10 years ago.

Time of the Buffalo

Marah Amberlyn Strauch 2004 

I found the photograph of a grazing buffalo lying on the sidewalk at the corner of 2nd avenue and 2 street right next to Anthology Film Archives in New York City earlier this summer. I found it right after I saw Jonas Mekkas taking a stroll in the early morning sunlight. He always smiles at me and I feel guilty because I walked out of his latest film that got such great reviews. It was beautiful, yet I was in the mood for more than beauty. There are only so many shots of kittens and small children and arty girls of the 1970’s that I can take. His wife at the time looked very similar to my mother in the 70’s; Afro and all.

I think it was at a time when I was feeling particularly homesick for the West. I can’t recall ever seeing buffalo in Oregon, yet it reminded me of a kind of freedom that seems like a sort of fetish or folly in New York, like in central park, or the Natural History Museum.  Simulacra is a word that I learned in college and have always associated with the East Coast.

It seems that in our world much of experience is mediated, meaning that we are witnessing things through various filters and experiences like TV, photo, or film. So when you actually see the real thing in nature it seems less real, as if you are still watching the Discovery Channel.

I remember visiting the Peabody museum in Boston a number of years ago and the animals were set up in different scenes or dioramas. In some of the situations, the animals were chasing each other and trying to hunt each other, in others they were nursing their young, or stalking imagined prey in the fake tall grass.  

This reminds me of a conversation I was having with a friend about the modeling world in New York and how the newest trend is to invent scenes for the models to play out.  The most common one seems to be an odd number of men and women like in the play No Exit; usually two women and a man. The two women are looking rather bitchy and one is usually looking away forlorn while the other is looking at the probably gay man affectionately.  There is a scene and an implied drama that is only a tense snap shot. There is a sense that it is all staged.  They are not really trying to make it look real.  It is not as messy as reality and therefore much cleaner.  Like the little New York in Las Vegas, it lacks rats.

Back to the buffalo, Buffalo is also a city in New York State.   I tried to look up why it was named Buffalo on the web without much luck.  There was also Buffalo Bill Cody of Wild West fame.

My Father, who is great at telling stories, always blames much of the brush fires in Eastern Oregon on the demise of the buffalo. We were driving out to Horse Thief Butte to look at ancient paintings on the rocks out there. He explained, ”The buffalo would eat the grass, trample the sagebrush and fertilize the planes, creating an environment less conducive to fire.”  

Buffalo are described in the dictionary as being a ruminant animal. There are also ruminant humans rather like Jonas Mekkas.