BIG PROBLEMS

The past week had been almost too much. Graduation from high school, a successful track season, good grades, but her grandma sick, maybe gonna die. And this fall she would be going to college if she were accepted, but she hadn’t gotten word yet and she should have by now. She knew there were many changes coming.

Her grandma was really her great-grandma. There was a generation of women that was missing in there — drinking, gambling, falling for bad men — so that her great-grandma had raised her mother and her mother would only say about her mother and aunties, “They thought they were squaws.” Then she’d clamp her jaw shut and say no more, except that her eyes said, “You will NOT think you are anything but proud and successful!”

It was a lot to carry, but if there was anything she’d learned from track, it was that she could run her troubles off, especially early in the day like it was right now, just barely light enough to see the road on this clear June morning. This was her favorite place to run because it was along the east front of the Rockies where for millennia people and animals had moved in the rain shadow that let grass predominate over trees.

It was even too early for traffic but not too early for a meadowlark caroling halfway up the bluff on her left. Then there was a big dark shape ahead of her and for a minute she thought it was a pickup, but it was an animal. In fact, it was a bull buffalo!

It it had been white, she’d have thought she was having a vision, but it was a plain brown bull buffalo, the kind that occasionally plagued the keepers of the tribal herd by wandering off, as likely to plow through the fence as not. She tried to remember what one was supposed to do when encountering a buffalo. If it were black bear, she should stand her ground but not stare; if it were a cougar, she should puff up, yell and act aggressive; if it were a grizz, she should drop, roll up in a ball and pray. Although, she remembered a boy telling her that when he met a bear, he sang his bear song and the bear just went on its way. She didn’t know any buffalo songs.

If she could have thought of an honor song, she’d have sung that, but her brain was only playing a silly kid song from the Black Lodge singers: “Mighty Mouse.” Her small cousins had picked it up and went around chanting, “Is it a bird? NO! Is it a plane? NO! Omigosh, it’s Mighty Mouse.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBcu6Gc5sCU

Or in this case, mighty bull. “Omigosh, it’s Mighty Bull!” Mighty Meat? Her crazy brain went off on a thought about how good the buffalo burgers were last Indian Days and the bull gave a great whooshing whuff, as though it could read her mind.

They just stood there eyeing each other. Her senses sharpened by adrenaline, she noted that the bull’s cleft hooves overlapped just slightly, the inside over the outside. She saw that his shoulder height was a good two feet taller than she was though she was a very tall girl. When he licked his nose to get it wet so he could smell better, she saw that his tongue was purple. She could smell him and guessed that he smelled the way a buffalo should smell. How else? He smelled BIG. But looking at him head-on, once a person looked down the long sides behind his massive furry head, his sides were lean — not square like a cow bred for meat and shaped like a dining room table. WHUFFF! Oh, sorry.

Maybe she should just talk to this animal, in case he were a medicine bull, stumiksahtosee. “Mister Bull, I respect you and I don’t know how much power you have, but I wonder if you could help my grandmother ? She is a Blackfeet speaker and would be able to speak to you much better than I can.” Maybe she was being superstitious, but what could it hurt? She had a lot of little superstitions about winning at track.

The bull was not wetting the earth with urine or drooling or pawing in the dust of the road. Those were all good signs, or lack of signs, so maybe the rutting season wasn’t underway yet. July, wasn’t it? In July? The bull seemed to nod — crazy! She knew that animals could tell female humans from male humans, but what were the implications? Would it be better if the bull thought of her as female? Probably. Less likely to want to fight — after all, testosterone is about the same in every mammal. But, well — being a bull buffalo’s girl friend . . . uh, no.

“I respect you and I honor you for being our source of life and shelter for so many millennia.” The bull was watching her closely but he swung his massive head back and forth a little, as though favoring one eye and then the other. His wet nose wrinkled and he made a noise like a pig, grunting. She couldn’t help giggling.

Then, slowly, the bull turned aside into the barrow pit, walked up to the five foot fence, leapt over it as gracefully as an English thoroughbred horse in a fox hunt, and marched straight up the steep bluff as though it were level ground. She saw that a coyote had been watching from halfway up. “Too bad, you dog! No stomped carrion this morning!”

Newly energized, she resumed running along the road, and saw that the coyote was running along parallel to her over in the field. When it sat down, panting, she looked back at the top of the bluff and there was the bull, watching her moving along. She slung her arms into the air, a victory sign.

There really had been more of a communication than a competition, but her head had cleared. Whatever happened now, grandmother or college or boyfriends or a summer job — she could deal with it. How could any problem be bigger than a bull buffalo?

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