I returned to my car and slipped behind the steering wheel. I had already hiked several miles and was looking forward to getting back to my hotel room and resting before dinner. As I began to take the turn and leave the area surrounding the Grebel Ponds at Fort Robinson State Park behind me, I noticed a large, dark figure come over the top of a nearby ridge to my left. I stopped the car and squinted into the distance. A lone bison was wandering down the slope of the hill, stopping momentarily, here and there, for a bite to eat. It paid no attention to me.
I moved my car to the side of the road and snapped a picture. The bison still looked like a large black blur. You could make out the outline of a bison, but my lens was too small. I switched lenses as quickly as I could, but my 300mm zoom lens still wasn’t good enough. I put my other lens in my bag and got out of the car. I’d have to try to get closer.
I decided not to worry about whether there were snakes in the tall grass. I got out of my car and walked toward the bison. Something moved closer to me. I stopped. A lone pronghorn stood near the edge of the wire fence I was walking toward. It was standing perpendicular to me, but its head was turned toward me and it was clearly paying attention to what I was doing.
I raised my camera and made an attempt to get the bison and the pronghorn in the same frame. It was still looking at me. I stared at the pronghorn for a few moments more. I zoomed in and took a picture of the bison. When I put my camera down and looked for the pronghorn, it was gone.
I watched the bison for several minutes, inching closer to it and ignoring the fact that the five-foot high grass could easily hide snakes and anything else that could potentially harm me. No other bison had joined it and the bison seemed to be content wandering about by itself. Whenever I see an animal – bison, cattle, coyote, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, rabbit – I wonder what they are thinking.
I tend to identify with these loners because they remind me of myself, preferring to wander off to do my own thing, in my own way, in my own time. I can think and do what I want as the moment compels me. In this moment, it was just me and the bison. Two loners hanging out and doing our thing.
Although I couldn’t see a game trail from where I was standing, there clearly was one. It was evident simply by observing the path the bison took to reach its current location. It didn’t pay attention to me. Why should it? I was far away, no one is hunting the bison here, and I am not a threat to the animal. I seriously considered climbing the fence, or going between the lengths of barbed wire, but, after some contemplation decided against it.
I had many closeup shots of bison and pronghorn at Yellowstone National Park and Custer State Park. There was no need to risk my life and have a freaked out bison charging at me in the middle of nowhere with no way to get to safety. I watched the bison walk behind a cluster of trees. As with all my shots of the bison this day, it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t care.
I got to watch a bison do its bison things, which made me smile. I wondered if it was thinking, “look at that stupid human watching me eat. Who does that? Silly human. I’m going to slip behind these trees so she can’t see me anymore.”
I waited six minutes to see if the bison would come back out. It never did. As I was walking back to my car, I saw a lot of movement out of the corner of my left eye. I immediately stopped to assess the situation. I counted 13 pronghorn. They were busy eating dinner. I turned left and walked slowly toward them.
I didn’t think I would be able to get any pictures. Pronghorn are notoriously skittish and difficult to photograph. They knew I was there. There is nothing more disconcerting when 11 wild animals are staring at you. I took a step to my right to get better footing. Their heads adjusted accordingly.
“Yep, they’re watching me,” I thought to myself. I walked as close as they would let me, which was the moment they bolted in unison toward the top of the ridge. I took a picture. They stopped running. They looked at me. I took a step forward. They ran again. I took a picture. They stopped running. They looked at me. I took another picture. I stopped moving. They were still looking at me. We stared at each other. I decided it wasn’t worth it. I’d already scared them enough.
I turned and walked back toward my car. Before getting in, I looked back toward the ridge. I believe it was the first pronghorn I had seen earlier was at the top of the ridge. It was watching me. As the last pronghorn arrived to walk over to the other side of the ridge, it turned toward me. The pair stared at me. I smiled.
I unlocked my car door and got in. As I drove away, I looked back. One pronghorn was nearly over the ridge. The big, tall one, who had been keeping any eye on me and seemed to be in charge stood guard as I drove down the dirt road, leaving a trail of dust behind me.