Two steps out the door and a bumbling cicada collides into the brim of my hat, startling me enough to induce the awkward duck/swat combination. On my recent fishing outings, hiking trips, and dog walks I have seen more people duck and swat than I can ever remember. Fly anglers have been preparing for Brood X for months, some dreaming of it over the last 17 years. But the average outdoor enthusiast is not amused or excited by the incredibly loud songs oscillating on the count of four, the discarded shucks of the cicada nymphs all over trees and surfaces in your yard, and the frequent collisions the large insects have with them. Especially my neighbor, Bob, who told me in an annoyed tone this morning that he was hit by cicadas 48 times while mowing his lawn. 

I sat in my backyard for a few hours yesterday, relaxing with my wife, reading, brainstorming for the blog and my book, and observing the cicadas. Watching the cicadas reminded me of watching a roller skating birthday party of elementary school-aged children. Lots of flailing limbs and momentum-driven kids crashing into the side walls of the rink as the only way to stop or change direction. As each bug lands and takes off from nearby trees and shrubs, their weight and clumsiness jostles the branches, creating the appearance of a breeze even when the air is still. Almost on cue, a butterfly delicately floats through the yard, surrounded by the chaos of the bumper bugs in the surrounding air. In my mind I compared the flight of the butterfly to the cicada and thought…the butterfly flies perfectly.

Comparing any living creature to another isn’t really fair. The Brood X cicadas emerge once every 17 years. Biologists speculate that the coordinated mass emergence developed to prevent predators from adapting to their life cycles and periodically overwhelm the unsuspecting aggressors. Their wings adapted with strong veins and thin membranes that contain chitin, a rigid but heavy fibrous compound. Compared to other similar insects like locusts, the cicada wings are heavy and clumsy. The wings also have qualities that prevent bacteria from infecting the cicadas and protect the organs that help the cicadas make their song and find a mate. So the flight and structure of the cicada is perfect for the cicada. Who am I to judge?

Perfection is the freedom from fault or defect. The act of comparison doesn’t give an opportunity for anything to be free of defect or fault. As human beings, our uniqueness and presence give us value, but we strive to be accepted, and some of us strive to be perfect. I’ve heard lots of people claim to be perfectionists over the years. This statement generally refers to reasoning why something they are working on is taking so long. I have found that my fears around writing and sharing my thoughts are founded in wanting readers to enjoy and think highly of my thoughts and abilities. Do I consider myself a perfectionist? Probably not. But I want to be liked and I want my work to be considered excellent. When I doubt my abilities or don’t hear positive feedback, I begin to feel that my contributions aren’t good enough. I procrastinate more and produce less.

A common sentiment in fly tying is that perfect flies catch fisherman and imperfect flies catch fish. I have caught lots of fish on the flies I have tied, and none of them has been perfect or even close to perfect. I can also get caught up in trying to make the perfect cast or having the perfect drift. I also have been reminded of the randomness in life, catching fish when I’m not paying attention or when a fly drags, still inducing a strike from a fish. Being in the right place at the right time and stacking effort all contribute to successes and gaining ground in our pursuits. 

Imperfect Elk Hair Caddis

Salvador Dali wisely said, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”  Actor Angela Watson stated, “Perfection is impossible, just strive to do your best”. In the social media dominated world when people are constantly staring at their phones, waiting for likes and thumbs up, we become focused on short-term returns of feedback, and people curate what they show others to indicate a perfect image. I struggle in this space, because the act of curation and posting seems contrived and doesn’t show our full selves. On the river, the water and the fish don’t care what’s perfect. They don’t care if you have the best waders, best fly rod, or even the best cast. On the river, the inconsistencies in flow are the hiding spots, the bumps and boulders create these spaces. The deep pools where no one sees the bottom can hold the biggest fish. 

Pennsylvania Brook Trout

Olympic athlete Kim Collins, stated, “ Strive for continuous improvement instead of perfection.”  I like that sentiment. Put in our time to improve skills and enjoy the process. Those are the moments we have to learn, love, and feel. Curating perfect moments or the perfect flight could cause us to miss our window, and it doesn’t allow for the in-between moments. Let’s learn from the cicadas. Let’s spend our moment in the sun flying how we fly.  We can bump into things and crash land from time to time. We keep moving ahead.

Keep mending.           

6 Replies to “Perfection in a Bumbling Flight”

  1. Missed the pictures!
    I too am swatting away these bugs from hitting me in the face!
    But I really like their song and their short lived mission on this earth!
    Perfection is not something I strive for but I like thinking ” That worked pretty well!’
    I like the way you observe your surroundings and come away with life lessons!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Another great post Scott. Well structured. Well written. An interesting quote from Salvador Dali on the unattainability of perfection. I can’t help but think if this is how the whole surrealism movement started. Did someone not accurately reflect reality in their work, that they just started a movement where they didn’t have to be judged based on reality?

    1. Thanks Kevin – Interesting observation on surrealism. I did a little bit of research and it looks like the Dadaist Movement helped to form the style of surrealism. The Dadaist Movement appears to be connected to European Artists who were appalled by the atrocities of WWI. They sought to unlock the unconscious mind and portray these elements of thought in the conscious world. Thanks for helping me learn! Now I know where the droopy clocks came from!

  3. The sharing of your thoughts on here is much more than “good enough.” I enjoy reading your blog posts each week. Your posts help me to know you better.

    I struggle with perfectionist qualities even though I know that none of us will ever reach perfection on this earth. I always feel as though I can do better. I will try to remember to be like the cicada…

    1. Thanks Carla – I always think I can be better as well. Some of that is probably good as motivation to keep learning and growing. But…it can get to be too much when we tear ourselves down too much. I am using the cicada to remind me that moving ahead is often better than being 100% graceful. I appreciate you reading and commenting!

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