Buffalo SmokeFebruary 20, 2011

In the 1940s, when I was a very young teenager, my father and I liked to get up early to fish in Yellowstone Park. The gate didn’t open until 6:00 so the evening before we’d leave our car just inside the log fence that separated government land from the little village of West Yellowstone. Many times we found ourselves fishing at first light and it was not unusual for it to be cold enough for ice to form in the agate guide on the tip of my fly rod, making it difficult to retrieve the line.

One morning when it was still mostly dark I was walking along bank of the Madison River, leisurely fishing and enjoying myself when I suddenly caught a very strong, musky odor that I didn’t recognize. It puzzled me. When I looked around there were twelve large buffalo resting in the tall grass, chewing their cuds and looking at me with immense disinterest. They could not have been more than ten feet away. So much steam was on their bodies that it formed a cloud as it slowly rose to dissipate in the pine branches above. If the wind had not been just right I might have walked past those great beasts, being totally oblivious of that wonderful experience.

The buffalo is king of his realm and is probably the most magnificent of American animals. It is not known to offend except in self defense or to protect its young. Over the years I have remembered that incident on the Madison and thought how nice it would be if all animals, human especially, would just go on about their business in peace, as we did that morning, and leave others alone. There must be a moral in there somewhere.

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