Three little boys are circling the schoolhouse, one with a walking stick, one on a little bike, and one directing the other’s traffic. They are free to roam Two Dot as I was free to roam Milton in the 1950's. There seems to be no need for supervision, for crossing guards, for planned activities, for door locks, for alarm systems, or for turn signals.
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
I just finished Mack Reynolds’ Ultima Thule, a futuristic account of interplanetary exploration/occupation. In the story, groups go out with their ideals, take a planet for their own, and endeavor to live within their belief system. They are all looking for the Ultima Thule, that place beyond what is known, with a desire to attain “unattainable” goals. It is westward expansion on a different playing field. No matter what the frontier, no matter what the goal, both are bound to be altered, subverted, evolved, and ultimately unrecognizable.
Language is how we move from private silence to shared story. – Mary Clearman Blew The elastic of separations and reunions have become like stretching muscles making my relationship supple and strong. We each experience things , we tell each other the stories, we work to make the telling good. And thus we stay together even when we are apart.
I drove home from the airport on two hours of freeway, highway, and dirt road. John was back in Seattle before I arrived. The schoolhouse unbelievably quiet; two plates and two coffee cups in the dish drainer made me catch my breath. Ten days before both cups are needed again. Wake up and good night phone calls will have to do… forty-two years of spark.
I am still thinking about Isbell’s lyrics. Like all country songs he writes of love and heartache, trouble and redemption… of finding a night’s peace in someone’s arms. But he also writes about personal responsibility when he sings; And the story’s only mine to live and die with / And the answer’s only mine to come across. Sometimes it takes a good country song to easily spell out the simple truth.
Waking up in the Red Ants Pants Music Festival Colony after last night’s Jason Isbell set I am still thinking about the clean cut “boy” from Alabama singing about things that are not always so innocent. Time went by and I left and I left again / Jesus loves a sinner, but the highway loves a sin / My Daddy told me I believe he told me true / That the right thing is always the hardest thing to do.
Cashen and Sabin flew home yesterday. I stood at the gate and cried even though I was ready for them to go. Sometimes tears just show up. They show up because I love my grandsons, because John is leaving for Seattle in a few days, because I am tired, because it was a long hard year at work and because in this very moment the sky is impossibly blue. I am not ashamed.
One thin snake of mist was winding through the field when I woke. It slipped across the mowed hay, disappearing as it went. It was very tempting to animate it with mischief. Perhaps I am inspired by Cashen and Sabin’s world where fantasy and Montana fluidly meet.
Each day is a whirlwind where sticks become swords, negotiations for screen time are serious business, and the boys find their way into some of the wonders of Montana. Yesterday we hiked the Daisy Narrows with Alicia and her grandson, Audun. The three boys talked all at once while playing the same fantasy game as we walked down the trail. After lunch we dipped feet into the icy water, making our way through the narrows. At the end the boys built a dam across the creek, watching the water rise. How many children or adults have done this? I know I’ve been seduced by moving water and the building potential of rocks. The immediacy and concreteness of the task pulled the boys from their fantasies into a world of physics and beauty. Then Cashen called out in a sci-fi voice THE ROCK OF WISDOM as he identified the rock they used to measure how high the water was getting behind the dam. Three grandparents sat on the shore and laughed; maybe fantasy and reality are not so far apart.
John and Cashen are going to fix the lawn mover. The belt is broken and it only mows in reverse. It is a funny picture, someone backing their way around the lawn. We laugh about it while the mower stands idle and the grass grows. All the ranchers are cutting, swathing, bailing and stacking daily. They regularly fix machinery with bailing wire and ingenuity, while we wait for a part to be delivered to Napa.
The river is a live thing…. moving logs and islands and rearranging its banks during flood times. When it finally settles and gets low enough, you have to check to see if the swimming holes have moved to another part of the river. Swimming is a loose term for small rivers where the depth can change in a few steps from inches to feet. Swimming can mean wading to cool yourself from the summer heat, floating in the rapids for 30 or 40 yards, or sliding over a tiny waterfall into a pool as 8 year old Sabin did over and over, laughing every time.
Waking up in Two Dot again, it was as quiet and still as cut hay. We got in late last night with our two oldest grandsons. Driving down the dirt county road with no other lights in sight, Cashen was unnerved by remoteness. But when he opened his window and looked up he sighed, “The stars are so beautiful.” He couldn’t stop saying it. He had never been up so late, and out so far, and up so high. I’d been in Seattle for a week hanging out with friends and family realizing I do love Seattle summer. Wishing for a camping trip and maybe a chance to see the ocean, I wondered why we give ourselves over to Montana. But one waking moment in brilliant morning light coupled with one star lit sky and a little boy’s wonder reminded me why we are here.
On finishing Erdrich’s book I looked back at the pages with turned corners where there was something to reconsider. First, “I remember my great grand mother… when she had aged past the reaches of her own mind.” If I age past the reaches of my own mind, will I be agitated about it. What part of the mind remains to worry about what is lost? And then I found this; “…over the years I have acquired and reshuffled my beliefs and doubts about whether we live on after death in any shape beyond the molecular level…” We all spend time considering the urge to not end at the end of our lives. And yet, if it is all over with the last breath, if nothing remains to consider what is lost, where is the losing? While re-reading, I began to feel tension at the back of my eyes. Tears? Perhaps it was just the fact that I am leaving Two Dot for 7 days, which is a reminder that in a month I will leave it for the long winter of work in Seattle. What would it be like to have these long days never ending? To have time where I didn’t consider losing time?
Morgane Rae is here this week helping me with Flat Fall. She is the perfect assistant: meticulous, hard working, and a pleasure to be with. We’ve both learned to use a chainsaw and she is sanding day and night. I fear for her shoulder, but her stamina reminds me moment by moment that I am sixty and she is a strong 21. Last night we had help getting the downed limb completely to the ground from the Knudsons, father and son. They are the best combination of knowledgeable and game for anything. The process involved a pickup and a winch (which I keep calling a wench), some speculation and crossed fingers, and a little crashing and rolling. We were all covered in sawdust, mosquito repellant, sweat, Dorito dust, and more than a few mosquito bites.
Just like the rabbit behind the house, I sought shade the width of my body. It was the last afternoon of my fallen tree. We strip it to bare bones bit by bit until all that was left was the long forked line of its trunk. I laid down in its shadow with the wind blowing and the tree creaking. How much warning would it give if it were to fall? I didn’t like the risk of it and yet I did. It was a way to be united with the tree. If it failed, I would fail too. While I lay there, a robin flew onto the long arching trunk. It didn’t seem to notice me. Perhaps we were one… my tree and I.
The crook of this tree held me as if it were made for my body. Tomorrow we will cut it up. It can’t stay precariously connected to the main tree forever. I’ve heard it creaking in a mild wind, something stronger could bring it crashing down. So I had a last nap in my tree. I had my picture taken in it. I made a drawing of it and I took some movies. I’ve been holding on in every way I can. The cutting is necessary, but it is exceedingly melancholy. The fallen tree and its masterful variations from black to gray to white bark, its bits of green still surviving from moisture left in the massive limb; is a beauty. I’ve cherished her over these last weeks, even as we have made her smaller and smaller. Oh dear tree how I will miss you.
I sat outside long enough and still enough that the robins flew near my head. They were interested in the gooseberries on the bush that grows from a crack between the sidewalk and the house. The roots threaten the foundation, but I can’t bear to remove the bush. One bird plucked a berry, but in nervous bird habit, let it roll to the sidewalk. It was another that gulped the berry whole. At the same time a woodpecker searched for food in the cottonwood. It was hard to see it in the shade of leaves. I had to stealthily circle around to see its markings. It is probably a Downy Woodpecker. At first it pecked slowly, then broke into its hammer like drilling. I wonder at a life made of the constant search for food and how it compares to my constant search for meaning?
The sun still rises in my first window and is visible from my bed when I wake. I’ve not sat here in the morning for a while, late nights preventing me from waking early. But my routine is coming back to me now that all the visitors have gone. I have begun to work the tree with Morgane Rae, a former student and new peer…transition, full of possibilities.
The visitors have begun to leave. There are planes to catch and work to return to. Everyone is saying goodbye in their own way. Rita, Asmund and Rikke blazed away after the bonfire with their new Wylie CD yodeling from the car window, but not before Rita cried her goodbyes to everyone. I felt as if I’d know her forever. Erik and Kirby left looking designer great in tie and sport coat, but without Erik’s drivers license. And I hear Greg, Jennifer and Campbell drove down the dirt road with Campbell declaring from the window that she is a “Montana Girl!” I will take John to the airport in Bozeman and sleepily say my goodbyes at five tomorrow morning. We will talk everyday and I will see him in a week, but it is hard to have him go. Being together with friends and family and lovers is always marked and accounted by separating. It is what makes us realize how fond we are.
This week is marked not by escape, but by proximity and gathering of family. It is different for its bunching up of people: family who are dear and longed for and family who are new. I learn the name of a new boyfriend and the partner of a niece of cousin’s wives, as well as the particular names of the beloved Norwegian relatives. We exchange stories some, related to our collective Montana experiences and some about the lives we have set aside to be here. We also play games and hike and cook and mostly don’t worry about who or what we are when we are not here.