9780385521680

American Buffalo : In Search of a Lost Icon

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780385521680

  • ISBN10:

    0385521685

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2008-12-02
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
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Summary

A hunt for the American buffaloan adventurous, fascinating examination of an animal that has haunted the American imagination. In 2005, Steven Rinella won a lottery permit to hunt for a wild buffalo, or American bison, in the Alaskan wilderness. Despite the oddsthere's only a 2 percent chance of drawing the permit, and fewer than 20 percent of those hunters are successfulRinella managed to kill a buffalo on a snow-covered mountainside and then raft the meat back to civilization while being trailed by grizzly bears and suffering from hypothermia. Throughout these adventures, Rinella found himself contemplating his own place among the 14,000 years' worth of buffalo hunters in North America, as well as the buffalo's place in the American experience. At the time of the Revolutionary War, North America was home to approximately 40 million buffalo, the largest herd of big mammals on the planet, but by the mid-1890s only a few hundred remained. Now that the buffalo is on the verge of a dramatic ecological recovery across the West, Americans are faced with the challenge of how, and if, we can dare to share our land with a beast that is the embodiment of the American wilderness. American Buffalois a narrative tale of Rinella's hunt. But beyond that, it is the story of the many ways in which the buffalo has shaped our national identity. Rinella takes us across the continent in search of the buffalo's past, present, and future: to the Bering Land Bridge, where scientists search for buffalo bones amid artifacts of the New World's earliest human inhabitants; to buffalo jumps where Native Americans once ran buffalo over cliffs by the thousands; to the Detroit Carbon works, a "bone charcoal" plant that made fortunes in the late 1800s by turning millions of tons of buffalo bones into bone meal, black dye, and fine china; and even to an abattoir turned fashion mecca in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, where a depressed buffalo named Black Diamond met his fate after serving as the model for the American nickel. Rinella's erudition and exuberance, combined with his gift for storytelling, make him the perfect guide for a book that combines outdoor adventure with a quirky blend of facts and observations about history, biology, and the natural world. Both a captivating narrative and a book of environmental and historical significance,American Buffalotells us as much about ourselves as Americans as it does about the creature who perhaps best of all embodies the American ethos.

Author Biography

Steven Rinella is the author of The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine and a correspondent for Outside magazine. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, American Heritage, The New York Times, Field & Stream, Men's Journal, and Salon.com. He grew up in Twin Lake, Michigan, and now splits his time between Anchorage, Alaska, and New York City.

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The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

The Used, Rental and eBook copies of this book are not guaranteed to include any supplemental materials. Typically, only the book itself is included. This is true even if the title states it includes any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

Excerpts

1


In the past week I’ve become something of a buffalo chip connoisseur. The perfect specimen has the circumference of a baseball cap, with folded layers like a sheik’s turban. It’s as dense as a gingersnap cookie, with the color and texture of old cardboard that’s been wet and dried out again. Of course, when I say “buffalo chip,” I’m talking about buffalo dung, or what’s left of vegetation after it passes through the digestive circuitry of North America’s largest native land animal, also known as the American bison (Bison bison). These chips will burn with an orange-colored halo of flame surrounding a coal black center; they let off a good heat, not many sparks, and a blue-hued smoke that smells nothing like you’d expect it to. At times I’ve dipped my face into the smoke and picked up the odors of cinnamon and cloves, dried straw and pumpkins, and sometimes the smell of walking into a bathroom after someone smoked a joint.

If I were to leave my buffalo chip fire right now, it would take me about a half hour to stomp my way through the thickets of spruce and alder that separate me from the Chetaslina River, a fast-flowing torrent of glacial runoff that drains a collection of fourteen-thousand-foot peaks in the Wrangell Mountains of south-central Alaska. If I tossed a stick into the Chetaslina River, it would drift through three miles of narrow canyon before dumping into the cold gray swirl of the much larger Copper River. From there the stick would flow more or less southward, past a couple of small villages and dozens of fish traps that were recently dragged onto the banks by their owners to save them from the crushing floes of winter ice. After dodging past mountains and winding through canyons, the stick would enter the Gulf of Alaska outside of Prince William Sound. As the crow flies (or, as is more likely in these parts, the raven), that’s about eighty miles from here. Along the way, the crow would cross one two-lane highway and any number of wolves, coyotes, lynx, black bears, grizzly bears, wolverines, mountain goats, Dall sheep, and moose.

And perhaps a herd or two of wandering buffalo. Earlier in the morning there were about twenty of them in this valley; one of them, a cow, or female, is now lying just uphill from me within arm’s reach. Probably about six hundred pounds of hide, bone, horn, and innards. Another four hundred or five hundred pounds of meat. When it fell dead, after I shot it, it slid down the steep slope across the wet slush and crashed into a snag of aspen trees. I’ve been working on it all day. I made skinning cuts up the legs and then opened the carcass from the underside of the tail to the chin before removing the entrails. With short, fast slices from my skinning knife, I pulled the hide away from the upper half of the carcass as if I were slowly turning down the covers of a bed. I skinned over the brisket, ribs, and paunch, then up and over the shoulder all the way to the animal’s spine. If you touch the base of your own neck and feel the pebble-like shapes running up the center of your backbone, you’re feeling the neural processes of your thoracic vertebrae. On a buffalo, those things can be over twenty inches long; they act as a sort of mooring post for tendons that support the animal’s shag-haired, curve-horned head. The hump gives the buffalo its distinctive look, its front-heavy, bulldozer, mass-shouldered appearance.

I’ve been rationing my food for the last few days, and now I can eat all I want. I cut some slices of fat from behind the hump and then pull the hide back in place to keep the carcass from freezing too solid to work on. The fat has an orangish color, not like the white fat you see on grain-fattened beef. The orange is from a diet of wild plants that are rich in fat-soluble carotene, the same substance that colors a carrot. The heat of the f

Excerpted from American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella
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