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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  • 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.

    Tim Evans
  • 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.

    Dale Trottier
  • 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.

    Vernon Cross
  • 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.”

    Jim Willard
  • Dan

    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.

    Steven Sides
  • Dan:

    Yes, I too am saddened, frustrated and worried about the future, but we have to continue trying to save the planet. I’m roughly the same age as you. Somehow, we have to maintain a level of optimism sufficient to pass to the next generation. After all, they’re the ones that will have to maintain this planet into the future. The great thing that youth can provide is a Can-Do attitude and we need to nurture that.
    You and Jill have created a remarkable model for the future—a way to preserve an ecosystem through a humane harvest that also pays its way in life. Moreover, you’ve raised a family that shares your values and they’re raising kids that also appear to share those values. There’s reason for hope—and we need that to summon the necessary action.
    I also understand your frustration about the shortsightedness of the population with regard to the dangers facing this planet. But I’ve also come to realize that leadership—positive leadership—will probably come only from a small number of people willing to tackle the formidable tasks. As a ship’s engineer with an interest in ecology, I realize that the future of humanity depends on the machinery of nature. Having lived through a collision and a disastrous fire (two separate incidents) and other seagoing events, I can truly say that there’s something very satisfying about saving a sinking ship.
    Regards from Keith, Block Island, R.I.

    Keith A. Lewis
  • Keep fighting the good fight. Those are the words you gifted to me in a short personal note written in response to a despairing letter I’d written you over a decade ago. Please do keep fighting the good fight. Above, Two Dog wrote eloquently = I do what I can to prolong my time to protect their time (the lives of all that live on this earth). This morning I work up thinking that I don’t want my presence now to bring about the deaths of the life around me, The glimmer of hope I feel now is found in the thoughtful, heartfelt responses to your writing: there are a lot of us “out here” doing the best we can to let you – support you and those around you – do the best you can. Prayers in the air sent your way.

    Pat Wood
  • Dan,

    When this pandemic started it was late winter up in Idaho. The crazier things got the more I noticed things were pretty normal in the woods away from human technology and news channels.

    Being an outdoors guy it was easy to find my daily dose of normal in the woods..What I found out there was more of my self.

    I’ve since made the move to a small ranch where I have an unlimited honey do list and my daily chores are entirely focused on managing my trees, grass and fixing fence. I have little time for watching tv so I don’t..

    My hope is that we all find more of ourselves in nature and intern recognize we are all part of one family.


    Bill Hager
  • Thank you Dan once again for sharing these thoughts, sad as they may be. And once again, thoughts so well expressed. I regret so much not coming to see you in September with another group from Grenoble. My absence last year was due to personal health problems, fortunately not serious, but this year the entire world is facing such serious health issues and adding to that the economic crises, and American racial conflicts, political divisions and now my home state Louisiana being hit hard by Hurricane Laura. Thank you for getting behind your computer again to keep getting your message out, refocusing on the greatest threat to all of us.
    (We’ve rescheduled our trip for September 2021….fingers crossed.)

    Jane Baile
  • I agree for the most part, and I think we all need to help each other as much as we can. However this seems more like a diary/journal entry and less of an article…. My point is what exactly do you accomplish by putting this info out into the world? I guess I was expecting some sort of actionable advice at the end because I received an email solely about this article. Peace.

    Gordo Cooper
  • As said in the movie, No Country for Old Men…“…Ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity”. I guess I’ve had enough of what “they say” "star’ ink in this and other countries. But in the end each of us is the same as all others. We just keep moving forward with life…like all others before and after us. To think otherwise, that we are more important, or have a better “calling” … compromises our ability to be and do “good”. Then again, what is “good”. Everyone thinks they are good….. and if for a moment they, or others, think they aren’t …. all they have to do is “repent, repent”. (Future by Leonard Cohen). If I resist having my life made into a movie that is my “life” to go forward with. If Dan doesn’t want to write anymore then he still has the identity for himself. Vanity just ends with “a legend in his own mind”. Clint Eastwood quote

    bob jackson
  • I encourage all of us to take back our power. We can’t be complacent any more, because this is most likely our only time to get it right. Vote, fight for what is dear, help others, focus on seven generations into our future. Yes, it seems bleak at times, but our parents, grandparents, faced what seemed insurmountable too. Find hope in doing what is moral and ethical. Make some good trouble.

  • I encourage all of us to take back our power. We can’t be complacent any more, because this is most likely our only time to get it right. Vote, fight for what is dear, help others, focus on seven generations into our future. Yes, it seems bleak at times, but our parents, grandparents, faced what seemed insurmountable too. Find hope in doing what is moral and ethical. Make some good trouble.

  • Dan, I have really enjoyed reading your books and observing ranch development from afar. You give hope to those of us who do not confuse the notion of dominion with that of stewardship. Take heart that your admirers recognize and appreciate that you and your family are making a positive impact for us all.

    Ron Sidener
  • Linda Clark: Thank you for clarifying my comments so eloquently. This is what discussion is about. Appreciate your intelligence and insight.

    Jeff Van Den Berg

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