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Illinois hunting and fishing

Participants wait to be “smudged” during the Bison Blessing Saturday at Wildlife Prairie Park. Photos by Taylor Glascock.

Park bison blessed in annual spring ceremony

April 15, 2012 at 07:03 AM

Peoria Journal-Star

EDWARDS — About 100 people gathered on a deck overlooking a vast and increasingly rain-soaked plain at Wildlife Prairie State Park on Saturday morning.

They periodically shook drops of rain off their umbrellas as a circle of people stood on the already-lush prairie below them. They blessed the ground on which bison, not buffalo, roam.

The American prairie looked more like an English moor under gray and rain-dropping skies. A man sang traditional American Indian hymns, beckoning late-comers to the scene.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Randy Eggers of Manito goes around the ceremonial circle to “smudge” each individual with sweetgrass as a part of the Bison Blessing Saturday at Wildlife Prairie Park.

Randy Eggers, who makes a living “slinging car parts” at O’Reilly Auto Parts, was asked to speak at the event. The Manito resident of Cherokee descent led the ceremony that officially blessed the group of about 20 bison that roam the grounds at the park.

“We’re here calling on the creator to bless the grounds and the people who take care of them,” Eggers said.

The group did more than simply bless the enormous beasts and their caretakers. Saturday was the bison version of baseball’s opening day. The animals, whose life spans are nearly doubled in captivity to about 20 years, according to the park, were released into their “summer quarters.”

“A small group of us came out here at dawn and blessed the animals before the public ceremony,” Eggers said. “Then we released them from their winter quarters and through the gate they went. It’s a big day for them, and it’s awesome for us to be able to get so close to them. They’re wonderful creatures.”

Whether they knew it was a big day is impossible to tell, but the herd roamed near a tree line at the edge of what would make an ideal setting for the filming of a Civil War battle. They contentedly did whatever it is that bison do.

Their 5- to 6-foot and nearly 2,500-pound frames were still visible nearly a half mile away. Elk darted back-and-forth not far behind the bearded and nonbearded bison, seemingly taunting the slow-moving creatures.

Eggers and the members of the prayer circle passed a tobacco pipe to conclude the ceremony.

“The smoke that leaves this pipe represents our prayers going to the creator,” he said.

The steady drizzle started to let up.

“Rain is a good thing. It’s a blessing. But people don’t recognize it as such,” Eggers said after the event. “Without rain there is no life and certainly no bison.”

Justin Glawe can be reached at 686-3196 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him on Twitter @JustinGlawe.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Bison slowly make their way to the main pasture Saturday at Wildlife Prairie Park.

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