Surprise in Paradise

Wolf LakeYou approach Wolf Lake in Yellowstone National Park from above, winding your way down the hillside to the lake shore.  You see the wide valley laid out before you, the lake emptying into the Gibbon River, here still and shallow and easy enough to ford if you want to continue to Grebe Lake, two miles further on.  But leaving Wolf Lake is hard, even when dinner beckons and darkness isn’t far behind.  Going on isn’t something a day hiker can easily do.  Lingering in paradise is better.

On this trip last fall, we see an animal in the valley, far from the trail.  Large and dark, it looks like a buffalo, but we use binoculars to be sure.  Yes, that’s what it is.  A sleeping buffalo, still small and far away even from the valley floor.  We walk around a bit, looking and filming, taking time.  Eventually we find our way to the river crossing and sit in the grasses by the shore.  We eat, watch the bluebirds and gray jays, listen to ravens croak, look at the forest (always hoping for wolves – why not at Wolf Lake?), lie down and take a nap.  Sitting up, my husband wonders out loud where the buffalo is?  Earlier we saw him leave his sleeping spot and mosey out of sight well behind us, into the trees along the hillside. 

One glance answers the question.  The buffalo is a few feet away, standing in the trail right by the water where it fords the river.  No longer small and sleeping but in fact quite large, he has approached in absolute silence.  Now he studies us with enormous head and bulging eyes.  I gasp and levitate a few inches off the ground.  At least that’s what it feels like.  Shoes and socks off, seated, we are in no position to back away or go anywhere.  For several seconds we contemplate each other as I hold my breath, hoping his intentions are peaceful.  He steps into the stream, and I breath again.  We pick up the cameras and begin to film. 

Was he waiting for us to leave so he could cross?  The river is nothing but a stream here; i.e. he could have crossed anywhere, not just on the trail next to us.  Was it habit to cross here? Was he curious?  Who knows?  But I do know that wild animals are curious about humans and demonstrate an interest in them when there’s no cause for fear.  My husband thought the look on his face was almost apologetic, as if to say “Sorry to disturb you”.  You can judge for yourself.

buffalo crossingbuffalo at wolf lake


Skirt the large buffalo
chomping on the trail
speak softly
as you circle wide
look back in surprise

as he follows, curious,
at a comfortable distance.   


Sublime quiet
heightened by birdsong
wind’s caress
wolf’s howl
coyote’s yip
water’s lap
heart’s beat

*This poem was written about a different buffalo who kept more of a distance.
This entry was posted in national parks, Poems, Yellowstone and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Surprise in Paradise

  1. Monica says:

    Hi Beth and thank you! The sky in our Mountain West is so gorgeous. It may be what I like best about Colorado.

  2. segmation says:

    You take awesome pictures of the sky! Lovely!

  3. Awww…(slight run of chills!)
    Appreciate you!

    Xxxx Diana

  4. Monica says:

    Hello Diana, Thanks for this beautiful and kind comment. I have fallen in love with “Knowing” and plan to spend lots more time reading your blog.

  5. Thank for the like on my About. Am enjoying your beautiful, thoughtful blog. Given our common appreciation for nature, I’d like to share these two poems with you. Your Wolf Lake brought the first one to mind:

    Please — no obligation to respond in any way. I appreciate the time you’ve given.

    Cheerleading your way.

  6. Kenny2dogs says:

    Ha ha ha….funny woman you. 🙂

  7. Androgoth says:

    A wonderful posting Monica
    and great photographs too 🙂

    I hope that you are being good? 😉 lol

    Andro xxx

  8. Monica says:

    Thanks, Bluebee, It’s so nice to have you back on WordPress.

  9. bluebee says:

    What a magnificent beast – the African buffalo tend to travel in herds and are highly dangerous. Your chap seems rather placid in comparison but I certainly wouldn’t want to chance coming face-to-face with that huge head! I love the way you have captured his eye in the second photo – it’s an excellent shot, Monica. The video really does bring home the “sublime quiet” – such a beautiful place.

  10. Monica says:

    Thanks so much, Ian. So nice of you to visit and comment.

  11. Monica says:

    Hi Kenny, I’ll check out the song – I’ll remember it when I hear it. Yes, I did wonder about this old fellow and how he would survive the long, harsh Yellowstone winter. Whether he would fall to wolves or to something more lingering. A wolf attack would be very hard to watch. I would have to remind myself that this is the way of the wild, hard but less brutal than our own means of slaughtering food. Could I film it? I don’t know. But I doubt I could post such a film – wouldn’t seem respectful.

  12. Monica says:

    Hello secterenvironmentaldesign! Thanks for visiting! Those exhibits probably don’t sneak up on you, though.

  13. The Emu says:

    Fantastic Monica, a really great video, a first for me to see one that is taken so naturally in the wild.

  14. Kenny2dogs says:

    Lovely post Monica, after reading this the song “now that the buffalo has gone” sung by Buffy st Marie, sprang to mind.
    The photographs are most impressive. I was wondering why this fellow was alone and just why he was not with the main herd. A sitting duck for the wolf lake pack, me thinks.
    If you were to witness a wolf attack on
    this lone buffalo, would you have continued to
    Shoot. ?

    Video the special

  15. Great photos and poems, especially of the buffalo. Reminds me of the animal exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History.

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