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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  • Thank you Dan for expressing my thoughts so well. Here in Iowa, we are recovering from the August 10 straight line wind that blew through Grinnell and destroyed many of our beautiful old trees, tore roofs off houses, flattened gardens, and did a good deal of other damage. We were without power for eight days. Now California is burning and a serious hurricane is bearing down on the gulf coast. Yet people continue to deny climate change—the biggest crisis we face. Time is running out and meanwhile we fight over relatively inconsequential things that should not even be issues. It is a bleak and frightening time.I fear for my children’s future.

    Barbara Tabbert
  • Isabelle Tree’s memoir WILDING gave me some hope. For all of us experiencing profound environmental grief, it may be some small comfort to remember the biology of the earth is not ours. Our human thinking is terribly flawed. Our cumulative actions and ignorance have terrifying, heartbreaking consequences. However, we are a brief blip in the earth’s history. With or without us, the earth will survive.

    Beth Kinder
  • Well written Dan!! Sadly, the masses are being caught up in the over hyped sensationalism of the instant gratification media. Fewer and fewer seem to filter their sources, research facts or have a quest for furthering their knowledge.
    But not to despair! There are still plenty out here that choose to make a difference in the world not only for themselves, but for the world they leave their children and grandchildren. And that is a noble legacy. Keep up the great work and look to your own grandchildren to see how you are making that difference.

    Chris and Kim
  • “Bless the Beasts and the Children, for they have no voice, they have no choice.” I think of this challenge every day, many times a day, as I read of starving children globally, including our own country, and watch as animals, fish, foliage and other living things suffer unnecessarily, out of the order of life and natural procreation. We, the purported most advanced species known, are falling short of our mandate and our ability to protect and cohabit this beautiful world. It is up to each one of us to speak up, act, demonstrate humanity at its finest, and allow our vision to reflect not a smoky sunset, but a beautiful world that we must fight to preserve. My gratitude to Wild Idea for keeping their corner of our world so beautiful and natural. Thank you, Dan, family and staff for all you do and all you share. If we could clone you, life would indeed be full of hope.

    Rob Etter
  • Hello Dan. I feel what you feel. Or, maybe, I no longer feel. I wish I had an insight to share, but I don’t. I do walk in silence with you. To borrow from Dire Straits – “Brothers in Arms”. Take care, Good Sir. Doug in Derecho Iowa

    Doug Page
  • Courage and strength to you and your family. Please keep writing as much as you can, it is such a comfort to hear the voice of a sound and intelligent mind. Seven years ago, a friend gave me a copy of “Buffalo for the Broken Heart”, and reading it was an important part of some changes I have since made toward a healthier life. For your writing, your dedication to the earth, our encouragement, and your goodness, you have my heartfelt thanks.

    Holly S.
  • Dan, you bring us a critical question of balance in this life. our heart knows what is right, but we know a mind can easily be led astray, change direction in an instant. little wonder we distrust much. how do we convince a mind which negates the heart its truth? do they also enjoy the peace you wrap yourself within? do they understand your distress in this?

    and yet, it seems those holding power refuse to listen, as if they are entrusted with truth as well. must the entire world disconnect from what powers them to get their attention? it seems so. they run headlong for the cliff! should we act as brazen in opposition?

    we all must continue in confidence our principled ways. we continue to communicate with those contrary to the natural world, just as we continue to feed our heart what it must have to survive. we continue to work to replace what separates each of us from one another. hearts whispering truths to minds.

    this continues to be a process for us, much like a gurgling stream running its course. but sometimes we must alter the course for good. does water know fear?

    you are an amazing writer! thank you, Dan, for your heartfelt words.

  • You are not alone! These are also my biggest concerns echoed by numerous commenters. Sadly, hope is fleeting, ebbing and flowing like the oily waves. A new administration would help, but I am convinced that bigger changes than Biden-Harris would muster are needed to possibly keep our boat from sinking. Thank you so much for sharing what’s in your heart and mind.

    Debra Gordon-Hellman in AL
  • Thank you for being you and all you do and have done for the world. I hope it helps you to know that your posts help all of us who feel as weary as you, tired of having to fight for what is right and of feeling we aren’t heard. you are heard and you do do make a difference, to us and to the world, maybe most obviously to your land and the Great Plains, but your words are seeping out, borne by wind and water and lifting us up. Thank you.

    Cheves Leland
  • I have enjoyed your posts as well. And my first order of meat was totally satisfying. I live in a beautiful area of Pennsylvania With lots of access to nature and wildlife. We do our best to preserve the ranches and farms ; the overload of apartment buildings and offices here in Chester County have greatly increased my sadness. I thank God for living in a community that has preserved the land and is an Audubon sanctuary. I am headed back to Colorado for a while where I will be saddened to see destruction from fires, though not as rampant as California.
    I love your writing and hope you continue. I met you last year and am so pleased to,know you and your work. Keep the faith. There are many who share your vision. Thank you for that.

    Sue R Carey
  • It’s sad to see you hurting, but having read your memoirs about bison raising, I’m encouraged to think you again will find solutions in your corner of the world. Most of us only get to affect our own corners, and hope we can elect representatives who will guard the greater expanses. Don’t despair— take a hike! Wander the open spaces, listen to the breeze, smell the grass, contemplate the perfection of a dandelion, watch a hawk, hum, and return home soothed. Peace.

  • Please keep writing. It’s a joy to read even if the message is troubling. Your voice is needed.

    Cynthia Baker Burns
  • Your fine novels and memoirs are what has sustained me during this crisis. I am so fortunate to have discovered your work. It is all connected. And you need to keep putting words on the page. It is more important now than ever.

    M Sarki
  • Dearest Dan ,yes the future is dull, but but we have to look at birds flowers bisons and in our heart to have the strength to go on in our faith
    Love to you
    Claude the Swiss girl

  • 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

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