A taste of home, a journal of metaphor and muse, flavored with wit and watercolor
"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.
God: "Ok, you've got your welcome packet, met the lawn crew, read the rules, signed consent and release of liability forms, signed up for health care insurance like Congressmen get, been assigned a mansion just over the hilltop with silver fixtures and a street of gold, got a pass key to the stables of The Four Horsemen, know where the cafeteria is, gone through training to use the Help-Desk, got security clearance from IT, and have been issued an always-clean-no-wrinkle white robe. Any questions?"
Clark: "Well, it's been a long trip and I'm a little thirsty."
God: "We've got fountains free everywhere, including one from under my throne...."
Clark: "I mean I was sort of wondering where I might get, you know, a real drink?"
God: "You mean a bar?"
Clark: "Yes, except not one of those Oklahoma ones with 3.2 beer."
God: "Me Dammit! You mean they still enforce that?"
Clark: "Unfortunately. The Religious Right and the Republicans won't bend."
God: "Of course not. They work for the wrong Guy."
Clark: "Uh, God, about that...."
God: "Oh yeah, a drink. Well we had to open one for all those Irish Catholics. They thought it was part of the Contract, and wouldn't sign without it. Where'd they get that red hair and temper? Never mind...just remembered."
Clark: "Uh, you haven't heard of my best friend Bob Illidge have you?"
God: "Illidge? Illidge! If I ever hear of the 'vagaries and vicissitudes' again, I think I'll die...oh, that's not possible, but you know what I mean."
Clark: "Do you know where I can find him?"
God: "He's probably down at the bar playing cribbage waiting for you to show up."
Clark: "Where is that bar? What's its name?"
God: "I named it myself. 'Heavenly Hootch.' Got a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
Clark: "Just don't try writing any headlines, please. Now where?"
God: "Right down the street, next to where the choir is practicing. Actually, I prefer the choir stop in there first. It helps them get 'in the spirit,' if you know what I mean"
Clark: "Great. Uh, God, when does Happy Hour start?"
God: "To quote Illidge, 'It must be 5 o'clock somewhere.' Clark, didn't you read the rules? There's no time up here. so there can't be a Happy Hour. All hours are happy."
Clark: "Well I'll be damned. Hell of a place you got here."
God: "Don't push it. Texans, journalists and professors who think they're God, aren't, and don't get special treatment up here. Not even tenure. You were lucky to get in. I had doubts but a couple of cute red-headed angels convinced me. Satan likes you guys almost as much as Republicans, Okies and OU fans."
Snow inspires thought, and thus art, in photography, in painting, in music, and poetry.
We all learned Robert Frost's classic lines of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," and "Dust of Snow." We wondered and analyzed the repeated last two lines, "I have miles to go before I sleep," when all he was doing was creating art in the canvas of his mind from a trip in snow.
But there is much more poetry on snow than that, most of which we were never taught, and haven't read. Here's a sampling of poems and excerpts, to read as you drink coffee, watch the sun come in and out on our white canvas outside.
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.--Wu Men
I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon
Lost as a snowflake in the sea--Sara Teasdale
A light snow
Three Thousand Realms
Within those realms
Light snow falls
As the snow
Engulfs my hut
My heart, too
Is completely consumed—Ryokan
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird....—Wallace Stevens
Come, let's go
till we're buried. --Matsuo Basho
Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.
In a while I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch,
sending a cold shower down on us both.
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news…--Billy Collins
The Snow that never drifts --
The transient, fragrant snow
That comes a single time a Year
Is softly driving now –Emily Dickinson
Over the local stations, one by one,
Announcers list disasters like dark poems
That always happen in the skull of winter.
But once again the storm has passed us by:
Lovely and moderate, the snow lies down
While shouting children hurry back to play,
And scarved and smiling citizens once more
Sweep down their easy paths of pride and welcome. -- Mary Oliver
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds –Wallace Stevens
No hawk hangs over in this air:
The urgent snow is everywhere.
The wing adroiter than a sail
Must lean away from such a gale,
Abandoning its straight intent,
Or else expose tough ligament
And tender flesh to what before
Meant dampened feathers, nothing more.
Forceless upon our backs there fall
Infrequent flakes hexagonal,
Devised in many a curious style
To charm our safety for a while,
Where close to earth like mice we go
Under the horizontal snow. –Edna St. Vincent Millet
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree.
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued. —Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. –Robert Frost
Few people are more important to me, and to Susan, and to the "Old" journalism department, including Queen Bee Sherry Sump, than Farzana Abdul Razak, "Farzie" to most, "Farsooth" as I call her, now of New York City. Here she is on a fairly recent trip to Edmond. We're all in love with this Malaysian wonder woman.
It's still snowing outside my window where I paint...and this is the view...in my imagination, where I am sitting in a wool sweater at a small oak table, kerosene lamp flickering away while I paint and write and read and dream, with a full coffee cup and an empty chili bowl nearby. The fire in the potbellied iron wood burning stove keeps the cabin toasty with the crackle and smell of pinon and aspen. Freshly cut wood fills a box beside the stove, and the coffee simmers in a metal coffee pot on top. Black cast iron skillets, a couple of pans and an enamel wash basin hang near the stove. A buffalo skull hangs on the wall above a book case, next to my paints. In the corner is my bed with a wool Mexican serape as a cover. By the door my coat and hat hang on a peg, above my boots, ax and the canteen I use to get fresh water every morning in the creek out front that trickles down the mountain, almost frozen over but not. Above the door is my 30-30 in case I need it. My dog is snoozing on a small rug over the wood plank floor near the stove. Outside, the snow gets deeper and deeper...the sounds of silence.
One usually dedicated and committed journalist was woefully unprepared for the storm...no vodka, booze, etc....after all he's paid dirt wages. I'm astounded at James Coburn's lack of journalism ethics.
I've decided that we need a stimulus package to save good journalism, so I've proposed on Facebook, COJOB.
Clarks' Offer to Journalists in Oklahoma for Booze. Here's how it will work--Susan and I will host it at our house. You gotta pay E10 (Euros), or $15 (American), and list your favorite flavor of beverage. We will buy the beverages and mixers. You will be required to sign a liability release so we're... not blamed for intoxication, defecation, fornication, et. al., when entering Klark's Keep.
Then the royal order of the COJOB will be officially formed, with appropriate toasts and pledge of allegiance. You will be responsible for all damages and designated drivers, etc., as recommended by our anal lawyers (wait, that's redundant). All dues will be spent on booze. I can see the headline: Booze Dues fer Youse.
Date..sometime in March. We need at least 20 of you to commit to the future of The Republic, the Constitution, your constitution, Freedom of the Press, freedom from depression, and quality journalism.
"When in the course of human events and corporate greed, it becomes necessary for all good journalists--or those aspiring thereto--we the citizens with ink under our unwashed nails, believe that there is a direct correlation (that's to impress the academic types) between good booze and good journalism, do hereby solemnly ledge our sacred and not-so-sacred selves to the future of democracy and good booze."
This idea required one glass of red wine (well maybe two), plus some Wellers and Makers on the rocks). See the price of good journalism.
Addendum 1: No you may not spend the night
Addendum 2: This will increase the quality and "spirituality" of Oklahoma journalism --maybe we should apply for a grant. Or we could call it "The Larry Hammer Hospitality Suite."
Addendum 3: Susan has not yet seen this, so as with the Republican Senate, who knows?
Addendum 4. Read the fine print, whenever I think of it. You can sign up by email to email@example.com.
After my post about "ring around the moon," my cousin John Clark wrote: "My Dad, Louis, used to tell me about the "ring around the moon" and how it means precipitation. It was one of the most vivid and happiest memories I have of him. :)"
Louis was the second of five boys born dirt poor in the red clay town of Comanche, Oklahoma almost a century ago. Louis and Champ married beautiful Catholic women, and thus I have a lot of cousins on my dad Terrence's side, and many more on Mom's. I expect that all of Louis' children and Champ's children also heard that term, "ring around the moon."
I wonder how far back that goes, and what other memories are triggered by it?
It's sleeting outside as I paint this...the high ice clouds coming in before the ice storm, bare winter branches silhouetted against the blue-black sky and speeding white clouds illuminated by the moon. I imagine it was like this long ago, in Comanche.
Dedicated to the five "Clark boys"--Terrence, Louis, Rex, Mike and Champ.
My visitors today! Ages 4 and 1, on their way to California with Vance and Kerin to a new assignment at Vandenberg AFB. Thank you!
The girls just arrived from Missouri where they visited cousin Liberty Faye Clark, soon to be 1, and Derrick and Naomi. And their cousin Erin Ann Bell in Amarillo will be 8 years old tomorrow. Thank you!
"A storm is coming," my folks would say, in those long ago days before TV, or TV weather forecasts, and certainly before superduperpuperxtraspecialwithcute-name radar that keeps us "updated," by shineywiteteethweather celebrities who promise to "take care of us," by showing the exact track and timing and directions and velocities of wind, amounts of precip, amount of mold, pollen, and how thick the hair is on the back of the squirrels.
My parents knew because they had seen a wide circle around the moon.
I was outside last night and looked up, and there was the moon, with a eerie white circle around it, cause by reflections of moonlight through ice clouds that are precursors of coming weather change.
I'm amazed our ancestors survived without Gary England or Mike Morgan or some other person we watch because "we like" them. Our ancestors knew when a storm was coming without all the fancy gadgets. They knew enough to stock up on food and wood, to care for the livestock, to handle the worst Nature could throw at them, in poorly insulated homes without electricity, central heat, or even gas heat. That's because they lived with nature, not quarantined from it as we are. They, like the American Indians, could forecast the weather because they could read the signs.
There were others than just the circle around the moon, of course. The color of skies, the directions of winds, and probably many we have forgotten or never heard about.
Went to the grocery store to "stock up," this evening. I've never seen so many empty shelves. Oblivious to the circle around the moon, but tuned in to TV, Okies are getting ready. As the Apostle Paul wrote in a different context, we are "laying by in store," a very old weather term for what people did when they saw the circle around the moon.
My feature writing class just watched Hank Stuever on UTube talking about his book Tinsel--America's Christmas. I highly recommend it. He said, "We have big box houses, big box churches, big box stores...."
Made me think of Pete Seeger of my era singing Malvena Reyonlds" "Little Boxes." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONEYGU_7EqU
In East Texas, springtime feels like it just rained, or is about to.
There's no horizon, and the humid skies are usually Confederate gray as the warm Gulf air sticks to you.
More than the air sticks to you.
Driving in East Texas is like going back into the womb almost. It's warm, and wet, and ... green.
This is one of the places families are born, and grow, and spread out like runners from the ivy growing up the trunks of the hardwoods, across miles and years.
You realize that when you go back for the funeral of an aunt, your mother's youngest sister and her friend.
You realize that as you sit around in lawn chairs visiting with cousins you hadn't seen for years.
The memories of earlier years come flooding back, drenching you like the soft Texas rain which begins as a mist and then just seems to saturate every green plant before moving on elsewhere. And without horizons you can't see the rain coming or going, but it leaves pools of standing water and wet pavement and water-dappled leaves to mark its passing, like the memories.
Memories of playing as a child with cousins, or aunts and uncles doing magic tricks, or playing the guitar, or playing 42. Memories of walking to a nearby Mom and Pop store to buy 5-cent Cokes and 3-cent candy bars. Memories of going to grandma's house where she made cornbread in old cast iron forms. Memories of teen-agers going to the corner drug store to escape the heat. Memories of sitting on a porch with a summer girlfriend, watching the rain come down and the moments sweep by.
Memories of aunts and uncles and parents long gone.
"I feel like I'm going back in time when I come here," I tell two of my cousins mourning the death of their mother.
One cousin replies: "In this town time stands still."
My cousin who works in a nursing home says in her soft East Texas drawl, "I work with time every day."
(Written while driving north from Silsbee a few years ago, watching, wondering, wandering)
"You've got your newspaper back," said a friend last night, as I was showing him some photos and writing on my blog.
Immediate thoughts about The Waurika News-Democrat, and the smell of printer's ink and newsprint. Hmm. Printer's ink without the ink?
Fascinating. More soon. Now it's time to go to "church." The church of Panera Bread down the street where friends have communion, read the Bible (NY Times on- and off-line), sermonize and fellowship. (It's open communion, but the bread isn't unleavened.)
A Dogon mask from my trip to Mali. Susan says the profile looks like me. Hmph. Hold the wise cracks.
The Dogon are a tribe known for their mythology, mask ceremonies, architecture, and sculpture. They also refused to convert to Islam centuries ago, and had to retreat to isolated areas. These included cliff dwellings much like the Anasazi of the American southwest At first glance at their ruins you'd think you were looking at a the stone ruins of Canyon de Chelly or Mesa Verde in Arizona and Colorado. Today they inhabit villages in south central Mali, south of the Niger...still remote, still independent.
These people are one of the reasons I felt at home in Mali...independent people who resisted so-called "progress." The American Indians also resisted a religious invasion, and would have lost, but they adapted Catholicism to their native religions and survived, Their native religions are the strongest and most mysterious still, as are the Dogon's animism. The other reason I felt at home there was the rock and adobe of dwellings of the desert., and at least two foreign languages. you know you are a visitor, and you stand out to all the native peoples.
This wooden mask used in religious activities says all of this to me. Don't call these people primitive. It reminds me of how many masks and costumes Americans wear religiously every day--makeup, suit and ties, cowboy hats and boots, obscenely big cars or obscenely expensive ones, houses, club memberships, sports logos, designer clothes, high heels, shorts, low cut blouses, hair styling and coloring, decals on cars, the churches we attend--even the churches have costumes.
As to whether the profile matches mine...well, the nose, the protruding lips. Oh, and the hair!
Joking aside, when you put this mask over your face, you can smell the wood and the desert and the otherworldly beliefs and mysteries that transcend our recent and material so-called "civilization."
Erin Ann Bell will be eight years old this week. But if you're going to send a birthday card, you better send Hello cards to sister and brother.
They attend the balloon festival in Albuquerque
Abby loves pink and princesses
Max loves trains
Aw, it's such hard work, such an obligation. Sure. This is so much fun. These come from joy and thankfulness. I'm sure I wasn't the best father in the world, but I tried hard and provided, and with the help of God, strong genes, luck, and their exceptional mother, we have four really terrific children. And now the grandchildren.
View from the leather couch out our front window, evening...
I love windows, including the old wooden one hanging on the brick wall...they're portals for ghosts and other lives...Susan gave me the old wooden window, with peeling paint, from a long ago farm house...
A few years ago, I attended a watercolor workshop at Quartz Mountain art center in southwest Oklahoma. Teacher was nationally renowned Don Nice, and he pushed our limits. I was still discovering watercolor--as I am today.
There is a small cave near the lodge...undoubtedly inhabited by native Americans for hundreds of years in foul weather. It's cool and damp in the summer, and with a small fire would be wonderful in a blizzard, among the ancient granite rocks of the area. Time seems to stand still. Today of course, Lake Lugart covers the low areas.
I was a lone journalist and amateur artist among a bevy of art teachers from all over Oklahoma. I was astounded at their talent. single at the time, I was also inspired by the predominately young female teachers. I learned much and made strong friendships. The art spirit was enhanced by evening confabs around the bar, on cold autumn evenings.
How do you paint a cave? This detail of a larger image shows my attempt at something new. Actual painting is 11 by 16, and the scanner won't take it all.
But I hope I catch the mystery and romance and history of the cave, looking out from its mouth to a distant mountain, with the lake in between, in autumn.
I experimented a lot here, and felt linked to ancient cave artists, who painted on the rock walls. I connected with the earth in that cave, and my painting was different. Creativity from mother earth. I learned much about myself. We are small and insignificant and the rocks and the earth will be here long after we are. Is that what Cro-Magnon's cave art was about in pre-historic Europe. How can you not worship life and the earth?
January books...completed: Rilke's "Letters to a young poet," Erica Jong's "Seducing the Demon, Writing for my Life." and "Hillerman's Landscape, " by Hillerman and Strel, just completed. Three this year... y tu?
More on the Hillerman book soon. I know where Susan and I will be traveling this year. Into the land of the dine'.
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men have certain inalienable rights...life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Damn revolutionaries! If you don't believe in that statement from the Declaration of Independence, you don't have to, thanks to people smarter and better educated and more advanced than any of us, who also died for those words.
This came to mind when Cindy McCain endorsed gay marriage today. I am not gay--as a number of people can certainly testify. I am unabashedly heterosexual. I don't agree with homosexuality. I also don't agree with my brother, my secretary, The Dallas Cowboys, The OKC Thunder, OU football, speed traps, the commercial rape of the American West, Fox "News," many Republicans, high tuition for my students, 60 mph speed limits, "Gay Pride," many administrators, and the Religious Right and Left. I own a rifle and a pistol. So?
But as with one former favorite student whose mother is a lesbian, I agree with Cindy McCain--what I'd expect from a real maverick married to a partial maverick who ran with a fake maverick now on Fox. I don't care. Leave me alone. I'll leave you alone. America is supposed to be big enough for all ideas to get equal treatment--in criticism and respect.
America was founded, not as a Christian nation but in the Age of Reason. Check the facts, if you dare. The Founding Fathers believed that the universe was logical and that God set it in motion like a clock, and left it up to us to work it out.
They feared organized religion because that's what they had in England--state-sanctioned religion. Just leave people free and they're logical and will choose correctly--don't mandate how one group or another can live or believe or think. And let them choose.
The scariest movement in America--and they have every right to be that way--is the so-called "Religious Right." They want everyone to believe like them, or to enforce on others their beliefs, through laws, lies, pressure and more such "applesauce," (tasty, but empty) as Will Rogers would have said.
All that said, I think Sarah Palin is "hot." No wonder she's attractive to all those morality-prepressed Republicans and the Religious Right. They can get off and have their fantasy of a sexy babe and condemn it at the same time in self-righteous facades. Face it, someone needs to heat up Alaska, and she does. In my neck of the woods ( Texas, Republic of) we'd refer to her as "all hat and no cattle." But at least she's a cute lil' ol heifer. If this redneck statement don't rile you up, I worry about you. I'm just a recovering Fundamentalist.
In the meantime, here's a toast to a real maverick and woman, independent, Republican, proud, a thinker, a person of integrity...Cindy McCain.
$45 million to quit? I'd quit for 1/45th of that. Maybe 1/90th of that. Maybe 1/180. And you? Does this tell you what's wrong with America's values? Obscene. He may supposed to be a comic, but he and we are really sad. Just because he's a TV "star." How much did you say a first grade teacher makes?
Of course, he "only" gets $33 million. His 200-member staff gets $12 million. Let's see, that's about $60,000 for each of the poor slobs who made him possible, but who are now out of a job. Not only is he not funny, he's not generous. Lots of money for a little man. He gives the Irish a bad name.
In fact, he makes us all look bad. America isn't a "Christian" nation (never has been). But we do believe in one god. We worship money.
Poetry corner shelf--middle shelf with Whitman as a bookend, pix of grandson Max, etc
In cleaning out the garage the other day, I came across some musty poetry books, covers faded with age, and I knew I had to bring them in. We have a poetry corner in the front room bookcase, of our favorite poets and other books we've gathered along the way as we've discovered new poets, or remembered ones. So I've added to our poetry corner. It has a soft chair and warm floor lamp beside it, fairly close to the fireplace.
The only place I know in Oklahoma City that actually has a poetry corner, an entire room really, is Full Circle Bookstore. I've always loved going in there in the winter when the fire is going, pulling a poetry book off the shelves and warming up inside and out.
We don't read poetry often, not often enough, but when you need poetry, you need poetry...even if just a little. It loosens the mind, makes you love the sound of words, and the images of words even more. The fiction writer Ray Bradbury, in his little book, "Zen and the Art of Writing," says writers should read poetry often because "it exercises muscles we don't use much."
So what poets have taken up residence in our house? There are three volumes of Whitman, of course. The old textbook I told you about, then a selection of poetry and photos on death and dying, and then a small volume Susan gave me a few years ago as a gift, inscribed with a note saying she sees Whitman in my writing.
Then there are several volumes of Pablo Neruda. I love his work because you have the original Spanish on one page, and the English translation on the facing page. You can see part of his life story in the movie Il Postino. At a writing conference in Albuquerque a few years ago we discovered Jimmy Santiago Baca, theChicano poet and legend, and we have some of his.
Also of southwest note, I have "Earth Apples," poetry and fire from the late Ed Abby, western troublemaker, author, rebel against progress, and icon. One valuable 1928 book "Turquoise Trail" is an anthology of New Mexico poetry with poems by Mary Austin, Willa Cather, Marsden Hartley, Paul Horgan, D.H. Lawrence, Vachel Lindsay, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Carl Sandburg and many more. I pick that book up and I'm back in The Land of Enchantment. Another is V.B. Price's "Chaco Trilogy."
From my years in Waurika, I have old copies of "Listen, The Prairies Speak" autographed by Vera Holding, and "A Prairie Woman Sings," by Waurikan Thelma Largent.
Former American Laureate Billy Collins is in the house in "Sailing Alone Around the Room," and "Nine Horses." I've got a 1967 Hallmark reprint of "The Poems of Doctor Zhivago," by Pasternak.
Recently I've started buying, every April, the Wrangler Award winner in poetry from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. I'm a judge of their non-fiction contest, so we get free tickets. I'm struck by how these western poets--ranchers and rural people you've never hear of, capture images of the contemporary West. From two years ago I have "The Last Buffalo," haunting poems about the decline of rural population in the Dakotas. And somewhere in this house is last years' winner, "Poems from Dry Creek."
Who else in on the shelf? An old volume of Rod McKuen stuff from hippie days. John Erskine's 1925 "Sonata and other poems." A beautifully illustrated 1935 copy of A.E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad." A 1937 first edition of Everett Wentworth Hill,'s "Toward the Sun."
Still missing somewhere in this house is "Silver in the Sun," a very old book about the Canadian north.
In 2006 my mother's baby brother, E.T. Culp of Nacogdoches, Republic of Texas, gave me a 1940 volume of Robert Service poetry, "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone." He could even quote from it. It was the last time I saw him, and his signature in it is a special gift now that he has died. No wonder I love the musty smell of old books.
Going through all those books and arranging the poetry books makes me think I also need a John McPhee shelf, a Tony Hillerman corner, a Larry McMurtry corner, a Joseph Conrad nook, a Harry Potter line, two New Mexico shelves... and at least a couple of shelves of books about writing. My art books already occupy two full shelves in the studio. But we're running out of shelves and corners and aren't that organized. If it was too organized, it'd be boring.
But having a poetry corner isn't. Why? ...
"When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd and yet shall mourn with ever returning spring.
"Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
That's what Robert Henri writes in his book "The Art Spirit" which I keep in my car and read when I'm waiting on someone, or just want some peace and quiet. It's located, spine up, next to my seat between it and the emergency brake. Henri puts a brake on my busy life and brings me new truths every time I read him. See previous post for details on how you can get it.
I was driving home from UCO this afternoon. Rain was spitting on the windshield. A line of gray clouds moved slowly and diagonally across the dark horizon, dripping hints of moisture.
I could suddenly see in my mind what it looked like here years ago, without the urban sprawl, just the trees and a lonely road, a cabin of course, and birds awakening my spirit. They were moments of revelation, about myself, others and nature. Thus the painting. My wife says this is a favorite. Me too.
If I had to recommend one book for writers, painters, sculptors, poets, woodworkers, et. al., it would be "The Art Spirit," by Robert Henri.
I've written about him and his painting "Himself" and quotes before--see earlier posts. I keep a copy in the car, so when I'm waiting on someone, I can pick it up and read, and be inspired, and underline more. Soon, the whole book will be underlined.
K. Lawson Gilbert, poet-friend, and all other artists, you want this book. It will inspire poetry. It is in paperback, but if you want a hardcover, go to abe.com--a consortium of used bookstores and you can find a hardcover with photographs, cheap Mine is hardcover,fifth edition, 1939. He was an oil painter, and his book is a selection of thoughts, letters, etc., on art, before he died in 1929. The first editor wrote of his death: "...brought to an end a life of uncontaminated devotion to art." I like it because you can pick it up and turn to any page, and find something that applies to me and what I attempt,whether in writing, painting, photography, or... .
Today I read these lines, now underlined and starred in the margin: "Don't try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvasses that will show how interesting landscape looks to you--your pleasure in the thing."
Then I thought of the "cabin view" I painted two days ago, and thought, "That's what's wrong with it. I was trying to paint a good landscape...not what I feel. I know mountains, but I didn't paint them." He also wrote, "It is to be rendered according to its nature, not to be copied."
That's what was wrong with my first painting...I was "copying" a photograph, not painting its nature. I know mountains--spiritually, personally, visually, vicersaly--but I was not painting their nature. Nor was I painting the spirit of the clouds. I was "copying.".
Accordingly, here's the painting I did tonight, referring briefly to the previous and more to what was inside me. Here I paint the nature of the mountain and the clouds. See how much better it is than the original, copied below.
Got your attention, didn't I?
'Twas a day of moving furniture, and working in the garage, where the Geographics are stored. Susan's cedar chest is out there, and I'd forgotten what was in it. Guess? Geographics. Plus others in plastic tubs that I shouldn't be moving, including one that must have weighed --I'm afraid to guess. I can already feel it in my back and calves, lifting it from the concrete floor to the top of this old chest of drawers. Which means I'll feel it elsewhere in a day or two. At least it proves my heart is healthy for an old fart.
I hauled this long chest of drawers out to garage, after moving stacks of cardboard boxes cluttered along the wall to the floor to make room for it. Why? We bought a day bed for the office (bedroom #2) where Susan's computer sits on a fancy desk that I'm typing on at the moment. To get that in place, we needed to move her grandmother's couch into our bedroom. To do that, I had to lift the heavy analog TV to the floor and move the chest of drawers into the garage. The day bed will be nice, and not expensive, except for my muscles and hemorrhoids. Susan wanted me to get help to move the furniture. Come on, I said, it's not heavy. No, its not. But I'm not too smart either. The TV and Geographics I had to move several times were.
At any rate-or as my uncle Champ used to say, "Anyway,"--I got it done. It included some interesting variations on profanity as I moved the couch through two doorways and a narrow hall. here were the Geographics, which I've written about recently. Looking at all "those nice bright covers," how can I throw them away? I can't. So they all went back in various containers, up against the wall of the garage. And the one huge plastic tub. Just more neatly--along with camping gear, paintings, etc. I ended up putting all my stored Harry Potter books, lots of John McPhee (my favorite author other than Conrad and Whitman), into the drawers of the chest. I brought a bunch of poetry books inside. Poetry deserves a special place in my house. I'll tell you about those books later. I also have more art hanging on the walls of the garage than any garage in America. Why? No place to put the damned stuff, any more than the Geographics. More on that, later too.
Why are you reading this stuff? Don't we all have common emotions and adventures--the more we have in common the closer we are--sometimes in ways we don't even realize until we lose, or almost lose them? And then, there are the hemorrhoids.
... at least in my imagination today. There's a single pine tree I can see the edge of in the neighbor's yard and bare branches everywhere. Fog just demands photography or painting or poetry, perchance? The grays, the mysteries, the moods, the silence, the romance, the softening of details all provoke the imagination and memories. Friend and photographer Zach Nash caught the magic of fog in downtown Oklahoma City on his fantastic blog earlier this week:
Now that I think about it, I'm reminded of Carl Sandburg's poem, "Fog":
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Today's fog has moved on, and the sun is casting shadows of the bare branches, and adding color to the world.
But if it weren't for the fog, I wouldn't have painted this morning. This is the first painting I'm really pleased about since my birthday. It incorporates much of what I've learned from Cletus Smith and experience over the past few years. I just realized that included is my iconic--yes, perhaps trademark--cabin and retreat in the silent wilderness of forest and mountains (yes, you can barely see the mountains in the background because of the fog).
Steps to a foggy morning:
Step one--outline sketch of main elements, including closest trees... a few lines only of diagonals, thinking where to put cabin and main trees. Then use soft eraser to almost erase the marks so they don't show up through the paint--which is transparent. Step two--Using a wide brush with lots of water apply soft gray wash over entire sheet. Let dry. Stronger gray wash from top of mountains down to where water and corner triangle are. Let dry. Step three--use slightly dam brush to lift out lighter areas for the cabin and trunks so they will show up against deeper gray.
Step four--use a darker gray, with bare hint of Umber to paint in distant trees behind house and across the paper. Note: throughout the painting, if anything is too intense, I used a wad of toilet paper (unused ;-0 ) to blot and soften the lines to keep the fog effect. Step five--I use a narrow brush, called a rigger, to add distant, vague trees, just a few lines, including a couple in front of where cabin will be. Step six--start working on closer trees with a slightly larger brush and just a little darker gray--including the trees whose trunks I'd lifted out against the gray earlier. Shifting back to the rigger, continue the bare branches in random movements into the sky, getting smaller and fainter.
Step seven--start work on the two closest trees, making them darker where needed for contrast against background , using a little more burnt umber to make them warmer and appear closer. Leave blank spots where the pine needles can overlap. Let dry. Step eight--While that's drying, use a few brush strokes of burnt umber and burnt sienna with a touch of sap green to paint the ground in the foreground, making it warmer so it appears to be closer, and leaving some light areas to indicate uneven forest floor. I added a few strokes to indicte a few blades of grass, including two protruding into the lake, which were just taking the end of the brush handle to scrape the wet paint, moving upward quickly.Step nine--work on the shore line, especially the dark area behind the two main trees, making it darker to push the trees forward. Then add some slight strokes of faint paint on the rest of the ground to indicate slope. Step ten--wet a brush with Raw umber, and splatter small dots of the paint onto the front triangle to add texture to the ground, and blurred with my fingers. Step eleven--mix Sap green, Ultramarine blue and a littleIndigo to start painting the pine needles and branches. I put them in faintly at first because I was afraid I'd ruin the painting. If it didn't work, I could blot them out and just make it a bare-branched tree. Then I added color and contrast a little at a time to the needles. Step twelve--Using Raw sienna I painted the walls of the cabin, and using a little Alarizin crimson mixed with other stuff on the palette to gray it down, I added the roof...blotting several times to soften it. Using a rigger I added dots for the door and windows. The roof is supposed to be a rusted tin roof, and by having a hint of red, it grabs your eye to offset the strong pine tree. Red has the longest wave length of color light, so that's why we see it first, and it serves as a center of focus.
Step thirteen--I wet the lake area with clear water, and added some gray-blue the area closest to the bottom to give depth (no pun intended) to the foreground, with a couple of stokes closer to land to indicate still water. Then with a rigger and gray paint, I added the reflections of the two trees, making sure to soften the edges.
Step fourteen--Final stages: I took some indigo and darkened the pine tree trunk and branches under the leaves, and then a little stronger brown gray to strengthen the brush and trees behind the cabin and other closer trunks to make them come forward. I darkened a few of the closer branches. The process includes several trips to the mirror to judge its progress. Then I signed it.
My palette--15" x 10" plastic John Pike. The paint comes in tubes like oils, and then mixed in the large middle area.. Colors used in this painting--Raw umber, Burnt umber, Burnt sienna,Raw sienna, Alarizin crimson, sap green, Indigo and Ultramarine blue. I probalby use more Ultramarine than any other color. All gray is a mix of the blue and umbers. It's all an illusion of 3-D on a flat piece of paper. And it's fun when it goes right. The key is composition, contrast, and being willing to mess with reality.
Other colors include Gamboge hue (a yellow), Cadmium orange, Lemon yellow, Thalo green, Cadmium red, Thalo red, sometimes Cobalt blue, Payne's gray. I have other colors in tubes--Scarlet Lake, Turquoise, Cerulean blue--and others but rarely use them.
I learned all this from Cletus, a talented artist whose watercolors take my breath away. He's a good friend with a great sense of humor, and an excellent teacher. Most watercolor artists use very few colors because they can mix almost anything with those few. And as the famous watercolor artist Ron Ranson told me at a workshop in New Mexico two years ago--he only uses about seven colors--"These are my friends. I know what they'll do."
I've never gone through this progress before...interesting what an old dog can learn, isn't it?
I hope you've enjoyed this. I've learned from writing it.
If I had a cabin, this is the view I'd like. Mount Blanca, in Southern Colorado, the Navajos' Sacred Mountain of the East. From a photograph in my new book by Anne Hillerman and her photographer husband Don Strel, "Hillerman Landscape." They trace in words and photos the locations her late father Tony used in his outstanding mystery stories set in the Navajo and Zuni Southwest of my beloved New Mexico and Arizona.
I got this great first edition, signed by the authors, from a bookstore in Albuquerque. You can find relatively inexpensive copies of this and many other new and used books at abe.com.
I've been struggling for days to paint clouds, and this book and this photo made it possible, including the cloud shadows, always adding to the drama of the landscape. In the west, mountains are the roots of clouds, and all creation is one, something the Navajo know, but the white man has forgotten.
Just out the window,
black silhouettes of trees
remind me of those
halcyon days with you,
when we climbed out of the
cellar toward enlightenment.
Now, at a glance, the wild
birds swing into view,
obscuring the real world
of young men dying
to get home, and the
snow that falls on
our brains stays solid - never
melting into springtime.
On the ferry, we sit and
compare notes as to whom
in life has suffered the most;
men, women, boys, or girls?
Suddenly, in a revelation, you
say it is the Buddha over on
Main, who sits on his plywood
altar, surrounded by plastic
flowers, subjected to all the
passersby, who have never had
a Zen thought of their own…
--K. Lawson Gilbert
I am stunned by this gift to go with my painting. I've met this Pennsylvania poet through my blog and hers, Old Mossy Moon. Here's the link...prepare to be stunned by the depth of her poetry.
That's how we've connected...blogosphere, as the techies say. She loves Whitman so we have common ground. She offered to buy a watercolor for a Christmas card--which I sent, and then I did one of Old Mossy Moon just for the fun of it. Instead of a check for the art, I said, "I'll trade you a poem." Art for art. I'm stunned. Neither of us are going to retire on our art, but all art is kin. Images some of which I can't comprehend, but so...a poem is a work of art, like any other art...I don't have to comprehend...it just is. And this matches my watercolor in mood and image.
This was my Jan. 5 birthday painting, a child of frustration of being too much of a Capricorn, posted under "Capricorn days," as I listened to Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence."
Thank you Kay. Everytime I read it, I see and feel more. Walt would be proud.
That flag was the first color photograph to appear on the front page of the National Geographic, July 1959. That's a far cry from today's full front page color photos, but it shows the photographic influence the magazine had on the world of photojournalism.
I used to teach photography to university students, and I always told them not to buy photography books, just subscribe to the Geographic. It is a constant living textbook on excellence in photography.
In the 50 years since that photo, the magazine has evolved, including its use of photography. Eventually, there were full color photos spread all across the front pages, and the traditional oak leaves gradually disappeared, as did the word "Magazine."
Here's one from my collection. "Old Yeller" as insiders called it, still has the yellow border, but that and the same typography for the name is it.
The Geographic has always pioneered photography, and the ultimate dream job, it seems to me, would be to be a photographer on assignment for that magazine. In our teaching we constantly used Geographic programs and slide shows from their photographers to expose our students (pun intended) to great photography.
That love affair with photography started early with black and white. Then came a monumental step...color photography.
The first color photos in a magazine, ever, came in the summer of 1937 when developing (another pun) technology in both printing and film, made Kodak's Kodachrome film available for the magazine's photographers.
Geographic photographer W. Robert Moore took color photos in Austria, and the world was abuzz. Ironically, Kodak killed Kodachrome in 2009--thanks to digital technology, but one of the last rolls was taken by Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. He's the one who took the haunting photo of the Afghan refugee that appeared on an 1985 cover. Great magazine, great film, great photographers, great journalism. Anyone telling the story of this magazine and film always quotes Paul Simon's "Kodachrome."
Digital changes the world, for sure, for good and not so good. Photos have always been "tampered" with through history in very country, by every government, perhaps by every photographer. The beauty of The Geographic was that we always thought it was as close to the real thing as possible. Photography means "light writing." But digital changed all the possibilities, and today you can't tell what's "real" and what's been "photoshopped." Such an ugly verb.
The Geographic succumbed once, and never will again, after the international outcry when it "adjusted" the position of a the pyramids behind some camels to fit a vertical format in February, 1982.
It was as though God, Yahweh, Allah, had sinned.
But digital has been good for the Geographic and her readers as well. The Magazine and Society have evolved into a news service, television shows, books, and more. And now you can buy them on the stands in the book store.
Yes, I sinned and quit subscribing. But I've found I can "appropriate" those I want at UCO, because they arrived in the student newspaper (shhh).
And all those old issues I have out in my garage, I thought I'd cash in and sell them on ebay. They don't bring much. I thought about giving them to the Oklahoma City library sale, where they bring about $1 a year at the fairgrounds every year. But I'd have to bundle them and tote them down there. And that wouldn't be much of a tax write off. But I can't throw them away. They're part of me, as long as I don't have to lift them again and move them.
Yes, I still prefer to sit down with one and skim through them, marveling at the photography, especially as the Geographic has increasingly broadened the definitions of Geography into social and cultural issues.
I'm also thankful for the digital age that allows me to "Google" stuff for this scree on the magazine I love, so my facts are right. I still prefer the smell of fresh ink on paper when I open the pages. I'm a journalist, and ink is in my blood and soul.
But I don't have to store them any more, if I can get rid of the ones in the garage. Why? Ten years ago, I bought a collection of them that my Dad would have drooled over. And it was cheap. On CDs, from the beginnings through the 90s.
My collection of the Geographic, plus its maps.
I just wish the poets Simon and Garfunkel had a song about "The Geographic." The Geographic is more than a magazine. It lives. I emailed it my first post about it, and heard back, from a person, in less than a week. It was personal...not a form letter, and it will be shared with the magazine staff.
This article is longer than most in the magazine where I applied once long ago, but didn't have enough education. But my "lack of education hasn't hurt me." My education has been and is always enriched by "Old Yeller."