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Friday, August 11, 2006
Gone buffalo huntin', back in two weeks
A few years ago I spent a summer living in a magical place filled with boiling geysers, pretty scenery and oversized mammals that love to block traffic. And now I'm going back for a spell to hunt down one of these mammals in particular. I've got a picture of him. Take a look at this mean bastard:
While I was working as a hotel clerk in Yellowstone National Park during the summer of 2002, I became convinced that this five-legged* beast had a grudge against me. One day as I was driving south through the park I encountered a line of bison with him in the middle. As I slowly crept past, eager to avoid any trouble, he turned and tried to take out my driver's side door with his head. I swerved in time. To make matters worse, I'm pretty sure he was stomping around in traffic without insurance.
A few weeks later I was caught in a freak June snow storm. As my lightweight Toyota van and I struggled towards home, out he popped on a stretch of highway five miles past Lake Yellowstone. I took a blurry photo as I waited for him to move (see above). If I had brought any common sense with my that summer, I would have turned around and spent the night in the staff quarters of the Lake Hotel. Heading home in that storm, in a vehicle that can barely handle wet pavement let alone high-elevation battles against nature, is among the stupidest things I've ever done.
I drove slowly and hit an elevation of 6,000 feet as the storm intensified. Along a lonely stretch of poorly-maintained highway, who appeared out of nowhere? A single, solitary bison. As far as I know, these animals don't hang out at that elevation. What was he doing up there?
We had a ten minute stand-off as the road grew increasingly dangerous. There was no way I could pass without coming head to head with this furry, 2000 pound wannabe bridge troll. Certain stretches of highway in Yellowstone were built 70 or more years ago and are as narrow as a residential street. In frantic disbelief I stared into the bison’s completely indifferent eyes, it was as if I was bouncing around in the very soul of Mother Nature herself and let me tell you something: Mother Nature is a stone cold bitch.
He huffed and puffed and stamped his foot like a bull up against an arch-rival matador. Just as I was about to call his billy goat's bluff, he averted his cruel gaze and calmly strolled over to the edge of highway. I slid all the way back to the Canyon Lodge and made it to the parking lot before the storm hit full-throttle.
So how do you explain something like this? Coincidence? Or was there a magical buffalo living in the park that I somehow pissed-off enough for him to try to get me my very own page in Death in Yellowstone?
Whatever the motive or story behind all this, I'm going back to Yellowstone for, among other reasons, a chance to track this same buffalo down and tell him he's an asshole. I never got a chance to on Mount Washburn.
Yeah, the whole thing is sort of like Brad Pitt and the bear in Legends of the Fall. Someday the bison and I will probably get into a fight to the death on the edge of a cliff. It may happen in a few days or a few decades. If I make it back I'll see ya'll again in a few weeks.
Oh, not to change the subject, here's a You Tube link to the greatest commercial ever made:
* As a final note it has just now occurred to me that the bison’s fifth leg isn't a leg at all. Jeez, he could spear a whale with that thing. Screw it, I'm trading my arch rival animal for a guinea pig.