Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Within A Buffalo's Breath


The Wichita Mountains are the oldest mountain range in the United States, or at least that is what those more learned than I claim. A big pile of boulders that stretch across the western section of Oklahoma has made it's own history over the years, now it was about to impose some history on me.

We were returning to our vehicle after hiking through the wildlife refuge, soaking in the beauty of this often overlooked natural wonderland. After all, if you want to go to the mountains, you go to the Rockies, right? As we approached the picnic area that we parked in, we were surprised, no we were terrified, that a herd of buffalo had decide to surround our car like the trail driver would circle the wagons. There must have been a hundred head relaxing in the sun, with the car smack in the middle of them.

My wife looked at me and asked the question that had already crossed my mind, "What are we going to do now? There's buffalo surrounding our car!"

No kidding darling, I glad you told me, "You stay here, I'll work my way to the car. If I make it to it, you take a long sweep around the herd and meet me at the road. I'll try to drive through them." I tried to sound brave, but I couldn't convince myself let along her.

My legs were shaking as I set off on my quest. As I approached the herd, the aroma of a hundred bison's bad breath turned my stomach. I climbed on a picnic table to form a path through the herd, from the picnic table to the dead scrub oak tree, which I believed was alive before the buffalo breath reached it. From the scrub oak over to the granite boulder, through the prairie dog town, over to the dry creek bed to the elm tree and over to my car.

As I stood on the picnic table a car turned into the picnic area. I don't know if they noticed me stuck on the table, but they quickly turned around and left. I quickly went over the route again and started a debate among my friends, Me, Myself and I, on whether I should run or just walk like nothing is wrong. Myself reminded Me that I could run ten yards without cramping up, so a slow walk won out.

I strolled over to the scrub oak and paused. The closest I came to a buffalo was about five yards, he rolled his big brown eyes over to me, snorted and quickly dismissed me. I was trying to remind myself if the outer animals of the herd acted like a sentry. I decided it wasn't the time to take up a psychological study, it was time to move.

About twenty yards off was the boulder, when I get there I'll climb to the top and hopefully make my presence know to the herd. To get there the only path ran between two buffalo that laid back to back. So off I strolled coming so close that I could see way too much detail of a pair of two thousand pound raging muscle. The dust was flying in the air as their tails smacked the ground in a beat that was reminiscent of the war drums that echoed through the mountains in years past. Their dark brown coat and mane matted with a layer of dust and mud. Fly's were buzzing around their eyes and ears. I tip-toed pass the lying giants and climbed up on the boulder.

As I reached the top, I looked over to the prairie dog town and there he was. I don't know if he was the leader of the pack or if he was just one of the guys, all I knew was that he was one huge dude and he was staring back at me. His breathing increased as did my blood pressure, he was becoming increasingly agitated with my presence. I was over half way to the car, I couldn't turn back now. Who is going to be the macho-man here? Who is going to be the real stud-muffin? I quickly decided on an alternate route, a straight thirty yard sprint to the car, with luck I can make it before my body realizes that I'm running and shuts down.

I ease off the rock and slowly saunter towards my destination. My eyes are scanning the herd like the radar on a battleship. If one moves, I'll make the mad dash to the car with hopes that it will start. The big boys eyes never leave me as he follows my every step. Ten yards, no attention paid to me; twenty yards, I can see the finish line; thirty yards I step to my door to unlock it. Son of a sea cook! The keys are in the backpack. The backpack is on my wife's back. My wife's back is out by the road. I slid down in the dirt beside the car and curl up in the fetal position and decide that today is a good day to die.

A new sound reaches my ears. It's not really a sound but more of a noise. Engine noise. I look up and a ranger is driving through the herd over to me with my wife sitting beside him, dangling the keys in her hand.

After we drive out the ranger tells us that the car that pulled in and saw the herd also saw me on top of the picnic table. They drove to the information booth and reported to them who sent the ranger to save me. He was impressed that I actually walked among the herd. His last words as he drove off, "You know that a man was gored here last year don't ya?"
And that was the last thing I remember as day became night as my knees gave way.

1 comment:

Willena said...

YIKES! A tad more exciting than our day at Dry Island Buffalo Jump on July 26! There are no buffalo there now. In fact, I thought there were no carcasses remaining from those long ago days when the Indians would drive them overt the cliffs. That is, until my husband's brother told us a story.

Glenn is a retired faculty member of nearby Prairie Bible College. One day he accompanied a class of 7th graders on a field trip there. During a rousing game of capture the flag, Glenn found a handy little cave to hide in. Overcome by an odd creepy sensation, he looked around, to find that the "cave" was actually a fossilized buffalo ribcage!