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

the end

This is it for summer 2012 from Two Dot (posts begin on June 6th). I will let you know when I am back in Two Dot and the adventure picks up again.


Stopping in Deep Creek Canyon, I dipped my feet in the cool clear water. Was I washing something away or being baptized into something new? We say goodbye to each landmark as we pass through this transition. We will return, but the farewells are a way of holding. Last night John told me he liked the way I look in Montana. Today as we drove away from our last tearful Two Dot good-byes I realized that I like who I am in Montana. What kind of hold can a location have that it alters how we view ourselves? Does that view remain rooted to the soil, the rocks, the people and plants of that place? Or can it be carried with you? As we drove away from Two Dot and the beautiful rolling Rockies and big sky, I thought of all the doors and windows I was passing… hundreds and hundreds, but none of them containing the faces of those I choose, non of them situated in the landscape I call my own. Finally we wound into the Cascades with their jagged peaks green even in this dry summer. Once on the other side, we turned into a developed community with similar looking homes, but only one door beckoned to us. Our son opened to our ringing and took us upstairs where his wife was reading to our grandson. I caressed his pudgy feet and was glad to be back. Because of this, all of this, we will drive back and forth and back and forth between the two places and people we love. And I will continue to see how much of each place I can carry with me.

8.18.2012... cloudless, windless

A few days ago clouds at the horizon made mountain shapes looking like another range. Center stage from where I sat in my Two Dot bed, the sun worked itself into the sky over a cloud looking a little like Mount Rainier. My second home is calling me back in cloud shapes.This last day in the schoolhouse will be full of finishings. The studio work that feels like it is just beginning will be packed and wrapped. The bedding will be washed and stored. The food we didn’t eat passed along to the cousins who live here year around. This stay has been long and short. I am ready to go and not ready. How can you wrap up a summer when you are still so close you can only see the fur? Who knows what kind of animal it is.


Walking down the hill yesterday, turning my back on Daisy Peak, Dad’s mountain, I had to turn and look back… couldn’t keep walking away. The place where his marker sits looked small. I didn’t want to leave. I’d kissed my fingers and touched his brass plaque. I’d left a little bouquet of drought flowers and re-placed the rock stack, but it didn’t seem enough. I let the others keep walking and stood still, assuring Dad I would come back as often as I could. I assured him that I carried him with me too, that he was always with me. Who needed assurance? Who needed the reminder? In that moment I was thinking of Dad as he was at the end of his life: his body wasting, the medications compromising his mind, his future gone. I was the strong one then and yet… he assured me. Finally I was able to turn toward the trail down, but not without the desire to bend down and kiss every rock. This is his place, where his body was strong, where he was happy, and where he has become part of the rocks and crags and dirt.

8.16.2012... few clouds, moderate wind

The rocky crag I am sitting on is only 50 yards from my dad’s marker. I can see all the way around me, the Big Belts to the Crazies to the Snowies, from this perch on Daisy Peak. I have a drop off to my back and each time I move a little, I feel un-ease from my calves through my entire torso. Of course the danger is all in my head. I am a yard from the edge. But the internal fear lends to the effort of having climbed up here… of having made this trip to be with Dad. I still sense Dad after 16 years. He loved this place and introduced it to me in his death. Would he be surprised at me sitting here year after year? It is nice to think of his ashes having made their way into the stones here, filling pores and perhaps becoming geologically part of the stone, like petro glyphs. I am newly thinking of post death being a time you actually become part of the land…. Dad part of these rocks.

8.15.2012… total cloud cover, no wind

8.14.2012… few clouds, no wind

The sun didn’t clear a strip of haze at the horizon until 6:40, and it was dark before 9 last night. The seasons do change. This is the last week, but it is full. Noah and his mother stayed with us on their way home from Seattle to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Noah moved about the schoolhouse easily playing his concertina or the bad piano downstairs. We will be going home soon too. But we will leave feeling more part of this place. Down the road from Harlowton, Shawmut is another small town with cafe, church, school and post office. Arville and Elaine Lammers live on the Lammers family ranch 9 miles to the north. They are the first true locals to invite us to eat with them without the cover of our local cousins. There were others there that we have met, but didn’t really know. We ate Arville’s special BBQ and talked with ease. We are not exactly like these locals, but we are not exactly different either.

8.13.2012… few clouds, no wind

You just can't get enough of the meteor shower. Last night we drug our mattress out and bedded down in the yard. The view is perfect from the ground and the sky didn’t disappoint us. Coyotes sang us to sleep while the meteors continued to burn. Later we woke to the soft call of owls, opening our eyes to more meteors streaking the sky. Finally at 4 am we traipsed across the dewing grass and crawled into bed so we could sleep without distraction.


We sat out in the lawn chairs craning our necks back into impossible poses to gain the maximum field of view. The stars here in Montana are a force regardless. Four or five thousand feet closer is a baby step in star distance, but it feels like coming from a foreign country into the neighborhood. I know it is also lack of light pollution and atmospheric differences, but the change registers more poetic than a result of facts. The stars are uncountable even in small sections of sky. They are clumped into constellations or flying solo, big and bright trying to compete with the sun or small intense pinpoints. In the Milky Way they gather into star clouds. I ask myself aloud every single time if we really are part of that galaxy. But all this is just the usual nightly wonder. Last night the Persied Meteor Shower played out its fireworks in front of us while lightning continued to sheet across the Little Belts to the north of us as a side stage. We called out to each other, cheering at each amazing tracer that refused to dim and reluctantly went in when our eyes refused to say open.


Yesterday the sky never cleared and for only the second day this summer I was shut out of the studio finding no light, no shadow, nothing to track on the page.

8.10.2012… quarter clouds, slight wind

4am brought in the storm. Lightning, sheet mostly, and thunder. Yowling wind. We closed most of the windows and lay in each others arms, not from fear, but to witness the storm together. Still sleepy, my eyes would close themselves only to be flashed back open with total room white light blasts. Sometimes the deep boom followed, sometimes not… the storm covering near and far.

8.9.2012… half clouds, no wind

The sun just rose over a ring of haze that circles the horizon. Fires certainly, even though I don’t smell smoke. Last night we drove home from Great Falls without seeing a single star; the familiar rendered unfamiliar without illumination. We’d eaten dinner with our Great Falls family out in Vaughn on the farm. They lost all their barns and out buildings to fire this year; every bit of machinery and family heirlooms gone. Fire is a true western outlaw.

8.8.2012… cloudless, windless

Melissa Kwasny may have stated the obvious in her essay The Imaginary Book of Cave Paintings. “To be human is to understand that one comes after those who came before.” But the obvious is not always simplistic. She extensively explores the marks left by ancient peoples and ends with a reminder that regardless what we leave behind, our individual sojourn is finite; something I am thinking about in my newly minted 59th year. But Kwasny spins this inevitability with a different conclusion. We will be joining all those who have proceeded us by become earth...dirt. The very land that I am wrestling to know is what I will become.

8.7.2012… few clouds, moderate wind

We ate a birthday lunch with friends at Bill’s Place in Melville. Bill and his wife recently took over the diner and are serving up delicious fare in the middle of what many would call nowhere. Afterwards, John and I took the back road from Melville to Two Dot. Beyond the Diner which also houses the post office, down a tree lined road Melville has a school, a church, a cemetery, and some nameless mostly empty buildings that are the remnants found in many rural Montana towns. There are cattails and sandhill cranes, cows and pronghorns along the side of the road. The jagged peaks of the Crazies are not too far in the background. Melville looks abandon, but I know better. Two Dot often looks abandon too, but throw a party and the town will be packed. Bill invited us back for 2nd Saturday BBQ and music when 150 people have been known to crowd into his little place. No doubt, we’re going to go.


Even when I sit in the schoolhouse looking out the window from the red Naugahyde thrift store sofa I am collecting. There is my coddled cottonwood. The robins and Brewer’s blackbirds are finding worms after the sprinkler. I am waiting and hoping for the rabbits to return to my yard, offering lettuce and other delectables. And always, there is the ever-changing sky: crystal blue, puffed with cotton clouds, scribbled with crayon reds, heavy with smoke, or any of a thousand other variations. I keep gathering these images in words and lines to sustain me through the winter. Like Leo Loinni’s Fredrick, in one of my favorite children’s stories, it may look like I am doing nothing, but that just isn’t true.

8.5.2012... few clouds, no wind

We were at the Bonanza Creek Ranch last night having dinner with a book group. They'd invited the author of a murder mystery titled Ride the Jawbone. It was a privilege to be included as we are not part of the book club and these are people who easily call themselves local. Jim Moore, who wrote the book, is from the oldest family of settlers in the area. The Voldseths, who were our hosts, are also one of the oldest families. Regardless, we were made more than welcome. We may never be truly local, but I've come to understand that does not mean we will be excluded.

8.4.2012... few clouds, no wind

The sun is just fully over the horizon at 6:15. The season is changing. Annick Smith spends her essay in West of 98 writing about age… of growing old. She uses the end of a Montana summer as loose metaphor. “The change of light tells us winter is coming, but summer’s fruitful end is now.” It is the end of summer and it is fruitful, nothing to shed tears for.

8.3.2012… three quarter cloud cover, no wind

At 5:15 it was still raining. The dripping from our faulty gutters sounded like horses. Not fully awake, it took me a minute to register what it was. Horses in the road seemed more plausible than rain in this drought year. I lay back down, but didn’t sleep; listening as the rain receded and the wind picked up. Gusts blew through the open windows stirring everything in the room. As always I whispered encouragement to our ancient cottonwood. “Be strong!” At 6 it was still fairly dark with cloud cover, no crimson horizon, no frilly pinks, just a suggestion of the season coming. But it is still summer…this was only a display of Montana’s changeable weather.

8.2.2012… quarter clouds, slight wind

Audun, who is five, went with his Grandmother Alicia and I to the Martinsdale Hutterite Colony for a visit and viewing of the new house of a soon-to-be bride. Alicia encouraged Audun to play outside with the colony kids. I watched him from the window. Audun, with his chin in his fists sat on the front stoop faced with a bevy of little girls dressed and hovering like starlings. They stared and said little, just flitting around in a flock. Behind them, a few bigger boys road identical homemade scooters up and down the sidewalk. Audun sat firm until finally he skirted around the girls in a sprint and took off down the sidewalk toward the boys. Alicia asked the girls to watch out for him, but when he finally found us later his eyes were red and teary. He stomped his foot and said, “I don’t need watching, not by girls!” Was he playing out an old cultural childhood separation of boys and girls or reacting to the radical difference in gender rolls in the Hutterite community?

8.1.2012…few clouds, no wind

It was cold this morning, nearly like fall. We ate breakfast outside in the chill, but still had to start a walk by 7:45 before it got too hot. The temperature changes radically from night to day and this short window is the transition. There are other transitions I am noticing. The sun rose at 6:05, 20 minutes later than the last time I recorded it. And it is the first day of August, the last month of my summer. I never want to see it come and it always does.

7.31.2012… few clouds, no wind

I’ve been thinking further about A.B. Guthrie’s quote and a relationship to Annie Dillard’s exploration into the particular and its place in the whole. We do all leave an impact of some sort, one affecting the next and the next affecting the one after that. Our choices leave physical imprints…more now than ever. But the earth is strong. I believe it will survive. It may not be habitable to us, but it will survive. Perhaps it is only our bed we are fowling. I began this thought process with more hope. I was considering our individual ability to influence and the collective impact created. We are at once the particular and the whole.

7.30.2012… few clouds, no wind

Ed Kemmick is a writer for the Billings Gazette. He was seduced to Montana from the midwest by A.B. Guthrie’s novel Big Sky. Last week my cousin Shane Moe told me that Big Sky is his favorite western novel as well. The book describes relationships between men and land and while I suspect Guthrie was not referring to mankind in the broad sense, I think it may be true that men and women’s relationships to land are what the west is about. Guthrie wrote about the land in the words of his character Jim Deakins, …what did it care about a man or his hankerings or what happened to him? There would be other men after him and others after them, all wondering and all wishful and after a while all dead. I don't think this is about hopelessness; it is about the place we each hold in the larger picture. And it reminds us that it is the land that remains.