Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Bison & Theodore Roosevelt Ranger John Heiser Are Kindred Spirits

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in July, in either the park’s north unit or its south unit, bison are the headliners. Certainly that was true for us where we were camped two nights ago at Juniper Campground, located about midway into the north unit.

We had just sat down for dinner, and because it was so hot, we’d been cooking outside, where over the hiss of our outdoor broiler yet another sound dominated. It was the lion-like roar of dozens of bison and the sound was getting louder by the minute.

Suddenly, the sources of all this angry and urgent bluster stepped out of the trees which engulfed our campground. Then these shaggy trumpeters wandered between a number of motorhomes, travel trailers and several alarmed tenters and then out onto the meadow we campers collectively surrounded. Un-intimidated by our presence, they began doing what bison do during the rutting season: they began rolling in the dirt; they began pawing the ground, sending up plumes of dust. Several huge bulls began fighting in earnest, contesting one another for the nearby cows, which were nibbling the grass.

As we watched, their numbers began to increase until there were at least 100 animals surrounding this compound of campers, but more alarmingly, well over a dozen of these two-ton beasts surrounded our neighbors in their motorhome. No longer curious, the occupants took refuge from beneath their awning and scurried into their camper’s interior.

Sounds from the bison persisted long into the night, and next morning, we joined a man who had served as a backcountry ranger in the park for over 30 years. Once a week, John Heiser now offers a several hour backcountry hike, and appropriately, his focus is often on the bison.

Heiser began his talk by answering questions about the bison gathering of the previous night. The bison were gone, but traces of their presence remained in the form of enlarged bison wallows and much bison hair. Heiser said that although property damage sometimes occurred, generally it didn’t happen in the campgrounds where bison seemed to know what to expect. “They’re smart animals,” said this park veteran, “and it’s the unexpected that need concern you. In 2002, a woman walking along a trail ran into a bison, and she didn’t want to move. The bison tossed her into the air and probably in this instance that alone would not have hurt her, but she landed in a huge shrub and limbs there punctured her chest cavity and broke a rib or two. She’s OK now, but initially, there was some concern.”

Heiser is a tall, strapping man and he says he is a kindred spirit with the bison. For awhile, we visited more about this much beleagured animal, talking specifically about the 500 bison in the park’s two units and about the current breeding season. Heiser says bison here in this relatively small confined area know one another personally but that they still communicate in ways of old. When a bull in rut sees another bull in rut, they’ll attempt to assess one another’s strength by pawing the dirt—or bellowing loudly. If that doesn’t turn the antagonist, one or both may roll around in the dust. If that doesn’t work, one or the other might simply sit. Though this may seem to be a passive gesture, in reality, the bull is saying in effect, “This is my turf; come closer and you’re in for a fight.”

Though much of Heiser’s hike is about bison, it’s not all about bison and throughout the course of our several hour walk, we passed by various geological formations and then, came to the stumps of several ancient petrified trees. Yet further along we visited about the various grasses that comprise this prairie expanse, and then, about mid way through our hike, gathered on a ridge that looks down onto a beautiful expanse of table top rocks and other geological oddities formed through the millennium. Here, we paused for a lunch break and the beauty of the area is made even more memorable when John stands and begins the reading of several poems. All have names but one poem is of particular interest, a poem Heiser calls “Kindred Spirits,” which he reads to our group:

We are of a Kindred Spirit, bison and I, Mutual inhabitants of this vast sea of grass which waves from horizon to forever, then back again, under the blazing blue sky of time.

For centuries blurred they roamed endless seasons, no fences, now I do, and they are stuck in small places which their bison spirit fiercely resists–role reversals would seem some small justice, I think.

Frequently I and their kind meet, sometimes in secret places, and we visit about history, and now, and I always end with apology for the devilish deeds my species has inflicted on theirs, who is the beast, I ask?

The poem continues yet for several more stanzas, concluding with one that prognosticates:

I look into wild brown eyes, brimming with prairie fire and apologize yet again and say claim your birthright, bison, and smash stifling fences, but be patient, too, and know that one day my species and the fences will fall and rot, and you and millions of you, will again roam the seasons and centuries, forever and free.

Perhaps it’s not surprisingly to learn that John Heiser is the author of this poem, and I for one have a renewed fascination for this animal that still has the power to unite a number of us in the common belief that man has overstepped his presence. My hat is off to this large raw-boned man, so passionate in his beliefs that he exposes his feelings for a beleaguered species, thereby transforming himself into a Kindred Spirit…

And now, on a completely different note, I’d like to wish my granddaughter, Halle Mae, a very happy birthday. Today, she’s five, and a very mature five at that.

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