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The Wabi-Sabi Corner

Tajima Hiroyuki: Small Garden (Shōwa period, dated 1967)

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (
侘寂) is a worldview centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" in nature. It is prevalent in many forms of Japanese art. -Wikipedia

" … a universal rule insisting upon less than perfection …"

Every gardener should maintain a Wabi-Sabi Corner, a corner deliberately unfinished, overgrown, and messy compared to the rest of the place. This practice helps keep the universe in balance, for this universe seems insistent upon maintaining a certain volume of unbridled messiness. Perfection might be its sworn enemy. Even the most famed gardens in the world feature one of these corners, though it might take some searching for a visitor to find them. They are never showcased, but they do exist. Even here, in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz Gardens, I scrupulously maintain an unmaintained corner of the yard. The Muse complains that this corner embarrasses her since it has traditionally been a corner everyone who passes can see. It's that edge just beyond the reach of every sprinkler, that corner not on my usual rounds. I've let the wildness take charge there, and the universe remains balanced. You're welcome!

Our neighborhood, too, has featured a Wabi-Sabi Corner property.
Unfortunately, it's just across the street to my immediate left as I look out my front door or office window. It has been the source of every dandelion in my yard and a genuine eyesore. I understand the necessity of somebody failing to properly maintain their property. Nobody wants to live in a Stepford community where everything always appears perfect. I've long held that my yard looks spectacular mainly because it almost abuts up against the worst yard in this whole small city. There'd been a rumor that the owner, who last lived there a decade ago, might have finally sold it, and that rumor was confirmed yesterday with a flurry of activity. An estate sale agent arrived with a truck and trailer to haul off some of the owner's reported extensive collection of Coca Cola® memorabilia. The owner even appeared, to putter around the overgrown front porch.

I was digging out my Wabi-Sabi Corner while this cleaning out occurred across the street. The owner stopped by as he headed back to wherever he now calls home. This guy and I have been angry at each other since The Muse and I returned from exile. He'd screech at me, and I would shake my head disgustedly until he finally took to my front porch to take a hunk out of me for some imagined infraction. Yesterday, I looked up from my digging to find that neighbor there, plaintively looking down at me. He said, "I'm sorry for screeching at you on your front porch." I accepted his apology. We shook hands. Wabi-Sabi screams for acceptance, so who would I have to become to deny him his moment of humility in the sun? I wished him well on his next adventure while warmly anticipating another property eventually taking over the responsibility for being the worst-maintained one in the neighborhood if only to keep this universe in balance.

I have another corner of the yard ready and waiting for me to finish cleaning up the old Wabi-Sabi Corner. I intend to scrupulously maintain that mess, too, once I'm through tidying up this present one. The pursuit of perfection seems simply exhausting and rarely worth the effort. Acceptance that some corner, if not more than one, might best exemplify imperfection seems an awareness worth fostering. It's not necessarily intended to be slacking or that anyone lacks adequate motivation; it's more that this universe rather insists upon an inevitable imperfection. Who would any of us have to become to put ourselves up against a universal rule insisting upon anything?

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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