The day the buffalo roamed

They didn’t smell like I thought they would

It didn’t smell like I thought it would.

We drove under the dilapidated arch hanging at an angle like a dog’s tongue on a hot July afternoon.  The sign on the arch let us know that we were entering the “Wild West Ranch” just outside of Cusick, Washington.

Somewhere between the bunkhouse and the rec room, we stopped and I got out.  Looking through the electrified fence I saw about 30 head of buffalo and noticed there wasn’t any smell like there had been on dairies and beef ranches I had visited.

“We” was myself, Norm Geisler and some friends.  I had ridden over with them so Norm could take a look at some of the environmental components on this buffalo ranch.  When he invited me to go along I didn’t hesitate in answering.

The name “Norm Geisler” might be familiar.  He along with Morris Deese won a landmark ruling against the Nazi’s and Aryan Nation in Idaho a few years back that resulted in bankrupting and scattering the group.  Now norm was focusing on his first love – environmental law – a mistress he had left 30 odd years ago to pursue a different form of social justice.

As Norm and the rest walked along with the owner of the ranch, I wandered by myself to get some photos and you can see most of them on the website.

Following a path that was marked by years of pickup trucks I was in a narrow lane of sorts with a steep hill on one side and a fenced grazing field on the other.

I heard them before I saw them.  The ground shook.  It rumbled.  It was a freight train going by.  It was a 747 crashing.  It was lightning rolling and it was none of these things – yet it was all of these things.

Turning around in less time than it takes to tell it, there were buffalo coming out of the gate on the grazing field, crossing the lane 100 feet behind me and charging full steam up the hill.

300 buffalo crossed the road behind me. Going from the grazing field up the side of a hill

I watched as I experienced my own “shock and awe” as buffalo large and small moved as one and disappeared behind the trees up the slope.

I’ve been a lot of places and have seen a lot of things, but the sight and sound of 300 buffalo charging up a hill was unique.

As I stood amazed and entranced, the earth started shaking again.  The lightning started rumbling.  The 747 was crashing and the buffalo came charging back down the hill.  Full tilt.  As fast as they could go.

Instead of crossing the lane and going back into the field they had left minutes before, they turned right.  I was in there way.  They kept charging.  Closer.  Closer.

I watched.  Fascinated by these animals that weighed as much as two thousand pounds.  I had seen buffalo before.  Plenty of times.  In movies.  In photographs.  Even in a field once in the Shennadoah Valley back in Virginia.  But I had never seen so much buffalo on the hoof – coming straight at me.

They turned away at the last moment

I kept the lens on them.  There wasn’t anywhere to run to or anywhere to hide.  So I might as well do what I do and keep shooting.

Caught somewhere in the land between wondering what it was like to be trampled to death by buffalo and fascinated by the sight of creatures which had kept the Indians alive on the plains, I couldn’t take my eyes from the lens.

They turned.

Less than fifty feet from me they made a hard left turn and headed back into the field.  I stood my ground as all 300 buffalo moving like a flock of birds, turned and went back into the field to graze.

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