The American Bison, to my knowledge, was the first animal in the United States whose numbers were purposefully sought to be restored. I took these pictures in Iowa at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, a refuge that restored the tall grass prairie, bison, and elk to a significant patch of the Iowa landscape. Visiting the refuge figures into my own personal restoration, my Medicine Walk to the South, and my observance of the Earth’s high holy day, the Summer Solstice.
This land had originally been purchased from farmers by a power company that planned to build a nuclear power plant on it. How utterly fantastic that those plans were scrapped and the land subsequently dedicated to its present purpose – the restoration of an ecosystem that was all but obliterated from the face of the earth, the tall grass prairie. Pre-white settlement, the land that is now Iowa was about 85% prairie and was part of an ecosystem that has been called the “American Serengeti”. Today, 1/10th of 1% of Iowa is prairie, and the animals that evolved to thrive there are long gone. But this refuge, that now has over 8,000 acres, has sought to restore a piece of what once was.
To see buffalo, (while they’re not technically buffalo, to my mind this name much better connotes the animal’s wooly head and shaggy mane than ‘bison’ does), I could have visited buffalo ranches in Minnesota or taken a trip to one of the Dakotas. But to travel to Iowa, of all places, to see these animals restored to some of the best and most costly farmland in the world, this resonated with me deeply. For two reasons. One, I grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, on what once was the wide open prairie. So I have a kinship with this land and, even as a young boy, I frequently dreamt about, and felt, what the land once was. Second, I have been going through my own restoration process. So to visit such a recent and ambitious restoration undertaking in a land not so far removed from my homeland, well this struck a chord.
When I entered the refuge for the first time, these gentlemen greeted me:
This one in the picture below, which limped across the road, I later found out had been struck by lightning last fall. The bolt entered his shoulder and traveled to the ground through his leg. He is a survivor. It brought to mind my Stormwalk post from a couple of days ago.
I had four close encounters with the buffalo herd. Which was exceedingly fortunate, for they so readily disappear in landscape…So I feel inspired to add the buffalo to the South position in my personal medicine wheel.
The refuge is a couple of hundred miles and practically due south from “Bdote”, which, as I mentioned in a previous post, is my point of departure for my medicine walk to the sacred directions.
For those who have read my posts, this trip on the Summer Solstice marked the culmination of Zenith Arc, my Sunrise Sadhana and journey to the solstice. It also marks the beginning of my Walk Through the Wheel of the Seasons ~ doing medicine walks to the sacred directions on the holy days of the Earth.
To observe the solstice, in addition to making this pilgrimage, I watched the sun rise in the east, I meditated under the sun at its zenith in “the Grail pose”, and watched the sun set in the west. So I took in the energy of the day as best as possible, observing and participating in the three key moments of the earth’s relationship with the sun: sunrise, zenith, sunset.
There are countless details I could share about my brief journey, but one last one: When I awoke this morning, sat up in my sleeping bag and looked out through the screen door of my tent, there, across a broad valley, was the sun rising in the east. I had no idea when I pitched my tent the day before that it would be perfectly oriented toward the rising of the sun. So this morning (Sunday) my sunrise vigil continued, from the comfort of my sleeping bag.