A Richer Tapestry

Bull Bison

A very large male buffalo laying in the grass

Photo by Charles Bartelbaugh

The name for Hornaday's view of animals is anthropomorphism (AN-throw-po-MORPH-izm), which stands for the attribution of "human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena."1 Most Euro-Americans have been brought up on it, and the anthropomorphic outlook inculcated by the traditional nursery rhymes and other childrens' stories is hard to discard when we're old enough to understand that, to the bison, we could be just two-legged non-bison that smell bad.

It is because of attitudes such as Hornaday's, born, perhaps, out of sincere admiration and affection for the noble beast, that each year a few well-intentioned visitors to Yellowstone National Park suffer injuries, and occasionally death, from close encounters of the bison kind.

In their fascinating and enlightening book, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy convey a more empathetic view of animal existence. They admit, for example, that humans would probably find diets as monotonous as those of most herbivores exceedingly boring.

"But maybe buffalo have a higher tolerance for monotony. Maybe each blade of grass seems vastly different from the blade before. Perhaps their life is a rich tapestry of excitement and intrigue, but at a sensory level too far removed from ours to be apparent."2

1. The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd edition.

2. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (New York: Delacorte Press, 1995), p. 126.