Questions? Feedback? powered by Olark live chat software
Free shipping on orders over $250
March 25, 2020

55 comments

Tagged with:

Dan's Writings ›  



Print

Sharing Our Solitude

I’ve always been pretty good at social distancing. Hell, I’ve been practicing it for sixty years.
 
Writing and ranching are both solitary pursuits, so from the time of college days, I have pretty much lived alone. It has never been unusual to go for days without coming in contact with another human being. But, until the last few weeks, it has mostly been my choice to be alone.

dan o'brien sitting in a chair in office looking out

Like many people, I’ve heeded the warnings and instructions coming out of the radio every morning and sequestered myself. Jill is in Arizona taking care of her very ill mother (not sick with coronavirus), so the only inhabitants on this part of the ranch are me and my old friend, Gervase who lives in a small apartment over the barn, about a hundred yards from my house. We’re both old guys, so we laid down some rules for the siege that we knew was coming now for months: no new visitors to the ranch, one of us goes to town once a week for essentials, hand washing upon returning to the ranch. Once in a while the grand kids stop in, but mostly it’s just one day of solitude after the next.  

There are a million half-finished projects around the place, and I try to tackle one each day. A broken wire in a fence three miles from the house, a huge compost pile that has needed to be turned with the skid loader now for six months, dusting the hundreds of books in my office, watching for buffalo on the river breaks. Nothing that is essential. Mostly just hours of a lush’s solitude, thinking back to things that I should have done differently, listening to the dreary news on the radio, and wondering how my friends across the country are dealing with this taste of the apocalypse.

dan o'brien on horse

Loneliness has seldom been a bugaboo for me, but now it nibbles at the edge of my consciousness. I am bored and need a job where I can find some purpose. At night I sometimes dwell on that loneliness and can’t sleep. All day long I’m tired. I feel like the Ancient Mariner, cursed to be on a ship becalmed on a stagnate ocean. My ocean is one of grass and I haunt those miles of grass at odd hours in my Toyota Four Runner.  

Meadowlark

Beginning one morning last week, I heard the first male meadowlarks singing from fence posts as I passed. Their song through the car window has a penetrating quality that can connect you to the outdoors like a shot of electricity. That afternoon, I wandered to the far west pasture to a giant dam where the ice had receded a few days before. There is a feeling that sometimes descends on me and that is usually a bit of a thrill. It is the notion that no one on earth knows where I am. But that afternoon all was sad as sad can be. In time, the horned moon rose at my back and the sun began slipping behind the Black Hills. I reached the top of the hill above the dam, still a quarter mile away, and shut the Toyota down.

Dan O'Brien
It was chilly as the sun set but I rolled the window down and scanned the far bank of the dam out of habit. The evening was still as the shadow of the Black Hills crept across the prairie. Then, in a far corner of the dam, came a brilliant flash of an eerie white that baffled me. I felt for my binoculars without taking my eyes away from that spot of white, and with the tiny tweaking of the focus wheel, the brightness came as close as the hood of the Toyota. It was a pair of Trumpeter Swans, birds as large as an albatross that have rarely been seen on this prairie since man overran their habitat a hundred years ago. I had seen that young pair the year before, and they tried to nest and now it looked as if they would try again.

Prairie Playa

I studied them through the binoculars, and they gleamed like two exquisite pearls through a magnifying glass. They were settled on a small island in the tail-waters of the pond, the female lied down with the male standing behind. It was a perfect place for them to nest. Two exquisite creatures sharing our solitude: two long necks, arching like elegant parentheses. I lowered the binoculars, but the iridescence remained. Here was the job I needed. The promise of a brighter day. I will watch over those birds, day and night, until the curfew is lifted.

Photo Credit: Jim Henderson (first photo); Tahnee Janis (second photo); Jill O'Brien (remaining photos)


Comments

Sandy

March 25, 2020

You are so sexy! Oops….did I really just post that?

Christine

March 25, 2020

Reading like a meditation. Feel better now. Thanks.

Cyndy Lovejoy

March 25, 2020

Lovely blog post and photos, thank you. I hope those Trumpeter Swans have a successful go at it. That would be cheery news indeed.

Paul

March 25, 2020

I was down at the LaCreek Refuge some years back walking around in a cattail slough. I heard something “over yonder” so went to investigate. I soon happened upon some Trumpeter Swans. I had never seen them before and certainly had never expected to see anything so beautiful and regal. I certainly hope your pair are successful in their efforts to raise one or two.

Win Jenkins

March 25, 2020

Love this Dan. I feel that sometimes my job is to simply show up and feel the moment…whatever it is. It gives me a sense of purpose to utilize and focus my eyes, ears, breath and heart. While I am not as remote as you get to be, I am grateful that I live on a ranch that allows me to work as well as wander and observe natural life other than my own. Thanks for the beautiful important work you and Jill do.

George Frantz

March 25, 2020

Ahh, Dan… you are as much a poet as an essayist, and I thank you for your observation. As one familiar with the Black Hills and buffalo, your words have a strong current that carries my imagination through your rambles. We don’t get Trumpeters in Massachusetts (my exile), but we occasionally see a few Sandhill Cranes, which I sorely miss in the spring and fall.
Life has ground to a near halt here due both to restrictions by state and local government, and by informed choice. Still, the beat of life continues, although under a bushel. People still smile and wave, exchange pleasantries (from a distance) and wish each other well. Most will survive this outbreak; some will not.
I have a wish that feels more like hope; after Covid-19 has done its worst and is gone, I think we may be left with a sense of limited victory. Like a fighter after ten long rounds, bruised and bloody, but standing. I hope and believe that this victory may inspire us to face the even larger challenge of climate change, knowing that if we continue to be tough, and work together, we can improve our place. That’s the bright spot I think I see at the end of the tunnel.
Stay strong, share compassion and love from a distance, and be of good heart.

Andy Pearce

March 25, 2020

I too have been alone for much of my adult life, I am 61. Ten years ago I took a chance on a relationship that just ended, literally right when this virus became our new normal for now.
So now I struggle out of bed weighed down by sadness and 3 labradors, Funny thing is social distancing has been my normal life I have realized. I leave each morning with my dogs and seek solitude in state lands around my house and hike a few miles, then maybe I will go to the store for something.
Your story touched me Dan, thank you, and thank you for the Meat in my freezer I purchased from you to sustain me during these difficult times.
Andy Pearce.

Linda

March 25, 2020

Dan’s writing was a strong influence on my purchase of a house in the Black Hills. An excellent place to be self-quarantined. I am rereading Wild Idea right now. His writing grounds me in a way that I don’t experience with most other writers. Thanks for this, Dan.

pat

March 25, 2020

Be safe, Dan, and thank you, once again. Loneliness is just another word for nothing left to lose.

Suzy Spencer

March 25, 2020

Dan, I could imagine the thrill of hearing the meadowlark song. Craig and I venture out of town to catch the prairie songs each spring. But to have Trumpeter Swans on your pond, that is a magnificent moment that assures all of us that life goes on even in these chaotic times.
Thank you Dan, stay well.

Penny Arnold Fredlund

March 25, 2020

Dan, this is Penny from Findlay. This is one of your most beautiful posts. We live out in Seattle so these are troubling times indeed. Last week the trumpeter swans came through the Skagit Valley north of here and our little grandsons were as awed as you! It’s wonderful to read your reflections, Dan! Keep well. Penny

Ardath

March 25, 2020

The meadowlark photo lifted my spirits as little has since this saga all began. Your thoughts in many ways echo those I have ruminated on over the last few weeks.

I think that little yellow creature and the swans you describe so beautifully provided the message I needed today: sing and care for each other. Nothing much else truly matters.

Penny Arnold Fredlund

March 25, 2020

Dan, my husband just reminded me that we went up to see the snow geese migration not the swans, although there were plenty of them too!

Deanie

March 25, 2020

Oohhh! Like this so much! Thanks for writing! What a gift seeing those swans!! Do you think you might be able to get a picture? 🦢

Jane Nachazel

March 25, 2020

Heard an owl this morning. Micky and Mollie mockingbird may nest again in the orange tree next door. I work for the LA County Commission on HIV and usually work part-time from home writing up meetings – but now we’re all working from home and trying to reconfigure everything to the remote access world. Thank you for the break – both the meditation and the photos. In my heart, I hear the scrunch of the leather as I hoist myself into the saddle and the warmth of the mare as she shifts under me and prepares to walk out into the prairie. Peace…

Anna Marie

March 25, 2020

You’ve put into words what so many of us who have worked at home are feeling right now! Thank you for your gift!

Chuck

March 25, 2020

Rescued a trumpeter swan that had damaged a wing against a power line in the Cuyahoga Valley NP many winters ago. Years as a raptor rehabber came in handy as I tried to safely get that huge bird under control. Truly a magnificent creature. Hope yours are able to nest successfully. Stay well, Dan.

Nancy Barker

March 25, 2020

Thank you, thank you, thank you Dan O’Brien for sharing your solitude.

Phyllis

March 25, 2020

May the swans flourish! IS Hittle back of the ranch? Say hello for me. Keep well and safe and follow the beauty that you have sewn. you have and continue to give so much to mother earth.

Linda Garcia

March 25, 2020

Hi Dan,
I love your wonderful comments and pictures about the prairie . I’ve been a regular customer for many years and thank you and the bison for this healthful and delicious meat.
About the solitude—-I noticed at least 6 dogs joyfully frolicking with you. Any sense of company from them? I get a lot of energy and support from my canine companions.
Thanks , Linda

John St. Augustine

March 25, 2020

Thank you for taking me out of Chicago and on a short, private tour of your sanctuary. Your musings and messages are much appreciated. Think I’ll go sit in the sunshine in the yard for a bit-no bison-but it will have to do.

Eirik

March 25, 2020

I remember a book about trumpeters from Childhood. E B Whiite I think. Hang in there Dan. Maybe fly rods need a little preparation?

James E. Swab

March 25, 2020

Thank you, Dan. Wash your hands and stay well, for you have more writing to do and more compost to turn. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Gale Bishop

March 25, 2020

Dan, Thanks for the painting your words make of the Short Grass Prairie of my youth, when a student at sdsmt, and later as a researcher of fossil crabs in the Pierre Shale along the Cheyenne and along Indian Creek. I miss that land and it’s history … now at 77, more than ever! Enjoy each day for me, and I’ll try to do the same here in NE Iowa! Thank Gaia for another day!

eddie johnson

March 25, 2020

As eloquent as ever Dan.
It’s been a while….Hope all is well with you.

eddie johnson

March 25, 2020

As eloquent as ever Dan.
It’s been a while….Hope all is well with you.

Lisa

March 25, 2020

Well that’s it…just what I needed today. I was right there with you. Thank you!

Bon Pannier

March 25, 2020

Just read this post aloud to our home bound family..my husband, our adult son, his two children and myself. Kids 15+ and 11+. They were attentive…commented how lucky they are to be in the “Northwoods” where last night “an owl flew right by the living room window!” You write the feelings/ideas/values so many of us are tongue-tied to express, yet intuit as we tromp through these days of bewilderment. Our young people are our hope for the future of this blue planet we call HOME! Stay tuned to the youth of our world…and, keep WRITING!!! I’m reading EMINENT DOMAIN right now! Can’t believe my good luck at finding it in our used book store! Thanks for the words to express Dan! A follower, nobo

Blake O'Quinn

March 25, 2020

I so enjoy joining with you on your adventures in words. how easily you find your peace when focusing on what you love.

Lisa

March 25, 2020

The other Lisa expressed my feelings exactly! Thanks to both of you.

Greg Olsen

March 25, 2020

Alone and quiet….heard my first meadowlark, too. Peace.

Chris and Kim

March 25, 2020

Great writing Dan, as always. Your literary style is one that is always heartfelt and brings us right alongside you in your experiences on the WIB ranch. Thank you for sharing!

Judy

March 25, 2020

You write like a poet. I’m thankful to be able to walk every day with my dog in the mountains and just like your swans I today was awestruck by the bald eagle flying right above the tree line. Made me smile in this most grim of times.

Jerry and Norma

March 25, 2020

You are a true artist as your words form the pictures of what your eyes see so that we can “be there” too.
At least this time is forcing people to slow down and get back in touch with themselves and each other in their households. Good can come from this as we do as you did, Dan, and b still so we can see it.
Sorry to hear Jill’s mother is not well. May a good report come from this so she will be back with you soon. For now, watching over the swans is a good thing.

Charles Schilling

March 26, 2020

You brought back memories of a time and place I love…Montana. I heard that meadow lark in your writings. Thank you for stiring up my memories of 73 years. All the best to you.

Marie Tesch

March 26, 2020

Ah, the first Meadowlark each spring pierces one’s heart and dormant forces begin to move in one’s soul. As I wait for the SUN to rise in Maine, your writing brings hope to my heart.
Thank you.

Astrid Radiguet

March 26, 2020

Hi, great. I would love to be in SD To watch the spring coming out ! I live in France and cannot even go out to see and pet my 2 horses in their stables… so frustrating…
Take care and enjoy
Astrid (I met you in 2018 at your beautiful ranch)

Richard and Donna Fisher

March 26, 2020

Tuesday as we drove the Badlands loop, stopping at every overlook to feast on millions of years of time, the meadowlarks seem to be insisting that we note them, too. With you, we hope these enforced walks in our own wildernesses may spur our sense of why we must care about precious inter-related communities of human, animal, and plant life.

Prayers for your swans and our best to Jill, Gervase and the Wild Idea family.

Cheves Leland

March 26, 2020

Thank you, Dan – for the essay, photos, thoughts and the meat in my freezer here in the SC Lowcountry. We are all in this together, even though and while we are separated, some more than usual. Being used to solitude, I understand the feeling of being more alone because it is an imposed isolation. Makes little and big things even more important or more of a hassle, depending. I feel the loneliness, but the strength and courage also and thank you for it. Take care, stay safe and we all need to have lots of real hugs once this time of virtual ones is over.

Cheves Leland

March 26, 2020

Thank you, Dan – for the essay, photos, thoughts and the meat in my freezer here in the SC Lowcountry. We are all in this together, even though and while we are separated, some more than usual. Being used to solitude, I understand the feeling of being more alone because it is an imposed isolation. Makes little and big things even more important or more of a hassle, depending. I feel the loneliness, but the strength and courage also and thank you for it. Take care, stay safe and we all need to have lots of real hugs once this time of virtual ones is over.

Tress

March 26, 2020

You have a real gift of bringing the reader right on the prairie with you. Thank you Have enjoyed all your books and look forward to reading your newsletter.

Larry Pelter

March 26, 2020

Thanks Dan, I"m a city slicker artist now, sequestered with my wife in my house/studio in Eastern Nebraska. Spent part of my early life herding sheep in western Nebraska and working on a ranch in eastern Wyoming. As young as I was, even then I loved the solitude of spending days alone with a horse, two dogs and a thousand sheep on prairie land along the Nebr/Colorado border that occasionally yielded up the remnants of wild bison horns from years gone by. Long ago I traded the prairie life for that of a city dweller. Now my pottery studio is my wild land where I spends hours in solitude at my work. I do travel and spend time in western NE and the Black Hills very often not far from your ranch. Your meditation on solitude today stuck a note in my heart and created a longing to be back on prairie soon. Thank you very much.

Laural Bidwell

March 26, 2020

We’ve all suffered a jolt to the normal rhythms of our lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the changes. Sad, I’m sure, is how many of us feel. I watch, on the crane-cam situated at the Audubon Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, the annual gathering of the migrating cranes, to uplift my spirits. Nature is the grand healer.

Sharon Pociask

March 26, 2020

Thanks for sharing your beautiful prose.

Joyce

March 27, 2020

Your post calmed and soothed me. It also brought forth precious memories of the many hours I have spent in close-to-solitude at a remote ranch in Wyoming mountains where sandhill cranes visited. At home here in Virginia, since I am in my 70s, I rely heavily on nature to bring peace and so look forward to hearing the song of the white-throated sparrows that have not yet arrived. They are my meadowlarks.

Sion G. Hanson

March 27, 2020

I too, do not find difficulty in solitude. Optimism seems to be more elusive as I watch the events surrounding us. But, we will all march on as best we are able. I’m half done building 4 miles of new buffalo fence, and today I will be building some gates and stretching wire. Thats my optimism alive and well.

Deb finke

March 28, 2020

What I would give for a month or two of your life. Me and my camera and a stack of unread books plus boxes of photos needing organized. My life here in Colorado consists of 24/7 on call for an Assisted living home. Worrying that a staff or residents will get sick and trying to make sure we have supplies and food. Yes your life sounds mighty good to me right now

Jan Small

March 28, 2020

So eloquent, Dan, and such beautiful photos! Thanks for posting.

Lori Walsh

March 30, 2020

Thank you for this. I feel like it’s time to hear your voice on the radio again. Care to join us on air via phone?

Kitterie (from Pyrenees, France)

March 30, 2020

Through the Wild Idea window… Thank you so much for sharing this bright encounter.

Christine

April 01, 2020

What a story you tell. 😊 I can’t wait to here more. Pics of those babies when they come would be wonderful. Thank you for sharing that with us sir.

Nonie Johns

April 01, 2020

Dan thank you for the unforgettable experience of gettin up close and personal with a sweet hawk so many years ago. You brought her to a party and taught me how to not spook her. Thanks. You are one in a million..you old rancher, you. Live long.

Jim Grimes

April 02, 2020

I just returned from my solitary morning walk along Lake St Clair in Michigan and opened your email. The timing was perfect as I had just marveled in nature’s majesty while enjoying The flight of Canadian Geese, a pair of White Swans and spring’s early Robins. Thinking happy thoughts of my recently departed son you reminded me of what a wonderful world we live in even for a short time. Cherish every moment and pray that our current trials pass soon. Stay safe and stay well.

Doris

April 04, 2020

All at once, I can see it all . The mountains, The buffalo, the bird, the fields , the river , the damn and the swans . What beauty this world have for us now that we have stopped long enough to look at it all . Amazing read .

jeanne breton

April 05, 2020

Merci pour ce beau texte qui résonne ici aussi en France.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.