Living in Mammoth, Wyoming, just inside the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park, I mark the passage of time by observing the seasonal movements of wildlife. Spring brings protective cow elk with newly birthed calves hidden under stairwells and the grizzly bears that feast on them. Summer brings a conspicuous absence of wildlife as bear, deer, elk, and bison chase summer’s bounty into the high country. Autumn brings quaking aspens erupting in volcanos of gold on the surrounding peaks and six-point bull elk raking cars with their sharp antlers. And just as winter presses its cold hand on the park, bison wander into Mammoth seeking long senescent grass buried beneath the snow.
But these ancient beasts are caught between a park with insufficient food to fuel them through the long winter and Montana which does not want them. They are caught between paucity and intolerance. Once bison leave the safety of Yellowstone and cross into Montana they fall under the intransigent policies set by the state.
Some are hunted and those are the lucky ones. Others are driven into corrals where they are fed hay until trucks come to take them to slaughter – an ugly end for such a beautiful beast. I pass a herd on High Bridge just inside the safety of Yellowstone. The bridge sways as bison trot toward the park interior away from slaughter, away from guns. It’s an unusually warm winter and many bison remain in Yellowstone’s protective embrace. I am glad. I want them to live and die as they are meant to not as we mean them to. As they pass my jeep their large brown eyes meet mine. Their whales’ breath bursting in a cloud of steam these bison made of grass.