"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.