This story dates back three years. It’s about a young buffalo and a mare at the end of her days:
During one of my husband’s cold but sweaty efforts to rouse Daphne, something incredible happened which I will never forget. As I stood against a young oak tree juggling phone calls with Shawndra and three vets’ offices (we were now in the slender space of time between office hours and emergency response times) Chunk-hi meandered over to our worried gathering. Constantly in my view, he lowered his behemoth head and started towards Daphne’s tail end. I feared some rough playfulness but was amazed by what he actually did.
Chunk stroked his massive bearded chin in long, slow motions against Daphne’s body. He traced every leg, sniffed her tail, kissed her neck with that long purple tongue, and paced delicately around her prone and weakening body for several minutes. Handsome and I both noticed this incredible behavior.
We witnessed what could have been the precursor to a goring, or at least a good head butt, turn into a truly affectionate and comforting gesture. From my position about four feet away I could see his big liquid black eyes watch everything we did. I could hear his amplified breath, investigating the scene, cataloging details. Daphne had always held a maternal veil over this little orphaned addition to our farm, and I have no doubt he felt her pain. In retrospect, we believe he was also saying goodbye.
After a ten or fifteen minute vigil, Chunk-hi suddenly inhaled sharply and started bobbing and wagging his shaggy head in big, dramatic circles. Usually a sure sign of aggression in male buffalo, this had no such feeling. He flung his head around but stood perfectly still then just gazed at her. He looked at me calmly, but not blankly, and I was devastated to have no words for him. This was a buffalo sobbing and crying.
And now he’s gone too:
After he left the farm this past February to live on a gorgeous, 300-acre ranch with his new ranching family, I continued to hear his voice. He had a deep, bellowy voice, a snorting baritone that sounded a lot like howling wind and also like Tibetan meditation bowls. Otherworldly sometimes. For weeks I heard him every morning when I fed the other animals, and a few times I also thought I saw him in a sand wallow, peeking around an oak tree. He was big, huge even by bison standards, but he had a talent for winding himself up small like a baby and tucking into the shadows, just chewing his cud.
We miss him so much. We have missed him every day of every week since he left the Lazy W, and we have been deeply conflicted about the decision to find him a new home. But our reasons were sound, and the family who took him on are wonderful ranchers, smart and loving.
Chunk was given the opportunity to roam almost free, just like a wild buff, and he also had a girlfriend named Molly. After a period of acclimation, they enjoyed a long honeymoon toward the close of summer, and for this we are so grateful.
One day recently his new caretakers discovered Chunk badly injured, his back broken, probably from a fight with another bull or from vigorous love making with Molly. We were shocked and heartbroken by the news but held onto hope that he might heal or that their vet might find a solution.
No solution was to be found. I’m no expert on back pain, despite recent lessons on the subject, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, two legs or four.