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 


  • Posted on by Tim Evans

    Hello Dan,

    I haven’t plowed through all of these comments, so, maybe it has been said already. Doesn’t overpopulation contribute to our downward spiral more than anything else?

    Enjoy the moment.

  • Posted on by Dale Trottier

    Hello Dan!

    Just coming upon this post now as you and the folks at Wild Idea Buffalo Co. have recently come to my Attention. Your Heartfelt Words Shared here ring True in my spirit.

    “With much Wisdom comes much Sorrow… yet Joy comes in the Morning”

    In the Words of Wisdom Shared through John Muir “One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the Morning of Creation, that mountains and valleys long since conceived are now being born, channels traced for rivers, basins hollowed for lakes; that moraine-soil is being ground and outspread for coming plants, coarse boulders and gravel for forests, finer meal for grasses and flowers… which, like fluent, pulsing water, rise and fall and pass on through the ages in endless rhythm and beauty.”

    May the Dawn of each new day Serve as a Heartfelt Reminder to us all that the distraction of darkness will never overcome the Light of Love we are Wrapped so Gently in.

  • Posted on by Vernon Cross

    Hi Dan. . .you voice a yearning heart. It is right to do so. Here in NH summer breezes blow through the sun dappling trees after one big day’s rain. Yet, when the big picture gets too anxiety inducing to ponder, I have to go even larger to a place where we will need each other like few can still recall, or narrow my gaze to the garden in the yard, and marvel at all the creatures helping me with the harvest. Brazos hombre. Compa mayor. Maestro.

  • Posted on by Jim Willard

    Thank you for your thoughts, Dan. These are difficult times for those of us who care about tomorrow. I write a regular
    newspaper column and a newsletter. I recently printed John Donne’s “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions” and share the
    last few lines here: “Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.”

  • Posted on by Steven Sides


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, angst, and depression. I feel them as many of us do. Clearly, this country has suffered dearly from short sightedness for most all of its history. There are certainly bright spots. Wild Idea buffalo is one, but there are so many others as well. Young people forging new realities with food, with environmental conservation, climate change, and on and on. Sometimes these bright spots seem to get lost in the melee. Clearly we are awash in distractions but I also believe that we are in a make or break moment of reckoning in this country. These distractions as you call them, seem to me to be simply manifestations of our short sidedness. To me, it is not that voting for a new direction in this National election will solve the myriad of problems we must reckon with. The make or break to me is whether we choose hope. If we have hope, we have a chance to break away from our short sightedness.

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