IT’S THE ANNUAL FALL RUT AND TENSION IS REACHING ITS USUAL SEXUAL HIGH.
Bulls are herding their quarry away from other rampant males as the occasional flurry of dust draws my attention to a scuffle in a distant group. The playground attendant steps in between and calm resumes.
I’m squatting by the side of the road, the car within safe reach ten yards behind me. Like a jealous schoolboy, one male in particular is shepherding a female away from anyone who approaches. This is fairly easy going for him, as most of the nearby bulls are juveniles with weak poker faces. They push, he re-raises, and they quickly fold their tails between their legs and sit out the next round.
Familiar and annoying comes the sound of a lazy motorhome puttering up beside me, window rolled down, with that inquiring look of, “what’re you looking at?” Well, for those at home, let’s survey the scene: plains take your eyes to the horizon about a mile in front of me and a half mile behind, a slow meandering river to the side.
AND THEN AMONGST ALL THIS OPEN MONOTONOUS SCENERY IS
A GREAT BIG FUCKING HERD OF BISON!!!
What do you think I’m looking at?
So they pull up alongside my car to watch the action. As is usually the case, the laws of automobile attraction pull more SUVs and motor homes alongside until I have a complete 100m wall of vehicular support lining the road directly behind me.
“OLD FAITHFUL TEES OFF IN TWENTY MINUTES”,
I WHISPER UNDER MY BREATH TO NO AVAIL. NOBODY IS LEAVING.
More dust. The protective bull snorts and stares as he guards and blocks. Another, equally large male enters the circle and makes a beeline straight for today’s prize cow. A brief stint of sniffing and it’s on.
This lady’s worth fighting for.
The first male takes a short run at the intruder and stops short, turning his body parallel to his opponent in the first stage of the battle; who’s the biggest? The standoff seems to last for a whole silent minute before they engage. There’s an almighty racket as they smash their heads together – a rather severe form of exfoliation with dust and debris filling the air.
In stark contrast to human playground behaviour, where everyone runs to crowd around the hapless combatants as they beat each other to a pulp, here the bison seem genuinely scared. Within seconds, the entire herd has been thrown into organized panic, grouping together and starting to run.
Back to me, sitting by the side of the road.
I lift my camera, which at the time had a motor drive that fired at three frames per second.
My left eye is on the bulls, my right on the circling herd of cows and juveniles which are now barreling across the flat open land right towards me.
I LEAN BACK AGAINST THE ROAD EDGE AND FOCUS ON THE FIGHTERS, RELEASING THE SHUTTER FOR A FULL SECOND – CLACK, CLACK ,CLACK – WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY SPRINGING TO MY FEET, READY TO RUN. AND RUN I DID, WITH ABOUT FORTY TONS OF MEAT CHASING ME DOWN.
Honestly, I think the herd was seconds from running over my flimsy little body before they suddenly curved away like a school of fish evading a dolphin.
But why did they change course at the last minute?
A great big line of motorhomes was blocking their path.
Chalk one up for the tourists.