Getting to tea was an adventure. Getting out of Elk Island Park to go for dinner was even more of an adventure.
My sister was camping at Elk Island National Park just a few miles away from my home. Elk Island is a picture of the way the Canadian west used to be. Its a mix of grasslands, boreal forest, lakes, sloughs, and all the flora and fauna that really belong. It is fenced to keep the animals safe and off the major highway that cuts though the park but once you take the park road in to the centrally located campground, you cross ungulate gates and, you are in wild animal territory. They elk, deer and bison roam free and you never know what you will see. I saw not a single elk, no deer, but I saw a whole lot of these, a lot closer than I really wanted to see them. The pictures make it seem far far away, but oh me oh my, they were close.
There were several of them right along the road, eating the tender new grass where the park people keep it cut. At first there was just a couple in a group. Then a little further down the road, there was another group, and another till I got to a group of about 15 mothers with calves who were right on the road. I was pretty nervous by this time. Some of the mothers were looking at me a little funny. One little fellow did not want to leave the roadway, so his mama came out and nudged him along. As they stood to the side the momma glared at me and took a step forward. I instantly realized that my wee Honda Fit was not so big as her calf, and that she was looking at me exactly as would any mother who thought I was trying to interfere with her babe. I was not feeling really confident about my vehicle. The thought passed through my mind that in an altercation between a mad momma bison, and a Fit, there was only going to be one winner, and it was not going to be me. (I am considering making my next vehicle purchase a Humvee.)
A truck and trailer came along and I wisely decided to get behind him. If anyone was going to be rammed, it was going to be him, being the bigger threat and all, right?
We traveled on and cleared several more groupings, dwindling down to this one old fellow, who seemed to have the right idea.
He just ambled along peacefully in the centre of the opposite lane, minding his own business.
When I finally arrived, I forgot to mention all this bison trauma to my sister, and the day proceeded accordingly. Late in the day, nearing dark, we decided that we were going to head to town for a nice dinner. We were driving along, and she told me that she was disappointed that she had not seen any bison, one of the parks most visible animals (I understand why) on her trip in to the fenced off people area.
We saw the ambler, still just ambling along, though we did see him park to have a wee bite at the side of the road as we passed. We saw a couple groups of other bison, and then we came face to face with the mommas and babies. The whole crowd of them was standing right in the middle of the road. My sister was really really impressed, but noticed that these bison were not moving.
We approached a little closer in the hopes that getting closer that they would recognize that we were a car, and would move aside and let us pass. She encouraged me to honk the horn to no avail. A Honda Fit horn sounds like a child's tin flute and carries all the might and weight of one too. No fear factor here. We tried flashing the lights but the buffalo looked placidly in our direction. Then one sat down in the middle of the road. Clearly they were planning on staying right there, and they felt strongly that humans had no business being in their park. A momma placidly started nursing her little fella right on the white centre line. We tried revving the engine, which at least made the babies look at us, and some younglings began to gambol and play. There is evey chance that they were laughing at the silly humans. As the mommas fondly watched their children we noticed the whole crowd was now slowly approaching us. We decided to see how fast a Fit can drive backwards.
We took stock of our options and realized that the we were on the north side of the two southern park exits, and that our only option was going to be heading to the north gate, and finding dinner at the Lamont pub. We turned and drove off north. Buffalo 2, sis and me, 0.
We passed an SUV heading for the south gates, looked at each other and found out that Honda Fits can turn on a dime on the highway at low speeds without the need to back up. We were heading south again, speeding waaaaaay over the park speed limit of 60K to get close to the SUV. Let him be the guy the buffalo will hit. We will coast through on his path.
Mr SUV bravely and very slowly drove into the group on the road. There was a point where Mr. SUV almost stopped. there may have been a bit of panic in the car. We were in the centre of the group, buffalo were fogging up our windows with their breath (or was that me?) and my sister kept saying don't look them in the eye, and Oh my God and other words of wisdom and prayer, but she also said, I think he nudged that buffalo. If she would have looked she would have noticed that my calm demeanour was enhanced by the fact that my my eyes were probably closed (which was very very bad, since I was, after all driving). Magically mystically, Mr. SUV wedged his way between the buffalo and he slowly cleared a path. We traveled through calmly in his wake. We were clear, where only moments before we had buffalo standing mere inches from our doors.
Mr. SUV, pulled to the side and waved us past, then turned around and drove off north. Who that masked man was, I do not know but both my sister and I can attest that super heros still exist.
We had a lovely dinner, drove to my home, picked up Mr. Needles very large truck of the manly horn and the big engine, and I drove my sister back to her tently domicile. We passed several groups still feeding along the side of the road and Mr. Ambler too, but the mommas and babies were no where to be found. We wonder if maybe Mr. SUV was a park warden and turned back to move the herd away from the road for their safety and ours.
No Buffalo were harmed, no vehicles were immolated, my sister has seen plenty of bison and I only have a little laundry to do. It was plenty of excitement for one day.