Horse eating hay

Twenty Words During Lockdown, Day 5: Dirt

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 30, 2020


Dirt is the ever-expanding patch in the pasture where I feed the horses. I’m cheering for it to grow, in these slightly warmer days, so that my old boy Deseo doesn’t have to stand on snow pack anymore until November, so that he can make bigger circles than he has made all winter to get his old hips loosened up, so that he can start drinking fresh water out of his favorite spot at the creek.

Two weeks ago this patch of dirt was ten times smaller. And two weeks before that it wasn’t here at all. It won’t be long before the bluebirds are back, and just after that, the wild iris will start pushing their heads up through the snow, the aspen will get their catkins, and then overnight will leaf out all at once to an almost fluorescent candy apple green. The willow trunks along the creek bed will go gold just before budding. If we get a little rain there will be peepers on the wet land and the 120-acre pasture will start to sound better to the equines than the bale of last summer’s hay I’ve been feeding.

They’ll spend most of the day in the spruce trees at the base of the hill where the homesteaders are buried because the shade there makes the grass sweeter and long. But they will still come back to the barn every morning for their apples and carrots and a check-in, a neck scratch, an ear rub, maybe the butt end of a head of romaine lettuce from last night’s salad. Covid or not, we are moving into the season where it is great to be a horse.

Horse eating hay



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.