t know anything about them and didn’t understand how unusual they were. Recently I’ve been thinking about visiting the new Harvard art museum, and now you’ve got me thinking I should allow time for a visit to the natural history museum as well.

    1. I’m fairly sure the fruit have been taken off display at this point, but the flowers certainly would be there, and perhaps even some of the Blaschkas’ wonderful sea creatures. I didn’t realize until I wrote this that even while they were working on the flowers for Harvard, they continued to make other pieces for other purposes. With so many opportunities, it’s sometimes hard to choose among them, but I do hope you have a chance to see the glass flowers again.

  3. What an interesting subject for glass art.

    But on the subject of supermarket home delivery, as one who is often housebound, we are relatively lucky in fresh home delivered produce in my area. The supermarkets have ‘upped their game’ decidedly (in an effort to attract customers from the competitors). I’ve learned which fresh produce can be chosen by instore shopping staff with relative skill and which are best left ‘on the shelf’.

    The rest, mainly herbs and salad leafy greens, I try to grow on my balcony to be cut/plucked on the day of using.

    If something is inedible in my home delivery, I’m on the phone within minutes claiming a refund……which I get instantly. But as to asking family members to pick up something from the store….forget it…..they are hopeless.

    1. I laughed at your comment about family members serving as personal shoppers. It brought back memories of my mother’s exasperation with my dad when she’d ask him to pick up something for her. She often didn’t spell things out as clearly as she needed to.

      While I can think of a time or two when I would have been happy to have groceries delivered, as a standard practice, I’m not enthused. Not only are there delivery fees, which I’d expect, but in the fine print of my favored store’s information sheet, it notes that prices for delivered items “may be higher than in-store prices to cover the cost of personal shopping.” When it comes to the time-or-money question, as long as I’m able, I’ll choose a trip to the store over an extra ten dollars or so per order.

      1. This reminds me of the one and only time I thought I’d check out online ordering from a local big box grocery store. I specifically checked out a brand of trail mix I’d purchased recently & found out that it was more expensive. No thanks! I want my deals!

      2. After my first back surgery in 2008, is when I started the occasional online supermarket shopping, I did a comparison of about 25 products – in-store and online. I don’t buy a lot of processed food anyway, but back in those days, online was about 10% higher. Delivery charges vary depending on how much you spend. I only buy non-perishable items online when they are on special – half price, or drastically reduced, and I then bulk-buy if I can afford it that week. Over a certain shopping total, at the current time, the delivery cost can be free. Now I have to get taxis to do several errands at the local shopping centre (mall), the cost of the taxi is higher than the delivery fee online. I guess it’s all about having no car and having constant pain to walk also. I know my prices quite well as I buy the same items all the time too.

  4. An amazing story of the glass flowers. I can’t imagine the craftsmanship needed. Those Iris were magnificent. As far as having store employee pick out my produce. No way. I can just see the store meeting in the morning. “And you personal shoppers. Let’s see you select more of the items that are nearing expiration.”

    1. Absolutely, the process would be prone to corruption. And then of course, the Joneses might see the self-driving cart arrive at your home, and sniff, “Of course, one might rely upon some faceless grocery person, but we’ve found it so worthwhile to employ a skilled Personal Shopper, with a M.S. in Horticulture, as well as a M.F.A., of course, to select aesthetically-pleasing cauliflowers.”

      1. Ah, yes. The aesthetically-pleasing cauliflowers.

        I just tried and failed to find an ad I’ve seen for a clothing company that takes all this to an odd conclusion. Their schtick is that you subscribe to their program, and every month they send you five items of clothing they’ve determined will suit you. I don’t know what happens if they don’t fit or you don’t like them, but it seems like a creepy extension of the “we know what you like better than you do” algorithmia of certain social media sites.

        Now I’m wondering: what happens when your AI-enhanced personal shopper decides you’ve had enough doughnuts and beer, and brings you caulifower and almond milk instead?

        1. I’ve seen that clothing ad, and it would work for me, since I don’t pay much attention to clothes. I guess it would be nice to just have matching socks show up in the mail. But when the Circuit Board decides to ditch the donuts, that tin man is gonna find itself re-purposed as a barbeque grill.

    2. There’s an annual juried “Lifeforms” competition that seeks out glassworkers eager to rival or exceed the Blaschkas’ work. So far, no one has succeeded. Apparently they didn’t have any special tricks or techniques; they simply were the best at what they did.

      I’d never considered the scenario you suggest, but of course. At least in the store you can dig past the milk-that-expires-tomorrow at the front of the case to get something with a little more shelf life.

  5. I know six couples who use grocery delivery and they are all under 30 with young kids. They tell me you can put notes on your order like “I’m using the avocados tonight. Make sure they’re ripe.” I think it’s easier for young people to adjust to someone else doing the shopping then we older people who’ve been doing our own for decades. Everything that is old is new again. I remember milk and bread delivery trucks coming to the house.

    Those glass fruits and flowers are amazing.

    1. I could adjust to someone else doing my shopping if I weren’t able to do it myself, but as long as I can, I will. Convenience costs, after all, and I’m not eager to pay someone to do what I’m capable of doing myself.

      You’re right that we had the milkman, of course, and the bread trucks: Omar and Sunbeam are two I remember. Did you have the Schwan’s trucks, too? We never used them, but they’ve been around for decades, delivering prepared frozen meals: mostly breaded this and that. It’s not what I prefer to eat, but I still see them in the neighborhoods from time to time.

      I’ve not really thought about it until today, but one reason I wouldn’t like grocery delivery is that I enjoy shopping. I know many people don’t, but if I lived in a country where daily or almost-daily trips to the market were the custom, as they were in Liberia, I’d be just fine with it. Of course, even there we got “grocery deliveries” — usually in the form of a young boy with a stalk of bananas or a pan of pineapples on his head, wanting to sell them for a dollar.

  6. Enjoyed this post! I’ve seen these glass creations in Boston, and you cannot exaggerate how amazingly crafted they are.
    As a former grocery store employee, I also want to raise the issue, or rather, the Art, of Bagging. Younger shoppers really don’t care if you drop a case of Bud Lite on top of their day-old donuts, but some of the older folks followed some sort of intricate kabbalah of bagging, with arcane rules known only to them.
    My grandfather loved visiting the grocery store daily, to hobnob, advise the butchers on how to do their job, buy forbidden cookies “in case the kids come by,” etc.

    1. There are some regulars like your grandfather at my favorite store. It’s a smaller, local grocery, not a chain, and it’s got a lot going for it: neat as a pin, long-term employees, high school kids doing the checking and bagging, and a Vietnamese woman who makes the best sushi in town. Any veggie that shows signs of wilting gets put on a special rack at very special prices: it’s the best place to pick up things like stew vegetables.

      The kids understand how to do the bagging, too. The raw chicken or fish are double wrapped and bagged separately; cookies and chips go on top, and so on. And they always ask if you’d like help taking purchases to the car.

      Now I want an Archway frosted oatmeal cookie. Grandpa always kept those around in case we kids came by.

  7. “Pondering the paucity of perfection”–a bumper sticker, yes! That said, it’s tough out there: torn petals, legs, feathers, scales–the lot! I appreciate the art which mirrors real life: real life. Great post, Linda!

    1. You’ve reminded me of another line from Dillard: “That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac.” That’s it, exactly.

      Now that you mention it, those four Ps would make a great bumper sticker, or at least one that would give the person stuck behind me in traffic something to ponder. And like you, I’m a great fan of real life. Sometimes I think it’s the reason I’ve never been tempted toward writing fiction. Exploring what’s around us is fun enough.

      1. While I suspect you’d be a fabulous fiction writer, I’m glad you share your real world observations with us. I always look forward to, and thouroughly enjoy, your essays.

        1. Not everyone’s so enamored of the natural world, or of thinking about it, so it’s been great fun for me to find some others who are. Thanks for your always encouraging comments!

    1. When I saw that a denture-maker was involved in some of the early plant models, and that latex was one of the substances used, I wondered if it might have been gutta-percha. It must have been a wonderful exhibit to explore — don’t you wish you could have gotten a look at all of those models they have tucked away in storage?

  8. The glass models are exquisite and fascinating and I wish I could understand the methods used in their creation, although realizing at the same time that I would not have the patience necessary to create them myself. It’s also interesting that, while the Blaschkas willingly accepted the imperfections of their subjects, they didn’t seem to tolerate any imperfections in the models that they created.

    1. I found an interesting video showing the work of Wesley Fleming, who does lampwork, the Blaschkas’ primary technique. In the video, he creates a Montana pine borer in glass. A beetle is a fairly simple (!) thing to create, and it certainly gives a sense of what was required for the more complex pieces done by the Blaschkas.

      I wonder if their models actually are ‘imperfection-free.’ We look at them, and wonder at their beauty and complexity, but who’s to say Leopold and Rudolf didn’t sit around the glassblower’s table saying things like, “That darned leaf just insisted on folding in on itself. I wonder if anyone will notice?” Maybe all those blotches on a given apple were intentional, and maybe they weren’t.

    2. I haven’t seen staff preparing orders for customers at any of the three grocery stores where I shop — one of which doesn’t offer that service I recently determined as I gather data on local services I can use if needed. I agree that I’d be really reluctant to have a variety of items selected by someone else including vegetables and fruit. I might be willing to give it a try if need be since the product quality is pretty high at these stores. Meanwhile, I prefer to do my own shopping as long as I’m able — even using their riding carts, if necessary.

      I was immediately reminded of wabi sabi and appreciating the art of imperfection as I read about the glass — fascinating since I’d not heard of these creations before.

      1. Obviously, technology has enabled the growth of some of these services, and competition among stores, as well as the growth of companies who provide the services to the stores, has contributed to an increasing use of them. I was surprised to learn that the selection and delivery in one of my favorite stores is done by an entirely separate company which has a contract with the store to provide those services. I also found on the second page of FAQs that the prices of delivered goods is higher than in-store prices, quite apart from the delivery fees. I’m not one to complain about a company making a profit, but it is one more thing to factor in when considering such a service.

        The Harvard display of the glass flowers has been completely redone. It was closed for a good while, and then reopened. From what I’ve read,t he collection is even more impressive now, in its new cases with new lighting. I wasn’t aware of the Blaschka’s work until a couple of. years ago, but if I ever were in the neighborhood, I’d certainly visit.

    1. It is. I took it on a day when it was raining so hard at the refuge I sat in the car and used my telephoto lens. A girl does what a girl’s gotta do, and I figured if the technique works for birds, it ought to work for flowers, too. The Blaschka’s work is amazing. I suspect there’s still talent like that in the world, but of their most obvious ingredients — patience — is sometimes lacking.

  9. I was amused by the comment above “…kabbalah of bagging, with arcane rules known only to them.” The other day, the checker was yacking with me about something as she weighed and rang up my bananas. She then tossed them down the counter to the bagger. At which point my dear Melanie yelled “Don’t throw the bananas!” The checker seemed confused. “Don’t throw the bananas!”

    If I tried to make glass flowers, they might look like this. https://cdn.homesthetics.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Get-Creative-With-These-23-Fence-Decorating-Ideas-and-Transform-Your-Backyard-homesthetics-design-13.jpg

    1. “Don’t throw the bananas!” somehow sounds like great, general life advice, as well as a fitting chapter heading in a humor book. I do try to help out by the way I put things on the belt, too. It seems like courting disaster to put the eggs first and the canned goods last.

      The funniest thing about your link is that word, ‘homesthetics.’ That’s one I’ve not come across. I must say, that’s one of the most creative uses of paint can lids I’ve seen, although the mirror’s a nice touch. It’s a transformation, all right! I did recognize Pam Penick’s name. I think I must have come across her through the few gardening blogs I follow.

      1. We could do a post-a-day on general life advice. I know I’m full of it and happy to share. :-) I agree about the order of putting things on the belt. Plus, inexperienced baggers often think the goal is to put as much into one of our re-useable bags as possible when there are two or three empty ones on the counter. Nope…distribute the load please into smaller amounts. Life is so full of challenges.

        I hope you know I’m mostly joking. But, not quite 100%.

        1. I started making a mental list of general life advice I could give, and amused myself greatly. I’m beginning to understand some of the “old folks” I grew up with. What’s the point of accumulating seventy or eighty years’ worth of wisdom if you can’t share it? Whether the young whippersnappers will appreciate it is another matter entirely.

          1. Whether the young whippersnappers appreciate it is of less importance. Being able to issue forth with some sound sensible advice is good for the mental health of us ‘old folks’. Several years ago, Melanie (not an ‘old folk’) thought she should write a book called Melanie’s Book of Household Hints. I think it fits in this plan.

            Windy here this morning. Steady in the 30-35 range with gust 50+. I’m staying in.

  10. that’s really neat! So much work this person did and the artistry is very impressive! About grocery orders online… it’s really changing a lot and I totally get what you are saying. I use one that does not have an actual store, and if there is anything wrong with my order (if fruit was bruised for instance in a way that one could not eat it or if something was broken/crushed) it is a full refund for the item. I get really good service from them but I do live near NYC where they are located and they have my loyalty because of their good customer service. Things are really changing and there is good and there is not good about online buying etc. I enjoyed your post as always! have a peaceful weekend!

    1. Many people have tried to produce work that equals the Blaschkas, but, so far, no one has succeeded. Sometimes, people come along who simply have a talent for a particular art, and I think they did. The volume of work they produced no doubt contributed to their increasing skill, too. It would be fun to see some of their earliest work, and compare it to that of later years. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly does lead to improvement.

      There are some organic farmers in our general area who will provide weekly deliveries of whatever happens to be in season, and if I weren’t single I might be tempted. But in that case, you have to take what’s delivered, and it’s simply too much food for one person. I’d rather run out of food and have to shop twice in a week than have too much, and end up wasting it.

      I’m not averse to all online buying; I certainly have done my share over the years, and some selling, too. I’m glad online food shopping is available now for those who need or want it, but I’ll still trot off to the store (or, even better, the farm) and make my own selections. Having strawberries or tomatoes delivered is a transaction. Plucking them off the vine is an experience, and it’s one I’m glad still is available to me.

  11. When I studied chemistry, many years ago, we had to learn how to blow glass. It was a remarkably difficult thing to do – in making even the simplest piece of equipment for the laboratory. When I see this sort of work, I am in awe, and inspired by the decision to render imperfection so perfectly! Such images really do counter the desire to have everything always predictable everywhere. This just isn’t life and the desire to construct large scale lies scars our planet and soul in so many ways. More of us need a visit to this museum!

    1. There used to be glassblowers at the carnivals when I was a child, and I can remember standing and watching with amazement as they drew out those fine threads, or built up the bodies of plump little creatures. They weren’t concerned with anything but sales, of course — but the techniques were much the same as those used by true artists like the Blaschkas.

      Your comment about predictability touched a nerve. One of the greatest threats of the technologies invading our lives is the leveling that it does: its tendency to diminish human agency. I mentioned in another response my feeling that having tomatoes delivered is a transaction; plucking tomatoes from the vine is an experience. I’m as convinced of that as I am of the fact that “artificial intelligence” is an oxymoron, and “getting with the program” isn’t nearly so attractive when someone else has written the program. I’m not sure who profits most when we hand nearly everything in our lives to the programmers and the algorithm-writers.

  12. An excellent post. On-line shopping further erodes the possibility of relationships we enjoy with local shops, and who cares if a carrot is bent? I agree with your emphasis on portraying nature as it is – this is why I don’t prettify my photographs – it’s wet and dull, then so are my subjects

    1. That’s one reason I enjoy my favorite grocery. I know something about the employees, and they know something about me. We can banter back and forth without offense (quite a gift in today’s world), and customers join with the staff in celebrating birthdays, graduations, and so on. I suppose, in the end, the same sorts of things that lead me to prefer a real book to an e-reader come into play. Just as reading is more than the delivery of words, shopping is more than the delivery of a bag of oranges and a quart of milk.

      I’ll crop a photo, or adjust the exposure from time to time, but I try to confine any artistry to the taking of the photo. I enjoy seeing what can be done in post-processing, and someday may even sit down to learn the programs and try it myself. But my preference is to show what I see in nature as closely as I can. It’s quite beautiful as it is.

  13. Art always idealises, van der Ast idealised the imperfection. We especially like the van der Ast pictures with fruits and insects. Painters of still lifes during the Dutch Golden Age (17th c.) used the state of flowers and fruits as a metaphor. It’s the famous theme of ‘memento mori’.
    We get most of our shopping delivered. Actually, we would have enough time for ‘proper’ shopping but we don’t like shopping. So it’s great being able to delegate it. Soon one finds out which shop to trust and which shop you better don’t.
    Thanks for showing this van der Ast picture. We love the Dutch still lifes of this time.
    Have a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley

    1. Until I chose this painting for my post, and read more about van der Ast, I didn’t know that he was one of the first to introduce shells into his still lifes. It was interesting to look through his paintings, and see how lovely some of those shells are. I’m happy that you enjoyed seeing it.

      The different shopping preferences are interesting. My mother hated it, while I quite enjoy it. One reason is that i enjoy the interaction with other shoppers. I can think of three posts I’ve written that emerged from conversation I’ve had in check-out lines, or overhead in checkout lines. For me, shopping isn’t just a matter of filling up the refrigerator, it’s another entrée into the worlds of people I otherwise wouldn’t meet in the course of daily life.

      A happy weekend to the Fab Four!

      1. I love these still lifes of the Dutch painters. On one hand they are so realistic and on the other hand they are full of symbolism. During the Baroque time the Emblemata were a kind of guide how to read this symbolism (in paintings and the lyrics of this time).
        I realy enjoyed seeing a van der Ast still life again. Years ago, I went regularly to the Rijksmuseum/Amsterdam with a collection of more than 200 still lifes.
        Thank you :-)
        Happy weekend
        Klausbernd :-)

        1. For years, I was quite taken with Vermeer and some others like him, and really didn’t appreciate the still lifes. My view of them has changed substantially. It’s interesting, too, how flowers were used to communicate messages in previous times; they represented a whole vocabulary of meaning and emotion. Most of that’s been forgotten today, but the record still stands in literature of the time.

          1. This Baroque flower symbolism was nearly forgotten but became en vogue again during the Biedermeier periode (1815 – 1848).
            I like Jan Vermeer as well and especially after a visit to the Vermeer Museum at Delft. If come to Delft you have to visit this museum. You will love it.
            Wishing you an easy week
            Klausbernd :-)

  14. I am happy with the online shopping service provided by one of our supermarkets. I use the service occasionally and would probably use it more often if I didn’t feel guilty about spending so much on the delivery fee. As a young child I loved shopping and going to the market with my father but as an adult that feeling of excitement and anticipation over shopping has deserted me. When I do go shopping these days, I usually go for the produce branded The Odd Bunch ( a fancy name for vegetables and fruit which are not perfect to look at it.) They may be odd but they are cheap and full of flavour.
    Which brings me back to the imperfection so beautifully recreated by the Blaschkas
    Imperfections were also diligently recreated by Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) https://www.alumni.ox.ac.uk/quad/article/merian-pioneer-naturalist-0?fbclid=IwAR2ZyViMVMuMCviiVEu-L7e69rC-niqrZIoroKx8AXalBnByRKgmvwUQsUM Maria embraced imperfections. After her death, some of her work was altered to make it more aesthetically pleasing.Thank goodness no such fate befell the Blaschkas work.

    1. It’s not only the delivery fee: at least, here. I’d never explored the terms and conditions of the service provided by the large store I visit from time to time, and I was both surprised and not surprised to read the note indicating that prices of items purchased through their shopping service “may” be higher than in-store prices. I have a feeling that “may” covers a lot of territory. Since my favorite store is small and local, they don’t offer delivery or pickup, but I enjoy going there, so it doesn’t make any difference.

      I enjoyed the linked article. I did laugh when I read the first, just slightly snarky comment about the error in the original post (“apparent miracle whereby a tadpole becomes a caterpillar, and hence a butterfly”). I see it was corrected, although it would have been kinder for the commenter to point out the error privately. The thought of work being altered in order to be more aesthetically pleasing seems odd, until we remember what’s done to photos of models and hamburgers today.

  15. I will never give up grocery shopping. I go almost daily, just for the stimulation of it all. Although I like shopping for groceries, not so for shirts, trousers or other apparel.

    With food shopping there are all those interesting choices, not so much my own, but by the other shoppers. And then at the check-outs. Shoppers and the way they pay. Some are so slow they clearly irritate the ones in the queue. Others take the opportunity to engage and say a few words while smiling. Then there are those shopping lists. I often find them abandoned. Some tick them off as they go along. Helvi insists I make a list too. Often I don’t, but gladly go back for a forgotten item.

    It is an amazing world inside those super-markets and I would not miss it. I am amazed also at the glass art. Such dedication to portray nature even when flawed. Great post, Linda.

    1. I remember your posts about the lists you’ve found in the grocery carts. It is interesting to watch what goes on: what people purchase, how they make their selections, how the deal with the frustration of misbehaving children. Now that cell phones are ubiquitous, there’s even the fun of listening to someone trying to sort out with someone still at home precisely what they did mean when they wrote down “broth.”

      I’ve even read that certain stores here are considered better than bars or gyms for meeting people. Apparently discussions about the various sorts of radishes have led to coffees in the store cafe, and perhaps even a dinner. Why not? A grocery store is a non-threatening environment. If you’re not interested, you can just check out — literally.

  16. I’m not the greatest in picking out produce, but I have found that ugly oranges can be the sweetest. (except maybe honey bells). My usual disappointments are the Class C tomatoes in stores. I was told by a local farmer a while back that Class A & B are usually exported out of the country – terrific!!

    1. I’d not heard that about exported tomatoes, but there’s no question that tomatoes — and no doubt other produce — are bred for shipping, not for taste. Rock-hard tomatoes purchased in a store never will riper; even those labeled ‘vine-ripened’ or ‘organic’ never measure up to a tomato plucked from the vine.

      As for local products ending up elsewhere, it happens here with shrimp and oysters. The best are hard to find; most go to restaurants or non-local cities. I buy my shrimp from a little market that’s tucked away at the edge of a boatyard. It’s as close to buying directly from the boat as you can get.

  17. I have so many thoughts on this essay, Linda.First of all, I prefer to pick my own produce at the store. But I learned from my sister Lisa, who works for Walmart in Nebraska, that employees are told to pick the very best produce for the online shoppers who later pick up their groceries. It is also timed so that nothing sits out and gets warm (or cold) and will be close to pick up time. I don’t know… something within still doesn’t trust that someone else could know fruits and vegetables as I do. I like to feel and observe. Sometimes it may be an intuitive process.

    Glass art is stunning. My mother’s parents often picked up lovely little hand-blown pieces on their travels. I now wonder what happened to those… some were flowers. I would have cherished them today. I did end up with a pair of “kissing deer” salt and pepper shakers, and a set of three ceramic frogs with ruby red eyes, that I admired as a child. It’s funny that all of those years ago I chose the deer figures – who knew that two decades later the deer would be so important in my life?

    You were the person to direct me to Annie Dillard’s, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”, which I found to be a delight. Her writing is so much of how I view the harsh realities of nature. I found the book to be intoxicating – I’ve read it a few times now.

    1. As the saying goes, to each her own. I fully understand the practicalities of delivery or pickup, but on the other hand, I do believe that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should do something. Handing more and more of life over to technologies and the companies that promote them can be a convenience, but it can bring other consequences as well. I enjoy certain aspects of tech as much as anyone (I am writing this on my iPad, away from home, after all), but I’m a good example of the much-maligned and sometimes ridiculed slow adopter.

      I’ve always enjoyed glasswork of every sort. I sometimes stayed with a friend of my parents who collected glassware, and displayed colored glassware in a bay window. It was beautiful to see it in the sunlight.

      Do you remember Dillard’s story of the giant water bug that ate the frog? I found one of those bugs last week, and finally got it identified. I’ll be posting photos of it and probably adding that story. Talk about harsh! but it’s far more understandable now that I’ve seen one of the creatures.

      1. Yes, I DO remember the giant water bug. I remember especially how I felt envisioning the scene – a bit sad, but understanding the giving and taking of life. That’s what I loved most about Dillard’s writing – it was harsh, but that is nature, and so much of life on planet earth.

  18. I saw the glass flowers and they are incredible. Many were familiar flowers we grow here. I can’t image the patience those men must have had.

    I do like picking through all my veggies, especially potatoes. But, it is a wonderful service for working moms and the the elderly.

    1. There’s no question they had patience, but they developed their skills, too. I suspect their work became easier as time went on, given the thousands of pieces they created — not only the flowers, but also the sea creatures of various sorts. It also occurred to me that if you’re incorporating nature’s imperfections into your work, it would make it more difficult for an observer to know whether a flaw was in the subject, or in the artists’ techniques!

  19. oh the evils of perfectionism. I strived for perfectionism for decades and ultimately just made myself unhappy because I always found flaws. now I strive to reject that desire after an epiphany surrounding the tale of the Navaho’s Spiderwoman. if nature is the model then in all its imperfections it is perfect. so then are my imperfections. I had occasion a while back to confess some thoughtless words and offer an apology. I am an imperfect being I told him but I try. I’ve never seen the Blaschka’s work in person, only photos but they are exquisite. It’s a shame they didn’t pass on their techniques. the work is done in clear glass and then painted. I know that much.

    1. Weaving in an imperfection is such a widespread tradition, even in quite different cultures. Thoughts of such things always takes me back to Leonard Cohen’s now-famous line about there being a crack in everything — that’s now the light gets in.

      I’ve battled some of those same tendencies toward perfectionism in mny life, and it was varnishing that finally taught me the “rule of good enough.” Good enough doesn’t necessarily mean mediocrity, Sometimes it just means that the limitations of the artist or the limitations of the material make further improvement unlikely. Just think what would have happened if the Blaschkas had struggled over their pieces for months at a time to make them “more perfect.” The world probably wouldn’t have noticed, but we’d have far fewer pieces to admire.

  20. I’ve seen these glass flowers before – they are amazing! Check out my next post for a photo of my Valentine’s tulips – they look quite surreal now & I almost prefer them that way. Ha!

    1. I’ll look forward to seeing those tulips, They’re one of my favorite flowers, partly because they’re so bright and cheery and partly because they always were one of our earliest “real” spring flowers. There was nothing quite like seeing robins and tulips in the middle of a late snow, with the tulips buried right up to the bottoms of their pretty little blooms.

  21. I don’t want to sound snobbish, but I’ve seen these Personal Shoppers rolling around our WalMart, and frankly, they don’t look capable of picking out much of anything for anybody!! Yes, I can see that those who are incapacitated might need help, but the able-bodied can, and should, do such things for themselves!

    You’re so right about observing Nature’s imperfections, too. We want to capture photos of “perfect” flowers, trees, and animals, but rarely do we succeed. Guess that makes the imperfect that much more endearing. Or something!

    1. Every now and then I stop to think about how I’ll cope when I’m old and decrepit (or just old and unable to drive) and it’s a little unnerving. Grocery deliveries will be welcome at that point, no question — getting any sort of orange will be more important than getting a perfect orange.

      Of course, GP made another important point: sometimes, the “perfect” fruits and veggies are the most tasteless. Technology has brought changes to our food that aren’t necessarily good, and my mother might find today that those perfect oranges wouldn’t be quite as delightful as the ones that look ugly, but taste much sweeter. It’s a complicated world out there, for sure.

  22. I so enjoyed this look at the beauty of imperfection, Linda. I didn’t know about the Glass Plant collection at Harvard, and found it very interesting. I found the apple fungus series especially fascinating. Lovely post, thank you.

    1. I was fascinated by the apples, too. We’re so accustomed to the internet, search engines, and so on, that the thought of glass models being an actual advancement in teaching methods is remarkable. As for the exhibit of the Blaschkas’ work, it’s been redone fairly recently, and all of the work associated with that — rebuilding cabinets, cleaning and repairing the glass, and so on, is equally fascinating. I did wonder about the anxiety level of the people working on that project. You wouldn’t want to be the one who dropped one those flowers. Surely it’s happened, but I’ve not found any source that says so.

  23. The glass specimens are stunning. Back in my flower shop owning days, I was always puzzled that Buddhist monks who were very regular customers would spend a great deal of time and care selecting only the most perfect, balanced, poised, bloom, I kind of thought Buddhist ideology would embrace nature in all its forms.

    1. I don’t know enough about the Buddhist way of life, or the tradition’s thought, to be able to even speculate about their preferences in flowers — so, I’ll speculate. Perhaps their care in selecting flowers for arrangements was akin to my mother’s view of fruit baskets. Though she was willing to cook with cheaper cuts of meat and over-the-hill fruits, if she was sending a fruit basket to someone as a gift, every piece had to be perfect. (Now I’m wondering if people send fruit baskets any more. There was a time when fruit wasn’t so readily available, and a fruit basket was considered elegant and special.)

      1. When I stopped being a florist, people used to ask me if I missed the flowers, my reply was I was just as happy with a jug of garden flowers, or rearranging the fruit bowl. Maybe it is time we all valued our fruit more, we’ve got a little too nonchalant about our food

        1. It occurs to me that one reason for the attention to the visual attractiveness to the fruit in earlier years was that a fruit bowl often was a centerpiece, as well as a convenience. Mom always used one of her prettiest bowls for the fruit, and it often sat in the middle of the dining table. Many today don’t know how special fruit in winter was, either. An orange in the toe of a Christmas stocking was special because oranges were special; they weren’t readily available in wintertime.

            1. What? I have a vague recollection of there being a time when pineapples were quite in vogue — being carved as finials for bedsteads, used as patterns for fabric, and so on. Was it in that time period that people rented them? That’s one of the most fascinating things I’ve heard in some time — more exploration is needed!

  24. As we’ve discussed before, Linda, dead flowers are often quite beautiful, and dead trees can be absolutely gorgeous. As for fruit, I am much more interested in what is on the inside than the outside. And I am sure that there is an analogy to human beauty and how far we have strayed with insisting on a certain standard of what is beautiful. –Curt

    1. Years ago, I knew a professional photographer who specialized in advertising shoots. His specialty was automobiles, but what he told me about food photography ruined food ads for me forever. Hairsprayed hambugers and silicone-coated apples? There’s a reason a fast-food meal never looks the same at the drive-through as it does in the ad. As for the so-called “beautiful people” — many of them aren’t, in any sense of the word, but there are cosmetic surgeons galore who are living the good life thanks to the human desire for ‘perfection.’

      1. The old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder has been somewhat goofed up by a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to convincing us of what beauty is, and what products we need to achieve it, Linda. Fad diets, plastic surgery, and an ever growing multitude of skin products seem to benefit. –Curt

    1. You’ve reminded me of a humorous point my father used to make when I’d do something remarkably stupid or ill-advised. I’d call myself a perfect idiot, and he’d remind me that there is no perfection: even an idiot can occasionally solve a problem or make a useful decision. Fifty years later, I’ve seen enough to agree — as well as to recognize that the opposite can be true, as well.

  25. Really enjoy how you have a potpourri of interesting things all brought together with an unusual connectivity. Your description of shopping for the perfect produce and the process used with such care in the “good old days” made me think of all the waste that happens in so many countries in supermarkets. If fruit and vegetables are not perfect, they are thrown out.

    I will always choose a farmers market or anywhere I can buy direct from those that grow produce, produce that is not necessarily pretty but has been picked recently and is still full of enzymes not chemicals. And as to all the funghi and bacteria and the like, well I am a huge fan of composting, so am no stranger to the process :)

    Wonderful photos and art.

    Peta

    1. It occurs to me that one reason so much “perfect” produce is thrown out in this country is that many people no longer know what fruit or veggies look like in their natural state. We’re moving back to the world of local and seasonal produce that was the rule when I was a child, but it’s still the exception rather than the rule, and people who’ve never learned to distinguish ripe from unripe in a garden or field are easy targets for produce marketers who choose for ease of shipping rather than taste.

      I didn’t include them here for reasons of length, but I thought it was fascinating that the Blaschkas also created glass models of the various fungi and molds that affected their fruits. They’re equally beautiful, and certainly are appropriate additions to the collection.

  26. While it’s not exactly on the main topic here, I’m happy to report that there is an “ugly produce” movement to stop throwing away imperfect fruits and vegetables. In his five-year stint running an international foodbanking organization, my husband watched the acceptance of these bruised but perfectly edible items grow before his very eyes. I suppose I am still spoiled by my ability to go in and choose rounder, redder, clearer specimens, but a wonky tomato really does taste as good (and really, sometimes better!) than a perfect orb! (I still can’t outsource the selection, though.)

    On the main topic here, what beautiful art!

    1. One of the great ironies is that as fruits and vegetables grow more attractive, they’ve also become less tasty. I’ve grown accustomed to living without tomatoes during the winter, for example. Even those labeled organic often have been picked too early, and compared to an off-the-vine fruit, they just don’t measure up. Of course, we’re lucky to live in a place where there are both fall and spring gardens, and produce begins appearing early. The strawberries already are being harvested at Froberg Farms, and as the season progresses (and the fields dry out!) pick-your-own will be possible. Farmers’ markets are another good source for greenhouse grown but quite good veggies — although being able to pick my own is a great treat.

      Food waste is a terrible problem in this country. I was at a restaurant yesterday where half-filled plates of food were being consistently abandoned. Comparing the size of dinner plates from 1950 and 2019 goes a long way toward explaining both obesity and waste — things you’d assume would be opposed.

  27. A lot to think about here. I order all kinds of stuff, but somehow ordering groceries on line doesn’t seem right. Though I don’t expect perfection, in fact perfect-looking food often appears artificial to me. As for flowers … I know that what we think of as perfection is always at best a temporary condition.

    1. As I mentioned to a couple of people above, fruits and vegetables that appear perfect often are the result of.a process designed to benefit shippers rather than diners. It’s one reason that I tend to smell strawberries, peaches, canteloupes, and such as well as looking at them. Appearance and even feel can’t always give a realistic assessment of how something will taste. Even apples now can be soft and bland despite their great appearance: overly-long storage and such can be as much of a problem as early picking.

      As for flowers — well, of course you’re right. I’ve actually come to the point of looking for flower beetles. The photographic possibilities they offer as they munch their way through the petals can be delightful.

  28. I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating, too.

    I want that written on the Folger’s can they carry my ashes in.

    And if someone wants to plant a stone, they can chisel: Imperfection = Character, into it.

    1. It took me decades to realize that the people my mother most often held up as paragons of perfection also were the least interesting. We call certain people ‘characters’ precisely because, for good or for relative ill, they posses character.

  29. Helianthus bedraggledus – perfect
    It made me smile in appreciation.

    I am one of those who order groceries on the internet; you have to if you live in a rural area a long way from the supermarkets.

    As for perfection, I gave that up a long time ago although in certain respects it was always something to aspire to. I don’t think i ever managed it to my elders’ satisfaction.

    The Blaschkas are not people I have heard of, I wonder how well known they were in Germany. Not that I claim to know many artists of the generations before mine.

    1. Oh, hooray! I hoped someone would notice that ‘scientific’ name — it made me smile when I thought of it.

      You’ll not find me criticizing delivered groceries for someone in your situation. In fact, the more I’ve thought of it, the more certain I am that grocery deliveries were taking place even in my grandmother’s time. Of course, they had no supermarket – only a small grocery store in an equally small town. And it wasn’t necessarily standard procedure. It was more a matter of Mr. Giannis knowing that Mrs. Kotzbach had broken her leg and life was hard. It was village life, in all the best ways.

      It would be interesting to know how widespread the Blaschkas’ fame was. I suspect they may have been known in scientific circles, if not artistiic, since the point of their art was to help educate, not to exhibit in galleries.

  30. Imperfection is all around us, mostly in ourselves and that’s what makes us and nature so interesting and intriguing. As to the latest trend in grocery shopping, I imagine it’s helpful for some (the homebound and infirm), but no thank you for me. I want to pick out my own produce and meats to make sure they are the freshest I can find.

    1. It’s also true that perfection and imperfection can be in the eye of the beholder, even when it comes to personal qualities. Traits in a person that we find unbearable may be delightful to someone else. As for selecting produce, so many variables come into play during that process. For one thing, appearance used to be a way to determine quality. Today, a pretty fruit or vegetable may be utterly tasteless, having been bred for shipping, not consumption. Judging those intangibles is hard enough for me; outsourcing the purchasing process makes it even more uncertain that we end up with a good result.

  31. I do the shopping for us and don’t mind spending the time cruising the aisles at all. I tend to buy things that Mary Beth might not, but it’s all stuff we will use…at some point. And I would always suspect that some of the least desirable stuff would be thrown into the bag of produce. Of course, Mary Beth asks me to get he apples from the bruised cart to save some money (they get peeled and cut up into her lunch yogurt anyway), but even then I pick through the packages for the least bruised.

    Imperfections are what make us approach perfection. If we recognize them we can improve ourselves. As a photographer I have never made a perfect image. I am sure there is always something that can be improved. That translates to the subjects of our art. I doubt that any of the masters of any medium ever felt the achievement of perfection in subject or composition. The fact that flowers fade, fruits rot, branches break, are all part of their beauty and I enjoyed seeing your images.

    1. My favorite store takes the time to package over-the-hill fruits and veggies, and it’s always well worth looking at what’s on offer, especially if there’s soup to be made, or smoothies. And until I wrote this post and spent some time thinking about these things, I’d not considered how much has changed since Mom and I were shopping, some fifty years ago. For one thing, blueberries in January — from Chili, or Argentina — simply weren’t available, and appearance was an indication of quality. Today, a perfect tomato in January probably is tasteless and bland. Even those grown in greenhouses can’t compare to a true vine-riped one. We never had tomatoes in salads in the winter because there weren’t tomatoes in the market. Any tomatoes we ate were the ones we’d canned in the summer.

      I have had the experience of producing a few pieces that I considered ‘perfect’ — ones that I wouldn’t change a single word of. But that’s a rare experience, and when it happens, I know that it’s happened immediately. By someone else’s standards, I might have produced trash, but the pleasure of producing something that suits me is enough to offset being criticized or ignored. One the other hand, developing a critical eye for my own photography was been invaluable. Culling bad photos from a batch is remarkably similar to culling bad produce; it’s not hard to spot the truly bad. A persimmon that’s still a little hard is one thing. A persimmon that’s been half-eaten by a possum is an obvious reject!

      1. Yeah, seeing a bite out of what you are about to eat is a big disappointment. Many years ago we had someone working with us who wasn’t supposed to eat deserts. I had bought a box of chocolate frosted brownies and she took a bite out of one and put it back. If that wasn’t bad enough, she had had a white bread sandwich beforehand and left a tiny bit of bread in the tooth marks in the frosting that had been stuck between a couple of teeth. I put it back and chose another. :)

        1. For some reason, your comment brought to mind the year I learned you could figure out which filling was in a given piece of chocolate by pressing in on the bottom, breaking the chocolate shell and revealing the orange cream or caramel or whatever. Once the big people discovered which of the little people was responsible for that bit of socially inept behavior, the game was over.

  32. Lots of threads in this post. Hmmmm….which one to pick up?

    As an artist myself, I am aware of the profound subjectivity of “it” all. Since imperfection abounds, everywhere we look–from our own reflection to the produce market, from our writing to our photography.

    I suppose I’ll choose the Attempt at Perfection thread, demonstrated by the stunning glassworks at Harvard. The imperfect glass apples, crafted by artisans who wanted to portray imperfection perfectly, are an example.

    As far as Annie Dillard’s poetry–well, she was observing the obvious deterioration of the human body and Mother Earth as they age. Yes. By the time we are in our 50’s, we are anything but airbrushed and with the help of pollution, man’s disregard for the land and sea, the flora and the fauna, our earthly home is vulnerable. But “splintered wreck,” “gnawed trees,” and “bloodied and scarred creatures” create the image that Dillard wants to project before her last few sentence.

    I find the beauty she observes in the last phrase overshadowed by her diction.

    Looking at my own face in the mirror, I find it a curious transition from tight to loose and from smooth to patchy. I don’t see myself as an aging wreck but rather the same person I saw when I was 10, looking at my reflection in the pond.

    1. It’s interesting that you seem to find imperfection in the Dillard observation that I quoted: at least to the point that the beauty she affirms is overshadowed by her previous words. On the other hand, I found the entire paragraph nearly perfect: perhaps in part because it never occurred to me that it referred to physical appearance, or was meant to be taken literally. I’ve experienced enough splintering and gnawing in my life that I read it metaphorically; it’s one of those passages I’ve quoted often, and it still stirs me as it did when I first read it in the late 1970s.

      As for subjectivity and the arts, I’d only say this: beware those who come bearing overflowing baskets of ‘awesome,’ ‘brilliant,’ ‘amazing,’ and, yes, even ‘perfect.’ Compliments like that can be a heady intoxicant; they need to be examined as carefully for subjectivity as the art they refer to.

  33. Oh dear – I suppose that stores overwhelmed with clerks gathering goods for online shoppers will be the next thing here. So far this hasn’t occurred at at the store where I shop. I enjoyed your discussion of imperfection. It’s fascinating how imperfect flowers and fruits are beautiful in their own way.

    1. I had to grin — you surely deal with imperfection in your own art. The fallen cake or the turkey that didn’t brown properly may not look as nice, but they certainly can taste as good.

      I often shop at a small store that doesn’t provide any of these newer services. On the other hand, they will carry your groceries to your car for you, the staff is pleasant and helpful, and they don’t hide in the back so they don’t have to deal with customers. The store is the cleanest I’ve ever been in, and who doesn’t like hearing music from the 1950s and 1960s? It’s pretty clear who they’re catering to!

  34. All really fascinating. I know a couple of glass artists, and will discuss the works with them.
    When I learned about Japanese Wabi Sabi, I felt right at home, and practice it all the time :-) I’m more concerned about what food is like on the inside, more than how it appears outwardly. As for not doing the shopping myself, at one time I would buy a box of organic fruit and vegetables selected by the grower, for a fixed price. I was always happy with the result, but growers like that are not always easy to find.
    Slowly I’m coming to terms with the aging body….. but would NEVER consider taking surgery on it, heaven forbid.!

    1. One thing that’s occurred to me since I started thinking more about these issues is that, in the days when Mom and I were shopping for fruit, appearance was a sign of quality. There wasn’t the transportation network that exists today, or companies developing fruit for shipping rather than taste. Blemished fruit often was a sign of poor storage, or inadequate care during shipping, rather than a sign that you had truly home-grown rather than commercial. We ate local and seasonal produce not because of any convictions about food, but because that was what was available. There weren’t blueberries in the stores in January. January was winter squash and apples — the blueberries and tomatoes showed up in summer, and we turned those bushels of tomatoes into sauce, and canned or froze the fruit.

      There’s a grower down the coast that began a CSA business I’d subscribe to in a minute if I were closer. The ones here tend to be very, very expensive, and their selections, while good, are too much for one person. The farmers’ markets and picking farms are the best bet — strawberries are available now. Public picking isn’t being allowed because the fields are too wet, but at least the fruit’s in season — and delicious.

  35. Oh how I can relate to this post. Perfection is highly overrated. That’s what I tell myself as I become less perfect physically. I am no longer one of those oranges our mothers would select.

    I’m all for enjoying and admiring perfection when we find it, but we could spend a lifetime searching for it while missing the simple things that bring daily joy. The older I get, the more I appreciate Annie Dillard’s words, “and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections, but overwhelmingly in spite of them.”

    I would never use online shopping at this point, but I’m glad it’s available. You never know when…

    1. I laughed at your wonderful metaphor. No, we aren’t those perfect oranges any more. For some reason, the thought of us as oranges brought back the line from that old Lucky Strikes commercial, about their product being “so round, so firm, so fully packed,” and that made me laugh even more. When I discovered there was a song from 1947 that played off the line, my morning amusement was complete.

      To be honest, “perfection” is an ideal we carry around in our head, and nothing more. That’s where you’ve nailed it. If we could bring ourselves to admire and enjoy what is, rather than demanding life in all its aspects become what it isn’t, we would be much happier.

      “You never know when” is so true. Life can change in a flash, and it’s always looking for new ways to remind us that we’re not fully in charge.

  36. That collection of glass flowers is a treasure. Even if I never get to see it in person, it makes me happy just knowing it exists. Every time I read about it I just have to sigh.

    As to perfection, I have a different perspective. Having learned my plants out in the wild, I know that certain plants are incomplete without a signature gall on the stem, or leaf miner trails through the leaves, or nibble marks on the fruit. When I see them grown proudly in a botanic garden, free of “blemishes”, I feel uneasy. The question, “Who’d they have to kill to get it to look that way?” fills me with dismay.

    Like you, I find the changes in our world (and grocery store!) difficult to accept. I remind myself of what Byron Katie would tell us~the way things are is exactly the way they are supposed to be, for the simple reason that it IS the way they are.

    1. I was away for the weekend, and when I came home, a new book I ordered had arrived. I say “new” — Neltje Blanchan’s Nature’s Garden was published in 1900. In the book, she focuses on the relationship between insects and flowers, and it intrigued me to find her writing about the sentience of flowers and their relationships with their pollinators in a way that predates today’s “flowers can think!!!” literature by a full century.

      What you say about the perfection in a botanic garden resonates. In the same way, learning that so many cultivars are useless to hungry insects was an astonishment to me. Breeding for beauty is fine, but if a plant can’t nurture the insects who depend on it, the downside is considerable.

      I grow a little nervous when people use Byron Katie’s perspective to justify every sort of thing which surely wasn’t meant — at one point in history, slavery was “the way it’s supposed to be,” just as certain behaviors today are assumed to be normal. (Try navigating a govenmental website without a smart phone and apps, for example.) But in the plant world? It’s spot on. Even I wrote in an etheree, “What is, is good enough.”

      1. Yes, or the Holocaust and war and racism and other cruelties and insanities. I wrestle with that as well. Perhaps she only means within a personal life. For instance, she suffered from a disease of the eye in which she was loosing her vision. She spoke of that in terms of acceptance, and acceptance gave her peace that resisting it never could have. Things like childlessness for some, or the results of bad decisions, those sorts of things work with her philosophy. But the cruelties of others~no. I cannot accept those.

  37. You probably know that I am not a strong defender of perfections. Imperfections are like spices. Too much of it and it ruins the taste. And without it, everything gets boring. As is the case with Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka’s work. It’s simply amazing. And has the right amount of spices to feel authentic.

    1. You have to know I thought of your posts on the subject when I was writing this. I absolutely love your metaphor of the spices; that’s exactly it. Too much, and it’s only the spice that gets attention. Not enough, and we’re looking for the salt shaker or the hot sauce to remedy the situation. It’s the Goldilocks and the Three Bears approach to such matters. Working our way between the two extremes, we finally find that spot that’s “just right.”

  38. I can’t imagine someone picking my produce for me – there I don’t mind imperfections, I’m thinking ripeness and flavor. In a photograph of a flower, I want the imperfection to be meaningful, and not a distraction. If the imperfection doesn’t add something, as the imperfections in your fine helianthus image do, then I’ll look for another flower.
    I’m lucky to live close to the glass flowers, though I haven’t visited them for a few years. They are a wonder. Time to go back!

    1. In my book, hard, non-ripening and tasteless cantaloupes, peaches, or tomatoes are the very essence of imperfection. I can live with a soft spot or a bruise, and even a little over-ripeness. But tasteless or scentless? I’ll pass. Unfortunately, a visually perfect fruit is easy to spot, but a tasty one is harder to select. It’s so odd. Fifty years ago, visual perfection often was linked with good-tasting produce. Today, the better it looks, the worse it may taste, having been bred primarily for shipping.

      When it comes to flowers and plants, you’re exactly right. There’s imperfection, and then there’s imperfection. To paraphrase the old saying, “I may not be able to define good imperfection, but I know it when I see it.”

      As for the glass flowers, I dare you to watch this video of their recent restoration produced by Harvard and not be overcome by the impulse to visit them.

  39. These are exquisite, Linda. Where did you see them? Are they “on tour” or did you go to Corning? We always pass by it on the way to Rick’s trade show but are too “on the road NOW” to stop. I agree about the imperfections. I learned that a long while ago at the lake and even more so at Southern Exposure when we visit late in the fall and most things have “gone down” for the season. But true enough, things fade, drop, whatever the season.

    As for the grocery store, I love going unless I’m sick! While I sometimes shop at a Kroger or Meijer, our bigger stores, my local grocery has most everything and everyone is so nice. One day when expecting a storm, I came in a day early because the storm was due on Granny Day and I figured the discount wasn’t worth going out in the storm or its aftermath. They gave me the discount, just because. I know their names. I’m not sure they know mine but they know me. You don’t get that with home delivery or online. It does have its very good purposes but personality isn’t one of them. And I’m SO with you on selection of fresh food!

    1. I can’t imagine these ever going on tour. They’re the only collection of their sort in the world, and — well, the thought of packing them up and subjecting them to travel just doesn’t make sense. They are on permanent exhibit at Harvard; the photos I used are from the collection there.

      I looked through the Corning site, and it seems that the Blaschka pieces in their collection primarily are sea creatures. I’m sure they’d have some on display, although I couldn’t find any with a quick search in their gallery archives. All it would take is a phone call to find out. I’m not sure they have any of the flower collection. My understanding is that those all are at Harvard.

      What you say about the personal attention and service in the smaller stores is so true. When we evacuated to Nacogdoches during Hurricane Rita, I went to the Brookshire Brothers store for some supplies, and when I checked out, the woman doing the checking asked if I was an evacuee, if I was settled in somewhere, and if I had any issues that needed resolving. As it turned out, all of the checkers were asking that of everyone going through the lines, if they didn’t know them. It was one of those wonderful moments that always pop up in bad circumstances.

    1. Actually, it would be even easier than that. When I lived in the tropics, the banana plants grew on their own. Ten-year-old boys would cut the stalks, and then show up at the back door wanting to sell one for a dollar. Easy-peasy! They were darned good at getting stalks that were just ripening, too, so you didn’t end up with enough overripe bananas to make dozens of banana breads.

      It’s nice to have you stop by, and nice to know there’s another Pascal fan out there.

  40. I love that Annie Dillard quote – I haven’t looked at that book in a long time. Though I knew about the glass models, I didn’t know that much detail and knew nothing about the apples – wow! Thanks!,

    1. I’d love to see the glass flowers — and the fruit, for that matter — but I suspect that won’t happen. On the other hand, I’ve read the story of the waterbug that ate the frog in Dillard’s book several times, and never expected to see that, either. Then, I came upon one of the waterbugs myself. I’m inclined to post her tale with the photo, although I’m sure the “Ewwww….” factor would be pretty high for some. Me? The more I’m out in nature, the more quickly I move from “Ewwww….” to “Wow!”, with a side helping of “What in the heck is that?”

  41. Warms my heart to see so many people who read or have read Annie Dillard: sharp eyes, sharp wit, sharp writing, unsettling images. And, to think that an artist would incorporate the unsightly in glass creations. That took courage and the desire to see things as they are.

    1. The courage and desire to see things as they are is a rare quality. There’s a lot of wishful thinking abroad in the land these days, and it may be that the naturalists have some lessons to teach that have broader application than we usually assume. Dillard’s one of the best. May her tribe increase!

  42. Just read this again, more slowly than before, and looked more carefully. I am not always up to commenting, but please know that I very much appreciate a reflection like this. Others of yours too, but this struck home, late in the dark as I am trying, with little success, to avoid thinking about imperfections–my own insignificant ones, but more important, the great puzzle worldwide of random distribution of gifts and circumstances. (I started to write “assignment of gifts” but that thought leads to even more sleepless nights.)

    Thank you for your commitment to writing.

    1. Perhaps you might enjoy an earlier post I wrote on the joys of imperfection. It took turning to marine brightwork as an occupation to teach me one of life’s more important lessons: there is no perfection, only varying degrees and sorts of imperfection. Striving for real quality is one thing. Striving to meet artificial criteria for a supposed ‘perfection’ is something else entirely.

      I’m glad to know you’re reading, and appreciate your comment, very much.

      1. Thanks for the reference. This phrase will stay with me, ” the dropping of accidental words whose stain never will be erased.”

        Now I’m going to start reading about “marine brightwork.” My dad was a day sailor who longed for overnight excursions like he experienced in college in New England, but the best he could manage were week-long sails up and down the inter-coastal waterway from Pensacola to Pascagula with us (three adult children), stopping occasionally to camp at Horn Island.

        Whatever brightwork meant to him, as he got older and more dreamy he did it in the backyard where his 23′ Venture sat through the winter with a plastic tarp covering the cockpit. We would find him sitting in there with a butane heater. I asked mom what he was doing out there. I think she might have shrugged and said, oh he’s thinking we might move to Florida and live on the boat.

        1. I’ve done some intracoastal sailing myself, but from Galveston to Brownsville. It’s an interesting stretch, since so much of it passes through territory inhabited mostly by cattle; it’s King Ranch territory.

          Boats are for dreaming, there’s no question about that. I did live on one for a while, but I eventually discovered living on a boat as a varnisher is like an accountant living at the office. I wanted to get away at night.

          Pascagoula is Jimmy Buffett’s home town, and “Pascagoula Run” is one of my favorites among his songs. On our way to Pensacola once, we stopped there, just because.

  43. Oh no!! I’m one who shops for groceries online. (I do it because I can take Wylie with me to pick up groceries.) At first I would make an extra quick trip to pick up ONLY my fresh fruit and vegetables. I would always visit with the lady picking out fruit and vegetables for the online shoppers. I told her I liked to pick my own out so that I know that it’s the perfect apples or freshest broccoli. She said that’s what she likes too and that’s how she fills the online orders. I decided to give it a try and there have only been a few times when there was something that I wasn’t happy with. Of course my town is small enough that I’m a “regular” and they know my shopping style. They do an excellent job filling my order. And of course that means that Wylie can get a piece of his low sodium Boars Head deli chicken for the ride home! He loves groceries online.

    Yeah!!! It’s finally spring in Kansas. They are burning the beautiful Flint Hills. Will be time for a trip to Cottonwood Falls in a couple of weeks!! Have a wonderful week!

    1. I do think that online shopping would work better in your situation. If the small, independent grocery store I like were to offer the service, I’d be more likely to trust them. For one thing, their produce is higher quality than the other stores in the area, and their produce staff checks it every day to make sure everything still is fresh.

      I laughed at the thought of Wylie munching away on his chicken. Is it low sodium for his health, or is that just what he prefers?

      They’ve been burning here throughout the winter. Last year, spider lilies overwhelmed a portion of prairie after the burn, and this year another parcel of land suddenly produced the largest crop of blue stars I’ve ever seen. There’s so much to see now, I don’t know which way to turn. I’d surely turn toward Cottonwood Falls, if I could. Enjoy your trip!

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