At Artis, the Amsterdam zoo, the animals aren’t allowed to have names because it humanizes them.
It’s a new rule, or new-ish. Caesar the lion was 23 (very old for a lion, said the zookeeper) when he died last year, so now the zoo has one less animal with a name.
Ever since I learned about Caesar I’ve started thinking more about the things I love with names I don’t know. Like the smallest but brightest star in Minnesota, the yellow flowers that bloom in the mountains in Oregon, and literally every street in Amsterdam besides the one we live on. (I know the canals.) Not knowing their names doesn’t mean I love them any less. It feels right when I say it about stars and important — more humane even — when I say it about lions. But it’s a bad excuse for not remembering someone’s name after you meet them at a party.
In the western United States a lot of mountains and lakes have women’s names. In Yosemite, Elizabeth Lake, Mary Lake, Dorothy Lake, Avonelle Lake, and Polly Dome are all named after the wives and daughters of the explorers and park rangers who climbed them first. How can you really know you are first to climb a mountain? If someone’s already climbed it, it might be just another name you don’t know.
And if you name a daughter and give her the name Dorothy, and then climb a mountain and name it Dorothy, are you naming the mountain after your daughter or do you just like the name Dorothy so much you used it twice?
Maybe the best way to love things that aren’t supposed to have names – wild things like mountains, and daughters, and 23-year-old-lions, and Dutch streets, and nice people at parties – is to give them a new name every time.
The information about mountains in Yosemite is from this essay by Lucy Bryan Green.
I’m in the park writing this on my phone and a woman is standing here next to me. She’s looking at me and eating a tomato.
Right off the bat she seems like the weird one, but I usually am. It’s likely that the bench I’m sitting on is reserved for dogs, or my coat looks like a coat babies wear in the Netherlands, or today is the the king’s half-birthday and I’m the only person not wearing commemorative orange socks. Who knows.
She just took a huge bite, so juicy that someone could have recorded it and used it as sound effects in a horror movie where the zombie takes a bite out of a woman’s neck. “That sound gave me chills” a girl will say to her friends as she walks out of the theater, and one of her friends will tell her it was just the sound of someone biting into an apple. But it was a tomato. I saw it right here in the park with my own eyes.
She’s still taking bites and still staring at me but why? I’m dressed pretty normally. I’m staring at a phone, like all normal adults do. I took a shower last night.
Boaz and I started taking showers every night a year ago. When you shower at night you don’t bring the sweat and dirt of the day to sleep with you. Our bed is a temple, he told our friend when we were explaining the night shower routine. He said it with such seriousness that she thought it was a Jewish thing. “Oh right,” she said. “Or some people call it synagogue.” And we had to explain that it’s not a temple, not really. But maybe she was onto something.
If all it takes to make something holy is to do it differently, and with intent, then maybe showering can be. Maybe sitting on a bench can be holy too, if you really stop and notice the people around you, and where they’re looking and what they’re eating. Maybe a snack can be holy too, if it’s a very specific snack. Like maybe a tomato.