I have a story to tell you, but as usual, I do not know where it begins, so I’ll start at the end and hop around in the middle for a while and see what happens.
Yesterday Handsome and I enjoyed some rainy-Saturday exploring around town that culminated in stopping at a moving sale just a mile from our farm. We met and became happily acquainted with the property owner, who is not only a collector of cool found objects (my husband kinda wanted some of the Pontiac and shop storage treasures), but also an avid gardener and beekeeper. He gave us a tour of their huge plastic-wrapped hoop house and spoke freely of their two bee colonies.
Were Mike (his name is Mike) and his wife not preparing to relocate to Houston to enjoy full time grand-parent-hood, I suspect we could have become good friends. Or at least good neighbors with lots of hobbies in common. I could have stayed in that bright, humid hoop house for hours, talking about native perennials and natural beekeeping and who knows what else. In the hoop house, while it rained harder and harder outside, he spooned up some volunteer echinaceas, straight form the gravelly floor. You should have seen the wild onion gone to seed, it had to be four feet tall, and snapdragons nearly the same size! Strawberries and mums and kale growing everywhere.
Ok, that’s not the story, but now you have met “Mike.” I bought from his sale a large, heavy, rusted wire basket (it is going to become a fun Easter centerpiece), and he generously gifted me the echinacea starts. Also, some seeds. This brings me, finally, to the story.
In the midst of casual conversation, my husband mentioned where we live (just a mile over), and Mike actually knew our place. As so many people have over the years, he remembered us because of Chunk-Hi the Lazy W bison. Mike said he used to drive past all the time just to see what the buffalo was up to, and eventually he asked us what ever happened to him. As we started talking about Chunk, my nose stung and my eyes watered. This happens from time to time, that someone remembers Chunk but never heard the full story of how he came to live with us and where is he now. Lots of people have seen him or read about him but never met him up close and personal. Still, people seem to feel this familiarity with him. It always hits me in different ways.
We learned that Mike had just retired from a job that occasionally put him in the position to entertain overseas colleagues. Visitors from Bangladesh, the Philippines, and other far away places would travel to Oklahoma, and Mike would drive them past our farm to see the beautiful, tame buffalo exploring freely in natural prairie grass and sand wallows.
This unexpected conversation gave us the opportunity to share a few happy facts and memories about our big sweet boy, and though often this type of exchange is more bitter than sweet, somehow yesterday it felt really good, really sweet.
I love the idea of Chunk’s massive, shaggy head and shoulders, his skinny hips, and his butterfly eyelashes being seen and admired by people from around the globe. I loved the notion of our gentle giant being not only our home state’s mascot but also our little countryside’s goodwill ambassador. No matter that none of us knew it at the time. We did saw him trade love and joy with dozens of people over the years. And we can easily summon those memories for each other.
Mike included in his recounting the fact that our front gate was always closed, or else he might have at any of those visits driven up our driveway to meet us and meet the buffalo, our baby.
So. The wildflower seeds.
As we continued some friendly price negotiations over other estate sale treasures, the three of us traded beekeeping best practices (such a fun topic when people are happy to share with each other, not necessarily inform), which naturally led to talk of flowers and bee foraging. I said that we were in the process of turning the front field where Chunk had lived into a wildflower meadow. Maybe my voice cracked. I saw my husband’s head drop just a bit and realized our nostalgia levels were reaching capacity. Mike turned silently away from our small group, disappearing into an office adjacent to his shop, then reemerged with two heavy bags of wildflower seeds. He handed them to me and asked if I would grow them for the buffalo. I accepted the bags and begged to pay him, but he insisted we take them. “No, just grow them in his memory.”
So. Our inspiration all these months to build a true prairie style meadow, and the slow but stunning progress of nature just beginning to take over the hot, sandy front field (the wild stuff is beautiful right now), are being brought along with this perfect gift from a stranger and instant friend. Someone who loved Chunk from a distance has gifted us up close and personal with seeds for the future. Literally, seeds.
We miss you, Chunk-Hi, our innocent and strong Ambassador of Free Spirit and Good Will. You were magical! You were loved by people everywhere, and your meadow is about to be exceptionally beautiful because of the connections you continue to help us make.
Or, the beginning of Chunk-Hi’s Memorial Wildflower Meadow.
Thank you, Mike!
“Until one has loved an animal,
a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”