In Dillon, MT, the wind howls across the valley, sucking moisture from the broad plain’s dirt ‘til it cracks the edges curling up and away from their rightful home, exposing the tender soil beneath to the same harsh treatment. Until everything resembles salt flats that I have never seen. When the wind falls, choking on its own rage, the town feels hollow. No dust blowing, no trees quivering, nothing ordinary or expected, just hollow air being pushed by naught.
At the far corner of town, the rodeo grounds hunch against the wind, sad and empty. The semis on 15 howl past from the other side of the chain link fence. They are almost close enough to see the license plates, but the small strip of pasture with Angus cattle hiding in the sagebrush from the wind is just big enough to make the distance too far to truly distinguish the numbers or states. You can even hear the rumble of the ranchers trucks as their trucks growl past, mud and cow shit chipping from paint under the force of the wind, and the cow dogs hunkered down together clinging to the flat bed as it shimmies down the pavement. Except for the exceptionally windy days when the only thing that can be heard is the banshee howl of a raging wind that eats all other sound with its ravenous starvation.
Not so many days ago the little rodeo grounds overflowed with trailers, trucks, fair vendors, and spectators.
Today it sits silent, the only proof of the previous hustle and bustle found in the occasional slushy straw, bottle cap, or pile of horseshit that the cleanup crew missed. Out in the arena a length of lariat pokes sadly from the ground, the marker for the final barrel before the run home. The silence, except for the wind, is testament to everyone having made their rides and moved on down the road, but their ghosts remain.
All people have to do is close their eyes and they can remember it. The horses with their rippling muscles and glistening hides, the saddles and tack dulled by use, but kept alive by care. It takes only an instant to bring back the images of the broncs shifting restlessly in the pens, the bulls glaring through the slots in the welded pipe fences at the riders who rosin up their ropes, or idly pull chew cans from the back pocket of their jeans, that one spectacular run, a horse and rider who showed every one how it is supposed to be done, or the little boy hanging to his mother’s hands grinning through a face stained by blue snow cone.
These empty arenas and dusty places all wait for the trucks to pull in with trailers bearing license plates from all over the state, and many from out of state. The creatures that helped settle this land will return. Proud horses will prance their way to the arena gates again and more broncs and bulls will eye their riders with disdain.
The traffic continues to hum down 15, not noticing the fences and grandstands that shone with lights and dust, laughter and curses, so few nights ago. Before long, another rodeo will fill the space, its noises will echo off of the walls and drift away into the big sky above. Until then the loading ramp sits silent, waiting for another thousand feet to tromp down its wooden planks. The arena lays dormant but for the dust devils, birds basking in the sun’s friendliness, and the ever constant howl of the wind.