"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.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

143 countries--from a land of beauty, brutality, slavery

March was a dry month for blogging as I was flooded with administrative work at UCO, having only  myself to blame for taking on tasks I consider important. But the cost in time and stress and details harmed my teaching, and since this is only the fourth post of the month, my blogging.
The high point for me was when I discovered a reader from far away Uzbekistan clicked on the blog, making the 143 blog this country has reached. Literally too pooped to post, too drained when you get home to even want to write.
I sure wish I know who this reader was, and the joy of new readers is my journey into discovery of countries, people, history and my beloved maps.
The central Asian country is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world (surrounded by landlocked countries).
One of the ancient mosques
Becoming independent with the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Uzbekistand is a country with a violent history and invading armies. It's known for its mosques, mausoleums and other sites on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. 
Samarkand, a major city on the route, contains a landmark of Islamic architecture--the Registan, a plaza bordered by three  ornate, majolica-covered madrassas dating to the 1400s.
It's officially a democratic republic with a diverse culture and its official language is Uzbek, a Turkic language written in our Latin alphabet. Russian is also widespread as a language. 
What's left of the huge Aral sea
In addition to being landlocked, none of its rivers lead to a sea and about 90 percent of the territory is mountains and desert. It is home to the ecological disaster of the Aral Sea, destroyed by damming and abuse, and now largely dry.
Uzbekistan also has  the world's second highest rate of  slavery with 3.97% of the country's men, women and children living in bondage to slave masters in both domestic and industrial labor,  being forced to pick cotton for the country's main export. There are currently 1.2 million slaves in the country.
Who's invaded? Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the USSR. Ever hear of Tamerlane? This is his home, and his real name was Timur. His man  name struck terror across the  Asian world, seeking to emulate Genghis Khan.
Timur's Empire
A brutal conqueror guilty of genocide and more, ruled over an empire that, in modern times, extends from southeastern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, through Central Asia encompassing part of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and even approaches Kashgar in China. The conquests of Timur in the 1300s are estimated to have killed  up to 17 million people, about five percent of the world's population. His capital was Sarmarkand.
It's interesting to me that in America, we never studied any of this in history. Why?
The flag colors and symbols  carry cultural, political, and regional meanings. White stands for peace and purity, while blue represents water and the sky. It also alludes to the flag of Timur. Green  epitomizes nature and fertility – though it may also represent Islam – while the thin red stripes represent the "life force" within everyone. The crescent evokes "the rebirth of" Uzbekistan as an independent country, and the Islamic faith practiced by 88 percent of Uzbekistan's population The twelve stars, which signify the months of the Islamic calendar and the as  constellations featured in the zodiac.
Thank you Uzbek reader. I learned so much. And you got me back to blogging.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

The day when you can see time

Susan and I at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
There are two days a year when I think specifically about New Mexico...and this was one of them.
Coincidentally, and really unawares,  in the past week, as a matter of fact last night, I'd talked about camping out at Chaco Canyon, the site of the Anasazi culture that more than a thousand years ago accurately recorded and measured the movement of the earth around the sun.
Equinox dawn at Fajada Butte, where the Anasazi measured time
This day --equinox-- figured deeply in their religion and lives, and since I've camped there several times, it figures deeply in my life cycle.
I've written about it on this blog many times, and may not be able to add much original this year, but I'm still drawn to it, to the memories, to the power that still resides in that place
Camping on Equinox at Chaco
I was last there about five years ago, camping out alone, and it was freezing cold. I'd been to see my late uncle Mike in Santa Fe, and then headed northwest, eventually 25 miles off the paved road, to silence, to solitude, to imagination and much more in the high desert.
I don't know if I can convince my very urban wife to go there overnight in a tent on the ground, but the place is calling. It always does. To me it isn't about history, it's about eternity--present tense.
You can see time move... 
You can see time move there, from the stars wheeling overhead, to the shadows of  the rising and setting sun climbing up the sandstone cliffs, to the ancients' markers in their stone architecture. 
These ruins are not vacant
And those ruins are not vacant, as the Pueblo Indians will tell you. They are still inhabited by the spirits. That I believe, else why would my spirit be so drawn two specific days a year, and in between?
Fajada Butte--watercolor
Links to a few previous articles from the past seven years:
Where you can travel in time
When you can see time
Solstice dawn and days missed
When the sun stands still
Poetry in the canyon 
Where you can see time 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Oklahoma Icon--success and friendship, a professor's thoughts

Minute to Midnight, Icon--8 by 10 watercolor
This old prof has weathered the years and thousands of students, most of them  within sight of Old North, the first building of higher education in what is now Oklahoma at what is now the University of Central Oklahoma. 
In recent years I've begun painting it, usually in night time snow scenes for Christmas cards and a few other efforts. I don't know what drew it to me, but it became a recurring theme, and it has gradually dawned on me why.
The old building--vacant for years because of safety concerns--is now undergoing extensive renovation and could possibly be open this fall. It is an icon for education to generations of people in this state, but for me, it's more than that.
The blessings of my years at Central center on the friends I've made and the students I've encountered. I've said many times that "Our students make us look good."
As a prof, the greatest satisfaction comes when students  stay in touch after graduation, when they become friends--you've become a part of them, and they of you. It's gratifying when they surpass you in whatever they consider success and joy in living. And there are many who are just smarter and more talented than you.
So to me, Old North is an icon of success and friendship. 
That was brought home recently when one of those smarter, more talented graduates commissioned a watercolor of Old North to be framed with her degree. Thank you, Lauren Vargas of Boston.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A back roads kind of day

I have to get out...out of city, away from the people and traffic, out onto the back roads.
A beautiful sunshiny pre-spring day..the kind of day that is almost a sin to be inside... if I fished or played golf, I would be, but I don't.
For me it means a back road kind of day. I have to have those every so often. Yes, I grew up a city kid, but have spent years in a small Oklahoma town newspapering. To this day, I don't like stoplights, traffic, noise.
Some days I go east, into the cross timbers and up and down the hills and through the woods.  Not knowing what's around the next curve or over the hill.
But not today...I need to see the horizons, to imagine, to think, to see, to enjoy the wide open spaces, and the quiet. To think about the changes to the country and people, to see a different Oklahoma.
So it's north and west, past county lines, driving through small towns, windows down, slight breeze, no hurry, no stoplights. Peaceful. 
A back roads kind of day. Thinking about Walt.




 
"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose." --Whitman