The most perfect day of the year will most likely arrive in late September, though it’s also been known to come sometime in October. Last year it was October 21, if memory serves, but it had been an unusually warm summer; the creeks had been running low all fall, and it wasn’t until the middle […]
By Ben Hewitt
Aug 29 2022
The Perfect DayPhoto Credit : Illustration by Tom Haugomat
The most perfect day of the year will most likely arrive in late September, though it’s also been known to come sometime in October. Last year it was October 21, if memory serves, but it had been an unusually warm summer; the creeks had been running low all fall, and it wasn’t until the middle of October that the rains came and filled them again, and everyone knows you can’t have a perfect day when the creeks are low.
The perfect day generally starts like every other day of those 364 non-perfect days. It’s not as if you know it’s going to be the perfect day the moment you arise; it doesn’t announce itself. There’s no fanfare, no trumpets, no sign from the heavens. You awake in the half-dark, like you always do. You make your coffee on the woodstove, like you always do. You do chores, like you always do: fill the cows’ water, check to see if the swath of pasture grass they’re on can hold them for another day (it can—if not, it probably wouldn’t be a perfect day). Check the lambs, too: They’re always getting into trouble, but today they’re all the things that people think lambs are going to be before they’ve actually lived with them. You give the tame one a scratch behind his ears. You imagine he’s looking at you with affection, but it might just be that he’s a bit dumb. Hard to say. Affection, stupidity: There’s not always a great distance between them.
Did I mention that you’re almost—but not quite—shivering a bit? You see, the perfect day is not entirely about comfort. But maybe you knew that already, because by now you’ve lived long enough to understand all the ways in which comfort is overrated. You need to get a little cold, because how else can you fully appreciate standing by the fire while your second cup of coffee brews, watching the early light sneak up the grassed knoll, listening to the muffled noises of your son stirring directly above your head? He turns 18 in a few weeks. Someday soon, he’ll be stirring elsewhere, so you listen carefully. You want to remember exactly what it sounds like.
You make the boy breakfast. You put the toast directly on the cast-iron top of the woodstove, just to the side so it doesn’t burn. You put the frying pan right where the stove gets hottest, drop in a tablespoon of lard, wait for it to hiss and pop. You crack the eggs, flip the toast. The boy gets dressed while you cook. You’re not sure whether he likes that you cook breakfast for him or merely tolerates it. But you also don’t care much either way.
You gather your saw and head to the woods. You don’t do this every day, but you’ve been doing it every perfect day since perfect days were invented, and this one is no different. You don’t need to cut a lot of wood to make it a perfect day, but you need to cut enough so that when you’re done, you can look at the pile and feel the way a person can feel only when that person has accomplished something fundamentally useful. What does “fundamentally useful” mean? You’re not actually sure, but you know what it feels like, and that’s enough.
There are no bugs on the perfect day, of course. I mean, the discomfort of the morning chill is one thing, but blackflies are entirely another. That’s another reason you don’t often find perfect days before September, though it’s true that early May has been known to enter a contender or two, before those winged devils have begun their annual torment.
After cutting wood, you eat lunch with your wife. The two of you sit on the grass, faces to the sun, plates balanced on your laps, and when you bring your food to your mouth, you can smell the day on your hands. It smells like firewood and bar oil, coffee grounds and sheep’s wool. You’re thinking that maybe you should have washed your hands before you ate, but also that you don’t generally wash your hands before you eat, and it’s not hurt you yet. At least, not that you can tell.
At this point, do you make a third cup of coffee? You might, though the perfect day does not require it. On the other hand, it can be the factor that tips an otherwise merely excellent day into the realm of perfection. So, yeah: Why not? The stove is still going from lunch, anyhow. One more cup of coffee and maybe just a small piece of that blueberry cake your wife made a few hours back. It’s still just the slightest bit warm. OK, two small pieces, then.
The perfect day is not warm enough that a dip in the pond is a given, but it is warm enough that a dip in the pond is an idea that, once thought, cannot be unthought, which is how you find yourself executing the sad little doggie paddle that’s passed for swimming your whole life, while your wife swims effortless laps around you. Still, you know this might be the final swim of the year. You know that when you emerge from the pond, pimpled in goosebumps, you’ll feel just the tiniest bit more alive than before you jumped in, and you’ll realize that while your sad little doggie paddle may not be the most graceful thing in the world, it’s good enough for you.
Evening is coming on. You do chores, put your chainsaw and chaps away, head inside to cook dinner. Your son will be home from work soon. Your wife is in the garden, spreading mulch hay, tucking in the soil for its winter nap. The fire takes with one match, and you stand at the kitchen window while you wait for the stove to heat, watching your wife work, watching the cows amble across the hill, watching the light slowly fade from the sky, suddenly realizing that this was it: the most perfect day of the year.
But also thinking that tomorrow should be pretty good, too.