Last Stand, the Story of George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West.
Last Stand , a newly published book by Michael Punke, documents the history of America during settlement of the West, framed by the predatory relationships of businesses and settlers with the American Bison. Uniquely, Punke explains the back door political intrigues behind what every American school child knows about the near-extermination of the Bison and the conservation effort which saved them "in the knick of time." His historical research penetrates like a Sharps Rifle into the flesh that lived on grass.
Last Stand gave me a visceral reaction by defining the supply chain that fed off the Bison, and by explaining the role of railroad and coal interests in nearly extirpating them. The similarity of this progression to the modern day drama of climate change became increasingly obvious by the half-way point. That two of the most exploitative interests are identical in both situations (coal and railroad interests) was a spine chilling insight.
How close the Bison came to disappearing, and how their survival was so dependent on the life of single person, George Bird Grinnell, is not widely-appreciated. Punke's work brought that drama to life without pretense. (The image of Al Gore fascinating over climate change through much of his adult life kept popping into my mind as I read of Grinnell's three-decade, lonely struggle to understand and then protect the Bufs.)The Harper Collins review quite precisely states: "A strikingly contemporary story, the saga of Grinnell and the buffalo was the first national battle over the environment. In Grinnell's legacy is the birth of the conservation movement as a potent political force." The final battle for the environment is engaged. 'Who will be our modern day Grinnell?'... is the unstated question of Punke.
The day after finishing Last Stand, I bought Buffalo sirloin steaks for the family dinner. A Communion of sorts, you see. A month later, I am still chilled by unresolved thoughts on the book. Next weekend I plan to give the review copy to the buffalo rancher who sells his meat at the Saturday's farmers market, and from whom I bough the sirloin. I hope we might later talk on it.
Below are a few excerpts I want to bring up with him.
"In the face of an age that celebrated conspicuous consumption, the foundation of Ginnell's emerging philosophy was self-denial "
"Grinnell invoked the motto of the New York Association for the Protection of Game: Non nobis solum. It means "Not for ourselves alone."
What Ginnell had come to realize by the winter of 1894 is that there is no crisis more pernicious than the slow-motion disaster. Human nature, and with it the American political system, are geared to respond to the immediate, the proximate, and the tangible..."
"To this day, most living buffalo (not including the Yellowstone herd) show the genetic taint of past interbreeding with cows."
"Grinnell's genius was his ability to see the future before it was too late, and then to act, and then to act with great effect."
Available from HarperCollins Books for US$ 25.95