Horses playing on pasture
Photo by Pam Houston.

Twenty Words During Lockdown, Day 8: Creature

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 3, 2020


That is what we are, every one of us, though so many humans have forgotten.

And I suspect one of the reasons Covid is here, if there are any reasons Covid is here—this disease that happened because the ultrarich in China (and only the ultrarich) needed to impress their friends by eating wild creatures, that became catastrophic in this country because it was more important for a few senators to quadruple their millions in the stock market than it was for them to uphold the vow they took to protect us—it is to remind us of our creaturehood, to remind us of one of the most basic laws of natural selection which is that any species that overpopulates profoundly spoils its nest and dies.

Maybe a reason Covid is here, if there are any reasons, is to show us exactly how easily Earth will go on without us, how delighted she would be if we never came out of our houses again. Because we have forgotten how to walk on her like creatures, we drive on top of her on pavement, we fly over her like miniature gods. I am guilty of flying back and forth across her, so often, that before Covid the guilt was rising up and becoming a daily source of trouble inside of me. I love to fly, I love to go, but right now it feels so good not to.

Yesterday there was a mountain lion at the end of my driveway. This morning, in the chicken house, a ground squirrel stood up on his hind legs and challenged me for the scratch. There are so few cars on the road, so few planes in the sky, so few recreators in the mountains, I wonder if the animals think they are finally winning. And maybe in fact, they are. Maybe this is just the first of many self-inflicted plagues that will befall the humans or maybe even this time we will be locked up so long we will finally learn something.

My prayer for this time is that if and when we emerge, more of us will emerge more creaturely. My prayer for myself will be to remember that I am a creature, and need creaturely things, like seven hours of sleep a night, clean air and water, healthy whole foods, and time, each day, that is not devoted to working.

May we all find our inner creature these months at home, and then tend to her, heartily, when we emerge.  

Horses playing on pasture




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 first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.