20 April 2017

The Buffalo In the Campground

This is not the buffalo in the campground. This bison was seen many years
later along a trail. I slowly backed away after taking some pictures.
photo by Sara K Joiner
In 1987, my mother, my niece and I took another long summer road trip through the western United States. We again spent most of the trip camping in state and national parks. One of the more memorable evenings I've ever spent in a national park was on this trip.

It was dusk, and Mom stood by the picnic table boiling water on our little Coleman stove to make hot chocolate. It wasn't a cold evening--being late June--but it was cooler than us Texans were used to at that time of year.

My niece and I sat in the rear of the van with the back doors open drinking our hot chocolates. We must have been deep in the conversation of ten-year-olds because we weren't too aware of our surroundings at that moment.

Until we heard an angry shuffling noise nearby.

All three of us raised our heads and looked toward the back of our campsite. I don't know what I was expecting to see, but I was shocked to my core by what I did—an enormous buffalo the size of the boulder he stood beside.

And he was mad!

I don't know if he was mad at us specifically or campers in general. I don't know if he was mad because he had gotten lost from the rest of the herd. I don't know why he was mad; I only know he was.

He pawed the ground with a sharp, furious motion. He snorted.

Mom, who stood closer to the buffalo than my niece and me, said, "Girls, don't move."

As if we could. We were frozen in fear.

Time stretched out between the three of us and the buffalo.

Then, as if cued by some sound on he could hear, he charged!

Mom grabbed her hot chocolate and scurried over to us at the van.

The buffalo ran past the picnic table, across the drive of the neighboring campsite, and off away from the noise of the campgrounds.

Mom asked if we were all right, which we were except for the serious heart palpitations.

I don't remember other campers being nearby (no one was in the neighboring site he crossed), and I don't recall hearing any yells in the distance. Maybe I was too scared to register any other noises. Surely he had to come across other campers before he moved away from the campground.

Years later I learned that buffalo have poor eyesight, so we were even more fortunate. That's probably why he swerved across to the neighboring site from the picnic table.

Every trip back to Yellowstone, Mom and I talk about that buffalo. I hope he was able to reunite with the herd.

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