When the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic was ravaging Italy, quarantined Italians reclaimed their social bonds by coming out onto their apartment balconies in the evening to sing opera together. Spaniards leaned out their windows to clap and cheer for hospital workers passing by on their morning commute. Now Americans have found their own, more Western way of affirming solidarity while maintaining social distance: Each night at 8 p.m. local time, they’re stepping outdoors to howl at the Moon.
By all accounts, the new custom began in the vicinity of Denver, Colorado, the brainchild of friends Shelsea Ochoa and Brice Maiurro. The Facebook group they started on March 27 to promulgate the practice, Go Outside and Howl at 8 p.m., now has more than 550,000 members. The founders simply meant to give people a way to let off steam and feel connected, but others have decided to dedicate their neighborhoods’ nightly howlfests to commemorating healthcare providers, other essential workers or the victims of the virus. Members of the very busy Facebook group regularly post their intent to howl tonight in honor of a deceased or absent loved one, a family member who is struggling with mental illness or gender identity, a community hero or organization that is staunchly providing needed services. There are threads for selfies, humor, pet pictures, art, music and recovery stories.
The howling movement has already spread all over the US and to countries as far-flung as Sweden, Cambodia, Egypt, New Zealand and Peru (half a dozen of the Facebook group members identified themselves in a poll as Wakandans). Participants are encouraged to post to social media using the hashtag #howlat8. And now Woodstockers are doing it, night after night, spurred on by Omega Institute co-founder Elizabeth Lesser.
“A few weeks ago, one of my sons sent me a video of a Full Moon sky and the sound of howling in the distance. He explained that all over his area of Marin County, California, people were howling at 8 p.m., as a way of feeling connected to each other and their communities. Kind of like the feeling of solidarity wolves must feel in a wolf pack. Turns out, people are doing the same thing all over the country,” writes Lesser. “I decided to start a group here in Woodstock. We already are a very friendly, help-each-other-out neighborhood, so I had the e-mail addresses of about 20 families in the ‘hood. I e-mailed them and we began howling at 8. The first time we did it, I was filled with a sense of love for humanity! A beautiful early spring night, and the sounds of grownups and children calling to each other across the hills and streams.”
Lesser’s daughter-in-law Eve Fox, who lives within earshot, was among the first neighbors to get on board. “We are a family of four (we have two boys ages 10 and 7) who have taken to each howling from a different corner of our house, as it gives us the ability to hear the answering howls better. The kids love it, and sometimes set a timer to remind us when 8 p.m. rolls around each evening,” says Fox. She reports that another neighbor, A. C. Newman, the lead singer of the band the New Pornographers, “has discovered that he has a very loud and musical howl.”
“In these times of grief and division and fear, I feel restored during the four or five minutes of howling each night,” Lesser says. “One night I went out to howl and it was just me. I now know how a lone wolf feels. Some nights my husband and I forget to howl. But most nights at least a few of us come together, call to each other and feel connected again.”
Meanwhile, in Kingston, an effort is underway for local churches to ring their bells at 7 p.m. to thank and support local healthcare workers, with neighbors encouraged to join in by cheering, banging pots and pans or chiming in on social media. The hashtag for this effort is #LetKingstonRing. To learn more about the international howling movement, visit www.facebook.com/groups/howlat8.