Author: Cornish, Rick

What Buffalos Are
I first became aware of my need to own a buffalo as a very indirect result of a silly little argument with my wife, Lynn. We were having lunch at the Hong Kong Café on Main Street in Sonora and we both ordered chow mien with egg foo young. When our lunches came, my foo young was more or less round and Lynn’s was more or less square.

“Trade me,” she said, “I’m not really that hungry. I want the smaller portion.”

“Smaller portion? They’re the same portions, one’s just round and the other’s square.”

“No,” Lynn said, “yours is smaller than mine.”

I explained to Lynn about measuring area….how if the perimeter of two objects is the same, they can be different shapes and they’ll still have the same area. She said I was wrong. We debated. I’m very happy to report that this type of disagreement is generally about as bad as our arguments get anymore….one of the nice by-products of a long marriage.

Nonetheless we debated. She said to determine the area of an irregular area, you’d need to break it into triangles. I said you’d need simply to determine the circumference and then apply a mathematical formula. She asked what formula. I said I didn’t know but that I was sure there was one.

“Look,” I said, “I could go home right now, walk off the circumference of our pasture and in a matter of minutes, know in square feet the exact area. You think we can put men on the moon and not be able to figure out the area of a shape?”

“I didn’t say that. I said you can’t do it with just a circumference.”

Lunch ended and we were at an impasse. Which was okay, because neither of us cared much.

Except, of course, being who I am, I couldn’t let go. That afternoon, while Lynn was out on an errand, I measured one of my strides with a tape measure and then walked off the perimeter of our pasture, multiplied the steps by 34 inches and, presto, I had the perimeter measurement. It only took me fifteen minutes, and since the whole area was bounded by a wire fence, it was easy. The next step would be a snap; I just needed to get the formula to apply to the number. For that I called my good friend, Dick Todd, who’s the banjo player in the Grass Menagerie and a surveyor and civil engineer.

I told Dick about the debate at lunch and finished off with the number of feet I walked off around the pasture. Dick just listened.

“Okay,” I said, “what’s the formula.”

“Well,” my friend replied, “you’ve got roughly 3.2 acres of fenced pasture.”

“Okay, but what formula did you use to get that? What’s the magic calculation? I can’t wait to show Lynn.”

“Rick,” Dick said with a long sigh, “there IS NO magic formula. Lynn was right. You were wrong. You cannot calculate the area of an irregular shape by simply applying a number to the perimeter or circumference of a shape. Didn’t you take geometry in high school?”

“But we sent a man to the moon, dammit. And you’re telling me we can’t figure out….wait a minute. If there’s no formula, how do you know the acreage of my pasture?”

“I looked it up on the County Planning web site while you were telling me your story. I’m doing some consulting for them and they gave me a password.”

“No magic formula?”

“None. If there were, we surveyors would be out of a job.”

“And you say 3.2 acres?”

“Right,” Dick said. “You know, you’re pasture is under-utilized with only two llamas and two goats. You could easily run more live stock in there.”

I explained to Dick that the concept “utilization” was not really an operative one in the Whiskey Creek context because: 1) We didn’t sheer the llamas to obtain their wool for spinning, nor did we use them for pack animals; 2) we had no intention of eating our Boar goats, even though Boar goats are “meat” goats; 3) we didn’t milk our goats because, as fellows, they’re not the milking kind; and 4) the original “utilization” plan I’d had, which was keeping the weeds down in the pasture, had been set aside when Lynn discovered the various designer hays and grains and pellets she could buy for her pets, Gwen, Claire, Joe and Ted.

“So you see, Dick, we don’t under-utilize the pasture. We don’t utilize it at all, unless you think of it as a gigantic play pen for our pets.”

“Well, I’m just saying if you wanted to put more animals in there, you could.”

“Duly note,” I said. Was he nuts I thought. As far as I was concerned we had four too many pasture animals as it was. However, two separate events, one week after the area calculation argument, was to change all that.

My youngest son, Peter, drove up for a visit and, as usual, he and I went grocery shopping and then to the video store Saturday afternoon. (We both love cooking, and we both love movies.) Pete picked out the movie—American Buffalo--volume 1 of the "Red Road" series. Haven’t heard of it? Me neither, but Peter was insistent. It was a cult film, he said, French, 1993, a must see.

“Now let me see if I’ve got this straight. It’s set in the American plains, about American Indians, and about American buffalos, but it’s made by a French film company in 1993 and it’s got sub-titles”


So after dinner Pete and Lynn and I watched the buffalo movie and it was terrible. Worse than terrible because of the sub-titles which I just can’t seem to get traction with. Fifteen minutes into the film I gave up on the plot (not sure there was one) and just watched the cinematography which, I must admit, was pretty good. Hundreds, no, thousands of buffalos stampeding one way and then another, and of course getting shot and killed in droves by the cunningly cruel white man all speaking in perfect, wild west French.

That night I dreamt about buffalos. I was driving from Jamestown to my office in Stockton, through the hills, and I came around a corner and there, in the middle of the road, stood a gigantic bull buffalo, just kind of looking off into the distance. I honked, and when he wouldn’t move, I pulled over, got out of the car and urged him off the road. I took hold of one of his horns and just sort of gently guided him over to the shoulder. He gazed gently into my eyes….he seemed appreciative. There was kind of a communication between us. I got back into the car and drove to work. It was a nice dream.

The next morning Peter and I drove to Murphys for breakfast—Lynn had housework to do and chose not to go along. Seated in a booth at the Flip-Jack Inn, Peter and I sipped coffee and waited for our omelets.

“Hey, check this out,” Peter said handing me the Buy and Sell Press he’d been leafing through. “A buffalo calf, and for cheaps.”

I read the add—“Two buffalo calves. Good blood line. All shots. $450 each. Amador County. Call Amos Amos at 209-435-6675.”

“This is absolutely amazing,” I exclaimed, “incredible. I had a dream about a buffalo just last night. It was so real.”

“Not surprising given the movie we watched before you went to bed,” my son said a little dryly.

“But don’t you see, Pete? First the movie, then the dream, now the ad in the Buy and Sell. And I didn’t even tell you about my conversation with Dick Todd last week. He’s says our pasture is underutilized. Hear that? UNDERUTILIZED!”

Having known his father for twenty-five years, my son was fully aware of what was coursing through my mind as we sat there at the Flip-Jack Inn. He knew that already, in just a matter of a few seconds, I was speeding down a track, and he knew too that once started, there was very little that could stop me.

“Have you talked with Lynn about this?” he asked.

“Of course not, I just thought of it. But she’ll love the idea. Petey-Boy, we’re gettin’ a buffalo.” Peter started to say something, thought better of it, and sipped his coffee.

My wife’s love for me is deep and abiding, it’s true and it’s tender. But it’s not, I was to learn that night, unconditional.

“Yes, you heard exactly what I said. But let me say it again. If you bring a buffalo here, to my home, you and that buffalo will be finding another<
Posted:  3/18/2004

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