Photography And Half-Thoughts By Mitchell Hegman

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Coffee Disaster

As of this morning, my first coffee disaster is out of the way.  I figure I am generally set to have four or five major coffee disasters each year.
I am just now sitting down to write this after having spent the previous ten minutes cleaning my kitchen countertop, the floor, and my coffee maker.  I had coffee and coffee grounds everywhere.
Due to the coffee accident, I am now drinking a haphazard version of “cowboy coffee.”   Cowboy coffee—usually brewed in a pot sitting over a campfire—is made by pitching water and coffee grounds directly together in a pot and boiling the mix until most of the coffee grounds boil up and over the rim of the pot.  Cowboy coffee tastes better than it sounds.  And it is coffee, which I consider the fifth required element for life as we know it.  I list coffee immediately after fire and water but before air and earth.  My coffee this morning has more than a few errant grounds in each cup, but otherwise tastes fine.
Virtually all of my coffee accidents arise from two salient facts. First, coffee makers have several moving parts.  Second, I am involved in manipulating these moving parts.  A recipe for disaster, for sure.
I am not clear about what went wrong this morning.  A couple minutes after I started brewing my coffee, the coffee maker began issuing awful sounds—something akin to what you might expect to hear if you pitched a couple running floor sweepers into a bathtub filled with water.  I had 20 pounds of housecat staring at me, wondering what was wrong in the kitchen and wondering what I intended to do about it.
When I finally went to investigate, I found coffee overflowing from the top of the basket and running down the sides of the carafe.  Naturally, I pulled the carafe from the hot plate, at which time coffee finally began to freely flow out the bottom and sizzle on the hot plate.
I have made worse messes brewing coffee.  Today, I was able to save enough that I did not have to brew a second batch.
Nice.
Now, on to the next.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, January 30, 2017

Four Random Observations

—Unless you are participating on a gameshow, failing to recall the lyrics of songs is not an immediate problem.
— A broken bell will ring.
—Surrounding yourself with people who don’t like mayonnaise may not be a winning business model, but it is not necessarily offensive.
—Nobody really cares if earthworms are suffering an obesity crisis.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Backward but Still Walking

Author’s Note: I wrote the following entry in my journal on March 15, 1996 after walking across the lake on the bare ice.  This may be the longest piece I have posted here.  I hope the length does not discourage anyone.  Though it needs some editing, I have decided to post the piece just as I wrote it back then.

Finally, this: I really miss you Grandfather.  All of this—and so much more—is for you.

Backward but Still Walking

Why are the lights flexing brightest behind us those marking tragedies?  What cruel and certain sovereignty, what fuel, what necessity holds our memory against misfortune for a lifetime, but sets free the joke that doubled us over only a week ago?

Walking today’s frozen lake, my thoughts turned back on me once again, grim lights come calling, the trainman’s lamp waving at the point on the line where the cars of the train leapt off track and plunged down a ravine.  I thought about my grandfather and how he lived his final days in silent defeat, most of his loved ones having near the end sprinted to reach death before him.  His wife.  His child.  A brother who, heartbroken because his grown children disapproved of his new love, shoved a hose from the exhaust into his car window and idled out of this existence while sitting still.


Even before that his mind began to fail him, his thoughts sinking like hapless beasts into a kind of quicksand from which they but occasionally dragged themselves free.  And he had become so frail.  I sometimes got him out of the house and brought him out to the lake to fish from the dock.  It would not take much to convince me that taking him fishing in those fading days was the best thing I have done in my life so far.  He loved fishing.  On those days when I promised to take him fishing, Grandmother told me that he often rose from bed before five in the morning, dressed, ate breakfast, gathered his rod and gear, and then sat in his chair on the front porch patiently waiting for my arrival.  Sometimes he sat there for three or four hours.  “George!” she carped at him, leaning out the door, “What are you doing out there?  Mitch said he would pick you up at nine!”  He just grinned at her, his small, furry dog wagging furious approval at his feet.  Nothing but happy critters flailing atop the quicksand.

Out on the lake, backward but still walking, I glanced to my dock, now distant and stilted through a foot-and-a-half of ice, drifts of snow dragged overtop it.  For some reason that silly song started up inside me...“Raindrops keep falling on my head...just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed...nothing seems to fit.”  I continued shuffling backward, thinking about what Voltaire said: “Anything too stupid to be said is sung.”  And I remembered clutching my wobbly old grandfather the last time I guided him onto that dock, his dog playfully nipping at his slip-on shoes, as she often did when he ambled about.  I thought about how he kept a shoehorn atop the night stand beside his bed, how he and grandmother slept in separate beds with three foot between them.  How, before the doctor made us take away his truck, he tended to nose the vehicle off the road in whatever direction he was looking.


I didn’t really do any fishing myself the last time out with him.  Once I had plunked him down in chair, I fixed him up with gear and pitched the hook out into the lake just a few feet off the end of the planks.  The late spring sun stood right overtop us.  And the perch happened to be voracious that day.  He must have caught thirty of them.  One after another, he reeled them in, flopped them onto the dock at my feet so I could remove them from his line.  “Take that thing off,” he would say to me.  His dog, meanwhile, bounced all over the place, plowed into me every time I knelt to bait his hook with another nightcrawler.

Forward, but no longer walking, I listened as a crack advanced from one shore of the lake to the other.  During especially harsh winters, the ice here might reach a depth of two feet.  Stories of pressure ridges aside, lake ice, though inconsistent and brittle, has fantastic structural strength, easily capable of holding a runt like me once it reaches a few inches in depth.  Inch for inch in depth, I was told it will support more weight than concrete.  I have been told by someone else that you could safely run a freight train over a lake frozen over with only six inches of ice.  I am somewhat suspicious of the last claim, but I know for a fact that as water freezes, the molecular structure alters dramatically, creating durable tetrahedrally coordinated lattices and hexagonal   crystals of uncanny strength.  The density of ice is actually less than the water from which it formed because in freezing the hydrogen bonding increases, forcing the molecules to clasp more of their neighbors and align—this rigid alignment actually frees up a little space between them on some sides.


Grandfather was the first grown man I ever heard utter the word “fuck.”  My father did not swear.  I never once heard my father say that word—maybe another symptom of his seeming lack of most normal human passion.  We were bouncing high across the Big Belt Mountains in my Father’s old pickup when my grandfather, pointing to a fence crossing an incline beside us, said: “Someone got one of those fuckin’ coyotes.”  I might have been six at that time.  And I looked over to see a coyote’s carcass draped over the strands of the barbed-wire like a tattered stole.
I recall those moments in time as vividly as I recall any others of import.    Until then, I had foolishly imagined “fuck” a word invented and used by the older boys in our town.  They swung that word around as if it were a club or knife—something meant to inflict damage or startle.  And after hearing my grandfather say it, I glanced over at my Father to gauge his reaction.  I saw none.  A kind of taboo lifted just then.  I understand that words are just words.  We inject them with false and imagined meanings as is our wont.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, Grandfather drove me and my oldest sister down to the southeastern corner of Montana.  He wanted to show us the highways he helped to construct in the last years of his career as a heavy-equipment operator.  I suspect a certain pride filled him as we sailed over the macadam ribbons of his making, much the same as the one I feel entering a well-lighted building I have helped wire.  I captured a horny toad in some badlands near where the Battle of Little Bighorn cost Custer his life.  From out the window of our room in Hardin, late at night, I watched a couple of drunken locals fist-fight in the street, both men too drunk to inflict any serious damage.


But by the end of his days, Grandfather could hardly fling his bait off the dock.  The transition from constructing the wide interstate highways that feed goods and people to a prospering nation to a weak old man who requires his grandson to take him fishing is not an easy one.  But Grandfather really came alive as I drove him through the wide valley we call home, pointing out new homes, game animals when he saw them.  He took in everything.  “There’s the Merritt place,” he’d say every time we drove past one of the ranches near Lake Helena.  “I knew that old Merritt.  Quite a bird, that man.”

Then everyone started dying around Grandfather.  I have never managed to fully shake from my head the memories of that morning we drove home from the hospital to tell Grandfather that Grandmother had passed on late in the night.  Three of us were in the room with her when she went—me, my sister, Debbie, her husband, Norm.  Stupid with grief, we just sat there in her room for a while, uncertain of what we should do next.  When one of the nurses asked me if we had any final arrangements made for Grandmother, I replied, “We are going to incinerate her.”

My sister had to laugh.  “You mean cremate her,” she corrected.

I didn’t know what I meant.

After a while we drove home to tell Grandfather.  How do you tell someone that their love of over fifty years has escaped without them?  What good words might dull the blow?  We just walked in and told him, then watched as he collapsed, slumped down as if instantly his bones had dissolved into the flesh around them.


I saw my Grandparents kiss only one time in all my life, but I know they loved each other in the same standoffish way as most of their generation.  They shared many hard times, including the Great Depression.  They kicked around all the Western states before settling here in Montana to give Mother a more stable childhood.  They drank heavily, fished the streams for trout; Grandfather brought down a bull elk nearly every fall.  Grandmother learned to drive a car while in her mid-fifties and soon became “Granny Go-Go” for all her traveling with her diminutive friend Dorothy, a onetime dancing partner for the actor Gary Cooper before he left Helena for fame.  I remember all of us kids gathering at the picture window of our house to watch her drive up in her first car, a brand new Ford Falcon.  She took up oil painting.  Grandfather worked at a thousand hard jobs.  He nearly lost his life near Townsend when a rock crusher captured his arm and dragged him into a churning belt that did not recognize grease from blood.  He clung to his life for many touch-and-go days, refusing to allow the doctors to remove his mangled arm, which they wished to do.  For the rest of his life, that Frankenstein arm hung crooked at his side, more for show than work.


When the sound of a big jet descending from the clouds pulled me from within my own thoughts, I realized that I had tromped nearly a mile down the smooth surface of the ice, to the place where the painted shale hills very nearly pinch the lake in two.  The air smelled of snowmelt and sky resting a little too heavily on pine.  Reversing my direction, I started for home again, carrying the sun on my back as did the Navajo Sun god.  According to their mythology, he crossed the sky packing the Sun every day, and then hung it on a peg in his house at night.  I do not like the summer Sun, the heat.  But on winter days I enjoy nothing more than a warm poultice of sunlight held against my flesh, my clothing.  I would gladly pack it up the steepest incline around me.

Still, sun or no, I could not manage to shake my grim thoughts.  Some people live most of their lives as part of a couple, their marriage defining them in most all aspects of their days.  This could be said of my Grandparents.  I cannot remember one without remembering the other.  And the thing is, Grandfather just plain shutdown after Grandmother died.  His life ended with hers.  He didn’t last long.

If Grandfather’s death left us kids despondent, it absolutely crushed Dallas, his dog.  I tried taking her to my house, but she whimpered and slunk around the place and refused her food.  Thinking she might be okay at her own home, I had a friend move into Grandfather’s house to live with her while we tried to sort out the estate.  I let him stay there for free as payment for sitting the dog.  Dallas drove him crazy.  She spent every waking moment hunting the house for Grandfather.  Every new sound sent her running with tail wagging hopefully.  Round and round the house she went.  In her own brand of protest, she began dropping stools on the floor.  After much debate, my sister and I decided that we would have to put her to sleep—a deed which sounds much nicer than it should.

I foolishly thought I might take an active role in this.   We made arrangements with a local veterinarian, and, on the day in which we chose to end the dog’s life, shoved the poor creature into my car and drove to the veterinarian’s office in Helena.  Dallas was pretty excited about taking a ride, which got to me right from the start.

Things turned hideous when we reached our destination.  The dog began to quiver the moment we pulled into the parking lot.  She stiffened, as if turned to wood, when I scooped her up and carried her inside.

“Are you sure you can’t find some way to keep the dog?” the veterinarian assistant quizzed, having seen too many healthy dogs put to death in the name of sloth and indifference by people too busy to give a damn.  Dallas kept looking at me with those big wet and bulbous eyes of hers.  Never one to pocket an emotion, my sister, in a dangerously low voice, said, “Do you think this is something we want to do?  Do you?”

The assistant, a young woman who, by the looks of her wide frame, had not missed too many meals in the last dozen years, wisely changed her line of questioning.  After a short wait, the vet came out from the back rooms.  He asked if one of us would care to be present when he administered the death-giving injection.  That is about the time when I began to shake.  My sister looked at me.  I looked at the dog.  “No way,” I said.  “I can’t do that.”

“Okay,” she said, “I’ll do it.”  Cradling the dog in her arms, Debbie followed the vet into a room in back.  Tears escaped my eyes even before I made it back outside.  I could imagine that dog looking up at me as the cruel trick that is death poured through its body when the vet injected his mean potion.  I imagined the dull horror.

Outside, I stood below a pair of Russian olive trees.  A strong wind kicked shed leaves around their gnarled trunks.  I wept like a schoolchild.  A long time later, my sister came outside.  “I’m sorry,” I told her.  “I’m too weak.”

“She went fast.  She was shaking, so I held her.  She just went to sleep.”
We held each other for a while, the dead leaves running and jumping at us there below the trees.  I felt as if we had just killed everyone in the family.

To this day, thinking about that brings me to tears.

Reaching my dock, I jumped onto the planks and booted holes in the drifts.  I drank in the good air, the sun.  In spite of it all, I am dumb enough to be happy most of the time.  Sometimes, driving across the wide valley, I look out at the passing homes and alfalfa fields, and say, “There’s the Merritt place over there.”


--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Something Nietzsche Said

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

--Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, January 27, 2017

Killer Treadmills

I have recovered quite well, thank you.  Furthermore, I come away with sage advice: Don’t text and treadmill.
I’ll get back to me in a bit.
First this.  According to a Live Science article by Rachael Rettner, there were 30 deaths associated with treadmills in the U.S. between 2003 and 2012.  On average, three deaths occur each year.  Aamer Madhani reports in USA Today that hospital emergency departments across our fruited plain saw an estimated 24,400 treadmill related injuries in 2015.
There have been some notable treadmill deaths in recent years.  Perhaps you recall the death of heavyweight Mike Tyson’s 4-year-old daughter a half-dozen years back.  More recently, you may remember the death of Dave Goldberg—CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg.  Mr. Goldberg died as a result of head trauma and blood loss following an accident that occurred while he was exercising on his treadmill.
My treadmill accident was a bit more (pun intended) run-of-the-mill.
On many previous occasions, I have sought to establish that I am an idiot.
A quick review for new readers.  I don’t read instructions.  I don’t heed warnings.  I don’t pay attention.  I once hit myself in the head—full force—with my own hammer.
Two fairly simple safety measures sit atop the treadmill safety hierarchy.   First, tether yourself to the safety key so a fall will automatically stop the machine.  Second, move your treadmill away from walls.  These may hurt you in a fall and may pin you against the active walking belt.
Boring stuff, right?  That’s for dumb people.
So, with both measures firmly ignored, I fired up my machine yesterday and started walking.  My much, much, much smarter-than-me phone sat in a cubby on the control panel.  When a text dinged in, I casually picked up the phone—still walking—and then tried to respond. 
My response turned out to be me ejecting off the end of the walking belt, phone in hand.  Down I dropped against the belt.  I scrambling in place, stuck there between the active machine and the wall.  The belt continued to grind away at my right knee as I flopped around like a fish flung down a staircase.
This continued until that girl, who happened to be nearby, ran over and pulled the running key and saved me.
Thanks, that girl!
This morning I have been reading about treadmill safety.  It’s a page-turner, for sure.

--Mitchell Hegman

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Chocolate Brown Leather Sofa Loveseat Recliner Thing

We now have a chocolate brown leather sofa loveseat recliner thing at the center of our living room.  That girl spotted the chocolate brown leather sofa loveseat recliner thing at Costco, sat in it, and was immediately struck with a desire to have one.
As a note, chocolate brown leather sofa loveseat recliner things are big.  Ours came in a ponderously huge cardboard box.  Normally, my 40 pounds of housecat freak-out when I plunk a big box down someplace in the house.  Not so with the box for the chocolate brown leather sofa loveseat recliner thing.  First of all, there was no “plunking down” a box that big.  That girl and I had to shove it through the front door and ease it down the single step.  And the box was so big it did not register a threat.
We (meaning me) talked about waiting until today to unpack and assemble the some-assembly-required chocolate brown leather sofa loveseat recliner thing.  That lasted to about five minutes, at which time we (meaning that girl) decided to open the box under the guise of “making sure everything is undamaged in there.”
By the end of the evening, that girl was happily flung across the chocolate brown leather sofa loveseat recliner thing watching television.  Today, we (likely meaning that girl) will decide how we (meaning both of us) shall rearrange our furniture around the chocolate brown leather sofa loveseat recliner thing.   
Posted is a photograph of that girl and the box last night and a photograph I captured just this morning.  If you look carefully you can find my 40 pounds of housecat in the latest photograph.

--Mitchell Hegman

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

White Grass and Blue Shadows

Yesterday arrived with heavy frost and immediate sunshine.  Outside my house, the tall grass standing upright through the snow glowed and sparkled a brilliant white, as if electrified where struck by the directional light.  Long blue lines of shadow extended westward across the snow.
Truly, the sight made me excited about the rest of the day.
I rushed outside and captured a couple of images and have posted them here.
--Mitchell Hegman

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Treadmill

I borrowed my brother-in-law’s treadmill and have been using it for exercise since winter started slapping us around.  Honestly, I don’t enjoy walking on the treadmill or any other form of forced exercise.
I recognize the value but don’t enjoy the practice.
Some people really enjoy exercising.  They are, in fact, effusive about it.  These are not normal people.  Such people should be studied, perhaps locked away in rooms far removed from the rest of us.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, January 23, 2017

Another List of Bad Ideas

1. Launching fireworks from any point on the human body (see YouTube example videos).
2. Hand-carrying a fully clawed housecat out into the snow without wearing ice hockey goalie protective gear.
3. Forming stronger alliances with your own thoughts than those you have formed with loved ones around you.
4. Guessing which eggs are hardboiled.
5. Using dish soap in the clothes washer. (I did this once.  Only once.  Again: YouTube.)
6. Motorcycle jumps.
7. Trying to cut back on coffee consumption.
8. Interpreting anything said by Ozzy Osbourne in real time.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Happiest Deer, Stotting

I prefer mule deer. 
To what do you prefer them you might ask?
Well, I definitely prefer mule deer to mayonnaise and mustard.  I prefer mule deer to, say, stepping on a prickly pear cactus while wearing my slippers.  I like mule deer far better than cleaning out the refrigerator after I spill pickle juice in there.
I could go on and on.
But let me explain why I prefer mule deer.  I like to watch them stotting (springing) away.  Stotting as a nice mix of cartoonish and agile.  No other animal in our surround displays this behavior.  It is almost as if springs have suddenly come undone inside the mule deer. 
Rather than having me explain, watch the video I have posted. 

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mother and Child Reunion

Paul Simon released the song Mother and Child Reunion as the lead single on his self-titled album in 1972.  This was Simon’s first single as a solo artist.  The song reached number 4 on the Billboard Top 100 Chart.  The song is simple but beautiful.  The lyrics are somewhat haunting.
No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away, oh, little darling of mine
I can’t for the life of me
Remember a sadder day
I know they say let it be,
But it just don’t work out that way
And the course of a lifetime runs
Over and over again
And now the inspiration for the song in Paul Simon’s own words: “I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown.  There was a dish called Mother and Child Reunion.  It’s chicken and eggs.  And I said, I gotta use that one.”

--Mitchell Hegman

Friday, January 20, 2017

Of All Things

Why have some wholly mundane memories gotten stuck inside me while I cannot recall why I walked into the kitchen?  How is it that I forget my shopping list, and everything I have written on it, but remember, at the age of eight, thinking how cool I was when I “popped a wheelie” on my stingray bike before skidding to a stop to talk to an older girl in my neighborhood?
For me, one flash of completely meaningless memory is particularly persistent.  This bit of memory seems errantly and permanently snagged in the cogs of my reasoning.  At least once a month—sometimes far more often—the memory suddenly flashes across whatever else I am thinking. 
The memory is from late summer 1991.  That summer, with the help of many valued friends, I constructed my own house.  Near the end of the framing process, I had all outside walls fully enclosed save one inside corner of the master bathroom.  There, I had left a single half-sheet of plywood unfastened so I could access the inside of the house.  The memory is of me climbing through the open studs of that wall to go to work on the inside of the house one evening.
That’s it.
Me climbing through the stud wall.
Of all things, why that?   

--Mitchell Hegman

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ski Day

Some days, I like winter immensely.   Yesterday was such a day.  The morning arrived with one of those sunrises so bright and fiery in color you imagine you might get a burn if you touched the sky.  I trotted outside with no coat and wearing nothing but slippers on my feet to capture a few images with my digital SLR camera.
At midday, in warming temperatures, my friend Bill and I drove to the Great Divide Ski Area for a few hours of sunshine skiing.  During my twenties and thirties, few activities meant more to me than skiing.  After I married Uyen, she became an avid skier.  We craved for winter, for deep snowfalls followed by clear skies.  We went skiing at every chance.  That all ceased immediately in 1996 when transverse myelitis struck her and left her wracked by nerve pain and too wobbly and weak to ski.  Basically, she traded skis for a wheelchair.
I also stopped skiing, not wanting her to suffer through my pleasure.  As I always told her: “We are not going to live separate lives.  I go where you go.”
Since Uyen’s passing, I have taken up skiing again.  I thought of her yesterday as I swished down a sunny white trail cut through tall stands of lodgepole pine.  Pleasurable thoughts, those.  We ski on, but have not forgotten those who have turned off to make their own trails through the trees.
How can I possibly describe how skiing feels?  Like flying with wings at your feet?   Like freefalling with the mountains attached to you?  Like swimming in the sky?
I needed yesterday.  I needed to stand atop a mountain with a radial view of other mountains all around me.  I needed the speed of groomed runs and freedom of carving through narrow steeps.
I have posted a photograph of yesterday’s sunrise I captured from my “front yard.”  Also posted are photographs from the Great Divide.





--Mitchell Hegman

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I Gotta be Me

If it’s wrong to whistle out Roger Miller’s King of the Road as I hop clear across my kitchen on only my left foot, attempting to pull up my sweatpants with my right hand while, at the same time, holding my first cup of coffee aloft with my left hand, then I guess I don’t want to be right.

--Mitchell Hegman

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Oldest Question (Rewritten)

A Turkish air freighter crashed down in a village of simple, if not poor, homes in Kyrgyzstan.  Of the nearly forty people killed, only a half dozen were believed onboard the plane.
What suffering luck…what transgression against an unswerving god…what impossible knit of formulae and numbers…what failure of grace forces down an airliner that plows fire and destruction into a village of sleeping innocents?
Was a marked man on the plane or on the ground?
--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, January 16, 2017

Temperatures, Sunset, and Bobcat

Our valley is suffering a temperature inversion at present.  During these inversions, warm air slides overtop cold air in valleys and traps the cold air there.  Inversions can last for days, weeks.
Yesterday, growing somewhat fatigued from sub-zero temperatures, that girl and I drove to the top of MacDonald Pass for the express purpose of feeling a change in temperature.  We left our house at a temperature of -4°F.  A couple dozen miles later, rising in elevation as we climbed the mountains of the Continental Divide, we encountered 30°F.   That’s a 34 degree difference.  Most of the difference occurred in a 5-mile stretch as we ascended the pass.
We stopped at a pullout and climbed from the truck to twirl in the “warmth.”   Equivalent to lying of a summer beach in comparison to what we have been experiencing, I assure you.
I snapped a few photographs.    
Driving home, we found ourselves skirting Lake Helena at sunset.   The clouds in the sky quickly stained with vivid colors.  I stopped along the lake and snapped a few more photographs.
The temperatures there were back down below zero.
We diverted from the lake and drove toward home through the snowy hills.  As we neared the mailboxes at the end of our road, a dark shape caught my eye.  “There is something standing by the mailboxes,” I told that girl.
A bobcat detached from the space near the mailboxes, bounced across the road and briefly stopped to look back at us before slipping away in a stand of cattails.  A few weeks ago, I told that girl I thought I had seen a bobcat not far from our house, but I had only seen a wisp of a glimpse and could not be certain. 
That’s the first bobcat that girl has seen.  I have seen two others.  One of those, I spotted some 35 years ago in almost the exact same spot as where we saw the cat yesterday.
Posted today are the some of the photographs I captured yesterday. 
I am also posting a photograph of a bobcat which must be credited to John Seals.





--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Brewing Coffee

This morning, I started my coffee brewing and then sat in darkness listening to my coffee maker.
That was a mistake.
A lot of strange sounds are made by coffee makers during the brewing process.  Honestly, you might think water is being murdered, judging by the gasping and wheezing and gurgling as water heats and surges to escape to the brew basket.
For some reason, the fierce sounds made me think about an argument Uyen and I engaged in some thirty years ago.
Money.
We argued about money.  I childishly stomped out the door at the most elevated height of this argument.  If I recollect properly, I drove around the block and then went back in the house, feeling small and stupid.
Sorry.
This morning, I listened as the brutal sounds gradually softened and smoothed into a sort of purring.  The purring soon drained into silence.  Eventually, I poured myself a cup of coffee and invited 20 pounds of housecat to sit with me in the darkness.

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, January 14, 2017

First Thought

Waking to the umpteenth morning of sub-zero temperatures and 20 pounds of shedding housecat sprawled across my chest, it occurs to me that I have the money for a trip to Bora Bora.

--Mitchell Hegman

Friday, January 13, 2017

About Those Statistics

About statistics, Mark Twain quipped: “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”  He also made famous the quote: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”   He did not originate the second quote.  Given these quotes, however, you can surmise that Twain did not always hold statistics in high regard.
I am beginning to understand the dark side of statistics.  Mundane statistics can be scandalous if placed out of context. George Bernard Shaw illustrated this when he said: “Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive.”
Let’s look at a statistic that has been floating up around us quite a bit recently.  About once each week, I see this statistic posted on social media.  A banner reads something like this: Record 95 Million Americans Eligible to Work Not in the Labor Force; Number has Grown Steadily since 2009.
Think about this—95 million Americans who are eligible to work are either not working or are not looking for work.
Shocking?
Yes!
True?
Yes!
But here is the rest of the story.   The sharp upward climb in the number of Americans not participating in the workforce started long before 2009.  The number has been climbing steadily since 1996.  When you look behind the big number you find who is counted.  Anybody age 16-and-over is counted.  All retirees are counted.  All high school students aged 16 and above are counted.  College students are counted.  Stay-at-home parents are counted.  Those on disability are counted.  Lazy bums are counted.
Did the “Great Recession” add numbers of people who wanted to work but could not find work?
Sure.
But, since 2009, 14 million more people have been added to the labor force.  The big engine of change driving this huge number is really the mass of baby boomers hitting the retirement trail.  My hope is to add myself in the mix soon.

--Mitchell Hegman

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Next Bulgarian

I never thought not knowing exactly where Bulgaria is would put me at any kind of disadvantage.  I had a vague idea Bulgaria was near Hungary and Romania, which is somewhat close to where Russia looms over Europe.
I consulted some maps today and discovered Bulgaria as a mountainous land bordered by Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Romania and the Black Sea. 
That’s a troublesome spot, really.
I read a little.  Put in easily digestible terms, Bulgaria is where the Middle East meets Europe.  A large Syrian population exists in Bulgaria.  The present nature of conflict in the region has left Bulgaria uneasy.  More immediately, a severe winter storm impulse has been bullying through Bulgaria this week.
I wish I had known that yesterday.
Before leaving Gardiner yesterday, that girl and I ate breakfast at the Yellowstone Grill.  Noting an accent when our young waitress spoke to us, I asked her where she was from.
“Bulgaria,” she said.
That girl and I had just trudged through six inches of fresh snow to reach the grill.  “How are you liking the snow?” I asked.
She said she liked the snow.  We talked a bit about the snow.  Not much of that where she came from.  She had been a student here originally and is now here working full time.  She loved the clear air of Montana and actually experienced respiratory problems when home in Bulgaria.
Had I known more about Bulgaria, I would have asked more.  What about the Black Sea?  Did she swim there?  Did she need mountains at her back as I do?  Did she have any ancestral connections to Syria?  Had she been to Greece?  Any connection to Greece?
Sadly, I did not know enough to get there.
Thankfully, am better prepared for the next Bulgarian.

--Mitchell Hegman

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Check Out Time

It’s time to check out of the lodge where you are staying when people begin stomping around and slamming doors on the floor above you…where there is no floor above you.

--Mitchell Hegman

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Arriving at Gardiner

You never know what to expect when you arrive at Gardiner, Montana.   Situated at the north entrance to Yellowstone Park, everything from traffic to weather and the presence of wildlife is anybody’s guess from minute to minute.  The town of Gardiner rather suddenly springs upon you once you have twisted though the narrows of Yankee Jim Canyon with the Yellowstone River throwing whitewater fits in the rocky gorge below.
Yesterday, that girl and I arrived at Gardiner around 1:00 in the afternoon.  We arrived after escaping a sudden rain-snow mix flurry.  At the edge of town, we were forced to slow the car as a herd of bighorn sheep slowly ambled across the roadway.   A few feet later we bumped into a bunch of elk.
We pulled off to the side of the road at that point and captured a few images.  The photos I am posting are not particularly good, but they give you a flavor of what you might expect at Gardiner.  One photo has bighorn sheep with an elk in the background.  That’s something you don’t see every day.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Jasmine Flankey Story

We lost Jasmine Flankey on July 4, 2009.   When I say “we,” I mean Montana collectively.  More specifically, I mean electricians and inspectors in Montana.  When I say “lost her,” I mean she is dead.  More accurately, she was killed.
Jasmine died as a result of electric shock.  She perished when she touched the metallic ductwork of a roof-mounted HVAC unit.  The ductwork had become energized by a faulted lighting circuit inside the building below.  In an effectively grounded electrical system, the ground-fault energizing the ductwork would have caused a breaker to trip and cleared the fault, rendering the circuit harmless.
The whole story is a bit complicated and technical.  Put simply, had six inches of wire been used to “jumper” between that electrically isolated section of duct and the rest of the grounded electrical system, Jasmine Flankey would not have received life-ending electric shock.  As it was, the duct remained energized, deadly.  When Jasmine—while in contact with that duct—touched a properly grounded metallic piece of equipment, electric current surged through her body.  She had been on the roof of a church in Missoula, Montana to watch fireworks.  Jasmine was eight at the time of her death.
At one time, I actually objected when an electrical inspector in Helena wanted me to install the same kind of six-inch jumper wire at several sections of ductwork on a job under inspection.  I thought he was overreaching.  What good was a six-inch bonding jumper on non-electrical ductwork?
I was ignorant.
Today, that girl and I are driving to the headquarters of Yellowstone Park in Mammoth Hot Springs.  Tomorrow, I am teaching a grounding and bonding class to a dozen park employees there.
It’s a big deal.  Grounding and bonding is a big deal.  It’s a dense subject.
The class will begin with a telling of the Jasmine Flankey story.  As a class, we break down the grounding system that killed her. Then, we spend eight hours discussing the hundreds of other details associated with grounding and bonding—one hour for each of Jasmine Flankey’s years.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, January 8, 2017

20 Pounds of Housecat Under 12 Pounds of Footstool

20 pounds of housecat, Splash, has taken on a new habit.  He spends a substantial part of his day scrunched under that girl’s footstool.  If that girl moves the footstool to a new spot in the living room, Splash will eventually end up there underneath it.
To begin, cats are wary.  They operate on the assumption the sky will fall on them at any moment.  The footstool, I suppose, will offer some protection should the sky abruptly fall.
While most dogs would immediately jump up and run off to investigate an errant noise in the house, most cats will instinctively shrink back at first.  Some cats may go investigate after an extended silence.  Some cats may not bother to investigate at all.  A cat may follow you if you go investigate the noise, but they are more apt to watch you leave and hope you return with food for them.
Housecats find comfort and security when cradled away in small spaces.  Boxes are perfect.  A female cat that I once lived with sometimes slept in one of our bathroom sinks.  I had another cat that crawled under my blankets to sleep with me.  I am sure you have seen zillions of photographs of sleeping cats on the internet.
One of the reasons I like cats is because I feel a sense of well-being when I find 20 or 40 pounds of housecat sleeping peacefully in various places and various poses in my house.  I suppose you could say a sleeping cat in my presence is something rather opposite of an alarm.  They are an indication that all is well.  I feel safe while they are there, snuggled into some small space alongside me.
Should something crash in another room or the doorbell ring…well, suddenly I am on my own.

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wrong Turn

In my dream, I struck a road running along the grassy rim of an escarpment overlooking a beautiful valley.  The valley was expansive and filled with open ranches and cloud-shadows roaming through pastures.  I had two options.  Turn right and climb to a higher view.  Turn left and descend a long, thinning road into the valley.
I turned right.  Driving along, I found my eyes continually drawn to the valley.  For that reason, I didn’t notice, until too late, that I had driven upon private property.  I discovered myself wheeling around in a wide driveway immediately below an extensive mansion with an incredible fa├žade of windows.
This is where reality unplugs.
Upon turning around and heading back, I found myself inside the mansion.  An elderly man appeared as I tried to navigate around a heavy wooden table and exit through a spacious room on the passenger side.
“He’s right here!” the man yelled. 
A younger woman—obviously the man’s wife—strode in from another room.
I drew to a stop, now finding myself just standing there without a car.  I allowed the couple to approach me.
“Didn’t you see the sign?” the man asked.
“Nope,” I said.  “The drive was so beautiful, I just…drove without paying attention.”
I apologized abundantly.  I gave them my name and told them where I lived.  After much conversation, they agreed to let me go with a warning.  “Someday,” the old man cautioned, “we are going to repay you by showing up inside your house, unannounced.”
The dream pretty much faded as I walked out of their house.
Two things.
First, I can totally see myself driving right through a mansion because I am distracted by gawking around.  Second, I was fairly guarded when I wandered out to the kitchen from my bedroom this morning.  What if I bumped into that couple?

--Mitchell Hegman

Friday, January 6, 2017

Weighing Myself

As do many people, I have a weight scale in my bathroom.  My habit is to weigh myself while not wearing clothing.  My weight has been fairly stable for some time.  Yesterday, I popped onto the scale and discovered that I was more than a bit over my normal number.
I regarded the scale somewhat in disbelief.  Only then did I notice I was still holding my toothbrush in hand. 
Apparently, I have a pretty heavy toothbrush.

--Mitchell Hegman

Thursday, January 5, 2017

In Reality

By day he floats on the lake among white swans, perfect in his reflection, but at night he’s bumping into walls and peeing on his own bare feet just the same as the rest of us.

--Mitchell Hegman

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Sum of All Our Parts

Before we became the sum of all our parts,
we were colorful stick figures chalked on the sidewalk.
When hard rains came, we flowed into pastel paintings
and ran downhill with distorted smiles.
At sidewalk’s end we swirled together in fear,
our voices, our arms, and our smiles spinning into shades of gray.
--Mitchell Hegman

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Waist

Last night, I watched a program featuring Cathie Jung.  She holds the record for having the smallest waist in the world (for an otherwise normal-sized woman).  She stands 5 foot 6 inches tall.  Her waist measures 15 inches—the same size as a jar of mayonnaise.  According to www.worldrecordacademey.com, her measurements are 39-15-39. 
Cathie “created” her waist by wearing corsets 24 hours a day and gradually drawing them tighter.  Over the course of years she had smaller and smaller corsets custom made so she could force herself down to and ever-smaller waist size.  In the process, her internal organs have shifted to accommodate the change.
Posted are a couple photographs I gathered of Cathie.  Honestly, when I see Cathie all I can think about are those long circus balloons clowns twist into wiener dogs.












--Mitchell Hegman