A howling good time on Leverett Pond

  • Leverett residents howl into the night while gathered in front of the First Congregational Church of Leverett on Sunday. Every Sunday at 8 p.m., participating residents howl from their homes and can be heard across Leverett Pond. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Leverett residents howl into the night while gathered in front of the First Congregational Church of Leverett on Sunday. Every Sunday at 8 p.m., participating residents howl from their homes and can be heard across Leverett Pond. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2021 5:05:45 PM

LEVERETT — In the darkness, something vaguely like a coyote’s howl, but not quite, rings over Leverett Pond. It is quickly followed by another, coming from somewhere nearby. Then more. They’re answering one another.

This has happened every Sunday at 8 p.m. since not long after the pandemic began.

At first it was about thanking the frontline workers of the pandemic, at least ostensibly. In nearly a year since, it has become much more than that.

Portia Weiskel, who might be called the ringleader of Leverett’s howling community, said she was inspired by news reports from Italy of entire neighborhoods showing gratitude to frontline workers by going out on their porches and balconies to make noise at a certain time each day.

Then her daughter, who lives in California, mentioned that people in her neighborhood do something similar. Except, they howl.

“It’s a lot of fun to do something so unexpected,” Weiskel said. “To communicate with people without ever seeing them. There is something about that experience that has become mystical.”

Weiskel now writes a weekly email to a group of Leverett residents, reminding them not to miss their appointed Sunday night howling. But, to speak to some of them, it seems like they don’t really need the reminder.

“So many rituals have been suspended. This is like creating a new ritual,” commented resident Janine Roberts. “So much is being restrained or damped down with the pandemic. This is something where you can really let go.”

Though Weiskel has her email list, she doesn’t really know how many people howl each Sunday. No one really knows. Anyone can howl.

“You can, without exposing yourself (to the virus), communicate with everybody,” said Martin Wobst. “Let them know you are there, find out that they are there, and they are still able to howl.”

“It’s really this together-apart thing,” added Stacey Lennard. “When you hear it coming back, it’s delightful.”

Last summer, Weiskel got an unexpected response to one of her weekly emails. We’ve been howling for the frontline workers, the email said — but what about Black Lives Matter? The tone of the email seemed severe, Weiskel said, as if the howling had deliberately ignored something important.

“So I thought, why not allow people to howl for any reason they want?” Weiskel said. “The idea is, it’s about communicating something larger than yourself.”

“It’s everything,” said Cynthia Thomas. “It’s all the tension we’ve been feeling, either with the pandemic, with the political situation. ... It’s just cathartic.”

Thomas howls regularly. Her brother, Brooke Thomas, also lives in Leverett and also howls. He howls through a long cardboard tube, which he says projects his howl so powerfully that he can hear it echo back to him over the pond at least twice. Among all the howls to be heard on a Sunday night in Leverett, Cynthia says she knows exactly which one is her brother’s.

“We’re a pack. We know each other’s call,” she said.

Last summer, when a forest fire on Joshua Hill in Leverett raged for days, the intention of the howling was expanded again to include the firefighters, Weiskel said. In November, the weekend after the presidential election, a certain enthusiasm in the air seemed to make its way into the howling, she said.

“It’s escalated,” Weiskel said. “Who knows where it will end. We might end up cheering for a new planet or something.”

When or how the howling might end, no one knows. While the howling may have been spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic, some say it has grown into something else entirely, something that may have a life of its own apart from the coronavirus.

“I don’t really think it’s going to end abruptly,” said Cheryl Howland. “I think it’s going to take a year or two more before we feel safe-ish. We may be howling for a while.”

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.


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