March–April 2021

From the Editor

The Razor's Edge

There’s a thin line between enthusiasm and obsession.

Chris Clayton

THERE’S A THIN LINE between enthusiasm and obsession. It’s a theme that rattles like pinballs around this issue of the Volunteer. Take Bob O’Hara (page 20), a pioneering wilderness paddler known for canoeing epic stretches of northern rivers. The St. Louis Park resident has spent the majority of his life—he just turned 80—fixated on watery expeditions, sometimes to the detriment of his love life and bank account.

O’Hara is a far cry from the loner types who are often drawn to extreme adventure. Outgoing and big-hearted, he has mentored generations of Minnesota paddlers, and for decades taught high school biology and coached Nordic skiing and track. For someone whose idea of fun is navigating mile after mile of wild, icy river, he’s a fairly normal guy who, through teaching and community building, found a kind of balance in his life—albeit in his characteristically uncompromising way. (It should also be noted that O’Hara is careful, planful, and resilient—a model outdoorsperson for the COVID era.)

A different stripe of single-mindedness runs through our story on the western Jacob’s ladder (page 30). The feature is ostensibly about teams of ecologists and botanists on the hunt for a rare wildflower, but it doubles as an ode to perseverance—to searching for a needle in the haystack in the name of scientific discovery.

Passion and perseverance take yet another form in Dispatch (page 10), which looks at the ways in which Minnesotans flocked to the state’s public lands and waters in 2020, perhaps as a respite from the stress and difficulties of the pandemic. It was heartening to see an uptick in park visitors and fishing license sales in a year when good news sometimes felt as elusive as a rare flower.

Not to get all English teacher on you, but the articles mentioned here grow richer with each reading. I’m not suggesting that you’ll come to view O’Hara as some sort of spiritual figure, or the search for western Jacob’s ladder as a metaphor for the human condition. (Though more power to you if you do!) But I do believe these simple, well-told stories hold gems of wisdom just waiting to be uncovered. I, for one, am taking notes.