Monday, February 25, 2008

My buffalo moment

I thought I might share a few stories from my previous travels. I went walkabout once before and spent a little over two years traveling in an RV. Today I was remembering a November day in Yellowstone. The plan had been to get there in early October but delays happened and we beat the heavy snows but they close the high roads in a couple of places and that makes getting around a bit of a pain. This map will show you the circular nature of the park road system and how when the North Rim Drive shuts down you end up taking long trips each way. We were staying in a campground in Cody WY just outside the east entrance. It was our habit to get up around 9 each morning and have breakfast in a small coffee shop near the gate that was well into off-season mode. The women in cowboy country are usually pretty cool, not so much with the men. Don has a long ponytail and at the time my beard rivaled the boys from ZZ-Top so we got used to the redneck evil eye from the guys in tractor hats. That would put us into explore mode around ten each morning. The days were cold and the wind was blowing 30 to 40 mph all the time, or so it seemed anyway but the skies were clear and incredible. They post wildlife sightings at some of the concession areas and at the Grant Village so we would head out to see what we could see. We had a running joke about the “mooselums” being in hiding as we had seen about every type of animal except a moose on our travels and this was 2001.
I make no claims to being an expert woodsman but I will pass along a few things that I have picked up about observing wildlife. Always try at the end of each day to find a watering hole to stop and take a break by. Get there about an hour before sunset and find a spot upwind. Then sit quietly and hope to get lucky.
On this occasion we found a great spot. a small pond just off the road surrounded on three sides by a lightwood. We had the sun at our backs and enjoyed some green dragon while we listened to the wind in the leafless trees. As the shadows lengthened we heard the snort first then saw the puff of steam. Out of trees stepped a massive Bison male. Following about ten paces behind were three females closely grouped together. The bull lumbered up to the waters edge and shook his head taking in the surroundings before moving up beside us in the car. We had parked at a 45-degree angle to the path causing him to step up to the side of the car his head even with mine. His hump rose up above the roof and his head was on the same level as my face. I looked into his eye to see myself swimming on the surface of a big black marble.
What struck me was the sense of calm he exuded. He had come to the end of another good day and now he and his small harem were about to retire for the evening after a refreshing drink. He blinked rarely and his breath escaped his nostrils in soft puffs that smelled of musk and grass. As he watched us unmoving the females made their way to the pond and drank for several minutes. They did not seem to spare us the slightest notice trusting their protector completely. Upon finishing the trio moved back they way they had come stopping a short way up the path to wait .Any sound they did make was muffled by the wind but for such massive bodies they move with a quiet grace but the bull knew when they were finished. He turned his back on us slowly and sauntered over to slake his own thirst. He spared us one last glance as he ushered his ladies back into the denuded wood now completely buried in shadows. We sat there unspeaking until the last light had faded and a few stars began to reflect on the stillness of the pond. One of us remarked that it was like the Mirrormere from Tolkien and that seemed to break the spell allowing us to start the drive back to Cody.

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