Twenty Words During Lockdown, Day 14: Tenderness

By Pam Houston

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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 through June 20, the summer solstice.

April 16, 2020


Jordan had her baby this morning, a little dark brown ewe we have named Becky. We generally wait and see if the lambs are viable before we name them, but Jordan is such an old pro at this and Becky is already so feisty. It’s good to have new life at the ranch when everything in the news cycle is death count. It’s healing to have a warm, curly-headed baby to cuddle, hopeful to watch Jordan lick Becky all over, then shove her back toward her udders, good to watch the baby climb all over Jordan while Jordan takes a rest in the hay.

I wonder when and under what circumstances we will begin again to touch each other. To give each other those five-second hugs that feel so good after a long time away. To grasp hands and hang on, to kiss in greeting, or farewell. I worry about the people sheltering without a partner, or a pet (except in the moments, few and far between, when my inner only-child envies them). To not be touched at all, for two months or six or 24. How will this change the national psyche? And even if there is a vaccine, who will be kept from receiving it? (We already know the answer.) When will we believe in its efficacy? (By that time no one will be left alive who trusts the word of the federal government.) Will we develop something along the lines of the Japanese bow? And all those photos cheek to cheek with my students, my girlfriends, those skin-sharing photos. Are those archives now from a time gone by?

What will tenderness look like in the absence of touch? We will have to use more words and better ones. We will have to learn how to hold each other’s hearts with our eyes.

Pam holding newborn lamb



Pam HoustonPam 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.
Read Pam Houston’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by and Trinity University Press and view a video of Pam reading her Letter to America as part of a Dear America town hall.

Photos courtesy Pam Houston. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.