"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 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