Sunday, September 30, 2012

The American Bison

Soon we saw a cloud of dust rising in the east, and the rumbling grew louder and I think it was about a half hour when the front of the herd came fairly into view. From an observation with our field glasses, we judged the herd to be 5 or 6 (some said 8 or 10) miles wide, and the herd was more than an hour passing us at a gallop, about 12 miles an hour...the whole space, say 5 miles by 12 miles, as far as we could see, was a seemingly solid mass of buffaloes.  - Nathaniel Langford, 1870

The great herds of the American Bison were nearly pushed to extinction in the 19th century by a brutal slaughter campaign sanctioned by the U.S. Army. It took only three decades to reduce the massive herds to almost nothing. Then, the prairies fell silent.

Today, the American Bison lives on in scattered small pockets mostly in national parks and reserves.

In Yellowstone National Park, the bison wander outside the park but the cattle industry fears the bison will infect their cattle with the disease brucellosis. So federal and local officials slaughter them despite there being not one confirmed case of the disease. The slaughter continues every winter for the unfortunate ones who follow their instinct to roam the prairie.

Inside the park, you will find bison on restaurant menus mostly offered up as burgers. Yet, our national parks are deemed animal sanctuaries.

It all seems a travesty and another shameful footnote to add to our nation's history.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Argiope aurantia. Black and yellow garden spider. Corn spider. Writing spider. Many names for a wondrous spider who I just call Girl.

Sometime in July, she built her orb web outside my office window. I feel lucky she did, as I've been able to observe her from not a foot away. She's pretty darn spectacular. At least two inches long with colors of yellow, white, black and some light tan.

Each morning, before the sun rises, I'd see her reconstructing her web. Intrigued, I did some research and learned that the species eats its web every night and then rebuilds it. One morning I watched her lay in the zigzag, hence the name Writing Spider, and, when done, flex each leg simultaneously like a Yogi and then settle in, hanging upside down for the day. On a recent morning, when I slept late, I was surprised to see her still working on the web, clearly way past sunrise. I wondered what had caused the delay. I am thinking it may be the cool weather we've been experiencing as we move into fall.

I also learned that the male of the species is quite a bit smaller than the female and will often build his web close by or attach it to hers. He'll strum her web to alert her that he's present and, when he approaches, have a drop-line ready just in case she attacks.

I kept an eye out for a male and luckily I spotted him one day. His web was, indeed, attached to hers. I hoped that I could watch their mating. After a week or two, the male was gone and I suspected they had. I kept a lookout to see if I could observe her lay the eggs and create the perfect oval sac with an upturned neck that holds them, but despite a diligent watch, I did not. Then, a few weeks back, I spotted her egg sac attached to the window frame just a foot or two from her. The eggs will hatch inside the sac this fall but the babies, perfect miniature replicas of the adults, will not emerge until spring.

As the nights grow cooler she will weaken and when the first hard frost comes she will die, leaving behind the babies she guarded as long as she could. Little does she know that I intend on keeping watch over them through the fall and winter.

I wait in anticipation to see them emerge this coming spring when they will spin a tiny silk and drift off on the wind.

I will name one of them Girl.