(or other places to find my writings from the mundane to the supermundane)
The Magic of Yellowstone
A sample of Jim's writings
Buffalo Allies of Bozeman
- Name: Jim Macdonald
- Location: Bozeman, MT, United States
Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.
View my complete profile
Today, I was very disappointed that the weather forecast scared me from a much needed trip into Yellowstone. However, I was happy to attend a presentation at the Bozeman Public Library this afternoon by Buffalo Vision, a small nonprofit trying to set up a private herd in Eastern Montana, based on principles that were outlined by their guest speaker, former Yellowstone ranger Bob Jackson - most famous for fighting poachers in Yellowstone's Thorofare region and winning a fight related to keep his job
Bob Jackson now lives in Iowa and runs a bison ranch there of about 400 buffalo. He ranches buffalo, he says, based on the family units that he observed from decades working in Yellowstone. While he has no choice but to fence in the bison, he presented evidence that managing buffalo as full familial units - which include not simply the young and the females but also the males as well - could revolutionize not only the way that bison are managed in places like Yellowstone but also should serve as a model for our own social interactions as well.
One of the main principles besides the holistic integrity of the family unit was the notion of equality. All animals in the herd serve their function, and they all have an equally important function in respect to the entire family unit. Young calves lead the migrating bison, mothers tend after the young, siblings tend after siblings, and adult males watch along the edges in smaller groups. In what Jackson calls "dysfunctional" herds, bison are scattered along the range and "chaos" reigns - these are herds where there is not a strong familial connection (usually because that's how they've been managed). In the herds that are allowed to follow their familial instincts and have self-determination, herds are grouped together, larger clusters, relating to extended familial clusters. In these herds, not only are buffalo healthy, but the vegetation, even the riparian vegetation, is often healthy as well. Jackson showed a lot of photographic evidence of this on his own ranch as compared to what one finds in the "dysfunctionally" managed herds.
Buffalo Vision hopes to use the land it has in Eastern Montana to follow Jackson's insights in managing buffalo while using the land as an educational ranch where people could learn more about buffalo. Ultimately, there is hope it might be an early step toward creating a Buffalo Commons
, though Buffalo Vision admits that their herds will reach the point where they will need to kill some of the animals to keep the herd viable.
The most interesting claim was that the principle of family - the notion that human family is currently dysfunctional - and the principle of equality - that they claim to observe in buffalo populations - is a recipe for needed change in humanity. They frequently cited Plains indigenous tribes and their relationship with buffalo as a guide not only to understanding the buffalo but also in understanding the buffalo giving guidance to themselves.
I found Jackson's talk intriguing. Though, on the one hand there seemed to be a general lack of analysis in connecting the principles of family and equality to the larger systemic problems of the earth. For instance, Jackson's operation and Buffalo Vision are essentially private operations that require a lot of money to sustain themselves (Buffalo Vision is a nonprofit, but their wish list requires a lot of money in donations). Nevertheless, on the other hand, it was encouraging to hear a talk that was essentially embracing the main principles of anti-authoritarianism, especially the kind I practice. Our voices are most empowered in small groups, whether they be our immediate family, or our circle of friends. Small groups have often found the power to sustain themselves, especially in concert with other small groups. In these affinity relationships, self-determination is not the pre-requisite of creating the group; rather it flows as a consequence of being part of and accountable to a group. That is, it's not libertarian. Most importantly, I don't believe in any hierarchy of roles. There are certainly different roles, and some do them better than others. However, there is no essential value placed on certain types of roles or beings over others. We don't value simply the calves, or the gene stock, or the tenderness of the animal; in my beliefs, all are equal (before the grace of God.)
What went unsaid is that Bob Jackson's observations of buffalo and other herding animals have essentially led him to anarchism (my characterization, not his) - which does not mean chaos - it means essentially, the governing of small clusters of independent affinity groups (what are essentially families) on a non-hierarchical basis so that each member can find self-determination within that structure. We are all fenced in by the laws of physics or by our emotional desires or by logical necessity; however, it does not mean that we don't have self-determination. The only thing I would change about Jackson's metaphor is that ultimately there's no reason for the human to corral buffalo, except to survive. His project is not analogous to what one found on the Plains; it only points the way to what's still missing.
It is a very interesting and engaging idea, though.
Jackson has recently criticized the way that Yellowstone National Park has been corralling and slaughtering buffalo (we watched a very disturbing video of bison being corralled at the Stephens Creek facility). There is no doubt a criticism also in the way that the livestock industry treats cows. If the notions of family and equality were allowed to pervade, these policies and agricultural practices would evaporate (as likely would the fences around his property). But, would the result be chaos? Or, would we and the buffalo then have a better chance at dealing with the dysfunction that currently exists in most facets of our lives. Even those of us who have families, who have strong kinships, at many levels, must know what I mean.
As I sat with my partner and my baby in a room full of total strangers, with no familial kinship outside my immediate one, I could sense the dysfunction and the possibility all at once.
I couldn't help going outside and taking photos of the lunar eclipse. Before Genevieve and I became a couple, a lunar eclipse from a friend's house happened on one of those nights that brought us closer together. It's a special symbol for us. We watched it tonight in the dark with little River.
It's not my normal kind of post, but it does keep me in touch with all the things that give rise to everything I write.
Here are some pictures.
In April 2002, I remember gathering up the courage to introduce myself to Mike Mease, the co-founder of Buffalo Field Campaign, at a small march for the buffalo of Yellowstone in Washington, DC. In February 2008, I introduced myself again to him on the snowy streets of West Yellowstone, MT. In between, it feels like I have lived a lifetime. And, yet, in that lifetime, it seems that little has changed in respect to many of the social struggles I have engaged myself in whether it be the anti-war movement, the global justice movement, or the struggle related to the buffalo in Yellowstone.
I remember marching with 600,000 in the streets of New York City in February 2003 trying to stop the war in Iraq. I knew then that the war was going to happen, that the hard part would come when people realized that a large march in the streets was not going to be enough to change the mind of the Bush Administration. Yet, in those moments, there was a sense that something was possible if people took that march as a starting point rather than the decisive moment in the struggle. As I marched in 2003, it was a beginning for me in the anti-war movement both locally and nationally. From there, I organized and organized and organized until it seemed pointless to continue on as I had been. But, what a ride that time was! What a sense of possibility I learned from the streets of Boston and New York protesting the major party political conventions, from standing up to police abuse in the streets of Washington, DC, to organizing a 15,000 person counter-inaugural protest on a budget of less than $2,000. What I learned about the diversity of people who call themselves radicals. I learned more about socialists than I ever cared to and learned to embrace the anarchism that my heart had always believed in but had never dared to think possible. I learned that I was not alone in the struggle; I learned what a mess everything was.
Yet, wars raged on, the movements slid into obscurity, and off in Yellowstone where my heart truly always was, the buffalo slaughter continued.
Personally, it was also the ride of my life. That will be quite a story to tell as well - it involves a lot of twists and turns and put me in places I never expected to be. It wasn't all good, but it's been the happiest time of my life.
Yet, the purpose of the action has always failed to produce the results. Wars continued, people starved on the streets of my city, the people I loved in the movements squabbled like there was no tomorrow and ripped themselves to shreds (or were helped along the way by certain people with nothing better to do). And, Yellowstone remained this conflicted place in my mind, the most beautiful and enchanting place I have ever known which was enveloped in such ridiculous absurdity.
The sense of meaning and purpose in my life, the joy and happiness of it, is often confounded by the sense of relentless failure to resist the overwhelming force of injustice in our world. That failure is not only global but even deeply personal. Of course, I am hardly the person I would like to be.
Since moving to Bozeman, if I have missed anything about Washington, it's been interacting regularly with the area's small but dynamic radical community. As nice as people are here and as ruthlessly petty as they can be in Washington, I have still missed the sense that at any moment I might be on my bicycle with a half dozen other people going to the house of a torturer and war criminal like John Negroponte and making his evening miserable - the least one can do to a person who lives in relative tranquility, having triumphed by advocating and promoting the torture of so many other people. I will never forget that night when we saw him in his own garage, when he unsuccessfully tried to get one of our friends arrested. There was a sense of exhilaration. This was really the jerk who wielded such power over others, and he was mortal just like one of us. In that place at that moment, his haughtiness was nothing; it was reduced to the maddening noise of the night that we were giving him.
In Bozeman, such a community where such things are possible might exist, but I have not found it here yet in the short time I have been here, that sense that in the moment something exhilarating was possible.
On Saturday, in West Yellowstone, joining Buffalo Field Campaign for their rally, I sensed that community I had known so well on the streets and small meeting rooms of the District of Columbia. This was a group of people I could understand, a small group of determined people doing their best to take care of each other and watch out for the buffalo in the fields, who were out there every day carrying out their plans. They organized the way I understood organization, by some form of consensus. It honestly felt like I was in an outpost of one of the convergence centers that I had some part in helping to organize.
If this sounds foreign to you reading this, if I am not being clear about what I am talking about, the point isn't for you to get an inside look into the rally (I wrote a little article
about it for National Parks Traveler
) or into Buffalo Field Campaign or into the ins and outs of the day I had with my girlfriend Genevieve and our son River (or the hidden gems like seeing my first bighorn sheep) but rather to get at the paradox of failure to protect the buffalo while thriving in the struggle despite the failure. Yet, that failure is still unacceptable, which perhaps drives the activism all the more no matter how many years have gone by.
When I met Mike Mease and spoke with Dan Brister in 2002, I was a relative neophyte in the world of activism. I had dabbled a bit with a grassroots group in 2000, who protested the failure to count votes accurately in Florida (a group ironically made up with at least as many Greens who did not vote for Gore as there were Democrats), but I was certainly a bit lost from activism and found myself in awe of Buffalo Field Campaign. I was very shy. In 2008, with a world of experience at almost every level of organizing, I still found myself very shy to again meet Mike Mease and this time speak with Stephany Seay. And, I was still in awe. But, just as Dan impressed me and made me feel at home in 2002, Mike and Stephany and others we met were the same here in 2008. Within minutes, Mike was extending my family an invitation to dinner. Despite feeling too shy to mingle much with most of the volunteers, I still felt incredibly at home. It was as though I had stepped into my first DC Anti-War Network meeting.
Only, this time ... wow ... this was at the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, and somehow this matters more to me.
So, the feelings, the positive sense of a group that cares, one that I understand, one that makes me feel welcome - even as I usually don't look like I should fit in based on the way that I tend to dress and look- and yet this unrelenting sense that after so many years, things are still so bad out there. We have been hoodwinked into thinking that war in Iraq has actually gotten better (as though any decrease in the rate of death makes it any better for those who are still dying), and many are hoodwinked into thinking that somehow the war in Afghanistan is some great triumph of virtue. And, yet, the death and destruction rage on - for what? Doesn't it have to do with something we think we are owed? And, yet, are any of us actually better off for it? The debt collector (IMF), the torturer (Negroponte), and the tyrant (Bush) are probably the most miserable of all (and if they are not, they should be hassled until they are). And, in Yellowstone, that same day, more bison were being shipped to slaughter for the supposed sake of cows, themselves slaves to the civilizing impulses of humankind. In fact, it's for the sake of no one at all, except...
It seems to be only good for the sake of those who fight against it. The only ones who seem anyhow content as can be with life are those who stand in solidarity against injustice. As we go down to defeat after defeat, failure after failure, our pain probably only strengthens our resolve and probably brings those moments of connection all the more joyous. It meant something more that Mike and others invited us to dinner; it meant something in the course of struggle.
And, yet, it's still not good enough. At some point, we have to do better, we have to break through. It may not be in our control, but we have to make the best result possible. And, what is that best result? The best result is the break down of the social barriers that make our profoundest friendships the exception rather than the norm. That is, there are too many arbitrary borders, whether we are talking about the U.S. border with Mexico, the border of one person's race versus another's, sex, or even - and perhaps especially - the border of one species or being from another. If we are going to hate each other, fall apart into chaos, at least we should do so without also the added notion that our hatred has some other rationale that should be codified for all others to follow. If we are going to be people who slaughter and kill buffalo, please let it be simply because we are hungry and starving and not because we think we need to protect some profound social order.
When I met Buffalo Field Campaign, shy and afraid of rejection though I was and am, I knew at the same time that I was home. This was an alternative social order. Was it perfect? Of course not. It's only the privileged like us that can travel so far to volunteer one's time to do something like this. In fact, to see a group able to do this suggests that some compromise has been made with the system in order to exist. It's a compromise we all make; the privilege is something we must all own up to. Yet, that privilege is no excuse for fearing being called hypocrites and not doing what one can. In a world between those paradoxes, between privilege and resistance, it was a homecoming of sorts, much as it was in 2002, much as it became in the DC Anti-War Network.
However, the question of my previous essay remains. What in fact is next? It is clear that the buffalo are still being killed and wars are still being waged. Can something else be done? I actually now have a few specific ideas I'd like feedback on, but I don't want to share them here in the netherworld of the internet but with the people who also care. They probably won't work, but if I can be part of the process, than I think that over time the possibility for success increases. What I'd suggest to others is to find a community where that is possible; if you need ideas on how one might go about finding that community or even forming it, please ask. I also have some ideas I can share about that.
Other recent essays by me on this topic: 2/3/08 Hey Park Service! Don't bulldoze Yellowstone buffalo just so I can stay on my side of the double yellow line (also at Indybay) 2/15/08 Stopping slaughter of buffalo in Yellowstone: What's next to do?
2/17/08 Bison slaughter in Yellowstone National Park draws protest against Park Service (in National Parks Traveler)
on yesterday's Buffalo Field Campaign event in West Yellowstone, MT, that Genevieve, River, and I attended has been accepted and posted on the Webzine National Parks Traveler
I plan to write a much fuller piece about it that expresses my point of view on the entire experience, especially my firsthand contact with Buffalo Field Campaign, which was an extremely rewarding experience.
Look for that piece to be written today or tomorrow. For now, the article stands. (Note, I did not write the caption on National Parks Traveler under the photo, which suggests that bison are in fact slaughtered to prevent the spread of brucellosis, which is not what I actually believe to be the case.)
I do want to thank Kurt Repanshek for posting the article; hopefully, it will help draw attention to the issue. It's shaping up already to be a very bad year for buffalo in and around Yellowstone National Park.
I also want to thank Buffalo Field Campaign for their warmth to my family; the soup at lunch was the best I've had in a very long time.
Like a rerun from years past, the buffalo who live in Yellowstone National Park are being slaughtered by the government. In the past week, according to a count by Buffalo Field Campaign, 117
bison have been sent to slaughter. Counting the 112 that have been killed this winter by hunting, approximately 5% of the buffalo in this area have been killed this winter.
As one would expect in these circumstances, many who have not followed the endless cycle of buffalo hazing and slaughter by the National Park Service and Montana's Department of Livestock wonder why this happens. There is a lot of talk about brucellosis
. There is a lot of talk about the Interagency Bison Management Plan
. Many groups and individuals speak out for and against
) something that takes explaining; that is, it takes explaining how the government of the 20th and 21st century harasses and kills animals of a species that was nearly destroyed by the end of the 19th century.) It feels like a million years that I've been writing out against the buffalo slaughter (see for instance here
- egads - and here
and this pdf public presentation - "Genocide Against the American Indian, Destruction of the Buffalo, & Imperialism in Iraq
The what's and why's of the arguments over the bison slaughter are very important, but it's not for me here to go into them. That this is an ideological values struggle - not a struggle over science, as has often been claimed - is something that I have been arguing for many years. That the values of solidarity with buffalo and those who stand with them is extremely important is something I have done my best to convey for years (or else why would I give a public presentation to social justice and anti-war activists on Columbus Day in Washington, DC about the connections of bison slaughter to the rationale in our current foreign policy debacles). More of those arguments will come from me as new contexts present themselves.
But here, I simply want to consider what there is to be done. That is, if you understand what is happening in Yellowstone to these wonderful animals, if you understand what is happening to Yellowstone itself, and you accept the values of solidarity with buffalo, what is there that we should be doing?
Year after year, volunteers from Buffalo Field Campaign are out in the field doing their best to advocate on behalf of the buffalo; year after year buffalo continue to suffer and to die. I cannot imagine the degree of heartache that the volunteers must feel witnessing the awful things that you can see on their Web site
. And, yet, still, we go through cycles where bison numbers are cut down, where they rebound, and where they are cut down again. The last bastion of wild buffalo were 23 in Yellowstone National Park; to this day, they are not allowed to regain even a foothold into their historic range, where they numbered between 30 and 40 million at the start of the 19th century.
Now that I have moved near Yellowstone, it's imperative that I find a way to plug into this struggle. That's why I plan on going to West Yellowstone on Saturday where Buffalo Field Campaign is holding a rally. I want to meet them, know them, provide support, and then see if there really is a way for me to plug in.
However, until I do that, I can't say that I feel comfortable committing in that direction and not some other. One thing that years of activism and organizing has taught me is that while one can show solidarity with all kinds of diverse groups, one can truly only belong to a group where one has affinity, where those in that affinity group truly have an empowered voice in the consensus process. Since I see the hierarchical attitudes that people have had over other people and other beings to be the root cause of this situation - one where the parks were set up in part to stop people from destroying all the wildlife but one where the parks reserve the right to decide when that wildlife still might be destroyed - I need to know firsthand the organizing process of the group to which I might belong, to which I'd volunteer my time, and give all my effort. And, despite years of contact, I really don't know how it all works. I don't know whether there is affinity or merely affection and a shared drive. Many years fighting within the anti-war movement, with its haves and have nots
, with those who would manipulate the politics of the situation for their own power, have taught me that this is not an unimportant consideration.
Action on behalf of the buffalo must be consistent with resisting the processes that put the buffalo in jeopardy in the first place. That probably was the number one reason I gave up eating all meat - not because there is something intrinsically better or worse about eating one being over another - but because of the direct relationship with how that meat ends up on my plate with the causes of suffering of those I love. And, while no one ever finds any kind of ascetic purity with regards to the causes for which one fights, it is still necessary to draw clear distinctions when one finds oneself moving in a particular direction.
Consistency of process, breaking down hierarchies, opening discussion, practicing solidarity might as well be the recipe for starting any anarchist group. Yet, this is exactly what I'm talking about. The value of standing with the buffalo is not to keep any buffalo from being killed within Yellowstone National Park. Buffalo die every year from cold, from wolves, from old age. No one is out there advocating the eternal life of buffalo. What is being advocated for ultimately is a truly free ranging buffalo population, one that can expand beyond the park and ultimately occupy its historic range. To do that is to repudiate centuries of genocide, to repudiate the rationale for that genocide, and even more importantly, to recognize the integrity of other beings as they pursue their interests and their space. There is no doubt that this is a radical agenda, and because it is a radical agenda, it suggests a radical process of action. It does not mean that one cannot show solidarity with less radical groups; it does mean that the actions here are serious actions with serious consequences to the way we live.
So, in the particulars, I'm struggling to know what to do. Writing is great; it raises conversation and provokes response (both reasonable and very angry). Yet, what will stop the slaughter? What will stop the hazing? Obviously, I don't know, and the people in Buffalo Field Campaign who are a lot smarter about these things than I am and have been working at it a lot longer still don't have the magic key. It's very difficult in a political world where party hardly matters here, where killing bison is a bipartisan solution. It's very difficult in a world where we will not easily convince enough people people to stop eating beef, thereby taking the economic incentive away from the cattle industry to wage this ideological war. It's certainly difficult when one person can only reasonably exert so much force on a world without becoming the authoritarian that one hates. What is there to be done?
It seems to me that one always must start small and within the local context where one resides. Instead of feeling the hopelessness of saving the world, one should relentlessly concentrate one's hopes on the beings in one's immediate environment and go from there. Obviously, on my end, it won't be enough. Yet, what difference does it make? How else am I supposed to live? Just because I was never able to save a single Iraqi life, does it mean that living in complicity with the alternative is acceptable?
So, in my case, I'm going to West Yellowstone, where I hope to bring a few things for the volunteers of Buffalo Field Campaign. I want to know them and see if there's a place for me to listen, learn, help, and bring whatever skills I have to the struggle. If I discover that there is no affinity for me to Buffalo Field Campaign, there is still solidarity and struggle. It doesn't mean that working on behalf of this struggle is not for me. For you all in your contexts, the challenge is no doubt different. Everyone has their own concerns, and for the vast majority, the plight of the American bison is probably extremely low on that list. And, yet, there is solidarity. Whatever you do, if I'm reaching you, what can you do? How can you show solidarity? What are the small actions you can take? To what extent are those actions consistent with the processes that resist the forces that have killed so many buffalo?
Yet, through small actions we must start, one must not mistake smallness for justifying useless actions. On top of all the things I have just written about action, I'd urge that we always be self critical about what we are doing. One thing that comes to mind is that people often think that voting is all they can reasonably do as an effective action for change (or else, why would people be so energized by Barack Obama or any other politician who promises change)? You can vote all you want, but it will do nothing for Yellowstone's buffalo
. Chew on that one. Though we must act within the spheres of our environment, can we always be doing something else? Might my time have better been served stuffing an envelope than writing a stuffy essay? Not tonight, but another day, no doubt.
What else is there? If people have ideas of what they can be doing, even if the buffalo is a tangential part of another struggle, please share. If you want to have a values discussion about buffalo policy, I'd prefer to save that for another time. If you've followed me this far, what's next?
Not that many minutes and not that many miles after this picture was taken on January 27, 2008, in Yellowstone National Park, I found myself stopped 100 yards away from another set of buffalo in the road. On the snowpacked road between Tower Junction and Mammoth Hot Springs, the most beautiful animals strolled along a road they hadn't been just a half hour before.
Buffalo are always on the move, but sometimes they don't have a lot of say in when and where they are heading.
I've sat through many buffalo jams, which I almost always try to avoid. This one was impossible to avoid. I sat there, and I was dismayed to see cars with futility go around me, as they had near the Lamar Valley (at the spot this photo was taken), only to get stuck within a few feet of the buffalo. Still, they calmly strolled, in no hurry to move.
That was until all of the sudden I could see the bison stampede toward my car, instantly afraid, and moving right toward us. In horror, I witnessed a young buffalo get forced into a snowbank only to stumble and fall. I shrieked aloud as my heart sank; the young girl or boy managed to regain her or his footing. Still, they ran by and around the vehicle where my baby and my girlfriend were. At that moment, I wondered if we were about to be like those videos of buffalo (and sometimes elk) ramming into the side of vehicles.
What was causing this horrible and scary scene? Why were the buffalo in a run panicking? Quickly, it was obvious. A snow plow was pushing on forward, driving the buffalo down the road. Whether the snow plow was simply intent on plowing a road (that would be closed by weather anyhow the very next day) or whether the plow simply didn't care about the buffalo, I cannot say. Either way, the buffalo were being hazed from their spot. I cannot emphasize enough how my heart dropped to see that one buffalo look like she or he might fracture a leg in the deep snowdrift (no doubt deeper than it would otherwise be because of those plows).
Since that moment, a moment that pales in comparison to so much of what happens outside of the park - including the hazing, the hunting, and the slaughter of buffalo - I have felt empty inside with the memory of that frightening moment, which wasn't necessary. We could have waited; we would have waited hours if we had to. And, hours would not have been necessary. Anyone who has ever witnessed buffalo realizes that they are always on the move, roaming. However slow they may appear, misjudge them at your peril. They are not born to sit; they are born to roam. As with the other jams, we would have been moving in no time.
While the National Park Service keeps one road open to vehicle traffic during the winter - between the North Entrance at Gardiner to the Northeast Entrance up to Cooke City - and grooms other roads for snowmobile and snowcoach traffic, I fail to understand what the rush was in that moment to further plow a road that was already able to be driven. How many other buffalo have been hazed so that I could be on that road with my car? All I can do is wonder; it's impossible to generalize from a single impressionable experience.
For me, the irony was that a Park Ranger in Mammoth Hot Springs had chewed me out for driving around a needless bison jam just north of Mammoth. On the climbing and winding road, some bison were off in a field. A few cars had stopped with a ranger behind them. Not wanting to add to the trouble, I decided to go around them, like any driver who spends time in Yellowstone does to avoid trouble, especially the needless trouble of one of the many animal jams throughout the park. Just as I was about to go around, traffic moved, and I fell in behind the ranger. At Mammoth Hot Springs, we got out to get Genevieve an extra hat for her head, and the ranger took the time to drive up and pull behind me. He wanted to tell me how wrong it was that I pulled out over a double yellow line and what the consequences might have been for me legally and otherwise if anything had happened. In my mind, I thought to myself, "Give me a break." I've driven my bicycle through the streets of Washington, DC - each intersection was a greater danger than that moment on that road. What was dangerous was adding to a situation of more people crowding around buffalo. However, I also knew from millions of encounters with police officers, including Park Police, that the best thing to do is to shut up and say as little as possible. The more quiet and empty-stared "OK"s I gave, the more agitated the officer seemed with me, but the less he could do but repeat himself a couple of times. He left, probably annoyed with me, annoyed with all the people who do things that create danger to other people and animals alike. I was just one more person to him. And, yet, I was easy to pick on. What stops plows from bulldozing bison off the road? What will stop people in Cody - so eager to protect what they feel is their right - from insisting that the Park Service continue to bombard Sylvan Pass with munitions (or the Park Service from being the overlord making decisions that affect local people, too)? What will stop the livestock industry, who finally announced achieving brucellosis-free status
for all cattle in the United States, from persecuting the buffalo of Greater Yellowstone, keeping them penned in a park that they are overgrazing to the detriment of vegetation and other animals alike?
I went over that double yellow line - whether I should have is not the point - I did it to avoid and give space to the buffalo. What sad irony that the road crews under the watch of the same rangers gave me the opportunity to cross that line by bulldozing buffalo off of the roads they live every single day of their lives?
It makes me sick inside.
The day before, I had driven on wind-swept snowy roads to West Yellowstone. Outside of Yellowstone National Park between West Yellowstone and the park boundary on U.S. 191, I saw a group of snowmobiles watching a group of bison outside the park. All I can wonder about is how many of those buffalo are now dead.
Only fundamental changes can make these feelings and these experiences go away.
Genevieve, River, and I want to visit Buffalo Field Campaign
and see if we can bring them some things on the wish list. I wonder what more I can do, how I can bring my perception, my organizing skill, my other skills to help while trying to be the primary caretaker for a small baby. I know that I need to do something more. The experience of seeing that buffalo, scared and stumbling is not something I can shake - and I was already convinced. What needless arrogance we have to assert our power in the way that we do, what arrogance that we think our recreation must come at the expense of these creatures. Conflict may be an inevitable part of nature, but asserting ourselves as rightful lords of the conflict doesn't need to be part of it. Can't we enjoy waiting it out? Can't we give the buffalo some space? If we come to the point where we are running buffalo over cliffs as many indigenous people did back before the horse, do we have to do so with the ruinous sense of entitlement that we have?
A world away, politicians are having their normal talk about hope and change - do you hear me Mr. Obama? They talk about transparency in government and empowering people to be part of the change. I'm all for it; who isn't? But, what exactly is that change, and how are we a part of it? How are the other beings of this earth a part of it? Is that compatible with what the politicians are talking about? Of course not. We have to be daring enough to be radical enough to recognize that small primal moment - the moment where our fate and the fate of the wandering buffalo are intertwined and unpredictable, the small space between Mammoth and Tower. It starts by recognizing that buffalo roam, that they need space. And, we can wait it out, or even cross the double yellow line if we have to make that happen. If that doesn't end up so rosy for me, if I can't see Yellowstone, if the roads don't get plowed, at least that horrible feeling won't also be there.
Still roaming and pondering,