Hunting Buffalo

Jamison A. Hill ’10 discovers roller figure skating and dead jellyfish in the ‘City by the Bay’

Two hundred and thirty two years ago, a group of rebellious men in wigs and high heels signed a piece of parchment boldly declaring their freedom from the tyranny of King George III, thus giving birth to the United States of America. Today the descendants of those men (most of whom would probably chose George III over our current George W.) commemorate this event with backyard barbeques, beer and blowing things up. Revelry on “the glorious Fourth” can reach such epic proportions that the following day, July 5th, becomes entirely devoted to recovery, turning it into one of the most boring days of the year.

As the sparkle of coming back to Cambridge fizzles and Thanksgiving Break is but a distant ship on the horizon, summer thoughts naturally begin to consume my mind. But rather than reliving the debaucherous Fourth, I return to that remarkably unremarkable day—July 5th—that I made exceptional with a group of friends in San Francisco, my summer home.

After waking up bright and early (read: noon) on the Fifth, I set out with my roommate Jon, his friend Tim, and one of my fellow interns, Kevin, to explore Haight-Ashbury, a neighborhood famous for spawning the hippie movement of the 1960s. We made our way down the central vein of the neighborhood, which brought us to the entrance of Golden Gate Park, an urban green space of more than 1000 acres, making it larger than Frederick Olmsted’s creation in New York City. Having heard that there were live buffalo in the park, we set off to find them and see what other surprises

San Francisco’s back yard” had in store.

The first sight we happened upon was a group of jump-ropers and roller figure skaters. Unaware that there was even such a thing as figure roller skating, we watched in awe as the two skaters twirled and weaved effortlessly through small orange cones spaced about one foot apart. While their agility and grace was something to be admired, we all quickly decided the sport was not for us.

Next to the skaters were three older women (they had to be at least thirty) practicing double-Dutch. Realizing that our interest was piqued, they invited us to watch their jump roping show. The three butchered nearly every trick they tried, smiling sheepishly and muttering excuses under the beat of their hip-hop soundtrack. At the end of the show they handed us flyers for the jump rope lessons they taught, which we promptly threw out at the next available trash can.

Our next stop was a rose garden, at Kevin’s request. We began smelling the roses, the only thing one can really do in a rose garden, when a small grey-haired woman approached us. Seeing four guys wander aimlessly through the foliage probably stirred some pity in her heart. “The more beautiful they are, the less fragrant,” she poetically advised. Thus began a quest to find the ugliest rose in the garden and smell it. Though we quickly tired of the game (partially because a guide reminded us that we were smelling the roses’ reproductive parts), Tim did find an orange rose with quite the “tropical” scent.

Continuing on our way, we found the park had more to offer than we had imagined. We frolicked through an allegedly “enchanted” garden (though we found it less than magical) and gawked at elaborate company picnics, complete with bouncy inflatable houses. We even stumbled upon a family that had set up a slip-n-slide on the side of a hill. In utter disbelief, Kevin asked a shirtless, red-bellied man where they had gotten the hose and water source. The man simply smiled back at us and replied, “It’s a park!” before hurling himself headfirst down the slippery slope.

Though we were enjoying our walk immensely, we began to wonder when we would happen upon the buffalo that had so enticed us initially. As the trees grew denser, our buffalo dreams started to fade. Just when we had given up all hope of viewing the fabled bison, we found them. But they were not, as I had inexplicably imagined, majestic and docile creatures roaming free on a wide-open plain, allowing themselves to be petted or even ridden by a worthy human such as myself. Instead there were maybe four buffalo lounging in a chain-link enclosure. As we stared at them, one arose, pooped, and sat back down. We left soon after.

At this point we had been walking for over two hours and decided that since the buffalo had been so anticlimactic, we had to finish the entire park. We learned later that we unwittingly walked four and a half miles. And so victory was sweet when we finally emerged from the park to see the Pacific Ocean stretch before us, with California’s famous Highway 1 hugging its shore. The elation I felt was surely equal to that of Lewis and Clarke when they reached the West Coast, though their trip had been slightly longer than my own. We took a quick picture by the park’s sign to document our achievement then ran to the water’s edge, trying our best to avoid trampling the dead jellyfish that lay strewn on the sand.

So now, as I quietly sob over my books in Lamont, I am heartened when I think back to that day. Just as our New England forefathers experienced hardship between the explosion of the Fourth and the glow of Thanksgiving, we too face the autumn doldrums. And while the Founders may have turned to prayer and corn cultivation for comfort, thoughts of buffalo and floral genitalia provide all the nourishment I need.

—Jamison A. Hill '10 is a History and Literature concentrator in Eliot House. He is also a member of PETA