top of page

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

It’s an understatement to say that 2020 has not gone according to plan, for any of us. In today’s That Thing With Feathers, Torrey House author Jonathan P. Thompson’s plans go to the dogs—one dog, in particular.


The Strays of the Pandemic

I’m not even a dog person, I thought, as I stared into the murk on a cold, late-autumn night. But right then, I had no choice but to do my best imitation of one. Somewhere down the dimly lit dirt road a gravely wounded canine shivered in pain and fear. This neighborhood, on the dilapidated fringe of Sofia, Bulgaria, was as foreign to her as it was to us. Leaving her would be to abandon her to a slow and miserable death from her injury, or a more violent one at the teeth of other feral dogs surely lurking nearby. Yet if we tried to catch her she might lash out, possibly exposing us to rabies.

“I’ll go get the car,” Wendy, my wife, who is a dog person, said. “You walk back there and see if you can find her and catch her.”

“But I…” I’m not even a dog person!

Just short of four years before that night, Wendy had called me from a job fair for international teaching gigs to tell me that we were moving to Bulgaria.

“Bulgaria? What the hell’s in Bulgaria?”

“A job.”

“Oh. Okay.”

We were living in Durango at the time, my hometown. Life there was way out of our price range, but it was pretty good. I had a great job. Our friends are there. The climate’s good, and I could go trail-running right out my back door. When Wendy had suggested trading it in for life abroad, I had assumed she meant southern Italy, maybe, or Provence. But Bulgaria? After hanging up I tried to imagine the country, and all I could conjure were visions of drab, gray buildings, drab, gray skies, and drab, gray cooked cabbage. I googled: “Where is Bulgaria?” “Typical Bulgarian cuisine.” “Trail running in Sofia.” “Wine in Bulgaria.”

Initially, the search results brought relief. Bulgaria wasn’t in the cold north, but in the temperate south, bordered by Greece and Turkey. Bulgarians didn’t eat boiled potatoes and cabbage and gray, rubbery sausages, but grilled meat and fish, fried potatoes with cheese on top, and tomato-cucumber salads accompanied by high-octane brandy called rakia. Sofia wasn’t surrounded by dreary plains at all, as I had imagined, but sat at the foot of a trail-addled forested mountain. It sounded great.