The Great One


There are moments in life when you must succumb to a feeling of complete humility and standing a few feet away from one as mighty as the America bison is one such moment. Confident, calm, powerful, incredible, beautiful are but some of the superlatives that define the essence of this great being, and these are the very superlatives that resign you to a feeling of humility in one that is far superior.

The time I spent with this legend of the American West and the subsequent images I captured of him, will always remain special to me. The reason being that it not only required a lot of trekking through a large area of wilderness to get to his location but also the incredible feelings it evoked simply being in his company and the lessons I learned by simply immersing myself in a state of humility. It was in this moment that I found myself all over again, I realized that there was still so much adventure left in the world, and it was adventure that ignited the human spirit. It wasn’t just something I craved but it was what made me whole, it embodied the very fiber of my being. It was just me, sharing a field with a bison, and I was complete.

I spotted this beautiful big boy with my binoculars in the valley below as I was scanning the horizon for moose. Even from such an incredible distance he looked beyond impressive as he slowly made his way through the valley. It was a perfect setting, this lone bison slowly making his way purposefully through the valley towards the distant foothills of the imposing mountains. What added to the beautiful scene was the slow meandering river that split the valley in two with its many bends and curves. It was inevitable that he would have to cross the river as he made his way through the valley, and I instantly knew that this was something I wanted to capture. We drove on for a few more miles until we found an opening at the top of a ridge where we could safely park our vehicle and make our way into the valley. It was a gamble, because we had left him a few miles behind us, and from our current vantage point we couldn’t see him at all, so he could have easily turned in another direction. However, this uncertainty, this gamble of sorts is what makes wildlife photography so special, it’s the foundations of what any great adventure is built on. It took some real effort lugging all of the camera gear to where we last saw him, the effort was in part due to the fact that we had to do this while jogging. Twenty pounds of camera gear can become really heavy, really fast. After we cleared the last point in the valley that restricted our vision, we saw him, still slowly making his way through the grasses

It was not only apparent that he had already crossed the river a number of times, but it was a stark reality check of just how massive he was, a towering figure amongst us. I lay my gear down next to me, as I sat in these golden fields, on a brisk fall morning, in one of our planet’s last great wildernesses… here I sat, in a scene that was nothing short of a fabled masterpiece in the company of a legend. It was such an intimate moment, so beautifully rare in today’s chaotic world, here, sitting in the tall grasses of his wilderness home, sharing brief moments that would last a lifetime. He was completely calm in my presence, as I was in his, perhaps his calm and acceptance of me being there was because on a subconscious level, he knew I posed no ill intent and that my presence in his home was simply there to pay homage to the great being that he was. 

When you spend time exploring the great wilderness that is Yellowstone, you can easily become disillusioned by the great number of Bison that call this great wilderness their home. See the truth is that these are a few stable pockets of bison that roam free today, but this number pales in comparison to the herds of yesteryear, that these great beings roamed the west almost one hundred million strong. Man’s cruelty and disregard for all that share this planet with us dates back to the early times of exploration. The story of the Bison is also the story of two very different sets of people. For many years before the first explorers arrived in the west, the great native American tribes revered these great beings. These Native American tribes depended on the bison for their very own survival, hunting only the number of Bison that they needed to survive. Explorers quickly realized this and, in an effort to control and starve the native people of this land, they began decimating the bison population, killing tens of thousands at a time, sometimes even just for target practice. These incredible creatures were reduced in number from millions to a mere few hundred in the wild. It was only due to incredible conservation work that Bison numbers rebounded to the thirty thousand that survive today. 

I feel that the Bison that survive today are here to teach us a very important lesson, that any species can be lost in the blink of an eye, but as long as there are compassionate people who are willing to fight for all beings of this planet, even the most dire situation can be turned around. So, to me the Bison of today are not just a symbol of a great being, they also represent the great acts of good that our own species is capable of. The human race is riddled with people who are willing to do anything in the name of greed, BUT, the human race is also adorned by those that embody the true ethos of the human spirit, those that are driven by love and compassion. It is through love and compassion that a force far greater than greed is born… hop

The time I spent sharing the company of this beautiful creature living wild and free, reinvigorated the hope within myself, and reminded me that our world is beautiful because we share it with one as beautiful as the Bison.

Faizel Ismail