Of Bison and Human

It was a sunny but crispy winter morning at the border between the Great States of Wyoming and Montana. The kind of day that will last long in our memories.

What other fantastic places can erase the bright stunning pictures, firmly imprinted in some circumvolutions of our brains? The many readings, stories, pictures we have seen, heard, read over the years may be even more fantastic in their greatness than the great, real, visible and, most important, touchable feeling of actually being there. We were off on the early morning ride toward the splendor and marvel of the first ever established natural park in the world. Our guide and driver gave us introductory welcome before getting into the park. There we were, moving at a fast pace through the beautiful Paradise Valley. Every wild creature grazing on the sides of the road, near the banks of the mighty Yellowstone River or the slants of the mountains, was a well-known character. Characters that got their worldwide celebrity by innumerable documentaries, articles, books and movies.

We were entering Yellowstone National Park.

Entering the nature’s first sanctuary is an almost religious experience with the implicit exultation of the soul and exhilarating of the heart. For the first time, we understood what leads the crowds of faithful people to the places that constitute the most sacred place of their particular religion.

The unusual trace of smoke and steam left by a flying over jet plane split the morning sky and followed an awkward course which from ground level seemed to have followed a downward direction. It looked like a reminder than in our race to the stars, we forget the beauty of the land that unfolds right underneath our footsteps. Or maybe it was just an introduction to the atrocities that were about to unveil the destructive side of humanity in another part of the world, Ukraine.

Nobody and nothing prepares you for entering the sanctuary. There is no antechamber, in which to wait, to meditate, pray, or talk to some monk. No room in which to wash your feet carefully to not spoil the sanctity of the place you are about to enter. No veil wearing or smoke purification is required, but a small fee. You are just a step away from the Paradise.

In our adventure, we’ve been literally carried by the herd of power horses in the comfort of a limousine over the roads built to give people access to the wonders of Mother Nature. Elk, coyotes, bears, wolves, various birds and other creatures exhibited to us like a projection of moving images on a giant screen. Facing the immense beauty of the land troubles our minds, making them not able to discern between reality and imagination.

One creature, though, demonstrated to us who was the ruler of the country we were visiting. Gathered in herds of different sizes, they were grazing the grass covered by a crisp layer of white snow. The Almighty Bison, the King of America, the last remnants of a once overwhelming population that dwelled on the vast stretches of the North American land.

The herd of bison slowly moving over the pastures, from one grazing ground to another, is the one magnificent theatrical act of mother nature to show the passer-by human the lessons of stoicism and patience, the human that is continuously running and flying to overachieve, to conquer, to take in possession. The bison, in their daily procession, know no passions and avarice. They have no need to gain power over others; they don’t want to move up on the trophic pyramid. Walking slowly, carefully stepping their hoofs over the ground, they are only part of the universal movement of atoms and moments. The human, instead, is built differently. They want to achieve; they want to control things, beings, and events. In their history, they gained immense knowledge and, consequentially, limitless power. At first, they came riding on horses, walking on their hind legs, and hunted the bison for food and skin, then left. Soon enough they came back riding an unbelievable and humongous snake made of metal, puffing black smoke and white steam, shaking the earth, whistling the air and clinking its joints loudly. Humans shot their guns at bison and decimated them.

For humans, the time is ticking in, then ticking out in an interminable procession that defines the stress of their daily lives, the goals to be achieved. The tasks that are piling up with every tick that is missed or wasted. For bison, the time is just a normal revolution of the planet, of the stars of the universe. They just swim with the flow of it, together with all the elements of the world. Should they lose more of their pastures, should their alike be decimated even more is not of concern, they are just part of the continuous and interruptible flow of time. If they go extinct one day, they will move towards it with the same impassioned pace, following unwritten rules, imperturbable flows.

As two so different species that we people and they bison are, it’s hard to think there is something we can learn from each other. The bison is part of an environment. He only survives or not. The human, is the one that handles the environment on their own will, after learning how to become gods. They can decide on the faith of other species, animals or vegetables, or the layouts of the natural world. They garnered that much knowledge, and with that, they invented tools, means and systems, creating and recreating, destroying and reconstructing, showing mercy or cruelness, eliminating whatever stands their way. How can one imagine that the human, a poor creature at the beginning, will develop to such an extreme level of power?

But in the flow of events taken at the larger scale, is the human really in full charge of the planet that he should be considered a god? One day, at a remote cabin settler on hard granite rocks near the top of Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a young student in Biology had a speech in front of a small band of reasonable beings about the immense length of geological eras, the humongous number of millennia needed for major geological, geographical and biological to take noticeable shape. He questioned the influence of human civilization over the environment, when the entire history of their existence as a species is taking place for such a small extension of time. His question remained unanswered. Following the setting of the sun, and the coldness of high winds, the crowd retreated into the cabin’s coziness, surrounded by magnificent granite formations. The man built structure was an invisible dot on the vastness of the mountainous chain. We woke up the next morning to descend toward the valley, toward the creations of man, the vestiges of civilization. Our steps stomped over large boulders, following a path that eroded the earth throughout the years, a visible trace of the human passing and following their paths. This stubbornness of the human to follow their direction no matter the road blocks brings a resemblance between human and bison.

The difference is that the bison will not try to eliminate the human should they encounter each other at the crossroad. Back there in the Holy Land of Yellowstone, we have seen the bison moving slowly over the frozen fields, crossing the highway, mingling with cars and their occupants and ignoring their counterparts as they were not even there. Bison felt no fear of the grand limousines, their engines roaring and fuming. They just passed following the great cycle of nature. Humans watched with great interest and let them go. It wasn’t on their instincts to just let the grand mammals pass, but in was on their own instated rules and laws to let the animal roam free over the pastures. In Yellowstone, the godly power of human established an enclave, the first of its kind, in which to stop the influence of man and let the natural cycle follow its own flows. It is just another impressive exhibition of what the ambition, determination and ambition of humans can do. It took the persuasion of some individuals to create this island of untouched beauty. To bring the project to a realization, they had to gather others to believe their creeds. They had to find financing, to attract powerful politicians and, not the last, to obtain the public support. It took the braveness of incredible characters to guard and protect the land and its inhabitants from intruders, ranchers, hunters and poachers. It took ferocious political fights to convince the electorate and to abridge the will of opposing parties. But they have succeeded.

Ain’t the human capable of great realizations in which to put themselves in a good symbiosis with their world? Ain’t he same human able to destroy in order to conquer, to kneel and to follow certain faiths? The answer is affirmative; they are capable of both. Like the oriental symbols of Ying and Yang, the human has two faces. And in their liber arbiter, they seemed to have difficulties finding the good side of theirs.

What it will take the humankind to save themselves and preserve what’s best in them and in their world?

Thomas Jefferson said the human, among all animals, is the only one that devours their own kind. What instincts, what beliefs stand behind their destructive action? What kind of revolution should change the course?

Like the question that remained unanswered on the roof of the Granite State, so are all the above questions to be forgotten when we will retreat in the safety of our structures, thinking ourselves protected from our own auto-destructive behavior.

Back there in the Holy Land of Yellowstone, we watched the magnificent bison ruling over the world and over the time. For that little second of our lives, we felt too grateful for all the beauty we owned and we forgot to let a tear pour down on our faces for the faith of our humankind.

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