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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

August 29, 2017 A Tale of Two Bison

Down in our little commune, we have 4 or 5 bison hanging out on a pretty regular basis. It started out with a cow and her calf and a young bull and a few older bulls. We give them their space and move in a wide berth around them when necessary to leave the enclave. 

The cow is really old, we think about 18 years maybe, her ribs show and she isn’t very interested in suckling her calf. 




making circles
Then there was a big bull who showed up. He was on the outside of the fence near the back of one of the vacant buildings. For three days he was back there, pacing back and forth, then at times walking in a counter clockwise circle for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. It was very unnerving to watch him, circling and circling and circling. We all thought that maybe it was some part of the rut ritual. Circle to make a rut, a place to lie down or do whatever. The cow didn’t show any interest in what he was doing and actually never went anywhere near him. 

He was there without water and didn’t appear to be eating. He wasn’t penned in by the fence, there were plenty of places for him to go, he just didn’t go. When we came home from work on Sunday, one of the nieghbors came to tell us that he had died. Right behind the building, layed down and died. The herdsman told her they think he died about 11:00 in the morning. So 7 hours later, Jay and I walked over to get a close up of the dead bison. 



It was eery. They are so big and dangerous, it was strange to be so close, even though I knew it was dead. Like when someone is sleeping, and you’re looking at them and all of a sudden they jump up and scare you. I thought the bison might do that too. Even though his feet were sticking straight out and there was no sign of breathing. 

While we were walking around having a look at him, I was trying to decide if I wanted to touch it. I wasn’t too sure about that, then the neighbor who told us it had died came back and told me she had touched it, so I did. 

I slowly walked close to his backside and rested my hand on the short fur. It was warm and coarse. I don’t know if it was residual heat from his body or from him sitting in the sun. Then I moved my hand towards his head, into the puffy mane. It was dusty and wiry. Then I moved my hand to the fur on his head. It’s longer and darker than the mane and just as wiry. Then I noticed the maggots near his neck and remembered there being talk of an injured bison. It had been gored, talk was that it had been gored in the eye. I think it also got stuck in the neck area. I know Mother Nature works fast when a body dies, but not that fast. I think the flies got into that wound and started on him early. I stopped there, not touching the horn, and slowly moved away.

The neighbor was very upset. She had been one to complain a lot about them being in our campground, that they were becoming a nuisance and had wanted them to go away. That wasn’t what she had in mind. She also thought that the herdsman should have put him out of his suffering, since they knew about his condition. They try to let nature take its course.


The next day was the eclipse. We drove to Wyoming to be in the path of totality. We left early in the morning and found a nice spot alongside the highway to watch the spectacle. It was outstanding. I do wish we had been somewhere with a tree or two to cast more interesting shadows. I realized that it would be better to take pictures of earth that it would be to try to capture the sun and the moon. My focus was on a small clump of sunflowers. 





We arrived home around 3:00 in the afternoon, it was sunny and warm, and odiferous. Like something had died. Oh yes, something had died. A very large bison. They had moved it away from the building, but it was still behind the building, maybe 100 yards from us. I thought that surely they won’t leave it there. It’s a little too big to let nature take its course that close to people. We all thought if it was that close to one of the main campgrounds they would have had it moved the very same day. We went to work hopeful that it would be gone by the time we got home. It was. They had a flat bed truck with a winch and they packed it off out in the woods somewhere, in a place where nature can do its job. 

The second story was just a week later, last Saturday evening. 

Like I said, we have had several bison hanging out around camp. The cow and the calf have moved on and now our residents are 4 bulls. One is old, like the cow and there’s talk of shooting him. The others are older, apparently not interested in duking it out with the youngsters in the herd for the rut.
Big Mike getting a close up

  


They spend most of the day in our camp, wandering from one end to the other, munching on grass and rolling around in the dirt. Jay and the neighbor planted grass seed around our campers so we could have a nice lawn. Well, the bison think it's a pretty nice flavor of grass and they keep it mowed pretty short. Then across the road where there isn’t so much grass, they stamp their front hooves into the dirt and make their dirt baths. That helps them with the flies apparently. They will roll on one side, kicking up their heels. Then they rest and after a while, they will roll onto the other side before eventually standing up and shaking off a big cloud of dust.

Jay was home from work before I was and he and our neighbor Terri, were sitting out watching the bison. They were across the road, about 75 feet away. Jay says, come on and get a chair, we’re going to sit and watch tonights entertainment for a bit. I get my chair and go join them for a viewing. The bulls are circling each other, grunting a little, eating grass. We are wondering if there is going to be any action among them, so far there hasn’t been.

I had changed in to shorts and a t-shirt, and as soon as the sun goes down here it gets cool. I thought I would walk over to our camper and put on some more clothes and grab a snack. I knew the big boys were walking around, and they seemed to be staying on the far side of the road. I put on a pair of long, dark blue pants, and a bright coral colored jacket. I was wearing flip-flops on my feet. The cats were inside, Toby on the back of the chair so I leaned over and opened the blind so he could have a better view of all of us across the yard. I looked straight across and saw Terri, her husband Mike, their daughter Leslie(she works here too), and son Greg(he was visiting), and Jay.

What I did not see out of the corner of my right eye, out the small window toward the front end of our camper, one of the bulls had crossed the road and was eating grass right below our bedroom slide. 

In my wisdom, I figured since they were across the road, I would walk around the back end of our camper past the wood pile and the neighbors picnic table to put more distance between me and the bison. I took one step beyond the camper and heard Mike yell, “Run, Valerie!” When somebody tells me that loudly to run, Ima gonna run. And Ima gonna run frickin’ fast. I’m not stopping to ask why or where, especially when I see what’s coming at me. I also am not going to stop and pick up my flip-flop that fell off and I was amazed to find a bag of snacks still in each hand. I startled the bison and he didn’t like that, so he was going to take out whatever it was that surprised him and it happened to be me. Terri was in the cab of their pickup and Leslie got hold of me and shoved me in, climbing in right behind me. The guys all dove in to the minivan and waited for the dust to settle. 

It all happened so quickly, in about 5 seconds. Jay was actually looking the other way when it happened, he just heard the yelling and turned around in time to see me being pushed to safety. Terri made her way in to her camper, Leslie, Greg and I hunkered down in the cab of the truck and Mike smoked a cigarette. 

he's watching me as I write this
It was a close call, not anything I want to repeat, ever. Wasn’t even on my bucket list of things I wanted to do while in South Dakota.  It’s going to make my job even more difficult when I see people doing dumb things around the bison. They look so slow and docile. Like they don’t have a clue as to what is around them. But they know, just like the one who had headlights flashed at him. He didn’t like that one bit and charged the car. Explain that one to your insurance company. And just like the one who was startled by a sudden appearance of a bright object in it’s comfort zone. 

No, I don’t have any pictures of that incident. Everyone was too stunned by what was happening and it all happened so quick, there wasn’t time for any photo opportunities. You’ll just have to take my word for it, that’s what happened.

We are renaming the camp from Hidden Valley to Bad Buff Draw.


I think I need to go back to teaching yoga. 



Check out my FB page for a video of the bison in camp, before the incident. Click here to go to Facebook

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 17, 2017 What will I see?

The three questions I get asked most frequently while working at the entrance gate:

  1. Where are the buffalo?
  2. Where am I on this map? And, the worst one,
  3. What will I see?

The first one is a moving target. Hey, these are wild animals that eat grass. A lot of grass. Up to 30 pounds of grass per day per animal. They weigh between 500 and 2,000 pounds, so they pretty much go where they want, when they want, including through fences designed to keep them in certain areas of the park. Some days the herdsman don’t even know where they are. I’m not sure where 400 buffalo can hide, but they manage to stay out of view quite a bit. On days like that about the only buffalo to be seen are the lone bulls hanging out by the side of the road. And no, you cannot pet the buffalo. Or feed them. Or safely get within 100 yards of them.

And what is the difference between a buffalo and a bison? Technically the animals we have here are bison, in North America they are commonly referred to as buffalo, but they are not buffalo.  But I digress.
Number 2. Yes, it is very easy to get disoriented here. There are no straight roads and you can’t drive 60 miles an hour. I have traveled around quite a bit and know how hard it can be to keep my bearings sometimes, especially when trying to use GPS in my cell phone or on my iPad. It’s sad to see so many people looking down at their device when they could be looking up. Notice your surroundings, read road signs, learn to read a map. Learn to pull over and check your direction when you sense you aren’t going the right way. For example, you just drove 18 miles in the wrong direction for 45 minutes when where you wanted to go was only 10 miles in the other direction and was 20 minutes away. I admit, I have walked or driven in the direction I didn’t wish to go in, only to find that I have to turn around, but I usually figure it out pretty quickly.

There is no fast way to anywhere, and there are no short cuts. Mr. Peter Norbeck, the designer of the roads here, got his wish. To get people to slow down and enjoy the wilderness. I don’t think he anticipated people living the fast pace that we have now. Where they want to drive to a scenic spot, get out of their car, take their picture and that is their experience in the park. 

And number 3. What a subjective question. I don’t know what you will see. How can I tell you what you will see? What do you want to see? If you put down your phone you might see some bison. Or deer, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, pronghorns, bison calves, marmots, big horn ship, a cougar or maybe some elk.

How about some prairie wildflowers, Ponderosa pine, Burr oak, willows and learn to identify the different types of grasses growing here. Maybe you’ll see the clouds gathering into a thunderstorm, or waves of amber seed heads flowing in the breeze, like a green sea lapping towards the shore. What do you want to see? Sometimes I’ll say, “the bounty of nature’s beauty,” only to be met with a blank stare, like I just said something in a foreign language. 

how can I describe this view to someone who has never seen it?




On one hand I am glad for these narrow windy roads through this park. It is suitable for people who might not be able to get out and hike in the forest, or up to the top of Black Elk Peak, to see the trees, to see wild animals in their natural habitat. On the other hand, I wish people would not be in such a hurry to just drive through and take selfies for their Instagram account. Take a few extra minutes to stop and listen to the creek rolling over rocks, hear the crickets as they rustle in the pines, notice the slight movement in the woods that might be a deer or an elk. 

What do you see when you slow down?
random twigs smiling at me

Thursday, August 10, 2017

August 10, 2017 1880 steam train ride















A little adventure we made with the neighbors was on the 1880 steam train. It runs between Keystone and Hill City. One of the benefits we received as a park employee was a VIP card that gives us all kinds of freebies and discounts to the tourist attractions and activities in the Black HIlls. This was one of the freebies. We decided to park in Keystone and ride the train to HIll City. There is a better selection of restaurants there, and just a little more to see than what Keystone has to offer. We all wanted to have lunch at the German restaurant, the Alpine, and this itinerary would give us plenty of time for that with some time left over for window shopping, people watching and a tour of the train museum for Mike and Jay.


Brownie decided she wanted to go for the ride too. She had fun getting her picture taken with the conductor and our guide. No hats in her size though, but she did like the little stuffed trains in the gift shop. 

She was also hoping to go to the Teddy Bear museum, but again we were disappointed. They are closed on Tuesdays. So we just took her picture next door with the carved bear.






She was brave sticking her head out the window of the train. It would be a long fall and a long way back for us to come rescue her. They cautioned everyone not to put their arms out or to lean out too far because they wouldn't be stopping to pick up anything that was dropped.  I wasn’t too worried about Jay’s head dropping off when he stuck his out the window.







We had a nice tour of the original route between the hill towns. Afterwards, we drove home on the old road that follows that route too before heading home. It was a lovely day with good friends. We a very fortunate to have met such nice people, not only for doing fun things with, but good neighbors and now even good coworkers as I had the pleasure of working with them last weekend during the first days of the big Sturgis motorcycle rally. We were really able to make the time go by quickly and Terri and I did the 3 o'clock dance and even added some moves. 

prior to the 3 o'clock dance

Monday, August 7, 2017

August 7, 2017 cooking in a tiny kitchen

pitting cherries
Some days I get very inspired to manage our food. I say it that way because we have a very limited amount of space to store staples and I also have to plan ahead more than I would in my regular kitchen. Condiments and seasonings are limited. I know food doesn’t need to be complicated and wonderful things can be created with just a few ingredients and in about 30 minutes too. 



cherry clafouti





It’s always nice when good things come our way, like fresh cherries. One of the kids I work with is from Rapid City and his parents have cherry trees in their yard. They brought him a lot of cherries with instructions to share them with everyone. I was very happy to oblige on the receiving end and made a cherry clafouti for our dessert. 

I also whipped together a ratatouille in our trusty cast iron skillet. That’s always a good one to get a lot of veggies on the plate.


We are considering buying a dutch oven for outdoor cooking. The kind with the feet and the flat rimmed lid. We have sampled some dutch oven cooking, done a little research on the good ol’ innernet and also went to a presentation at the park by the Black Hills Dutchers on how to do it. Our good fortune as well is one of the camp hosts where Jay spends a lot of his time, has done dutch oven cooking for many years and has 4 ovens! They suggested we borrow one of theirs, cook a meal in it with their help, to see if we want to make that investment. I’m hesitating because I don’t want something else that’s going to suck up my time right now. I feel like I have so little spare time to do anything. And in addition to the kettle, there are all the accessories to go with the process, the briquette starter, briquettes, the lid lifter, hot mitts and a trivet to set the hot lid on. I guess once you get the set up, the simple thing can be simple. We'll have to see how our test run goes before we make the investment.


Now for a wildlife update. We had a very large visitor about a week after we moved in to our new parking space. He comes and goes and minds his own business. Although I didn’t appreciate the pie he left in our yard. We have enough trouble with persistent flies without needing that to attract more. I did find a shovel and move it further from our domicile, all 10 pounds of it. 

yes, I have a good zoom lense

soooo tired.......

Monday, July 17, 2017

July 17, 2017 Not my circus, not my monkeys

Trying to write about solitude in a laundromat. People are coming and going, there’s Reggae music in the background, a backhoe digging up the alley behind the building, smokers at the backdoor and the cigarette smoke gently wafting into the building. The friendly attendant offers the chairs at the front entrance, a shady spot next to a lilac bush that has spent its blooms and a potted petunia. She does go tell the smokers to move away from the door. Here, at the front of the building there is a steady stream of cars, it’s the main road through town and the tourists are just getting started on this sunny morning.

The other day I went up to Sylvan Lake to hike the Sunday Gulch trail.

It was one of the trails on the Parks Trail Challenge. I got a late start and it was a warm day. I thought since it was a Monday, that it wouldn’t be too crowded there as it is the most popular area in the park. Boy, was I wrong about that. I got one of the last parking spaces in the overflow lot. I put on my hiking shoes, grabbed my pack and set off on the trek.

At the trailhead there were small groups of eager hikers, some with small children, and a few others who didn’t really look like they were up for a hike labeled ‘strenuous.’ I made my way past the congestion and headed downhill. I was disappointed to see handrails secured to the rocks along the trail, and a small set of concrete steps in one section. It was a rock scramble and I guess they wanted to make it more accessible. 

I stepped aside to let an older man pass by. He was walking with two hiking sticks and the younger members of his family had quickly come up the hill. He mentioned in passing that his two titanium knees slowed him down. I responded that he didn’t need to be quick, just steady, to finish. 

I also saw a lot of people on the trail without water, wearing inappropriate footwear(when did flip flops become hiking shoes?) or dragging small children on a very strenuous trail. I was able to find a few moments of peace as I walked down the creek. As I made my way around to the west side of the trail I was welcomed with the sound of roaring motorcycles above. The trail parallels the highway that goes north to Hill City for about a half a mile. Sad face. Even though the trail was 100 feet below the road, the sound echoes off the rock formations, and then I got the sound of someone honking their horn as they passed through Hood tunnel. More sad face.

I sat and watched some rock climbers making their way up one of the granite spires near the lake. I am happy for people who feel the need for that challenge, I plan to keep my feet on terra firma in a horizontal position.

just around the corner...
I had some energy left over after that jaunt so I thought I would make my way to Poet’s Table. It’s a little known location off of the main Little Devil’s Tower trail. Well, not really little known, it’s just off of an unmarked trail. There are no signs pointing, ‘this way to Poet’s Table.’ I thought surely, it would be peace and quiet in a remote spot in the park. I had read about it, how it was set up back in the late ’60’s, tranquil with a beautiful view of the Needle's Eye and surrounding rock formations. 




Not all who wander are lost
I had some trouble finding it, there are several game trails that lead up to it. I passed by a small pool of water fed by a trickle over a high rock. Just before this was a narrow slot between two spires. I thought that couldn’t be the trail, so I went to the left. That direction didn’t make sense, according to what I had read about getting to the table, so I back tracked down to the pool and went in to the narrow slot. There was a very rustic ladder leaning up under some precarious looking rocks, so it was one of the pathways. I climbed up the ladder only to be stymied again. A large, smooth boulder was to my right and a very rough, narrow steep passage was to my left. I thought, this is as far as I go. I can’t go up to the left, because I don’t think I have the energy to come down that steep section. But then I turned to study the boulder to my right. The pathway emerged, it was still a scramble over the boulder, but it was definitely the way. It led up to a dirt track, but still no sign of the table. Again my trail split. This time I chose to stay to the right, I’ll go another 100 yards and if it’s not there, I’ll give up. That was the right way to go, I passed around a small pine and there, nestled under an eave of granite surrounded by rocks was the Poet’s Table.
Poet's table
Four rough benches and a small wooden cabinet, all painted green, were there. The were three other hikers there too, but they were just heading down the hill, a different path than I had taken, so I had the place to myself.

The temperature was very cool in the shade of the rock, the morning sun not having had enough heat to warm the rocks to last the day and there was a breeze. I poked around in the old journals in the cabinet and one of them I flipped open and written there on the page was the phrase, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” I had never heard that phrase until I started working here in May. 
written here in 1997

My first co-worker heard it here from another gate attendant. Neither of them were around here in 1997 when this was written down in this particular journal. Of course I had to look up the etymology of the phrase (good ol’ innernet again). It’s an old Polish phrase and generally means, not my problem.

We were told, when we started working here, to just pay attention to our own job and our own role here. Don’t concern yourself with what others are doing, their shifts, where they are working and how they are doing it. The neighbors use that phrase too, typically when we are discussing the lack of consistency and the shoddy way things are managed behind the scenes here. I started to think that whoever wrote that back in 1997 was maybe a dissatisfied park worker. Or maybe it was someone on vacation, who was venting their lousy job back home, or perhaps  a reminder for anyone who might turn to that page to think before reacting in a situation they feel the need to be involved in. Say to yourself, 

  • What is happening here?
  • Does it involve me?
  • Can I do anything to help this situation?
  • Do I need to do anything?


By asking ourselves these questions before getting involved we may be able to reduce some of the stress in our lives. As I made my inquiry, a few other articles popped up with this phrase in them. One written by a life coach and another by a psychologist working with depression sufferers. article from Psychology Today So it’s been around for a long time, and used as a simple way to remind people to think before reacting. 

so true!
I spent another 10 minutes or so exploring the small space, the tokens left behind, the scribblings in chalk on the rocks.
 
 








As I was appreciating the view of the Needle’s Eye, I heard loud music echoing across the canyon. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I could see in the distance the cars traveling the road, lined up to wait their turn to go through the tunnel. I did not expect to hear the loud music over the roar of the motorcycles, but if you are riding a very loud motorcycle, you have to have your music even louder so you can hear. Let others be damned if they don’t like your choice of music or the volume you choose to play it.  Additionally, a helicopter flew over to add to the cacophony of motorized sound.
Needle's Eye tunnel

rock climbers
I came to the conclusion that it’s time to move away from the advertised trails. As nice as they are, if I am to get the connection with nature that I am seeking, I need to find a different path. There’s no reason not too. There are so many places in this park, it is 71,000 acres, where I can walk that are closed off to the general public. Part of the management of the area has been to close old logging and service roads, not even allowing the jeep tours to use them. But if you know where they are, you can walk on them, or ride your bike. 

Everyone has their own way of taking part in nature and getting away from the city. I don’t want to discount anyone’s choices. It’s hard to blend all the activities into these popular areas and by having these roads and well marked trails it allows for people who might not get out, to have a nature experience. I am glad that I am physically able to get away from the crowds and seek out a bit of solitude, even for a short time.

And it seems as though all of those distractions at the laundromat were a way to keep me focused. I feel as though my thoughts came together and made their way to the page with ease. 

Not my circus, not my monkeys.



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

July 10, time and moving

Time is a valuable coin, be careful how you spend it.

banjo, books, kindle, knitting
Seems like I just can’t seem to make time for my leisure pursuits. Here they sit, in my corner.  My knitting, my book, the kindle and my banjo. My kumihimo project hasn’t even seen the light of day since we got here. Then there is my writing. That takes a bunch of time, even when I am focused. 

next project









I’m working 40 hours a week, which I knew I would be doing. Just seems like when I was working for the city, I got a lot of stuff done, even during the week. I also have a much longer commute, about 30 minutes each way. At least one day off each week is devoted to doing laundry, errands and grocery shopping. We  try to lump all that together because it’s a long drive to town, either Custer or Rapid City. Then we try to do something fun or explore on our other day off.


We did drive up Spearfish Canyon last week. We headed up north bypassing the Needles Highway. We did stop in Lead for lunch. Pretty quiet for a Monday before a holiday. That was a very pretty drive, there was even a small waterfall and we had a nice walk along the creek to get there. 

And it all seems to go back to the whole train of thought about productivity and time management. It would certainly be easier for me if I wasn’t interested in so many things. I really have prioritized what is truly important to me. 

  • Spending time with Jay,
  • Being present with other people,
  • Yoga,
  • Meditation,
  • Spending time outdoors,
  • Then all the other things I listed off above.

It’s all part of self-inquiry and self-awareness. I do spend time with that too, because that helps me to not be disappointed with myself when I don’t do some of the other things I want to do. I am able to remind myself that I am making these choices about how I want to spend my time. I even tell myself that when I head out on a hike. I say, “remember, the longer you spend out on the trail, the less time you will have to study, or knit or whatever it is I think I want to be doing.” And yet, there I go, one foot in front of the other, hiking along the trail. 

Another time consuming thing this week was moving day. They finally got our new campsite ready enough for us to move in to. 

We went from this:



To this:



moving out
It’s still a little rough and we’ll have to go to town for laundry now, but better than being next to the trash juicer. We spent one day getting things picked up, (a lot of fire wood, you know), and moved in.

moving in
Then the next day Jay wanted to get the area smoothed out a little better, because who knows how long it will take them to get back down here to finish it. It’s frustrating, not only to us, but to the other campers here too. We have construction background, as does our Iowa neighbor, but even those who don’t have that background understand that water doesn’t flow uphill and neither will our sewer hoses. The sites are lower than the surrounding ground and the sewer stubs are all high. And grass seed won’t grow in mud. It really is better than where we were.


All part of the adventure
the cats checking out the new location


neat and tidy woodpile

Jay hard at work as usual. Can't get a shovel away from him.