Text by Paola Corini
Photographs by Luca De Santis
“As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. … And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.”
My Ántonia by Willa Cather, 1918.
We’d arrived two evenings earlier and our suitcase hadn’t appeared on the conveyor belt at the regional airport of Rapid City, South Dakota. We should have lodged our complaint with the staff member who was unloading the suitcases and who, sweating, had casually come out last through the metal mouth and along the plastic tongue of the luggage reclaim. “If it’s of any interest, two we were waiting for yesterday just got here.
You’ll see, yours will arrive tomorrow”, he said. So, at sunset, we ended up at the drugstore in Custer, trying on a pair of heavy denim Wranglers. Aah, that old blue-jeans colour. The other journalists had already finished dining, we’d meet them at breakfast.
The morning of the Buffalo RoundUp they woke us at dawn to get to the Buffalo corrals along the Wildlife Loop Road, the only so-to-speak built-up area of the grasslands, with the stalls, outdoor rings, the small arena, the park ranger’s office. We had a couple of hours free to wander around, talk to the farmers and the cowboys.
We split up almost straight away, each of us on our own, not so much to hunt out different stories, but rather because we hardly knew each other. We kept bumping into each other all the time, we took the same photographs, but above all we felt the need to keep saying to each other: “It’s real, we’re in something real, this morning there’s a buzz in the air.” I think we used the verb “happen”, we all had the same good feeling: something was happening.
Now I’m writing about it, certain processions in the Shinto shrines of Kansai come to mind. There, almost all of the emotion was concentrated in the wait, in the fact that all those people had flocked there following the poetic calling to watch a pretty much secret ceremony.
They were grouped there together with an open heart, you felt that more than anything. The quick procession, in most cases of religious men holding up a wooden trunk containing a gift or a relic, didn’t hold such great fascination. The Buffalo RoundUp was something quite the opposite: the wait and the party afterwards were so ordinary that they were beautiful in their simplicity, but all the poetry took place in that hour-and-a-half ride together, following the 1,300 North American bison that live in these meadows today. One of the last great events of the Old West.