Reckoning with the Buffalo

The American bison’s fragile wildness. /

This is how I remember it. But bear in mind that I was only 8. And when a story gets repeated, as this one has in my family many times over more than three decades, you remember the story more than the event. But I’m pretty sure I remember the ground shaking.

I definitely remember the sound. The rumble. Long before the first bison sprinted out from the trees, along the ridge above the Yellowstone boardwalk, we all heard the rumble. There were a lot of them. Dozens? They were a blur. A herd. A stampede. A marvel.

Perhaps I’d assumed that bison sprinting 10 yards away is just how things are in Yellowstone: a geyser here, a stampede there. Maybe they tell you at the visitor station when to expect the next one. Perhaps I just was mesmerized by the massive animals. In any case, I just stared.

Then came the yelling from Mom: “Save the baby! Save the baby!” I had bored of the previous hot spring and had pushed on. I had the stroller and my baby brother. There was nowhere to go: Bison to the left, hot springs to the right. One slight shift from the bison and we’d be trampled.

But it was already over. The bison passed. Mom apologized for not being clear that I, too, should be saved. And we tried not to think about the fragility of life as we all laughed nervously and derided fools we’d seen throughout the park approaching bison as if they were domesticated petting zoo attractions.

Sorry the story isn’t more exciting. But I’ve had a hard time coming up with stories to tell about bison that aren’t merely tragic.

For example, I was going to tell the story of Harvey Wallbanger, a bison who became a celebrity of sorts at Western horseracing venues. He won 79 races out of 93 starts (or 72 ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 49 / May 26, 2016
  1. Editor’s Note

    Issue 49: The spark of human creation, beauty’s golden number, and beholding the bison. /

  2. Let There Be Light at Every Human’s Creation?

    Sadly, no. But biologists have new ways to reveal the unseen. /

  3. Beauty Has a Number

    Phi, the “Golden Ratio,” seems to be everywhere you look. /

  4. Archaeology: A Subsequent Lecture

    “You’ll be surprised” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 49: Links to amazing stuff.

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