On a recent camping trip in the Panoche Hills behind Hollister I ran into a charming buffalo couple so I took some pictures, including one extreme bison close-up that I sent to my friend, Mitzi, as a Thanksgiving Day greeting card. She wrote back, “That buffalo got pretty close, eh?” I wouldn’t want Mitzi to imagine that I’m some sort of adventurer or thrill-seeker, so I followed up with a clarifying letter that wandered in some interesting directions. Apropos of nothing, I send you all today an edited version of that letter, hoping that you might enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Here is the photo that prompted the letter, along with a less graphic, more scenic and sentimental picture of the Panoche Hills on a beautiful fall afternoon.
Dear Mitzi: The buffalo gal in the photo was on the other side of the fence with her boyfriend. She seemed quite tame and sweet, but I’d never be so stupid as to crawl up a buffalo’s nose. I remember that back when I went to the University of California in Davis there was a fellow raising buffaloes for meat north of town along Highway 113, and right next to his buffalo ranch was a dairy. One day a buffalo bull got a whiff of a cute Jersey cow in heat and plowed down the fence that separated him from the cow of his desires. That’s the thing about buffaloes– a fence has to be of really massive construction before it serves as anything more than a mere suggestion of limits to a determined buffalo bull.
Mr. Buffalo was making whoopie with the whole herd of milk cows when the dairy farmer showed up. The farmer was horrified, of course, about the random mixed-race coupling going on, but he couldn’t convince the buffalo to give up his poly-amorous ways and go back home. The dairyman did manage to chase the bull out of his yard and on to the county road in front of his farm and then he closed the gate. Instead of being discouraged, the bull figured he’d follow his nose down the road and see how the situation developed. The country lane fed into another road, and then another, until the bull ended up trotting down an on-ramp onto southbound Highway 113, where he was soon challenging traffic and provoking a commotion.
The highway patrol officer who showed up to deal with the issue was a fine public servant, but he was no cowboy, so he radioed his commander for help. The commander was thinking that the officer might be hallucinating so he sent a CHP chopper over to investigate, and when the helicopter came in low for a look, the bull Bison spooked and ran down 113 all the way to where it merges with southbound I-80. It was only the beginning of afternoon rush hour, but the introduction of an angry buffalo onto the interstate played havoc with the commute.
I was at home studying Nietzsche at the time and my housemates were drinking beer in the living room and watching TV. “Hey, Andy,” they were yelling. “Get in here. You gotta check this out!” The Live at Five news people had picked up on the story and dispatched their own traffic copter to film the scandal from the sky, so we were treated to a great overhead view of thousands of honking, pissed-off commuters headed home at one mile per hour behind a buffalo bull who trotted purposefully down the centerline of the freeway, throwing a horn and an evil glance at anyone who tried to pass him.
More CHP officers made their way through the snarl of cars but they were helpless too. A 2000 pound buffalo bull does what he feels like, and this one felt like going to Vacaville. Not only were the officers constrained by their ignorance of wild bovine management, they were also now being watched live on TV by a million people. They couldn’t just shoot the beast or the animal rights activists would be all over them like flies on a cow pie. The slow motion chase went on and on as the buffalo headed south trailing cops and choppers like OJ’s white Bronco. Anchormen filled the airwaves with speculation and traffic backed up down 80 farther and farther towards Sacramento and the capitol dome. Someone at my house went out for more beer.
Eventually CHP headquarters decided to shoot the bull full of tranquilizer darts and the SWAT teams reached for their rifles. Bang, bang, bang. The darts worked. The bull fell over, asleep on the centerline, and the only problem that remained was what to do with a ton of living, breathing, stoned meat that could wake up at any minute and start thrashing around and bellowing. A tow truck made its way through the traffic jam and got into position. The errant bull was winched onto a trailer and tied down with a mile of rope. Then the officers whisked Mr. Buffalo home so he could sleep off his party in the security of an eight foot high corral made out of railroad ties. So much trouble and vexation, and all the bull wanted to do was meet some cows! But girls are like that; they cause all kinds of problems.
Barack Obama’s national blogger has just moved to San Francisco post-campaign and is doing college essay tutoring for high school students. She can be contacted at email@example.com for more information. Why this blurb here? Sarah’s one of my mystery box customers and I find her charming. She’s also currently looking for a fabulous ball gown for the inauguration, of course! -julia (Sarah says: I’m also doing plain old coaching for writing (essays, stories, etc.) and blogging lessons — after the new year, but people are certainly welcome to sign up now! I have an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University…)
Two restaurant events: