Friday, January 14, 2011
Relaxation made flesh. Once you've packed on the extra hundreds of pounds and are just waiting around for winter, that's how it goes.
It was a few years earlier, at this same site, that I thought I might get killed by a bison. Nothing came of it, but for a minute I thought I was in considerable danger. I had shot a couple photos of bison, just like this one, then saw the sun going down behind the creek, so I moved up onto the bridge to take a few shots of the creek. When I finished, I turned around and found that a number of cars had stopped to look at the bison, spooked them a little, and they were all fleeing the pack of cars -- right across the bridge. The one I was standing on.
Normally, a bison has a very sedate, deliberate walk. He'll cover a surprising amount of ground in a short time, but he won't look like he's in a hurry. When a herd starts trotting and huffing and grunting, it means they're a little agitated. That's what these guys were doing and half the herd was passing right by me, blocking both ends of the bridge.
I had the option of jumping over the side and down to the creek, but it was a fifteen foot drop and the creek is too shallow to break a fall. I mean, the bottom of the creek would break your fall, not the water, which means it would hurt more. Besides, the hitherto-unaccounted-for other half of the herd was crossing the creek right below me. It looked bad.
So I turned, sat on the abutment, and waited. One particularly large fellow seemed to be headed straight for me and I braced myself for impact. Then he swerved and just hustled on by. The rest did the same.
I've seen bison tolerate an entire busload of tourists lining up five feet away for a photo; at other times, I've seen them charge people from over a hundred feet away. It's not always clear what triggers a response. Here's a video of a bison chasing tourists at Old Faithful, for unclear reasons. When the bison lies down to wallow at the end, the narrator says, "Now he's taking a nap." Not really; wallowing is what a bison does to deal with the discomfort of skin parasites and maybe this animal was already in a bad mood because of the itching.
Here is what a bison usually does: just charge the annoying people and, when they run, settle for having made his point; without language, he still manages to say "Get out of here" in unmistakable terms. Here's what happens, though, when they carry through with the attack. You don't want that to happen to you.