2… 3… Haints: Revisiting Ghost Dance 10 Years Gone (Album Review)


To say that the Pine Hill Haints are the greatest artists to ever come out of Alabama would be unfair in that it limits the Haints to Alabama.  Their vision can, at times, be hard to swallow. Not quite familiar and not quite foreign, the Haints tap elements of bluegrass, classic and alt country, honky tonk, rockabilly, American and Irish folk, calypso, punk, and grunge. They play in Genre Purgatory. To describe their sound, the Haints themselves have coined the phrase “Alabama Ghost Music” but such a label suggests that there exists some subculture, some ghost-music scene, in the Yellowhammer State. Really, Alabama Ghost Music is a genre of one, the Pine Hill Haints — or maybe a genre of five if you include Rise Up Howlin Werewolf, the Natchez Shakers, the Wednesdays, and Counter Clockwise (though all these bands are overshadowed by and even share musicians with the Haints).

On stage, I’ve heard guitarist/lead-singer Jamie Barrier say that they play “country music,” “sittin’ music,” “dancin’ music.” Their various roots-music influences are easy to hear. I did not tune-in to the grunge flair until Jamie started strumming the chords to Nirvana’s “About A Girl” (“I need an easy friend…”) during a soundcheck before a show in Mobile. I caught myself singing along and forever after listened to the Haints in a whole new way. Closer to the truth, Jamie has also called it “dead music.” The Haints sing the ghosts of Alabama, of the southern condition. Ghost Dance is their masterpiece. 

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Sit, Breathe, Read: An Open Commencement Address to the Class of 2017

Graduates of the Class of 2017, I am sorry. On behalf of humanity, I apologize for humanity. The sky is falling, the well has run dry, the end is nigh, and you have come too late to party at the emerald-goggled, cluster-fuck kegger that was the modern age. For that, for all of humanity’s irrevocable misdeeds, I apologize. Those who remain are left with one final task as our species slips from its autumnal years to wintry dementia and ultimately to darkness. We must sit and breathe and read.

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“Decisions with John Wayne – Ducks Unlimited 1973” by Ducks Unlimited Canada

“I’d just like to talk to you about life in general and what’s happening to that life on this shrinking planet with dwindling resources because, no matter what the nature of the force that created this earth and its inhabitants is, it deserves our deep and abiding respect.” – John Wayne

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Bridging Cucumber Gap: A Smoky Mountains Thanksgiving

A simple kindness can have a profound impact.

White-capped, high water swelled the last creek crossing on Cucumber Gap Trail before the Little River Trail Junction. It had rained and then snowed all week. Now, the clouds cleared, a balmy 41˚F, and the snow began to melt on the sunny side of the Smoky Mountains. The day was Thanksgiving, 2013.

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Surrogate Wolves: We Must Kill Large Game or Else They Might Die Some Other Way!

I took my first deer at age 16. I had hunted duck and dove for years but I had never invested much thought in deer. My father and uncle reasoned that deer hunting would be a healthy enterprise for a boy who was prone to flatcaps and shell-and-leather chokers. (What? I was hip, just ask Hollister circa 2002.) Also, venison jerky is unspeakably tasty…

So, somewhere northwest of Dallas, Texas, I saddled-up in a blind — like those pre-fabricated sheds that you’ll see in any Home Depot parking lot. It was spray-painted “camo” and situated in a clearing engulfed by pine. I waited 30 minutes before a buck and a doe pranced out of the brambles to graze below a battery-powered corn dispenser that sprayed kernels twice a day, at sun-up and again an hour before sundown. I had my pick.

I chose the buck and steadied the bead just above and behind his shoulder. It dawned on me that I had never shot this rifle or (really) any rifle before. My experience with firearms did not extend much further than two hand-me-down shotguns, each nearly a century old. Would this rifle fire true? What were its quirks? My shotguns had many but this rifle felt weighty and expensive. It was my uncle’s and, knowing him, I surely wielded a finely tuned instrument. Still, I stalled and thought. The deer browsed long and unbothered. I tapped the plywood wall of the blind with the toe of my boot. No response from the deer. I kicked the wall, making a sound like a kettle drum. Still, no response. I shouted, “Hey!” I suppose that I felt obligated. I wanted to like this. My dad wanted me to like this. I closed my eyes and squeezed the trigger…

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“Reexamining the Forest” by Mark Wyatt

Reexamining the Forest from Mark Wyatt on Vimeo.

“The red cedar tree was, to our people, the tree of life…Everything was made out of the red cedar.” Joe Martin, Tla-oqui-aht First Nation

“Forests sustain many communities around BC [British Columbia]. In fact, some regions are entirely dependent upon forestry. But cutting a forest down comes as a trade off. When you cut a forest down, multiple other ecosystem services are negatively affected.” – Ira Sutherland on the study of Ecosystem Services in Pacific Rim National Forest

Challenge: Look Up and Listen

Raven Rock State Park in central North Carolina is small but lively. Despite yesterday’s late start, I saw deer, warblers and sparrows, battling squirrels, and droves of human hikers with their canine best friends. Raven Rock Loop Trail (2.6 miles) with it’s many tributaries (Little Creek Loop Trail, 1.5mi; Fish Traps Trail, 0.5mi there/back; and Northington Ferry Trail, 0.9mi there/back) make for an easy morning’s stroll through the woods. These trails wander the beech and sycamore forest above the bluffs that fall to the lazy rapids of the Cape Fear River.

Raven Rock SP Map (source NCparks.gov)

Where the trail turns from the bluffs between Raven Rock and the Fish Traps Trail junction, I heard a distant hammering — unmistakably, a woodpecker. I stopped and listened. On the river side of the trail, two doe nervously spied me. Step-pause-step, they measured my threat. From deeper in the woods, two hairy woodpeckers — locked in aerial fisticuffs — flapped and flailed to a shortleaf pine. They paused and hopped around the tree’s trunk before engaging again and flapping to the next tree, jockeying for territory and foraging rights.

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“Mule Deer Migration” by Joe Riis Photography

Mule Deer Migration from Joe Riis Photography on Vimeo.

“It’s 2013 and, for large mammals around North America (esepecially the lower 48), we typically think we kind of know what’s going on and here we have hundreds of animals migrating 150 miles across public and private lands, right underneath our noses, and we didn’t even know about it.” – Hall Sawyer, Research Biologist

“The Need to Move (Wolverine Foundation)” by Conservation Media

The Need to Move (Wolverine Foundation) from Conservation Media™ on Vimeo.

“It’s a fearless animal and it’s a tenacious animal.” – Jeff Copeland, Wolverine Researcher

“Produced by Conservation Media for The Wolverine Foundation, this short film explores one of the most fascinating and least understood animals on the planet. This small, rare, and elusive creature may be able to kill a moose or fend a grizzly off a kill, but it faces serious threats such as climate change for which it is no match.” – Description on Vimeo

Coyote Song and Our Dwindling Right to Roam

A wooded stretch of happiness juts into Lake Martin, a reservoir in a region once called Cherokee Bluffs, outside Dadeville, Alabama. Two campsites, one in a clearing for groups and another secluded in a tight stand of pine, were a loosely kept secret among my friends — passed down between generations of Auburn students — upon which we bestowed the cryptic moniker “The Dadeville Spot.” We’d park our cars at the end of a dirt road beside a four-foot mound of gravel, intended (I suppose) to keep four-wheel-drive pickups and SUVs off another dirt road, uneven and pocked with potholes, that led to the campsites. The secluded and clearing campsites, each marked by a simple stone campfire ring, sat roughly 1 mile and 1.25 miles along the road.

The mound was not imposing enough to keep ATVs and dirt bikes off the road, much less campers on foot. Nor did that mound exist when we were first entrusted with the secret of The Dadeville Spot. Then, it was a dumpsite of empty Natty Light cans, crinkled and blackened by campfires. Mounds of torn and brimming garbage bags spilled all manner of tailgate-party refuse across the campsites and into the lake. Mercifully, the mound went up and the pickups never returned. The bubbas with their pizza boxes and cases of crappy beer could not be bothered to abandon their trucks and hike a mile. For that, I’m grateful. Only the respectful (or, at least, the somewhat determined and experienced) campers remained. Situated below rocky bluffs on a side of the lake that was generally void of aquatic vegetation and fish, we could spend the entire weekend at The Dadeville Spot and not see or hear another human, aside from the occasional clueless fisherman casting into dead water.

The Dadeville Spot became our quiet escape near the university and among yipping, howling things. Coyotes don’t seem much to mind canned, artificial wilder-places like Lake Martin. Their numbers are healthy, and like raccoons and opossums, they have done well in and around human settlement.

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