Blesok no. 32, May-June, 2003

Everything You Need

Richard Gaughran

     They said black plastic would do the trick. That it would look like a solid wall in front of them and they would clomp up the ramp and into the back of the truck. So there we were—my boys, my daughter and her boyfriend Rick—holding one of the rolls of plastic I had left over from mulching tomatoes back in the spring. We stretched it in front of us about chin-high, formed a circle, and slowly moved in around one of the females. Easy, slowly, hardly doing more than whispering to each other. She was scared, so she kept shuffling sideways like a huge crab or hopping up off her front legs like you sometimes see goats do. I tell you it took some nerve to keep the plastic steady.
     She sure wasn't moving up the ramp in any big hurry. I gave up hope that it would work. But I wasn't prepared for the way it wouldn't work. I thought she would just lean into the plastic wall until one of us lost nerve and got out of her way. I didn't expect to hear her grunt a time or two and then leap like a bulky deer over Joni's head. But that's what she did, just as we had closed in to where she felt squeezed, I guess. And wouldn't you know that she would pick the part of the wall held up by the shortest of us. She stretched herself and more or less glided over Joni, though her hind legs looked less straight than a deer’s look, still kind of crooked, and one of her hooves seemed almost to whack Joni in the head. My daughter let out a high screech, then the buffalo calf landed on the other side of the wall with a snort, then we heard her hooves pounding out a rapid beat. We dropped the plastic and watched her run toward the fence line where the other two were waiting, then the three of them leaped over the fence one at a time, even sort of stepping aside for each other, looking as pleased as can be. It was as though they were playing with us.
     “Well, I guess that doesn't work.” My son Chris was the first to speak, matter-of-factly and wryly, as usual. “Now what should we try?”
     “I almost had a heart-attack!” Joni said. She started to laugh, then seemed to catch herself and lowered her head.
    “It's going to get dark,” I said. “Let's try again tomorrow. We can think of something else in the meantime.” But I wasn't looking forward to trying to get through another night.
     It had taken us all day to get that one female surrounded. At first we stupidly marched our unrolled plastic into Shumacher's pasture, thinking we could separate one of the three from the others, keep it cornered inside the black wall until Jason came with the truck, and then round them up like that one at a time. I don't know why we thought three buffalo calves would stand still while five people staggered toward them holding up a five-foot-high black wall that flapped and buckled every time the slightest breeze kicked up. We must have looked like a cartoon version of a steam engine chugging across the prairie.
     Even before that, though, we had to find out which neighbor's fields the calves had invaded overnight, where they were planning to spend the day. I always hated Jason's flying in that ultra-light of his, like a lawnmower with wings. And the son-of-a-gun even bought it from a guy in traction in the hospital, as though that wasn't a hint that the thing wasn't safe. But I admit it did come in handy a couple of mornings over the course of two weeks, because we would get up without knowing where the buffalo had wandered. Unless, that is, I got one of those frantic, angry calls from one of the few farmers left in northwestern New Jersey, one whose crops were getting eaten and trampled. And I kept dreading something worse, that we'd hear that they had gotten as far as the highway. Goodness me, I don't know what we'd have done if those things had gotten down there. You wouldn't want to hit one with your car, that's for sure.
    When the phone didn't ring, though, Jason would start up his toy, using the flat part of the upper field as a runway, and circle around up there until he spotted them. And he had one of Rick's walkie-talkies, another suburban plaything, something he said his dad got him back in his Boy Scout days. So on the day of the black-plastic folly, Jason called down to Joni's boyfriend, though you could just barely make out what he was saying over the roar of the engine and all the interference. But we figured out that we had to get over to Shumacher's pasture, we hoped before Shumacher knew what was going on. What frustration. Six of us could more or less keep them in one place if we surrounded the field, but when we formed our plastic train the calves would just skip over the fence into Shumacher's soybeans, where they could do a lot more damage than in his pasture.
     One thing we noticed, though, was that they always crossed into the soybeans at the same part of the fence. So, after we shooed them back into the pasture, we let them go for a while, until we moved the truck into position near that spot. Not right at the spot, though, but more into the pasture so we would have some room to maneuver around the fence line. As expected, they skipped across into the soybeans when the five of us positioned the truck and slid the ramp down. But Chris was crouching in the bean field, and when he stood up in front of those calves he created just enough confusion for us to surround the smaller female. The plan worked, except for the theory about black plastic. That was the idea of the people up at the County Game Farm and Petting Zoo. Seems it works with goats. Not with the American Bison, I can tell you.
     “Andy, what kind 'a fancy idee-uhs you gettin' now?” That's what George Harriman asked when he first saw us digging post holes and putting tar-wraps on the 4-by-4s we reinforced by nailing a 2-by-4 to each one. Not easy to explain to an old dairy farmer that ordering four buffalo calves made about as much sense as anything, especially since even Harriman had to sell off his cows, since almost all the family dairy farms in New Jersey had gone under in the last ten years or so. But Harriman didn't get it. To be honest, I'm not sure I got it either. Sure, I did some reading on low-cholesterol buffalo meat, about the growing restaurant demand and projections for new markets in the near future. But I mostly thought about Indians when I thought about buffalo. Maybe it was all that Zane Grey I read when I was a boy in West New York.
     “George, they’re beautiful animals, and they’re endangered. We almost killed them all off, you know… in the last century.”
     “Well, sure, but what you plannin’ to do wid ‘em? You can’t exactly milk ‘em!” He was wearing the same faded green baseball cap he always wore. On the front you could barely make out the John Deere logo.
     “The meat will bring a good price, and it’s very low cholesterol.” I still hadn’t thought about the whole butchering process and all, but I had to tell him something practical, so he wouldn’t think I was a complete fool.
     “Andy, I don’t believe in cholesterol. Heck, I ain’t never thought about it in all these years. Still healthy as can be. You know there’s some won’t even eat butter?” He reached his right hand across under his left armpit and kept slowly scratching himself there, like he had been uncomfortable with something and was pleased he had found the trouble spot.
     “You know, George, the Indians just followed the buffalo, that's all they did. This one animal was the source of their food, their clothes, their tools, even their houses. It was everything they needed. And they cared a lot. It was sacred to them. Never killed more than they could use, and they didn’t waste a thing. They used the whole animal, even the bones. It was a whole way of life with them. Imagine living that simply, where one animal is everything you need.” He was bobbing his head up and down slowly, moving it horizontally at the same time. I realized he was counting fence posts while I was talking.
     “How much they cost ya?” That was the side of Harriman it took me some time to get used to. He always wanted to know how much something cost. Doesn’t seem like a polite question to me, but he didn’t think that way.
     “The posts?”
     “Naw. The bufflo.”
     I just laughed. “Well, Marie keeps reminding me we could instead be buying a new Cadillac!”
     That conversation took place right before we got the news. And I never would have gone through with these plans if I’d known ahead of time about Marie. But you never know, I guess. This happens in every family, all over the world, but how are you supposed to get through it? How do you learn to accept it? And why did it happen to her first? I always thought I’d go before she did. I was older by ten years, and she’d never been sick a day in her life. And she left us so fast, about six weeks after the day we first heard about the cancer. Well, they said it had been in her system for a while. But I never got a chance to prepare. Maybe I wouldn’t have prepared no matter how long I had. We were still making plans, thinking about trips to take. Now we’ll never do those things…
     Douglas keeps saying, “Mom’s with the Lord now, Dad.” I know that, I guess, but I want her with me. My middle son, Doug, has a lot of faith, and it does help to see him with such strong beliefs. I guess deep down I believe it all too, but at night I just keep thinking about everything—about those summers at the shore… those two trips we took to California in the station wagon that always smelled like dirty diapers… that time in Wyoming when we punctured the gas tank on one of my “short cuts” and they all camped under the trees along the road while I hitched a ride to find a junkyard… we were going to go to Ireland… and some of the holidays, good family days… Oh my God, what will the holidays be like this year… I can’t imagine… but what hurts worst is all those times I wasn’t my best, when I lost my temper, just because I came home tired, or the kids were misbehaving when they were little… and I blamed her. My God. And then to think about how much she suffered in those last days. I don’t know how she could be so quiet, why she didn’t complain more.
     The nights are the worst.

     We had to build a much sturdier fence than they use for cows, of course. We started work right after the Fourth of July—not working on it every day, trying to stay out of the sun when it was too hot or when the boys couldn’t get free, knowing we had until mid-September, when the fellow from Lancaster would be delivering three female calves, one male. Some days Jason and Doug managed to postpone their work for other folks, those people wanting a new kitchen put in or a hole dug for a new septic tank. On those days Chris would report earlier in the morning for his postal route, so he could join us around two in the afternoon. At first I was glad to be out there with the boys digging holes and stretching wire. Usually we could pry out the old cedar posts, left from when the field between the house and the road was a cow pasture, and then we’d have the hole for the new post half dug for us. And old George Harriman would come by to inspect what we were doing.
     But we were just a few days into the project when the test results came, and then the work just became a kind of distraction between my trips to the hospital. What would normally be work with a lot of talk and laughter became just a solemn ritual. We kept it up until we were done—all except for the gate—when my wife passed away.
     When they called that morning to say it was going to happen, I knew I could not go, even though I had been to the hospital every day since we first took her, on the fourteenth of July I think it was. Joni and Rick went, with Chris and Jason. I called over to Douglas, who lives on the other side of the road with his wife and their two children. He said if I didn’t want to go to the hospital he would stay with me.
     I don’t want to think about that walk we took across the fields…
     The day before the funeral I heard yet another vehicle coming up the driveway. I got up off the bed upstairs and looked out the window to see who it was this time. We got a lot of cars the first couple of days—people, good people, stopping by with casseroles and cakes and things. But this was a pick-up with Pennsylvania plates, pulling a horse trailer, its green paint giving way to rust in a lot of places. By the time the driver pulled up and got out, I was already downstairs.
     “Buffalo Bill Bevins, at your service!” It was the fellow from Lancaster. Then I remembered the way he laughed about his nickname when we met him in the spring. And I recognized him from the same straw cowboy hat and soiled sheepskin vest he was wearing then.
     “Uh, how do you do, Mr. Bevins? I didn’t know… I mean, we thought you’d come around the fifteenth. It’s… what is it, just the sixth?”
     “Well, I spose I should’ve called first. Sorry if it’s a bad time. But I remember you said you’d be home the whole month of September, so as soon as I knew they were all weaned and ready, I loaded them up and rolled on over.”
     “Oh, it’s all right, I guess, but…”  This was the second time in two days I had this kind of conversation. It happened the day before, when Joe Ortley, over in town, called to ask Jason about putting in a carport for him. I mean, people are caught up in everyday affairs and assume that I’m just going through a normal day as well.
     “I’m awfully sorry, Andy, awfully sorry.” That’s what Bevins said when I told him. But what was he supposed to say? “Awfully sorry… I had no idea. I spose I could come back another time, you know.”
     “No, that’s quite all right, Bill. We can take them, I guess. We managed to get the fence up. See?” I gestured down toward the pasture lined with an uncommonly high fence, with heavy-gauge hog-wire and posts stout enough to stop a truck.
     “Yep. That oughta do the job. But if you don’t want to think about it now…”     By this time, Chris had wandered over and was listening to us. His eyes were real puffy and red. Though I’m sure I looked worse. Then he spoke up.
     “Dad, remember the gate? We’ve got to slap that together yet. The hinges can wait till another time, but I’d need about a half hour to get something in place.”
     “That’s fine, son, fine. I’ll even give you a hand, if you like.” And then Bevins ceremoniously removed his hat and with his other hand patted Chris on the shoulder. “Sorry about your mom, son. Real sorry.”
     “Well, Mr. Bevins,” I said. “Can we have a peek at them?” I could hear a lot of banging from inside the closed-in trailer.
     “Sure, but I don’t want to open the doors until I back into your field. But you can hop up and peek in through the opening on top. They’re healthy and frisky, I can tell you.”
     I was not prepared to see how big they were already. I expected them to be about the size of, say, St. Bernards. One of them was just a little bigger than that I suppose, but the other three were already starting to form humps above their shoulders. The young bull’s horns were starting to show on his uncommonly large head. All four were breathing heavily, snorting. Their eyes were big white circles, with deep, dark centers. They looked wild and scared. There was something else about them too. It was like I was looking at ghosts from the past.
     We had left an opening in the fence wide enough to drive through. So, after Chris tacked together the boards he’d already cut for the gate, we got some rope ready so he could lash it in place once the bison were out of the trailer. I expected them to bolt right out once Bevins dropped the ramp, but they shuffled backwards towards the front wall of the trailer when they saw us gathered outside. It wasn’t until we moved to the front of the truck and Bevins starting banging on the hood that they came skidding down the ramp. Then they galloped in circles as one, frantically, making thumping sounds with their hooves even in places where the grass was thick.
     “They’ll settle down in a day or two,” Bevins said. “Just got to discover the dimensions of their new home.”
     The church was good enough to allow us to use their basement for a meal after the service and burial. Douglas arranged the whole thing, being that he’s a regular member of the church.
     I didn’t know how I’d get through that day. I thought it would be impossible. But somehow having the whole family there, and friends and neighbors, made it bearable. When they all started to leave it was another story. I was glad, though, when Harriman wanted to come back with me to get his first look at the buffalo calves. I would have done anything to postpone climbing those stairs up to the bedroom by myself.
     We noticed one of the calves right away. I recognized her as the smallest one, the one still without much sign of a hump. Earlier that morning when Jason and I went to check on them and shake out some hay, I also noticed she was a lighter brown than the others. Here she was, just standing about ten yards inside the pasture, alone, staring towards the gate.
     “Well, that’s funny,” I said. “I wonder why she’s not with the others.” I just assumed that the other three were down among the trees where we couldn’t see them.
     “This ‘un looks real skittish,” Harriman said. “Ever’ once in a while we’d get a calf that’d have that look in its eyes. Always bull calves, seems like.” He was interrupted by the sound of Jason’s pickup spitting up gravel on the driveway. He and Chris skidded to a stop next to us. The little buffalo calf bolted away from us.
     “Dad, we just saw them! They got loose! Right down by your place, Mr. Harriman! Joni and Rick parked over there to keep an eye on them.”
     “Oh, no. What a thing to have happen today,” I said. “We’ll have to get them back here somehow. But how the heck did they get out? This other one might get loose too.”
     “Maybe if we get enough people we can kind of herd them back this way,” Chris said. “I’ll call Doug over at the church. He can come when they get done cleaning up. But, yeah, maybe we should figure out how they got loose.”
     Harriman went back to his place with Jason. Chris left word for Douglas, and then he and I each went a different way around the pasture fence, looking for some clue as to how they got out. The fence was in tact. When we met again, we just shrugged. After we circled back to the gate, Chris pointed to its top edge. He noticed a little tuft of brown fur stuck on a splintered patch of the rough-cut lumber. I never would’ve seen it. But that explained it, all right. The gate was about a foot lower than the rest of the fence. We guessed that the one remaining calf just didn’t have the leaping abilities of the others. Just to be sure, we quickly cut a strand of barbed wire and stretched it about eight inches above the gate, wrapping each end around the gateposts before nailing the wire in place.

     Harriman lives about a half mile down the road on the left, in a big white farmhouse that is much too big for him. He always likes to says he’s “rattlin’ around in it.” He has lived alone since his brother died, but he still has land on both sides of the road. A few years back he had a fairly big operation. He had over a hundred milk cows, and besides having about sixty acres of pasture land, he grew his own hay and corn for silage. After he got rid of his cows, he sold a parcel of land to some developers, but he continued to grow some hay and corn, mostly to sell on the other side of the river, in Pennsylvania.
     We saw Jason’s red Toyota pickup and Joni’s bright yellow Volkswagon parked along the road across from Harriman’s barn. If only we could herd them into his empty barn for the night, I thought. After we pulled over I looked across the road, beyond the barn, into the overgrown pasture that stretched past it. No sign of anyone. Then we heard the echo of a shout coming from our side of the road. We ducked between strands of rusty barbed wire into that section of pasture, now with three to four-foot cedars springing up. We climbed up to the crest of a small rise, where we could see what was happening. Rick was about one hundred yards to our right, still in the dress sweater he wore to the funeral, guarding the fence that lined the parcel on which three new, identical houses were going up. Joni in her black dress about fifty yards farther off. Harriman and Jason were on the other side of the field. Right in the center were the three young buffalo, grazing among the cedar saplings, but in a nervous way. They would bend their large heads, nibble at something, and then dash forward a ways before pausing again. They knew they were being watched. But they had not noticed Chris and me. They were slowly moving toward us.
     “Hey, Dad, maybe we better circle around and join the others. It looks like they’re trying to herd them this way.”
     “Think we can do it, Chris? If we could just get them across the road and into George’s barn.”
     “We could cut the fence right down here, and then over on the other side of the road… Sort of an incentive for them to go that way. They’d probably rather walk through than have to jump. Mr. Harriman would understand.” So, we went back to the truck for some wire-cutters, and I thought to take off my tie and jacket and leave them on the seat of  the truck. We snipped an inviting opening for the buffalo on each side of the road. We hoped they would exit the field here, then immediately see that they just had to cross the road and go into the pasture on the other side. Then from there maybe we could coax them into Harriman’s barn.
     “Wanna run over there and open up the barn doors too, Chris?”
     “Yep.” And I watched my youngest son run over and struggle with the big swinging doors of Harriman’s barn. He finally managed to keep them from swinging shut by rolling a rock in front of each one.
     As I watched him I realized this was the first time I had been alone since the funeral. And it dawned on me that I had been having a conversation inside myself the whole time. It was like I had been rehearsing the story I would tell her when I got home that night, that I was mentally recording the way they looked grazing out there… the way everybody was getting involved… how funny it was that we were all wearing the wrong clothes for this kind of work… And then this awful feeling hit me in the stomach… I felt like throwing up… I sat on the ground…
     “You okay, Dad?” Chris was tugging me by the elbow. Our eyes met for a moment. Then he glanced away. “We better get outa here before we spook them. But first maybe we should move them.” He gestured towards the Volkswagon and the two pickups. “I hope they left their keys.” But before we could move the vehicles from the openings in the fences, we heard a shout.
     “Yah! Yah!” It sounded like Jason.
     “Let’s go back and see!” I said. So we climbed back up the little rise. There we could see the problem. Harriman and Jason were very close to us on the left, Joni and Rick on the right. But the calves had turned the other way and were now going back beyond where Chris and I first saw them. Jason lifted his arms in exasperation, dropped his head, and they all approached us.
     “Man, oh man, they’re too smart and quick for us,” Jason said. “We thought we could get them to jump the fence over toward the barn. But there’s no way.”
     “Well,” Harriman said. “I don’t know how you’re gonna get them back, Andy. They don’t behave like cows, I tell you what!” He pulled off his old-fashioned fedora and was wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. It seemed strange to see him without his battered John Deere hat. “It might be these critters ‘ull just spend the night here,” he said.
      “Looks like they spend the night wherever they want to!” Chris said.
     “But you better call that fella you got ‘em from, Andy. See what kind ‘a bright idee-uhs he’s got!”
     The sun was pretty low in the sky. So we gave up for the time being, but first we began to repair the damage Chris and I did to the fence. Harriman interrupted us.
     “Don’t bother with that, Andy. I ain’t keepin’ anything in pasture anymore. And, who knows? Maybe they’ll move on across into the barn for the night.”
     We thanked him and were climbing back into our vehicles when Douglas pulled up with his wife and children, explaining that he wanted to get back sooner but got held up for one reason and another. We let him know it wouldn’t have made any difference. Then we formed a small procession back to the house. I waved to Harriman as he stood by his front door watching us.
     I did call Bill Bevins that evening. He was surprised to hear from me.
     “Well, Andy, that’s happened to me two or three times over the years, you know, but never with calves. You know what I always ended up doing?”
     “We sure could use some advice, Bill.”
     “Well, since they’re being raised for meat anyways, I just got my rifle and shot ‘em! Right behind the ear, though, always right behind the ear.”
     “I’d hate to have to do that, Bill, especially since they’re calves and we just got them. There must be some other way.”
     “You might wanna call your game warden over there, or that Game Farm you have a ways north of you.” He pointed out that the County Game Farm once had a head of buffalo or two and had experience with keeping other wild animals. I thanked him for his help and wished him a good night. “Anytime,” he said. He paused, then added, “I’m real sorry for your loss.”
     We were all gathered in the kitchen, though Doug and his little family left early to put the children to bed. We wanted to do something, but there was not much to do once it got dark.
     “I’m gonna try that Game Farm,” I said.
     “Maybe we should notify the state police,” Jason said. “Just so they’ll know, in case there are reports.” I let Jason make that call. They had heard nothing but thanked him for calling. “They said they want us to get them corralled as soon as possible,” Jason said.
     “It’s like this was meant to happen or something!” Joni blurted out. Then she started crying. Rick put his arm around her.
     I did not want to stop working on the problem, even after it started getting late. So I kept making calls, first to all the neighbors I could think of, warning them to be on the look-out the next day. Then I dialed “Information” for the numbers of the Game Farm and the State Fish and Game Office, but the one didn’t answer, and the warden’s office just had an answering machine.
     The next few days we spent in ridiculous attempts at herding wild animals, discussions with the Game Farm about the wonders of black polyethylene, and attempts to pacify local farmers, especially Shumacher, who was, he said, just getting ready to bring in his soybean crop and wanted there to still be something worth harvesting.
     I do not believe I ever slept for more than twenty minutes at a time.
     None of our plans worked. Finally I got a number from Bill Bevins, for a man down in Virginia, a Mr. Neff, who had quite a large herd of buffalo. Well, it turned out that Mr. Neff used to have a herd but that he had retired and sold his farm. But when I explained the problem, he put me in touch with a Mr. Click, who had worked for him for many years.
     “Well,” he said, in a slow, southern style of speaking, “what ya’ll want is…” He mumbled something that sounded like “Rompum.”
     “What’s that called again?”
     “If yer fixin’ to keep ‘em alive, ya want Rompum. That’ll trankalize ‘em so’s ya’ll can git a rope round ‘em.”
     “Could you spell that?”
     “Well, I don’t know exackly how it’s spelled. Prolly jus the way it sounds.”
     “Where might I get some of that?”
     “Ya’ll got veter-narians up there, don’t ya? They deal with it quite often.”
     Of course. Why hadn’t I thought to call a veterinarian? “Mr. Click, what is it I’m asking for again?”
     “Rompum. Romp-um.”
     Later that day I called Harriman, who gave me the name of a veterinarian he used to use. A Dr. Wexler. Once I got him on the phone he said he thought he knew exactly what the man in Virginia was referring to, that he had the appropriate rifle, and could probably help us out. The only problem was, there was no way he could call on us until the end of the week.
     All our hopes now rested on Dr. Wexler. If we could just keep them reasonably contained until then.
     Late that night I heard noise outside, a steady banging sound. I put on my shoes and went downstairs and out onto the porch. It was a bright, late-summer night, very mild, the moon high in the sky. I knew it was the young female. It sounded as though she was slamming against the feeding trough we had erected just on the other side of the fence from the storage shed. I walked down towards the pasture. And then I saw:  the other three buffalo were right in the middle of the driveway. In the bright moonlight, their eyes flickered like headlights. When they noticed me they bolted out of sight down the long dark driveway, towards the road. But then I saw six glowing embers turn towards me. The captive calf continued her banging. I could see her, head down, rhythmically backing up and then charging against the side of the trough. It was as though she had been wound up, or was running on batteries, always backing up about four feet and then slamming the crown of her head against wood.
     “Sh, sh, now, now, girlie,” I said. I worried that she would hurt herself. She did not seem aware of me. She just kept up the regular banging.
     I thought I would try some feed. There was a sack of grain inside the shed, so I opened the door, waved my hand through the air until I found the light string, and went in. Then I heard another sound, coming from the shed, like voices, and I realized that someone must have left the radio on. They must have turned down the volume instead of turning it off. You could hear a station coming through faintly. For some reason, I turned it up. Immediately I knew it was Jason who had left the radio on, since he was the only one who listened to country music. I never really listened to it myself. I kept it on while I took a scoop of corn down to the feeding trough.
     This will sound crazy, but I think the music calmed her down. I say that because before I spread the grain out in front of the calf, the pattern of her banging altered, became less determined. Right away I wondered if it was the music, so I went back and turned it up a little more. It was a song I never heard before, in a woman’s pretty voice, singing about “eighteen wheels and a dozen roses.” And sure enough, when I looked back towards the buffalo, she was calmly gobbling up the feed I had left for her.
     I remembered the other buffalo when I heard a snort coming from down the driveway. They were still there, occasionally visible from the glow of their eyes. “Come on, be good now, you others!” I called out. We would have to hope they would not do too much damage or cause an accident before the vet showed up. But I took heart in the fact that they were still attracted to the fourth one. Maybe that meant they would never wander off too far.
     I found a lawn chair in the shed and set it up a few feet outside the pasture fence, and after I shut off the light, the little calf and I just stared at each other in the moonlight, listening to country music. And I talked to her a little. Good girl, good girl. Go to sleep. For the most part the music was soothing. There was one song that was a little rough, with some twangy electric guitars and some words about whiskey, and the buffalo seemed to get a little agitated. But then another woman’s voice came on, a real sweet voice, singing, “these memories of you still haunt me, every night when I lay down.” It didn’t have electric guitars, just a nice soft sound. When the singing stopped I learned from the man that it was a song by three women, but the main singer’s name was Dolly, so that’s what I named the buffalo. Dolly.
     My mind relaxed in a way it hadn’t since she died. I thought of how she would find something funny about our chasing buffalo across the countryside day after day under these circumstances.
     “Good girl, good Dolly,” I whispered. The calf was standing calmly, her head a little drooped. I wondered whether buffalo sleep standing up like horses or whether they lie down. There was quite a bit I was going to have to learn about them. For the time being I just leaned back in the chair and tried to drift off to the music.

created by