Never See Enough
I recall the first time I saw the American Bison in its natural setting, or as natural of a setting as is possible after they nearly were decimated by the expansion of the American West. It’s one of the most heartbreaking tales of the loss of nature, and would fracture my heart, if it weren’t for the fact that at the same time in our nation’s history we were likewise nearly decimating an entire race of human beings. I imagine what it would be like to see a photograph of a bison from the 1800s in a book and know their entire species was lost to mankind. By the skin of our teeth we kept the unthinkable from happening, and thankfully I’ve seen enough bison in my lifetime to know what a gift their presence on the planet is, and I will never see enough of them.
I’m just going to say, when you see one in person, they are spectacular. When you see an entire herd, even a small herd, they are phenomenal. When you must sit in your car on a thinly paved road with no shoulder, just waiting for them to meander across your path, there should be no reason why you would want to sneak between a few just to keep going. I see people do this in the national parks where they roam. All I can think is what could be up ahead that’s better than this massive mammal. I’ve watched the big ones strategically place themselves in the line of traffic so the young ones, even the little light-colored calves, can scurry across the path ignorant of the vehicles waiting to proceed. I’ve seen them bleeding from a fierce fight I didn’t witness. I’ve seen them roll in the dirt, nearly as playful as my puppy, and I’ve seen large, solitary ones in alcoves undisturbed. I never tire watching them – they are beautifully breathtaking.
My First Encounter
In fairness, my first view of the American Bison wasn’t at the National Bison Range (see Beautiful Beasts from February 2012). The first time I saw bison up close was in college. Somehow I’d gotten cajoled into writing an article for an alumni publication about an outing for student leaders. Despite my insistence that I would attend as a spectator, I got hijacked into participating as well. The outing included trust falls and obstacle courses and other feel-good team builders that haunt me to this day and still nauseate me when I am pulled into forced involvement. I can’t even tell you how I got there (I didn’t have my own vehicle) and I don’t think I knew anyone at the event. At the age of nineteen, the desire to sleep under the stars certainly wasn’t a life goal of mine, and I was too young to imagine why anyone would want to do this voluntarily.
Yet I have one distinct, positive memory of the event. At the location where we pitched our tents, several large coolers dotted the campsite. While not unexpected in the outdoors, their contents thoroughly surprised me: two-inch think buffalo steaks that had been marinating for nearly twenty-four hours. We cooked them ourselves on open fires, grabbing each slab and tossing them directly onto the hot coals. I don’t even recall how the fires were built, but the sizzling scents of the beasts on the blaze resembled the method the original hunters used, and I cannot imagine preparing them any other way that would have been fitting for this amazing meal. As a carnivore, I saw these magnificent creatures in an entirely different light, and may I just say, they tasted as spectacular as the probably looked running unrestricted over the hills of the Great Plains. Yet I consider their epic existence and my faint recollection of my experience as visions long since left in the past.