These 20 words were assigned to Pam Houston by her friend, the writer and photographer Kyle Wolff, as part of Project 2020 (Quarantine Edition). She gave Pam and others a word most mornings, and the assignment to write to that world and either take or find a photo to go with it. These 20 words and photographs by Pam Houston are appearing daily in Terrain.org through June 20, the summer solstice.
March 24, 2020
Today we hung the laundry outside for the first time this year. Hung it outside as opposed to in the mud room, because this house was not plumbed for a dryer and has never had one. We had to post hole through about 18 inches of snow to do it, but it stayed above freezing for four or five hours and the clothes got dry. We came home from a long walk up the gated-off portion of Rio Grande Reservoir Road, where Livie and Henry got on a herd of about 25 elk, cows, and calves. It was no contest of course—the dogs exhausted themselves before they were within 200 yards and the elk popped over the ridge to the next valley without even down shifting.
After I brought in the laundry, Mike and I made lamb stew: lamb, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, turmeric, garlic, onion, celery, carrots, thyme, parsley, oregano, and a Fresno pepper for good measure. It won’t be ready till 8, so I might take my bath tonight, pre-dinner.
Right now, more than ever before, home is safety, home is sleep, getting enough sleep for possibly the first time in my whole life, home is a bathtub with a view of Bristol Head. Home is also what it has always been: dogs, horses, sheep, chickens, and a donkey who wants to make trouble with everybody. Home is being married—there’s a new one, like really being married. 24/7 togetherness was not a thing I ever wanted nor expected to have, not even when I said I do two years ago to the easiest-going man in the universe. Yet here we are, and this only child who has never in her life had enough alone time is so far doing okay.
Each morning, Mike gets up first and brings me my Breathe Easy tea with manuka honey. I read a student manuscript or two before I get up and make green chili eggs. In 26 years of living on this ranch, I have never been home without the next time I have to leave again looming, without one airline ticket in my pocket and another in my underwear drawer. I have understood, for quite a while now, how that makes me a big part of the problem. For the first time in my life, I am home for as far down the road as I can see.
Pam Houston is the author of the memoir Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, which won the 2019 Reading the West Advocacy Award, as well as five other books of fiction and nonfiction, all published by W.W. Norton. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level on a 120-acre homestead near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. A book co-written with activist Amy Irvine, Air Mail: Letters of Politics, Pandemics, and Place, is forthcoming from Torrey House Press in October 2020.