I went yesterday in search of something. After a month trapped in the suburbs, I think I was looking for something unsterile, something not gripped completely within the human fist. There is a state park a couple of hours north of here that has a small herd of bison. I’ve known about it for years, but I’ve never made the trip up there.
I once wrote about a bison that interrupted my morning coffee in the Badlands. (It was the one on the header, actually.) I like bison, and I miss the days we spent on that trip following them around and photographing them.
I think I only realized what I was looking for yesterday when I was unable to find it. I don’t have it in me to be disappointed by bison, but I couldn’t help comparing the fenced enclosure with the wide open spaces of the Badlands and the Black Hills. Shooting through the fence was a challenge, and there was no possibility that I would look up from my photography and find that a large specimen had gotten too close.
Still and all, I liked being with them, and something within me, some discontent, eased a little bit.
There was a time when buffalo were so prevalent in Indiana that the migrating herds blazed a path across the southern part of the state so indelible that it became the main travel route between Louisville and Vincennes. Portions of modern-day roads follow the old buffalo trace. But the herds are gone now, confined to a small enclosure in the northeast part of the state.
In truth, the notion of free-roaming buffalo anywhere is something of an illusion. The herds in the Badlands and the Black Hills, and even Yellowstone, are carefully managed.
Sometimes I wish human beings had left more space, had not seeped into every interstitial crevice. Edward Abbey wrote:
A true civilization, for me, embraces tolerance as one of its cardinal virtues: tolerance for free speech and differences of opinion among humans, and tolerance for other forms of life… bugs and plants and crocodiles and gorillas and coyotes and grizzly bears and eagles, and all of the other voiceless, defenseless things everywhere that are in our charge. Any true civilization must provide for those other life forms. And the only way to do that is to set aside extensive areas of the Earth where humans don’t interfere, where humans rarely even set foot.
I think the folks who work with bison are trying to do that, within the constraints of the space we have left.