Bathtub with view of high country and mountains through windows

Twenty Words During Lockdown, Day 2: Unknown

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.

March 25, 2020


Spring in the high country can be dreary, it’s the only time of year that is. Freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw, and just when the mud dries out, it snows another six inches. Today is one of those days, steel gray sky and 35 degrees with 20 m.p.h. winds, incessant. I do so much better when the sun is out, even when it is 20 below.

I am an admitted workaholic. I am still working, every day, but much less than usual, because of the many (40 and counting?) cancellations in my schedule. The big unknown to me is who even am I, if I don’t have more work than I can possibly get done bearing down on me? Who am I if I lie in bed and read a book that I have not specifically assigned to students at one of my several jobs. Who am I if a bath—a long bath—becomes a regular part of my evening. (I hear the privilege in everything I am saying here.) I can see already that I might like it more than I would have suspected. I can see already that it is possible I might not go all the way back.

How long will we be sheltering in place, how long before we give each other hugs again? How many people whom we love will die, how many will lose their livelihoods? How will I pay my mortgage with 40 and more cancelled gigs? What will this global catastrophe teach us? Can we make do with less of everything, less travel, less money, fewer things, fewer options? Will we go back to eating according to what’s in season? Or what is grown within a hundred miles of where we live? When we have been still for one month or six or 20 or 100, will we wonder what we ever saw in all that scurrying? Will we learn to value clean air and water above everything? Will we throw our support behind healthcare for all? Will we put our faith back in science, in education, in experts? Will we shoot one another over the last face mask, the last roll of toilet paper, the last baby wipe in the otherwise empty aisle of the store?




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.