© 2020


By Eric Anthony Kallins

I have a friend named Darren, who I see quite often at The Alumni Group which meets every Wednesday evening at Bayside Marin. Darren & I completed our Yoga Retreat, but at different times, therefore we both get to do Alumni. Darren likes to talk about his adventures, traveling about the country for his job, but mostly the peaks he’s climbed, including Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America. He also frequently mentions his “herd” – a group of men he’s met at various functions. He gets to hang out with his herd, and they go on various activities like biking, hiking and eating out.

So I decided that I need a herd of my own, but as hard as I tried, I could not join or create my own herd. I was getting very discouraged, when finally I realized I was looking in the wrong place. Why try to find a faux herd, when there’s a real one right in San Francisco! So I drove to the city, and right there in Golden Gate Park is a real, authentic herd of American Bison, sometimes called Buffalos, living comfortably in a place called a paddock. I parked my car and walked up to the fence, and there they were! It was like looking at that opening scene Jurassic Park, with the huge brontosauruses grazing bucolically in the meadow, except these were the largest land animals alive in America, calmly relaxing and socializing.

It was a real, true-to-life Herd, and I was determined to make it My Herd, and one up Darren! So after looking out for Park Rangers, I climbed over the fence and walked calmly up to the group of Bison, as they cautiously watched me approach. I told them I came in peace, and for fellowship with their Herd. Those that were lying down stood up, which I took as a good sign. I stopped about ten feet from them and waited. There was about ten seconds of awkward silence, which I thought was normal in this unusual encounter. Then they walked slowly toward me, eleven of them, and formed a semicircle around me. I was thrilled, for this was the beginning of their Joining Ceremony; I stood completely still. The trick of this situation (or any encounter like this) is communication, so I said in a clear voice, “I want to join your Herd.”  I didn’t know if they understood English, but I wanted to talk with them on their terms, and soon the dialogue began:

The largest of them (and these animals weigh an average of a ton – 2,000 pounds) stomped his front hoof. I repeated the stomp with my left foot. He then stomped with same hoof twice, which I mimicked. I assumed he was the Alpha Male, because he was talking for the whole Herd, and I was learning their language! He stomped alternate front hooves twice, then snorted. It was like the scene in Close Encounters when the space ship lands at the Devil’s Monument in Wyoming, and the Earth Scientists open communications with the giant saucer with a simple dialogue of lights and sounds, so I stomped left/right, left/right and snorted back. At this point the Alpha Bull approached me, and we were literally head-to-head, and it’s truly amazing how large his head was when that close, eyeball-to-eyeball! I could feel his hot breath as he snorted three times on my face, and I returned three snorts of my own. We were truly communicating, in his native language, or so I thought.

I hadn’t noticed, but the herd now surrounded me; this was it! The secret ceremony of letting a stranger join their herd. So when all the Bison started stomping and snorting, I was overwhelmed with the mysticism of this magic moment – becoming one with them, or so I thought. They closed in; I was in the circle of buffalo, and now all their huge heads were touching me. I hadn’t noticed that they had horns (and I did not). Nor did I have hooves, and lacked 1800 lbs. of body weight. Incredibly, they started lifting me with their horns (which are actually quite sharp) and started herding me back to the fence. I wanted to join their herd, not be herded, so I protested loudly. It’s funny (or is it?) After centuries of being herded by man, these beasts were herding me out of their paddock, and not too gently I may add. Finally, at the fence, the Alpha Male, in my final indignity, butted me over the six foot fence. But the saving grace, for me, was for the first time in my life I got to experience flying (about thirty feet), something I’ve wanted to do my whole life!

It seemed timeless, until I landed in a somersault in the bushes. The bison seemed to have some sort of celebration, snorting and stomping up a storm of dust. They rejected me; they did not want me joining their herd. But I came to an epiphany – I didn’t want to be in a herd – I wanted to be in a flock! And not any ordinary flock, not even Eagles. I would seek acceptance to the true kings of the sky, the mighty Condor – the largest flying bird in the world! My plan was simple – I would go to the Pinnacles National Park (where they are known to nest) and build a nest of my own. I would hang out, however long it took, until they noticed me. I would bring a small stash of raw meat (steaks from Safeway would do) and just patiently wait for them to approach me. Over time, they would befriend me, and after they accepted me, I would join their flock.

Unable to fly on my own, I would gain their trust, mostly by jumping off the rocks in a feeble attempt to fly, until they understood that I was unable to do so. Then one of them would take pity on me, and take me (literally) under his wing. Holding on to his talons (incidentally, they’re quite sharp too) we would fly together off the pinnacles and soar high in the sky. Steering him gently to the North, we would make our way up to Marin County, until I spotted Darren and his “herd” riding mountain bikes up the trails at China Camp. We’d swoop down on them, me cawing in pride as they looked up, confused. “You have your ‘herd’, but I’m soaring with a flock of condors!” I’d yell, as my wing birds’ dive bombed his bicycled herd. After drawing a modest amount of blood with their talons; then we’d fly off into the sunset, banking South back to the Pinnacles, our home and our nests.