Awhile ago I came to the understanding that I have tried in a thousand ways to ignore many parts of my family roots and background. Why I have done so is not particularly clear to me. And like most of what we do and why we do it is no doubt a combination of many different factors. Some that can be named, and some that will always remain mysterious to us.

At the same time my wife has tried to get me to write down some of the stories I have told to my daughters over the years. It is something I have not yet been able to do.

It is my hope that this new feature at  ClimbingSky will achieve both things. And secondarily that it may be of some interest to someone besides myself.

For now, I am calling these posts Groundwork.

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I begin with two random photos chosen from the many my mother took with her Kodak long before I was born.

“Horse & House” (photo by Jo Hinton)

“Horse in Pasture” (photo by Jo Hinton)

These photos, probably taken at my Uncle Rudy’s place outside Cheney, Washington, show an Eastern Washington landscape: semi-arid, with stands of pine, big exposed rocks covered with scabs, and a soil seeded with crumbling, volcanic rock.

Uncle Rudy, Rudolph Rosenzweig, was my mother’s uncle. If this is his place, by the time I was young and we were living in Cheney (1966-1972) the house in this picture was still standing but long abandoned.

Memories and stories are passed to us like these photos:  often fuzzy and aged… with limited or no real context. The stories we receive and the stories we tell are conceptualized, contextualized, and changed by those who tell them and those who hear them.

I look at these photos now and add my own context and stories. Uncle Rudy had horses and cattle and kept chickens that he, Uncle Jim, and my dad would butcher with a hatchet. When the heads came off the chickens, my brother Paul, my cousins, and I would run from the flapping bodies that always seemed to run toward us.

My mother died in 1982. She was 50 and I was 21. My brother Paul was 19. My brother Jon was 11. My father was 51.

I am now 57, already living 7 years longer than she did. My daughter Dylan is 24. My other daughter Morgan is 22. Sue, my wife, is 54.

I sit down and try my hand at remembering.





Music Monday

“I wrote ‘Terrapin Part One’ at a single sitting in an unfurnished house with a picture window overlooking San Francisco Bay during a flamboyant lightning storm. I typed the first thing that came into my mind at the top of the page, the title: Terrapin Station. Not knowing what it was to be about, I began my writing with an invocation to the muse and kept typing as the story began to unfold. On the same day, driving into the city, Garcia was struck by a singular inspiration. He turned his car around and hurried home to set down some music that popped into his head, demanding immediate attention.” – Robert Hunter

Hugh’s Journals


The feature Hugh’s Journals has appeared here on Sundays. For some basic background on Rev. Hugh Bebb Jones and his notebooks click here.

Today I am resurrecting an old feature from MontanaWriter. Above there is a link to some basic background on Rev. Hugh Bebb Jones and his notebooks.

Today I feature a photo of Hugh and three quotes from his journals. It is the third one, from systematic theologian Paul Tillich, that most caught my eye. All three quotes were typed-up in August of 1968.

Those who remember their history will recall that August 1968 was a tumultuous time in American history: riots, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the Vietnam War. These things were obviously much on Hugh’s mind as he preached, read, and kept up his journals.

On August 4th, 1968, the day these notes are dated, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were playing sets as part of a very controversial Newport Pop Music Festival.

The world was changing. Hugh’s Presbyterian congregants were looking for answers, hope, and the way forward in this new and confusing reality.

“Rev. Hugh B. Jones”







Stacking Stones

“Stacking Stones” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

My brief vacation to Wisconsin, Lake Superior, and the Brule River have helped clarify a possible new addition and a re-addition to ClimbingSky.

Over 7+ years MontanaWriter and ClimbingSky have undergone a number of evolutions. I would like to be able to say that there has been a grand plan for my blogging or at least a method to the madness, but there has been none. Features, subjects, and directions come and go as my interests wax and wane.

One of the things I did for awhile was a weekly feature called Hugh’s Journal. Beginning Sunday August 20th, I will be bringing it back in some form.

I will also be rolling another genealogy-inspired one based on some of the research I have been doing into my own family tree.

I have no illusions that the latter will be of much interest to others besides myself. But since I have a blog and the space and place for scans of pictures, and memories I have been meaning to go through for some time, I figured “why not.”

A possible schedule for ClimbingSky going forward may end up looking like:

  • Sunday: Hugh’s Journals
  • Monday: Music Monday
  • Tuesday: Occasional & Miscellaneous posts
  • Wednesday: Groundwork (genealogy, memories, photos, stories)
  • ThursdayOccasional & Miscellaneous posts
  • Friday: Photo Friday
  • Saturday: Occasional & Miscellaneous posts 

Stay tuned, of course, for the inevitable changes.

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by.




Journal Notes

“Normandale Blooms” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

More random thoughts from my journals:

I am frequently reminded of the incongruity of the bifurcated life I lead, half technology and half poetry. Fortunately for me, I am for the most part comfortable with dialectical tension as well as mystery.

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Mystery, it seems to me, lies at the heart of all things. And perhaps the greatest mystery of all is  always our very selves.

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How well can we say we know our selves? We know what we think and what we do, but we do not always know why we do what we do or how we come off to others when we are doing or saying something. The mystery of relationship.

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Tie-dye reminds us of what is most essential in life: music, art, love, and light. It is the cloth of rebellion, anti-establishment, hope, peace, and summer. It is a poke in the eye of convention, and completely  anti-business, anti-professional, and anti-billionaire worship. It is anachronistic, irrelevant, and silly. It is a statement that the wearer desires to be guided by their own light, march to their own drummer, and live their life on their own terms.

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Jazz and the Grateful Dead, like poetry, takes time. The deeper you go the more your appreciation grows.

What I am finding I admire most about Jazz and the Grateful Dead is the fearless nature of the artists in the face of finitude. Painters and sculptors work to get a work of art “set in stone.” Writers work and re-work to get each word in place exactly as they want, like a word sculpture. A poet may revisit a poem again and again, but it is always with the idea of creating something as permanent as stone.

Not so in live music. Listening to albums of Lester Young, for example, you can hear two studio performances of the same song done back-to-back and hear that very little is the same. It is the art of a single, transitory moment. It is in that way more like life itself. The emotion of a living soul expressed in the moment, beautifully. To quote Yeats: “whatever flames upon the night, Man’s own resinous heart has fed.”

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I like collaborations in music especially when giants are involved: Ellington and Coltrane, Coltrane and Miles Davis, Waylon & Willie.

In the world of literature, such collaborations do not seem to work. I have read a few “collaborative” works. The result is seldom satisfying. The work seems disjointed and disconnected. Not so in music.

Music Monday

Here is Jerry at his ultimate best. I cannot think of a better way to begin this, or any week.


So Many Roads

Thought I heard a blackbird singing
Up on Bluebird Hill
Call me a whinin’ boy if you will
Born where the sun don’t shine
And I don’t deny my name
Got no place to go, ain’t that a shame?

Thought I heard that KC whistle
Moaning sweet and low
Thought I heard that KC when she blow
Down where the sun don’t shine
Underneath the Kokomo
Whinin’ boy got no place to go

So many roads, I tell you
So many roads I know
So many roads, so many roads
Mountain high, river wide
So many roads to ride
So many roads, so many roads

Thought I heard a jug band playin’
If you don’t who else will?
From over on the far side of the hill
All I know the sun don’t shine
And the rain refused to fall
And you don’t seem to hear me when I call

Wind inside and the wind outside
Tangled in the window blind
Tell me why you treat me so unkind
Down where the sun don’t shine
Lonely and I call your name
No place left to go, ain’t that a shame?

So many roads, I tell you
New York to San Francisco
So many roads I know
All I want is one to take me home
From the high road to the low
So many roads I know
So many roads, so many roads

From the land of the midnight sun
Where the ice blue roses grow
Along those roads of gold and silver snow
Howlin’ wide or moaning low
So many roads I know
So many roads to ease my soul

Written by Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group


“Footpath” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Most writers keep journals. I am no different. I use my journals (analog and digital) to draft poems, make notes, jot down random thoughts and quotes I like, and just to play with language and ideas.

Some Random thoughts from my journals:

Looking back over the years of my blog, I see that every fall my mind turns toward Nature. In death it seems, we naturally seek signs of life.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It takes more imagination to live in Minnesota than it does in Montana. In Montana, all you have to do is step out the door and everything looks pretty much the same as it did when Lewis and Clark first visited there.

In Minnesota, the great prairies have been plowed under. The big woods logged off.

But sometimes, in surprising places, you can find something that reminds you of the way Minnesota once was.

Those moments are magical.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The demonic is rooted in contextual literalism. What I mean by that is that the demonic uses the very human tendency to believe that what is good for me must be good, what seems true to me must be true, what I understand something to be must be the way it is.

In the modern American context this takes the socio-political form of the right-wing evangelical or the left-wing secularist… two sides of the same distorted coin. They are like groups of people standing on two small but very different islands within sight of one another. One believes their island is the whole world, the other is equally convinced their island is the whole world. Meanwhile there are oceans and continents and other planets and universes they refuse to acknowledge or think about. They only spend their time yelling at the others on the opposite island to convert to their way of thinking, or plotting how to take over that other island.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The goal is to get words down on paper. If they are the right words in the right order, so much the better.

But in the end, tidying up comes later.

I have been writing now for years. I have a habit that works for me. Whether it would work for another, I do not know. But for me, it is enough to get up early and to write.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I wonder if something could be written linking: Whitman -> Thoreau -> Jerry Garcia? Or better yet: St. Francis -> Thoreau  -> Whitman  -> J.G.?

I see all four resonating in me. Add Yeats and Hemingway and you have those “artists” closest to my heart, closest to the way I experience and see the world.

In the first four figures, you have four that never tried to fit in, who were magnificently and beautifully their truest selves (to coin a Mertonism). In Yeats and Hemingway you have the two writers that I measure all writing by.



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)