My Top 5 Photos of 2020

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To close out this tumultuous year, I’ve chosen five photos from my camera roll that captured some aspect of my life in 2020. Let the countdown begin!

#5: The Perfect Accessory for Wintertime Pandemic Socializing

We received a hot item for Xmas this year: a fire pit! I’ve wanted one of these for ages, but always talked myself out of buying one. “Would we really use it?” I wondered. But, with gatherings moving outside thanks to the pandemic, I can finally answer “Yes!” to that question.

#4: Nothing Says “Bored at Home” Like a Box of Perfectly Organized Casino Dice 

This photo beat out many, many pictures of the comfort food and baked goods we’ve been making this year. Somehow, those just seemed too pretty, conveying a cheery “We’re making the best of this!” tone.

But in reality, a lot of our at-home time was just… boring. Full of tedium and way too much screen time. And, underlying it all, the anxiety of not knowing what was going to happen next. The worry for loved ones and community members. The longing to have things make sense, the way they did Before.

Hence: this box of retired casino dice, which the kids organized one spring afternoon. Even if we had zero control over what was happening in the outside world, at least we could restore order to tiny little pockets of our own.

#3: I ♥️ My Neighborhood

This year, I’ve come to have a whole new appreciation for the neighborhood I live in. We moved into our house in South Seattle nearly seventeen years ago now, but I’m more grateful than ever to live in this place. Our neighborhood walks have revealed new treasures that we previously never knew existed, like this beautiful hillside walkway that my daughter and I stumbled upon in the springtime.

#2: Positive Cultural Shifts

Beyond the borders of my individual household, huge changes were taking place – and I’m not just talking about the pandemic. One of the most striking (and most important) shifts during 2020 was the cultural reckoning that took place around racial justice.

The only large gatherings I attended this year were protest marches, and oh my, they were both emotionally wrenching and completely soul-filling in a way that nothing else was for me in 2020. This photo was taken during a silent March for Black Lives that I participated in last June. Even though there were sixty thousand of us flooding the streets (in our masks, of course), the only sounds that could be heard were shoes slapping the wet pavement and raindrops falling on coat hoods. It was astounding. Powerful. Beautiful. And, above all, hopeful.

#1: Life Imitates Art

This unassuming snapshot of a crow may seem like an odd photo to choose as my #1 pic of 2020. But it captures a very strange, but important, aspect of my year.

In the midst of everything else, I was up to my elbows in a very big project: publishing my first two novels. This was the culmination of years and years of hard work, and that it all had to happen during this weird year was… unfortunate. Just getting the books out was struggle enough, but there was yet another troubling layer to it all.

Basically: my stories came true.

When I started writing these books eight years ago, I had zero inkling that a zoonotic respiratory infection (similar, but differing in a few key aspects, to the one described in my books) would change the world as we know it. And that wasn’t the only eerie coincidence. There were plenty more, cropping up all around and within me throughout the year. This crow was but one example.

It appeared in our yard Memorial Day weekend. A juvenile from the looks of it, small and rangy with downy white feathers in its wings (!!) and a blue tint to its eyes. It stood motionless on the stump, not moving even when the kids got very close. Something was wrong with it. Maybe it couldn’t fly. Maybe it was abandoned, or diseased, or all of the above.

I wished we could take it in, the way the Mirzapour family did in When We Vanished, but we have a pet cat (otherwise known as a feline huntress), and I knew that it wouldn’t work out well. The kids set out food and water and made a little nest for the crow in the backyard. At some point, other crows flew down and cawed at it a bit, and I convinced myself that it would be all right. The crows would figure things out between them, help the young one along somehow.

Sadly, I was wrong about that, and I’m sorry to say that the crow met a rather grisly end. As much as I try to put the whole thing out of my mind, it keeps haunting me. I’m not really sure what to take away from it. That stories are powerful? That nature can be brutal? Was it a kind of memento mori, a symbolic representation of the many kinds of death and grief that 2020 has brought us all? Perhaps that’s why this photo wins the top spot. It’s as enigmatic as this perplexing year, and it may take a while for its meaning – if it even has any – to reveal itself.

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone good health and happier times in 2021!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Brett

    Great Photos Alanna. That crow was so weird. It does feel like a lot of things in WWV and WSG really happened this year. I choose to believe it is because your fiction is so well written and compelling.

    1. Alanna Peterson

      Thanks, Brett! Yes, the crow thing was so strange. I like to think that these stories were just prescient (so that I don’t have to feel like it’s my fault for conjuring these things into being), but all these coincidences still feel rather eerie!

  2. Nathalie

    Happy New Year, Alanna! Good health and happier times to you too 🙂

  3. Pam

    Enjoyed this photoessay, thanks, Alanna. It does capture some of my paramount moods this year — especially the desire to bring order to my small corner to make up for the nonsensical outside world. The crow does seem more like an exemplar than a harbinger or messenger. He is small and perfect, but so isolated and so vulnerable, as I think we all felt at times. Underlying these photos I feel you as the observer, able to witness from a strong base of family.

    1. Alanna Peterson

      Thanks–I like that! The crow as an exemplar. So true that 2020 was a year of isolation and vulnerability. Not a comfortable place to be… but hopefully something we can learn from as we move on. And I do feel incredibly fortunate to have such a great family base supporting me through this rough year. Best wishes to you in 2021!

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