The summer of 2020 has been pretty bleak. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many of us to the brink. Despair of businesses struggling or closed, workers without jobs, school openings uncertain. Many people are deeply depressed — even those who are fortunate enough to have been spared illness or the loss of loved ones to the virus. This depression has enveloped our thoughts and makes it almost impossible to be hopeful about the future. To be honest, I have not been able to sit at the computer long enough to type even a few pages for months. The days that lie ahead are nearly too threatening to allow me to care.
It is difficult to do much of anything in a group, so my greatest source of solace is to get outside alone and walk. In this I am joined, at least in spirit, by hundreds of thousands of similarly troubled people. The number of new birders and animal watchers that have come out of this bleakness is a shaft of light. New gardeners and botanists are some of the only encouraging signs I notice. Sales of “back-to-the-land” books are up and Chicagoans are getting in line (in proper social distant fashion) to see a couple of piping plovers on one of Lake Michigan’s beaches is incredible.
But I wonder: Am I the only nature-walker out there who feels a heightened sadness even in the presence of goldfinches mobbing a feeder, a pair of red-tailed hawks on a distant ash tree snag, a coyote standing within a herd of buffalo, or a six-inch brook trout rising from a cold stream to a fly? Do other people understand that all the of the national division associated with mask wearing, voting by mail, school shutdowns, foreign computer hackers, trade sanctions, and the presidential candidacy of Kanye West are diversions of attention from the real fatal crisis of our time? Certainly, I am not the only one who sees that this foolish, selfish ignorance threatens the very existence of those goldfinches, the red-tails, the ash tree, the coyote, the buffalo, the brook trout, the cold stream and indeed all of us?
It is tempting to believe that this summer of 2020 is a make-or-break time for this country. But what’s being touted as true crises are, in fact, diversions. What threatens this great country is not politics. It is our inability to cast off the curse of shortsightedness, take a good look at what is happening to our earth, and realize that the existential threat we face is a result of our pettiness and greed.
Photo credit: Jill O'Brien