Ghost Towns

My father was fascinated by history. Any highway sign that pointed to an old battlefield or abandoned town, to teepee rings or a buffalo jump, to some Lewis & Clark site or Vigilante meeting place was sure to have my dad pulling the car over to have a look around. I never complained.

Since I shared my dad’s enthusiasm for all things historical –especially Western– I grew up visiting Montana ghost towns like Bannack, Elkhorn, Marysville, Argo, and Hasel and poking around old homesteads and abandoned ranch houses and mines.

Time takes a toll on ghost towns. The towns I visited in the 1960s and 1970s are half a century older now. Buildings I once walked through are often now just piles of wood and stone, or completely gone altogether. Another generation, and they will all be gone… expect those few that have had enough commercial and/or historical value to warrant some governmental attention.

Teepee rings and ghost towns have always resonated with me, with my sense of history and my sense of the meaning of life. I have visited famous buildings and places in the East and ancient ruins in the Southwest, yet I have never felt the same wonder and awe that I feel when I stand in front of an abandoned homestead or look down on a circle of stones almost lost in sagebrush and grass. The longest poem I have ever written, “Madison Buffalo Jump, 1975,” was my attempt to pin-down… to literally pen-down… that feeling.

Bannack, Montana is the ghost town I have visited most. It is also the one I have have the most  digital photos of. Here are some photos from the first Territorial Capital of Montana, Bannack St. Park take a few year ago.


School & Masonic Lodge, Bannack, MT (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

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Meade Hotel, Bannack, MT (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

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“Old Church, Bannack, M (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

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“Ghost Town Doors, Bannack, MT” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

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“Ghost Windows, Bannack, MT” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)


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“Al Hinton, Bannack, MT June 2010” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)





Reading the Ridiculous

“Little Library, Badger Hill Brewing” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I have mentioned here before that I read a lot of what is traditionally, and pejoratively, classified as “genre fiction.” It is what I enjoy reading before going to bed or at times when I am too tired to write or read something more demanding of my attention. Watching TV makes me restless. Reading light-fare does not.

I started one a couple of days ago that I got from the library. Like a lot of “Men’s Adventure” fiction it features a rich, handsome, brilliant, courageous, hero who is not only an expert in some obscure field but also a great business man as well an expert in weapons and police or military tactics. They are also, of course, peopled by beautiful, sexy, and brilliant women who are smart about everything but stupid enough to hook up with the hero of the book.

These cliches are easy enough for the most part to overlook or skip. Details about weapons and tactics can be easily skimmed. But what cannot is the inevitable right-wing political-bullshit baggage many of them carry with them.

In the book that I am trying to read now, the writer has come up with a ridiculously complex plot centered around the idea that a group of environmentalist-lefties kill a bunch of people to steal proof that global warming is not caused by CO2, but other factors.

According to the protagonist, the case for CO2 causing climate change is a  hoax born of emotion and not science and perpetrated by researchers who are paid a lot of money to confirm the flawed theory so as to hurt industry, mainly American industry, and the “American Way of Life.”

It is interesting to note that the protagonist is not denying global warming. That ship has apparently sailed. Even Exxon executives, for the most part, no longer try to sell that story. No his argument, which mirrors many I have heard from righties of late is that maybe is is a contributing factor but it is not the only one and besides it is economically too expensive to clean up and not as dire as claimed.

Whenever I hear such “economic” arguments a couple of questions come readily to my mind that I would love to be able to ask.

First, on the one hand they are saying that researchers are biased because they are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove that global warming is a problem.  Yet at the same time they seem to be  saying Oil Companies are NOT incentivized by the billions of dollars of oil profits to deny their own culpability, or that their researchers are not incentivized by the hundred of thousands of dollars they get to prove that CO2 does NOT cause global warming.

Second, there seems to be a conflation of what is in the best interests of oil companies is obviously in the best interest of the United States. This is an equation, I have never been able to understand. Yet is is as old as the TeaPot Dome Scandal.

I will keep reading the book probably. But what promised to be a far-fetched plot, has apparently become a ridiculous one.



What Else Would You Expect

“St. Francis Statue” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

As I have mentioned here frequently of late, I have been reading a lot of Franciscan theology. My interest in all things theological waxes and wanes. And yet on some level it is always there.

Poetry and theology are after all the two ways I think about this world. And though I may be biased, they remain in my mind the two best ways to think about most every thing.

In my early 20s, I formally studied theology. For the last three decades it has been more informal. I can say the same thing, now that I am thinking about it, about poetry as well!

If I had kept every theology book that I ever dipped into over the years the house would be even more full of books than it already has been. (Though I have gotten better about letting go of books. Much better).

I say all this by way of explanation for anyone new to me or to ClimbingSky and who may be wondering why I am posting these days about prayer or St. Francis.

If someone believes or does not believe as I do for the most part matters little to me. I feel about them usually like I feel about those who say they do not like bourbon. It is only their loss. I am no missionary. Nor have I ever wanted to be one.

What does irritate me quite a bit are those who say they arrived at the conclusion that there was no God, or that all religion is just bullshit, etc. when they were in 8th grade.

I feel the same about these people as I would someone who said they had read Shakespeare in 8th grade and had concluded that he could not write. Or, that they studied science in 8th grade and have concluded that Global Warming and Evolution are bullshit.

For these people I have only… lack of respect. And that is really all they deserve. Adolescent insight is after all hormonal not intellectual.

If you are of this latter group, and you have stumbled onto this blog for reasons of poetry, feel free to move on. For those who stick with me, thank you.

For longtime followers, and I know there are a few, rest assured that I will continue to weave rather randomly between topics poetical and theological with a few stops in between to talk politics or art or music or Westerns or books or sports. By now, what else would you expect.

On Prayer

“Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I have been thinking about prayer of late.

I used to attend a Lutheran church where one of the pastors insisted that any event held at the church required a prayer. It was her view that something going on at church needed to have a “Christian” component to it.  Though she never said so explicitly, it was apparent that she believed that someone (especially and ordained clergy person) saying a prayer did something that changed any event from secular to sacred.

Needless to say, it was an idea that I had no time for. And still have no time for.

To my mind she was making two mistakes.

First, she was making prayer the pre-eminent “Christian” component. Certainly it would be better to insist that the event somehow feed or help the poor, take care of children, take care of creation. That would be closer to the heart of what it means to be Christian than someone standing up and giving a minute-long list of requests asking for God to help and support in some way.

Second, and most importantly, she was making the mistake of confusing prayer with the act of  talking rather than listening.

There is an old saying: if you are talking you cannot be listening. I respectfully suggest that what passes for prayer in most churches involves lots of talking and very little, if any, listening. It is hence not prayer at all. It is merely the petitioning of desires and grievances.

Prayer is letting the heart and mind rest in silence so you can actually hear what God has to say. For I do believe that God speaks to us.

Prayer requires quiet and solitude. It requires letting go of the very desires and grievances we associate with most so-called prayer.

Most of all, it requires us to shut up and listen!

I suppose that is one of the reasons church music makes me restless. You enter the church and there is a prelude playing until the service starts. The service is people talking or singing. Moments of silent reflection are but a moment, at most. And when it is time to leave, there is more music.

And when the music is dreary and boring… it is better to skip the service altogether and to go outside and listen to God in nature, or to read and hear God in poetry.

It is better to do almost anything than to stand in a group of people and talk.

Music Monday

I have not done Music Monday for awhile.

I am still listening primarily to live recordings of the Grateful Dead. It has become for me a form of prayer. Hearing the same songs done in different ways over different years. Especially Jerry’s guitar solos which are as holy to me as Lester Young’s saxophone solos and Duke Ellington alone on the piano. There is in the way all three play their instruments a “slowed-down-feminine-beauty” that I have heard nowhere else.

I have said here before that I do not much like most hymns or sacred music. It would be more accurate though to say that I “loathe” them. Nothing makes my worship experience less meaningful than the boring sound of an organ or people forced to stand and sing some dreary hymn.

But I do enjoy hearing crowds sing “secular” hymns at concerts. It should be the same experience, but it is not. Maybe it is because one is spontaneous and rooted in joy, the other rooted in… expected decorum.

I will think on it some more. In the meantime, here is another Dead song and another Jerry solo.


Monastics, Hippies, and Poets…

“Light Your Lamp” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

This time of year we notice the days growing shorter already in the North Country. Since I am up everyday between 5:00 and 5:30, the later and later sunrises become more noticeable every morning. How quickly summer passes.

I have never been a person who enjoys home improvement projects or yard work. As the years go by I like them less and less. I would rather spend what free time I do have, when not at work, reading and writing.

I came across this quote from Thomas Merton yesterday:

“Monastics and hippies and poets . . . we’re deliberately irrelevant.” ~Thomas Merton

I immediately liked it so much, that I made it my Twitter profile.

My mother used to tell me that our family moved from Santa Cruz, California, north in 1966 because she did not want her sons to become beach bums (my father explains it differently). When she said “beach bums,” I always assumed she meant hippies.

My standard line has always been, if that is what she wanted she moved too late for my brother Paul and I.

Thinking now about Merton’s quote, I see that I am a mixture of all three. Does that make me then three times as irrelevant?

Yeats once said a similar thing in a quote that I now cannot find. He said basically this (much better, of course): everything that is most valuable is counted by the “markets” as worthless. A very Franciscan remark.

We live in a world where everything is a commodity. Our time, our work, our very lives themselves are measured and given value based on a system that reduces everything in one way or another to money. We esteem those who have much wealth as successful and try to emulate them. Entrepreneurs, those who we are viewed as taking big risks for financial gain, are our heroes.

But why?

What could be further from what we really are than mere money?

That is why monastics and hippies and poets are irrelevant. We have seen the truth… and the truth has set us free.