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

7.27.2012... few clouds, no wind

Just before sunrise a few clouds on the horizon lit up like my pink 3-tiered childhood petticoat. I resisted the urge to make another sunrise photograph and tried to resist the urge to write about it, but the Sunday-best frills and accompanying fan fare from the flock of birds in the yard pushed me to put some words to it. Lynn Stegner wrote, “Beauty is restorative.” Perhaps this idea fuels my urge to record these moments of staggering display. I understand that so much has been done in the West that cannot be undone, but I know that beauty is not gone. By recording the moment is documented, but it may also be an act of conservation.

7.26.2012… cloudless, windless

It is a dry year. All the ranchers agree. They measure rain in tenths of inches and report each one that arrives. Surprisingly in this time of drought, the grass along the little fishing stream in the Castles was some of the tallest I have ever seen. Big Grass. Standing where it reached my chest, I spread my arms and brushed the seed tassels with my fingers. It was a fluid plain all around me, rolling in an unpredictable tide. I wanted to stand still and become part of the grass, but my fishing teacher had moved on and disappeared as the grass closed over his head. I followed, but first reached down and plucked one blade to bring home for drawing. Rufus returned with 8 brook trout and I returned with one blade of grass exactly 7 feet tall.

7.25.2012... cloudless, windless

I worked all morning in the studio yesterday, but didn’t resist the call to go with Rufus and Sharon fishing for brookies. We drove up the Castle Town road and stopped at Zikmund’s. Vickie was mowing and Roger was haying, like every other rancher, but they gladly gave permission to fish. We walked to the stream and I became Rufus’ student. This is how you hold the pole…don’t let go of the line…let the fly float… those bookies will be in the shade… you’ve got to fool the fish. He continued to unfold the mysteries of fishing and I remained his clumsy mostly attentive student. My eyes were on the rippling live water, a transparent skin defined by the rocks and grasses it rolls over. It would be enough just to watch, but today I am with a devoted fisherman who learned from his daddy in South Carolina more than 60 years ago. He encouraged me, he encouraged the fish, but it was Rufus who reeled in dinner. Rufus fought them out of the water and I clutched them in the canvas creel carried over my shoulder with the brookies fighting against my hip, hoping for escape. “We are fighting for sport, but the fish are fighting for life"... wisdom passed on from Rufus’ daddy.

7.24.2012… half cloud cover, moderate/slight wind

I read Jim Harrison’s River Sequence I – VII aloud, and while I read River III the fully-fledged idea of quitting my job now and living cheaply here in Montana to focus on my work, kept me from hearing the words. I read it again. The need behind his words, the desire to be devoted to ones work, had by-passed all logical thinking and appeared as a plan to make it happen. I don’t want “the corpse of the spirit to gradually become water and wait for another.” I want to both see the clouds and trees and fish and hills, and to learn the light yet firm hold that allows nothing to get away. Seeing teaches me to hold my heart in the same way, or is it the other way around, or are seeing and holding lightly the same thing? Jim Harrison’s poem was not a sign. It was not a message from the universe. Nor was my plan a good one. But I can taste a need to be in a place conducive to not letting another one get away.

7.23.2012... quarter cloud cover, slight wind

I woke this morning just at sunrise and was startled out of my bed by a giant flock of birds in the yard. I’ve tried all morning to identify them as something other than starlings, but the traveling hoard suggests otherwise. Even before fully waking I registered them as being too many… Hitchcockish. There’s been another bird in the yard that I have been stalking. I think it may be a Brewer’s blackbird. There have been goldfinches as well. But now it is the hot middle of the afternoon, the insect hours: flies, bees, ants, butterflies. The hay in my neighbor’s field was raked and baled this morning. It is a mark of summer passing. I could make the comparison of a drawing being rolled and delivered for exhibition. Larry McMurtry compared herding words to herding cattle…I guess there is a metaphor in everything.

7.22.2012... quarter cloud cover, slight wind

Outside alone in the early morning I heard the sandhill cranes calling for the first time since being back. I also noticed two flickers had taken up residence on the west end of the roof and I think I heard owls as they finish their night of hunting… just the first flush of settling in on my own. Yesterday I saw mourning doves in Harlo and instantly knew what they were. Was it because I was there to pay last respects to a local cowboy? The birds traverse my consciousness here in Montana.

7.21.2012… few clouds, no wind

I am still neck deep in West of 98, considering many points of view as to what is the WEST. Larry McMurtry fights the myth of a pastoral West… no William Jackson, John Hiller, or Ansel Adams views. Are we really a nation of tourists? Does that mean we don’t ever really know where we are, that we are more concerned about the take away photograph than actually being somewhere? Jim Barnes suspects that many do know where they are and I am equally as hopeful that many of us do feel cool water in our mouths in contrast to the heat on our skin, that we do notice the intersection of a 3 minute rain storm with a damsel fly trying to get in the window screen, or that after spotting lightning we count seconds to miles before the accompanying boom. Rebecca Solnit has taught me to be realistic and hopeful, to actually see rather than buy the postcard or the disparaging misanthropy.

7.20.2012… nearly total cloud cover, no wind

I was awake briefly before sunrise, the horizon brilliant red. I sat up to see it and smiled at its proud party hue, but it was easy to lie back down and close my eyes. Yesterday was hot; with sweat running down my arms I sought the path of cooling fans and fought the urge to sleep. Even now under this high dome of clouds I could lay down in the grass and close my eyes. Sleep is often the first response to being in Two Dot, the seduction of high elevation, warm days, and an open sky.

7.19.2012… few clouds, no wind

The changes after a week away always surprise me. The grass is much drier, everyone is haying and the birdsong is less outrageous… mating being over for another year. The air is so still, it feels like there has never been wind, but the growth pattern of all the trees and shrubs tells a different story. By afternoon, I too will be buffeted in an easterly direction.

7.7.2012... few clouds, no wind

My time really changes when visitors are here. I am always hurrying my process so I can go to the next event. It is so much fun…. and I long for it to be over. It is not just the open space and vast sky that clears my mind; it is also solitude and simple routines. As Richard said about working at the Glen Ranch that tucks up into the Crazy Mountains…”It kind of settles your soul.” He is absolutely right. I am back to Seattle now for a week or so, but will return alone to find what waits for me.

7.6.2012... cloudless, windless

The schoolhouse is very still this morning before anyone is up. There are birds singing, but the magpies are also not up yet. I’ve always thought magpies chatter like so many school children. Yesterday clouded over and stayed that way all day. There was even some Seattle style rain in the afternoon, though not enough for the ranchers. We hiked to the Daisy Narrows with the family… all lingering from the July 4th holiday.

Fourth of July

July 4th came again - a family holiday for us here in Montana…a summer thanksgiving. It is not the rodeo and parade, that makes it that, although we did go. And it certainly isn’t the fireworks. The drought prevented all of that this year and I didn’t miss it. What really matter is the picnic. Piling into pickups with all the family that can be found, with whatever food has been made, and any available dogs, we caravan to the chosen picnic spot. The kids play in packs by the camp fire or in the water depending on the weather. The adults talk and drink beer, sometimes wandering off for a walk, and then returning for another beer or slice of watermelon. Is it trite to write of such an idyllic situation? It is just a few perfect hours, the absence of agenda, and letting each moment lead to the next. It is not religion…but nearly.

7.3.2012... cloudless, windless

Summer… its soft murmur wrinkles back to every summer : lazy afternoons on the lawn, pancakes cooked under tall trees in the forest, picking through rocks for finds on the beach, transistor radios in the bean fields. And now these Montana summers spent recording skies and birds and empty spaces are punctuated by holiday gatherings with food and drink and dancing in the street and meeting legends, some whose names are steeped in local history and some who like ourselves are gradually being accepted as having a stake in future. All of these things, past and present, layer deep into each single summer moment.

7.2.2012... few clouds, no wind

Yesterday evening we took Jessica to the Vestal Place. It was our first time up there this summer. It is dry…no water in the creek and the grass is not half the height of last year. More of the sheep shed roof has peeled back with the wind and the owls seemed to be gone, though maybe just hunting. Richard’s cows were grazing and even in the increasing wind came to hear John play his accordion or to stare at Jessica. I think she was telling them cow jokes. The place is as lonely and lovely as ever. What is it that creeps into everyone who comes here? Is it the aggregate of time polished and corroded surfaces, the evidence of weather gaining the upper-hand, the randomness of objects distributed by wind each the suggestion of a story, or is it the promise and terror of no outside disruption?

7.1.2012... cloudless, windless

I have been using the word prairie, maybe because of how it expands horizontally in your mouth. It is not a demonstrative word but expansive with its returning “r,” like it could continue on forever. The word is not wrong to describe this place, especially if qualified as “short grass” prairie. The Canadians freely use it to describe the same conditions to the north. But “Great Plains” is more common here, beginning at the eastern edge of the Rockies and extending east through short, mixed, and tall grassland. There is a lot in a word and I recognize that “prairie” and its beautiful long velvet sound attracts a girl whose mind has been long crowded with the angularity of the Cascade Range. In the end there is no word that really describes the feeling of having the Rockies to your back, a long horizon in front of you, every kind of grass at your feet, and more birds than you can identify occupying the air.