Writing on the Range

Swept Up in the Storm

With storms raging around all of us—viral, social, political—here’s a lesson from bison, an American icon.

When I was a boy, an unusually early blizzard hit Colorado. High winds drove feet of snow across the treeless plains. 

Instinct forces cattle to drift with the storm, letting the winds and snow push them whatever way it’s blowing. During that storm, some of the neighbor’s cattle drifted through a fence on to our property. They fell off the lip of the draw on top of each other and were buried by the winds and snow, killing them all.

Ever since cattle populated the northern plains, scenes like this have played out. The Great Die-Up of 1887 claimed hundreds of thousands of cattle. The Atlas Blizzard of 2013 killed 43,000. 

Not being a native species to the North American plains, the tendency for cattle to drift in a storm is, quite literally, a fatal flaw.

The year 2020 was a storm, and 2021 isn’t looking any better. I’ve personally struggled in the wake of the events of January 6 to find perspective. I feel as if I have nowhere to call home in this crazed political landscape. No matter which way I look, to my left or my right, storms are raging. 

Bison can teach us lessons
The American bison can teach us a lesson about handling storms.
Photo by Christine Hamilton

Interestingly, as those events at the Capitol were unfolding, I was blissfully unaware and enjoying a nice visit with Dave Carter, Executive Director of the National Bison Association. We were discussing the differences between cattle and bison. One of the most notable is their response to a blizzard.

Rather than drift with it, bison turn right into the storm and walk. Of course, anatomically, it makes obvious sense. But think about it. As they walk into the storm, it passes over them more quickly. 

Now, I identify as a cowboy. But I like the way bison deal with the worst the world throws at them.

I’m not oblivious to what’s going on around me. It’s uncomfortable and dangerous. But I refuse to be swept up in it and be pushed around by the prevailing winds. Winds shift. I’m going to keep my head down and work through the obstacles until the sky clears. And despite trying to treat this storm like a bison would, if a guy wearing nothing but face paint and a buffalo robe comes running past me, I’m not gonna follow him.

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