I went with my son's class yesterday on a field trip to the National Bison Range, which is about two hours from here.
Thirty-six of us, two teachers, five moms and twenty-nine students, were excited as we bounced along on the school bus through the early morning fog. It was a special day at the bison range, the annual RoundUp, when cowboys with some serious skillz herd all the big shaggy creatures from all corners of the range down to one area, then bring them in a few at a time for identification, blood work and immunizations--their annual check-up, and the branding of the calves. We would get to watch the whole process. Plus, the weather report called for the fog to quickly burn off, the sun to shine brightly, and the temperature to hover in the mid-70's all day, a huge jump from the low to mid-60's we've been experiencing lately. What a beautiful day it would be to enjoy some time outdoors.
We arrived at the bison range with the fog still closing in heavy around us and a light drizzle falling. Still, we had high hopes. We stepped off the bus and found the temperature to be closer to low to mid-40's than 70's. We moms were quick to notice that all the other adults seemed to be clutching steaming mugs of morning glory--with gloved hands. We shoved our empty, bare hands down into our pockets.
The catwalk above the chutes looked more crowded than the teachers had ever seen before. RoundUp was apparently the place to be this year. Hmmm...
The teachers asked the kids to attach themselves to one of the adults in the group and stay together. Seven grinning fifth graders, including my son and several members of last year's Lit Club crowded around me. "We want to be with Mrs. C____, cuz she's cool!"
Quickly, I demanded of myself over the chattering of my teeth, think of something fun before their hopes are dashed. "Team name," my self blurted out, "we need a team name." Someone suggested the Garden Gnomes, and it worked for everyone. They are fun kids.
The place was so crowded, though, that my assigned short people couldn't see a thing. I herded my Gnomies here and there along the catwalk, trying to squeeze them to the front to see down into the chutes, but had very little success. Some of them were FFA and 4-H kids anyway and said that they've seen these procedures done with cattle so many times that it's boring.
Boring. Oh, no. I felt something akin to panic rise up in my throat. The Gnomies were mine for at least another hour. If they grew restless and bored in the first five minutes...
We left the catwalk and walked up a nearby hillside to see if we could get a better view. No, the fog was too thick. But it used up some time.
We took team photos with my cell phone.
We visited a small corral where some of the cowboys had stashed fresh horses.
We gave each other individual Gnome Gnicknames.
We went back to the catwalk and squeezed two kids at a time to the front.
We held a Gnomie Conference to gather around an old timer who had been to the RoundUp every year for the past fifty and heard a few stories.
We read the bronze plaque on the entrance to the catwalk and did the math to see how many years it had been in place for viewing.
We cornered a poor, frightened rabbit and watched him zig-zag away to safety.
We held another Gnomie Conference to discuss which term was correct, buffalo or bison. The group was split, so we found a ranger to answer it for us--turns out, the scientific name for the creature is bison bison (genus: bison, species: bison), so bison is the more "correct" term, but buffalo is a commonly accepted moniker. Bison Bison! Like Pizza Pizza. We liked that.
We went back onto the catwalk again. Still crowded.
Let's see, what else did we do? Did I mention team photos already?
Just as I was running out of ideas and the Gnomies were growing decidedly restless, we noticed another group from our school, all with styrofoam cups of hot chocolate! The Gnomies were outraged. How did they get hot chocolate? There's a snack bar? Where did they all get the money? We discovered that Mrs. M_____ had bought it for them--she only had three kids in her care--and I vowed to send my former friend hate-mail in response. I encouraged the Gnomies to try to get into her group next time, as she is clearly much nicer than I am.
I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep my short people under control.
Fortunately, we found one of the teachers at that point, who said we were only ten minutes from boarding the bus to go over to the picnic area for lunch. They just wanted to wait for the cowboys to bring the next group down from the hills. We waited, but the cowboys didn't seem to be in a hurry and the fog prevented us from seeing anything beyond the empty, bluish hands in front of our faces anyway. The teachers mercifully called for retreat. The bus was warm and dry.
I wish I could say that the day got better. We ate our sack lunches at damp picnic tables in the persistent cold fog, wandered the visitor center for a bit, then drove the two hours home. The condensation on the bus windows didn't even allow us to enjoy the scenery until we were almost back to school--where we found it to be sunny and 74 degrees. Grrr...
Oh, well. The kids had fun anyway; simply for the fact that it was something other than sitting in a classroom doing schoolwork. And I suppose I enjoyed taking a break from my regularly scheduled programming, as well. At least it's a fun story to add to my collection.