Close Bison Encounters of Three Kinds
April 9, 2013
Flying through the Tetons at 11 p.m.,
the flat dry road inviting us to drive faster than we should,
the shaggy shape in the left lane flashed by us so fast
we didn’t have time to break into a cold sweat.
We’d narrowly avoided crashing into its 1,500 pounds
and were only vaguely aware
that it must have been looking down its drooping muzzle at us
as we sped past.
It had towered over us, close to six feet tall,
and only a handful of deadly inches away.
It had only become visible
as we turned our still breathing heads
to catch a sideways glance.
Our next encounter came inside Yellowstone
where a male buffalo wandered over the
tourist convenience boardwalk near
one of the newly formed attractions here
as seismic activity – and steaming fumaroles and mineral water pools
migrated from the north end of the park to its southern reaches.
The buffalo clearly had the right of way
in this newly gentrified neighborhood,
as he slowly moved his beefy bulk
grazing his way across the gray plank walkway,
seeming not to regard whether he stood
on the sparsely vegetated limestone
or the newly laid boardwalk,
tempting my wife to move ever closer
to get that longed for closeup
of one of our unofficial national symbols.
Too close for my comfort,
but not causing the furry mantle that covered his shaggy shoulders
to stand on end
nor stimulating him enough to have the word “charge” enter his shaggy head.
The next day we were caught in a one-lane traffic jam
on one of the roads that cut through and encircle
the interior of Yellowstone’s two million acres.
Stoppages along its roads were both common and inevitable,
given the large numbers of vehicles.
Rangers had turned into traffic cops,
spending much of their time untying knots of vehicles
accumulating where a pronghorn or buffalo herd or elk
could be easily seen from the roadside, backing up traffic
for a quarter mile or more.
But this was a one-lane jam. It was curious.
We inched along, bumper to bumper,
while the left lane remained oddly unencumbered.
We’d been doing this a while
when the 4 p.m. express buffalo approached from the opposite direction
at a full canter –unimpeded, I might add — in the left lane
zipping past us, leaving us still unenlightened
about the reason for our own blockage,
but thoroughly entertained and vastly relieved
to be having this “inches away” close encounter
in the daylight, with plenty of steel clad company
fore and aft.