So many memories.
We brought him home in 2009, a wobbly, golden-fleece baby with the biggest, blackest eyes you have ever seen. His square nose was wet and leathery even then, his shiny hooves narrow and tentative. We fed him enormous bottles of warm formula twice a day for more than ten months and touched and cuddled him constantly. He needed very little time adjusting to the farm and quickly learned that we meant only love and treats, never harm. Barely bigger than a large dog, he ran to us, circled our legs, jabbed his woolly head toward our ribs for extra milk, and welcomed vigorous face scratching and long-distance French kissing. (Have you never tongue-kissed a buffalo? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.)
He loved graham crackers the most, then vanilla wafers, and of course slightly stale Chips-ahoy cookies. He loved to run and play with the other four-leggeds and probably thought he was a horse.
In fact we often had him in the same pasture as Daphne, our black mare, and he sought after her maternal affection daily. She granted it when she thought no one was watching. You might remember his stunning display of love and mourning for her the day she was dying.
Chunk chased away mean spirited geese. He nibbled acorns from the trees. He swam in the red dirt pond and carved wallows in the sandy front field. He was gracious to every single farm visitor and never once broke out to roam the neighborhood. He was sweet to our rambunctious puppy despite having been attacked by our older dogs years ago.
Once my husband painted Chunk’s horns, and I will never forget that. The striped adornment lasted a couple of weeks, making him possibly the most festive buffalo ever in history.
If ever we provided this big boy a large bale of hay and sat it down in the wrong direction, he took great pleasure in unrolling it, just like a giant cinnamon roll, diagonally across his field. Then he would lay in the thin exposed layer and just kind of spread the hay all around himself, like a huge buffalo nest. He would chew some cud and look at us like, “What are you gonna do about it?”
Nothing, baby. You enjoy.
In recent years, at sunrise it was crucial to feed him first, before the chickens and noisy geese, certainly before the horses and llamas (both his friends and competition), because as soon as Chunk noticed signs of life from the house he started ramming that wide forehead against the metal cattle gate, not really trying to get out, just letting us know that breakfast was a fantastic idea.
He once got inside the house; have you heard that story? He was a youngster. He trotted right through the open front door, slipped all over the wood floors, ice skating on those pointed split hooves, then made quite a spectacle of himself getting collected back out through the same door.
He has never ridden in a topless car like in that famous video, but he has done his share of damage to pickup trucks.
And wheel barrows.
And lawn furniture. (My gosh that was quite an afternoon.)
And barn doors.
But he never once hurt a person.
His name is a purposeful distortion of what we had originally named him, Chunk-shi, which is Lakota for daughter. We had thought we were adopting a little girl, and by the time we realized the mistake the name had stuck really well. So we easily dropped a consonant and anyway everyone just called him Chunk.
During basketball season we yelled in our best NBA announcer voices, “CHUNK HIII FOOOOR THRRRREEEEEEE!!!!” Not for nothing that the OKC Thunder mascot is Rumble the bison.
Every winter he built up a massive coat of thick, wiry hair around his shoulders, a mane of epic proportions which he shook wildly when it snowed. He clothed himself in the thickest, most beautiful coat of velvet, impenetrable and tightly woven against his beefy midsection. His legs boasted giant pom poms of buffalo fluff that always made me think of Native American dancers and New Orleans parades.
In the coldest weeks of winter when the water troughs froze overnight, he helped break the ice with his horns and skull. I clearly remember the first time I saw him do it. I had carried a sledgehammer outside, planning to drop it vertically from a small distance, smack onto the surface of the ice to bust it apart and reveal the cold water, but he beat me to the task. He raised up that massive, gorgeous head, twisted it sideways, and smashed it with impressive force just twice until ice blocks flew and frigid water splashed, beading on his face and eyelashes. I swear he looked me right in the eyes and said, “I got this Mom.” From then on we heard him smashing ice regularly, like he was happy to take on that farm chore. Or maybe it was just for fun. His equine companions were only too happy to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
For every winter that Chunk grew that spectacular coat, he had a summer for shedding. He would scrub his body against every tree that still had bark. He allowed us to gently drag a plastic garden rake against his back and belly. He would stand still to see if you could get a grip on that velvet and pull hard enough. That coat was remarkably devoted to staying attached to his body until the temperatures outside were just hot enough. Then we knew summer had finally arrived because suddenly he was nekkid and the farm was a snow globe of buffalo fluff.
Echoes of Chunk-hi
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.
Unfortunately, with medical attention and prayerful observation, his caretakers made the decision to take away his suffering, so as I share this Chunk is no longer with us.
Days later, reading those words is a fresh stabbing pain. I still cannot believe it. We had thought he might leave the W to live out his years on the Oklahoma prairie, maybe start a herd of his own which is what we envisioned back in 2009 when we first brought him here.
Our shock and heartbreak now are not all that much different from the excruciating decision to first say goodbye, and of course, in that awful bittersweet way, we feel some relief that he is no longer in pain. Because surely a broken back would have been so very painful.
Trying to boost my spirits recently, my husband laughed through his own tears and said, referring to the idea of Chunk breaking his back during lovemaking, “What a way to go!” Ha. I guess so.
After being rescued from a hunting lodge, Chunk spent more than seven years living a really full, healthy life. He touched the lives and hearts of dozens, maybe hundreds of children and adults, most of whom would never have otherwise experienced an American Bison up close and personal. He was part of our family and identity. An absolute fixture at the Lazy W, where he has been recently missed by people and animals alike.
I doubt any bison has ever been so loved.
Hope and Love
As always, of course, there is a glimmer of hope and a need for love outpoured.
The long summertime honeymoon Chunk enjoyed with Molly gives everyone the idea that she could bear his calf next spring. My hope is to stay connected to the ranchers there and share the good news with you guys if it happens. Chunk was such a beautiful boy, so sweet and good in every way. I know his baby will be special.
Please send some loving energy to the folks who took on the burden of caring for Chunk in this chapter of life. They are in pain too, having had to make the decision no farmer or rancher wants to make. In just a few months they had bonded tightly with our big boy, which is no surprise to me. And of course, they are caring for Molly, who could bring Chunk’s herd into the world after all.
Thank you for reading, friends. I know many of you who never met Chunk still feel the loss. (Thank you Suzanne for saying all the right things last week.) And if you ever visited the farm and kissed or fed Chunk-hi a cookie, thank you for that too. You helped give him a life brimming with love and affection. You made him love people and you enriched our home.
Rest in peace Chunk-hi.
You are the prettiest one my baby.