Tuesday, September 27, 2011


"This is not your country."  The words arrived in my head so unexpectedly and with such ferocity I had to sit up and take notice of them.
This thought came to me on a routine drive from Oroville to Tonasket, a few miles to the South.  I had been scanning the landscape lazily, as I always do, for wildlife or features I hadn't noticed before, but now I felt I had to take a deeper look to figure out why my mind was booting me out of my comfort zone .
The road falls in between low mountains, naked of trees at this level, but beautiful in the detail of the rocks.  I have grown to appreciate their bare bones - being able to see every crevice, rock formation and contour instead of imagining these through a layer of trees.  They are not dissimilar to Scottish hills, only covered with sage rather than heather and soaked with sun rather than rain.  Every crack and shadow highlightly starkly by its brilliance.
Then I realised it was the sun that was disturbing me, it dominates everything here for much of the year and has control of the landcape.  Twice in the past two weeks I have watched wildfires burning, one only a few miles from our house.  Seeing smoke as I came down the mountainside I thought: "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."
And yet while the sun dominates - perhaps because of this, I always back the underdog - I have been completely drawn instead to the night skies.
Since Montana has already taken the obvious moniker I have named this place "Biggish Sky Country" and after dark it really comes into its own.  It feels like you can see every star there has ever been and the Milky Way is like a highway driving through them.  Shooting stars and satellites appear almost every night, making the sky is alive.  Once we were trying to figure out what the glow on the horizon could be only to discover the Northern Lights were particularly active that night. 
There is not one dot of light pollution here.
And the full moon, oh words can't do her justice.  I've always appreciated the harvest moon, but here she hangs huge, pregnant and orange just over the mountains.  I am woken up in the early hours by her brilliance shining like a flashlight through the window.  I can't take my eyes off her when she is like this.
Now, although the days are still warm, the nights are getting cold this high up the mountain and we recently slept out under the stars for the last time this year.  My boys stayed awake for ages watching 'sky TV'.  But I fell immediately into a comforted sleep only to be woken by the coyotes howling at dawn.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The End

Belle's life was ended by a vet she had never met, in a small town where noone knew her name, surrounded by an unfamiliar landscape she didn't get the chance to explore.  She was old, in pain and ready to go.  I, on the other hand, being human and selfish was not ready to let go of her and felt that the breath had been sucked from me and my heart would burst from my throat.
The other dogs viewed her body, sniffed and moved on.  Her son, Bug, rolled on his back for a belly rub.  They accepted the change from life to death instinctively and without grief - maybe they know something I don't.
Change is hard for me.  Which is an odd one as my husband Steve and I have forced change on ourselves from the time we met.  We have constantly been reshaping our lives, moving, making plans.  All of which seem to be leading somewhere we don't yet know - that place where we can say: "Yes, this is where I want to live out my days, this is where I want to be put in the ground at the end of it. This is home."
Putting Belle in the ground on the 20 acres of Okanogan Highlands that we have just moved to was unsettling to me.  Being from Scotland, and having lived in rainy western Washington state for the past four years I am finding the beautiful, remote mountainside we are living on so different than what I am used to.  The heat, the dry grasses and the thin film of dust which covers us, our two boys and all the animals isn't what I'm used to and I have not embraced these things yet.  The crickets drowning out the sound of the birds unnerves me. When we first arrived I dismissed the soil as too thin and rocky to suppport a vegetable garden.  I'm not sure this is where we are meant to end up and if we do move Belle won't be coming with us and we won't have her grave to sit next to or be able to press our hands into the dirt above her as if we could still pat her.
But when we dug down to bury her, I realised the soil was deeper and more fertile than I had believed.  Maybe something will take root here.
Time will tell.
I feel disoriented without my companion for the past thirteen years.  But I believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe she is teaching me that the only way to know you are found, that you have ended up in life exactly where you are supposed to be - is to first get completely lost.