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.
April 9, 2020
The world is happier without us in it. That might be the big mind exercise of this pandemic. The birds are singing more loudly, more often; the Rocky Mountain bighorn who live near me stroll across the state highway. Even the coyotes run from the dogs with a kind of gleam in their eye when they see us. Oh… wait… you’re back?
We are irrelevant to the planet in ways that make sense but that I would not have been able to visualize before we locked ourselves into our houses. The earth goes on fine—it goes on so much better, without us. If we all were to die from this, which we will not, the planet would be such a healthier place.
When we come back out of our houses, the hierarchy that has held the earth prisoner for so long will slowly slip back into place and the earth will be once again the thing we exploit, the thing we wring every last drop of life from, even now, when it is so obvious we are close to the end of everything. No needs then but ours. But maybe for a little while longer, our needs will remain irrelevant. The sky is in charge, and the river, the owls, the elk, and the rabbits. No doubt they are all better custodians than we have been or will ever be.
This is a photo of Jordan. She is an Icelandic ewe, and as such she runs and leaps high into the air, as a way to intimidate predators (or sometimes, as here, just for fun). I call this photo Air Jordan (speaking of capitalism).
Jordan has survived all manner of things in her decade at the ranch, including the West Fork Fire and an attack from a 350-pound black bear who had her head in his mouth long enough to leave her with a necklace of incisor sized holes. She is the matriarch of the herd, has raised at least 12 lambs in the eight years she has been here. She stomps her little pointed hooves whenever the dogs come too close to the sheep fence and she butts full grown rams out of the way when the afternoon grain drops into the feeder. In Iceland, the ewes and lambs roam all over that wild landscape, and though Jordan and I have grown to love one another, I can see in her golden rectangular eye, she would do just fine without us too.
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.