"Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable."
— W.H. Auden.
We seem to have misplaced our cat. 

Good morning!

I am Hugh Hollowell, and this is Life is So Beautiful, a newsletter about finding the beautiful when it's hard to - and maybe especially when it's hard to.

When I was 40, I bought a house. It was a small (1000 sf, give or take) house in the inner city on a block that was one block away from the drug dealer’s corner, but still, it was ours. We would call it home for five years.

It had a lot of problems, but the biggest one was that no one had loved it for a long time. The backyard was a thicket of privet bushes, Japanese honeysuckle, and old tires and rubble. And on the edge of the backyard, rising high above it all, was a craggy old tree.

This tree was probably 30 feet tall, and had poison ivy vines as thick as my wrist growing up it, and it was gnarled and twisted. It dropped limbs every storm, and it blocked a good deal of sun from my small vegetable garden I had carved out of the jungle. I decided I would have to cut it down, and I began to save money to do so.

One day I was talking to a neighbor, and we were talking about my backyard.

“The whole thing is a disaster. I would just rent a dozer and raze the whole thing. The only thing worth saving back there is that old elm tree. You don’t ever see them that big anymore,” he said.  

Oh. I hadn’t realized it was an elm. I had never seen one that large because of Dutch Elm Disease, which killed off almost all the elms decades ago.

Somehow, knowing it was an elm made it different than knowing it was a tree. The specificity mattered. It having a name mattered. Because the tree was an elm, I knew things about it I didn’t know when it was just a tree. I knew it was a native, and part of the food system for the local habitat, and endangered, and however annoying, was worth protecting.

Because I knew its name.

Right now, like a lot of you, I’m feeling lots of things. I’m tired of being in a multi-year pandemic that has taken the lives of people I love, and taken the dreams of others I love. I’m frustrated by our public response to that virus, and I find myself being mad all the time. Yesterday I almost screamed at a woman in Kroger for blocking the aisle. It wasn’t my best moment.

But a thing I am trying to do right now it to look at each emotion I am feeling (and oh God, are there are a lot of them) and ask it its name. Is this really anger, or is it just fear in a trench coat and Groucho glasses? Is it anger, or is it frustration? Is it fear, or is it concern? Is it unsafe, or is it just uncomfortable?

Is it any of those, or is it really just grief?

Because before you can fight a thing (or love a thing), it helps to know its name.

Five Beautiful Things

  • I am constantly amazed to find out people don’t know about Giphy, a search engine for the perfect animated gif. Just type a term in the search box and watch the magic happen.
  • Searching for silence in a noisy world. This short video is amazing and, well, beautiful.
  • I own 12 solid color t-shirts, and am currently wearing one of them and cargo shorts, so Lord knows I am no bastion of fashion. But I do love some street photography, so I love this photographer who gives random people walking in New York City the paparazzi treatment.
  • The pink salt ponds of Camargue, France. This looks altered, but a quick google search shows it is not. (via Kottke)
  • We are in a public health crisis in this country, and one key step to resolving it is vaccination. But many are hesitant. What changes minds is stories and relationships. Here is a 16 minute documentary about one woman fighting to get her small Alabama town vaccinated. I want to hug her.
* * *

Well, that is it for this week. I hope you have a great week, and that your life is filled with beautiful things. If you see something beautiful this week, I hope you will let me know about it, and if one of my five I shared today struck you in a special way, I hope you will let me know about that, too.

If you want to support this project, you can sign up to be a Patron or buy me a book or throw me some cash or, especially, forward this email to your friends. And if someone did forward this to you, you can get your own subscription here.

Take care of yourself. And each other. 

Hugh Hollowell Jr

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