Stand By Me

These bison taught a lesson not soon to be forgotten: There comes a time when everyone needs someone to “get their back.” How we stand by friends and family in times of need determines who we really are.

It has been over five years now, but the touching scene is still indelibly stenciled in my memory. We were in Yellowstone National Park, just about to cross the Yellowstone River on our way to Lamar Valley. We stopped because two bison walked side by side squarely in the middle of the bridge and occupying our lane as they walked west. 

As we watched, we realized that the larger of the two was extremely emaciated, not much more than a tough hide stretched tautly over angular jutting bones and with a hump that rose like a hatchet blade. Clearly, this animal was not long for this world. In such a weakened condition, he would be an easy mark for even just a few wolves or a grizzly bear.

As they continued to plod toward us, we noticed that the younger animal kept step with its older companion. It was apparent that this wasn’t accidental. It was keeping pace, staying exactly at his side, neither turning left or right nor pulling ahead. 

Shortly past the west end of the bridge the old threadbare bison turned south and left the road. His companion immediately followed, quickening his step for a moment to take up his guardian position again.

The two bison slowly trudged down the slope on a well worn trail, crossed the creek and began a lumbering ascent of the far hillside.  At times, the younger bison walked immediately behind his older companion, as if nudging him up the hill. As they crested the ridge, they were once again side by side and, like two cowboys on a last ride, slowly disappeared from view. 

We sat there for a time, trying to comprehend what we had just witnessed. Could it be possible that the healthy bison was selflessly protecting its weakened companion? We could discern absolutely no benefit derived by the stronger bison so we could see no other motive. The biologist in me railed against this flagrant anthropomorphism, but I was at a loss as to what else could be going on.

Whether or not I correctly interpreted the story that unfolded on the Yellowstone River Bridge that day, I believed that there was a lesson there not to be ignored.

The young bison couldn’t relieve his companion of his burden; it was his alone to carry. Without opposable thumbs he could not offer sustenance or water. But he could walk along side, proffering support and companionship and serving as his eyes and ears, alert for danger while his companion either passed peacefully or recovered. If the wolves had circled, I had no doubt the healthy young animal was ready to fend them off to protect his weakened brother.

There are times when each of us is like the old emaciated bison. Life beats us down in some way and wolves stand ready to tear and devour us. Faithful friends and companions may be all that stand between us and the full battering of life. And that is worth remembering as we begin a brand new year.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho