The Angry Corrie 26: Feb-Mar 1996

'M' is for Mountain Monstrosity

Listing, ordering and categorising mountains into Munros, Marilyns, Grahams etc have been major themes in TAC. Indeed, a few well-known TACites have been known to engage in such activities themselves. The new classifications are hardly likely to cause much actual damage themselves; I certainly have no plans to climb Hensbarrow Beacon just because it appeared at the top of some list in TAC24.

Unfortunately, innocent jokes sometimes get taken seriously and sometimes people get carried away. This time, the Americans have gone too far - and, given the regularity with which American trends cross the Atlantic, it is time we all started to get worried. This one is bigger than either fast food restaurants or even the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with their Power Zords.

Fate, or rather the Greyhound bus timetable, had conspired to give me an afternoon in the small Montana town of Butte. Few will have heard of Butte but it is, in fact, famed for having the most state-registered historic (think pre-1960) sites of any town in the USA. It is also one of the few places in America where you can buy Cornish pasties, this being due to all the Cornish miners who emigrated to work in the town's mines. It was not the pasties that caught my attention though, or the shut-down old mine-workings - there are plenty of those around Nottingham anyway. Perched right above the town on a small hill, or a butte as they called it, was a giant 'M'. A solitary but very large capital letter 'M'.

There are actually many large M's in America, though they are usually found on the sides of buildings or stuck on top of large poles. Usually, they are a gold colour and crescent shaped rather than white and chunky and they are almost never found on the side of a hill. So why was it there?

Several possible explanations crossed my mind. Could it be an educational aid: this town is brought to you by the letter ...? Perhaps it could be a prehistoric hill painting of a snake? Since smalltown America is fairly homogeneous, maybe it is there to distinguish it from the next town? It would not have surprised me if it was a landing site, ready for when the Martians arrive. Travelling round America for a while teaches you to expect the unusual. I felt it my duty to investigate.

I set off towards the scrub land at the edge of town, taking care to watch for grizzly bears and FBI agents as one should in these parts. About halfway up to the summit of the butte, I crossed a contouring path, the local equivalent of a sheep track - a mountain bikers' track. Just then, three mountain bikers (maybe some of the above in disguise) screamed round the corner. "Halt", I said, "in the name of TAC" - well actually what I really said was "Hi, can you tell me what that big 'M' is?", but that does not sound nearly as dramatic as this issue demands.

The answer given me was this. The 'M' is the logo of, and belongs to, the Montana Technical College - a mining school. (I can see the motivation behind this, even if I do not agree with it; Nottinghalbion Uni's logo is of the castle on the hill, though I suspect that in this case, the castle was there first.) At night, the 'M' is lit and, if they have won that day's baseball or football match, the 'V' part in the middle flashes. I can confirm the bit about it being lit, as I was later to pass through again at night.

I continued up to the 'M'. The explanation sounded plausible enough yet something worried me still. Maybe it was the fact that this was a mining town and also a suspiciously flat part of the Rockies - just where had all the hills gone? The 'M' itself was surrounded by huge barbed wire fences with a giant Keep Out sign on the gate, perhaps more consistent with the Martian hypothesis, but not so far removed from the actions of certain landowners without any alien presence (that we know of). From the summit of the butte, Montana Technical College could clearly be seen. Maybe the bikers' explanation was correct?

So what is the threat in all of this? A landowner unilaterally decides to leave his crest on the side of a hill, town councils after a bit more tourist trade - just look at what has happened to the Californian Beverlies with HOLLYWOOD written all over them and think about what might happen to the Campsies. Further research revealed more of the same - 'A' for Anaconda, 'D' for Dillon, 'R' for Rigsby, 'sMd' for Rapid City, South Dakota. Not content with just listing their hills, they have to label them too! Could this be a vision of the future for the Highlands?

Perhaps it is not as alarming as some possible scenarios. A week or so later while looking up at the four Presidents' heads of Mount Rushmore, I wondered why I felt so uneasy. Wondered that is, until I thought of how Ben Lui might be blown up to make a statue of Rob Roy, or The Cobbler carved out to show the faces of Scotland's history. If you think such things are of the past, the Americans have a new little project called Crazy Horse. This is just down the road from Mount Rushmore and blasting is still in progress.

Rupert Weare

TAC 26 Index