"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A year in books--Life ain't booked up yet

What have you read this year?

My goal has been a book a month, and while some months seem to elapse without one, others are crammed in. Some are short, some are long (Harry Potter, and Roads to Oz), and there are variations.

So far, this year, I've pretty well made my goal, pretty much in chronological order starting in January:
  1. The Shack
  2. Lincoln on Leadership
  3. Landscapes of New Mexico
  4. Roads to Quoz
  5. Okeefe and Adams
  6. Good Omens
  7. A New Earth
  8. The Worst Hard Time
  9. Poems from Dry Creek
  10.  Cezanne's Composition
  11. Turner to Cezanne
  12. The Dutch Italianates
  13. The Good War
  14. Teaching with the Brain in Mind
  15. Old Friend from Far Away
  16. Art and Fear
  17. The Rhino Ranch
  18. The Associate
  19. The Lost Symbol (to be finished soon)
You can tell I prefer non-fiction. Nothing like good journalism.

Our bookshelves are full of books we've read and treasure...including stacks of them around the house on the brick hearth near the fireplace, in baskets in different rooms. My art books occupy two shelves in my studio.   I've got a small collection of signed first editions, and all of Tony Hillerman and Harry Potter first editions. I carry The Art Spirit in my car so that I can just open it and read a little if I'm stalled somewhere or waiting on someone or something. Whitman is beside the bed--my textbook from long ago at Central State where I was an English major (before I repented).

My books are marked up too--with phrases and words underlined...good description, original thoughts, strong imagery. Like from The Cruelest Journey: "Our journeys choose us, not we them."

My wife reads more than I do...she has stacks of books by the bed on the table and floor that seem never-ending, as she reads several at once, usually every night before dozing off. She's got gobs of cookbooks scattered in kitchen cabinets, on top of the microwave and around the kitchen--the two most recent from Cafe Paschal in Santa Fe, and Low Country Cooking with 82 Queen in Charleston. When we go somewhere, we come home with cookbooks. We rarely read the same books.

It's no wonder we like bookstores, and especially McMurtry's Booked Up  bookstore in Archer City, a half million used books in a town of 1,200--site of his Last Picture Show journey that ends five books later with this year's Rhino Ranch. We were there in March on spring break--coming back from a vacation in Fort Wort--and both came home with musty, delightful purchases. I drink my Sunday morning New York Times coffee from a mug I bought there, with the Booked Up logo, a pig standing on a book, on the side. And Susan demands the Book Review first.

Education is never complete, is it? Life ain't booked up, yet.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What I am learning from watercolor--metaphor and more

Anasazi sky--watercolor
  • You can't control everything
  • Being uptight negates creativity, art
  • Light is much better than dark
  • Diagonals command attention
  • Paintings is problem solving and solving those problems takes your mind off your other problems
  • All paintings are illusions--quiit worrying about the details and go for the illusion
  • That does not mean a lack of planning...planning composition and values give  the freedom to be creative
  • don't use black
  • Too much darkness kills
  • matting and framing matters
  • Contrast, of light and dark, of colors, gives the most impact in painting and in life and in writing
  • paint and write what you know...what you know deep inside
  • a painting is not a photograph
  • You get to mess with reaility
  • Less is more
  • Change colors often
  • Start over
  • But in starting over, don't try to duplicate, just correct mistakes
  • Don't fiddle
  • Have fun

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Why I'm thankful today. My oldest son, Sgt Vance Clark, USAF, has been home from Iran for almost two years now. He requested a UCO flag to go up in the Baghdad mess hall, and UCO sent it to him. Soldiers are still eating in this mess hall, wishing they were home for the holidays. Many will never come home.

I'm thankful for all of them, and all my children and family. To all those men and women throughout the world who are remembering times with their families, snap a salute today, and say a prayer for their return.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Taos, metaphor and magic

Taos Pueblo casts a spell over everyone who visits northern New Mexico, especially artists. I have drawings my Dad did there 70 years ago, and most famous american artists have tried their hand at it. I'm no exception.

What is it with the multi-storied adobe that has become an icon, inhabited for hundreds of years before the white man discovered it? It sits at the based of Taos Mountain, a holy place where no white man can go. People live there, with no running water, and in other more modern houses at the pueblo. They constantly repair the adobe with fresh mud and bricks, so its actual contours change slightly every year. The Indians make the most of the crowds of tourists, charing entry fees, and fees for each camera. You must ask and pay to take individuals' photos. You should. When you are there you are guests in a foreign country...the Constitution of the United States does not apply there. These people and their culture and laws pre-date it, and I expect that they will be here after the United States is history.

Most believe that the pueblo Indians are the descendants of the Anasazi who disappeared about 1,000 years ago from settlements on the Colorado Plateau west of Taos. If so, then they were the first immigrants. The Spanish and the gringos were only the more recent.

These walls saw Coronado in 1540, and Kit Carson 300 years later. I believe the magic of Taos is part of its value as metaphor for the rest of us who in the terms of the old Gospel song, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through." Taos teaches us how fleeting we are in time, and perhaps by visiting and painting it, we become part of its existence.

High Lonesome

The Great Plains, first called The Great American Desert, because they're so open, so vast. Today you can zoom across them at 75 miles per hour in less than a day, but if you were walking, if you were in a horse-drawn wagon, the trip took weeks from the eastern cross timbers to the Rocky Mountains--more than 500 miles. We've lost that sense of space and slow time, and thus the value of place and companions.

I grew up spanning the Great Plains and value the far horizons, the open skies, the few people. A reverse migration is underway and much of the area is becoming more and more lonely as people leave looking for work and a future. Several years ago a couple of authors raised a controversy when recommending that we turn much of the Great Plains back into a huge buffalo reserve. It's not so far fetched, especially when the aquifers dry up and drought returns, making the energy crisis look as trivial as the blowing tumbleweeds.

Then only the hardy will remain in the Great Empty...inspiring more thoughts for another Christmas card...High Lonesome

Watercolor therapy

The holidays can be lonely, even with people around. I'm reminded of the wide open spaces of the Southwest, of snows that blankets the present and make the scattered ranches and homes even more remote. Where there are no cell phones, maybe not even electricity. What you have is a wood burning stove, a kerosene lantern, a dog for company, some hot chili, maybe a book, a warm woolen blanket...and memories. No noise. The only sounds are the crackling of the wood and the cold winter wind outside. The stars are so bright in the brittle clear air, reflecting on the snow, that you can see almost as well as in the light of the full moon.

Those thoughts add value to the people in my life as I begin painting watercolor Christmas cards this season.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tajique, NM

Nov. 22, 1963

  Nov. 22--I was a freshman at Oklahoma Christian...member of the Young Republicans...a Goldwater man. The President was murdered...we took down the political stuff and put up a photo of JFK, draped in black. I wonder if today's bitter, religious right conservatives (who rejoiced when the President failed to get the Olympics and preach from pulpits that liberals are Satanists) would have the class to show respect if the same tragedy happens again.... or would they rejoice with Fox "News"?

Photos by a fellow student who was in Dallas that day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

101 questions for a journalist?

What do you think? What would you change? What would you add?

101 questions a journalist needs to answer

By Terry M. Clark

1.     Who is a journalist?
2.     What and why is the Fourth Estate?
3.     What did Tom Jefferson think?
4.     How do journalists shop in the free marketplace of ideas?
5.     Do you have “fire in the belly”?
6.     Why are verbs so important?
7.     How active are you?
8.     How to you grow a sentence?
9.     Why do tenses matter?
10.  Why do most sentences need to be short?
11.  Can I have too many prepositions?
12.  How do you recognize news?
13.  Clark/verb quote page
14.  What do people want to know?
15.  Why is the “who” so important?
16.  The “what,” where and when?
17.  How is writing architecture? (Hemingway quote)
18.  How is writing a process?
19.  What’s the importance of a nut graph?
20.  How do you tell a story?
21.  How do you start a story?
22.  How do you grab attention?
23.  What’s a lead?
24.  What’s a second day lead?
25.  What’s a delayed identification lead?
26.  What is the inverted pyramid?
27.  How do you start a sentence/
28.  What do you do with the “heavy cargo”?
29.  Why is readability important?
30.  What is EyeTrak and what does it teach me about writing?
31.  How long should paragraphs be?
32.  What’s a beat?
33.  Why do I need sources?
34.  How do I make eye contact in writing?
35.  What is attribution?
36.  Why do we always use “said,” with quotes?
37.  When do you paraphrase quotations?
38.  Why are anonymous sources avoided?
39.  How do you get an interview?
40.  How do you prepare for an interview?
41.  What kinds of questions are most important?
42.  How can my notes be my best writing tool?
43.  How do I start writing?
44.  William Allen White quote—dip pen into arteries and write
45.  How do I overcome “Writers’ Block”?
46.  Can you imagine the headline?
47.  What makes a “scrupulous” writer? (Orwell)
48.  How do I keep opinion out of news writing?
49.  Can journalism be “fair and balanced.”
50.  Cronkite quote on fairness
51.  How has the Internet changed writing?
52.  What is convergence and why does it change writing?
53.  Why does broadcast writing have to differ from print?
54.  How is broadcast writing different from print?
55.  How is web writing different than print?
56.  Who was Edward R. Murrow?
57.  Who was Walter Cronkite?
58.  Why do you need an editor?
59.  What is the Associated Press?
60.  How does AP affect your job?
61.  Why is the AP stylebook essential?
62. What is the First Amendment?
63.  What kinds of stories emphasize “how” and “why”?
64.  What is a feature story?
65.  What makes a feature story different from straight news?
66.  How do you structure a feature story?
67.  What is libel?
68.   How do I avoid a libel suit?
69.  What’s the only sure defense against libel?
70.  What is “fair comment”?
71.  What is privilege?
72.  What does the Supreme Court say about libel?
73.  What is the right to privacy?
74.  How do I do my job and not violate individuals’ privacy?
75.  What are Sunshine Laws?
76.  What makes records and meetings “public”?
77.  What is meant by journalistic ethics?
78.  Why are journalistic ethics important?
79.  What is the most important ethical principle?
80.  What is a conflict of interest?
81.  What are the most influential journalism codes of ethics?
82.  What does John Stuart Mill have to do with journalism?
83.  What does “On Liberty” say about opinions?
84.  What is an editorial?
85.  What happened to the first American newspaper?
86.  How are newspapers classified?
87.  What are the 10 largest newspapers in America?
88.  Who was Joe Pulitizer?
89.  What was Watergate? (Nixon quote—press is the enemy)
90.  What is a “story conference”?
91.  How does advertising affect newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations?
92.  What advertising terms do you need to understand?
93.   How is campus journalism different?
94.  Horace Greeley quote page
95.  Winston Churchill or Mark Twain quote
96.  Is the media “liberal”?
97.  Will Rogers quote page
98.  What words do you need to talk like a journalist?
99.  How is a journalist a “gatekeeper”?
100.   Is there a future for journalists?
101.   Murrow quote (goodnight and good luck)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writer's prayer


Help me write today. Help my scribbling in a notebook be legible, but most of all let it be legible from my heart, my emotions...

Let the words be true, even though truth is sometimes dangerous to those you love and live with and know...but not to my soul...

Let the words be real, and let them reach beyond me to others who read them...to me first, of course, but let what I write matter...

Let what I right touch people--make them cry, make them laugh, make them angry, make them think, make them feel...as I have when I wrote the words...

Let me choose the right words for my emotions and senses, so that they can sense them too...

Let the anguish and the joy of thinking the words, of choosing the words, of crafting the words, of fearing and loving the words, show in what I write...

Let both the written and the unwritten words, the lines and the unwritten lines and the in-between the lines, speak loud and clear...

I love words...let it show to those who read them...

Seeing the world as poetry

Prolific, that's what she is

Check the blog Old Mossy Moon by K. Lawson Gilbert of Pennsylvania....she says she sees the world as poetry...great writing...and our common ancestor? Whitman of course!

But mine is seasoned by Conrad, especially Heart of Darkness--a favorite copy of which sits on my desk-- and John McPhee, Larry McMurtry, A River Runs Through It, and more than a dash of journalism, including Hemingway and Faulkner and Rick Bass and Rick Bragg...also enriched with my Confederate and Texan and Grizzly Bear genetics. But this woman can write!

Marginal and McMurtry--the last picture show?

Larry McMurtry has a new book out, Rhino ranch, the fifth and concluding stories of the characters and town that began 40 years ago with The Last Picture Show, set in the oil and cattle country of Archer City, Texas, called Thalia in his books.

Duane Moore, who I believe is McMurtry's alter ego and about my age as well, is nearing the end of his life. Only McMurtry can come up with characters like this.

I'm halfway through the book, which I bought Friday, and have to write more about it, but a couple of observations to whet your whistle.

While approaching death oozes though the book, McMurtry's characters and their lives and dialogue keep me laughing at almost every page...they're so true to anyone who has lived near that country or is about that age.

Also, while the second book in the series, Texasville, was a thick monster, the others have not been. The Last Picture Show was not long. Both the first two were made into movies, using many of the same stars. Following Texasville as Duane ages, Duane's Depressed was only about 200 pages long. So was the fourth, When the Light Goes. Rhino Ranch is about 270 pages.

What strikes me about this book is the length of the chapters...like the number of days in our future, each chapter is shorter than I've ever seen him write. Some are barely a page. Sure to appeal to my journalist self, I'm only wondering how McMurtry manages to come up with all these men and women of all ages who are so real, portraying them in so few words, weaving in the closing chapters of our lives.

In one conversation, Duane talks about how "marginal" he feels--something I immediately identified with. His psychiatrist, told him to use another word..."old."

Will this be McMurtry's picture show?

Footnote: McMurtry is eccentric and has put together the largest used book store in America in his hometown of Archer City...a half million volumes in four old buildings he has restored in this town of 1,400 or so people. It's 25 miles south of Wichita Falls, and I took a class there once studying the essays of McMurtry, and have visited the place many more times, most recently with Susan on spring break , 2009, where I bought a fascinating old book on the composition of Cezanne.

What and why is the Fourth Estate?

Question Number 2

What is the Fourth Estate?

The public press and mass media, emphasizing the role of journalists in maintaining a society free from authoritarian government.

The term has been attributed to British politician Edmond Burke (1729-1797), quoted in Thomas Carlyle’s book, “Heroes and Hero Worship in History.” (1841)

“Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

The three estates of the British parliament Burke referred to were the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual, and the House of Commons. In America, the three estates—branches of government--are the Executive, the Congress, and The Supreme Court.

But the free press ideally provides the fourth check on the powers of government, representing the people with information free of censorship.

Monday, November 16, 2009

101 questions a journalist needs to answer

Have you seen all these 101 things books? Yoga, architecture, etc? Colleague Greg Scott suggested last year that we could do the same for American Government and journalism--separately, and perhaps sell them.

Great idea, except no takers financially. But it's still an intriguing idea--can you break down the basics of any topic into 101 ideas that build one on top of the other? Where would you start in reducing journalism to its basics and then rebuilding it?

Not some wordy textbook, but simple one-thought pages, usually with some kind of art on the facing page. Sure it's a gimmick, but maybe a useful gimmick. I don't know if it would help my students and other journalists or not, but it sure made me think about my craft, my career.

Where would you start? Lots of thinking, and a rudimentary table of contents.

Here was my first "chapter." More to come.

Who is a journalist?

“Bon jour,” say the French when greeting someone in the mornings: “Good day.” The Latin-derived French word is closest to the original Latin “diurnum” for “day.” In late Latin, “diurnalis” meant “journal,” a daily record. As the word migrated into late Middle English as “journal,” it meant a record for travelers of the daily stages of a trip, an itinerary of the “journey.” By the late 1500s, it evolved into any daily record and was applied to periodicals. In the late 1600s, “journalist” described a person who earned a living by writing or editing for a newspaper or periodical. In the 20th Century, it also described people working in broadcast news. All journalists provide a periodic record of events people want to, or need to, know.
--Oxford English Dictionary

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Missing newsprint

I will miss the grain feel of newsprint combined with the smell of printers’ ink.
No more ink rubbing off on my hands as I thumb through the pages of a newspaper.
I was reacting to changes at Oklahoma Press Association. For the past 12 years I’ve driven down to 36th and Lincoln and picked up a bundle of newspapers to look at for my monthly column in the Oklahoma Publisher, the publication of the OPA that goes to all the member newspapers in the state.

I’d bring it home in the gray plastic U.S. Postal Service mail tub, sit down in the floor and leisurely start going through the papers, look for stuff to comment on.
When I’d sifted through them for ideas, I’d take the skipped ones in the plastic tub and dump them in the trash. Back in the house, I’d have to go wash my hands to get the ink off, and by the time I’d returned, one of the cats had curled up in the tub.

But now with a new service, I check the papers online. Yes, it’s quicker and more recent than those from the mail, but its harder to read, and I have to squint to read some of the examples. It is a great research tool because I can scann all the paper's, and the search engine can call up specific names. But it's not the same.
National reality coincided to add to my digital depression.
The Christian Science Monitor is ceasing print publication except for once a week. US News & World Report will no longer be on newsstands. A headline in Advertising Age asks, “Will print last 5 more years?” And a story reports Macy’s cutting all print advertising.

How many more will follow? How much of the future is this?

No more throb and hum of a web press turning out thousand of newspapers per hours.
No more, “Hold and fold”? No more freedom to multi-task, thumbing through pages, seeing what’s there and then backtracking to read really interesting stuff?
In the mornings I come to work and thumb through The Oklahoman and The New York Times, turning the pages, touching the news.

I can remember the old back shop at The Waurika News Democrat, where the back issues were stored in the far back corner, yellowing away, getting more and brittle every year. We were excited when we bought a microfilm reader and could scan through Oklahoma Historical Society microfilm, but it still wasn’t reading a newspaper.

The fact is I just don’t read newspapers online. I want to hold the news, to select what I want, to wonder why such and such is on the front page, to trust the editors’ news judgment of what is important and to reading the briefs.
This is a boon for community newspapers, who will still cover the news! What a novel concept!

My friend Joyce Carney of The Eakly country connection newspaper wrote an obit for the Washita County Enterprise. She used a phrase…”the future of history.” Without newspapers covering what goes on in our communities, there is no history. So when newspapers cease covering what is happening locally, as with the metros, or go out of business…history ceases. It is said that newspapers are the first draft of history. That makes history the second draft of journalism. Who will look through the yellowed files or the microfilms, if we go away? That’s one of the hopes I have for community journalism. Many big metros are dinosaurs, scrambling for survival on the Internet…but they haven’t figured it out yet.

Surely, I pray, as I pick up a newspaper and feel the newsprint and smell the ink, history, and news, has a future, supported by an increasingly local economy, a local future of information available nowhere else.

Hold and fold

How great it is to sit on the couch on a raining morning, reading the New York Times, page by page thumbing through it.
A cup of coffee on the table and the cat in your lap as you watch the rain coming down on the front walk. Should have started a fire in the fireplace and put on some music, but even without that, the feel of newsprint between my fingers.
My friend Jim Watson lights up with a smile and laugh when I tell him this at Panera bread church this morning. It's great--you can't get that experience looking at a computer screen.

Every time we meet he asks me about the future of the newspaper industry. He expects me to know, and if I did, I'd be rich. But I do tell him there is no on e "newspaper industry. I bought a copy of Harper's at the bookstore last night, because of the lead story: "Final Edition--Twilight of the American Newspaper." It talks about big cities losing their metropolitan papers--San Francisco and Philadelphia for example. It too makes a mistake--there are only 60 or so newspapers of that size, out of more than 1,400 daily newspapers in American, and 5,000 weeklies, not counting free circulation newspapers. Many of them are very healthy financially and are holding on to readers, and adapting to the new technologies.

But nobody denies many newspapers are in trouble financially because of loss of ad revenue, technology, debt, and corporate profit demands. That does not mean they're going to disappear...they may change, as they always have with technology--we journalists are children of technology--but like education, it's not the technology.
People will pay for reliable information. But where will they get it?
one disturbing note from the Harper's article--when a newspapers dies, people under 30 won't even notice.

As a newspaperman, even I get most of my news online, because it's quick. Yes, you have to always verify sources, but that's true of any medium. But like one of my students, Vista editor Laura Hoffert, said recently, "I bleed ink." Picking up the Times every day, and getting it on the driveway Sundays is a sensual experience, a reward you only get with "hold and fold."

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's your move!

His hand paused, reached for the wooden piece with the pointed top, hovered  over it for a moment.
I held my breath. He'd been studying the checked board for 15 minutes after
I'd last moved.
Didn't he see?
He always did, but...
Then he changed, reached for the piece shaped like a horse head, moved it
three squares, and sighed.
I smiled, started to touch on of my pieces, but waited.
Then I slid a piece with a crown down the white squares.
I thought I had him.
An hour and a half later, the game still wasn't over.
When I was a little boy, my Dad taught me how to play chess. Usually, I'd
watch him and one of my uncles, or a neighbor, sit at a table on a  rainy
Saturday and spend a couple of hours studying the black and white board with the neat-looking pieces on it. If you didn't know about the basic moves, the  game was a mystery.
I learned the basic moves, and years later, the game is still a mystery.
Oh, I played some in college, and a little by mail, but then I went years
without even seeing a chess board. With the advent of computers, I tried
playing a little, but even rudimentary chess programs would beat me almost
every time.
A few years ago, , I saw a student playing chess on the Internet, and I
couldn't resist. Since, I've played people all over the world, some who don't
even speak English. I can win some games, and lose more. I've
improved, but I know my "level," and it's just fair. A good chess player who
has studied the game will beat me almost every time, because to me, it's a
diversion, not a subject to study.
Still, I hate to lose.
Then I found people in Border's Bookstore, and saw people playing real chess. I stood and watched, and eventually was invited to play.
 I still can't beat the really good ones, but there was sort of an informal
chess club there, no dues, no meetings, no officers--you know, the really
good kind of organization. Now I play a retired optometrist almost every week…we go to Steve’s Rib in Edmond…the best barbeque in town. We’re such repeat customers that the cute waitresses all know what we order and always  take an interest in us.  Steve’s Rib is another success story, which is a different story, but I know part of it is that all the staff is friendly and real.
Chess is still a mystery--it's a mystery to me the attraction of being able
to actually touch pieces, rather than clicking on a computer mouse. Your
personality influences how you play chess--aggressively, impulsively,
defensively, sulkily, cheerfully--and there's so much psychology involved.
And no game is ever the same.
It's a mystery why someone like myself so pressed for time, so impatient, can sit for more than an hour and match wits with someone else, on a slow-moving game that is at least 1,500-2,000 years old. It’s fascinating to me that thousands of people in this hurried world still take time to slow down and play a game invented when there was no electricity and time was measured by a sun dial.
Do you know where the term Check mate comes from? It’s Persian for Shah Mat...”the king is dead.”
It’s interesting to me that chess is often used as a metaphor today for all sorts of things b y people who never play it…sports, war, etc. But I’ve never heard a metaphor for chess. Curious power. I’ve written one piece that described what I’ve learned about chess from the Civil War.
Remember when you were a kid? What was the favorite board game? Monopoly? Clue? Checkers? Something else?  Today there are zillions of games on the internet that can become addictive. I know this first hand. But…
How long since you've sat down with family or friends and taken the time to lose yourself in a game? Too busy? Tell you what playing chess has taught me: if I'm too busy, I'd better hurry up and take the time. What are you doing on these long dark evenings?
Now...it's your move.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tisn't the season

Watercolor Christmas cards from previous years...when It is the season...

Two weeks ago in Target, I saw Christmas decorations up already. And the Christmas decorations for sale have been up in Lowes for at least a month. A furniture store commercial today showed people how "far $100 will go" for Christmas this year.

Remember when we'd gripe if the decorations and sales were up just a little before Thanksgiving?

Recession-bit retailers are desperate this year. It just isn't overkill--its genocide of a holiday.

Remember when, as a kid, you looked forward to Christmas coming a long time? That's because it was special. You didn't get new toys very often, and the anticipation built.

Now there's no anticipation at all. And rather than being a "holiday," it's become a harassed obligation that depletes the pocketbook and destroys cheer and relaxation.

I know it's still big for little kids, but it won't be long until they grow tired of it too. By the time they're teenagers, Christmas becomes old hat.

Jennifer Henry, Susan's sister-in-law, posted something on Facebook yesterday about "Keeping Christ in Christmas." I wish that were possible, but Americans tend to worship material goodies at this time of the year. WalMart has already made plans for "Black Friday" the day after Thanksgiving. A shopper was trampled to death in one of their stores last year by unruly customers trying to get the best deals first. At UCO and other state institutions, "Merry Christmas" has been replaced with "Happy Holidays." I don't have a problem with that, but I love to put "Merry Christmas" on my Christmas cards that I send across campus. I expect it raises some eyebrows, and I take joy in not following the crowd. I need to work on my Christmas spirit, don't I. But others have told me they appreciate it.

It'd be worth asking how we could restore the spirit of Christmas to it. How about driving around at night with the kids looking at the lights? How about having the family or friends over for hot chocolate and popcorn and listening to Christmas music? How about working at the Red Andrews' dinner or other charity events on both Thanksgiving and Christmas? How about reading the Bible?

I'm not much for all the hyped up Christmas services organized religion puts on these days--by the time you add videos and power point and all the decorations it looks like Jesus Disneyland, to quote my youngest son Derrick.

I don't think Jesus would be comfortable there...in fact, he probably wouldn't be welcome. He'd probably be attending a church or synagogue in a poor black or Hispanic part of town rather than the fancy carpeted brick and glass temples to selfishness common in rich white areas. His words about rendering to Caesar and to God separately wouldn't be welcome in these fundamentalist churches where they combine right wing politics with a supposed Gospel. He wasn't much for organized religion. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and tell me where you find that in today's churches and Christmas season?

And he'd not be happy with me for being so judgmental, would he?

I think he might also attend a Black Friday stampede and reenact his rampage with the money changers in the Temple. In 2,000 years, nothing much has changed has it?

Rather than being irritated by all this of the season that isn't, I just need to go listen to "Silent Night." And start working on this year's Christmas cards.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Me on my tricycle...lookit those metal wheel spokes. In Fort Worth. After my three uncles came home to visit after The War, my parents found me outside, riding up and down the street, saying loudly "G-D," "G-D" over and over--(not the initials), but what I'd heard the two Army and one Navy vet saying often. Great training to be a journalist!

Bottom photo, in Dallas...you can tell I am used to being in charge!

Summer time a long time ago

Vance and Travis fishing at Hastings Lake near Hastings, Ok., when I worked at the Duncan Banner. Shot with a twin-lens reflex camera. The lake was running dry and it was the town's water supply. It resulted in a rural water district. One boy still likes to fish. Travis avoids water.

Blast from the past at OSU

Blast from the past at OSU. 20 years ago....Trisha Pinckard talks to Clark's
newspaper management class about the redesign of the Laverne Leader. Clark's the handsome guy int he corner, sitting by Richard Mize, spitting tobacco juice in his cup. Beside him is Cathy porter--I don't know where she is. in front of him is Leslie Belcher, now of D.C. Have forgotten the others. Help?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Canoe books for when "our journeys choose us"

Four books for those of you who want to explore modern travelers in a canoe:

Goodbye to a River, by John Graves. This Texas author took his canoe and his Dashund down the Brazos river on a several days journey before it was dammed up many years ago. Terrific first hand account of a writer immersed in the lore of our area. In paperback.

The Survival of the Bark Canoe, by John McPhee. My favorite writer--an old "new" journalist, finds a guy in New Hampshire who still makes birch bark canoes, and travels with him 150 miles north into Maine. McPhee is an avid canoeer, living in New Jersey. he also writes about a trip in Alaska down the Yukon in Coming Into The Country. He's written prolifically on a wide range of topics for the New Yorker, and also teaches a class on writing at Princeton, called The Literature of Fact. Both books in paperback.

The Cruelest Journey by Kira Salak, a woman's 600-mile solo journey in an inflatable kayak down the Niger from Old Segou to Tombouctou (English version--Timbuktu) in Mali. A journey no woman has done before, one that claimed the life of a Scottish explorer 200 years ago. This interested me after I visited Mali two years ago and my life changed.

Two quotes: "Though we may think we choose our journeys, they choose us."

"But the Niger is more than a river, it is a kind of faith. Bent and plied by Saharan sands, it perseveres more than 2,600 miles from beginning to end through one of the hottest, most desolate regions of the world."

Canoe trip

Early watercolor

I sold my red Old Town Discovery canoe yesterday, ending a trip of many years in the 15-foot, eight-inch, 80 pound craft. It's been sitting on sawhorses in the back yard for the past four years, but selling it brought back many memories.

The canoe was my escape from human time when I bought it almost 15 years ago. The problem with the canoe, other than its weight, was that there isn't much what I'd call canoe water around here--you know, gently flowing, clear water. I'd used it several times at Lake Arcadia, often getting up before "first crack" of dawn, to be out there when the light came and the birds woke. And I've gone down the Cimarron River from Crescent to Guthrie; and down the North Canadian River from El Reno to Lake Overholser. That was the last trip. I've wanted to go from south Oklahoma City to Norman on the Canadian, but just never got around to it.

I've got photos of me and the canoe somewhere that I'll post, but I can find them right now.

Let me tell you what you learn in a canoe.

Time is different. You are in nature's time, not man's time. You are not in the water, but on the water. What affects the water affects you...wind, current, weather.

Going down a river by yourself, you find how nature lives--especially the birds. The river is isolated from the "civilized" world above its banks. You might hear livestock or oil pumps or traffic on bridges, but they're distant. Even in the muddy water of Oklahoma rivers, you move more slowly. If the wind is blowing against you, it's a lot of work to keep in the stream of the current. If the sun is out, it's more intense.

And you see birds and wildlife you'd never see otherwise. Herons fishing, owls, hawks, deer, turtles, a few snakes, dragonflies backlit by the sun. They live by the time of nature--living on the river for food and protection...day after day, unhurried by the ticks of a human's clock. That's why it calms you to be on the river...you have to pay attention to the current in front of you, you cherish the shade of trees and clouds, you have to watch for snags and other obstacles, and you can float silently downstream and almost into the midst of the waterfowl, especially if you're upwind.You learn the value of silence--time to think, to wonder, to be yourself. The only music is from the gurgle of the water, the sounds of the birds, the breeze in the trees. You also learn that distances in a canoe are a lot farther in time than it looks on a map.

To get ready for such a trip you first buy the topographical maps to plot and estimate time. Then you scout out the area for where you can "put in" and "take out," places where there's a slope gentle enough to get the canoe from off the top of the car down to the water, and then up again when you reach your destination. then you put together some kind of flexible container for some ice and food to store under on of the seats. You have to have binoculars and a camera. Some kind of watch. A compass isn't necessary but fun. Towels. Toilet paper. A hat, and sunglasses. Plenty of drinking water. Then you have to have a friend or partner to drop you off, and later pick you up.

Getting a heavy canoe on and off a vehicle is a chore. I have at least one gash on my nose from one episode, and one car had more than one gouge in it. But early in the morning, once you slip the canoe off, get down to water's edge, load it, and push off, the world changes--you are alone. You stop along a sand bar to eat, or pause to spend time watching birds, or to take a biology break.

On the trip down the North Canadian, Susan and I figured we'd make it in a day. We didn't. the water was shallow and we spent a lot of time walking in the water, pulling the canoe. But we did tip over and ruined her cell phone. We didn't quite get to near Yukon before we just gave up, hot and tired and exhausted, after putting in at the river where it crosses under US 81 north of El Reno. I tied the canoe to a log, and we scrambled up a sandy vertical 30-foot bank to start walking till we found a phone, called Susan's father, Jay Henry and he came and got us.  The next day Susan dropped off Mark Hanebutt and I. The canoe was still there, even though the day before I could have cared less. It took us a good six hours to get from Yukon to the old US 66 bridge at the north end of Overholser. 

It's different on a lake, usually because there's more wind, and less current. But if you're there early, you can glide into the shallow water, among dead trees, up the narrow channels, and see even more wildlife, including beaver. At Arcadia one fall, I got within 40 feet of a Osprey in a dead tree, eating a fish it had caught. I was upwind, and moved straight at it. I felt like I could touch it. The bald eagles were more cautious and stayed pretty much on the other shore. Then you hear the Canada geese coming in for landing. The honking and the sound of their wings is powerful. If you're still, they'll give you a real show of grace incarnate.

You feel like you're exploring...and you are, exploring yourself. It takes little imagination to put yourself in the wilderness of 200 years ago with trappers and adventurers who also lived by nature's time.

When you come back to civilization at the end of the day, you're tired...paddling and lifting and fighting wind takes it's toll. But the journey is refreshing to the soul.

Why did I sell that canoe?

Friday, November 6, 2009


I expect salutes. Jennifer Gilliland, my editor at The Oklahoma Publisher, saw this on the front page of MSNBC on the web.

My wife says that this is what I'd look like with my ears taped back.

Birthday cards

Birthday cards, for daughter Dallas top, and daughter-in-law Kerin 10-4-09

Monday, November 2, 2009

The rustle of leaves

Walk through the forest these days, and your senses explode. The color of the autumn leaves  highlight the season. But there's more if you pay attention.

The crunch and rustle of fallen leaves under your feet, the sounds of squirrels and other varmints scurrying in the undercover, the sound of the wind crackling the branches and leaves, the fluttering of leaves wafting down to the ground below. The sounds of the season are almost delicious.

Your footsteps and the breezes stir up the smell of mold and pollen and aromas of seedtime and harvest. Reach up and pull down a red leaf and feel it in your hand, the brittle and delicate veins breaking, exposing more color and smell to your touch--a miracle of creation in your grasp..

That's why I walk without some music stuck in my ear. It's a time for reflection, for thinking, for enjoying the world. There is no silence, there is death, but there is also life most sensual.

After the walk on my back porch, I can hear the drone of leaf blowers in the neighborhood, the scratching of rakes, the rattle of lawnmowers--all trying to keep ahead--or at least pace with--the falling leaves.

Increasingly bare, twisted branches of the oaks tell the stories of passing years, of ups and downs, of droughts and rains, of winds and heat, of tragedies and loves.

What I miss most is the smell of burning leaves. If you've lived in the country or a smal town, that's the way you dispose of them. Rake them into a pile, choose a calm day, and start burning them. The smoke fills the neighborhood,  another decaying, vital smell of life passing.  I don't understand why we can't burn leaves in so called "civilized" communities like uppity Edmond. It would actually be more eco-friendly than bagging them and carting them off to the landfill.

Sure we make some into mulch for the roses and herbs and azealeas, but life would be richer with the smell of burning leaves, the smoke backlit by the sinking sun.

Even the squirrels above my head, jumping from branch to branch, knowing the season's end in ways I can never know, understand, As does the cawing crow, the screeching Jay.

Firewood's cut, grass is poking up above a carpet of brown oak leaves, last light of sun is turning leaves even more golden at the top of large oaks. They soon will fall, like memories.

The more autumns, the more leaves, the more memories the more valuable--awakened by senses in a stroll in the woods.