Last week I traveled to the Wind River Reservation close to Lander, Wyoming to be a part of the Eastern Shoshone’s welcome to their spiritual and survival animal – the buffalo – back to their land after 130 years of the bisons’ absence and some 70 years of the tribal leaders working on this project. My involvement in this memorable experience was only due to my membership in the National Wildlife Federation over the years; the NWF supported the Shoshone’s efforts and helped bring this Buffalo Return Project to fruition working alongside the tribal leaders for many years.

So, what does this have to do with my title for this month: Finding the Deeper Meaning in Life? The experience was so unique for me and so deep in symbolism that I felt compelled to write about it and encourage others to find and share with others such experiences in life that help us feel more whole.

The United State government has a shameful history with the buffaloes, in tandem with the shameful history with Native Americans across this country. But this effort in support of the Eastern Shoshone tribe to bring back buffalo to their land is finally our government being on the right side of the issue – and I was glad to be a miniscule part of that celebration.

To watch the buffalo being “sung out” of their corral by the tribal singers into freedom on the 300 acres of Wyoming that the Shoshone tribe had purchased back in the 80s for this event was nothing short of awe-inspiring for me. The crowd of celebrants – Shoshone school children, tribal leaders and members, NWF staff, and just plain folks like my friend and me, all of whom had gathered that morning to send our love and gratitude to these regal animals, who had been nearly wiped out by senseless hunting and vicious killing over the past couple centuries – watched the small herd lope together away from us and into their new home on the Wyoming range. They will live there for years cand be joined by their own babies and additional buffalo, as the Project continues to unfold.

My friend and I drove away and back into our regular lives. But we were changed.

The symbolic release of these animals into freedom in the wild, and the incredible happiness of the Eastern Shoshone after so many years of trying to get their buffalo back to their lands and hearts filled me with a feeling of oneness with a benevolent universe. It was a sort of redemption and apology, even if slight and centuries late. It was an experience that has remained with me – in my waking moments and dreams alike – and urges me to celebrate and believe in the goodness of humans when some days that is a tough thing to manage. Children on that poverty-stricken reservation will now grow up with the knowledge that life is a bit better, thanks to their buffaloes. Does that sound crazy or terribly idealistic? Maybe it is, but my hope is that some – like me – will be changed for the better from this experience and the deeper meaning will translate into other aspects of our lives, bringing us closer to each other and to the animals that once roamed this country with freedom and respect from humans. If, perhaps, we could all strive to reach for that space of loving and respecting others, two-legged and four, this world would be a richer place for us all.


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Deborah M. Henson