The sun is fully rising in the second window now and it is time to go back to our other home in Seattle. It is a departure that always aches, but it is an ache of privilege, one that comes from opportunity. We are so lucky to retreat to the high plains and surround ourselves with Rocky Mountain ranges each summer. The intent si to accomplish much, and at the end of summer it would be easy to see what wasn’t done, but in the end it would be enough to watch the sun rise and set, to listen to the birds, and to allow our heads to clear. The wind blew all day. It seemed to mark a shift in seasons, probably because it is our shift in seasons. But the freshness of moving air is welcome as we sweep out the summer and prepare the schoolhouse for winter.
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
Our end-of-summer picnic took most of the day. We hiked down to Daisy Park from the forest service road through un-tampered forest. Half way down we discovered the first strawberry, tiny and brilliant red nearly hidden under green leaves. Soon we were all on hands and knees collecting the tiny sweet bites. They had no relationship to the gigantic berries in plastic clam shells that we get at the store. The park was thick with waist high timothy grass and Daisy Dean creek ran through the middle with pines and firs shading its banks. Daisy Peak frames one side of the park and Daisy Notch the other. It was my first time to the Park. I’ve heard of it many times from sheep trailing days, but I never realized it was so easy to get to. So many places here in Montana are part of family legend and have seemed mysterious and far away. As I finally go to them I’ve discovered them to more than warrent the stories that have been told about them over and over.
Our sleep was interrupted abruptly last night by an animal sound that wasn’t immediately recognizable as mammal or fowl. It was both bark and squawk and seemed to be right under our window. I lifted the lightness of my comforter swinging my legs over the edge of the bed with great care setting my feet softly on the carpet. The squawking kept up. It sounded like I could reach out and touch it, but I was nothing. So I moved through the house as stealthily as I knew how to another window. And while I could not see it, it much have seen me. It cleared out with three recognizable and telltale hoots; a great gray owl nearly in our bedroom. The summer began and ended with owls; fledgling great horned owls to start and now a great gray to finish.
Richard led the string of 4 wheelers up the familiar road. I have been making my way to Daisy Peak for nearly 20 years, but for my cousins Daisy has been their back yard where they’ve trailed sheep and hunted. Now we visit my dad’s marker at the top. It was Dad’s wish to finally rest on Daisy Peak that brought me to this place and the generosity of my cousins that has bound me to it. Richard stopped at all the old spots: throughways for trailing sheep, parks for letting them graze, meeting places for supply drop offs, and the traditional family picnic spot in a stand of old growth evergreens that was spared in the 1909-10 fire. We didn’t picnic there this time. I was anxious to get the to top, but of course we should have. It was cool and perfectly suited.
It is a rough ride to Daisy Peak. Each year the road is a little harder to pass. We took the ranch 4 wheelers up this year, picking our way over endless rocks and scree. The rough ride pays back in views and clean air. Each successive range lightens in the atmosphere just like the art books say it should. There is also the sharp smells of grass and pines that cannot be matched by anything labeled fresh scent. It is a pilgrimage with effort and reward.
Elements of every variety are having an impact on the progress of Flat Fall. The wood disks were cut, sanded, and beautifully stacked inside, but they were too wet and the auditorium too cool causing them to mold. Anyone cutting firewood could have foreseen that, but we did not. So we took all the disks back outside to let the sun kill the mold spores, but rain got in the way. The disks had to be handled with care again getting tucked under the eaves and covered. On and off they have been covered and exposed depending on the weather. But today was bright, the birds sang, the mold was dry and we began a second sanding. What is often considered firewood has been handled into something else here in the schoolhouse. Eventually all the disks will assemble again into a flat version of the grand limb that once shaded the front yard. The wood will not warm us in winter, but it will remind us of the pleasures of summer.
Sitting next to West Red Lodge Creek, just inside the Custer National Forest, right up next to the Beartooth Wilderness, John was by my side, the beer was very cold, the creek very clear and it was welcome to be still after a demanding drive. I don’t know what gave the Beartooth Highway its name, but my teeth were clenched as we switched back and forth up more than 5,000 feet. I had to remind myself out loud to breath as the car pointed again and again into the void. Spectacular views were sometimes second to spectacular fear until we reached the top and walked through delicate tundra staying clear of knee buckling edges. Later we discovered the Chief Joseph Highway to be fairly tame with shoulders rolling rather than dropping off. Still spectacular rock faces thrust out of the earth reminding me more introspectively of the volatile nature of the planet. The ground we walk on has not always been as it is and it will not always remain so.
Last night I slept alone in the schoolhouse for the last time this year. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I stepped outside to see the stars. I could hear the river from across the field as it can be heard only at night. It anchored me to this very specific location. The Milky Way arched protectively over the house securing our galaxy within the vastness of space. The Milky Way is so immense we can both see it and be in it. It is a unique position, observation and experience at once. I am sixty-one years old today here not far from the Musselshell River in central Montana on planet earth, circling our star within the Milky Way galaxy which swirls beautifully in the universe.
When I ambled about the house in the night, stars filled every window and this morning the sun broke over the horizon without hindrance. It lightened my mood after yesterday’s gloom. I am so dependent on my environment for wellbeing. After wiping dew from the lawn chair, I sat in front o f the schoolhouse listening to birds, some morning traffic on the highway, and the faint churn of new wind machines on John Whelan’s ranch. The wind farm is part of the landscape now and not unwelcome. Wind power is progress, though yet to be fully determined if it is a real solution. Things begin as progress, but sometimes don’t prove to be progressive; that is if the idea of progress is to advance the well being of the planet.
It felt like I was in the house all day, though I really wasn’t. Perhaps it is because I have been stuck inside myself. I raised my hand in greeting three times today when cars passed the schoolhouse. Jerry passed by first on his mid-afternoon rounds, then the Wheatland County Sheriff who has recently been circling the town almost daily, and finally a stranger in a blue sedan. These were my contacts and I was counting them! It rained most of last night and morning. The distance remained hazy all day. I felt hemmed in even in my beloved Montana landscape. I can recall winter days when I longed for a stretch of time alone, but I don’t feel that now. Even so… I choose here and the simple clean shock of time with myself.
The sun crossed the horizon this morning at 6:10. It hugs the edge of the first window now, just as I am beginning to hug the edge of summer. The meadowlarks are gone, but Sandhill cranes continue to call from the river, and flickers checkout the cottonwood tree and the flagpole in the yard. When I am alone like this I both revel in my surroundings and wonder why I am here on my own. It puts me in mind of so many before me who have spent time alone with their surroundings in Montana. Hollywood nearly wiped out the loneliness of that venture, but I suspect it was real.
I know the West is changing. I know there are many who mourn the losses and I don’t deny that there are losses: billboards obscuring mountain views, ranches parceled into suburbs, fences stopping short any free-range, chemically dead fields. These things and many more are distressing, but they are not the whole story. The West has always been subject to romanticism and then nostalgia. Neither one is particularly true. It is Montana’s current reality that I am interested in, a reality that is built on the past and looks toward the future, but lives in today. What is here to be appreciated? What is problematic? What can be created?
Karen Land about story and story telling, about the potential difference between fact and truth, and about the expectation for well told stories here in rural Montana. Mary Clearman Blew refers to the idea of a “Western” story when she recounts an often-told tale of a historic encounter between two locals. She suspects the story has been embroidered. I can only think that means it is stitched with care.
August is a melancholy month in the sweetest form of melancholy. It is such a warm and bright and lovely month, but I begin to feel summer's edges and know I am approaching its end. It is a challenge to hold the enjoyment and knowledge of its loss at the same time, but it is what we must do all through our lives.