The howling: Americans let it out from depths of pandemic

DENVER (AP) — It starts with a few people letting loose with some tentative yelps. Then neighbours emerge from their homes and join, forming a roiling chorus of howls and screams that pierces the twilight to end another day’s monotonous forced isolation.

From California to Colorado to Georgia and New York, Americans are taking a moment each night at 8pm to howl in a quickly spreading ritual that has become a wrenching response of a society cut off from one another by the coronavirus pandemic.

They howl to thank the nation’s health care workers and first responders for their selfless sacrifices, much like the balcony applause and singing in Italy and Spain. Others do it to reduce their pain, isolation and frustration. Some have other reasons, such as to show support for the homeless.

In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis has encouraged residents to participate. Children who miss their classmates and backyard dogs join in, their own yowls punctuated by the occasional fireworks, horn blowing and bell ringing.

“There’s something very Western about howling that’s resonating in Colorado. The call-and-response aspect of it. Most people try it and love to hear the howl in return,” said Brice Maiurro, a poet, storyteller and activist who works at National Jewish Health.

The nightly howl is a primal affirmation that provides a moment’s bright spot each evening by declaring, collectively: We shall prevail, said Director of Stress and Anxiety Programmes at the Helen and Arthur E Johnson Depression Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Dr Scott Cypers. It’s a way to take back some of the control that the pandemic-forced social isolation has forced everyone to give up, Cypers said.

“The virus’ impact is very different for everyone, and this is a way to say, ‘This sucks,’ and get it out in a loud way,” Cypers said. “Just being able to scream and shout and let out pent-up grief and loss is important. Little kids, on the other hand, are really enjoying this.”

Maiurro and his partner, Shelsea Ochoa, a street activist and artist, formed the Facebook group Go Outside and Howl at 8pm. The group has nearly half a million members from all 50 United States (US) states and 99 countries since they created it as Colorado’s shelter-in-place order went into effect last month. “We wanted to do this mostly because people are feeling isolated right now,” said Ochoa, 33, who works at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “I think it hit on something others needed.”

Why howling?

In California, friends and family of Ochoa’s would howl at sunset; in Brazil, where she lived recently, residents would cheer at sunset. Maiurro, who also works at National Jewish Health, and fellow poets would howl at the moon during back-alley poetry readings in Boulder.

“There’s no wrong way to do it,” said Ochoa. “People can subscribe any kind of meaning they want to it.” The couple suggest different themes for the evening howls, such as a recent “The Day of I Miss You”.