A few weeks ago my eldest daughter turned fourteen, and we celebrated by taking a ferry to the peninsula (if you picture Washington state as a mitten, I explained to my younger girls, we traveled from the index finger to the thumb), where we spent the day exploring a fabulous, still-very-Victorian-looking town on the water. The water that day was choppy, so much so that the captain cautioned us over the intercom to find a seat and stay there. “If you rode a motorcycle on board, we advise that you remain with it,” he said, at which point my husband caught my eye and raised his eyebrows.
Living where we do, the two of us have ridden many ferries to one of the San Juan islands or another. But never had we ridden waves like these. As we pulled out from the dock we could feel the ferry shuddering as it hit them and then, as it turned alongside the waves, sliding sideways down into the trough of one wave before climbing the peak of the next. I’d brought our lunch up to the deck with us, but as we watched the waters pitch and roll outside the window, I said, “Maybe we’ll save lunch until we’re on land, okay?”
The farther from land we travelled, the paler a few of us got, as though they were questioning every decision they’d ever made that may have brought us to that point. The rest of us pressed our faces to the glass and exclaimed over that burst of spray or that nearly-sideways sailboat, there, off to the left. “It’s so cool,” our fourteen-year-old said, while I decided to go check on the dog in the van, mostly as an excuse to stagger around the cabin watching the other passengers’ reactions and just, you know, taking it all in.
“Are you sure?” my husband asked. “I could go.”
“I’m sure,” I said. “I kind of want to.”
Trying to walk was more than comical: I listed from one wall to the other, zigzagging against my will even as my brain thought it was telling my feet to tread a straight line. I made it to the stairs, then down them—clinging to the railing the whole way—only to realize that I’d chosen the wrong flight of stairs and landed right in the bow of the ferry, in front of all the cars, where only a bright orange chain hung between those on the deck and the open, frothing water. The waves slapped the deck in a burst of spray. Two ferry employees stood there, so well-balanced and secure-looking, making small talk as the waves crashed around them. It was a wonderful and terrible moment, as beautiful a thing as I’d seen in a long time, even as the sight of that turbulent, gray-green water made my stomach drop. I stood there for a while, just watching.
Later, on land, near the end of our day, we found a bookstore, and in it I found this book, Tiny, Perfect Things. That moment on the ferry wasn’t tiny, exactly, but it was perfect, and it’s the sort of thing noticing tiny, perfect things prepares one to appreciate, I think. But let me explain:
Tiny, Perfect Things is one of those quiet, lovely picture books about something as ordinary as a walk, shared by a grandfather and granddaughter. As they walk, the child collects little moments of beauty: a fallen leaf, a spider’s web, a snail. “The world is full of wonders, no matter where we go,” she tells her mother later.
The beauty of this book is how it celebrates those small things and reminds readers that they are always underfoot or in the boughs just overhead. I read this book to my girls as we waited, in our van, to board ferry home (which was thirty minutes late due to the “windy conditions”). And then I watched as the younger two passed the book back and forth, each examining Madeline Kloepper’s illustrations, searching for tiny, perfect things not mentioned in the text. From the back seat, I heard:
“Oh! A ladybug!”
“And an anthill, look!”
Little kids often don’t need to be reminded to look for these little wonders. But as they get older, I notice, they begin to need those reminders—we adults do, too. When the ferry of life pitches and rolls, I suppose you could say, it can be a comfort to wonder at those waves and to remember that we live in the care of the One who made them. These tiny, perfect things remind us to wonder at the Maker of all things, big and small.
Tiny, Perfect Things
M.H. Clark; Madeline Kloepper (2018)