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


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