'Buffalo Jump' Today, Anyone? & Project Shines Light on Park Rangers

Welcome to Day #217 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure.


As we teeter on the brink of the dreaded fiscal cliff, I cast around in my mind to find a park that commemorates a time when we literally or figuratively went over the cliff. The closest I could come to this metaphor was the "buffalo jump," in which Native American tribes drove herds of buffalo over cliffs as a way to secure the meat and hide crucial to their survival.


Driven over the cliff - it has precedent, but the buffalo didn't have a choice, and we the American people have options. (Painting by Alfred Jacob Miller, Driving Herds of Buffalo over a Precipice, 1867)


 The metaphor fails of course, because the purpose of the "buffalo jump" was to provide for the entire community, while our current debacle takes the whole world over the cliff, with no benefit to anyone. Where the "fiscally responsible" interests when President Bush was emptying our treasury, and why are we not moving forward together which is the only viable course of action? If I didn't have nature as my unending source, I might despair. I guard my feelings rigidly and refuse to go into negativity which saps energy and leads to inertia.


  The unsuspecting buffalo misread the character and intentions of the approaching 'wolves' thereby sealing their fate. Hmmmm...(.Image, George Catlin, Catlin and His Indian Guide Approaching Buffalo under White Wolf Skins, 1846-1848)


 As long as we are on the buffalo jump, I was intrigued by the process:


"To obtain an animal so critical to their well-being, Plains Indians developed a number of solitary and communal hunting techniques. Sometimes a man clothed in a buffalo robe or wolf skin might stalk the animal carefully. Beneath the skin of a wolf he might pique the curiosity of buffaloes that would meander within range of his arrows. Buffaloes have sharp smell and hearing but are both curious and, the bulls at least, relatively fearless, so this type of hunting was not as difficult as it might seem. At other times many hunters drove bison onto soft ice or into deep snow, a ravine, a box canyon, or enclosure or pound. In these places the animals could readily be killed.


"The most efficient technique was what Crow Indians called 'driving buffalo over embankments,' which involved enticing and leading buffaloes to the edges of cliffs or bluffs up to seventy feet high, then driving them over to instant death or a broken back or leg or other crippling incapacity, ended by a thrust from a lance or blow from a stone maul. 

 This group of instructors in the Rocky Mountain Sustainability and Science Network Summer Academy at Grand Teton National Park possess  "special skills and knowledge," and include yesterday's tour guide, Dr. Gillian Bowser (l), JT Reynolds, former Superintendent at Death Valley National Park and a 30-plus year veteran of the NPS, and  Sujata Bhatia, Harvard University.


"This hunt involved an entire society: the 'chaser' or 'runner,' who possessed special skills and knowledge, led animals he had found toward the precipice, where other people, hidden behind trees or rock piles, waved blankets and shouted the animals onward to their doom at the base of the cliff. Yet others waited to kill, butcher, and transform buffaloes into useful products. These communal techniques were tightly controlled by leaders and societies whose duties were to police the hunt, preventing any single man from premature action that might spoil the attempt to obtain such an important resource for all. . ."


 ". . to be honest-this is what really keeps me going!  This young man is Dominick George from Central Florida University and he was absolutely blown away by the Tetons and nature!." Dr Bowser wrote me yesterday.



Right now I feel like one buffalo in the herd being driven over the cliff to fulfill the selfish, power mad desires of a small faction, and like the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, I "do not go gentle into that good night," as I have sent innumerable messages to my members of Congress. If every American today got on the website of every member of congress and the White House telling them to end the shutdown, raise the debt ceiling and commit to work together for sustainability, I bet something would change. Social media was made for a time such as this.


 Juan Martinez set a precedent for Dominick. After seeing stars for the first time in his life as a teenager in Grand Teton National Park, Juan has spread his love of nature around the world and became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer last year.


Thankfully, desperately, peacefully, gratefully, I will hold onto my national parks, forests and nature, and try to treat everyone as the Divine in disguise. I am so grateful to be part of this dynamic, living reality, and never more so than when my friend Amy Marquis posted this Vimeo on my Facebook page. It says everything about the National Park System that I yearn to share, with a few additional pieces that I'll illustrate in photos.

Amazingly, it was only 41 days ago that  I wrote on Day #176: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO WATCH IT. YOU WILL BE AWED.

Anonymous Rangers
Anonymous Rangers

"I just heard from our friend Amy Marquis, who produced the groundbreaking film, "The Way Home," showing the responses of a group of African Americans on their first visit to Yosemite:


 "I'm leaving NPCA at the end of August to pursue filmmaking full time.. . When I was in Yosemite making The Way Home, I got an itch to keep making more films like it. And I just couldn't ignore that calling. . .That vision has since evolved into an independent film series about the human experience in the national parks-we're calling it "National Park Experience," NPX for short. We'll make 10 short films that profile amazing and diverse characters doing really compelling work in the national parks, and then we'll release those stories to the public between 2014-2016 to create a steady drumbeat up to the centennial."



 Thanks to Sir Lancelot Jones we have Biscayne National Park, the largest marine park in the National Park System. The Sage of Porgy Key, (Day # 3) as he was known, refused to sell his island to developers, insisting that there have to be places where man an go and be in the peace and quiet of nature.


Amy raised funds on Kickstarter to support her efforts and started off to the parks in September. Little did she know that a government shutdown would close the parks, making her story dramatically different and even more urgent.


Inexpressible thanks to you and your wonderful team, Amy! I've never spent $15 better than when I invested it in you! 


 Our friend Jerry Bransford is  an honest-to-goodness descendant of the enslaved Bransfords who originally explored Mammoth Cave in the 1800s. When it became a National Park in the 1900s, all the black explorers were dismissed. But Park Ranger Joy Lyons literally brought Jerry back as a ranger and completed the circle, as you may see from Day 34.


 I've always thought that the reason American society can be so fragmented is that people do not know our collective history. We have distorted ideas of  what happened here, with the heroic white hero at the center and all other groups being "shiftless,"  "lazy" and generally undeserving of the privilege of being American. Until we discard this pernicious myth and recognize that we've all been here and all have contributed to get us where we are today, we will continue to be as buffalo being herded over a cliff. That's another reason I love our national parks, because the land doesn't lie, and the parks give us the real life site of action on which to understand what really happened.


As one human being to another, one American citizen to another, I exhort you today to contact your representative and senator. There is no more time to wait and see what happens. It's our American duty to act now.



 If you've missed any of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventures, find them here  (Archive) Pick up your indispensable copy of "Our True Nature" while you're on my website. If you don't have it, you can't know what you're missing....


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