I had another of those hikes…
You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones that make me think about life. The ones that make me go all writer-ish and focus on the bittersweet of life up here.
Now, anyone who has seen so much as a picture of Yellowstone is pretty familiar with the bison we have in the park. And, heaven forbid, if you happen to visit… If you do, you will quickly come to understand just how little those big fellas actually care about the puny little two-legged things that clog up the nice, big, paved bison-trails with useless shit like cars and cameras.
Well, they don’t care until they think you’re threatening their calves…then they start to just all kinds of care!
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a placid, stolid, lazy bison — a critter the size of a hatchback, mind you — turn and go from zero to forty in about five steps. It’s amazing as hell to see because, like grizzlies, something that big just should not be able to move that fast.
Err…let me correct that: it’s amazing unless you happen to be the idiot on the receiving end of that charge. Then it’s a trip to the E.R. and a long explanation to your insurance company.
A bison doesn’t actually have a whole lot of natural predators, by the way. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the wolves and grizzly like to eat bison, but to try and bring down a full-grown, healthy adult*? Yeah, there are definitely easier ways of getting dinner.
*Calves, on the other hand, are just plain irresistible to the predators…hence the whole “charge it ‘til it’s gone!” theory of calf-protection.
But the bison do have one true predator — the same one we all share: age.
When a male bison gets old, he doesn’t hang around the edges of the herd. He doesn’t try to hook up with another group. No, the younger males who won the dominance fights over him, let alone the males running in other groups, would never stand for that.
When a bison gets old, he instead wanders off on his own. He lives quietly in a small range, with no other bison around — no family, no friends, no old pals…
In short, he goes off to die. Alone.
A creature that has never before been alone, spends his last months — perhaps as much as a year — in precisely that way: alone. He’s been put out of mind by all those he ever knew, forgotten by even those he once protected as calves…
When you are out hiking, away from the “prime” bison areas, and you come across one of those old, solo bulls…yeah, that’s the bitter part of bittersweet. There’s no question about it, no way to sugar-coat it, he’s out there to die. Forgotten and — worse…by far worse — alone.
I know I’m anthropomorphizing the shit out of this, but you can’t help but connect the sad, lonely end of the bull I saw today with how we as a society treat our own elders.
I have friends who handle the honor guard duties at veterans’ funerals, and I can’t tell you how many times they have told me about burial ceremonies where they were the only ones there. Them, and the one who died…alone.
So call your parents, kids. Call your siblings, and your friends. If they’ve passed already, visit their graves. Honor them — no, that’s not quite it. Remember them.
None of us should ever be that old bull, wandering off to die forgotten and alone.
Alone is worse.