driving home

9:51am Mountain Time, Highway 90

We just discovered that the Clark Fork River flows west from Missoula, toward the mountains, seemingly uphill. At St Regis it turns north toward Flat Head Lake, as if changing its mind or recognizing its folly. We on the other hand, labor up and over the mountain, deepening the groove between our two homes. For now Montana will have to wait, but this homeward trip will be reversed in June. Always driving home, be it one or the other.



The sun is squarely framed in the window across from where I am sitting. It is bright white and illuminates fields dusted with last night’s snow. This reporting of the condition of the day serves as a beginning, a connection to my surroundings. When I look up again, the wind is blowing round the house lifting ice crystals into a flurry with sunlight reflecting off each facet. The empty air is electrified with glitter, as if to say the emptiness is not just important, it is not empty.
When I picked up this book to write, I was thinking of the repetition of practice, of the things that connect me to this place, to my day and to those I reach out to. I have been reading about Robert Irwin, who said “as an artist the one true inquiry of art as a pure subject is an inquiry of our potential to know the world around us and truly being in it.” In that Irwin draws no hard lines between himself and his audience, this may be a broad imperative. I am remembering Russell Rowland’s idea being a westerner; recognizing the desire to connect with whatever place you are in. Are being an artist, an art audience, and a westerner, the same? Is my desire to take note of the sun’s position throughout the day part of “knowing” where I am?
I chase light through the house, from window to window, recording its angle and intensity with leftover coffee and the sumi ink I drove 80 miles to get just because it is so lovely on the page. Is this being an artist? A westerner?
I had planned to record resent events: a visit from Stevie and the kids, John’s progress tiling the guest bathroom shower, brisk walks to the post office, short chats with Anne the post mistress, and Judy ever present in the post office, the rabbits in the yard, the deer in the field, the antler I found that was shed this winter in our croquet field, a pheasant strolling in the neighbors grass. These small moments in each day build connection, but just now I am dazzled by the whiteness of the morning and sunlight has just sliced in through the windows. It is time for work.


an observation

We wake up later in March. A small hill to the east prolongs the sun’s rising even more than daylight savings time. It should be up in another 15 minutes. I woke up at 6:30. The stars had dimmed to Seattle brightness, only a hint of their Two Dot nightlife. Around 7 there was an intense crimson pre-dawn strip and I am now waiting for the sun itself. Last night at a reading in Harlo, Russell Rowland said that what defines him as a westerner is a strong desire to make a connection with wherever he is. He went on to say that Eastern Montana requires a closer looking to be appreciated. Looking closely is what we do here.
Mac White’s field is filled with white-tailed deer this morning. I counted 23 through my field glasses. The deer’s coats are the color of dry winter grass. It is the white under their tails that gives them away. Last night on our way home, two whitetails came up from the side of the road. John slowed and swerved, but one still hit the car. It seemed they could not stop their trajectory once begun. John wanted to turn around, but of course there was nothing to be done. He pulled over and a car sped past, clearly the deer was not dead or dying in the road. She was either mortally injured in the ditch or bruised and battered with an uncertain future. I want to go back and look, like picking a scab. I know there are too many whitetails, that they are overtaking Mule deer habitat, but I don’t want to be responsible for injury or death. And yet, we set the mousetraps and swat the flies. I guess observation extends to recognizing our own place and impact.
The ranch is deep into calving. We went out our first evening here to watch Maggie, the Border collie work the expecting cows into the corral for the night. She is getting older, but still loves to work, controlling the much larger animals with eye contact. She is in charge in the field, but once they’re in the corrals she knows to stay out. Richard claims that Maggie has a relationship with each one. He described them lining up at the fence for her to lick each nose. We didn’t see it then. Were the cows too preoccupied with their forthcoming deliveries? Two calves were born that evening while we were in the house at happy hour. We got back maybe 10-15 minutes after they arrived. Richard had warned us, “If you stay and watch it will take hours and if you go to happy hour they’ll already be delivered when you get back.” We did watch as the calves struggled to stand. They need to suck in the first hour before the cow’s colostrum turns to milk. One of the calves had a difficult time, once up she listed and tipped straight over sideways. Funny at the moment, but later we learned the calf had weak joints that needed to be splint. It took a day of working with the calf and feeding by hand to get it on its feet and sucking. Now it is honorifically called “Splint.” Other calves have not overcome their difficulties: one squashed by an adult, others to weak to survive. Richard calls this ranching. Do ranchers harden themselves to these tragedies and losses, or is hardening not required? Is it just a different outlook? This callousness is matched by respect for the animals. It is calming to watch Richard move through his cows wearing the colors of the landscape, nearly silent, only slight movements of his arms directing traffic, singling out those that are “ringing their tails” with the labor of delivery.
Now at 8:30 the sun is beyond the window casing. I am sure the ranch has been active for hours. Jay has gone home from the night shift and new calves have been counted. The white tails in Mac White’s field have retreated to the scrub along the river and I have enough light to begin working.

Two Dot Spot Project #2: as the world turns

6.17.09 6:03am I was awake briefly at 5 to see a bright red pre-dawn strip on the horizon and to hear the densest layers of birdcalls. I know the western meadowlark, the magpies, and the sand-hill cranes, but there are many others I don’t yet know.

6.22.09 8:09am Following patches of light through stencils across the wall and then across the tabletop, my work has begun. It is a game to see how much I can get down before cloud-cover stops me or the sun moves beyond the window frame. I mailed three postcards today.

6.27.09 5:38am The sun broke the horizon just a few minutes ago and now at 5:42 it is behind a low grey cloud. Will there be enough light for me to work today? Yesterday was gray most of the day. I only managed two postcards and I mourn the loss of 6.26.09 on my large paper…but 7 is a beautiful number. Maybe these clouds will give. The meadowlarks are singing, perhaps declaiming the day.

7.7.09 7:30am A look at the clock each morning notes the start of the day, but the rising and the setting of the sun determine waking and sleeping. I finished a second large drawing yesterday.

8.7.09 6:07am Eyes on my wall, I am waiting for the sun to clear a last cloud. Each date working with the sun is marked. The absence of the sun marked with the absence of a date. I mailed five postcards today.

8.10.09 6:16am The days are shortening and our Two Dot summer is ending. It is amazing how fast the sun moves. In 10 minutes it has doubled its distance from the horizon and now there are two pink squares on my working wall, one at each end. In the beginning of the summer, the west square began in the middle of my wall, now it starts at the edge. The light is moving so quickly I will need to get up soon to finish the last large drawing. All summer I’ve worked with the movement of the earth as a locater and marker of time. Yet I continue to refer to the sun’s movement. It is hard to wrap my mind around the idea of the ground under my feet moving, yet it is in constant motion…Terra Firma…the solidness we depend on hurling through our universe. Nothing…nothing is as it seems.