"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 watercolor, metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"You and your damned Geographics."

I cannot remember not having The Geographic to tease my interest and wonder.

I grew up in the home of a one-legged artist who didn't get to travel the world like his brothers did. But because he always subscribed to The Geographic, we traveled the world together and I knew early that I was just a small part of a much bigger, fascinating world.

I grew up in a house with lots of art supplies, paintings and drawings, the yellow trimmed magazine arriving every month full of photos of far away places, and maps of those places. We always had National Geographic maps pinned to the walls...of The United States, of the world and its many blank places and mysterious names and countries I could only imagine. I learned later that those same maps were crucial to Ike and the other Allies in "The War" as they were planning the invasion of Europe only months after I was born.

I've been a lover of maps ever since. I can sit down and unfold a road map, or a map of a country and take a trip, or plan one. I know how small I am, and have never lost a sense of wonder, thanks to The Geographic. I don't need or want GPS and a voice in a car telling me where to turn. People today who rely on that are terribly isolated, as though they are the center of the universe. The Geographic and its maps taught you differently, and instilled a desire to travel and discover.

My Dad collected Geographics and they piled up in the house. He even had a special ash bookcase built to house them, and I spent hours looking at them, and then rearranging them so they would be in order, month after month, year after year.

Oh yes, I enjoyed looking at the photos of the bare-breasted African and other dark-skinned women in the articles from around the world, but they didn't interest me as much as other kids because my Dad's paintings and drawings of nudes were common in my house. But just maybe that accounts for my intense interest in specific female anatomy today?

And I remember Dad starting to search for old Geographics, from its early years in the beginnings of the 20th Century. I remember jokes about collecting the magazine. Dad had one cartoon of a unclothed couple in bed, who obviously been causing quite a bit of vibration--I was too young to catch it at the time. It showed a hole in the ceiling and a bunch of Geographics in the middle of their bed.

"You and your damned Geographics," the wife was saying. Yes, the magazines ended up stored like that around the house, in the attic. I have boxes of them in the garage--but not in the attic.

Eventually, Dad managed to collect a complete set from 1920 on, which continued up until his death in December, 1973 in San Angelo, Texas. I had started collecting them when I got married in 1966. When Dad died, my brother and I went to San Angelo and rented a trailer and carried them back to his home in Lubbock. He has most of them...still stored in a garage or somewhere.

They were sacred...places to travel, to imagine. Looking at the old advertising was an adventure in American history alone. I can remember being shocked by our teachers bringing the Geographic to class, with examples cut out of them to show.

 For many years, it changed little , although we did. It was a constant, an icon, reliability, steadfastness.

It was a sin, a heresy, blasphemy, to cut up a National Geographic. They were part of who we were.

As with the Geographic, this story is not over.


  1. From the keepr of the geos...in my garage and darn if I wont stop collecting them too. Still have dad's bookcase built for them..but the collection has far outgrown it.
    Moved about just as I have and I have lost many friends because of the weight of the things in boxes. We actually have back to 1918 (no cover) but still a thing we cherish...JC

  2. Well rendered tribute to an old friend and icon of the world! Cheers to NGM and to Terry Clark!

  3. Dear Keeper--

    They are not a blessing, when you have to move them. They are heavy. Travis probably has back trouble for having helped me move mine.

    Next chapter--my plans to get rid of them. (Stay tuned). I think Vance would like them, but he doesn't have to move'em or store the. Hint--see if you can get a tax deduct for them. Unfortunately, they're not worth much. Only aobut a $1 a year.

  4. My parents had National Geographics and I have continued. I don't keep them though. I hate clutter. My Mother-in-Law gave me a complete set of all the NG's on cdrom last Christmas and I am now like a pig in you know what.

    Being a Forest Ranger's son, and a pipeline engineer has meant that I am very familiar with and love maps, especially old maps.