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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Plains Bison

Air Date: Week of November 21, 2014

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Bison come. They were 60 million once, but now are so few in number. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

In Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park, writer Mark Seth Lender encounters a bison herd. Though there are now so few of the millions of bison that once grazed the plains, Lender is still impressed by their size, power and indifference to his presence.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Part of protecting the heritage of North America has involved restoring the bison to the Great Plains. Wes Olson brought them back to Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, and he served as Mark Seth Lender’s guide there. On three separate occasions Mark found himself surrounded by the entire bison herd.

Plains Bison, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
© 2014 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved


The Grasslands’ last bloom, wheat and burdock blanket the plains. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

[BIRD SONG; DISTANT BISON GRUNTING AND LOWING]

LENDER: Imagine now the retreat of the Ice. The vastness left behind, the ruins of the land all scree and gravel like a riverbed gone dry. 20,000 years of cloud and cold.

Then grass…

The greening of the plains....

Birdsong breaks the silence like a candle. And out of the past, Bison come.

The bulk of their looming shapes, the brown hair curled and coiled by eons of weather none of us could imagine, or endure.

And steady on they come.


Buffalo berries weigh down the branches from which they hang. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The Grasslands in Fall’s last bloom. The tall seed heads of primitive wheat swaying in the first of the morning. The yellow heliotrope in clusters all along the route of parade and the red rust stalks of burdock like pennants flying. Buffalo berries red as blood spilling over and pulling the branches down. And the grass is sweet as clover.

In the fading afternoon two great bulls, beards barbed, like Zedekiah and Nebuchadnezzar face each other down.


Two bulls bow their heads and clash; a dramatic battle ensues. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

They grunt, like mountains rumbling.

They back and brace and root to the ground.

They turn, their horns bow down, their breath sharp as a blade, eyes wide as the world and blind to any world that is not each other.

The move, that is slow and fast and comes without warning: the hook the tear the head-on rush!

…A breaking apart

…A turning away.

…A great dust bath in the end as if nothing ever happened.


A cow nurses her new calf, the herd’s next generation. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

And the cow beside them only goes on with her grazing; the making of milk; the nursing of her new red calf. And they all move off into the last of the day that once was morning.

Around me now Bison part like a river around an insignificant stone. They seem so many! They are so few: 60 million strong they were! They merge into the blue green of the land and the odor of ice lingers though the day was 100 degrees and the plains all a hazy shimmer under a barren midnight sun of a moon.

Bison low in the distance and the dark.

CURWOOD: You can see Mark Seth Lender‘s photographs of these bison at our website LOE.org.

Bison Dust Bath, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan from Mark Seth Lender on Vimeo.

 

Links

Wes Olson

Tourism Saskatchewan

The Crossings Resort

 

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