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Living with Bison

letter to family written 9 June 2016

A very active thunderstorm got wound up at four in the morning. Dave was awakened by it and couldn’t get back to sleep. Sometimes being deaf is a good thing — I was oblivious to it until 5:30 when I woke up thinking we were heading to Oxbow for first light. Dave had been up, out on the porch, experimenting with the camera and trying to catch a picture with lighting hitting either the Teton peaks or the Blacktail Butte. He learned a lot, but wasn’t lucky. Meanwhile, in the east, a bit of pink was showing in between rain bands, and the storm begins to move out.

The dark gray skies play with us — neither can keep our eyes open. I wake up from my nap, and low and behold, I have a Gentleman Caller at the front door! Naturally I grab my camera an get a few pictures thru the window. Then he walks around to the west side of the house — and just about brushes up against the porch! This is the closest any of the bison have come on their visit. Between munches and raising his head to see where he is going, he stops and watches me. I really really wanted to go outside to take a better picture, but I stayed in taking photos until I ran out of windows. He went around the house and joined up with the herd that is hanging out in the sage brush between us and the barns. 

One nap and one conference call later and it is time to head out on this bright, sunny, 71 degree day. First things first, lunch at the chuckwagon at Dornan’s! It is train-the-staff week, and they acquitted themselves well. We enjoyed our meals at a picnic table with a great view of the mountains.

Dornan’s Chuckwagon – a restaurant with a view

Then we drove up to String Lake — a shallow lake that is popular as a swimming hole with the local folks — and has a pretty flat hike with gorgeous views of the lake. We set an alarm to limit how far we go, so that we can get back to the cabin for another conference call. This time he is sitting in on the thesis defense for one of his past Flag Lieutenants that is finishing up at the Naval Postgraduate School.

But for now we have dappled sunshine and a soft breeze, and fifty minutes to hike north. The trail is very busy today — we see countless kayaks, canoes, inner-tubes, and paddle boards being dragged up the trail, looking for a good place to put in. Lots of families obviously arrived earlier in the day and have been picnicking lake side. A far cry from the last time we were here in winter gear — was that really just three weeks ago?!?! By the end of the hike it is warm enough that I am ready to jump in too!

There was a little bit of flooding on the trail from either the thunderstorms or the peak snow melt, or both. For some we could   find alternate routes, but for one we just had to walk thru and get our feet wet. Ah well. Looking at everyone having fun, flip flops might have been a better choice for footwear!

I am already plotting a lakeside picnic of my own while Dave is in DC. Not sure about the swim suit tho ….

We get back in time for the call. Dave reports that Jenn did well (of course). Meanwhile, the herd of bison ebb and flow across the grass. Young ones with ten inch horns play spar with each other, but none seriously. And another first — this time the herd includes calves!! 

It is five o’clock and the river of bison is running our way. You never know if they will make it this far. One night the rain changed their minds and after crossing the valley to the edge of the sagebrush, they turned around and headed toward the forest. I get one camera set up on a tripod in the window — just in case. One eye on my book and one eye on the herd. The next thing you know they are at the edge of the driveway, deciding which way to go. Eventually they wander toward Bob’s toolshed which we can see out the front door. They swirl around the shed and then stack up in the private road looking over the fence into Bob’s yard.  I’ve never seen so many of the bison packed together. A car coming up the drive tries to push them, but they ended up convincing the pickup truck it was better to back up the driveway and give them room instead!

Meanwhile, stragglers are flowing towards the house and the bluebird’s nesting box. My little point-and-shoot can take small videos while I use the telephoto on my SLR to take pictures out the window. Up until now the calves have traveled at the edge of the herd farthest from me. It is hard to get their picture – they are not much taller than the sagebrush and they have their nose to the ground checking things out. But I get incredibly lucky! 

A calf braves the driveway and crosses over to smell the flowers at the base of the bluebird box. Then he investigates the snow poles — rubbing the top of his head on the bendy pole — and just like many newborns, it investigates the pole with its tongue! It makes a cute if shaky video. 

There are a few head-butting contest in the roadway, though they all stop when the video camera is out! The calf was very busy trying to explore and stay out of trouble at the same time. It even came over to the car. I stepped out on the front porch and waited for it to come around so I could take its picture. He was very interested  in me or the sound of the camera shutter and started walking toward me! He got about 30 feet away — I was  contemplating going inside — when I heard a low ‘wuff’ from I assume “Mom,” and the calf turned around and rejoined the heard, looking over his shoulder at me a few times but obeying Mom. Too cute. 

two young bison bulls play fighting

I watched one calf nurse. Pushy little thing! Saw four Pronghorn skirt the edge of the herd to cross the road into the stand of Cottonwoods. 

mother bison nursing calf

They spent the dinner hour getting people driving on Antelope Flats Road all excited, then had a lay down, and by round 8 the herd had returned to their feet and started meandering back to their 5pm starting point. No moose hunting tonight — having too much fun watching the calves running jump, and the squirrels do their meerkat imitation before scarfing down flower buds. 

For weeks we were lucky to spot a bison. But this last week has been all about bison movements and antics — where are they when we get up, what do they do during the storm, where do they go at night, are they coming into our yard or going around it?  Is the sun shining on them to make a good picture? It’s like having another member of the family!