“Bison bison bison” The genus is so spectacular and so acutely aware that they are spectacular and due some adulation that you must repeat their name three times while clicking your hiking boot heels together or risk being charged.
I just returned from another trip to Elk Island National Park and the plains bison were everywhere! The snow is beginning to melt in the meadows and along the roadways so the herds are moving in. I had to dodge frozen poop rocks on the road. Actually dangerous to the windshield of the unsuspecting driver behind you, it would be like running over and kicking up an apple-sized rock behind your vehicle.
Bison are a strange but magical beast. I don’t think you can help but fall in love with them. When watching them walk, I wonder how their legs can hold up their large bodies. It’s only when you see them airborne, moving from saunter to sprint in two gallops that you realize they are in fact built for running and speed. Masses of muscle and large head on short stick legs, tails raised and all four hooves off the ground, they literally float at mach speeds. They are magnificent.
I think I’d rather go up against a black bear in the wild to be honest. There are no two ways about it. The bison are wild and they can be aggressive if surprised or provoked and during the rut or when cows have new calves. And by the time it would occur to you that you should have been running for your life, chances are you’d already have been flattened. They’re that fast and agile. Go ahead and zig. Just try to zag. It’s not going to make a difference!
Yesterday after lunch, I headed out for a stroll in the sunshine and nearly tripped over a bull.
I know that’s what you’re asking. If they’re so ginormous, how could a person trip over one?
They are silent. They lie in the snow or on the grass under a tree like boulders, perfectly still. I was meandering on the path oblivious when the bull jumped to its feet, facing me head on and flicking its tongue about.
I held my ground, about 30 feet away and marvelled. I tried to send a message of calm and non-aggression and after a good look, left him alone. I looked for him at the end of the day again and he had travelled only a few more feet to sit and sun his back on a ridge overlooking a frozen lake. Out of respect, I stayed further away and let him have his sunny spring moment before sunset.
Now, I would say that most Canadians identify with the plains bison – Bison bison bison- but in Elk Island there are also wood bison – Bison bison athabascae. They are about 15-20% larger than a plains bison with a pointy vs. rounded hump and a few other differentiations. They make me think of the leggy runway model version whereas the stocky plains bison is the friend you call when you need help moving houses. Apparently the park weighed in a wood bison bull a couple of weeks ago that was 2,700 lbs. I’m not sure if I would have been able to touch the top of its back if standing beside it on the ground. Can you imagine?!
I saw three moose on the trip as well, elk and a porcupine. I’ve mentioned before that the moose has always been my favourite animal, but once again, it felt like I was flirting dangerously with the bison as it attempted to stampede its way into my heart aiming for first place.
The bison is everything the moose is not- stoic, charming, old-soul emanating from it, powerful, social and intelligent. Moose are goofy looking, goofy acting and I’m not so sure very smart but awesome in deep snow. The moose is kind of like your best friend from junior high, still gangly and awkward after all these years.
Have I moved on? I’m not ready to let go of the moose just yet, but I can’t deny that Bison bison bison has my attention, or that my heart doesn’t do a little flip each time I see one.