A Yellowstone stampede
Ever had one of those real life experiences when time freezes and you are swept up in the moment? That spontaneous moment was a spectacle in the USA’s Yellowstone National Park for Intrepid Group Leader Erin Gavlock, when natural attraction took hold…
“The bright morning mist is mixing with the kicked up clouds of dust and I’m running right beside them.
Our hooves, four of them each, are more than thunder striking the ground; they are ripples of tiny earthquakes splitting the world open. I say we are sixty strong, but more emerge from the edge of the forest and bring their identical massive bodies to rush with the rest. We have one mind and we move legs and breath together, it’s morning and we’re animals so we run and we run and run until – one big leap over the river bank and – splash!
We meet the river and let it carry the sweat from our heavy bodies and lazily, we cross. Together, never stepping off the path or out of line, we reach the other side and start a new day just like yesterday and tomorrow.
As I watched, the suddenly subdued bison saunter away from the river and onwards through the valley, I stared after in unabashed awe and jealously. Did that really happen? Did hundreds of bison just stampede, stampede, into a river?
The smaller the herd became in the distance, the stronger my regret at having been born on two legs became. I had never witnessed something so seemingly spontaneous and for lack of a better word, wild, in my life and wanted wholeheartedly to feel that frantic and free.
What would our world be like, the human one, if we were more animal? With the sun rising in the distance wild-eyed business men would start charging. Secretaries with pencils in their hair, nurses in scrubs, kids with lunchboxes, soccer coaches, teenagers dressed in black and rap stars with bling charge on all fours through the streets of their city. Models, writers and college students stream from apartment buildings. No one knows who began the charge. No one knows why they charge. They don’t speak, but they answer the instinct that tells them “run”. And in this moment, running together, exuberant and free, they are a herd and they would protect each other.
But there are meetings and school buses and trains and Starbucks and phone calls and traffic lights and radios and strangers, and most days we never give thought to that other world that coexists with ours. The world where wolves hunt in packs for survival, where sea otters play together in beds of kelp, where geese streak Vs across the sky, where alligators cruise through swamps and swimming pools, and where hundreds of American bison stampede into rivers, it is the only world that can truly be called free.
As the bison marched through the valley, their morning hike led them across the highway to the flat green meadow opposite. Cars, RVs and trucks were stuck, forced to wait, for the bison there is no traffic sign. Some got out and took photos; others rolled their eyes and gripped the wheel. I laughed and in my head I wasn’t jealous, I meandered through the valley, letting the sun dry my river-soaked coat and I didn’t stop walking when I reached the highway.”
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* American bison photos by Erin Gavlock