“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
― Wendell Berry

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.

I have a new neighbor. The young couple that lived next to us the two and a half years we have lived in this house moved to the suburbs after the birth of their second child, and sold their home to a middle aged couple, who moved here after retiring from the military.

So much of what our sense of aesthetics is cultural. If you went by what sells garden magazines and suburban model homes, yards should be green and open and what isn’t grass should be sheared within an inch of its life, as if to remind that boxwood that it is dependent on you, the gardener, for its survival.

Our own yard is a bit wilder. We have lots of native shrubs and trees, which feed the insects that have evolved over thousands of years to prefer them. This in turn attracts birds that eat the bugs – birds we further encourage by the proliferation of nesting sites and wildflowers. A few birdbaths here and there provide water in hard times, and the deep shade of our magnolia tree in the front yard provides shade that is 15 degrees cooler than in the sunshine on a hot day, and is the perfect place for our swing arbor, covered in native honeysuckle, where we sit and watch the birds in the daytime and the bats at dusk.

The yard our neighbors bought was wild as well. It had two Live Oaks that would have lived to be 500 years old, at least, a few small varieties of magnolia, and a rich understory of ferns and native palms, all on the west side of the house, protecting the home from the harsh summer sun here in Central Mississippi. They had not been here a week before they ripped everything out and are now laying sod, turning the front yard that had been a lush woodland into something reminiscent of a golf course.

Don’t get me wrong – they have the right to do it – it’s their land, and we have no neighborhood covenants in place, which benefits me and my bottle trees and folk-art filled front yard. But their decisions do not affect only them – now the entire South side of my front yard is in full sun, whereas before it was sheltered by the Live Oaks, and had been the site of the beginnings of an Azalea hedge which now will not survive the harsh sun and must be replaced.

This feels like a metaphor for so much. We want to believe that our decisions exist in a vacuum – that our own will is enough to justify our decisions, that because we can, it then follows that we should.

But we don’t live in a vacuum. We are participants in a system, and something as simple as cutting down a tree can have far-flung implications, from the decimation of a neighbor’s Azalea hedge to the loss of birds in the neighborhood to the increase of global emissions because of the increased power usage that results from the higher AC usage because of the loss of shade.

We belong to each other. One day, if we are to survive, we shall have to learn to act like it.

Five beautiful things

  • Jane Goodall still has hope for humans, despite the evidence. This is a lovely interview of a lovely person. She is one of my favorite thinkers, largely because so much of it is derived from her praxis.
  • Watch this footage of a Red Tailed Hawk, whose head remains stable while the body and wings move. It’s uncanny.
  • Lloyd Kahn (whose book Half-acre Homestead is much more than the title suggests, and who is a personal inspiration, shared a family photo of the Golden Gate in San Francisco before the famous bridge was built.
  • The pyramids at Giza, shot overhead from a drone. The detail on these is amazing – you can actually  read graffiti on the stones. (via Kottke)
  • The Ransom Center at University of Texas has a huge collection (around 10,000 pieces) of movie posters, spanning from the silent films up to present day. I can browse this for hours.

Odds and sods

I don’t have the attention span for writing long form, but I love to write scenes – vignettes of life, captured forever in time. Here is one I wrote recently about a conversation I had in a funeral home recently.

I got tied up at work last Monday, so thus no newsletter, but the week before I had mentioned Beepster, but the link was wrong. Here is the original copy, but with the correct link:

Beepster is a web-based music synthesizer, where you can adjust the sliders to make truly interesting ambient music. Or “music”. This is way cooler than I thought it would be.

A great article about why we vaccinated folk should consider masking. I have never stopped masking in public spaces, for all of these reasons.

* * *

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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