“Bison aren’t buffalo — and that’s no bull”

A woman from Mississippi was tossed in the air like a hacky-sack by a bison at Yellowstone National Park yesterday.  She was the fifth person to get gored at the park this season.

Has anybody noticed that what goes on at Yellowstone — American’s Eden — is similar to the story of what goes on in the biblical Garden of Eden?

Both places are sites of unmatched wonder.  Yellowstone is the only place of its kind in the entire world.  Only Iceland has a comparable (but fewer) number of geysers.  But nothing else matches Yellowstone for its wonders of nature and wildlife on such a large scale. (The park is the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.)

There is one other way that Yellowstone and Eden compare.  They are not only places of wonder — they are also places of danger.  That is, both places have boundaries, and they are boundaries not to be trifled with.

At Yellowstone, the news of yet another goring must be frustrating to the park rangers, because it is the very first thing they warn tourists about upon entering the park.  The very moment you enter Yellowstone National Park — at whichever of the park entrances from Montana, Idaho or Wyoming —  getting gored is the very first thing you are warned about.  As soon as you enter the park, you are handed by a park ranger a yellow sheet of paper.

It’s yellow — as in green light, red light, yellow light — meaning, “caution.”  The very first word is a headline across the top of the paper:  “WARNING.”


Most people call the bison at Yellowstone “buffalo.”  But there ARE no buffalo in Yellowstone.  They are bison.  Bison and buffalo are not interchangeable words.  They are different creatures.

A bison differs from a buffalo in four main ways:  The bison has a hump, thick fur, a beard and more weight.  Plus, the bison lives in North America.  Buffalo live in Africa and South America.  For example, most of us are familiar with water buffalo.

Buffalo can be domesticated — bison can not.

Indeed, the non-domesticated nature of bison is the first thing you are warned about when entering the park.  The yellow sheet handed to you from the ranger reads:  “These animals may appear tame but are wild, unpredictable and dangerous.”  AND — you can’t outrun them!

A male bison runs faster than an Olympic sprinter — and is the size of a mini-van.  Something that fast with that kind of force behind its horns is nothing to be sported  with.  Yet every year — and so far five times this year — tourists get too close to the bison.  They are advised to stay 100 yards away!  Inevitably, some tourists want a closer picture.  They get within just a few paces of a bison.

I’ve been to Yellowstone twice.  Both times — just walking around the busiest areas of the park in the evening — where there are gift shops and amphitheaters for rangers to make presentations — there were wild animals simply lounging on the grass.  Elk.  They’d be Just lying down in a cluster on the grass as the tourists walked by.  The rangers would repeatedly warn us:  Do NOT go near the wild animals.  They are NOT tame.  Do not feed them.  Do not approach them.

Yellowstone in the summer is as crowded as the parking lot of  your favorite grocery store.  The gift shops and dining facilities and lodges and boardwalks are tightly peopled.  The park management does a very good job of giving everybody access to the sights.  For example, there are boardwalks enabling people to walk among the hot springs and geysers.  Yet this access also comes with a  warning.  “STAY ON THE BOARDWALK!”

And yet every year, there are tourists who get off the boardwalk in order to get a better photo — and don’t realize that the ground around the hot springs can be as crumbly as pie crust — and the next thing they know, they plunge feet-first into scalding water.

Why do people ignore the boundaries at Yellowstone?  Serious injury and even death have resulted.

Ben Franklin used to say, learning by experience was the hardest way to learn something.  “Experience,” he said, “is the most expensive school to enroll in, yet fools keep on doing it.”

But there’s something else going on in people’s minds who get burned by learning from experience — they are not simply fools, as Ben Franklin thought.

Rather, we can look at the story of Adam & Eve in Eden — why did THEY ignore the boundaries?

In chapter 2 of Genesis, there is the mythical story that God places the first two humans in the Garden of Eden, and tells them — You can have everything EXCEPT the fruit of this one tree.  Do not touch the fruit of this one tree.

That’s a boundary.  And the difficult thing about respecting boundaries is — they aren’t set by us; they’re set by others.  We don’t set speed limits — others do.  We don’t set the warning on the pill bottle — others do.  We don’t set the caution on the cigarette package — others do.  Boundaries are set by others.

In the story of Eden, chapter 3, THIS is the angle that the serpent plays on in order to weaken Adam & Eve’s resolve.  “Go ahead — eat the fruit of the forbidden tree.”

“We were told not to.”

“That’s because God doesn’t want you to have any fun,” says the serpent.  “God knows that the fruit of the forbidden tree is the best of all.”

The first couple go for it — they are shown the exit.

What was Adam and Eve’s problem?  In the story, they do not begin as children.  They have no birth.  They appear instantly as adults.  But the way they THINK is like children.  Emotionally, they are child-like.  And what distinguishes the childish mind more than anything else?

Disregard for boundaries.

Disregard for boundaries defines the “Terrible Two’s.”  And teens and even some adults have yet to grow out of that stage.  They think, since boundaries are set by others — they just don’t want us to have any fun.

Whether it’s boundaries about alcohol, sex, speed limits, cheating, getting closer for a better photo — last year, a teenager was swept over the side of the waterfall at Yosemite National Park as friends look on in horror– the boundaries are disregarded because they aren’t one’s own — they are set by others.

That’s where wisdom comes in.  Wisdom is to know when something is good for you — even when it’s not your own idea.  That’s the nature of a boundary.  It’s not your idea.  It’s set by others.  Wisdom is to know when something is good for you — even when it’s not your own idea.

On my first visit to Yellowstone, I took a bus tour of the entire park — which took an entire day.  The bus driver — a young man named Mike — told us this story:  He had just pulled into the parking lot of the magnificent Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone has very steep walls on each side of a waterfall that gushes forth the silvery Yellowstone River.  There is an overlook on one canyon wall, a jutting piece of rock that enables tourists to look back down the river directly at the waterfall.  But the path to the overlook is lined with boulders and signs:  “Stay on the path!”  The overlook itself is surrounded by railing.

Well, there was a 10-year-old boy who was with his mother, and they went down the path towards the overlook, and the boy apparently thought, “This is no fun — staying on the path.”  He got off the path.

That’s about the time Mike pulled into the parking lot with the tour bus.  He got out of the bus and heard a SCREAM.  He rushed to the overlook and found a woman rolling on the ground SCREAMING.  She was the mother of the 10-year-old boy who had gone off the path.  The boy had slipped.  He was now literally hanging by his fingertips down the steep canyon wall.

Mike, thinking quickly, dashed back to the parking lot.  He found an RV.  He jerked open the door, looked around and found an electrical extension cord.  He raced back to the overlook, threw the extension cord down to the boy and hauled him up.

Mike said, the boy and his mother never even said “thank you.”  They just took off.

But that makes sense.  People like that who have no gratitude towards others are just the type to have no regard for boundaries, because boundaries are set by others.

Ignoring a boundary can be the most costly thing in a person’s life. “Experience,” said Ben Franklin, “is the most expensive school to enroll in, but fools keep doing it.”




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