"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.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oklahoma Sky--watercolor

Left side, 12 x 12
Right side, 12 x 12

New red sable brush at work...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Words of discovery--pages in December

  • bouillon time, rhumb lines, proscenium arch
  • invigliationn sodalites, snoods, anoraks
  • Mogador, Levantines, thalassocracies, jeremiads, discalced, Clonfert, niggles,  majuscule, bentic
  • Monegasque, tautological, loxodrome, gyre, polymath, escapement, aiguilles, epibentic, brio
I spent an hour looking these words up today. I'd underlined them  as I was reading a new book, and I'd completed four chapters148 pages out of 459, not counting index and other stuff.

Oh, the book? "Atlantic" by Simon Winchester, telling the story of the ocean. First saw it two nights ago at Best of Books in Edmond, after dinner. Had to buy it. Winchester is one of my two favorite non-fiction writers. John McPhee is  still the favorite, but Winchester has written 20 of the kind of books I like to read, with travel, far-away places, geology, geography, history mixed together. So far I've read,  Krakatoa, The Map That Changed the World, and The Professor and the Madman--about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.  It ain't just history--it's journalism, the story of people.

Ironically, I was looking up those words in the OED today. I found one word not in the OED--"bentic." I did have to turn to the Internet for a few of the geographic terms.

How do you tell the story of an ocean? He starts before the beginning, sprinkling his narrative and smooth writing with lots of geology, and coming forward through the ages into explorers, travelers, discovery and mapping, politics and wars and storms and science and trivia (Did you know Hitler tried to buy an island in the St. Lawrence seaway?) to the present.

Winchester first crossed the ocean on a liner in the early 1960s. His storytelling captivates, mingling facts with humanity. I just make sure I have a pen nearby to underline words I'm not sure of. The chapter I'm in now is about the literature that grew up about the Atlantic--from Anglo Saxons to Shakespeare's The Tempest and more.

The only fault of the book is that it needs a much more detailed map, with larger type for these aging eyes, than the few included. I'll have to get out my world map for the rest of the chapters, and will still underline words, to be looked up later.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

When I was an Oklahoma Republican--chapter one

I grew up "liking Ike." How could you not, as a kid in grade school on Sandia Base in Albuquerque?

The world was full of promise and fun, of riding bicycles to school with friends. Lower middle class gringo in integrated schools--Mexican, Indian, black, gringo--it never occurred to me that there were people who were imprisoned by poverty or greed or crime, by lower or middle or  upper class prejudices.

In high school, I read "Conscience of a Conservative," by Barry Goldwater, and believed. I came to Oklahoma Christian College when Henry Bellmon was trying to be the first Republican governor of Oklahoma. The Democratic one-party monopoly in the state was corrupt and needed a shakeup. Of course I became a member of the Young Republicans. I'm a Southerner and Texan. Being for the underdog is in my genes.My brother Jerry says I like to be cantakerous. Guilty.

First hint that something was wrong was when I heard a fellow "Christian" at OCC refer to my debate partner as a "Nigger." Arthur Smith was a ministerial student from Valdosta, Georgia. I can still remember one of his phrases: "Blood is the red thread that connects Genesis with Revelation." My East Texas mother was prejudiced, but told me never to use that word. "I just don't want to live next to them," was all she'd say. Given where she was from, that was a huge leap of acceptance, I now know. Arthur and I subsequently lost a debate tournament at Abilene Christian College, when we had clearly won. The judge, a Texas "Christian" raked us for not being respectful. It took me years to understand why. He hated black people.

On the way home we stopped in Wichita Falls at a drive-in to get hamburgers. They almost didn't serve us. Why? Because Arthur was black. "You can order, but you can't eat here," was the reply. I was ready to leave. Arthur was hungrier than I. I just didn't understand.

When we returned to Oklahoma from Iowa years later, and I was fortunate enough to buy into a partnership with Donald J. Morrison of the Waurika News-Democrat--thanks to some money from my mother, I joined a real Democrat in business. He couldn't stand my politics, but tolerated them. I rejoiced when Reagan was elected. He always maintained that Democrats cared for the working  people. When I wrote an editorial about Bartlett and the progress of Oklahoma, he about came unglued--thinking about his work with Kerr and the building of Waurika Lake.

We were on the edge of Little Dixie--Jefferson County--less than 200 Republicans out of 9,000 residents, and thousands of cattle along the Old Chisholm Trail. So I registered Democrat so I could vote in the primaries--where all elections were decided.

Still, I rejoiced at the election of Reagan as president. Morrison--my friend, my mentor, my model of community journalism's excellence-- is laughing in his grave now at where I've evolved.

chapter 2 soon

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The gate to High Lonesome

New watercolor, framed and over the mantel

Oklahoma pages

Want to explore Oklahoma? It's a mental journey in "Ain't Nobody Can Sing Like Me," the anthology of new Oklahoma writing published by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish at Mongrel Empire Press. http://www.mongrelempirepress.com/Mongrel_Empire_Press/Welcome.html

Reading the selections in this book that makes you want to sit down and write.  I found three authors I knew, and a few others I'd met, and many more I wish I could.

I've met J.C. "Catfish" Mahan of Edmond at the Labor Day,  "Labor Fest," poetry reading in the Plaza District. http://www.facebook.com/OklahomaLaborfest His baritone voice matches the power of his written words. In this book, these lines from "Rural Oklahoma" grabbed me:
"Out here the towns are small and shrinking father apart
But the cemeteries are big and growing well organized."

Writers I'd like to meet:
  • Poetry publisher from Cheyenne, Dorothy Alexander. In "State of the Arts in a Red State," she writes,
"...tiny bright clusters
of poets and artists, brander 'other,'
who persevere, huddled against ragged
winds of self righteousness and fundamentalism,..."

  • K.L. Chapman of Norman, in "Summer Sunsets in Oklahoma":
"God's apologies for blistering days... ."

  • Retired OU prof and architect Arn Henderson takes your mind on a  township and range divided trip with "Base Line and Meridian:
"at the juncture of two invisible lines
through the glass of measurement
marking the directions I traverse the grid of ... "

  • Award-winning Chickasaw author Phillip Carroll Morgan, whose "Aerial View" I cited in the last post. His humor is also terrific, and included a poem "Today's History Lesson: The Great Casino Treaty of 2012 (The Treaty of Riverwind)" about the Federal Government nationalizing Indian Casinos:
"The Social Security Salvation Act
of 2011 was an act of Congress
requiring all Indian gaming operators
to vacate their casinos ..."

Writers I know:
  • Chase Dearinger, a former student of mine at UCO, finishing his MFA, in a short story, "Second Coming." The first sentence that makes you keep reading:
"Most would say it all began the day Sammy drowned in the Cimarron River."

  • Former journalist and professor at Murray State College  Sharon Burris, in the conclusion of "Days of Birds and Touch":
"Wing-tip to wing-tip in flight,
dipping and swerving as if one
sinuous serpent, but
never touching.
Never touching.
Like us."

  • My dean at UCO, Pamela Washington, about being a child in a small town, in "The Cache I Carry":

"Okies know, it,
West of Lawton,
Outsiders spell it wrong.
I carry it.

"I carry nostrils full of horse sweat and manure--... ."

Those ought to whet your appetite for exploring Oklahoma.

Oklahoma pages of December

rivers are
shining snakes
trying to hide
in bottomland woods.
    --Aerial View, Phillip Carroll Morgan

"Been there, seen that," I said, reading this poem in "Ain't Nobody That Can Sing Like Me," a new anthology of new Oklahoma writing, edited and published by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish of Mongrel Empire Press.

She's the poet who won the Wrangler Award for poetry last year at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, with "Work is Love Made Visible" (See my Aug. 18 post). She helped organize the Labor Day "Labor Fest " poetry reading gig in the Plaza District of OKC. http://www.facebook.com/OklahomaLaborfest Since then, I've reviewed several of her published poetry books.

Then this 393-page book full of poetry, fiction and non-fiction arrives in my mailbox, for review. I started thumbing through it, thinking, "This is my kind of book. I can scan through it, pick and chose from almost any page, and not get bogged down." Put it down, pick it up again, and discover something new, every time.

The first place I stopped was the shortest entry, the poem by Morgan. (Journalistic habit--I look for writers who can get to the point, quickly.) The more pieces I read about various places and subjects in Oklahoma, the more I thought, "I've been there." This is what will make the book great reading for any Okie. The fresh images and original thoughts help you explore and discover  taken-for-granted Oklahoma.

Mish writes in her introduction that Oklahoma is unexplored land in the minds of most outsiders, and hopes the book will expand horizons by going beyond the state stereotypes. She divides the selections into writings that explore the outer and inner landscapes--Who/What and Why/How (I admit, using journalistic structure sold me the minute I saw it). I'll do the same for Okies.

A page from the table of contents
So don't assume the writing shows only the rural state. There is urban here too. Consider some of the subjects--Waffle House, Runway Cafe, Kmart, Fort Sill, I-44, Food 4 Less and the bombing memorial, for instance.The writers are all over the map.

I'll admit, my favorites portray the rural, but the writing that explores Oklahoma's inner landscape, where --as Mish writes in the introduction--it is difficult to be a writer or different, is intriguing as well. Her introduction gives perspective to the work--but I doubt you'll read it first. Flip through the pages and you'll be surprised. Go back and read her comments for a new view of the state. Turn to the end of the book for brief bios on all the writers. You'll discover another landscape of Oklahoma--the rich terrain of talented writers.

I want to highlight some of the selections, and that'll be in the next post. You can order the book and view other publications at http://www.mongrelempirepress.com/

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Silent Night

What's your favorite Christmas carol? I think the first I remember is "Silent Night." I've always had an image in my mind of a snow-covered landscape with a lonely manger, a warm glow from a fire inside, and a star... .

It's not so much religion as a symbol, of loneliness, of cold, of warmth, of hope.

This watercolor leaves much to the imagination and memories...as it should.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pages from beyond death

I opened a book I'd never opened before this month.

I was reducing clutter and rearranging  in my studio room, and that meant moving my art book bookcase to a different wall. First step, dump the books on the floor.

On the shelves were my collection of watercolor books including books about certain artists (Homer, Sergeant, Ranson, et. al.). But also were my Dad's aging books--largely about oil painting, and three from my favorite aunt Sissie--Mom's sister who also painted.

After a morning of getting rid of old magazines, trashing useless paper stuff, and rearranging tables and easels, it was time to sort  the books.

Since I needed more room, I found a few that were to be relegated to the garage. Those were easy. Then on the bottom shelf went my Dad's art notebooks, some over-sized books, and some old family albums--all laid on their sides.

Then started going through Dad's books. He never stopped studying art, and was an avid reader. While they are books on oil painting and drawing that I'll probably never use, I have to keep them. They're my heritage, and they're old, and they reek art. thumb through them and you'll see Dad's meticulous underlining of sections. It's like he'd just seem them, and I'm sharing.

Sitting on the floor amid the books,  I picked up this thick volume, faded black cover with yellowed pages, "Elementary Principals of Landscape Painting," by John F. Carlson.

Now that I'm painting landscapes, I was immediately interested  even if it was about oil painting. Besides after a rush of early year reading, the turmoil of fall had brought me to standstill. I needed something to read.

So I opened the cover, and stopped.

There on the page facing me was a personal inscription from Dad, from way back in  1969.

I read it twice before I noted that he called me "an artist," which from him was a real compliment. I hadn't done much art then, and he breathed artist. And then on the inside front cover was his first inscription. He bought it in Dallas 11months before I was born.

I just sat there, turning the stiff pages, finding his underlined passages. I can't figure out when and how he gave it to me unless it came in the mail, because we were in Iowa  and he was in Texas.

But it doesn't matter--I've since read most of it, except for the author's wordy and lengthy forward, but I have added marks and underlines of my own.

Three of them:
  • "We do not paint 'exact colors'; we paint them as they impress us; differently every day."
  • "A too-real reality in a picture is always a disappointment to the imaginative soul."
  • "The sky is the key to the landscape."
That last is from the chapter on clouds, and my favorite.

Dad's underlines in red; mine in black
This book has been in boxes or on bookshelves for years, unopened. And when my artist self needed it most, there it was. A gift from beyond the grave--pages of December and a blessing from Dad.
The treasure shelf--personal reference on top; second shelf, Dad's books erect; watercolor books on the sides; bottom, notebooks, albums, over-sized books.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Uncles are special

Uncles are special.
Oh, aunts are too, but to a boy, uncles--your dad's brothers--fill a special place in a young life, more perhaps than they realized.
When you’re the first nephew in a large family, uncles become part-time parents, and their letters and phone calls over the miles and years to the home place are always welcome, enjoyed and anticipated.
But their visits were the highlights, because it meant the family together once again, despite the war, or the miles, or the years.
Stop and recall the memories, the influences, the happy times uncles bring into your life. The more you think, the more comes flooding back.
Your earliest memories include uncles visiting the house during Christmas or Thanksgiving, family reunions at home or at the grandparents during the hot summers, special words of advice, and trips together.
Uncle Mike and terry--at Bandelier, N.M.
You always remember a gift from Japan or Korea from the favorite uncle in the Navy--a model, motorized balsawood PT boat--having him home from Korea to help teach you how to kick a football, watching him sleep on the couch with his head propped up on one arm, the way they did in the Navy on the LSTs to get another moment or so of sleep.
In later years he was a teacher, a world traveler. His trips home would mean long-past-midnight sessions listening to stories, eating scrambled eggs and bacon, watching slides of faraway places like Machu Pichu and Tunisia. I'd go through the Indian southwest with him, a special trip to a pueblo in a land he adopted at home. Years later, as an adult, you could always call and find safe haven for a night’s rest in Santa Fe, a good steak, and more stories.
The youngest uncle, the first you can remember with a car, driving down the road at night in between him and your dad, watching your reflections in the vertical chrome strips on the dashboard, hearing him tell--between puffs on a cigarette--never to smoke. And you never did.
In later years you went trout fishing with him when Red River, New Mexico, was still a wilderness, before the ski rage destroyed the country.
He was a salesman, and a good one too, and you vividly remember him getting on a plane at an airport, wondering if you’d ever fly or do exciting things like that.
This uncle--the baby of the family--was the one who last saw your father alive. He was a spitting image of grandfather, and had a hearty laugh that you still imitate. He died from too much smoking.
Another uncle was most distant, with all the cousins your age, a professor who drove old cars, and quoted poetry and chemistry. You rarely saw him because he was, well a genius and sort of out to lunch--except during brief summertime visits to college towns. You wrote letters to all the cousins before you lost track of them forever.
The fourth uncle was a military man who didn’t seem military at all, but one you remember for his broad grin and laughing eyes. It was an adventure traveling with him on a genealogical hunt in the Texas back county, having Thanksgiving dinner on a patio at San Antonio with banana and fig trees still green, seeing slide shows of life in the Army in Hawaii. Tall and straight and balding. When he died several years ago, an unselfish source of cheer departed the world.
Once dad died, these men are the only living images of him. You see their faces and see their eldest brother all over again, and a lifetime comes back, a lifetime of good times, of years gone by never more to be relived. Now though, you only seem to see relatives at funerals.
Improbable lives as five boys spread out across the world from a small red-dirt southern Oklahoma town, touching lives all around them, leaving their imprint on you forever.
I don't see old men.
Other people may just see old men, but not you. You see bright smiles, wavy hair, sharp military uniforms, people who lived and loved life, people from the depths of your memories, including black and white snapshots with you when you were too young to remember.
Much of my November and early December has been caring for the last uncle, 88-year-old Michael Henry Clark. Dad thought so much of him that he gave me his middle name. The old WWII and Korean War Navy combat veteran had docked his ship in Santa Fe for the past 40 years. It's become my home away from home especially the last 10 years. But now thanks to the VA, he's been moved to a VA home in Colorado. He's mobile and alert, but is frail and has trouble navigating.
Grandmother used to say, like she was talking of race horses: “You Clark boys come from good stock.”
When I last saw Mike in early November, we laughed and told stories and drank and had a good time, right before he went to the hospital. When I think of him and my other uncles and look in his eyes, and hear his voice, and when I remember what they mean to me, I know what she meant.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Poetry--the hard edge

"Poetry--the hard edge of truth cutting against the fog of life, bringing light and color to the world."

I actually wrote that, after reading the latest poem at http://oldmossymoon.blogspot.com
by my blogfriend Kay Lawson Gilbert of Pennsylvania. Her poetry disturbs me--in a good way, and you shouldn't be missing it.

Bradbury wrote in "Zen in the Art of Writing" http://www.raybradbury.com/that we ought to read poetry every day because it exercises muscles we don't often use. I don't read poetry every day, but I've found Old Mossy Moon to always exercise my mind and senses with images and sharp-edged economy of words in the fog of an over-wordy world.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Truck Nation, on the road

How many trucks, what do they cost, how many miles per gallon...So many questions in an eight hour drive down The 40, a river of trucks east and west.

Answers were digital--first Google, of course, looking for sources. Then former student Shannon Helton, who works for the Oklahoma Trucking Association chided me gently for not contacting her, after she read a Facebook post. 

She asked if I was interested in changing careers, nothing that many retired professors get in the business.  Hmmm, I thought. then she started answering questions.  I have her to thank for much of this material which gives an idea of the cope of Truck Nation.

"It's like a whole other world that exists in the shadows," she said. "An industry that keeps our country going and yet the majority of the public takes it for granted."

The I-40 River in the Texas Panhandle
Did you know that Oklahoma has 12,829 licensed tractor-trailers, and 197,980 trailers? She said there are about 3.5 million drivers in the country which might mean about five million semis.

Oklahoma's user fee is $2,593 a year per truck, plus a $993 annual registration fee. There are apportioned tags where they pay taxes for each state they travel in according to how many miles they travel in that state. They pay a flat fee for the state in which they are domiciled. 

 The trucks usually have two fuel tanks, from 200 or 500 gallons each, with 300 being fairly typical. Multiply that by the cost of diesel per gallon which includes lots more taxes, by the number of trucks...and that's a lot of fuel addiction. In 1982 the average miles per gallon was four. In 2006 it was six. Highest reported is close to nine, and as low as 1.7.  The average is between five and 8. Of course it depends on terrain and loads.  By comparison, a military tank with the same diesel engine can average two gallons per mile, one source reported, nothing that is not a typo. Those tires on the 18 wheelers...probably about $500 a tire, with about 15 pounds of steel in each tire. 

Think about all those expenses. I saw one trailer advertising paying drives 39.5 cents a mile. Let's see, that means  if a drive drove 11 straight hours at 70 mph, he/she'd make $304.50 that day. 

Consider the cost of goods you buy. We had a visiting Aussie friend tell us the cost of Aussie wine was the same in Oklahoma as back home. How do they do it?

Now conservatives against big socialist government aren't going to like this but that meddling federal government restricts the number of hours drives can drive. Did you know:
  • Drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • A driver may not drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • A driver may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
  • A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
  • Drivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.
I know, that may be more than you want to know, but think about it the next time you travel The 40 or The 35, or around the state. 

Add one note to emphasize how we are Truck Nation. It's also a national security risk. Stop and think. Remember how the grocery shelves clears out in a day or two with this year's blizzard? You could paralyze Oklahoma City, and the grocery shelves would soon empty if you blew up five Interstate bridges: The Canadian on The 40 and on The 35 at Norman, The Cimarron on the 35 north of Guthrie, over Lake Eufaula, and somewhere on the Turner Turnpike. Almost every city is so vulnerable.

All of this written, I find a world of poetry and grace and wonder on the road with the big trucks. Not the Hollywood version of Smokey and the Bandit, but of the real drivers, the different grills and makes and sleepers and cargos and license plates and logos and trailers and truck stops and more.

Keep on truckin'.

Truck Nation, New Mexico, on The 40. Hey, if it's blurry, look how fast I'm going.

Truck Nation...Traveling "The 40," part one

I-40, New Mexico

 I've probably spent more time on what is now I-40 than any other highway. I traveled it before it was I-40 when it was Route 66, while it was under construction, and uncountable times since, especially between Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Most recently and increasingly, I'm fascinated by what I've come to call "Truck Nation." My wife hates traveling the road because of the big rigs, and I'll admit, it is much more heavily traveled than some other interstates, but still, a day on I-40 is exhilarating to the imagination.

I have two games on the road--mapping the different license plates, and counting the trucks per mile. That's where this article comes from. Based on several trips, I can safely estimate that during daylight there are about 10 semi-trucks barreling along every mile of I-40 between here and Albuquerque--on one side. 

If you double it, that means there are roughly 1,000 semis on that stretch of road right now, and every hour--not counting  the ones in truck stops or parked alongside the road. Multiply that times all the Interstates, especially in heavily populated areas, and boggles the mind.

Consider the costs. Consider the people. Consider the jobs. Consider the cargos. Consider the food in the grocery stories. Consider the finances and incomes and environment and sociology and families.

Writer Larry McMurtry has traveled many of them and written about them in "Roads." http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=larry+mcmurtry+roadsWhile he hasn't traveled I-40, he has "The 35," as he calls them all as specific names. Makes sense, because he compares them, not to America's railroads, but to America's rivers for delivering commerce--like the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Ohio.

And traveling The 40, you have to conclude that Ike's brainstorm of a national defense highway network is no longer that. In fact, we don't need Interstates for cars. The main reason for Interstates? Modern rivers for semi-trucks.

If you want to know what it's like driving one of these modern day river boats, here's the best source. My favorite writer, John McPhee http://www.amazon.com/John-McPhee/e/B000AQ4582/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1in his book "Uncommon Carriers," fulfills every boys dream of stepping up in such a cab. In both the initial and concluding essays in the book, McPhee crossed the United States on two different trips with Don Ainsworth, the driver  an 80,000-pound eighteen-wheeler--a gleaming chemical tank carrier. What skill and adventure.

As I was heading home recently, somewhere west of Sana Rosa, I started wondering about the the costs and the numbers.

The exclamation point came up the railroad behind Burlington Northern Santa Fe (that name is obscene to me--it's the Santa Fe) locomotives and a container train....heading for more trucks.

If it's a little blurry, consider the conditions  when it was taken. While between me and it, more trucks...

So i stopped at an Oklahoma company  truck stop, Love's, to get a sandwich and gas up. Doesn't that tell you how Truck Nation is dominant. More questions to be answered.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans' Day stories

The last march...National Cemetery at Santa Fe across from Uncle Mike's home, where he will one day be buried with other veterans.
I can get lost in cemeteries, especially National Cemeteries. Time seems frozen there, and on holidays flags adorn the graves. My imagination flows from the names etched on the headstones, wondering about the stories that will never be told, about the lives cut short, about the loved ones left behind.
The headstones march in perfect military precision over the hills and lawns, white against green, infinite patterns of life and death.
Most of the headstones are identical, though older ones disrupt complete uniformity.
Grave of a WWI veteran at Santa Fe--a wounded soldier leaning against a tree with a rose in his hand.
I think my favorites are Vicksburg and Gettysburg. But Arlington is unique. Fort Smith is also old and inspiring. And I’ve viewed Santa Fe many times.
Arlington, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Arlington, Audie Murphy, the most decorated veteran.
But there are other national cemeteries that choke me up too…that nation no longer exists, but its veterans are buried also at Vicksburg and in places like Manassas across a dozen states. Those veterans are excluded from the U.S. Cemeteries, though they fought in America too. Their graveyards are not as neat or prosperous or impressive, and a different flag decorates them.
At Vicksburg, you have to hunt to find the Soldier’s Rest cemetery on a shabby side of town where more than 1,600 Americans are buried who died fighting there. Nearby is the impressive National Cemetery, in the National Park where the earthworks of death are now covered with grass. More than 17,000 Union soldiers lie there, and about 12,000 are unknown.
 At Manassas, just a few miles south of Arlington is an acre of grass with an iron gate that says “Confederate Cemetery.” Inside, most of the graves unmarked and some unknown, lie 250 American veterans killed in battle and a single monument.
But I’m also moved every time I visit a cemetery in Oklahoma, and find graves of Confederate veterans who survived the war.
Usually there are no flags on holidays on their graves. I wonder what it was like to have fought and lost and then to spend the rest of your days living with the victors, under their flag?  What was it like, growing old, and remembering the days when you were young and barefoot, wearing butternut and gray, marching and hoping, charging to the shrill eerie cry of the Rebel Yell, and then losing, folding the flag even defiantly, walking home, and trying to rebuild a life?

 Confederate veterans graves at Purcell.
Usually their headstones list their names and their unit, and the dates of their lives. I found some most recently at Purcell and Johnsonville on Memorial Day. At Johnsonville, the old cemetery is tended by a disabled Vietnam vet. He can’t get Confederate flags, but he places an American flag on the graves of all veterans in the cemetery, including the Confederate soldier’s.
That’s a salute, from one veteran to another. I add mine to all veterans today.

Veterans Day among the ranks

I didn’t know Buster, but I wish I did.
JUNE 30, 1922 SEPT. 24, 1944
I don’t know how he died, but this 22-year-old Oklahoma paratrooper with the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne fell in Europe not long after D-Day, fighting for freedom. His name is etched in marble on one of the headstones in the U.S. National Cemetery at Fort Smith, Arkansas.
This Veterans’ Day there will be speeches and flags and flowers and 21- gun salutes and prayers and Taps at this cemetery just across the border from Oklahoma, and in hundreds like them across the country. There will be similar services in other cemeteries all over America, saluting the veterans.
Roses the color of blood grow on the fences, as about 9,500 grayish-white headstones of veterans from frontier days to the Gulf War sweep over the grassy green hills, like the white stripes on the American flag, gently rippling in the free breeze.
JUNE 2, 1932
NOV. 28, 1950
Most of the headstones are uniform, 24 inches out of the ground, 15 inches wide, gently oval at the top, 3 feet from the next gravestone to the side, 10 feet from the ones above and below it. On some there are small crosses above the names, the service, the dates. Simple. Sparse, Military. The precision is perfect and from any angle the headstones maintain perfect rank order--marching like rows of men going into battle--only here there are no more gaps where comrades are cut down by enemy fire. Here the ranks march on forever, into eternity.
JUNE 16, 1919 APRIL 13, 1944
The cemetery office doesn’t have biographical records on how all the veterans died, but some stand out. Like Lt. Pogue of Fort Smith, missing in action since April 13, 1944 over Europe. German historians and the pilot who shot down Lt. Pogue’s P-38 fighter recently located his remains. They were buried with full military honors on Dec. 21, 1996--52 years later. His widow, who never remarried, couldn’t attend because she was in a Ft. Smith hospital, and she’s since died. But his son, Walter Wayne Pogue Jr., who probably never met his daddy, received the folded American flag with triangle of stars showing as his father was laid to rest with 21-gun salute.
JUNE 29, 1920 JAN. 1, 1945
There is a section where men who were buried at sea, and those whose remains were never recovered, are buried. Those graves are closer together, clustered for companionship. They may have died alone, but they’ve joined more than a million other American veterans who’ve died in the defense of their country.
1834 SEPT. 11, 1863
This is one of the few national cemeteries where Union soldiers are buried alongside Confederates, because the South occupied the Fort in the War. Most Southerners are buried in Confederate cemeteries or in thousands of private cemeteries. More Americans died in the Civil War than in any other, and people still put flowers on those graves.
1924 1986
About 350 graves a year are added to the Fort Smith cemetery. Any veteran may request burial in a national cemetery, and the surviving spouse, or a child who dies under 21 years of age, may join him. Every veteran receives the regulation tombstone, and the folded flag for survivors. Retired veterans and those who were killed in action receive full military honors, including the 21-gun salute. A fresh bouquet of red carnations was placed at Pvt. Deason’s grave recently. People remember a long time in a national cemetery.
And there are more than 100 Unknowns in the ranks of these headstones--no stories, no names, no dates--of men who died and are forgotten, except for a marker in a graveyard of heroes, ordinary men who fought and died in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Air Corps, Coast Guard. All are equal in the cemetery--officers rest beside enlisted men.
The cemetery is quiet but not deathly silent. In the spring and summer, meadowlarks and mockingbirds add their songs to the air. The sky is hazy. There is the smell not of bodies cut down, but of fresh-cut grass. Life. In autumn, breezes swirl falling  leaves into garlands on every grave as a year slowly dies. And winter brings snow to bury the graves in dignity and silence once again, over the gentle swells, up and down the long ranks of graves, past the etched names of states--Iowa, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma--past the years--1819, 1864, 1918, 1943, 1950, 1969-- preserving the order of march, marshaling forces for a final charge.
I wish I’d known them all. Don’t you?
At the two-story brick house that serves as cemetery office and headquarters, a plaque carries President Lincoln’s words as he dedicated a national cemetery at Gettysburg 147 years ago. Hallowed ground. Above, the Stars and Stripes wave in the breeze over the grass patterned with headstones.
Every day at 5 p.m., the haunting, plaintive notes of Taps echoes across the green hills, caressing each white gravestone.
Goodnight, Buster. Goodnight, Lt. Pogue.
And thanks.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this was a newspaper column of mine.

A family of veterans

I'm not a veteran, though I came close twice. But "my people" have served in wars in the military for three nations on this continent.
  • Ancestors fought for the United States in the Revolution, probably in 1812, in the Mexican War, in the Spanish American War, maybe in WWI and definitely in WWII and Korea.
  • Ancestors fought for the Republic of Texas. 
  • And they fought for the Confederate States of America.
Sailor Mike Clark and I on the bridge of his apartment docked in Santa Fe
Three of my uncles served and survived WWII--only my favorite uncle Mike is still alive, and every time I visit him in Santa Fe I learn more stories.
I missed Vietnam by the skin of my teeth. I'd already taken the physical to be drafted, even though I was teaching high school at the time. But then we found that my wonderful wife was pregnant and I got the last-minute deferment.
I'm convinced that if that hadn't happened, I'd have been fertilizer in a rice paddy and my name would be on that Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.
Instead, my draft deferment first born is now a proud career veteran in the U.S. Air Force and has seen combat duty in Iraq.
Sgt. Vance Clark escorting Katherine Emerson Clark to first day of school.
So, I salute veterans, all of them, and especially M/Sgt. Vance Conrad Clark, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Henry Clark, USN.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Music on the blog

  1. Sugar Shack
  2. Wagner, The ride of the Valkyries
  3. Marty Robbins - A White Sport Coat And A Pink Carnation
  5. Lorena
  6. Old Folks at Home (Swanee River) - Harmonica solo/duet
  7. MANTOVANI------blue danube
  8. Gershwin play I Got Rhythm (full)
  9. Rhapsody in Blue 1
  10. Rock Me Baby-BB King/Eric Clapton/Buddy Guy/Jim Vaughn
  11. I Shot the Sheriff by Eric Clapton
  12. Mustang Sally
  13. Don't Be Cruel
  14. Fever

November, watercolor

"November" 9 by 12 watercolor, 140 pound Canson Montval paper

Death is coming
slowly, surely.
Leaves turning, falling,
others waiting
Urged by the wind
as the sky turns gray.
Seed time and texture
in the fields, in tree bark,
in lives.
More interesting
in lessening light
but doomed
by November.

Happy Halloween

Hippie and Tea Party Geezer
Katherine and Sarah Clark

Wendy and LadyBug, and Kerin

Erin, Abby and Max Bell

November blues

Death is coming
slowly, surely.
Leaves turning, falling,
others waiting
Urged by the wind
as the sky turns gray.
Seed time and texture
in the fields, in tree bark,
in lives.
More interesting
in lessening light
but doomed
by November

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tallgrass means tall

A visit to the spectacular Tallgrass Prairie Preseve in the middle of Osage County just north of Pawhuska gives a glimpse of what this country was like before fences and cattle. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy,http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/oklahoma/preserves/tallgrass.html this is the largest remnant of such prairie on earth, of about 10,000 acres.

Few roads, and bison roam free--a herd of better than 2,500...none of which we saw. Yes, there are still some oil wells and private patches of ground, but it's wild and free and the only sound is the wind.

You cross cattle, er, bison, guards to drive down the gravel roads and 8-foot fences keep them in.

The prairie grasses star the Big BlueStem, plus the Small Blue Stem, Switch grass and some others. Big Blue Stem reaches from 6 to 10 feet high, but the root system is deeper. It was once a complete ecosystem, but that is now extinct, although here and in the Flint Hills of Kansas just north of here, it survives.

 We got out of the car to walk a nature trail, neatly mowed, and were soon surrounded with grass over our heads.
To make sure we don't get lost


 How tall is tall grass? Here's Susan.
It's beautiful when backlit by the sun.
And there are quiet cool spaces with water and shade too.
Headquarters is at the original ranchsite after a 20-minute drive down the gravel roads.
Check this site for a map http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/oklahoma/files/tallgrass_map.pdf