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

6.30.2013... no clouds, no wind, no rain

Everyone in Two Dot has been preparing for the 4th of July. The out-of-towners have come back to mow. The full-timers mow too, but they’ve been mowing...pristine grass and shortened weeds, all down to a blanket of green. And kept green this year by the generous rains. Everything is looking good. There will be dances and picnics and rodeos and parades and lots of food. Of course, there will be lots of flag flying too. We all know that means something different to everyone, and therein lies the trouble and the triumph of this nation we are celebrating.

6.29.2013… no clouds, no wind, no rain

The day, set aside to celebrate 41 years together, began very still with bluebird skies. We drove south with no real destination in mind, finding the Stillwater and Rosebud valleys ripped straight from a storybook, especially with this year’s green on. It is clear that many people have thought the same of these hamlets, buying up small acreage and building perfect chalets, log lodges, and “ranch” houses. The working ranches are mostly gone, but we let the beauty override our indignation. We shopped at the Fishtail general store, hiked with well clad hikers, looked in on the girls at the yarn shop who have 1970’s hippie beautiful down to an art, and ate at the Grizzly Bar where most everyone was in shorts and had out-of-state plates. But nothing got in the way of enjoying the day and each other. Not even the storm that tormented I 90 as we drove home. The wind battered the car, the rain overcame the windshield, and the lightning was kissing close, but it ended just as we turned north on highway 191 to go home. Listening to Jason Isbell, we got the hang of the words at about the same time suddenly both singing along.

6.28.2013… no clouds, no wind, no rain

Evelyn Cameron, an early Montana photographer, chronicled her daily life meticulously in diaries and letters. My mother and grandmother did the same and now their diaries and letters are now stacked neatly in my home. As mundane as the daily facts can be, it is these facts that keep these women alive for me. To know that on July 29th in 1897 Evelyn Cameron “Arose 6. Breakfast 8. Washed up. Got off at 10. Ewen on Pilot, I on Steel, Payne on Buttermilk, Kid on a "Cross S" horse…” And that in August of 1953, the day I was born, my grandmother picked beans and mowed the front lawn. These women continue to be real and present for me through these pages. Is this why I continue the tradition? Am I placing myself within this line of women?

6.27.2013… few clouds, no wind, no rain

The wind picked up by 9 so I went to the lee side of the house for relief, but it was hot and clearly the choice spot for flies. They made a racket buzzing around my head, but it was an ant that bit me. Ultimately the dangers to us are few, sunburn probably ranking the highest. No matter how settled John and I feel in Two Dot, the fact remains that we are supported by our urban endeavors while the real local dangers are economic. Will the weather support the ranching life that has been the sustenance of the arid west for over a hundred years? These are realities we only know from the outside. We have empathy, but not experience. Is this where we hit a wall, never becoming local? Or is it possible that we are part of a new West? John telecommutes to work and my creative process is supported by very same resources that support ranching.

6.26.2013…almost completely overcast, no wind, no rain

I'm still reading West of 98... In an effort to understand the West, Louis B. Jones looked at the Donner Party concluding that “We’re all immigrants, or come from immigrants and somewhere back there somebody had to gnaw off something essential in order to free himself.” Jones also looked at pulp fiction representations of the West, breaking Westerners down to fools, scoundrels and the heroes whose purpose is to sort these “bushwhacked innocents from the predatory trouble makers.” Jones didn't go much beyond cynicism, but I am interested. What have I gnawed off to free myself? The knowing is likely part of the process of becoming the hero that recognizes the fool and the scoundrel in herself. Perhaps the West needs this kind of examination.


We continue to watch the robins in the cottonwood. I presume the nest is ok. This morning there was a commotion and I assumed the sitting bird was defending her eggs, but this was something else. One robin relentlessly flew at the other… a chase of a different variety. I am not sure what happened amongst all the wing flapping, but I can guess.

6.24.13… few clouds, no wind, no rain

The moon was full last night, a huge orange ball at the horizon, rising like the sun in its winter position. After its beautiful entry, the moon slipped behind stripes of clouds. Going outside to click a picture was the last thing I did yesterday, besides lying in John’s arms on the final night of our 41st year married.

6.23.13… few clouds, slight wind, no rain

When we start to feel that Two Dot is remote and quiet, it is a good time to graduate further from the highway. On an afternoon at the Vestal place we tramp around the buildings flushing the owls from their perches in the sheep shed, we climb the hill for a view of where we’ve just come from, and finally we submit to the solitary sounds of wind and tin roofs coming loose, of birds and bellowing bulls. Each of us eases into being alone, separating into our own pastimes: John with his accordion, Craig with his pencils, and me with my drawing brushes and this pen.

6.22.13… few clouds, no wind, no rain

The Vestal place, as so many other farmsteads, is a reminder of pioneer remoteness. There is electricity, but I haven’t used it since a teenage summer when I spent a hot afternoon listening to folk music on my cousin’s portable turntable. Now the buildings are beginning to cave. They still speak to another time… a homesteading time, but their present condition also speaks of 4 wheelers and being able to ranch remote areas without living there. It speaks of farm machinery over ranch hands and the need to have more acreage to hedge against drought. We regret the decay of buildings without really knowing why. Is it the loss of history, a dissatisfaction with our current lives, or just nostalgia?


Craig has been here before. The return trip brings more familiarity, more investment. I knew it when I saw him pacing the property heel to toe trying to find the exact location of Montana Park. It is a no-so-small park from the original town plan that is still legal, but non-existent. And, as it happens, we hold the deed to this bit of history, though it is mostly in the road and a neighbors yard. Craig mounted a “you are here” map at the parks edge. It makes no claim other than its reference to some grand Two Dot plans.

6.20.2013… few clouds, slight to moderate wind, no rain

There was another birdcall this morning. I knew the call well, but it wasn’t until afternoon that I remembered who made it. I looked out my window while working in the studio and there was the beautiful male pheasant across the road, preening and showing off. How had I forgotten his voice? This bifurcated life has me forgetting and remembering as I move back and forth from one reality to another.

6.19.2013… few clouds, slight to moderate wind, no rain

Weather came from the south in the afternoon. It was more than clouds; it was a purple blue wall. As it moved north, the wind started. Craig and I put garden tools and lawn furniture inside just as the lightning began to scratch through the darkness. Thunder cracked and the rain began. The street filled with water and we stayed inside perched on stools at the windows. Would the school children have been allowed to do the same? Or did lessons continue regardless of dramatic weather? Does this weather continue to fascinate no matter how long you have lived in this country?

6.18.2013… no clouds, no wind, no rain

I have been suspicious that robins are nesting in the cottonwood. They are almost always around and earlier I found a perfect blue egg in the yard. Brian held a flashlight to it and we could see the round yoke, but no bird shape. The egg sits on a yellow felt flower in the kitchen now, a forever reminder of the beauty of potential. Today I saw little movements in the tree and spotted a nest. The female diligently sat, cocking her head one way and then the other as nearby birds called and squawked. In the end she sensed no real danger and continued to sit, fluffing her feathers around a whole nest of potential.

6.17.2013... no clouds, no wind, no rain

Eight days the sun rose in Two Dot without me, but I am here again sitting on my bed in the direct line of its rising. The grass is misted and in the distance the river is made visible by its rising shroud of vaporized moisture. There are deer in the field and a sandhill crane feeding. I haven’t seen the antelope and her baby yet, but am hoping she is still there. There are nighthawks and the robins are talking, as are Two Dot’s two horses. A couple of cars have made their Monday morning commute out on the highway. But the real sound is the buzz of expectation around the studio.

6.8.2013… half cloud cover, moderate wind, slight rain

At 6 exactly my room lit up with the brilliant sideways light that only comes from under a hood of dark clouds. The sun slipped through an open sliver at the horizon, everything above polished purple blue. The light is clear, like water and diamonds, like crackling cellophane wadded and shimmering. I compulsively grabbed my camera and clicked photos all the way around the schoolhouse. Thankfully no one was out to see me in my pajamas and wild hair.

6.7.2013… quarter cloud cover, no wind or rain

I herded Brian out into the yard last night to see the stars before he leaves Two Dot. The sky was deeply clear and endless, the stars more than plentiful. It is a sight that always shocks me into a different perspective; something like defibrillator paddles to the chest.


“…no ideas but in things…” William Carlos Williams said this long ago of his interest in deep observation and ties to locality. I am in his debt without having known his work until now.

6.5.2013... no cloud cover, no wind, no rain

I can barely write for the sun in my eyes. My mood has escalated in the few short minutes of the sun's rising. All I can hear are the birds and my own blood pulsing. It is still early, but warm enough to sit outside, a blanket around my shoulders and just a little chill on my bare feet. I sit still and the birds are taking no notice of me: warblers flitting from chokecherry to gooseberry, robins diving from the cottonwood to the wet grass looking for worms, magpies scolding from a distance. Small black birds cruise by as if this were a highway and more robins fly from across the road straight for the cottonwood, adeptly finding a perch. I am just another creature in the yard.

6.4.2013... nearly full cloud cover, no wind or rain

No dramatic sunrise to wake me by penetrating my eyelids. The sky remains overcast, but it is not dense or heavy... more like a Dutch landscape painting with many variations of gray. This connection to others who have watched and put to paper what happens on either side of the horizon line is an inspiration in itself.

6.3.2013... half clouds, slight wind, no rain

John is in Seattle and Brian Kennedy is in the second studio. As happens with visitors and guest artists, I stay up later and drink more. It’s not all bad. The conversation is fabulous. There is camaraderie and inspiration. Not bad at all. But I miss waking up early. Yesterday and today the sun rose behind clouds and didn’t act as an alarm clock.

6.2.2013... total cloud cover, heavy rain

I drove John to the airport in Bozeman. I will miss him. We’d started to find our Two Dot rhythm. It takes a few days, but when found is sweet. I drove back over Bridger Pass with windshield wipers constantly scraping rain from the glass and revealing glittering color saturated vegetation. Deep deep green pines, spring green grass and yellow flowers. The peaks were slate blue with some remaining white white snow. It is such a quick climb from the city to the mountain and I was completely over the pass in 30 minutes. As you drop down, the vegetation changes to pastoral. Pines give way to poplars and willow thickets… some aspen, and that gives up to rolling grasses. My wipers kept working at the rain; each swipe revealing another clearly focused picture-ready composition. I know others have their eyes to the rain with different markers in mind, but for me in this moment of transition to my independent time in the schoolhouse, the rain brings a measure of beauty that sooths and sustains.

6.1.2013... quarter clouds, no wind, no rain

Days of fierce wind have kept our windows closed and the birds fairly quiet. I’ve been reading Wim Wenders’ Once and found myself looking up all the names he’s dropped… slowly shutting down to the world around me. But today I woke to a sunrise and nearly blue skies. I opened the windows and was rewarded with the usual birds who brought me back to where I am. John sited a mourning dove. I understand they are common, but I have never seen one before. I confirmed them in the bird book and ran across these prose…

Two white eggs in a loosely constructed twig nest

built on the limb of a tree, low in a bush, or on the ground.

Both parents feed their young milk secreted from their crop.

Breeding season starts early and continues to mid September.

Up to four nestings a year maintain their numbers,

even though they are hunted extensively.

5.31.2013... moderate to heavy wind, no rain

There is a bit of definition in the clouds today, the sun’s location visible by it’s searing light through a thinner layer of clouds. It is a relief after two days of a gray dome. Regardless, there were pleasures. A pair of sandhill cranes foraged in the neighboring field close enough to see without field glasses. Their sinuous necks and slender delicate legs hold nearly egg shaped bodies colored a rich red brown with accent colors of white, black and red around the head confirming their royal strut. But when the cranes faced east, the wind picked up the feathers on their backs giving them a punkish spike.


Several days ago we noticed a prong-horned antelope lying still for hours in the field. Today I watched her eating for a while but not straying far and I got suspicions. Eventually a fawn got up wobbling around its mother’s legs. She spent time grooming it, at one point knocking it over, but it popped back up with the resilience of youth. In the evening, deer grazed near by… a peaceable kingdom, at least until hunting season.

5.29.2013... completely overcast, light rain

The road is puddled and slick from a night of rain. Richard will report in tenths of inches, but the standing water is confirmation. Without a dramatic sunrise I slept till 7. The sleep was delicious with restful dreams, a relief after two nights of turmoil. Transition always asks its due. It doesn’t matter if you are moving toward your hearts desire; a toll is paid. I paid in dreams of tidal waves and firings and everything turning its back on me, but now I think my balance sheet is level and I am truly here.

5.28.2013... few clouds, no wind

I woke suddenly at 5:40. The room was deep in orange light. Dreams shed from my face, my shoulders, my consciousness… the sun purging all that is unsavory in the moment of its arrival. The valley has been short on rain, but yesterday’s 3 maybe 4 tenths of an inch made a difference… paid the price, if you will, for this glorious light.

5.27.2013... half cloud cover, no wind

At 5:15 I propped myself up in bed to watch the sunrise, John lying beside me sensibly still sleeping. Deer were out eating my rose bushes at first light. They are gentle and sweet, but I am getting a fence. As the sky lightened they moved on, but the birds remained: meadowlarks and other chirrups that I don’t know. The sky is less pink now, the clouds less dark and everything is getting brighter. There is the sun at 5:40, a sliver to a ball in less than a minute and me blinded and writing by feel. A mourning dove calls out the beginning of the day. Horses, new in town, whinny and geese honk their way into the air. I suspect they all know not to look into the center of the sun as I have. I may see pink spots all day.

5.26.2013... overcast, warm, no wind

First full day in the schoolhouse. We are opening it for the season. I woke at 6:30, late with less than a month to go before the summer solstice. The sun had already climbed from the horizon. There is very little noise other than the layering of birds, insects, and the occasional car on the highway. We are happy. The next few days will be spent cleaning and finding our bearings. Last nights arrival wasn’t too difficult. The new water pipe we laid last September provided extra water pressure and surprised some of our pipes, but the water was contained to the furnace room. Only a minor hitch.