Wake of the Buffalo
~ Stephany Seay, Reprinted with Permission from the Author
Between Thursday and Sunday, forty-four of America's last wild buffalo were killed in the Gardiner Basin by hunters with the Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes. Most of these buffalo were shot less than 300 yards from the north boundary of Yellowstone National Park, on a small area of Gallatin National Forest land called Beattie Gulch. Three of the buffalo that were shot here did not immediately fall but walked into Yellowstone, where they were not allowed to be retrieved by the Nez Perce hunters who shot them; their bodies left to the ecosystem. According to state and tribal officials, the hunters who shot these buffalo are being allowed to keep their tags to kill other buffalo. In another incident, three other buffalo were illegally shot and killed by two non-tribal members.
Two days later we watched as more than a hundred buffalo approached these killing fields.
They found the remains of their relatives strewn across the land like fleshy boulders left behind by glaciers. We watched in sorrowful awe as the buffalo approached the gut piles. Their tails shot up in the air as they ran from remain to remain, discovering what was left.
Enormous bulls bellowed like roaring dragons, mouths agape, bodies arched, and pawing the ground. The buffalo placed their faces close to the flesh left behind, nuzzling their muzzles into the earth where the buffalo had fallen. They sniffed at fetuses still sheltered in their mother's flesh whose lives were ended before they were born. The buffalo circled and scattered, ran to each other and away again. Sparring, bumping, running, pawing and crying out in their deep emotion of their discovery. Watching, we could only think of it as a wake, a mighty wailing of the buffalo. Back and forth they ran, frantic, between the gut piles that had been their friends, their family. Like chieftains in their own right, fathers of their clans, the mature bulls lingered the longest, as the mothers and grandmothers lead the young ones on in an ancient procession, their deliberate footsteps slower in their sorrow.
The depth of relationship the buffalo share is timeless, intense, and far beyond most people's willingness or ability to accept or understand. Indeed, it is easier, more convenient, to ignore or pretend that it doesn't mean anything. In that blindness we deny not only to other creatures, but to ourselves, the honest power of love, the gift of respect, and the aid of wisdom. The buffalo already encompass these things, and they are patiently waiting on the brink for us to catch up.
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