*Note: A slightly edited version of this essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on April 16, 2020. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below.
If all you’re hearing is bad news, then listen to Manitou Springs howl at eight o’clock each night.
A few minutes ahead of schedule, say, 7:56 pm or so, some few lone wolves get the show started. One voice can be heard at the beginning, and if you’re quiet and attentive, you can pinpoint its location. By the time 8 bells chime on clocks around town, dozens more have joined in until Manitou sounds less like the “hippie Mayberry” it’s been called, and more like a pack of wolves that haven’t seen each other in days, weeks, or even a month.
Life’s disrupted in Manitou, so people haven’t been able to see the sights they normally see. For nearly a month, the residents of Manitou Springs have stayed home, donned masks, and strayed from the typical rhythm of life in the small town next to America’s mountain. So, cooped up all day—at night, in Manitou, we howl.
It can be beautiful. Like bells at Christmas, or horns at Mardi Gras, it’s just the right sound at the right time. Voice by voice, each sound knits itself into the next until the unscripted choir weaves into a crescendo that ricochets around the rocky red valley.
I know why Manitou howls, but I’m not sure why any single Manitoid does. I can imagine at least one person does it because they’re frustrated at being stuck inside. Someone else rages at being out of work. Another likes the sound of their voice as it joins so many others. My kids just like to make-believe they’re actual wolves for a moment. (Or maybe puppies, I’m not sure.) A few probably have sick relatives, co-workers, and friends and just need to yell at an unfair world. Others let out a worry-filled yelp. A couple are grateful for brave health-care and other essential workers that keep society safe and afloat while in its virus-induced coma. A few are artists and everyone knows artists are down for a good howl once in a while, right? And some do it because there’s no better alternative when you’re stuck at home on a Covid-night.
Of course it’s not all great. You sometimes get the older kids kicking in with an ugly yell or “I hate this virus!” now and again. It’s understandable, if hard on the ears.
It’s tough to remember the time before Manitou howled, but sometimes I try. When I do, I fixate on the Manni Awards at City Hall, way back in late January. When Mr. Shanti Toll got up and told the attendees, “This is the day we are aware of ourselves as a community. This is special because…being aware and participating for the common good is the essence of all communities.”
For now, we can’t see that community, but if we close our eyes and listen at eight o’clock, we can hear it. Listening reminds us that the strength of the pack is the wolf and the wolf is the strength of the pack, as the expression goes.
In this global pandemic, there are many cities—from sea to shining sea, and well beyond across both of those seas—that shout together after sunset. In New York where the damage to lives and livelihoods has been the greatest in our country, “Every evening, in many neighborhoods across the city, cheering breaks out, in the way it would when the Yankees clinched another World Series title. It spills from the stoops and the sidewalks, from apartment windows and rooftops, for all the nurses, orderlies, doctors, E.M.T.s—everyone who cannot shelter in place and continues to go about healing the people of the city” reports The New Yorker’s David Remnick.
I’ve seen the videos and heard the audio footage online. It’s mesmerizing, breathtaking, life-affirming. It’s overwhelming, sometimes, to think that so many other parts of the world are doing the same thing as we are, here in Manitou.
But like a concert, it’s better to hear Manitou howl in person. Little Dorothy was right, there’s no place like home. And Manitou’s home, and it’s still here, and I know this because you can hear us every night at eight o’clock.