Enduring symbol. We Will Survive.

This past Saturday night’s activities included dealing with a busted rivet in one of my new leg braces.  Though pain free, this particular event is best explained to the normal-legged public as being rather like having the tibia and fibula removed from action in the lower leg.  You can’t walk.

So out of the closet came an old leg brace, and first thing Monday I made an appointment with the orthotist who had created these fine plastic leg braces early last summer.  He said to come this afternoon, and so there I was, rolling northward along I-25 while day-dreaming about recent changes in my life.

Small changes they may appear, but in my quiet little life tectonic plates have shifted the tiniest bit.  No earthquakes, just a little shaking here and there.

The mental shift felt to me to be well exemplified by a couple of highway signs one passes going in and out of the small city of Los Lunas, New Mexico:

Zero Visibility Possible

Strong Winds May Exist

How amusingly existential…   One wonders about the state of mind of highway engineers in creating these warnings.  Too much of New Mexico can do things to the mind.  For instance, my former neighbor, Leon Cooper, once worked with physicist Edward Teller at Los Alamos National Lab.  While the atomic bomb was in development.

One toasty summer day Leon walked into the office to discover Teller sitting his desk — with one of his legs standing beside him.    He took that as one of those things you expect from renowned  physicists without question…  In moments he understood that the … pedestrian … reason was that Teller had an artificial limb, and was more comfortable in hot weather with the thing off.

Teller is a hero of mine because back in the 1950s he was just about the first scientist on earth to make a fuss about the amount of carbon pouring into the atmosphere due to fossil fuel consumption since the Industrial Age began.  He announced that this was going to cause the planet’s atmosphere to change.

Back to the highway daydreams.

A month or two ago I came upon a autobiographical book by Dan O’Brien, Buffalo for the Broken Heart.  I like buffalo and the connection with heart breaking bemused me enough to read the book immediately.  Besides being a wildlife biologist and keen falconer — two of my own long standing interests — he was a Black Hills cattle rancher for a good long time before concluding that cattle are awfully bad for the Great Plains.  In a word, cows are exotic species and don’t belong there.  They tear things apart.

So, bit by bit, his researches into restoring a healthy ecosystem and providing food for people led him into a gradual move from cattle to buffalo.  Practically anybody who’s been within a hundred yards of a wild buffalo will be aware of how much this entails.

O’Brien the biologist understood the evils of treating buffalo like cattle, and wanted to market meat from animals that had never been near a feedlot, and who had been slaughtered in the manner of the Plains Indian tribes — right there, where they stood, without terror or much pain.  Little by little he created a system that allowed him to produce this particular product, in just the way he intended.

Back to the highway daydreamer, who has been a vegetarian for much of her life — with even a few years as a vegan.  Being aware that bison meat has very little fat in it, and liking O’Brien’s big vision of restoring health to the Great Plains through animals that had evolved there, I up and got some of his meat.

And ate it, and wanted more!  Yowzer for the vegetarian?  Not so much, because my reason for not eating meat was mainly consideration about raising beef, pork and chickens commercially.  Big Ag stuff.  This buffalo operation did away with that.

So there I am, roaring up the highway at some 80 mph in order to get rivets fixed in my own leg brace — happily just a brace, not a whole leg — and reflecting over the positive effects of the diet change when I topped a mesa and saw my favorite view of Isleta Pueblo spread out far below.  Fields and fields, neatly arranged and unfailingly well maintained against the backdrop of the blue and purple Sandia Mountains.  Black walls of a mesa surround these fields on the western side, where the highway runs.   In winter the ranchers sometimes have had cattle on the alfalfa stubble, sometimes horses, and often beehives.

But today the tiny dark shapes moving around below were odd…  Why do the cows have such humps…???  Lady, them thar critters are BUFFALO!!

And why shouldn’t they be?  Like various other tribes in New Mexico,  Isletans have been acquiring a herd of bison.  Usually one spots them close to their revenue generating casino along I-25.

So in approaching the casino turnoff I gazed over at tribal fields where I’ve often seen their buffs ….  And … amongst the huge, shaggy beasts with the prominent humps stood a genuine wonder, something holy.

A white buffalo.

This was such a deeply spiritual moment that despite the high speed whiz around a curve in company with numerous other low flying trucks and semis, tears ran down my face.

white_bison_eyes_closed_by_salsolastock-d1v5r0y
Image from SalsolaStock

A white buffalo.  On Native land.  In New Mexico.  Here, at the very easternmost edge of the Colorado Plateau, where bison did once roam, though not in the numbers on the plains further east.  Nomadic Comanches and other  tribes hunted them.

A white buffalo, the sign of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, spiritual messenger to the Lakota/Dakota people of the northern Great Plains so long ago.  The symbol of renewal.

Unless I was hallucinating, the creature was there.  And I felt so very blessed, sailing by on the highway, daydreaming about my small life and its changes, about the grander scheme of caring for the earth and its creatures, about the tribes here and elsewhere making their changes.

This during the closing days of COP21 in Paris.  Somehow I had the vision that Edward Teller, climate change, the people who understand earth systems profoundly, like Teller, O’Brien and indigenous people from everywhere, are quietly leading recalcitrant ones towards a more balanced use of our shared home planet.

The message of the white buffalo endures.

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