We’re more connected than we think

As we move inexorably closer to election day, the efforts to divide us into “us” and “them” camps is reaching a fever pitch. There’s no escaping it. Every day my mailbox is full of he-said-she-said vitriol in print. I’ve all but sworn off social media and news outlets but the ads still find me. I can’t queue up a Taylor Swift video on YouTube for my kids without first having to endure a 30 second rant about all the awful things candidate so-and-so would do if elected.

Maybe an “us versus them” campaign wins elections. But it’s actually an “us versus us” situation when you realize we’re more connected and more similar than we think. Recently a few obituaries made that clear to me yet again.

The first was the husband of my high school Spanish teacher. When I graduated from BHS back in 2000, I wrongly assumed that would be the end of my interaction with my teachers. But years later, a shared love of beer and bar food brought me often to the same neighborhood drinkery that John and Juanita frequented. The teacher-student dynamic dissolves quickly when you share a bar together and I discovered I shared many of the same interests as the Kirby’s, including a love of boating, the river, and the wildlife it supports.

I have no idea where they stand on the political spectrum and I don’t care. River rats, regardless of political leanings, share a sort of kinship.

The second was someone I didn’t know personally but whose son, Jim Leichty, a fellow conservation director in Madison County, I know pretty well. He’s done great things there in Madison County, most recently having gotten the funding lined up to build a million-plus-dollar nature center facility there. Professionally, I’ve learned much from him and respect him deeply as a colleague.

I never met his mother, Dot Leichty, but we nevertheless share a love of parks and Burlington. She spent 92 years here, 60 of them in the same house. Her obituary says she worked at the Leopold Desk Company many years ago. I sit at a rather aged Leopold Desk every day in my office. I wonder if she helped craft the one upon which I write these words. Funny how we’re all connected like that.

And about six years ago, my wife and I seriously considered buying her house. But we didn’t know at the time that it was the childhood home of a fellow conservation director, we only discovered that later. One of those “small world” moments.

Again, I have no idea what any of her family’s politics are and it doesn’t matter. We’re united in our passion for our community and the outdoors and that transcends any political position and will undoubtedly outlast any four- or eight-year administration.

And finally, just this week I learned of fellow conservation enthusiast Randy Miller’s passing. I first met Randy early in my career here in Des Moines County through his affiliation with Trees Forever and then interacted with him on many other occasions through his involvement with the annual Earth Day Cleanup, the local Leopold Heritage Group, and his professional role with the Hawk Eye while he was still there. In professional and volunteer circles, Randy was a regular and we shared a love for conservation and for this community. In the life and career I have yet to lead, I can only hope to make a fraction of the impact he made.

I suspect it would be easy enough to figure out where Randy stood on the political spectrum. He was, after all, a prolific writer and probably shared more than a few thoughts via the Opinion page in the paper. But again, I don’t care. We shared a love for this community and a desire to make an impact on the natural world. Randy was instrumental in planting untold numbers of trees in and around this town and trees don’t care who holds office. They’ll outlive them all anyway. They just quietly do their thing, cleaning the air we breathe, keeping us cool with their shade, and regaling us with their seasonal color.

I mourn the loss of fellow river rats, tree planters, and community improvers. And my heart goes out to their families and friends who certainly feel such losses more acutely. But in their passing I’m reminded again how connected we all are and how we all likely share more similarities than differences, despite what the current political climate would have us believe. We all frequent the same parks, walk the same trails, and boat the same river. We all want to leave our kids a world where they have similar, or better, opportunities than us. And in that and so much more, we are united.

Let’s not forget that.

This is a modified piece that originally appeared in my "Living Land" column in The Hawk Eye.


  1. Today's essay in The Hawk Eye (11-27) was right on target, as usual. I appreciate your Hawk Eye columns always, but have not thanked you--so on the day after Thanksgiving--a big thank you for helping us focus on the important elements in our lives. Joel Brown, Mt Pleasant

  2. Thanks, Joel! I really appreciate the comment. And Happy Thanksgiving!
    ~Chris Lee


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