Thursday, July 9, 2020


Having just completed one book manuscript, with another one due at the end of this year, I don’t have time for the angst and depression that grips me currently. The global pandemic has impacted all of us in a myriad of ways, only to be compounded by personal challenges that each of us face. What does this have to do with entomology? Nothing. Everything.

Yeah, I'm in there somewhere....

While I am not cavalier in my approach to covid-19, the virus has not, by itself, caused me panic nor worry. It is not the reason I stay indoors. More on that later. I am in a very privileged place compared to many people and can weather at least a degree of economic upheaval. I am relatively healthy physically, though that does not necessarily mean I would have a mild case if I contracted the virus. Many patients that “recover” still have chronic, debilitating illnesses that may last the rest of their lives. The press has not emphasized this.

What is most stressful is the selfish reaction of so many to a catastrophe that impacts everyone regardless of race, sex, economic status, religion, or politics. The best analogy I can make for my own experience is the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I feel like I walk today among pod people who have no understanding of science, no empathy for anyone else, and who devote all their energy to shaming those who do possess those qualities. I have decreasing patience daily.

Also in the current social pot is simmering racism, and the complementary intolerance of that continued bigotry. The cauldron reached the boiling point in May with the murder of George Floyd by police officers. Much like our collective reactions to coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter protests have revealed a schizophrenic socio-political divide where monuments to confederate figures are held more sacred than the lives of contemporary humans suffering from systemic, institutionalized oppression, if not outright violence.

Let me make this clear, at the least: white privilege deserves to be challenged, to be eroded, to be leveled. As events unfold, I ask myself consistently whether this is a sacrifice I am willing to make. So far, the answer has been an unequivocal “yes.” I can live without the statues, even if they are works of art. I would rather have a celebration of indigenous peoples than recognize Columbus Day. I love football, but the Redskins must change their name. I am willing to be educated about the racist flaws of all historical “heroes.”

Until last month, I would make a daily walk through my neighborhood. Some days I would go to the top of the hill, a vast former landfill that had metamorphosed into a degraded semblance of shortgrass prairie, and look for insects, birds, and other wildlife. I lost the fight to preserve it, and now bulldozers have rendered it a denuded plot for a housing development. I have not been on a walk since I first encountered the machines. It is too painful.

I am left without a refuge now, and given that my spouse can no longer carpool to work, I also have no way to escape to another nature spot. Even if I did, I would encounter far more people than I did up the hill. It matters less and less to me as I feel resigned to the continued burning of the world. I just don’t want to watch it any more. My daily walk is now limited to getting the mail.

Were it not for my wife, and my current obligations to publishers, I’m not sure I’d be making the feeble efforts at survival and routine that I somehow manage. My short-term memory is fading, to the point that today I could not recall, in the space of even twenty seconds, whether I had taken my allergy medication. Why can’t that phenomenon apply to memories and situations I want to forget? Why must any of us be tortured that way?

Friends recommend taking a break from social media as one way to limit negative input, but then you also limit positive stimuli. Ignoring reality is not a healthy way to navigate your life, either, but the human race in general has never been even adequate at coping skills. My message to myself is to accept that you are going to have slumps in productivity, fall into bad habits, and otherwise be a wreck periodically. It won’t last forever.


  1. Your essay is wonderful, personal, honest, and needed. We came upon your blog in trying to identify an Obscure Bird Grasshopper that visit a driveway Coneflower. In trying to identify it, my wife, a retired librarian, found your blog and enabled us to identify the OBG. With gratitude and best wishes. Mike O’Hare (IG: ohareinatchison)

  2. Sorry to hear about your troubles. I have never met you, but I do have your Field Guide to Insects book. I am still attempting to recover from a divorce I had a couple of years ago. While the personal loss and loss of trust were devastating, I also found that leaving the area where I had spent lots of time photographing butterflies and other creatures hurt as much. I am no longer so close to such a nice habitat. Hang in there.

  3. Eric, what a touching and real essay. I couldn’t have said it better. I too have had similar feelings/ experiences. Sorry about your hilly open space. Loosing something as precious as that leaves a void. When I was growing up in the outskirts of San Francisco, there were dairy farms dotting the coastal hills. That was my backyard. It was an oasis, complete with lovely wildflower blooms each year. Like the pics we see if the carizzo plain down in central Ca. Anyway, the bulldozers came , the canyons were filled, and to this day I look at the 40-50 homes and see my lovely nature hills, in my minds eye. I hope you get a rekindling if your enthusiasm and energy. It is a challenge when everything around us seems to be imploding. Bright note, saw a few monarchs lately. Trying to point them to the milkweed. They seem to like the nectar of the onions I let go to flower!
    Good luck on your continued work on your manuscript.

  4. My mom had a favourite Bible quote, King James Version, misinterpreted, and taken out of context: "It came to pass ..." I see her point now.

  5. Thanks for your honesty and sincerity. You are an inspiration to so many people, including myself. Please hang in there through this awful time, and let's hope that when this thing is over, more people will have an appreciation for nature and for each other.

  6. I am sorry that the world is pulling you down right now, I get it and have to go news free for days at a time. But you are right, it is temporary and you will get thru this. It is going to really suck for a while, pandemic and leading up to the election do not add up to a happy society and the hatefulness is very likely to increase. I don't have any earth shattering suggestions, I am fortunate to live out of town and can get out and away from everyone to keep my sanity. Are there any parks/arboretums within walking distance? can you take public transportation? I realize that is fraught with risk these days. Hang in there and thank you for putting this into words, I'm sure you are not the only one feeling this way and I don't say that to minimize how you are feeling. Take heart and look at all of the great things that you have done sharing your knowledge and encouraging others to at least appreciate insects and helping those of us who love them to learn more. We value you!

  7. Keep on keepin' on. The heat death of the universe approaches, but that's no reason to not enjoy as much as possible for as long as possible. All growth is painful, and humans lurch forward in a stumble. We still move forward, so try not to lament the pace. Is there a place you can commune with nature with less frequency? It may be well worth the effort to find such a place you can drive to, even if only on weekends. One day at a time we'll get through this.

  8. The current cluster of events is greater than the sum of its parts. I think the treatment is to focus on what each of us can do. We can't cure racism, intolerance, climate change and the pandemic but we can encourage each others to take an emotional bite at a time as we eat the elephant of angst.
    Read the news....twice a day and never after 6PM.
    Call old friends and catch up, not just "how are you doing?" but what are they doing in life.
    And focus on what you can do to make the world better. I know what you can do, one bug at a time. They are easier to eat than a Covid elephant.

  9. Eric, Hope things have gotten better since the July 9th entry. I myself am suffering from the isolation and in my hometown, the devastating, unrelenting heat and aridity. Don't know if this helps but know that the sharing of your knowledge through BugGuide continues to help many of us, pandemic or no pandemic.