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Summer of 2020

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.

Dan O'Brien BisonIt 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.

GoldfinchesBut 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?

Sunrise through smokeIt 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 

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43 comments

  • Beautifully said Dan. Almost finished with your book Buffalo for the broken heart and am inspired at your ability to see beyond the dollar and work with the land and not against it.

    Julianne Geleynse
  • To misquote the Cowboy Junkies: Our country did not change, we have been revealed.

    The only thing keeping me sane is my morning 2-mile swim in Lake Erie and the hope that a bald eagle will fly over.

    Peace to you Dan.

    Chuck Beatty
  • A very real post, be strong don’t let negativity bring you down.All of us who admire what you’ve done need you… I’ve worked 50 years,am 66 years old. It took me this long to realize I can make a difference…,,

    Steve
  • Ah, if hate could only be ascribed to certain area. Alas, it is widespread in this country right now and I can tell you, trust me, rural areas have their sad share. What rural areas do have, though, that urban areas have too little of, as, Jeff Van Den Berg correctly states, is a more ready access to the natural world. That can be a solace if it is recognized as such for sure. Like Dan, though, I fear that this country’s love affair with short-sighted gain makes that less and less likely every day. We are still too prone to “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

    Linda Clark
  • Sad, but true. Our earth is dying, and it’s our fault. It makes me weep. In sorrow and frustration. Is no one else paying attention?!

    Liz Aicher
  • Dan, I could not have said it better, if you would have given me days to think about this. You just can’t fix stupid. As you know, we live in the North Gworgia mountains and it is a toss-up between Georgia and Florida as to who has the dumbest governor. To many people, in our part of the world are taking their lead from the current administration an could give a damm about their neighbor. Stay safe partner.

    bill

    Bill Day
  • No, you are not alone. I thank God for my home with a treed yard and small woods behind. When I sit contemplating nature, I do feel better, not so overwhelmed by the sad state of our country. We are so fortunate to have found your ranch for wonderful bison to nourish us and your words to encourage thinking. Thanks

    Marilyn
  • Would love to spend more time outside right now. However, in the city of Phoenix, today may be the 50th day of 110º+ weather. I will have to wait a bit to go outside here. We could drive north, but it’s iffy about what’s “open” there, and right now, the schedule doesn’t permit much time out of the city. I appreciate all the nature posts from you and others…

    Cynthia Gooch
  • The heaviness we feel in our hearts is far deeper than the political shenanigans that clammor for our attention.

    Diane
  • Too much hate is taking a huge toll on all people and the environment. People cooped up in urban areas seem to be spewing the most hate and destruction. Take a trip to a rural area and get back to our roots. Find peace for yourself and your fellow human beings.

    Jeff Van Den Berg
  • Dan, I cannot agree with you more. I am currently sitting in the middle of the largest ring of forest fires on record here in California. For days we minimized our ability to be outside because of the toxic brown air. These fires were caused by lightning storms due to the climate crises. The hurricanes now pressing down in the Gulf states are that side of the country’s climate crises caused calamity. If we as a country can’t get behind wearing masks for the health and safety of our friends, family and fellow citizens, how the heck are we going to be able to deal with the climate crises? This is a reckoning and one I am not sure we will rise up to solve.

    Tina Rath
  • Just maybe the world is better off without us? I am certain is was before and could be again. I know this is a gloomy outlook to some but what would those Goldfinches , Red Tails, coyotes, Bison or Brook Trout think? I know without asking.
    I do what I can to prolong my time and protect their time. The rest is up to others, I pray they are watching and listening as the Green Heron stalks another frog and the Sun rises to another hazy sky.

    Two Dog
  • Too true! Too much blathering for the sake of sound and not enough listening and reason.

    Leslie Littell

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