New titles from Bill Vaughn. In May Yale University Press published Hawthorn, my study of the world’s busiest tree. A cultural, political, pharmaceutical and religious examination of the role of the genus Crataegus in the affairs of humans and theHawthorn by Bill Vaughn natural world, the tree is also tied up in the forces that drove my great-grandfather from Ireland to Montana. Curiously, after we moved to Dark Acres we discovered that the largest recorded Douglas Hawthorn on the planet grows here. About the book, England’s Hortus magazine said: "The author's assiduous information gathering, however, does not represent the sole charm of this book. What you have to appreciate is the slightly zany enthusiasm with which he launches into his subject, and occasionally out of it."

Read more about Hawthorn. You can order it from amazon.

In November Arrow Graphics published Making Bones, my crime and adventure novel set in central Making Bones by Bill VaughnMontana. The story opens on two brothers working a secret dig to excavate a world-class fossil in the remote Missouri Breaks, who are attacked by a bizarre man wearing a loin cloth. Four years later, Izzy Sain, a young professional photographer on a river trip with her old pals and her new lover, a BLM ranger, comes across a grisly discovery. So begins a torrid, physical, and frightening summer of cop work and cop love, a farm implement demolition derby, screeching parties, luscious home cooking, and stunning photography that takes Izzy to a holographic theater operated by Creationists in Alberta, a Hollywood dinner, and back to the Breaks, where two more victims fall prey to fossil poachers. Read an excerpt from the book, or order it for your Kindle from amazon. –BV (14 November 2015)

Uncivil Discourse. The Montana Standard has announced that on Jan. 1 the newspaper’s online edition will no longer carry anonymous comments. A Lee Enterprises paper that publishes in Butte, Montana, the Standard says that not only will it cease giving a forum to people hiding behind pseudonyms, it will retroactively change these phony names in its comments sections to real names. If writers want their fake names removed from the Standard’s online portal they will have to petition the newspaper by Dec. 26.

Although we are sometimes amused by the angry ravings of hooded commentators at, especially the reactionary and undereducated walter12 and his bunkmate, Miss Perfect, we believe anonymous speech has no place in publications we expect to be transparent. This includes not only the Missoulian but also political blogs such as Montana Cowgirl and 4&20blackbirds. (9 November 2015)

Valley of the Liberals. The Rattlesnake Valley on the north edge of Missoula is one of the wealthiest non-gated neighborhoods in Montana. The McMansions sweep up the narrow valley for four miles, flanking Rattlesnake Creek from Interstate 90 to the edge of the Lolo National Forest. Dennis Washington, one of the richest men in Montana, owns an enormous home here with its own small lake. There are three private tennis courts in the Rattlesnake and fifteen swimming pools. The valley also boasts two of the prettiest parks in the state. Curiously, considering the Rattlesnake’s affluence, in the 2014 general election voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and Montana’s lone seat in Congress. There is one public elementary school in the Rattlesnake and two private schools, including the Missoula International School, offering K-8 Spanish immersion classes. There is one church, and one grocery store/restaurant. (16 November 2015)

What’s the lowest form of art? Included on the short list would have to be karaoke. As would photo manipulation, especially when the process is employed in Photoshop to mash together several images into a new montage.

Also, oil-on-canvas paintings produced by a hundred artists employed by the Lysee Art Limited factory in Xiamen, China. These are hand-painted copies of the work of not only masters such as Van Gogh and Goya, but contemporary painters, as well. Lysee will also produce custom paintings from your photo or poster. Prices vary mostly according to the size of the canvas. For example, you can buy a three-by-four-foot copy of one of Cezanne’s 1890s series, The Card Players, for a mere $140. Once you’ve got it mounted on the wall of your den, it might strike you that it needs a nice companion piece, say a copy of Bold Bluff, one of Cassius Coolidge’s paintings of dogs playing poker, commissioned by a Minnesota ad agency in 1903.

But for our tastes, the very lowest form of art is the book reading. You write a book, and then hype it by appearing in a bookstore or some other literary venue to read an excerpt to a few people, who are then obligated to buy a copy, which you will sign.Bold Bluff by Coolidge Depressed by the cultural poverty of this scene, some writers have said never again. Unless you’ve been smitten by the sound of your own voice why read your work to people who know how to read?

Some years ago I drove all the way from Dark Acres to the Great Falls Public Library for one of these events. Initially, the only person who showed up was my sister. But eventually a half-dozen very old people shuffled into the room and suffered through my reading of an essay about a strange sport the Dutch love called mudwalking. When I finished they looked confused, and were escorted back into a van and returned to their rooms in a nursing home. No one bought a book. Another entourage had been planning to attend, a writing class taught by an old college friend, but on his way to class he was arrested and jailed for failing to pay a series of speeding tickets. (14 November 2015)

Golden child.One of the most expensive places in America to raise a child is Montana. According to a financial website called, because of the high cost of food, housing, and child care coupled with a low average income and the fact that state law doesn’t mandate any parental leave policies for working parents, the Treasure State ranks fourth behind Hawaii, New York and New Mexico. In Missoula County the financial burden of raising a family will become even heavier when property taxes and rents are jacked up to pay for two recent school bonds totaling $158 million. (11 November 2015)

Bad launch.The Missoulian rolled out its new website last week to a chorus of boos. While the newspaper trumpeted its online edition as “interactive, immediate, visual and dynamic” readers complained that it’s “awkward, annoying, garish, and horrible.” Plus, they said, it looks like a video game. Local developers had nothing to do with the redesign—this came top-down from Lee Enterprises, the Iowa-based parent corporation of the Missoulian and four other daily newspapers in Montana plus forty-nine papers across our land ‘tis of thee. The site was developed by a company called, which uses a template-driven approach to online portals called Blox Content Management System. is wholly owned by Lee, and was born twenty-five years ago in the back shop of the Bigfork Eagle in Montana, which is now owned by Warren Buffett. The only other Lee paper in Montana using Blox so far is the Billing Gazette, which explains why its website is the Missoulian’s twin.

One of the problems with is the design’s requirement that an image must accompany every headline. The result is a confusion of photos, some of them stock images that lend nothing to the story. For example, an article about the Montana Supreme Court hearing medical marijuana arguments is wedded to a photo of, well, marijuana. Does anyone not know what hemp looks like? Also, the subscription price for a website few readers like is too expensive—$12 per month, compared to $6.95 for access to

According to the Missoula Independent a previous incarnation of was built on code stolen without attribution from the Roanoake, Virginia Times.
(4 November 2015)

The worst job in America. Journalism enrollment at the University of Montana has dropped a staggering 48 percent since 2008, according to census figures compiled by the UM Office of Planning, Budgeting and Analysis. In 2008 there were 482 undergraduates enrolled in journalism, pre-journalism, radio-tv and pre radio-tv; in the fall of 2015 this figure was 250. The decline reflects a national trend away from the pursuit of a journalism degree. The reasons are low pay, job security, and workplace stress.

According to, reporters working for Lee Enterprises, a corporation that owns five daily newspapers in Montana, are paid as little as $13.64 per hour, which works out to an annual salary of slightly more than $28,000. Veteran reporters and editors and routinely forced to take buyouts of their contracts so that their relatively expensive salaries can be replaced by lower wages paid to journalists with less experience. According to, the worst job in America of two-hundred jobs the website rated is not prison guard or lumberjack, but newspaper reporter. (25 October 2015)

Other Recent Posts

Don't like your town? Then nuke it. Every couple weeks I drive twelve miles down the Mullan Road to get food and gin. I always see a building that wasn’t there on my last visit, a box store, say, or a house.

Action. The latest project by filmmaker Andy Smetanka is an homage to Missoula called A Place, Sort Of.

Getting what you pay for. Lee Newspapers announced September 15 that the corporation has hired two reporters to cover Montana state government.

Trojan.On September 4 one of the computers at Dark Acres received an email notification that a fax was waiting for us from a Montana auto dealership from which we bought a pick-up a few years ago.

A Montana Noir. In Heads or ? rough-looking customers named Tailfin and Boxcar play a game of Cards in the Hat.

Were the Celts real or imagined?The ten-thousand people who attended the Celtic Festival in Missoula July 24 and 25 watched young women dance Irish dances, listened to bagpipe bands and applauded as a scowling seven-year-old won the red-hair contest.

Missoula plants trees that pollute. On any hot day in the Garden City the 100,000 “hybrid” poplars planted by the City of Missoula near the frenetic intersection of Reserve Street with Mullan Road emit several tons of chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Earthquake relief. How can you be sure the money you donate to help the victims of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal actually does anyone any good?

Despite the bad press fraternity and sororities are not going away. They yelled at us and made us do pushups. We slept on the floor like dogs. At four a.m. they switched on the lights.

Country mice: beware of Kirkland brand toilet paper. Although Dark Acres is only eight miles from a box store we sometimes feel like we’re living on Mars.

Is a journalism degree worth the expense? According to a new study from Georgetown University the job market for college graduates has improved for everyone except those with degrees in journalism and communications.

For individuals and families coping with mesothelioma there are two websites that offer help. For legal assistance go to For information about doctors, treatment options and clinical trials go to Mesothelioma Resource Online. Read more about the legal battle over the disease in Libby, Montana.