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That Thing with Feathers: Hope and Literature in a Time of Pandemic

Sheltering in Place with the Quammens, a Python, and Prince

After solitary months spent writing American Zion, Betsy Gaines Quammen was looking forward to hitting the road to visit indie bookstores across the country. Coronavirus, of course, meant re-envisioning her book tour. THP has partnered with the independent bookstores she would have visited for a series of live-stream conversations between Betsy and her spouse, writer David Quammen. Catch Betsy and David from the comfort of your couch at the Facebook pages of these bookstores: Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho (April 4 at 7 PM MT); Third Place Books in Ravenna, Washington (April 15 at 8 PM MT); and Elk River Books in Livingston, Montana (April 23 at 7 PM MT) as well at the Torrey House Press Facebook page during each event. In this latest installment of That Thing With Feathers, Betsy and David parse through their emotions—and listen to Prince—as they shelter in place.


Before Montana governor Steve Bullock’s “shelter in place” order, the parking lot of our local ski area was packed daily with cars. Bozemanites continued to gather at the community-owned resort, though it was closed for the season, skinning up so they could ski down the broad face of our beloved Bridger Mountains. After their runs, they’d hang out, drinking beers under a Montana spring sun that distracted them from the process of contagion. As a result, our county, Gallatin, has more cases of COVID-19 than any other county in the state—we are nearly double the cases of the county just behind us, Yellowstone, the location of the state’s most populous city, Billings. Our community is in trouble.

We are sequestered in our home, but still I feel uneasy. Unease, one feeling among many—I’ve got a lot of feelings going on right now. I am angry at the people who flocked together, skiing and partying while possibly shedding and absorbing virus, then maybe taking it to our doorknobs, grocery aisles, and gas pump handles. Would I have done that as a twentysomething? Not, I don’t think, if I understood what was at stake. But there has been no consistent or honest messaging or reliable federal leadership since COVID-19 started its insidious spread through the United States and into our town. Our current administration began by defining COVID-19 as a trifling matter, no worse than a simple seasonal flu, or, even more egregiously, as a hoax. So in addition to uneasiness, among my many emotions right now is fury; we could have dealt with this so much better if everyone had been informed, proactive, and prepared.

We are now facing a worst-case scenario, in terms of