PETER FROST discovers some ancient wisdom from the first Nations of the USA.
Wild animals have always been an important part of Ann and my holidays. We have watched wild elephants come to the waterhole from our campsite pitch at Addo wild game-park in South Africa.
We’ve watched thousands of reindeer swimming out to their summer pasture on the islands 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle at the topmost tip of Norway. Nearer home we’ve spotted killer whales hunting seals below Shetland’s spectacular cliff paths – and watched dozens of comical red squirrels in the forests of Northern Ireland.
Now here we are looking out from the door of our motorhome; through the trees we can see both elk and bison moving closer as they shyly observe our campsite with its traditionally decorated wigwams. Smoke drifting through the pole holes in the tents’ roofs. The campsite fire pit is still smoking too. We bought Elk and Bison steaks last night from the campsite store and grilled them over the open fire.
Today we are promised native American drummers and dancers around another fire. One of the locals is going to tell us all about dream catchers – and no doubt we’ll buy one as a present for the grandkids back home. So where are we? The Black Hills of Dakota? The heart of the American Prairies?
Should we actually be promoting such exotic and expensive destinations in the Morning Star in the middle of the recession? And what about our carbon footprint? Well no; actually we are in Wiltshire on the edge of Salisbury Plain on what just might be one of the most interesting small campsites in the whole of the country.
At the English Bison Centre at Bush Farm at West Knoyle in Wiltshire you can see a herd of over a hundred of the bison and learn much about this amazing creature. The campsite here is normally quiet and peaceful but in July a great Pow-Wow is held. Tepees are pitched all over the farm and the drums beat out to call the dancers to the fire and the curious bison and elk move closer to take a look.
We took the circular walk around the woods on the farm. The ramble of just over a mile lets you view bison, elk and red deer in almost natural surroundings. We stopped off at the duck-hide hidden in the bushes beside the lower lake. All kinds of wildfowl drop in particularly on quiet still evenings. Back at the farm we found colourful poultry, owls, rare breeds of sheep and pigs, chipmunks, American turkeys, racoon and prairie dogs.
The farm shop sells many kinds of meat including bison and elk and venison. Alongside is a small museum that tells the story of the American bison and explains a little of the culture and lifestyle of the first peoples of the American plains and prairies for who the huge buffalo herds were such an important part of their simple but satisfying life.
As these noble people watched the newly arrived and supposedly more civilised Europeans wiping out their beloved buffalo the Cree tribe made a perceptive prophecy.
When all the buffalo have been slaughtered,
all the trees have been felled,
all the fish have been caught, all the rivers are poisoned.
When even the air is not fit to breathe…
… Only then will men discover they cannot eat money.
It’s an ancient wisdom that all of us should be listening to today and there is no better place to listen than on the pretty little campsite at Bush Farm on the edge of Salisbury Plain. http://www.bisonfarm.co.uk
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 9 May 2014