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Burning Mountains Ark

Featured image: Against the majestic backdrop of the Beartooth Range, January’s Wolf Moon casts its haunting glow over the silent, frozen reaches of Slough Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming © Jay Tischendorf, University of Idaho and the American Ecological Research Institute (—AERIE)

 

…life depends upon eating souls.
Aua, Iglulik shaman

Natives called this simmering caldera
the Burning Mountains, where the eruption
of spring beauties pulls the bison herd
across the Lamar Valley calving grounds
like molten boulders.

East of the Lamar canyon, north of the willow-skirted
oxbows, grassland meets the sheltering brush:
a newborn bison slides into the world, wet as an oyster.
Before his mother can heave, rise, turn
to nuzzle, to lick clean, to urge her calf to stand,
the charcoal dark she-wolf trots away
ascending the sage-scented path
around Druid Peak, to fill
her Romulus and Remus
teats.

Past the valleys’ junction, on a bald meander below Buffalo Plateau,
snow-squalls dust white the hump, the shoulders, the head and horns,
the lashes and goatee of the next-to-last lone bison
desperately cropping creekside shoots, on the edge
of senescence.

Over the next ridge, and the next,
in the starlit groves still cradling snow,
where the bull-herd left him among the high meadows
before descending to join the cows for last summer’s
rut, the old bison slumps on a Soda Butte Creek
sandbar. Under ice, water-play
is his coda. The waning moon sickled
cuts into the Lamar horizon. Winter-killed.
Aldebaran brightens.

Morning on the south flank of Barronette Peak,
the resurrection artist splits the egg-shell
snow-pack. Ursa groggy hauls out,
sifts the wind, heads bow-legged plowing
downhill through rivulets bubbling,
braiding into Soda Butte Creek,
gathering appetite.

Ursa scatters the scavengers into the trees, pauses at the sandbar,
circles, approaches, graces bison with amulet claws
– prima inter pares – mythic pair
whose hide-draped altars in the cave-painted arks
launched forty thousand years
of sapient worship. Grizzly breaks fast.
From the howe’s gallery, the rowdy throng
chafes to feast.

Avalanche lilies trestle the skeleton. The summering bulls fat with grasses
pause before the sandbar, circle, approach the bones
in file, moan, nuzzle, lick clean his battered
crescent, blessing their dead.

 

Christopher Spatz

 

 

Powerful juggernaut of the North American Plains, a prime bull bison finds forage to survive another day...another week... another winter in Yellowstone National Park © University of Idaho and the American Ecological Research Institute (—AERIE)

Powerful juggernaut of the North American Plains, a prime bull bison finds forage to survive another day…another week… another winter in Yellowstone National Park © Jay Tischendorf
University of Idaho and the American Ecological Research Institute (—AERIE)

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