Mike with dogs in Colorado high country in the rain

Twenty Words During Lockdown, Day 20: Love

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 Terrain.org through June 20, the summer solstice.

April 26, 2020


For the last two months, I have spent every minute of every day with my husband Mike. We have been married almost two years now, have been together almost three. I have always said I am not the marrying kind. I am not only an only child, I am also a Capricorn. I am a goat walking up the hill slowly, and I like doing things my own way.

Each day we wake up one step further into the realization that our lives will never be the same. Covid is only part of that. The president is hellbent on civil war and to read the news each day is to understand he may get it. Like so many people, my income, my working life, my range of motion has been shrunk down to 1/100th of its former size, and all the people eager to breathe on me at my local post office to express their patriotism means I have stopped even getting the mail. There is no doubt in my mind that millions of Americans will be dead before the president is stopped or slowed down or held accountable, and Mike and I may well be among them.

I never asked for or wanted what my friend Fenton Johnson calls a fortress marriage, but now I am in one, through no fault of mine or Mike’s. We take turns having bad days, sad days, hopeless days, though I get five for every one of his. My father was so very Trumplike, and my childhood home was Trump’s America—everyone gaslighted and constantly taking tiny steps back. This feeling of being trapped under the thumb of someone who enjoys cruelty for its own sake is as familiar to me as my name. But I was alone in my childhood house and now I have an ally, someone who loves me truly, someone with whom I can stay and fight, or try to escape, or just try to find the small good thing about each day. Love under this kind of pressure is love scrutinized and illuminated. It is love tested, and found durable. It is cancer ward love, hospice love, although it is not one of us but our country that is dying.

Mike is building garden boxes in the yard so we can plant vegetables. He has taken over the job of feeding the rams, because one of them likes to take my knees out from behind. When I feel I don’t have it in me to continue to hope for a miracle, Mike takes me to the window, shows me Venus sparkling like hope itself in the indigo, post-sunset sky.

Mike with dogs in Colorado high country in the rain



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 Terrain.org 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.


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