The gate clangs open and the steer springs out into the ring. He’s brown or black with white on his butt. The cowboys are right behind the steer, the rope slices through the air with a whoosh, the horses throw dust up in the ring. The steer races to the opposite side of the ring, but he’s too slow, the rope catches him around the horns or the neck and he starts to howl in frustration. The kid is a little slower than his dad, the rope leaves his hand too late, the steer races for the fence. When they catch the steer or have him cornered, the horses play too, the gray one nudges the steer on the butt towards the other cowboy, the second cowboy loops his rope around the back hoof of the steer. It’s fast, hooves pound, dust flies, the steer falls, smack, on to the dirt scrambles up again, running until he realizes it’s no use, then trotting neatly to the gate to join his fallen comrades.
The long trains come through every hour or so, the whistle blows and then there’s the roar of the engine along the line of the river. The cars flash orange and rust through the trees, through the dust thrown up in the area. The bleachers remain empty in the fading sun. The gate clangs, the hooves pound, the steer howl and moan. A few big pickup trucks roll between the cattle gates and the campground. On one end, our camp and a family with a minivan. On the other side, a cowboy smokes cigarettes. He wears a big black hat and talks on a cell phone while his buddy makes a fire out of scrap wood. The orange flames jump into the hot sky. The gate clangs. The kid at the next campsite makes the swingset squeak. The birds chase the mosquitoes, the mosquitoes chase me, the cowboys chase the steer. A cycle tourist in a bright green jersey rides off to the truck stop showers and the sun drops lower into the dust.