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Bison Circles (2009)

Flute and Piano.

Program Notes

The American Bison, Bison Bison, has taken on a kind of mythical quality in the last hundred years, fueled by its near extinction as much as by Hollywood nostalgia. The facts regarding the largest land animal of North America are much earthier, and in some ways more beautiful than the fiction. It is frighteningly fleet, yet anything but graceful; it eats the native grasses of the high plains, and fertilizes them as well—it is in many ways simply tallgrass with legs; it bellows not with haunting tones, but in fat belches; it conspicuously displays its ridiculuously long black tongue when it does so; its hindquarters are dwarfed by its maned forequarters, so that it resembles a great shaggy comma in its solitary state, and a set of quotation marks when mating. In short, Bison Bison is about as similar to a cow as a volkswagon minibus is to a refrigerator, and is roughly as noble as a potato. It is also wild, solid, and itself, and these are the elements of its character with which Bison Circles is concerned. If it sings, it does so as much in the chewing of the grasses and flowers it consumes as in its flatulent grunts. If it dances, it does so in flurries of heavy hoofbeats. I suppose it also listens to the movement of wind across the hills, the buzz of insects, and the rustle of the tallgrass against its shoulders. When a storm approaches, the Bison gathers with its fellows in a circular fortress of bodies. Its face is always turned toward the wind