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

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