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The Endless Prairie Wind

Now we move into spring. Both the Ides of March and the Vernal Equinox have passed. Dawn comes a little earlier each morning; the sun eases itself little-by-little northward in the eastern sunrise sky. The prairie winds blow and whistle and sometimes howl. But, if you are going to live on the prairie, you will live with the winds.

Sunrise over Prairie
The ranch headquarters are about halfway down the bluff that drops toward the Cheyenne River. We face the river valley, which lies to the southeast of us. This location gives us a southern exposure for the winter sun, a great view of the river valley with a couple of main tributaries that help to feed the river, and a very welcome shelter from hard-charging, northwest winds of winter. So with our backs to the wind and our faces toward the sun, we guesstimate what the day will hold for us and try to plan our activities accordingly.

Bison on prairie

Regular chores come first. This can be the easiest part of the day or sometimes a pain in the butt. For example, dogs and horses never leave anything alone. I have watched the dogs bring in old bones from the pasture and deposit them everywhere. It doesn’t matter to them that someone else will have to pick them up and dispose of them. I have seen the horses surround the bed of my pickup and empty it of tools (pliers, hammers, fencing tools, bags of wire clips, etc.); anything they can pick up, they will and anything they can knock over will be on the ground. I have yet to be successful in my attempts to have them straighten things out and put them back where they belong.

The wind is a lot like the dogs and horses. It too never leaves anything alone. It whips panels off the windbreaks, rips roofing tin off the barn, and it brings tumbleweeds from miles away and deposits them along the fence line. If these winds are followed by snow, it will gather in drifts along the tumbleweed fence line and bend it to its will.

The wind can cut like a knife in winter and make the cottonwood trees sing in the summer. But mostly, it never ends, and the work can’t wait for it to stop. If you’re a fencer, the wind is job security, but if you’re a rancher, it’s a never-ending spring job. And, no seasonal element can stop the production.

Dressed for the conditions, we hunch up and keep our heads down to keep the dust, snow or rain out of our eyes. Posts are straightened. Nails are driven. Wires are stretched and fastened into place. Once the pasture is secured to hold buffalo, we can step back and take pride in a good, honest day’s work. Wind or no wind.

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25 comments

  • Ah the wind: Out here on this Atlantic isle, and on my countless crossings of the stormy North Atlantic Ocean over my career of 34 years. I know just what you’re talking about.
    Keep up the good work Dan.

    Keith A Lewis
  • You remain a staple on my reading list.
    Thanks for every word.

    Kathy Antonen
  • Dan, Good to see your pictures and read your prose! Heard you were here in Florida a while back, caught your interview with NPR folks from an Iowa station!
    Take care, Love to Jill and the west river gang!

    ken kasweck
  • Such a wonderful essay. Thank you for helping us understand the beauty and majesty of South Dakota. Again I say, maybe next year. I dream of actually looking at your beautiful ranch and all the wonderful animals. I found some yarn made from bison this winter. It too is beautiful. Thank you again so very much.

    Judie Maxfield
  • I dearly enjoyed your writing today as I always do. The stories of the wind are familiar from when I lived in the country near Wichita Kansas from 1950-1953. We always had those tumbleweeds and the snow on the fence lines too. I had a wonderful time fishing in the nearby rivers, and hunting in the cornfields. I would not have dreamed that horses would take all your tools out of the truck, and I got a huge bang out of that. So interesting and unusual! Now the dogs bringing in the bones makes sense to me since they could chew the bones, but what a struggle to keep all that stuff cleaned up! Whenever I look at the wonderful pictures of your ranch I want to come up and meet all of you, but alas my IRA is gone now, and I have to go back to work at 80 years old after being retired for 28 years in order to continue surviving. Here’s wishing all of you at Wild Idea Buffalo Company God’s blessings in every regard. Love always. Don

    Don Meyer
  • Hi Dan,

    My husband and I always, and we mean always, look forward to reading your thoughts and insights. Thank you for sharing your prairie wind.

    PS. How is Ernie?
    Gigi & Joe

    Gigi
  • My dad always said the wind blows in the spring to wake up trees and vegetation and remind it to grow , strengthening both in the process . In the summer it blows to usher in rain and cool us in the heat. In the fall it blows to scatter seeds , leaves and help waterfowl head south. He didn’t have a good explanation for wind in the winter, other than to keep us moving to stay warm.

    Lorn Ranger
  • Well, we never played Frisbee in Portales in eastern New Mexico…if we tossed one into the air, the wind would carry it into west Texas somewhere…tsk

    Roxie
  • even though the light surrounding my mind following a long day of fencing with my uncle was short-lived those many years ago, a part of me was eager as we looked forward to a whole week of stretching wire and post-setting. afterwards it would be time to prepare the ground for the half-acre garden and ready the electric fencing to keep the animals out of the peas. I can rely on you, Dan, to bring up my most cherished memories, but hacking out vegetation growth along the fencerow (relating to your tumbleweeds) was never thought of as fun, just more hard-bought sweat to aid those recollections, I guess. living the dream can bring hard work.

    BLAKE O'QUINN
  • For a time there, I was peering out across the prairie, feeling that wind whipping my clothes and face. Thank you for taking me out of my city life if only for a few moments. It’s why I enjoy your posts.

    Willadee Hitchcock
  • Remembering how the mailman in King City, Calif measured the wind in inches per year and endured the stampeding leaves each fall and winter. Not the prairie but windy nevertheless!

    Susan
  • I think of the book & movie Jerimiah Johnson and the crazy women that live on hill. haunting.

    cindy hess
  • What happens in the Spring in Oklahoma when the wind stops blowing.

    You fall over.

    From the Wichita Mountains, OK.

    pat
  • I know that I would enjoy the way you turn words into images, no matter what. But every time I read one of your essays, the images of your ranch and the 2 times Bill and I brought our family to visit you and Jill come alive in my mind once again. Being able to share those visits with our grand daughters, son & daughter-in-law were among the most precious ever. The experience of riding in the 4 wheelers out into the midst of the herd with buffalo grazing all around us, hearing their grunts and snorts, feeling their majesty touched our souls. Thank you for bringing those memories to life again and again!

    Kathy Day
  • I forgot to thank you for your words (and how you put them together). I’ve always loved your works—a LOT. Thank you for stringing your words together in such delightful ways and sharing them with us.

    Laura Culley

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