Surround Yourself in Small Beauty: A Guide for Spring


by Brett F. Braley-Palko

PITTSBURGH – I have built a life on simple pleasures, dear Reader. They are often contradictory and honed only through some uneducated gut instinct in which the only criteria is “I like this” and “I don’t like that.” This has meant that I often eat cake for breakfast and sometimes I sneak a cigarette afterward. It means we own three dogs and inexplicably three cats as well. It means I do not follow fad diets or Tik-Tok recipes or the thousands of trends that inundate menswear. It means you will find me in corduroy up until the very last day of Spring when I’m baking in it. It means, quite simply, I enjoy the little things over the big. Life is an Impressionist painting, in that way.

So, for Spring, I am enjoying the small victories of the wild acreage that covers my house. The roses that are sleepily waking up, the daffodils who have made their home next to our compost bin. I am enjoying the question mark of the weather report and the subsequent question mark of what that means for clothing (“Should I wear a jumper or my raincoat? Are my Hunters too mucked to wear into town?”). I am enjoying the inconsistencies, the rule breaking, the dissonance of seasonality.  I am enjoying the dialogue with it. Bringing that temperament indoors.

Here is what I believe will make a well-lived life for Spring. This list is in no particular order.

Dinners, even frozen pizzas or microwaved wontons, at the dining room table. Taper candles for any day of the week. Landline phones and ignoring bill collectors. Iced americanos, sweetened slightly with agave. Personalized stationery, doodled on during Zoom calls. Eyeglasses used to push your hair out of your face. The larger the better, those bent to an angle from hours of reading, head rested in hand. Large buttons-downs that double as a sort of cardigan. Sucking on the small cut from the rose bush. Fresh eggs from friendly neighbors, who replaced the bounty we once received from our own flock. They died in November, all twenty wiped out by a single weasel. No-reason presents, dressed in tissue paper. Long baths with the window open. Short showers with the radio on. Bursts of Italian conversations with old professors. Jam jars filled with dandelions. Matchbooks filled with fortunes after Chinese take-out. Wooden pencils, sharpened to a dangerous point. Incense burning in the midday lull of work calls. A cat nap in nothing but your towel after a shower. Licks of batter right off the spoon. A colander of berries. An aloe plant for your desk. A secret stash of Easter candy, with any sour being my favorite. A few dollars hidden, used only for emergency ice cream after long work days. Polish pottery. Cheap tea, drunk only to warm up in the mornings. Fountain pens fitted with green ink. Remaining unshaven for weeks on end. Listening to the small chorus of frogs when you drive by a marshy road. Calving season on the neighbor’s farm. A thousand crumpled-up ideas for a novel. The one notecard taped to your desk that seems the most promising (“Picaresque,”  it reads. “London. 1950’s. Lots of dogs. Gay protagonist?”). Savoring every last drop of this ephemeral time, this mercurial time, this most contrarian time of the year. 

I believe now in the small wonders. It took years to achieve. I do not live the life I used to, cigarette-tinged and in the beds of others. But I live a good life. A small life. A mediocre life, perhaps, but one I can still extract beauty from whenever I need a pick-me-up. I have found the golden mean. I am happy this Spring because of it.

All pictures © by the author

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