local to local
Daily observations at or near Two Dot Spot, written by hand on the backs of postcards that record with ink and coffee a few minutes of the earth's orbit around the sun. The cards are physically mailed from Two Dot, Montana to those who have requested them...local to local. Ruth Marie Tomlinson
West of 98. I've been waiting for it since hearing Russell Rowland read the beginnings of his essay for the book. Louise Erdrich’s opening essay “Big Grass” is a love story to grass. For someone who has spent most of her life hearing the praise of trees, who once thought all factories should be in deserts or prairies because “there is nothing there,” this love of grass should be hard to understand, but it is not. “Grass is emotional,” Erdrich writes. “Its messages a visual music with rills and pauses so profound it is almost dangerous to watch.” The prairie's open expanse has so many things going on in it, but you have to look. It is both a vast sameness and a miraculous complexity. The prairie inspires what Larry Watson in another essay calls “the freedom of empty space” where there is nothing and everything.
It is easy to write about the wind in reporting terms, but harder to convey its presence. The wind rips and tears at everything causing all the trees in town to grow leaning in the same direction. It is impossible to combat it. Yesterday a pigeon was suspended in mid air out my kitchen window as it struggled against the easterly force. The wind gallops through the grass and plays the leaves in the trees, the corners of the house and all else in its way like tuneless reed instruments. We stay in side and watch over our lone cottonwood with fear, how much can it take. I couldn’t work; the wind entered my consciousness like a predator. I know the ranchers’ eyes are to the skies. How many rain clouds bulldozed through the valley by wind without releasing a drop? And in the process, the wind further dries everything in its path. I am sure the fire fighters and all those with property to loose pray for the wind to relent, believers or not. And all I can do is record…. 6.27.2012, heavy winds.
It is almost hot outside. I shield my eyes from the beloved sun… something so incredibly dear and yet lethal in too much abundance. Can’t live with… can’t live without. Today I peel off layers; yesterday, on the summer solstice, there was new snow in the mountains. It is not a conundrum, it is balance, just like the relationship of the specific and the whole. Our difficulty is in being the particular and thinking we are the universal, when in fact particular and universal are just another pair of strange bedfellow.
“By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagine it as distant and inaccessible, where as in fact we live steeped in its burning layer. “ Teilhard. It is very still, and yet the wind ruffles everything. No car has rounded our corner yet today, nothing large on the highway either. Jessica sleeps in her basement hideaway and I am resistant to rise. Waiting for clouds to move on…or for the storm… a singular moment, completely unique and yet not even so much as a full thread in the larger fabric.
We had a short storm last night…not much rain but thunder and lightning enough to entertain. It is dark over the Little Belts now, maybe another storm is coming. The ranchers want rain. And while I thrive on blue skies, the hills are browning too soon. The wind is picking up now, but not so much that I cannot brave the lee side of the schoolhouse. A bright sun warms through the moving air. I’ve continued to read and with Dillard continue to wrestle with the particular vs. the overwhelming whole.
One piercing black cloud cuts just above the horizon through an otherwise clear sky. For a few minutes it shielded the sun, cancelling it like a strike-through. But the sun prevails as the earth turns, first illuminating the edges of that knife cloud, then breaking free of its boarders. When the sun is low in the sky, its progress is so easy to follow. It almost makes the spinning of the earth seem real.
I have continued to think about the individual vs. the whole. It seems to be our consciousness that gets in the way of a broader appreciation. Our self-awareness blinds us to a bigger picture. And yet, Dillard points out that while death, at least in the west, apparently astonishes and blindsides every one of us nearly every time, soldiers are willing to go to war because of their compassion for the soldier next to them who may die. She was talking about our blindness to personal death, but what strikes me is the element of compassion….an interest in community. We may not see the whole picture, but we do care about the individual next to us. She asks herself, “at what number do other individuals blur for us. What is our tolerance? And how do we avoid compassion fatigue?” Yes…how far can we extend our particular self before others become simply that... just others?
A mile and a half walk brings me to the Martinsdale Canal. A herd of sheep grazes nearby; the shepherd’s camper is invisible behind a rise. On the walk I considered one of Dillard’s metaphors. It is the quote of an idea from Huston Smith. We are all like snow flakes… the sea evaporates water, clouds build and loose water in snowflakes, which dissolve and go the sea... repeat. I think we usually focus on the snowflake moment of this story... not necessarily on our unique patterned and sparkling form, but on the chance that someone will catch us, the beautiful snowflake, on an outstretched finger and marvel for a moment at our intense beauty. It is only one pinpoint of a moment in a bigger story, a story that we have such difficulty embracing... and yet, is the individual snowflake any more beautiful than the snowing sky or the white glittering snow cover or even the entire miraculous process?
Just a thread of blue sky to the south this morning, the rest is covered in high pearly grey clouds. The air is still and while the birds have been up for hours, I slept in. I did wake immediately when it suddenly got lighter. The clouds out my window perfectly formed and lying across the sky in a pattern looked like a cotton candy factory…. or perhaps I dreamed this. If so, my dreams are finally in Montana.
Sleep evaded me in the night. Jessica came in late and we talked and tried out the 1910 whiskey that someone left in my freezer. Later I fell asleep watching a cowgirl soap opera. I woke up at 4:30 fretting over things that don’t matter. So I am up early with a headache that could have come from the whiskey, no sleep, or worrying...all good candidates. I will drink tea, eat a banana with a spoon, maybe read some Annie Dillard and see if I can make my way into my work.
I read the Cloud section of chapter one in Annie Dillard today having anticipated her touch on a topic I love. “We all possess records,” she begins then notes that Constable’s recorded clouds remain though he and his wife are gone. Was Constable interested in posterity? I don’t think I am recording for posterity, but I do have the impulse to record. Dillard questions our individual place in the vast terrain of history and landscape. What is the purpose of the individual person, and further, what is the significance of each moment? “Why seek dated clouds? Why save a letter, take a snapshot, write a memoir, carve a tombstone?” Yes indeed, why? Why record the day, the time, the sky and weather? Why note the animals in the yard?
Up at 3:30 to drive to Bozeman for John's 7am flight home. A predawn drive. Birds sleeping on the pavement flew up as we approached. A skunk was barely missed in its slow amble across the highway; two deer missed as well. The snow covered Crazies were mysterious in the dim light. We were between Livingston and Bozeman when the sun finally crested the horizon and the peaks began to take the light. It was a beautiful transition. Now I am alone for more than two weeks. It is a powerful place to be, alone in Montana.
Yesterday the wind ramped up to over 30 miles an hour and stayed there all day. The house rattled and moaned and we turned the heat on. Robins braved the yard facing windward with small feathers ruffling out of place. In the evening the deer collected under the golden willows outside our kitchen window and feasted on fresh leaves from downed branches. They are hunter grazers, knowing how to read the signs of weather and good fortune. Teilhard de Chardin, the French paleontologist, is quoted by Dillard. “If I should loose all faith in God, I think that I should continue to believe invincibly in the world.”
One meadowlark sang its melodic call, and then beeped a warning. What perceived danger caused the bird to warn? There are maybe three other calls I don’t recognize and a pheasant in the distance. This wind doesn't faze the birds…they sing unruffled. Dillard pointed out that a noted Rabbi from Safad claimed that his disciples could understand the language of birds and that their voices contained the deep mysteries of the Torah. Was this so hard to figure out? Clearly the secrets of the world are held in each creation.
At sunrise there was complete cloud cover. I rolled over and continued sleeping. Three mornings of sun and I am spoiled or should I say I have begun to recover from a long winter. I read a quote this morning in Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being, from Theresa Mancuso: “The thing we desperately need is to face the way it is.” So this morning I will accept the clouds for now and even more accept that when I looked up Theresa Mancuso, I find I am not the first to quote Annie Dillard’s quote. And I am not the first to find my way by accounting the realities of the day. Others have done it better and worse, more personally or less. No matter, this is the way it is and I mustn’t abandon the process for lack of originalit.
There are cows in town today, probably moving to summer pasture. There is also an ant carrying another insect’s wing 5 times larger than its body, looking like some sort of strange hybrid. It made a circuitous path around the porch, and then dove between gravel stones at the edge. Just before descending another ant hopped on the wing and took a free ride into the depths. Ants can carry 5 – 50 times their body weight by dragging or gripped in their mandibles. Cattle, on the other hand, carry nothing. They have been used as beasts of burden, dragging harnessed loads, but they do this for those how have harnessed and trained them. Not only do ants carry of their own volition and for their own use, some ants keep herds of other insects, just as we do cattle. Another similarity between humans and ants is the equality of our total weight on earth…ants to humans. Do we only lack perspective in understanding as to who is in charge?
The sun was over the horizon at 5:45 with just a few mackerel clouds hovering low in the sky. There are birds accompanying the quiet. I am not sure what kind, but maybe this year I will learn more songs. My dreams have not yet caught up with my location. I am hoping the bifurcation won’t last long. But, even though my dreams held me to a more complicated life, I slept well. I’ve begun to shed and am hoping the new skin underneath is not too tender but even if it is, losing the burden will be worth it.
Yesterday’s drive was both fast and long. Every minute, every mile put distance between where we've been and where we were going. Finally in Two Dot, we slept under a full orange moon that bounced from window to window through the night. I was awake often from road jitters, too much caffeine, or the full body-slam of transition. It always happens, is never welcome and is always worth the trouble. In just 24 hours and we’ve clocked magpies, robins, meadowlarks, sand hill cranes, eastern kingbirds, swainson’s hawks, white tailed deer, antelope and the yard rabbit that we like to call Wallace. All of this coupled with a clear blue sky is working to revive me.