Flew to Denver early yesterday morning. Landed at the airport and sat on the tarmac
for an hour. Missed all connections to
Ohio. Thousands of flights cancelled or
delayed across the United States. Ate an
awful-tasting burger that turned into a serpent in my stomach. Stood in line with hundreds of other flyers
for six hours to find connecting flights—all the while using my computer and
phone to find the same. Worked with an
agent for twenty minutes to simply arrange a standby flight back home. Flight home departed the gate several hours
late. Sat on the tarmac for another
hour. Arrived back home late in the
No trip to Ohio.
Woke late this morning from a dream of my ranch
neighbor firing artillery shells at me.
That girl and I drove up to the cabin the other day. We tromped around in the snow and warmed
ourselves in the sunshine in the open meadow along the creek. The cabin is nestled in a deep mountain
valley and only occasionally suffers from strong winds. For that reason, snow tends to pile and
remain on top of anything sticking upright.
Posted today are a couple of photographic examples.
The human mind has delivered us to an astonishing
time. We soar through the air and speed
across the face of our planet. We have
circled and then stepped on the face of the Moon. I am able to tell my new car to make phone
calls on my smarter-than-me-phone. When
I walk into some rooms, the lights switch on automatically.
Back January of 2014, two men in the Russian town of
Irbit engaged in a deep conversation about literary genres. One man thought poetry was the best form of
expression. The other man thought prose
writing was the best.
As I mentioned, the men were Russian.
They were drinking.
This sort sedate of argument occurs daily in the halls
of academia. But these were two Russian
men, drinking. The argument soon became
animated. After hearing quite enough claptrap
from the defender of prose, the man of poetry, a schoolteacher, stabbed the
prose fellow to death.
I find two valid points to take away from this sad
First, this proves, just as someone famous (whose name
presently escapes me) said: “poetry kills.”
Secondly, killing is one thing that should not be left
to the prose.
Deer stay warm because they have fur made out of windows. Well, their fur is not actually made of double
pane casement windows, but the principles are much the same. The hair comprising a deer’s fur is hollow. The air trapped in the hair—just as the air
between window panes—affords superior insulating properties.
Cold weather does not appear to bother the mule deer
living around my home. On cold mornings such
as yesterday, the deer unglue themselves from the frozen landscape where they
have bedded down overnight and disperse into the frost and widening light.
Same as any other day.
Today, I am posting photographs of a deer that
ascended the hill below my house just after sunrise yesterday. The deer browsed up through my yard on the
way to the rest of a mostly sunny day.
The coat of frost across the deer’s back and on her ears tells the whole
Today, I am posting a photograph I captured early one
winter morning in 2010. I stopped and
snapped the picture on my way to work.
The temperature at the time was below zero.
Though the subjects in the photograph are a wholly
mundane, the movement of night-steam and the washed-out lighting on the
building in the background add a drama that I particularly enjoy.
I did not have a tri-pod when I captured the
image. I simply held my camera against
the partially open window of my truck to hold steady as I snapped the
shutter. For that reason you can see a
slight fuzziness throughout the entire image.
You can also see a small scattering of stars in the sky.
More good news.
An American chestnut tree has been found deep in the forests of Maine. The tree, according to an article I found at
GoodNewsNetwork, was discovered during an aerial search conducted by a team
from the University of Maine.
The tree is not only a native chestnut tree—it is at
least 100 years old, 115 feet tall, and thought to be the tallest chestnut tree
in North America.
Perhaps a bit of history is required here.
At one time, American chestnut trees swelled the great
forests along the East Coast of North America.
The chestnut was the most prominent species in the forest. A century ago, the white blossoms of these
ambitious trees were so prolific the Appalachian Mountains appeared as if
covered in snow during the week the trees came to bloom.
Today, mostly blank spots remain where the trees stood. American chestnut trees are “functionally extinct.”
In 1904, an Asian tree blight was accidentally
released in to the North American landscape.
A massive die-off swept through the population of chestnut trees in both
the United States and Canada. Billions
of trees perished.
The tree in Maine is a big deal.
This tree and a sparse handful of other pre-blight
survivors (numbering only in the dozens) are thought to be genetically unique. They appear to be immune to the disease that
wiped out so many other trees. The hope
is that the survivors may provide breeding stock with DNA that will save the
The hope: from one tree many.
GoodNewsNetwork.com and AmericanForests.org
The Huffington Post is reporting that a study
conducted by the University of Alberta has concluded that drinking a glass of
red may provide the equivalent of an hour of exercise at the gym. A component found in red wine, resveratrol,
seems to improve physical performance, heart function and strength.
At some point—I am not sure if there is an exact
temperature—frigid Arctic air converts snow, and sometimes the air itself, into
a mass of sparkles.
This spectacle is beautiful.
Such cold air poured down into our snow-filled valley
last night. Driving our country road
back home after a late dinner, that girl and I found ourselves in a bright sea
of high stars, untracked snow, and sparkles.
Our headlights continually washed across starkly white gatherings of ghost
trees and snow-softened rolls of land—all seemingly sprinkled-over with freshly
Sparkles swelled up and tumbled away from the tires of
our car as we drove on.
Virtually all points washed by our headlights exploded
into brilliant spangles against the cobalt night.
While I am not particularly fond of frigid
temperatures, the beauty produced by them has no equivalent.
Today, I announce the retirement of my old coffee
cup. I have used this cup exclusively for
the last ten years. My coffee cup is a
pretty big deal. As mentioned in a preceding
blog, I will fish “my” coffee cup from a heap of dirty dishes and clean it for
my morning coffee if dishes remain unwashed from the previous day.
I now have a new coffee cup.
My new coffee cup is remarkable.
First, and most importantly, the cup was a gift from
my friend Sandi. Gifts are always
shinier and more commanding than anything standing alongside them. This gift is also a symbol of enduring
My new coffee cup is one of a kind. The cup was custom-made. It features the very photograph you find on
this blog’s landing page. The title of
this blog faces me as I sip coffee.
Good stuff, that!
My new cup is ceramic and, therefore, born from fire
and heat. Perhaps most importantly, the
cup has already passed the “Mitch test.”
A Mitch test is a slightly less romantic version of an “idiot test.” In a Mitch test, a thing is subjected to some
form of catastrophic accident.
Yesterday, only a few minutes after receiving cup, the cup fell right through
the bottom of the gift bag I was holding.
The cup glanced off a brass foot railing, shot across the floor of the
establishment where Sandi, that girl, and I had met, and landed at Sandi’s
feet. Sandi’s eyes blossomed wide.
I quickly chased after the cup.
Happily, the cup was unscathed. After checking all surfaces and angles thoroughly,
I gave it to that girl for safe keeping.
This morning, while writing this, I have been drinking
coffee from the new cup. Coffee has
never tasted so good.
You have likely heard the breathless, if not
nonsensical, descriptions of the taste of wine as extended by connoisseurs. I give you, for example, this description of Rio
Grande Rojo I found on the Vinter’s Cellar (Waterloo) website: “Heavy, rich and ‘Big” in every way. Heavy toasted oak used in its design, release
the earth, burnt chocolate and vanilla tones, spicy with a pronounced black
cherry, distinguishes itself with elegance.
Plum and black current undertones.
A really-full-bodied wine that distinguishes itself with elegance.”
But does the wine taste good? That’s all I want to know. Why are they allowing 19th century
Russian novelists to write these descriptions?
Where is Mark Twain when you need him?
My brother-in-law and I like a sip of Scotch now and
then. Okay. More like now and now and now and then, then,
then. We have particular and workmanlike
descriptors for Scotch. “Shit tastes good,”
describes a single malt when we enjoy it.
I should note that we have yet to run across a single
malt we did not like.
I am not a massive fan of blended whisky. I will often tell my brother-in-law that they are “too
smooth.” I enjoy a little alcohol burn
on my tongue. Scotch whisky can also
display a truly “smoky” flavor or a profound flavor of “peat.” Both of these are honest remnants of the
distilling process and aging in fired oak casks previously used for aging other
Yesterday I received—as a gift—a bottle of Balvenie,
aged seventeen years.
Shit’s incredibly good!
The barley for Balvenie is still malted (as
traditionally) on a wooden malting floor.
The malted barley is then dried in smoky peat kilns. The spirits produced for the seventeen year
old Balvenie Doublewood are (as implied by the name) aged for a full seventeen years. They are first matured in whisky oak
casks. For the last five years, the
spirts are transferred to sherry oak casks.
This Scotch—as most single malts—has an earthy (smoke
and peat) taste.
Here is the kicker.
This Balvenie actually has a distinctly sweet after-taste from its time
aging in sherry casks. I suspect a
wine-taster could write an entire book around this stuff. I pray they don't.
I have been piddling around with a thermal imager for
a few days. I may need the device for an
upcoming study on an electrical distribution system. I am learning how to capture, store, and
export images in a more usable format. For
practice, I have been shooting stuff around the house.
Thermal imaging devices offer an alternate and
particularly narrowed view of the physical world. Surface textures, profile details, our
normally registered wavelengths of color, and the senses of three dimensional
space are sacrificed in favor of recording the stark heat signatures of
whatever the camera is fixed on. There
is no delineating living and non-living things.
Everything is registered on a simple scale of temperature.
A thing is hot or a thing is cold.
The images fascinate me.
Posted today are some images I captured with the
imager I am learning to use. In the
first capture, you see 20 pounds of housecat standing in my kitchen. The next image reveals the “heat prints” the
cat left on the floor after he walked away.
In the final image, I caught my foot in the foreground and another 20
pounds of housecat sprawled on the living room carpet in the distance.
As so many times before, I dreamt my grandfather alive
again. Two of my sisters led me into the
dining room of our Pacific Street house to find him. Grandfather was sitting in a wheelchair. His skin was tanned, as if from spending a
long summer under the sun. I saw the
fishhook scar on his head where doctors had worked on his become-forgetful brain. He smiled at me. Big smile.
Though excited to see my grandfather, I wondered if he
really recognized me after all these years.
He departed this life in sweet and total confusion, unable to drive or
prepare a meal, and sometimes muttering in his childhood Canadian French.
I came full awake in my bed just as I reached out to
touch my grandfather.
Cheated before I reached him fully alive again.
Not to sleep again, I soon found myself caught up in a
cascade of real memories. Fishing. Talking at his table. Watching him tending his garden. He and his dog.
I thought about how my sister and I were forced to put
his dog down near the end of all. I
broke down when we reached the veterinarian’s clinic. I sat in the car convulsing with sobs as my
sister carried the trembling dog into the veterinarian’s clinic.
The dog knew.
My sister stayed with the dog until the very end. “I didn’t want to leave her alone,” she said
when she returned to the car after a time indeterminable.
There exists a kind of grief that shall not diminish
in single lifetime. Sorrow big enough to
fill the space between stars. Sorrow
that can crush mountains. Time lacks the
steel to cut such anguish.
That is what filled me as I lay there freshly awake in
When I was younger, a bold choice for my generation
might have involved someone getting naked and streaking through a stadium
filled with thousands of people. These
days, a bold choice for my generation is ordering coffee without sugar or cream.
Late one afternoon, Harry Houdini dropped by to visit
with Elvis Presley. Houdini found Elvis twisting
wrenches underneath a baby blue, 1957 Chevy Nomad wagon. Peering out from underneath the Nomad, Elvis recognized
Houdini by his 1920s gangster spats.
“Hey, magic man,” Elvis called out. “Can you kick that nine-sixteenths box end
wrench in for me?”
“What are you doing under there?” asked Houdini.
“I’m putting together some sweet sounding pipes.”
“Are you certain you need a nine-sixteenths? I am always confusing those with seventeen-thirty-seconds.”
Elvis responded without hesitation. “I know my pipes, man.”
“I suppose you do,” Harry Houdini said. With that Houdini vanished, because that’s what
escape artists and magicians do.
Elvis slid out from underneath the Nomad and dug
through an assortment of wrenches scattered across the ground. Singing Suspicious
Minds, Elvis picked out both a nine-sixteenths and seventeen-thirty-seconds
wrench. He crawled back under the car
Elvis quickly muffled his tune when he discovered that
the seventeen-thirty-seconds wrench perfectly fit the bolts he was working with
underneath the Nomad.
The other day, my brother-in law and I engaged in a
pretty good discussion about Scotch whisky.
I am a fan of single malts with an earthy taste. I want to taste the Scottish countryside in
each sip. My brother-in-law prefers something a bit
smoother. He will sometimes pull a
blended Scotch off the shelf.
Scotch is a big deal for both of us. We don’t always agree on taste. That said, we are not likely to draw firearms
and start spraying lead when one of us purchases a bottle not preferred by the
Last week, a man from Hamilton, Montana was sentenced
to twenty years in prison for shooting and injuring another man and for killing
his dog. Monte Leon Hanson, the man
convicted of the shooting, shot his neighbor, Joe Lewis, in a dispute over a
red beer. Four hours prior to the
shooting incident, while working as a bartender at a local establishment in
Hamilton, Joe Lewis angered Monte Hanson when he used Clamato juice instead of
tomato juice in making his red beer.
Hanson and Lewis lived in the same apartment
building. Lewis went home immediately
following his shift. He picked up his
dog to carry it outside and found Monte Hanson there. Hanson started shooting. One bullet struck Lewis in the head. A second struck Lewis in the ribs. The dog died of a gunshot wound.
Monte Hanson claimed that drinking Clamato juice was
against his religion. Hanson practices Judaism.
According to the account I read in the
Independent Record, Hanson reportedly told a cellmate he would “do it again” if
given the opportunity.
My brother-in-law, Terry, and I like a fire. Any excuse for a fire will do. Campfires.
Burning weeds. Creating a warm
place during a winter excursion.
Fire is an important tool, when used properly.
Terry once set his back lawn and wooden fence on fire while
trying to burn some ants infesting his yard.
His neighbors on the other side of the fence were having a barbeque at
the time. They were somewhat baffled and
more than a bit concerned when the flames climbed Terry’s fence and began
waving at them from the top.
Once, while burning an assortment of junk at my cabin,
I created a wintertime fire so big, my face turned pink as if sunburned. At one point, while feeding some old cabinets
into the fire and extreme heat, I actually thought the shirt I had stripped
down to, was emitting puffs of smoke and seriously considering bursting into
Two weeks back, my mountain neighbor called to tell me
that the wind had toppled a dead-standing tree and laid it across the private road
to my cabin. I called my brother-in-law
on Thursday and asked if he wanted to grab his chainsaw this weekend and help
me clear the road. “This is going to require a fire,” I told him.
“I’m in,” he said.
Yesterday, we grabbed our chainsaws and drove to my
cabin. As you can see in the first
photograph posted below, only the top twenty or so fee of the tree fell across
the road. Terry and I fired-up our saws
and chunked up a load of firewood for my cabin.
After I stacked the wood in my cabin, we loaded some small pieces in the
truck for Terry.
And, yes, we started a big fire to burn the mess of
Oscar Wilde: “The wallpaper
and I are fighting a duel to the death.
One or the other of us has to go.”
Alfred Hitchcock: “One
never knows the ending. One has to die
to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes.”
Steve Jobs: “Oh wow.
Oh wow. Oh wow.”
Joan Crawford (spoken to her housekeeper when the
housekeeper began praying): “Damn it!
Don’t you dare ask God to help me!”
(moments before her execution for murder convictions—spoken even as her
similarly convicted husband pleaded for mercy):
“If any of you have a message to
give the devil, give it to me quick—I’m about to meet him!”
Following her words, Lavina cheated the executioners by jumping from the
scaffolding and killing herself before they could do their job.
According to an article I read at history.com, on this
day in 1952, a high-pressure air mass stalled over London, England, trapping a lower
cold air front atop the city. Residents
of the city responded by burning extra coal in their furnaces. The air remained trapped over London for four
days in an inversion similar to those we experience here in Helena, Montana. The smoke, soot and sulfur dioxide from the
coal, industrial plant emissions, and automobile exhaust quickly developed into
a heavy smog.
By December 7, the smog virtually blocked sunlight and
reduced visibility in some sections of London to a mere five yards. All transportation was halted to avoid
collisions. An unusually high number of
people began suffering respiratory distress.
Thousands of people died in their sleep.
When the smog finally blew away on December 9,
authorities estimated that somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000 people died as
result of the heavy pollution.
The British government quickly adopted more stringent
air pollution regulations and encouraged people to turn away from the use of
Cats can tell time.
Living with 40 pounds of housecat, I am perfectly aware of their
abilities in this matter. I am convinced
that my cats are accurate to within a minute or two.
My cat are particularly interested in feeding time.
I usually give them an afternoon snack at 4:00 PM. Sure enough, a few minutes before 4:00 my
cats will appear at my feet. At first,
they simply stare at me. If I fail to
feed them immediately, Carmel will whimper like an electrician just handed a
shovel and asked to dig a ditch. If that
fails to motivate me, my two cats will begin whacking each other with stirring spoons
and banging on drums.
Okay. They don’t
actually use spoons or whack drums, but they fuss with each other enough to
make it seem like that. After enough of
that, I feed them to stop the madness.
Their late night feeding is the real problem.
A while back I started waking at around 2:00 AM—at
which time I wandered off to the bathroom so I could pee on the toilet seat and
floor. This activity eventually evolved
into me offering a snack to the cats. Obviously,
this soon became a firm requirement for a late night feeding.
The problem here is that cats operate on cat time. Cat time does not account for daylight
savings shifts. When we “fell back” for daylight
savings this fall, my shift from 2:00 AM back to 1:00 AM did not translate into
Now, each night, a few minutes before or after 1:00 AM,
I wake in my bed convinced that someone just whacked me with a spoon. There on my bed or maybe on the floor, I will
find either 20 or a full 40 pounds of cat glaring at me. Failure to feed them is not an option.
You have probably heard the old maxim: “You’ve got to
crack a few eggs to make an omelet.”
Yesterday, I proved the maxim to be true when (with
the help of a company technician) I installed a receiver dish to pick up a new feed
for my internet service. The dish is
required to be in direct line of sight with a service feed on a tower atop
Hogback Mountain, some eleven miles northeast of my house.
I more than cracked a few eggs to complete this
project. Following is my updated version
of the omelet maxim:
got to poke holes in your walls, move furniture, fish wires, mount a new dish, crawl
in the attic, trudge through snow, cut down two large pine trees, break a
chainsaw, get a few oil stains on your deck, bump your head, stop for a drink
of Scotch, install a new wireless router, and input in a new password to
connect to a new internet provider.
My version does not have the snap of the original…but
there it is.
According to accounts I found on a variety of news
sources, including the Guardian, the Huffington Post, and the Associated Press,
controversy has tarnished the latest Mister Ugly contest in Zimbabwe. Beauty contests and, apparently, not-so-much
contests are kind of a big deal in Zimbabwe.
The winner of this year’s Mister Ugly Contest, a very
happy fellow named Mison Sere, is accused of cheating by being, well,
handsome. More specifically, he is accused
of cheating because he is missing a lot of teeth and is capable of manufacturing
ugly faces. When he is not smiling, according
to detractors, Mison is a fine-looking man.
Only when he smiles can he possibly win the ugly competition.
According to some contestants—including, William Masvinu,
last year’s winner—Mison Sere should be disqualified because he is not truly ugly. Masvinu and his supporters mobbed contestant
judges with objections following the selection of Mison. “I am naturally ugly,” Masvinu complained. “He is not!”
Another indignant contestant shouted: “Do we have to
lose our teeth to win? This is
I will be the first to admit that I am not a great
judge of the physical attractiveness of men.
Just the same, I think Mison Sere is righteously ugly. Of course, I mean that in the nicest of ways. I have reposted an AP photo so you might judge
Honestly, I’d be pretty happy to be disqualified from
winning an ugly contest because I am too handsome. That’s the kind of problem I have always
My friend, Kevin, with the help of his siblings and his
kids, has been cleaning his father’s house from top to bottom. He has been living in the house for for a
good part of this year. After his father’s
passing, Kevin began sorting through a house filled with many years of keeping
old jars, miscellaneous screws, papers, stray dinnerware pieces, and stacks of half-full
boxes of assorted dry goods.
The other night, I stopped down at Kevin’s place to
pick up some plastic bottles and glass bottles so I could recycle them along with
my own truckload of recyclables. Kevin
looked pale and exhausted. Apparently, Kevin
is a vigorous, if not thrashing, cleaner.
“How’s it going?” I asked as we dragged a couple bags
of plastic bottles out to my truck.
“I am just about shot,” he admitted. “I cleaned out the basement kitchen cupboards
today. I kept getting hotter and hotter
as I cleaned. I was sweating like
crazy. When I finally looked at the
thermostat, I saw that it was 90 degrees in the basement! I must have bumped into the thermostat when I
was cleaning. I was ready to collapse!”
Kevin is also an early riser. Usually, somewhere near 5:30 in the morning,
he sails past my house in his van and drives the two miles of country road out
to where our mailboxes are located to retrieve our newspapers. I wake at about the same time and watch for
his returning headlights. If awake, I
will step out to grab my paper from him as he returns home again.
The morning after I picked up Kevin’s recyclables, I
watched the headlights of his van swim across the darkness to the drive as he
drove back home with our newspapers. I
stepped outside to meet him when he neared my house.
I stood in the early morning chill chatting with
him. “I had a nightmare about black
widows last night,” I told him. “They
were everywhere. I hate spiders.” I pointed my rolled newspaper skyward in an
expansive gesture of disgust.
Kevin’s eyes expanded.
“I killed seven spiders
upstairs in my house this morning,” he said.
“Seven,” he repeated. “I think
the heat from when I cleaned my basement drove them upstairs.”
I grimaced. “Almost
makes you want to stop cleaning…”