Christmas continues

Talking with friends on Christmas Eve the topic somehow turned to close encounters with animals while driving. We all had experienced encounters with deer. There ere a lot of deer in our area and collisions between car and deer are fairly common. The experts all say that it is safest to slow down as much as you can without swerving. Hitting the deer directly will cause less damage and be less dangerous than going out of control and perhaps running off of the road or rolling the car. My experiences with deer have all occurred so quickly that there was no time for conscious thought about what to do. I simply reacted the best that I was able. Then one of the people present told us a story of another encounter. She was driving north from Hot Springs to Custer late at night and rounded a corner while going over a rise to see a huge dark beast in the middle of the road. She slammed on the brakes and stopped just short of hitting a buffalo standing in the middle of the road. While she steadied herself and stopped shaking, the animal calmly turned to look at her, but made no attempt to move. She finally backed up her car and made her way around the backside of the animal and continued her journey.

There aren’t a lot of buffalo around here, but the herds at Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park where she was driving are significant. There are also buffalo being raised on private ranches in South Dakota as well as those owned and managed by the Intertribal Bison Council.

Before going farther, I should note that I know that North American Bison are not true buffalo. There are only two living examples of buffalo in the world: African Cape and Asian Water buffalo. And there are two living Bison species: North American Bison and the European Bison. When European explorers first came to the North American continent, they encountered a lot of species of animals that they had never before seen. The journals of Lewis and Clark refer to North American Pronghorn Antelope as “goats.” American bison looked somewhat like Asian water buffalo and they were given that name by the explorers. Of course they already had a name in the indigenous languages. The Lakota name for the animals is Tatanka. Over 60 million of them once roamed the plains of North America. By the close of the 19th century it has been estimated that fewer than 1,000 survived.

We livd in southwestern North Dakota for seven years, in the area were the last large buffalo hunts took place in a process that can hardly be called hunting. The slaughter of the buffalo was part of a wider attempt to destroy the culture of indigenous American people as settlers took the land and forced natives out of their homelands and attempted to eliminate them all together. Living in North Dakota for seven years, I also became aware that for fans of the North Dakota State University at Fargo the animals are bison (and don’t you ever forget that!).

The Bison football team dominated Montana State University in the FCS semifinals 42-14. They will play in the national championship in Texas on January 11. A Bison win would mean an unprecedented eighth national title in one decade. They know how to play the game.

But I grew up calling the animals buffalo. There has been a herd in Yellowstone National Park all along. The group, tiny when compared to the massive herds that once roamed the plains, is easy to show to visitors. We often would take guests to the park knowing that we would be able to see antelope, big horn sheep, elk, deer and buffalo. We often could also show them moose, bears and an occasional coyote. I’m from South Dakota now and here we pronounce that name of that animal a silent e at the end. I guess our coyotes don’t speak Spanish.

All of this is a rather long set up to the simple fact that for our celebration of the third day of Christmas yesterday, we had a really fine dinner of buffalo sirloin, hassle back potatoes and chopped salad. It was a lovely meal. Bison is naturally low in fat and a small steak is a good source of protein. Eating responsibly is a challenge anywhere one lives. One of the challenges for those of us who live on the northern plains is that so much of what is available in the stores is trucked long distances from the places it is grown. I’v been told that our carbon footprint is more influenced by the choices we make about what food we eat than the choices we make about what vehicle to drive. When we buy meat from Wild Idea Buffalo Co. her in Rapid City, we know we are getting meat that is grass fed, local and ranch raised. The meat is sustainably produced and hasn’t had to travel long distances to get to our table. It is the meat that sustained people in this part of the world for centuries before modern ways displaced the indigenous way of life. Buffalo meat is a good choice for protein from a heal perspective, too. Reasonable portions can be part of a heart-healthy diet. The real splurge in terms of fat and calories in our dinner last night was the butter on the potatoes. And I don’t skimp on butter when making hassle back potatoes. We try to be responsible in our food choices.

I try to think of something special for each of the twelve days of Christmas. We don’t center our Christmas celebrations on gifts, but we do eat a few special meals during the season. Some meals are celebrated with friends as our Christmas day feast. Some are a bit more intimate as our dinner last night. All are ways of recognizing and setting aside this unique and special time of the year. We enjoy prolonging the celebration.

There is fresh snow this morning to keep the world outside looking just right for the season. May the celebrations continue.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

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