Ted Turner is one of my personal heroes, going back to his 1977 win of the America's Cup in Newport, Rhode Island, at the helm of the boat Courageous. Back then I never would have guessed that I would someday be talking conservation with Ted at his Flying D Ranch in Montana.
I peered through my mule's ears at a copper-coated bison squaring off with me in a remote corner of Northeastern Montana, and shortened my reins.
Two weeks into a 3-month expedition to document the changing Great Plains landscape, this was our first bison.
The only thing "new" in this personal litany is to see it illumined by the emotionally hollow, worldly "new" that I witnessed on a long ago airplane ride. What is not new is how deeply satisfying I find my own treasures.
This week, 139 healthy, genetically pure, wild bison will reclaim a small part of their historic home on the Great Plains when they arrive at the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Northeast Montana on Nov. 13.
Only a few years ago, you were lucky if you could find a small frozen package of ground "buffalo" tucked away in an obscure corner of a market's freezer section. Nowadays bison can be an integral part of a healthy diet.
Metanoia. The word can mean a "profound, usually spiritual transformation; or simply a change of mind. All of which made sense to me while reading Last Stand, Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet.
When conservation plays offense, what's at stake is not so much some future loss, but a linked and living landscape that's out there right now, a landscape where it is still possible to see five bears pass by a campfire in a single night.
Tears came to his eyes, and to many of those listening, when he said that seeing these young bison being released onto this landscape was, to him, a sign that, slowly, things are being set right again.
With genetically pure bison back on their ancestral stomping grounds, we have the chance restore our nation's great conservation legacy, preserve our wildlife heritage, and reinvent a classic symbol of our wild American spirit.