It was my first sighting of an actual buffalo herd! Right in the heart of the Adirondack mountains and only three miles from my present encampment, a small remnant herd of the Great Plains buffalo lives at the Adirondack Buffalo Farm.
Many years ago I saw my first buffalo at a game preserve near my parents’ home. Every year we’d go to the preserve; visiting at the pens and cages of animals brought from far and wide; everything from prairie dogs to jackasses. For me it was always the buffalo that were the most impressive, standing at least six feet tall at the shoulders with massive brown fur hides; they’d placidly munch on grasses, looking too large to be contained in such small fenced in pastures.
Like any kid of the 50s and 60s, I grew up on the movies of the wild, wild west where there’d always be a scene or two of thundering herds of buffalo; looking too big to be contained on a film screen. Invariably, they were being chased by cowboys, indians, or both.
Here in a large pasture with the great mountains of Adirondack Park as a backdrop, the herd is made up of about thirty-five buffalo. I stand on a wide deck that overlooks the pasture below me. Some of the animals don’t seem to notice me and go on grazing; there are two mama buffalo close by nursing their calves. I start taking pictures with my camera.
Then I see him, staring straight at me; the big honcho leader of the herd. While snapping his picture, I start talking to him, “Hey there, how you doing, big guy?” He snorts so loud, the camera almost flies out of my hands. I look up from the view finder. With one wave of his massive head the big bull turns and heads down pasture, snorting as he goes. As if by magic, the rest of the herd starts moving with him.
As one unit, they all make their way away from me; the leader has spoken. It is only then that I fully realize these buffalo are wild; not given to sidling up to the old fence for a friendly chat. They’re also very dangerous, especially those with calves to protect. We may have a short distance between us but to the animals’ mind, we are worlds apart. I vow to be more cautious and inconspicuous next time.
Another visit to the farm. I sit quietly on the deck enthralled with watching the herd of buffalo before me. I see small calves lying hidden by tall grass, pregnant mamas-to-be biting off great wads of grass, a young bull taking a dust bath as he rolls in the dirt and there in the middle of his great family, the big bull.
Even at a distance of fifty feet, looking through the spokes of the deck railing, he stands straight on, watching me, knowing that I’m there. But this time he’s content; not making any moves to put further distance between us. He stands his ground; this time, I know my place.
(aka Tin Can Traveler)