frontier reads

You probably know him as the host of MeatEater, where he is likely to have his fingers up an antelope’s ass, demonstrating the finer points of field dressing. But I found Steven Rinella through his book on bison, “American Buffalo, In Search of a Lost Icon,” which he wrote after winning a lottery ticket to shoot one in Alaska. His luck turns into nothing less than a hunt for the legendary mammal of American history, myth and misnomer.

Michigan-born and bred, all Rinella’s colleges—Muskegon Community College, Lake Superior State, Grand Valley State, Montana-Missoula (where he earned an MFA)—were places near his happy hunting grounds. But his aim for the right word is as deadly as that of his rifle.

Any good study of buffalo (Bison bison, for those scoring the binomial nomenclature at home) covers much terrain. Rinella moves astutely across such treacherous fields as anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, geology and biology. That’s a lot of ologies for a guy who claims to move from place to place for two reasons: women and wild game.

Mark Brown

Mark Brown is a Tulsa writer and foodie who works as the executive assistant to the the director of Philbrook Museum of Art. In this week’s Frontier Reads, he reviews American Buffalo, In Search of a Lost Icon,  by Steven Rinella.

I’m on the fence as to whether Rinella is a savvy outdoorsman with an ear for vocabulary or a sentient wordsmith prone to lugging a .300 Magnum over his shoulder. His paragraph on finding buffalo “sign”—markings in the earth that hunters read like tea leaves—left me panting as the best of Tolstoy. His description of a bull’s manhood (hanging in its sheath “like a roll of quarters in a Ziploc bag”) is cocksure, to be sure, but not as over-the-top as it sounds here.

Hemingway wrote about hunting and eating, but always veering toward the literary and romantic. One critic said Rinella reads like some mutation of John McPhee and Hunter S. Thompson, and why not? The man goes where the buffalo roam, which is less far and wide than it used to be, which is sad.

Mark Brown would confess, if pressed, to favoring James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man over all other books, especially its passage on infinity, capable time and again of rousing him from an already troubled sleep.