Living

Bearing up to a perfect year: All in the interpretation

Lane Smith’s allegorical tale of what makes ‘A Perfect Day’ is a children’s book likely to delight young and old who can create a definition for themselves. Smith, also a painter, illustrated the 2017 book published by Roaring Brook Press New York.
Lane Smith’s allegorical tale of what makes ‘A Perfect Day’ is a children’s book likely to delight young and old who can create a definition for themselves. Smith, also a painter, illustrated the 2017 book published by Roaring Brook Press New York. From the cover of Lane Smith’s ‘A Perfect Day’

On this eve of a new year, our thoughts are reflective because that’s what humans do when milestones roll passed us. Another year completed is definitely a milestone.

So, how were the last 365 days? Rewarding? Challenging? Just so?

How will the next 365 days be? Perfect!

Don’t expect me to define perfect. Each of us must do that for ourselves by the way we chose to interpret, define and learn from the joys and challenges that season our daily lives.

Bear with me, please.

I write that last sentence tongue-in-cheek because a big, black bear set me on this path of New Year’s reflection. Well, a bear and a children’s book. And why shouldn’t we call on our inner-child, who can still reflect on the world with wonder, abandon and quizzical humor?

Bear books

Several months ago I was at a book sale at a distribution warehouse, where we were charged not by title and author but by book weight. This voracious reader was in book heaven, checking out titles for all ages and all subject matter.

As I passed a table of children’s books, my eyes came to a screeching halt at the title, “A Perfect Day.” I was unfamiliar with the author, Lane Smith, but his painted cover of a bear sniffing a flower hit a home run. I quickly flipped through the pages filled with few words but lots of funny illustrations.

The dust jacket provides a short biography of Smith, an award-winning author, artist and illustrator. Most book jackets have the author’s photograph, but “A Perfect Day” instead showcases a real-life bear photo. The bear is bending a bird feeder pole to get an easy seed meal, a scene all too familiar to me.

As I’ve already spun yarns about black bears in Mississippi and at my feeders in the Virginia Piedmont, I won’t repeat those earlier stories. But FYI: I’ve been “beared” again.

Weird weather

Bears are as confused as we humans by weather extremes and run amok temperatures. Used to be that in late October and April, bears briefly crossed my tiny Piedmont hill on their way to and from winter semi-hibernation. This year, however, they hung around for summer, then autumn.

With their most recent maraudings in December, its obvious the bears aren’t in their normal winter snooze habits. Finally, after six recent days of below-freezing temperatures, I thought it safe to quit bringing the feeders in at night. Wrong.

I’m now expert at feeder repairs, but this time the bear didn’t smash-and-leave. It bent the pole to the ground and stole two feeders. I resumed bringing the survivor feeders in at night, thinking the problem again solved. With no pole to raid, however, the next night marauder centered on the chained, metal can of sunflower seeds sneakily hidden in a hard-to-reach corner, behind a giant pile of leaves.

But the bear nose knows. When it couldn’t get into the can, the bear simply rolled 50 pounds of can and seeds down the driveway to the bottom of the hill, then who knows where. This was a repeat of the summer, bringing 2017’s total to two missing cans, five smashed feeders and two destroyed poles, despite not feeding the birds for two months in hopes the bruin would forget Banquet Hill.

Perfect day

Now to the perfect part of this story.

All was right in my world before I noticed the most recent bent pole. Should I have let the bear’s antics spoil my perfect day? Lane Smith thinks not.

His allegorical tale centers on happy birds and squirrels having perfect days because they have food. Along comes a bear who bends the pole, smashes the feeder and eats their seeds. But in denying the birds and squirrels their easy meals, the bear creates for himself a perfect day. Every person and creature in Smith’s story has, at least for awhile, a perfect day.

Perfect is all in the interpretation, Smith reminds us. As we march into 2018, we should aim for perfect — our own, hopefully malleable, definitions of perfect.

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.

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