Autumn Harvest
AS heard on the Good Stuff with Jim Thompson

Oak leaves golden, shrubs of crimson, against ponderosa green
Open prairies, cured up grasses, autumn beauty, like a dream.

Sky of azure, fringed with fluffy, lacey clouds of white
Drifting gently 'cross earth's ceiling, shards of shining morning light.

On the edges of my vision, a shaggy carpet moves in view
Changing weather starts migration, the herd now moves south on cue.

Walking, grazing, stopping, lazing, as the sun climbs in the sky
Moving to fate's destination, Mother Earth whispers a sigh.

"Tatonka", life blood of the people, moving now to fill its role
An age-old drama taking shape, satisfying nature's soul.

The herd moves out onto a flat, tucked in between two hills.
A thousand hidden eyes watch from ambush. Tension builds.

With the hunted in position, the chief of hunters sees
Now is the time to spring the trap! "Hoka Hey" rings from the trees.

Up ravines and out of gulleys come the hunters on their steeds
Driving ponies to their limits, who will dare the bravest deeds?

The shaggy carpet lurches forward to avoid this new-found foe
Hides & humps & hooves & horns moving in one giant flow.

Thunder rumbling, thunder rolling, from hooves pounding on the ground
Running, jumping, bumping, grunting, a stampeding earthquake sound.

Clouds of dust begin to billow, til it blocks out half the sun
Hooves are plowing up the prairies, all of life is on the run!

Above the roar, the primal, piercing screams cut through the air
This harvest deadly serious to provide their winter fare.

Painted faces, painted ponies, feathers tied to hair and mane
Rapid riders, riding reckless, moving close for surer aim.

Having sweated, prayed, and fasted, so they might be purified
They're throwing caution to the wind. My lord, how they can ride!

Running, chasing, dashing, feinting, pulling alongside shaggy beast
Arrow notched, bowstring straightens, gathering meat in for the feast.

Sharpened lance pierces a rib cage. Carcass rolls across the earth
Pony lunges for the next one, horses caught up in the mirth!

With the herd now in a panic, leaders dropping to and fro
Bodies scatter 'cross the prairie with each twanging of a bow.

Thunder fades into the distance as the hunt draws to a close.
The mop-up is done swiftly, because every hunter knows.

That game must be respected with no unnecessary waste
Prayers are said now 'oer the hunted, like a pilgrim saying grace.

And there's feasting, smoking, dancing as the daylight turns to night
Heroic stories told and re-told around campfires burning bright.

So, the working, feasting, bragging goes on for 'oer a week
Hides are being brain-tanned and meat is dried to keep.

There is the gathering of berries to be pounded with the meat
Tons of wasna are the product when the harvest is complete.

And now the camp is packed and moving, travois poles sag beneath the weight
Winter camp must be established as the season's growing late.

But there's contentment in the labor, for the winter packs are full
Dogs and ponies are encouraged as they work and strain to pull.

This store assures the people of sufficient food supply
For the winter months when snows drift deep and storms block out the sky.

And seasons come and seasons go, fulfilled as life intended
A brief respite in history, when change has been suspended.

Before the cold wind blew across the prairie and the land was filled with food.
When the buffalo were plentiful and for the people...life was good!

© 2004, Ed Nesselhuf
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Ed about the inspiration for this poem and he told us: The Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, spoke of a time, "...when a cold wind blew across the prairie." He was referring to those 2 or 3 years in the 1870's when the hide hunters and the cavalry took the buffalo herds to almost extinction, eliminating the Indians' food supply. This poem describes what a buffalo hunt might have looked like prior to 1870.

I got much of my "vision" for this poem while attending the buffalo roundup in Custer State Park in early October, 2002. It was a "drop-dead" gorgeous fall day on the eastern edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota.