As Fall closes in on us all the animals in the park are preparing for the winter. For some like the Yellow-bellied Marmot this means gathering all the grass that it can stuff in its burrow. If you’re a buffalo not only do you stuff your big fat face with all the grass and foliage that you can, you also grow a thick mat of hair all over your body and especially on your face. This will allow you to push that face into the snow over and over again looking for that old frozen grass and not freeze your nostrils off.

Birds for the most part, being infinitely smarter than other animals just bail as soon they notice the cold and head for places that are warm. Miami, Rio, South Texas. They don’t bother with all that extra feeding. It’s hard to fly if you’re a 15 lb. Bluebird, so they opt for dining lightly on the trip south.We could go on and on about all the idiosyncrasies of the different animals preparing for winter but you all have cable, you watch the Animal Planet so you’re pretty aware of all the preparations they make.

What you may not know however is the huge amount of prep and practice that goes into the bears preparation for wintering over in Yellowstone. Especially grizzlies. Yes, you know about going in the cave, sleeping, then doing that some more until winters over and it’s safe to come out. But what you don’t know is how difficult it is for a naturally active grizzly bear to just go into that cave and go to sleep and stay that way for like six months or more sometimes.

He’s just had a very full summer of dashing around eating Elk calves, tearing the lids off of garbage cans, biting the occasional tourist, fighting with other grizzly bears, thinking bear thoughts, leaving bear tracks along the lake’s edge for tourists to find so they can see how big he is, having to deal with those pesky wolves, getting the occasional ear tag for some infraction or other. It’s a lot of work being a grizzly and along about November or even late October they have to go to bed again. Except they’re really amped. They are pumped up from the busy summer and sleep is the last thing on their minds.

They’re thinking about all the cool stuff they got away with this summer, pulling the door off that camping trailer, hooking up with that hot little female, running off before the rangers could shoot it with those rubber bullets. There’s no way it’s going to sleep.

But sleep it must. They can’t be up and goofing around during the winter, that’s not how this whole bear thing works. It’s designed for the bear to sleep for the winter or else everything just goes all wonky and we can’t have that. After an exhaustive study to see how these grizzly bears handle this problem it was found that they have developed a pretty inventive solution to it. They practice sleeping. That’s it. Just practice. Every chance they get, like after a great big meal of freshly killed buffalo for instance, they just crap out along side the carcass and sleep for as long as they can. That’s what this guy in the picture above is doing. You can’t see the carcass because he’s sprawled on top of it to keep the magpies and ravens from getting it. In a while he’ll wake up and eat some more, then go back to sleep again and will repeat this maneuver until he’s got the ability to got to sleep at the drop of a shinbone. This repetition of eating and sleeping gets his weight up to about eight hundred plus pounds or so, kind of like when we eat that Family size, Papa’s Favorite Pizza from Papa Murphy’s with extra red sauce and cheese at 2:30 in the morning and wake up later unable to fit our shoes on.

This is how they get all the sleep experience they require to stay asleep for months. This is also the time they perfect their dreaming skills. To see what they dream about check out this previous post and it will tell you all you need to know about Bear dreams. It won’t be long now before all that practice will be put to good use. The leaves will fall, the winds turn cold, and the long trek up the mountain to enter the cave he has used for the last six years will begin. Fortunately the bear has prepared himself well and as soon as he gets settled in and gets all turned around just right with his nose pointed toward the entrance, he will do that thing he does to cause him to fall asleep and that’s it. He’s in for the duration. He’ll sleep until the first trickle of melting snow runs down his back. Then he’ll be up and at it again. Nature has come full circle.


Hurry Up Eddy The Grass Really Is Greener over Here


In Yellowstone as well as many other places the old adages are still in use and in the case of the Buffalo, followed religiously as well. If you observe carefully you can often see them being acted out. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the (add your own barrier here)” is the one being followed at the moment.

Perfectly intelligent looking Buffalo will be quietly grazing alongside the Madison when one of them will look across the river and with a bellow race directly into the frigid water to get to the other side where the grass is obviously greener. Soon every member of the herd will be on the other side wondering why their privates are freezing and doesn’t this grass taste exactly like the grass they were just eating a few moments ago.

But an adage is an adage so there must be some purpose in having them. It can’t be just to wash their undercarriage. It must be a case of one of them overhearing it somewhere and not being the mental giants of the ungulate world, decided it must be important or someone smarter than him wouldn’t of said it. Why the rest of the herd follows him is easy to understand. If you were able to look inside that great shaggy head, which is nearly 3′ wide and weighs over 250 lbs. of solid bone except for the small cavity right in the center that the brain resides in, you would see a buffalo command center roughly the size of a very small clock radio. The commands to go left, right, forward but not backward, buffalo do not back up, lie down, get up, fight with whomever is nearest your cows, make small buffalo, gore the occasional tourist and have room for one or two adages, one of which is always “The grass is always greener on the other side of the (add your own barrier here)” The other might be “Stand in the middle of the road until all traffic is backed up at least 17 miles in either direction, then lie down.” That isn’t generally a well-known adage outside the park but it is a big one for the buffalo.

Spring is here and everybody is revved up to do springtime stuff and making sure that adages both young and old are followed. The buffalo do their part. If you haven’t followed up any old adages lately you can do your part by personally Googling adage, choose several and make them a part of your life. You’ll feel good and be a better person for it.

Yellowstone Diorama


This idyllic scene of a herd of grazing buffalo in the Lamar valley is not what it seems. It is a specially constructed life-size model prepared by our master dioramaticians here at *The Institute. Many of our readers know that there are many divisions, departments, sections, areas, teams, worker bees and bee-ettes, programs, units, centers, groups, systems, agencies, bureaus, commissions, that make up The Institute. We even have an office just to keep track of all the different divisions, departments etc. where important work is done.

One of our lesser known departments is the bureau of Procurement, Construction and Installation of Dioramas or PCID as it’s known in the trade. It is there that we make the amazing dioramas that you see in many of our National Parks and other places where they don’t have adequate scenic areas for the public to view.

If a National Park or even a scenic-poor state such as Utah or parts of Arizona want to dress up their highway systems with dramatic views they will contact The Institute where we will develop a plan to add interest along some of their more desolate roads, thereby transforming those roads into revenue-producing Scenic Byways. The State or National Park then has the option of adding roadside stands, local entrepreneurs, and whatever local color they think might add interest.

Another use for our patented, modular, fade-resistant, weatherproof dioramas allows game-poor parks such as Yellowstone National Park to have animals in scenic environments on demand for those times when the live animals are not present or have been killed off by local residents around the park.

Our unique but uncanny ability to mimic local conditions, coupled with incredible taxidermy techniques allow our experts to create dioramas such as this Diorama of a buffalo herd along the roadside in the Lamar valley, that defy detection by anyone cruising by it at 45 – 60 mph. Plus our patented Extend-A-View ™ Dioramas let us create dioramas that can extend for several miles along an otherwise dull and boring road, keeping the occupants interested and thinking of lunch or possibly souvenirs of the amazing “Scenery” they are passing by. We can also supply a more complete package with our dioramas that include a complete line of scenery specific souvenirs, knock-down roadside stands, trained actors that can simulate the local culture and color, plus accessories such as a live horse that can be tied to the side of one of our retail units providing sure-fire traffic stopping appeal. Other animals available upon request.

No detail is spared when you order one of our complete dioramas. The diorama above, our deluxe Buffalo Extravaganza, includes approximately 1800 full size American Made, Plains or Mountain Buffalo, each with life-like glass eyes and true-to-life coloring, plus a large assortment of cottonwood trees all with drip tube watering systems, or if necessary due to budget constraints, these trees can be constructed of a special weather-resistant Paper Mache guaranteed for 3 years, and our own proprietary turf made of recycled tires.

Many of you have driven by our dioramas and didn’t realize it. Those of you who have visited Zion National Park and marveled at the Desert Bighorn sheep located near the tunnel at the east side of the park will be surprised to know that was our model “Desert Bighorns and Laser-etched Rock Formation #66903”. Or perhaps you have been to the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway in the Rocky mountains where you will have seen one of our largest installations, the “Mountain Goat and Craggy Scary Drop-off Cliff  installation,  #994216-a”. We provided all the natural looking gray boulders that litter the mountainside and installed close to 3000 life-like Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep all over the 14,000’+ mountain, some of them animatronic in nature to provide movement and interest for those hardy tourists wheezing by the side of the road.

We are currently working on a secret installation of a completely different nature than we have ever attempted before, for a not to be named city near Puget sound. The parameters so far are for us to provide a complete aquatic diorama that will include sea life such as ship-resistant whales and animatronic Orcas, or killer whales, that can do tricks such as flip baby seals into the air and catch them in their mouths, plus many other items too numerous to mention. Estimated date of installation will be early 2019.

The next time you’re on a vacation in Yellowstone and see some spectacular looking scenery look for the little brass plaques saying “This Scenery provided by The Institute” to the trees and other hard surfaces and give one of our buffalo a good rap in the side to see how life-like it feels. You’ll be surprised.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind. Return to your daily activities. Thank you for your support.

Flash Frozen


What we have here is a very strange and unusual sight. Many of you out there in reader land, not being buffalologists, do not know that there are several type’s of Buffalo in Yellowstone park. The Institute in its quest for knowledge and a new way to twist the facts for our own ends, have discovered a hither to unknown variety of buffalo which we have named bison bison congelata which loosely translated from the Latin means “one frozen ass buffalo”. We apologize for the rude language but the Latin’s were a crude people, not withstanding the fact that they could speak Latin, which now-a-days would make them really smart.

What makes these buffalo different from your run of mill buffalo that brings traffic to a stand still while they lay in the middle of the road chewing their cud like big fat lumps? Well for one, they’re cold-blooded. That’s right, just like a lizard, or a snake, which in certain light and after a quart of Everclear they have been mistaken for. We have had interns screaming “Snake, Snake!” when it’s only been one of these buffalo. But then we have had that same intern screaming “Buffalo, Buffalo!” when it has been a snake so take all that screaming with a grain of salt.

Scorpions are also cold-blooded creatures which will sting you stupid with their poisonous tail but so far our researchers have not ascertained whether this new breed of buffalo can sting with its tail or not. We know for sure that when they’re active they can flat stomp you into the ground then hook you if they see you twitching. But so far no stings.

This particular buffalo has been caught in the classic dilemma facing all cold-blooded creatures. When your blood runs cold natures’ defense is to get you somewhere warm, otherwise your blood congeals to the point of peanut butter and it can no longer flow through your body and keep you active. As the blood cools and congeals cold-blooded creatures begin to get muddled and forgetful, often misplacing things like their car keys or that Post it note telling them to get somewhere warm before it gets cold. Then they become completely immobile, literally freezing in place.

That’s what has happened here. This cold-blooded buffalo had been crossing the Gibbon river to get to the warming shed before the temperature dropped any further when he made the classic bovine mistake. He stopped to eat some of the grass there along the river bank. Stuck his big fat head right into a clump of buffalo grass. There you are, game over, the temp dropped and that was it. Dumb mistake, but remember the muddled part, which probably played a big part in its becoming Flash Frozen.

There’s no fixing it now. These guys weigh in at about 2000 lbs so you’re not going to be dragging it off somewhere. Plus you’d have to get in that water which right now is very cold and if you didn’t bring waders and a come-a-long you’re not going to get much done. However all is not lost here. Being a cold-blooded creature as soon as the sun comes out in the morning he’ll start to warm up, finish chewing that mouthful of grass and be on his way. That is if the wolves don’t find him during the night.

This is a worrisome thought for the buffalo as he is not dead, he is just temporarily frozen, he can hear, probably even see even if he can’t turn his head, so the night is long and filled with terrors if you’re a flash frozen buffalo. We had heard the pack howling earlier but it seemed a long way off. They probably won’t find him.

The Moral of this tale is, “Pay Attention. Keep an eye on the weather. Don’t lose the damn Post it. And don’t believe everything you read.”


The Visit

2015-12-08The Visit7002

Now listen we’re going to visit the Bovinos today and I want you on your best behavior, you hear me?

Yes, mom

Don’t be pulling any stunts like you did last time. What possessed you to head-butt Lawrence anyway? you know how clumsy he is. That coffee table must have cost twenty bales of hay. You’re lucky she didn’t ask us to pay for it, your father would still be tanning your hide.

He’s a twit mom. Why do we even have to go over there?

Because she’s the herd bulls cousin and your dad wants to be on the board of directors of the MRAMA. That’s important. That means he’d be in charge of the entire Western region of the Madison River Affiliated Meadows Association and we’d have the best grazing in the entire Madison river valley. So we have to go make nice with them and see if we can’t make peace with her. I don’t much care for them either but we can at least go there and eat hay and talk. You can play with Lawrence but so help me if you head-butt him again, you won’t get any milk from me for a week. You got it?

Geez mom, I do. Man. What !  Ma! Now what?, I said I wouldn’t head-butt the little dork.

Don’t you use that tone of voice with me William Johnson, I’m talking about you doing your business in the hallway instead of out on the grass. I swear I do not know what has gotten into that melon of a head of yours. Are your horns starting to come out, is that it?

God mom don’t talk about that kind of stuff it’s embarrassing. And Lawrence locked the bathroom door so I couldn’t get in, the little toad, there was no way I was going to get outside in time. He’s always doing stuff like that. That’s why nobody likes him in nursery school. I may head-butt the little creep just for good measure.

William if you do I swear…..

Ok, Ok, Ok. Lets not stay too long alright. I don’t how long I can be good. Besides my forehead itches something awful. If that stupid Lawrence says one thing about these bumps I’m getting I will show him what a head-butt is. I don’t care if I ever get any milk again.

William for cripe’s sake if I have to tell you one more time…. Ok there they are, behave yourself now please, and for god’s sake do not try to nurse from Mrs. Bovino again. I don’t know if we’ll ever live that one down. I don’t care if your dad did think it was funny. Do not do that again. Oh Hi, Evelyn, it’s so nice to see you again. Yes it is a lovely day.



Finalizing Our Report


Over the last few days we have been sharing items from our semi-annual inspection report of Yellowstone National Park. Every year we have made the arduous journey from The Institute compound, I mean campus, to our favorite national park to provide the public at large a comprehensive overview of the conditions and state of the various park elements. This year was no different. We worked hard to cover every line item on our report, no matter how small or large it appeared to be, we were up at the crack of noon, trudging into the park with all of gear, sometimes doing with only three or four cups of tea and a huge but hearty breakfast, to get everything done that we needed to do that day.

As noted in our opening post the park passed its inspection with flying colors, but as in every year we have produced this report, the park has been noticeably different each year. Some years, it is the year of the wolf, where you find yourself tripping over them as they scramble to be included in every picture. Some years It is the year of the bison where they deliberately have calves in plain sight, right in front of you, even though the park is rated G. Other years it is the year of the bear, that was this year with the bears so plentiful, some were being excluded from the many pictures taken because they weren’t deemed attractive enough by the more discerning viewer, who wanted only the most photogenic bears in their view finders. I know that seems unfair, but life is unfair, and often unkind.

This year the overall atmosphere of the park was, the year it rained forever. It rained everyday, sometimes three or four times at once. It was hard on our equipment, hard on our interns who had to sleep under the Mothership due to them smelling like the dumpster out behind our favorite Italian restaurant, hard on our ability to stay focused and get our work done. Hard to figure out a way of presenting this in a way that would engender sympathy for us doing a job that most folks would kill for, and whining about a little rain. Well quite a bit of rain actually, but even so.

But in many ways it was amazing. The weather in the park although volatile, is usually incredible. Bright blue skies, huge towering clouds, intense colors, incredible blooms of flowers everywhere you looked, everything approaching perfect nearly all the time. It was a  welcome change to see the park under different conditions. To see magnificent storms blow up in moments and have rain so heavy you couldn’t make out the buffalo herd standing twenty-five yards out in the meadows. Normally placid rivers became raging torrents of water, filling their banks, turning small waterfalls into Niagara’s, then just as suddenly stopping, leaving only the sound of raindrops falling from the trees. Places where the mist and fog changed into some kind of fairyland where sound was muffled and huge pine trees would suddenly loom out of the mist as you walked through the woods. It was different but magnificent.

It seems there is change in the park, but then that’s not surprising, seeing as how there is change in the world every where we look. The image above, taken along the Firehole  river as you traveled south towards Old Faithful, represents the endless changes in the conditions at the park this year. It is just clearing after a major downpour that had everyone pulling off the road as the windshield wipers couldn’t handle the amount of water falling. The sun is trying it hardest to break through the clouds, unsuccessfully this time, but long enough to get some of that late afternoon light to shine down on the herd as it grazed. The stark trees in the foreground add a melancholy look to the image but they are just symbols of the change happening every day here in the park. Tomorrow they’ll be gone but will be replaced by saplings that are sprouting around their roots. So will some of these buffalo grazing peacefully. Wolves, impossible winters, old age, all will take its toll but if you look closely you’ll see the bright orange of this years calves. They’ll be here next time, older, bigger, ready to take their place in the herd, filling in the spots that are vacant.

Although there has been a valiant attempt to show you the many different items on our inspection report we have been able to show you only a few of them. This is primarily due to space and time constraints, and partially due to the inability of The Director who will often start a project like this only to wander away and be found staring at a bug or something. Totally oblivious of his responsibilities as the chief creator of this report. But as in many other projects we have explored here at The Institute somehow it all gets done. You may be saying to yourselves ” Wait just a darn minute here. Does Yellowstone National Park really need to be inspected twice a year. Or are you just doing this because you get off on being up there, having fun, misplacing interns, watching animals, taking pictures, meeting new people, saying ‘Hey!” to those you already know, getting goose bumps while listening to the Lamar wolf pack howl. We want to know.” To that we can only answer “You figure it out, Einstein.”

Note : To those of you tuning in late the following posts will catch you up on preceding events. There is no extra charge for this service, it is included in the cost of admission. We know you don’t want to miss a minute of our fascinating but undocumented report.





During our recent semi-annual inspection trip we have looked at many of the functions of Yellowstone National Park and found them to be mostly functional, performing as expected in a timely and efficient manner. We had been closely monitoring the animals and their behavior as that is what the majority of visitors to the park key on. Show them a wolf, or a grizzly, or a marmot, even a buffalo and they think everything is right with the world and they’re content with their visit.

But there are the more sophisticated visitors that come to the park for more subtle pleasures. Something quieter than the sound of a wolf pack murdering a buffalo, or the frenzied screaming of a busload of tourists sighting their first chipmunk. These folks are out viewing the park at different times than the average sightseer. They want beauty and solitude and spectacular views filled with color and drama while everyone else is back at the hotel watching reruns of Jeopardy, trying to find the number of the pizza place that delivers and raiding the minibar.

Consequently there are different items to be checked, to make sure the park is ready for these types of visitors too, such as reflectivity, which as you know is the ability to accurately mirror the sky and all its colors on a body of some reflective surface such as a lake or river, thereby adding to the overall viewing experience.

Checking this function is a little trickier than one might imagine, as there are forces at work here that the average viewer doesn’t take in immediately. Such as placing the reflective surface at the proper angle so that the setting sun shows up correctly on the surface. The cloud generation system must be at peak efficiency to produce the proper amount of cloud material at the time the sun is setting. This means maintaining an incredible timing system. You don’t run that on a Timex. Also the surface of the water must be properly prepared and correct filters and coatings maintained in the proper combination so the colors are even more intense in the reflection than in the sky.

Doing all this is hard, like Chinese arithmetic, or trying to figure out what was going on in Jane Fonda’s head when she toured North Viet Nam. Hard, really hard. Our usual spot to see if this function is working is that gentle bend in the Madison river just a little ways above the log jam not far from seven mile bridge. The only way to observe this phenomenon is to be there about 9:00 at night near the end of May. That’s it. You pull up at the parking area, get out, walk down to the shore with your clipboard and check off ‘Yes’ on the line item, “Reflectivity On: Yes or No”. That’s all there is to it. We’ve been doing these inspections for many years now  and never, ever have we had to check the ‘No’ box. Well that’s not exactly true. There have been the few times when the cloud generator went completely nuts and produced way too many clouds and even rain storms but then the park staff sets up a roadside notification saying “Reflectivity is turned off for a short time. This is not a permanent problem. Please be patient. Reflectivity will be restored momentarily.  We have had to send to Bozeman for a new O-ring for the cloud generator and expect it to be back on-line before Jeopardy is over. Thank you for your understanding.” That only happened to us once so we can’t really count it as a common problem.

All of the while we were evaluating this situation and remarking on how reflective this reflectivity actually was, only two other cars pulled up to join us. They were really nice people. They were from out of town, some urban area or other and set up portable lawn chairs and drank wine. Pretty good wine too, out of bottle not the boxed stuff you get at Value Jug for 3 bucks a box, which tells us that the person who seeks out reflectivity is just a skoshy bit more cosmopolitan than the average slam-bam, “I can do the park in an hour and fifteen minutes” kind of visitor. We liked these people.  At times like this you fall into quiet conversations about life and beauty and how you don’t really care for Jeopardy reruns. They seemed surprised that there is an organization like The Institute with its modest but incredible Director, that cares so much about places like Yellowstone National Park that we would take it on ourselves to make these inspection trips and publish the results for the public at large to see. We allowed that we were glad too.

Note : To those of you tuning in late the following posts will catch you up on preceding events. There is no extra charge for this service, it is included in the cost of admission. We know you don’t want to miss a minute of our fascinating but undocumented report.