Today, I'd like to tell you about a free-spirited bison named Gerald.
Well, OK, I don't know if that's what he calls himself. But that is how he is forever known by the friend and I who had the joy of watching him separate himself from the herd, quite literally.
Two years ago, in 2017, then-Journal photographer Hannah Hunsinger and I journeyed forth into Custer State Park to document the 52nd annual Buffalo Roundup. It's a big to-do, and our paper sends at least one someone every year. That year, we sent two.
The thing about the roundup is it's a bit of a hurry-up-and-wait game. We got there somewhere between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m., and the roundup started at 9:30 a.m. So we had some time. Hannah took pictures, and I pestered the nearest South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks employee to identify each piece of flora and fauna so I could accurately identify them as I waxed eloquent about the beauty of Custer State Park. (Because it is magnificent.)
Even after I achieved my honorary junior botanist patch, the roundup was still hours away. Then we wandered the area, chatting with spectators. That done, there was still time.
Part of the delay came from difficulty rounding up the herd. That year, the bison were scattered. Based on what park officials told us, the bison were split into three mini herds, and the wranglers had to put in some time and miles to merge the factions. All we could see was dust in the distance, gradually advancing.
Except for Gerald.
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As wranglers worked for hours to get all those bison into one big, brown dust bowl, Gerald appeared. He moseyed all by his lonesome into the valley in front of us and thousands of spectators. And there he stood, for quite some time, facing away from the herds. At one point, he lay down, rolled around and gave himself a nice dust bath (it's called "wallowing"), oblivious to the crowds delighted by his behavior. It was his "dance like nobody's watching" moment, and we were all there for it.
I grew up on a farm. I've seen animals wallow (and some humans, which is less neat), so I wasn't as enthralled as some of my non-farm-raised media colleagues. But it was still entertaining. Also, Hannah and I felt a kinship with this bison — never quite where you need to be, but hey, at least you're having fun.
As the herd got closer, Gerald turned to face his oncoming brethren. (And, you know, the females, too.) But he didn't advance to meet them.
Apparently, Gerald needed some space. In terms we would use for ourselves, Gerald is what you might call an introvert. (This may be standard bull behavior, but it wasn't that day.)
Eventually, however, even introverts are forced to join society, and so was Gerald. When 1,299 bison run at you, it's best to turn and move with the herd. So we said goodbye to Gerald, and the rest of them, and have not seen or heard from him since. But every time I drive through Custer State Park and see a bison off by itself, I think of Gerald. (I also usually yell "Gerald!" at that bison, and so far, none has responded.)
So, what I'm saying is, let's all be more willing to stand against the herd and wallow no matter who's watching. Let's all be more like Gerald.