Photography And Half-Thoughts By Mitchell Hegman

...because some of it is pretty and some of it is not.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Generator Floor (Holter Dam)

Nicola Tesla, while walking home one evening as the orange sun was sliding down against the purpled earth, suddenly envisioned magnetic poles fixed around the fiery orb--three electrically pulsating phases to be exact--creating a rotating magnetic field around the sun. But not the sun...imagine, instead, the rotor of a motor now grasped and spun by the spinning magnetic field. From that very moment, Tesla invented the future. From that instant, at the close of the 1800's, emerged the AC generators we use today, induction motors, transformers, and our AC power grid. From that sharp moment of insight, Tesla led all of us into the modern era. How is it that he has been forgotten?

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, December 20, 2010

Again, I Dream of Fish

My mother painted the walls of her bedroom flat black and closed the curtains so not the thinnest sliver of light might slice against the bed or dressers or walls. My father, late one evening, tried to suicide himself in that same black room. Drunk to the point of appearing liquefied, my father aimed the rifle at his own head, wobbled there for a second or two and pulled the trigger. The jacketed round barely grazed his forehead and then ripped through the ceiling and roof of our house before escaping into the starry night.

I dream of fish now—not this instant—but in general. When I remember a dream, when I crash awake from one, almost always, fishes of some kind have been there with me. I recall one dream in which fish swam back and forth under by bedding as I lay there. I first noticed them as bumps graphing delicately arcs under the blankets all around my feet and legs. When lifted my bedding and peered down there, I saw five sleek, neon rainbow trout swirling about. And when I came awake, folded into my blankets exactly as I had been in my dream, I felt cheated that the trout were not really there. Now—this instant—I am very much awake. My mother is twenty-five years gone. My father fifteen. Outside, magpies are to snow and sky what trout are to stony bottom and water.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Entry from My 1999 Journal

One of my coworkers, Gene, is a big stout fellow. When really concentrating on something, a kind of scowl develops on his face. He can appear a bit angry and intimidating at such times. But Gene is a gentle and gregarious and thoughtful and exceptionally intelligent man. Once he starts talking, his keen sense of humor and broad list of interests are enough to disarm anyone. Women love him. After working only two weeks with the Wal-Mart night crew, he had what other electricians began calling ‘Geno’s harem’. A regular fan club. A few weeks ago, Gene shaved all the hair off his head—a look that exaggerated his already deterring first impression. The other day, while dressed in his grubby work bibs and poking around the main floor of Wal-Mart, searching to retrieve a misplaced pair of pliers, a middle-aged woman walked up to him and got right in his face immediately.
“So you’re one of those!” she said, grimacing.
“You’re one of those.”
“One of those...what? Why are you talking to me?”
“One of those white supremacists,” She blurted. She strutted off down the aisle in conclusion.
The episode rattled poor Gene at first. By the time he stood before me, telling me the details, he’d found the lost pliers and his shock had turned to disbelief trying to convince rage to run for president. He squints when disturbed. He was squinting.
“What got her started?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I’m just minding my own business, working, and she strolls up and starts in on me. Never seen her before in my life.”
I laughed. “Must be that shiny globular head of yours. And the bibs.”
“People are scary, Mitch.”
“Yeah, they are.”
Sometimes, the littlest thing will set people off. For some reason, Gene’s incident on Wal-Mart’s selling floor brought to mind something that happened in the front yard of my grandparent’s house my sophomore year of highschool. That year, I and a couple other people caught a ride home from school with one of the ranch kids from east of town. He, like most ranch kids, had been given an old car to fix-up long before getting his driver’s license. Most rancher’s kids grow up fast and grow up working. This kid, Rob, knew how weld and twist a wrench and bolt together all manner of broken mechanical contrivances. Rob possessed a stunning intellect as well as phenomenal mechanical skills. Carving and cutting his own parts, he made ships in bottles. He produced his own Indian artifacts—things like bone needles, arrowheads. He enjoyed making all manner of models and miniatures.
Rob enjoyed magic and word games and we often employed spoonerisms in our speaking. For instance, we never said the word ‘before’. Instead, our sentences went like this: “Befive you go, shut that door.” The word ventilator transformed into ventisooner. Stupid stunts were not asinine, they were asiten, perhaps asitwelve if really stupid. As you might guess, a few of Rob’s coils ended up wound a bit too tight. He often tended to over-think his anger and sometimes—in my foreign-born wife’s vernacular—went a little nut.
As I recall that day, Rob and my other pal Roland were wrestling around on the grass. Nothing serious. Just boy stuff. I don’t now recall precisely what unsprung one of the coils in Rob, but something did. Rob, a much bigger person than Roland, flipped Roland off to the side. Roland, seeing the spring slapping the hell out of everything inside Rob as it let loose, scrambled away to a safe distance. Rob flung himself upright, face flushing like a ripening apple. He quickly gauged the distance between he and Roland and then did a funny thing. He stormed out to his car, which he’d left parked just outside the fence on the street. Roland and I assumed he intended to fly off with engine roaring and tires screaming.
Not even close.
Rob, flung open the driver’s door, thrust his arm inside and pulled the keys from the ignition, slammed the door, clomped back to the trunk, heaved it open, reached inside for something.
‘Uh-oh,” Roland emitted.
The two of us made for my Grandparent’s, crooked glassed-in porch. The screen door slapped shut behind us as the two of us pressed our faces against the smudged row of windows level with our heads, looking out to observe history in the making.
Rob rather obsessed about certain ideas and skills he desired to acquire. Enter, stage left, the bullwhip. For the better part of two years, Rob practiced daily with a bullwhip his parents had purchased for him. He became quite skilled—almost proficient enough to turn the pages of a book from across the room. Most of the time, he could perform that trick where you snap cigarette from the lips of someone standing a half-dozen paces away. Not that I would volunteer my lips to prove such.
Pretty easy to guess what Rob removed from the trunk.
Rob unfurled the bullwhip, not bothering to shut the trunk of his old clunker. Lashing out, he cast the whip back and forth like a maniacal fly-fisherman with a fly-rod overjuiced on steroids. Tisnap! Tisnap! He strode back through the gate while conducting the whip high above his head. Tisnap! Tisnap! Once inside the yard, Rob began yelling a really silly thing. “Come out and fight like a man!” Tisnap! Tisnap! “Come out here and fight me like a man, Roland!”
Roland looked over to me. “He can’t be serious.”
I shrugged. “Maybe he is.”
“Do I look stupid? I’m not goin’ out there.”
That’s when we broke into laughter. Our laughter rapidly became entirely intractable. Roland fell back against the wall behind us, spasmodic, rendered to human rubber by the absurdity.
Outside, Rod continued lashing the air with his whip. Tisnap! Tisnap! Tisnap! Tisnap!
Roland and I were fine with riding the bus home from school for the next few weeks.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hunting Season

Yesterday, while floating around in the hot tub outside my back door at 7:30 in the morning, I heard four high-powered rifle shots from the gully just below my house. I suppose that in some places the sound of four shots would rate as pretty alarming. Not here. Not during hunting season. This is the kind of country where the box of a passing pickup might as likely have pairs of legs sticking up as the back of a sofa. This is where your local newspaper might feature a picture of your cousin or neighbor posed with a set of antlers. We eat liver here, and the nuts off bull Herefords. I don't wear a damned thing when I go outside to hot tub--not even when it snows. Sometimes shots are fired.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Sure Sign

Here at the Hegman house, we had our first certain sign of winter. The other day, Uyen let Roxie, one of our cats, out the front door. Roxie padded out and froze to the sidewalk where she sat down.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, November 14, 2010


The Moon, cold love that she is, continues to slowly drift away from the Earth, increasing the space between by something near an inch-and-one-half each year. Consider this, without the Moon’s gravity clasping us, we and our blue planet would soon rotate wildly, wobbling without control as a top spinning down just prior to crashing to the floor and skittering to a stop. Climates here would shift entirely in only years or months—ice ages coming and going with the rapidity of our present seasons.

And if this is not enough change for you, then contemplate our Sun as it gradually consumes itself and fizzles down. Near the end of days, it will reach out, enveloping all of the solar system and the planets still circling as beads swirled in a salad bowl. And the sun will abruptly superheat and consume the plants.

But the Moon is fixed our best dreams, those softly lighted, and others where words come easy and white doves flutter down bearing pure sugar cubes, ours for the taking. She pulls tides over us like blankets. She strolls quietly though the tall trees along the mountains, and yet all the time she plots her eventual departure. The Sun, now bright, but caught in a self-consuming waltz.
We, too, plan our leave. Our strategy is not nearly as inexorable as that of the Sun and Moon and alarmingly recent. With rockets we climb the thin black skies. In the Apollo missions we left at 35,000 feet per second. And we came back again. We must go. We must go because the Moon and the Sun conspire against us, because we cannot stay here forever, because even lowly rock doves scatter as we reach for them.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Election Day

In a few days we will have an opportunity to cast our votes in another election. This has been an ugly election season; one that I fear may even dissuade some from voting. Frankly, I would rather have people vote against everyone and everything I believe in than not vote at all. Few of our privileges are more important than this. It is ugly right now--weedy as hell out there--but remember this: those who vote plant the seeds that become our collective garden. We will most certainly plant a few more weeds again this season. Clearly, some ill-qualified and stupid people are seeking our vote. Hell, I might oblige a couple of them. On occasion, I like to try and throw a lunatic in the mix. I once voted for Ross Perot!

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, October 24, 2010


This life is no dash to bait with seven eels.
I stand solemn as an actuary at an ashen lakeshore,
mercurial water sucking at my feet.
I have put my numbers to water
only to watch them sink.

Someone calls my name, an uncle, I think,
his voice a thread I fail to grasp.
I follow the thread only to find,
deep in the woods,
my rotund neighbor chasing his three boys
and cracking a lampcord whip.
He chides them while they circle,
kicking at his shins.

This life is dirty as any tango
bred in the Argentine ghetto,
the throbbing beat sexual.
I run down the rundown alleyways.
The air stinks of ammonia and booze.
I stand against the shadowy wall with lizards.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Wife's Hair

Your hair is not moral. Your hair is not liquid, not impulsive. But your hair is wicked. Watch how it explores my skin where the ends fall against my shoulder, the muscled crooks. Watch how each strand becomes a great river unfurling over the rolling, sunwash hills. Your hair burns red against my pale, and tickles like the smell of lavender.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Staggering Along the Tracks

I recall from a few years ago the tragic death of a very young mother. We call such episodes untimely and try our best to fashion sense and reason around the sad event. We loathe considering that randomness or the lack of any grand design might account for most wrong and right circumstance. Chance? Dumb luck? That, friends and neighbors, we shall leave behind for dogs and cats. We are of superior stuff. We have invented hundreds of gods and religions and philosophical “isms” in efforts to bring purpose to bear more of the awkward load that seems upon us.
While discussing the passing of this young mother—victim of an annihilating cancer—and lamenting the difficult times ahead for her young husband and small children, the person with whom I was talking remarked: “Well, I guess God had more use for a good mother than we did.”
What logic brings this to our table? Instantly, I thought of three or four families in need of a good mother—including the one just vacated. I call statements such as these half-logics. They leave me a bit cold. Armed with this statement, might we conclude that God required a drunk, and that is why one perished after being struck by a train while staggering along the tracks late at night? Might we conclude that God needed the train filled with hapless souls that plunged down a ravine to their deaths below?

Not that I object entirely to seeking or accepting the possibility of some manner of grand design at work behind the stars shuffling overtop us at night, behind the mathematical cascades knitting things together below the surface of both stone and palm frond. And, perhaps, something bigger knows the value of a ten-year drought. But are we only fooling ourselves to think that a Herford calf born with seven legs and the blind child are anything beyond happenstance?

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, September 26, 2010

That Which Fades, That Which Does Not

That Which Fades, That Which Does Not

That which fades:

Words fade first,
fluting and ephemeral as they escape
a lover’s clement tongue.
Lost in the inattentive mind, rationalized,
they fade until sterile and white
as a surgeon’s cotton.
The watercolor on my wall.
pastoral and warm in the morning,
all three milk cows at the barn,
bleaches to near-white by mid-day
but stands like a blank gravestone all night.

That which does not fade:

The coins in my pocket are polished by use,
mirror faces and facades,
mishandled, misspent,
these are misery’s sharpest scouts.
I lie on my empty bed
and feel the bulk of your memory sagging in beside me
You set the hook with our last kiss.
Can’t you feel me pulling against you?

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Living with Cats

Living with cats, as I do, I sometimes try to see this world from their perspective. I watch the chickadees with bloodlust. I approach water with suspicion. I allow myself to become mesmerized by all manner of spinning and swinging baubles. I play with my food. I struggle only with being as snotty as a cat. I am unwilling to take a swipe at my roommates just because they walk in front of me in the hall or in front of the refrigerator.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stark Realization

I have reached that late stage in life where my shadow precedes me and even my downhill walks are uphill.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, September 5, 2010


The difference between libertarians and anarchists is that anarchists will readily take responsibility for the end results of their movement.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Unwinding Sunlight

Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome, was both inventor and philospher. He was concerned about "sustainability" in our human existence long before anyone else in the world took much notice of such things. He once said something like this: "Fire is sunlight unwinding from logs." That may not be an exact quote, but the beauty of that thought has stuck with me for some thirty years beyond when I first read it. I will not diminish Buckminster Fuller's by trying to distill his life onto my page. But I can tell you this: I always think about Buckminster Fuller when I see solar systems. This week, we installed a 2.6 kW photovoltaic array on the roof of our Montana Electrical JATC training center. The photographs I took have a beauty of their own.

This one if for you, Bucky!

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, August 15, 2010


As I told a friend of mine the other day, if she weren’t so picky about men and insistent that they have front teeth and jobs, she could date more often.

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Single Toad

Something near a year ago I spoke with a biologist involved with management of Lake Helena and the wetlands surrounding. She expressed great concern (if not alarm) in the fact that frogs and toads have all but disappeared from the ecosystem there. I have, in the two preceding sentences flailed about a handful of keywords sure to set fire to any staid conversation these days: wetlands, management, and ecosystem. These words alone are enough to bring forth scoffs and indignity from a fair portion of our polity. In the conservative (political) way of reckoning this sort of problem is imagined. If not imagined, the problem is secondary to considerations of human needs and wealth.
The biologist I talked with, however, put her convictions in this fashion: “This is an indication that something is terribly wrong. They (frogs and toads) are very sensitive to chemicals and changes. Fertilizers, pesticides, and other junk have wiped them out.”

In all the time I have lived out here on the lake, which conjoins with Lake Helena by way of a channel of water that continually smuggles water and fish and an flotsam from Lake Helena and the grasp of streams beyond under the causeway—in all that time I have seen only a single toad. I nearly ran-over the toad as I approached the causeway in my truck one rainy summer night. I stopped dead in the road and allowed the little fellow to cross the pavement as lightning lacerated the flanks of mountains and the postage-stamp homes pasted to the valley floor in the valley west of us. I watched until the toad dissolved in the weedy darkness at the edge of the road.

Driving home from work this afternoon, I got to thinking about the frogs and toads. Not about all the political noise we generate around such “environmental” issues. I see the topic of glaring environmental degradation without much nuance. If we choose to look at this as we look at most everything—that is, by way of God-given superiority and dominion, we can develop and disrupt without conscious, we are limiting our own time here. By hacking away at the environment that sustains us, we become every bit the cartoon character sawing away at the limb that holds us aloft in the tree. No, I thought about the little critters themselves.
A slow bullet is plowing through the reeds to find them. I’m not sure what genetic misdeeds prompt me to worry about songbirds, starving children, murder, and frogs, but I am stuck with it. So, I thought about frogs and toads all the way home. Upon arriving at home, I called my sister Debbie on the cordless and then stepped outside to water the (probably doomed) rosebushes my oldest sister, Connie, and I planted a few weeks ago.

Grim news. Connie, who has been feeling ill for sometime, went to a doctor for an array of tests, including bloodwork. The doctor discovered a whacked blood-count, one that might be an indicator of cancer. That is our family’s own brand of slow bullet. Cancer has marauded us generation after generation. But further tests and x-rays found nothing. The bullet still tumbling at us through the weeds.

Hose in hand, I plodded toward the rosebushes as Debbie informed me that the doctor opted to put Connie on an anti-biotic, thinking her low count may be the result of some unnamed low-grade infection. For now, back to the worry and wait game. I splashed water against the bushes and dry ground as Debbie explained the obvious implications of my oldest sister’s illness...she and Connie had just finished a two-hour conversation. And, yet, this could be nothing more than a cold with legs.
Phone in one hand, hose in the other, I swung around to another doomed rose bush and flung a stream of water down over the trimmed branches. Something camouflage and fist-sized shifted position within the layer of bark Connie and I scattered around the base of the roses.

A toad!

After fretting about them for most of my drive home, I find one here at my house in the faraway sagebrush hills above the lake. How do I account for that?

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Damned Ravens. All day they crash up against the milky sky. Now the whole western horizon is bruised with the blue-black of rainless clouds. Ravens are not intelligent. They believe, for example, that we have a second moon, one that floats around us under the surface of the ocean. A stupid idea. And how do you account for their loitering along the highways and pecking at apple cores and the rib cages of smashed deer?

I once knew a kid who thought chips of flint stone were valuable. So he picked up a few from the ground and swallowed them down. He didn’t look any different after eating the rocks. I didn’t know then, and don’t know now, the proper means for measuring a person’s value. Birds, I know. If they sing pretty and have yellow on their wings, they are worth something. A few years later, the same kid got accused of raping a girl. He didn’t rape that girl. I saw him a few times after that and he avoided me when I approached. I felt like a worm wriggling out from a hole in an apple...and he reached for an apple in front of me.

Most of the time, nothing makes sense to me. Why would you accuse someone of rape if you knew they didn’t rape you? Why doesn’t snow smell the same as rain? Snow almost smells like flowers. And If I had a choice to be anything in life, I think I might be one of those plain little birds that mobs ravens and chases them the hell away.

--Mitchell Hegman

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Point to Consider

What if Hudgins is correct?  What if all this beauty without horror is useless?

--Mitchell Hegman

In Need of Repair

Have you ever been driving along though a neighborhood of well-tended homes and abruptly come across one house that stood out in stark contrast due to neglect? Obviously, the house has never been maintained. And you pull over and stare long at the house, wondering why someone hasn’t bought the place just to raze it and start out all over again. What is wrong with the people who own the house? What must the people living next door think? Maybe you are tempted to roll down the window of your car and yell objections.

Well, today, I was that house.

--Mitchell Hegman

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dancing With Our Own Ghosts

Remember that night we danced with our own ghosts? That day you'd learned that your good friend was diagnosed with a sort of cancer with a name the doctor barely managed to pronounce. Terminal. That much clear. The beer tasted like wine and we cried like children. All the songs sounded stark and similar. The band in darkness. We learned one can’t let the ghosts lead.

--Mitchell Hegman


A photograph I snapped at the market in Saigon in April of 2009
--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, June 26, 2010

If The Earth Could Dream

If the Earth could dream, Love, the Earth would dream us. Me, the glossy water cast against low and grassy plains. Me, the river fingering the roots of the attending cottonwood trees. You, the hills and mountains. You, the landscape that shapes me.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Montana's Mountains

Montana’s plate is set with a staggering relief of sixty-seven clearly identifiable mountain ranges, some flaring up, almost inexplicably, at center of vast and thoroughly encompassing plains. Within Montana’s far-flung ranges, nearly six-hundred peaks scramble to elevations above 10,000 feet above sea level. The lofty Beartooth Mountains, located in the southeastern part of the state near Red Lodge, are far and away the altitude kings, having some twenty-seven stony peaks that scrape clouds well above 12,000 feet. As a point of fact (one that often evades the folks in western Montana) the only peaks in the entire state that rise above 12,000 feet are those within the Beartooth Range.

Interestingly, some of our more dramatic chains—those that seem freshly axed from stone and on the verge of toppling over due to imbalance—lack utterly any peaks above the 10,000 foot mark. The Swans, the Missions, and even our Front Range, three of the most rugged and arresting strings, are included in this. These ranges do, however, offer some of the greatest relief. The most relief can be found in Glacier Park, where some mountains climb a full 7,000 feet from valley floor to powder horn peak.

The theatrical ambitions of our mountains end with neither the handsome nor the enterprising climbs and runs of landscape. These vertical ranges both breed and grapple with stormfronts. The peaks continuously bat clouds back and forth. Chill winds spill down into the warmer valleys from ice fields. Ranges gobble up entire lighting storms. Water leaps down from chevron plates and overhanging shelves and shreds down toward creeks and rivers below. Whole forests of trees sway in unison. Herds of elk flow into meadows like tide waters into open bays.

Implausible differences in annual rainfall can be found in the vicinity of our mountains. The highest summits might claw from the stormy skies up to four-hundred inches of snow in a single season, while the long valleys below remain mostly empty and dry. This wedded with wildly unpredictable summer rains often accounts for improbable variance, ranging from a total of sixty inches of rainfall per year in the peaks, to well below fourteen inches of annual moisture on the plains. A drive of only thirty miles might take you from landscapes that gather fifty inches of rain each year to land that survives on merely a dozen. Here in Helena, where I live, we average just slightly less than a dozen inches of rain. Conversely, the deep green forest just off Lake McDonald, in Glacier Park, is the furthest inland rain forest in the West. Certain locations within that small area receive over two-hundred inches of rain a year.

I find the isolated ranges at center of plains, the so-called island ranges, the most fascinating. And they are, in nearly every sense, like an island, rising in stark clarity from our extended plains—blue castles massed above blonde oceans of grass. These islands hold in isolation conifer forests and elk and wolverine and moose and bear. They generate and sustain their own weather. You have to hold in awe anything capable of that.

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Milestone

I’ve nearly reached that point in life where I don’t care if I drop the spoons in the fork slot of my silverware drawer.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, June 6, 2010


 We are riding in a foot-smelling bus,thirteen blonde girls and me.
The girls? Chubby, but pretty,
like Marilyn Monroe.
Outside the bus? Snow.
The television kind of snow. Electronic.
Maybe too busy for real snow.
“I want sex,” I tell the nearest Marilyn.
“You’re old,” she replies.
Outside the bus, the snowfall shafts by in a new direction,
insensitive, otherworldly.
We are headed to a bad end
and the Kennedy’s are to blame.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, May 31, 2010

My Wife

When you dumped a whole plateful of stringbeans on the napping cat, when you stood there in one sock, coughing, when you mispronounced “canopy” and everyone thought you were speaking a new language, when you flipped-over backward in the stuffed chair, feet flying high overhead as you vanished behind the overturned chair, when you wore your shirt inside-out for the entire day...that’s when I loved you most.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Galileo, accused of heresy for arguing his view that Earth was not at the center of the universe before the Inquisition, said: “The Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Juniper, Vital

Juniper, Vital, Though Never Immortal (For Norman, who dug Grandmother’s grave)
The scent of this autumn’s juniper is without bottom,
but your death, compeer, is final.
Now the long cold retreat.
To sleep the caged gorilla , the snarling dog,
the rosy child, trillium.

This low raft of hills we call life
embraces only the things rounded:
sage tents, tufts, pines camelled green,
these ancient river stones at my feet.
You, my votary, my sweet wound, have been made square,
made to disappear.

Think of our common dream,
the twenties jazz become metabolic,
babes grown to full dress.
Lever to gear to fuel to beast to pastry.
Come and go, then, go.

Every hole is any eye on something we never saw before,
every moment a contradiction,
every name a little sad.
And the place where we part?
This is where we should choose to begin,
and to begin, we dig.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Morning Nonsense

I woke to broken morning light and one of my cats purring in my ear. At present, Montana is experimenting with a confused version of spring: frost, fifty-degrees, snow, sunshine, a great deal of wind. In particular, both of my cats would like me to do something about the wind. I cannot convince them that this is beyond my ability. As the light in my window gradually blushed red and then brightened, I saw low clouds crawling across the snowy mountains. The weather here is always strange, but I like waking to these twisting surprises.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Gee...I wonder why nobody else has tried this before?

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tinkering With Extinction

I am known as ‘the weed man’ or ‘the bug man’ due to my near-obsession with noxious weeds and my purchases of insects (often at the cost of a dollar per insect) to release as a controlling agent in my battle against exotics. I often write letters to the county and to adjacent landowners to either chide them or inform them of an infestation. People sometimes bring weed specimens to me so I can identify them. Everywhere I go during the warm months I leave behind a trail of uprooted invaders.
The insects are the latest and probably most hopeful agent in our now constant war one invading species. More and more, scientists are coming to understand that our burgeoning problems with weeds may only be controlled with biological mechanisms, by importing into this country some of the insects and bacteria and fungi that are natural enemies where the exotic originated. I have, in recent years, purchased moths that subsist by eating only the roots of certain knapweeds, beetles that eat knapweed flowerheads, beetles that attack only the flowerheads of dalmatian toadflax. Most all the species of insects available are host specific. Furthermore, some weeds—toadflax, knapweed, and leafy spurge—have so overtaken the landscapes out West they are considered the greatest threat to both the lanscape and the agrarian economy.
I am not simply being alarmist on this. At present, Montana has somewhere between four and six million acres infested with knapweed. Leafy spurge and toadflax are running up along the flanks. Throughout history we have seen, once they are somehow introduced, exotic and invasive species crashing through our paradise time and time again—plants, animals, and disease alike. Consider the impact of smallpox on the Native American populations. Whole tribes were ravaged once the Old World settlers introduced the disease into the “biologically naive” New World population. The Algonquin population plummeted from 30,000 to 300. Some estimates put the loss of Mexico’s natives due to the smallpox epidemic at nearly seventy-five percent. Closer to home, the Mandan population fell to a mere thirty-one survivors following a three-year epidemic that ended in 1840. A startling ninety-eight percent of infected Plains Indians perished.
Consider, also, how the accidentally introduced brown tree snake is currently liquidating the bird and rodent populations of several islands where no natural predator exists to hold the serpent numbers in check. Even the kindly frog and rabbit have devastated lands when they abruptly appeared without natural enemies to hold their numbers down. Here in Montana, the introduction of fresh water shrimp into Flathead Lake (from stock gathered in the Great Lakes) virtually wiped-out the entire salmon fishery. The shrimp, ironically enough, were meant to be a food supplement for the fish. Instead, they began competing with them. Montana has recently seen whirling disease run rampant through our legendary river and stream trout populations. And now a tiny snail from New Zealand is infesting some waters, out-competing the food species required by our fish. The fish will starve to death eating the plentiful snails because their shell is indigestible and protects the soft lout inside. Like Jonah in the Bible, most snails survive being swallowed by the fish.
A glance outside your window as you drive just about anywhere through our state will reveal how severe our noxious weed problem has become. The weeds have altered the handsome face of our state, promoted erosion, replaced our blonde fall grasses with grotesque brown tangles, usurped the forage desired by both domestic and game species.Some scientists fear we are on the verge of mass, worldwide extinctions of unprecedented rapidity—one that is now taking hold of an alarming range of species, all brought about by us, by our altering of critical habitats, by our ever increasing injection of exotic species (plant, animal, insect, fungus, bacteria) into permissive environments were they thrive and over-produce without check at the expense native species. This would be the sixth “great extinction” to beset Earth, something along the lines of the Cretaceous-Tertiary event, which occurred sixty-three million years ago and left mammals walking while all the dinosaurs perished. Some earlier events are thought to have killed off over ninety percent of all life forms. I am just nutty enough to worry. The logic of all this is clear to me. You can’t take up half the space and expect all the test of the critters to maintain their numbers. A parking lot, after all, is not a forest.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Single Thought

People who require a “good reason” to take action make excellent paper weights.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sorrow and Bird

In sharp flames, like knives gnashing
he burned the stiffened bluebird
he’d found crumpled at the lilac’s toe.
In life and in death
he’d always imagined more possibilities,
a prettier aster under the dulling cellophane,
love not a vine, but a wick running deep.

Why shouldn’t men flap their arms and fly?
Why not birds riding red bikes
or moo-cows raking the fallen leaves?
And the world, he assumed,
would do as well flat as round,
given that you must travel so far removed
to make any sense of the shape.
What use a circle, a globe, a whole planet
when you can stand only on a single flat place
at any given time?

Of what use death
if you cannot be alive as well?

Basketed in weaves of quackgrass and knapweed,
fuming, smoldering,
the bird’s wings pulled into tinseled fists—
closing, closing,
just before erupting brightly,
a new thing, ephemeral.
A new thing.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Here, The Landscape Screams

Wallace Stegner, writing about how Easterners visiting the West often fail to appreciate the drama and stark beauty of our desertic West, noted that, to appreciate the West, you must first “get over green.” This is certainly true to some measure. But you do not have to do entirely without. Often the green is on a smaller scale. Sometimes, you have to seek. Here, for much of the year, the landscape might only be daubed with the occasional green: there in a catchment among the rocks, again, along the shaded base of the mountain, stumbling alongside the fidgeting river and stream.
The beauty here is often more in the rockslide splashed in pinks, or maybe whaleblue across the flank of a mountain kicking almost straight up from a serpentine road you have no choice but to follow. Perhaps the most lovely thing is in how the clouds pour right through a notch between high powderhorn peaks. A single hawk hurled like a dusky flower and then caught by unremitting blue sky might be enough to give you pause. Here, the landscape erupts, screams, dives, gallops, crashes against you, then, at once, makes you halt in reverence, in what might almost be fear, when you discover yourself a dot, a spec, pressed against the leisurely rolls and sage-scented horizon to horizon expanse of the Northern Plains, the whole sky funneling clouds in overtop you. Nothing in this world gives me more reason for reflection than those moments when I drive up over a rise and see before me a narrow and empty road looping—vanishing here and appearing there—ten or fifteen miles through hills and rockface scarps before it draws tight and small as a thread and connects to the base of a new range of mountains.
But we are not without our green. In Montana, while our springtime days might be brief and bookended by snowstorms, they are often spectacularly green and ludicrously rich in wildflowers. I have twice in my life driven up upon meadows so blue with flowers I mistook them for lakes at first glance. I have seen hillsides so yellow with balsamroot heads you have to study to find the green of grass underneath them. I have come upon springtime places where the diversity and concentration of wildflowers is such that you might, from a single position sitting on the grass, pluck the flower off a shootingstar, a lupine, a fairy slipper, a balsamroot, a mountain dandelion, a paintbrush, a penstemon, an arnica, and a northern bedstraw—that, while ignoring altogether the wild strawberries, huckleberries, and half-dozen less tasty berry plants there. Some places in our mountains remain green from the end of April until the end of September—the green there held fast by snow at each end. And today, massaged by spring rain, our valley, the high and the low, all of the fastidious in-betweens, all has come green. Bluebirds dance the brief symmetry of low clouds, and all the whizzing things whiz, and the buzzing buzz.

--Mitchell Hegman

Spring Squall

Will you look at us now—battered as we stand rigid in our valley by squalls tumbling black over tourmaline, tourmaline over what might have once been a kind of white. The high, snow-gilded mountains have crawled away from around us, surely they have, and rain drives hard into last years ginger grasses. The once open and rolling expanse closing. But the reward, the reward to this sparsely peopled land, once the storm recedes, will be the prancing green of freshened spring, the new bird chanting, the snow and stone mountains gathering us up once again.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, March 28, 2010


“They’ve got problems,” the small black boy tells the television interviewer.
“What kind of problems?” the interviewer asks.
“Killing-each-other problems,” answers the small black boy.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, March 21, 2010


People are fairly skilled at hiding away their emotions, stowing sadness behind a smiling face, veiling mistrust with a firm handshake. But I am convinced it is a safe bet to assume someone is angry with you if they draw a gun and begin shooting in your direction.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Our Public Holdings

I find myself, with rapidly increasing frequency, battling with some of my dearest friends over the issue of access to public lands on their motorized vehicles—four-wheelers, in other words. I see a need for regulation. They denounce me as a “tree-hugger,” which, in Montana, is tantamount to being treasonous. I am told that we have a right to access forest holdings. I am told that we are rife for revolution as we now stand due to the government intervening in our lives at every turn.
The last argument, while not without merit, swings so wide as to miss most of my points. First of all, nobody came close to anticipating the pressure burgeoning human population might exert on our public lands. Secondly, the laws have always played catch-me-if-you-can with all manner of advancing technology and access. Do you think our founding fathers—let alone our grandfathers—envisioned credit cards? The Internet? Does the fact that they were not expected mean the government should in no way regulate them?
Whether I like it or not, I recognize that each new technology, each new vehicle (intellectual or physical) requires some kind of buffering agent. Frankly, people are incredibly stupid and abusive and we must protect ourselves and our resources by fashioning parameters that might protect us from the basest members of our house. We need direction because the natural inclination for a given number of us it toward chaos.
The problem I have with four-wheelers is not that they allow easy access to back country for just about anyone. Given a proper trail to take you there—I love the idea. My issue is that they tear hell out of our fragile semi-arid landscape in doing so, especially when people blaze new trails willy-nilly. When I said this very thing to a friend today, he replied, indignantly: “It’s our right to go in the mountains. If we tear up the what! We are the top of the food chain on this planet. Screw all the animals out there. We don’t need them.”
Well said, friend.
I shrug off all the later foaming-at-the-mouth junk as anger at me for being a traitorous environmentalist type. But this whole “we have the right” argument that so permeates our polity alarms me to the core. If I understand this philosophy entirely, the gist is that because national forest lands and state holdings are government holdings they belong, collectively, to all of us. The second rung of this logic states that since the land belongs to us, we should be able to do what we want when we want.
Just for the sake of argument, let’s try and apply this thinking elsewhere. Let’s start by applying this logic to the Interstate highway nearest where you live. You helped buy that baby. Collectively, we all own it. You own it. Shouldn’t you be able to drive on any lane you want? Why did the government decide that you have to go a certain direction on a certain side? Don’t you have a right to go your own direction? Does the Constitution empower the federal or state powers to enforce such laws?
You own a chunk of the White House. Shouldn’t you be able to take up residence there? If you see a painting you like in the Oval Office , shouldn’t you be able to take it home with you? You own all kinds of things: military bases, battleships, jets, parks, museums, graveyards. Imagine where you might go and what you could do if this pesky government wasn’t beating you down.

--Mitchell Hegman

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I am not a great fan of densely wrought philosophical reasoning. I am much more excited by anything whittled down to the simplest form. If a five-year-old and a forty-five-year-old can see the same thing and be impressed, enlightened, or delighted, that is perfect. Just the same, I have spent many hour debating and pondering human existence. We all do that. Throw in God, gods, religion, and your preferred political stance. Or, if you prefer, throw all of that aside. I suspect that all of us could fill books with our own brand of overthinking.

The other morning, as I drove to work, thinking about Ecclesiastes and then about atheism this simple idea struck me:

Birth = True
Death = True or False

Ain't much more than that.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Cats have no long-term interest in their reflections because the images lack any scent for which they can establish a meaningful reference.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I just awakened from one of the strangest dreams ever. I don’t know how I can even try to explain this, but in my dream some of the short stories I have written (here in reality) were made into ductwork for handling air instead of being published in any written form. I kid you not. As the author (?) of the duct, I was allowed to tour the building in which ducts were installed high above.
I stood below my work in awe. Elaborate transitions that switched air flow directions, sweeps, twisting sections, spiral ducts strung off seemingly to infinity. Layers over layers. Perhaps more amazingly, I never questioned that the things I have written might be so handily transformed into something of such utility. As I stood admiring one of the more complex fittings, I underwent an epiphany of some scale, realizing that my writing works much better as ducts than it does as literature.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, February 15, 2010

Those Years Gone

Beyond Harlowton, on flat prairie flecked with sage
and ryegrass, the nightsky became so pregnant with stars
it sagged and touched the horizons.
We shivered, stripping our clothes on the weathered stones
humped along the shore of a lake I remember only as deep,
cool, and naked as ourselves.
Wind carried wheatsmell down from Canada.
Stickwillow chattered in dry arroyo.
We dove, swam.
Your last girlfriend had married.
I watched you tread black water, look up,
wondering how that sky so fat with stars
could lack, so utterly, warmth.
And how that wind followed us to the car.
We were wet, transparent, without hope.
Back at the lake I heard waves piling up against clay banks.
A distant coyote howled out in a language
only the endangered understand.
You understood.

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, February 6, 2010


If you allow every little detail to bug you, every little detail will bug you.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Fetched from Wedgewood depths
you are all grease and muscle,
an impulse without seam,
stark and amoral as an arrowhead.
I take you, palm countering palm,
the decision to render.
Life? Or death?
Above, staggering and drunk on their own screams,
gulls tip and roil, dip and spiral,
a mob too keen to muster.
You do not fathom me,
chalky ogre that I seem,
my fingers feverish and dirtsmelling.

I fish because it is not required of me,
because it feels like staring into a vault filled with jewels.
Sometimes, I imagine my little girl with me,
Christmas happy and clapping circus noise along the shore.
“Say to the fish like the horseyman,” she clatters.
“Whisper how Mommy ate detergent
because I was just a bean inside her.”
This is how we begin:
a hormone imbalance, craving only wrong things.

Your babies float about you,
translucent and oval as planets,
and you—practical to the point of cruel—
suck them into your stomach.
You hate my thin sky,
the papery feel of wind against flank and fin,
the shoal of clouds frantic as they gallop over.
Your wellbottom eyes,
odd and unblinking,
drops of oil beading dark soup.
Those eyes,
intolerable, otherworldly,
failing to comprehend,
even as I allow you to kiss your own bent reflection
in the water.
This is about me.
This is me letting myself go.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, January 25, 2010

Maybe Not Flowers

Driving to work in the slate cold of pre-dawn, I swooped past a well-lighted home. Just as I slashed before the front-facing picture windows, something caught my eyes—what seemed a lovely floral display atop a lofty marbled pillar. When I snapped my head back for a more substantial look, I discovered the flowers to be a broad-shouldered woman with really messy hair looking out. Then gone. I drove the rest of the way to work wondering which of my two views was true. For the husband’s sake, I am hoping for the flowers.

--Mitchell Hegman

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Perhaps we shall die softly, die beautifully, like glacier lilies come early and slumping back into the greening grass below snowdrifts drawn long across grassy flanks and timbered steeps.

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Order of Things

Here, then, the order of the two most important things:

First: my wife, my daughter

Second: any mountains

--Mitchell Hegman

Richard (A True Story)

I think Richard’s life changed the day the hitchhiker died while cradled in Richard’s arms. Richard must have been a little over twenty then, and he’d happened on a single-car crash at the ragged mouth of Wolf Creek Canyon. The hitchhiker, also a boy of about twenty, lay sprawled and bleeding on the pavement, having been abruptly pitched from the truck he’d caught a ride in when the truck somehow became crossed-up and tumbled several times in the shale and bunchgrass median. A mostly shattered guitar lay not far from the hitchhiker. His backpack had ejected from the bed of the truck lay along the fence that kept the nearby whitefaced cattle from milling around on the highway with the rushing traffic.

“I suppose I’m pretty bad,” the hitchhiker said. “Am I pretty bad off?” he asked Richard delicately. He lifted a bloody hand. “Am I gonna make it?”

Unable to think of anything better to do, Richard sat on the ground near the boy and lifted the boy’s head and shoulder’s into his lap. “I’m Canadian,” the hitchhiker told Richard. “I just now got a ride in that truck. Is my guitar broken?”

“A little,” Richard answered.

“I wish that truck hadn’t picked me up,” the Canadian said.

The hitchhiker didn’t say another word. Cars whooshed past. Cars stopped. People got out, stood there. Richard felt the Canadian dimming, fading away right there in his arms. Maybe for a few moments Richard closed his eyes and understood everything. Maybe he felt stars grinding slowly overtop the whole scene. Maybe Richard felt the wind stir right through him. When he opened his eyes he knew he had to let the hitchhiker go.

I saw Richard come home that evening. I saw him walking up slowly, bloodstains burning violently against his plaid shirt. Richard remained quiet for many days, his calm uneasy.

--Mitchell Hegman

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Reason

Things happen for a reason. Often, the reason is to annoy my wife.

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Turn Off The Music

Beware the music that brings the well-intentioned to dance with the well-armed.

--Mitchell Hegman

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What If

What if a new kind of disease suddenly swept across all the continents, one that afflicted only stupid people or people who have given in to their urges and tasted a spoonful of ether dog or cat food? Would you still be here in the morning?

--Mitchell Hegman

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tracks In The Snow

I left my house at 5:30 this morning, driving through several inches of freshly fallen snow. The country road lay smooth and without a track of any kind under my headlight beams. Eventually, a set of small tracks hooked into the very center of the road from someplace in the darkness beyond. I supposed the tracks to be from a chipmunk or squirrel or some other such diminutive creature and I followed the tracks down the very center of the road. The tracks carried on, straight as the edge of a piece of paper, once they struck the road. Rather fascinated by the prints, I tried to keep them centered between the beams of my headlights as I drove. Suddenly the tracks stopped. No turn right. No turn left. Not a single step back. No critter in sight. Had the thing vanished in mid-step? I have seen a similar thing when a bird snatches something from the snow, but they always leave impressions of their wings or some other sign of a tragic end.

I drove overtop the place where the tracks stopped—on into the cobalt darkness. New, smooth snow sparkled under my lights. Something occurred to me. I glanced in my rearview mirror. Just my tracks—just that, and me at their end.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, January 4, 2010


Alarmed by a gradual disappearance of our grassland songbirds, scientists undertook an in-depth and all-encompassing study to determine the exact nature and mechanisms of the bird predation. Along the way, the discovered all the usual suspects at work, gobbling up eggs and hatchlings from the nests: coyotes, cats, snakes, and mice. Astoundingly, gophers account for something near forty percent of the hatchling predation in the study area. Perhaps more surprisingly, researchers discovered that whitetail deer, at every given opportunity, will sneak up and chomp down baby songbirds.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Bambi Conspiracy

At some point the cowboy seated at the bar squares on me,
knots his hand into my shirt, pulls me to his chin.
“See, we didn’t actually land on the moon,” he grunts.
“Was all fabricated on a movie set,
like Bambi.”
I protest, “But Bambi is a cartoon and—“
The cowboy shushes me, buys me a shot of Jack.
“The government is capable of anything.”

By four in the morning the moon has ditched
And we are hunkered inside the cowboy’s tumbledown
hideaway deep in some avocado-skinned mountains.
He’s stocked with rifles and pickled beets and Polartec gear
and a new computer with lighting Internet connections.
He crashes through websites, pulls from a bottle of gin,
“Killed by the ATF...Abducted by aliens...Culture war...
Mud people...Elvis, alive and pumping gas in Utah.”

“Tell me you didn’t vote for Clinton,” he says,
and cuffs me when I fail to answer.
“A commi-pinko! Clinton—born Vladimir Stan-ko-nov
in Moscow—smuggled into Arkansas two days later.”
I speak up: “But his mother—“
”A man,” barks the cowboy.
“Same as Barbara Bush and Cher.”

Then something sets off the cowboy.
He springs toward a rifle,
barges out the door, whams twice into a black line of firs.
He pauses. Fires again. Slinks inside. Slams the door.
“You can’t be too careful,” he pants.
“I knew something was up first time I saw Michael Jackson.”

--Mitchell Hegman

The Sky Is My Garden

The sky is my garden. By day, wind tends rows of clouds or scattered birds. By night, stars blossom above the zinc-colored mountains. They say that this--Montana--is "Big Sky Country," but that is not near enough to explain things. In the heat of summer the sky ripples and spurs warped ravens across the prairie. At minus-twenty the whole of sky sparkles and the ice on the frozen lake below my house cries and moans. Clouds lift. Clouds drift away. The sky is a moving garden.

--Mitchell Hegman