"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, March 30, 2011

Okra, mountain oysters and Okie talk

I don't usually read short stories, unless they're by Ray Bradbury, but when Jeanetta Calhoun Mish of Mongrel Empire Press mongrelempire.org sends me a book  by an Oklahoma author to possibly review, I take it as an invitation to explore, at least gingerly.

I opened "The Coyotes Forgive You" by Jim Drummond, a Norman lawyer --15 stories in 144 pages--captured by the haunting and disturbing cover reproduction of "The Crucified Land" from the Gilcrease in Tulsa, which oozes Dust Bowl Oklahoma.

Inside, I found a haunting and disturbing selection of  adventures into the minds and geography of Oklahomans. Drummond's bio says he and his wife's home "would confirm they prefer eccentricity in all creatures."

His stories reflect that peculiar eccentricity of individualistic Okies. Remember when you sometimes have trouble going to sleep because your mind keeps jumping from one random, undrelated thought to another? You'll be intrigued by Drummond's storytelling as it jumps from character to character, setting to setting, making you wonder,  what's next?

My favorites were "The Battle of the Washita" and "Nolan in the Badger Cafe." The Washita story comes from an 11-year-old boy telling of growing up near Devil's Den and Tishomingo in a failing marriage. A drinking father, an adulterous mother, and hard living. Divorce from a child's viewpoint.

I am fascinated by Drummond's imagery as well, bringing truth and philosophy into his writing. The child is a painter: "When truth flows out of you in paint and pencil strokes ... . Truth holds no images, does not last, because it needs to be liquid at the moment of truth." Wow!

I love small town cafes. the food, the characters, the conversation. You've heard the conversations in the Badger Cafe before, perhaps seasoned with the Tabasco sauce near Okmulgee. Drummond is a master at telling stories with a Hemingwayesque conversation between us ordinary, eccentric Okies.

More geography... the story "Personal," about someone answering a personal ad in "The Gazette," and driving to near Guthrie's Masonic Temple for a meeting. Others mention okra, mountain oysters and Studebakers. How could I not wonder, what's next?

Samples of  Drummond's description and imagery. From "Walnut "Eyes": "The blackboard of my memory didn't come with erasers." From "Woodhawks": "They seemed happy to carry the whole load of the acquaintance and the conversation, like a fat man on a teeter totter."

If you want to know where the title of the book comes from, you'll have to read the third story, "Confessor," told by a non-Catholic, about a visit to a priest in Madill.

As a reader, you might be discomfited by Drummond's portrayal of ordinary people, but they undoubtedly come from his imagination and earlier life as a tank driver, sale barn drover and "murderer of mesquite trees." His boots and stories are covered with the eroded red clay portrayed in "The Crucified Land."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back road interlude

Spring break means distance, not of traveling thousands of miles, but distance from "to do" lists, from self.

I took a short drive today, into eastern Oklahoma County, past new and old houses,through woods and pastures, over creeks and rivers, on back roads and not Interstates. Radio off. Bird sound when you pull up to a stop sign every mile. Soaring hawks, greening wheat. Room and time for imagination and thoughts and photos about how quickly life changes just a few minutes away from traffic. Don't ask what I do on spring break. I just am.
On a gate post to a house in a wooded area.

Barn door
North Canadian River, downstream from OKC, looking south,  at Hefner Road
Looking northeast
Where it loops back east and south, at Hiwassee Road
I love wheat in the spring, bringing bright color to our landscapes, the promise of life to come.
You can feel the distance.
Deep Fork Creek, east of Arcadia, into which Coffee Creek-pictured in my blog title above-- flows.
Man has been here a long time.
The historic round barn at Arcadia, 10 miles east and a century from Edmond, on old U.S. 66. Back to traffic. I grew up within a few miles of  US 66 in Albuquerque, and have spent a lot of my later life within a few blocks of it in Oklahoma City and Edmond. We now live less than a a mile south of its old route through Edmond.

Another reminder of slower traffic and life, visible from old US 66, a few miles east of our house.
 That's why it's good to slow down, think, and take a break from today.

Friday, March 11, 2011

India coming and going, video journal

Here's  early rush hour outside SRM University, 30 kilometers from downtown Chennai, which has a population of 7 million in an area smaller than Oklahoma City--twice the total population of our entire state. The honking is not rude, nor telling people to move, but a warning to the driver ahead of you that some one is passing.
On the way back to the university from downtown, in light traffic. My driver, a 20-year-old journalism student at the university, speaks five languages. This is light traffic...and yes, the driver's side is on the right, and the traffic direction is on the left.He asked me if I wanted to drive. I declined.

These people managed to walk this food cart across those busy lanes. Notice the motorcycles--more than you can count. Notice the wide shoulders...for a civilization where lanes don't mean much, where people still walk, and ride buses and trains and move carts by hand.
Traffic affects us in ways we don't think. Downtown, rickshaws, buses, bikes, cars, trucks, carts
Motorcyles in a narrow downtown street area near a Hindu temple.
You learn a lot about a culture and place and people by watching the traffic, the roads, the vehicles, the adjacent buildings. Traffic reflects a civilization, but also affects every aspect of it. Traffic influences the pace and timing of life, how people live and think, their economy and religion, their leisure and learning.  Think about the American Interstates, for instance. Another case in point: In India,  you quickly learn that  there may be lanes painted  on the roads, but they don't really mean anything.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Into the future, India Journal impressions

I stepped off the plane--one of Jet Airways 111 daily flights to 30 cities-- into India and literally the future about 1 a.m. Feb. 24. Once through immigration, and out into the sudden tropical night and humidity a few minutes later, I could call home, where it was still Feb. 23, 12 hours away.

"Hello from the future," I said.

If one word describes my visit to India, it would be "overwhelmed." I saw only a small--if very populated portion--of this country, and any generalizations are certainly limited. But being overwhelmed by the numbers of people, the sights and sounds and smells added to the feeling of insignificance  you get when you view the world from the air. Look down from a plane window at 30,000 or 40,000 feet and mountains and roads and lakes dwindle in importance and impact. Even at 10,000 feet, the houses you see below--the ones that we so treasure as homes and pour thousands of dollars and hours of our lives  into--even the big ones costing millions of dollars--look no more than like tiny little toys on a Monopoly board. And when you deplane in a strange place, you know, "What is man that thou art mindful of him?"

Outside the airport were throngs of people holding up signs with people's names and organizations  just with eager faces, searching, waiting to meet travelers. No where among the crowds could I find any sign with my name on it. IA few yards away I could hear the constant noise of horns and the lights of cars and more people. Guards in their brown uniforms stood nearby. If I'd moved beyond the gateway, I'd been swallowed by the crowd, lost in anonymity even more that in the lights and my one sure place of comfort...a small space of airport walkway in glaring lights. I  knew the plane was early, so I wandered back and forth, searching.

By this time, I'd removed my sport jacket and had it drooped over the single duffel bag that carried everything I had on the trip. Travel light. No checked bags.  Just a lone Caucasian hoping for a friendly face.

The crowd thinned after 20 minutes. And then there he was, sign in hand "Terry Clarke," a smiling University student name Rahul who I'd met when he visited UCO last summer, but wasn't sure I remember.  Do you know what a relief it is to see a smiling face and a person who remembers you. all of a sudden you're no longer insignificant.

He leads me to a cab, chatting all the way, and I'm immersed in more heat and noise and one of my lasting impressions of India, even at 2 a.m.--Traffic. I've never seen so much...cars, trucks, motorized rickshaws, motorcycles.

The other lasting impression--construction everywhere, the airport, buildings and cranes and bricks everywhere, and even the roads, with poorly lit barriers and closed lanes everywhere. All the time Rahul is asking me questions, chatting, ignoring the traffic and making sure I'm comfortable and feel welcome and at ease. Another impression--the students and people I met were all so gracious and polite, friendly to this rare Caucasian in their midst. There is so much energy in India. In the traffic, it takes another 20 to 30 minutes to travel a few kilometers to the SRM university and hotel. A uniform doorman opens the way, and Iwalk into a dimly lit interior to the waiting reception desk. Rahul talks to them and I hand over my passport and fill out registration forms. Then I'm escorted up “Floor II,” the third floor and down a hall to room 306. Inside, the person with me turns on the window air conditioner and the lights. It's a marble floor, two twin sized beds, bathroom, wardrobe for my clothes, a wooden desk with an electric pot for boiling water for coffee and tea, and a TV that I never figured out how to turn on.

Thoughts of my flight linger in my mind—frozen Chicago, misty Brussels, flying over the Czech Republic, Romania, the Black Sea, Turkey, Russia the Caspian Sea, some of the stans I can’t remember, Iraq and Pakistan. A world of turmoil down there, insignificant down there from 40,000 feet. Steamy Chennai at 2 a.m.  Into the future, in more ways than one.

Into the future, photos and video of traffic and media and temples and more.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gandhi and me--India journal

First views from SRM University, Chennai, India...
A student asked to take this photo, in front of a statue of Gandhi at the gate to SRM University. He said proudly of Gandhi, "the father of our country."
Though largely a resident campus (students live in "hostels," not "dorms"), big yellow buses also transport students from the city, 30 km away, to campus. Every college--engineering, etc--has individual buses.Those are bricks in the foreground. There is construction everywhere in India.
This is the college of bio-engineering. Lots of new buildings in the 25 year old private university.
I took this photo to show all the varied dress on the campus.
Street signs on campus...you're not in Kansas anymore.
Motorcycles are a main mode of transportation in India and on campus. We could learn from this...park in a no parking area and they deflate your tires!
One more view of Gandhi...
We have much to learn from this country and civilizations. More photos and comments and videos to come.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Flying high--India Journal--III

Watching planes going and coming outside the Brussels airport window captivates me, primarily because of the different airlines and logos on the decorated tails of the jets, symbols of far-away countries, some never seen in the U.S., certainly in Oklahoma. They are as many as the languages spoken aboard.

On the short-range jets, like those flown by Southwest, There’s the green shamrock of Aerlingus, the white cross on red of Swissair, the green and orange triangle of Italia. I saw Air Brussels, Finaire, Adria, Air Baltic, Hungarian Airways and some I can’t describe or translate.  The big boys also arrive and depart, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore, British airways, and a few familiar ones from America.

Among the big boys I spotted this round  gold and brown tail symbol of Jet Airways, my flight to Chennai, India.

While I’m waiting, watching people, many of them Indians in various styles of dress from traditional to western, I listen to the languages. I notice that the adults shift in between English and another language, but they always speak fast. I learned in India that they speak so quickly sometimes that even though it’s English, I can’t understand.

But behind me, I hear two little girls chattering away, in English. No accent at all—they could be my granddaughters Erin and Abby playing, giggling, teasing each other, playing with coloring books and make believe. When I turn around, I see they’re Indian. 

One of the first lessons from India…the younger they are, the more “American” English they speak. I asked about this, and some of the university students—who often speak up to five languages—said it was increased western influence, a la TV, Internet, etc.

Aboard the Airbus 330, the change is dramatic. It’s a brand new aircraft. Exit signs are in English and Hindu. The plane is less than half full…I can have the four center seats to myself for the 10 hours flight.

As soon as you get on board and the doors are shut, the flight attendants move through the cabin, delivering each passenger, with tongs, a warm towel to wash your face and neck. 

Frankly, the attendants are stunning. They wear gold Nehru jackets over a black blouse and pants, contrasting with the jacket. Their dark complexioned skin and raven black hair—usually up in a pony tail or on the back of their heads--, frames immaculate makeup and red lipstick framing glowing white smiles. Their English is flawless, and their almond eyes always make eye contact. Their nametags display exotic names.

Relaxing background music fills the cabin. The pilot comes on the speaker in an Indian accent makes announcements an Indian tongue—probably Tamil, then English and perhaps Dutch. The seats carry the same color motif with maroon and tan upholstery with the light tan interior. Each seat has a matching blanket and pillow.
The safety instructions appear on the interactive TV screen on the back of the seat in front of me. No irritating voices here. Instead, tasteful animated characters act them all out.

Everything is so civilized and polite.  I settle into my seat, and before we’re airborne, they come collect the towels.

Ahead, 10 hours away…India.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Travel tails, India Journal--II

When you board a plane for India, you enter a new world.
Nothing makes you more aware of how big, and how small, the world is than spending hours on a jet and landing in an international airport. Yes, they speak English, but you immediately know you're not in Kansas anymore.
Brussels, 8 a.m., Feb. 23--"Welcome to Europe," says the airport logo. Home of the European common market, a tiny country that's a crossroads not just for a continent but for the world.
Waiting for the flight to India, I sit and watch and listen to the multiple languages and modes of dress and goods available in the airport shops.
Mostly, I watch planes coming and going outside on the

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Flight time...India journal thoughts-I

Itinerary--OKC, ORD, BRU, MAA (O'Hare, Brussels, Chennai--airport codes tell you so little about people and places and times and distances).  Feb. 22:  11-1:45; 4:30 pm -8 am(2/23); 11 am-2 am(2/24).

Reporter's gold--a notebook
Flight time is reflection time, creative time, time to assess your insignificance and meaning, if you dare write them down in a notebook, and mine is full of scribbles. I don't take a computer aboard--I like traveling light--gone from Tuesday through Sunday, I carry only a duffel bag. No checked bags. Besides, I prefer jotting down random thoughts roughly following the lines on the paper, but not confined to them-- in a stream of consciousness manner--some connect, others not. Yes, sometimes it's hard to read my writing when I get back and open it up, but usually there are enough thoughts and snapshots of brief realities to bring back precise images and times. Besides, there is a spiritual, physical and important connection between your brain and fingers and pen and paper that helps thoughts flow that I don't find touching a plastic keyboard.

A sample  from page one of journal: Dated, 2/22/11
"Why I hate airports--
--parking lots
-time through security
-late planes
-people who talk loud on cell phones"

Or from page four, boarding flight from ORD:
"Dutch and French on loudspeaker
"Multilingual world
"'Merci' is such a pretty word compared to 'Thank you.'"
"India nationals aboard
"Flight 88, Seat 22B, aisle, right behind wing exit.
"Two seats to myself.--aircraft less than half-full"

And the longer the flight gets, the more you read from a newspaper, the more philosophical and descriptive it gets--

"Is the best way to be happy to be thankful?"
"Michigan to close 1/2 Detroit schools--what is wrong with us?"
"Lake Michigan--ice flows, black water, white clouds.
"Alpine glow of setting sun over ice and clouds, magenta  glow of last light at 30,000 feet, over sparsely settled frozen white Canada.
"Leaving the sun behind at takeoff to wake up meeting its golden glow when we land."

Traveling helps you travel in time and in your mind, and that goes back to the beginning of the word "journalism." As Will Rogers said, "Travel thickens." 

We need more travelers today.

Next stop...Chennai on the Bay of Bengal...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Tides of March...

...have pulled me home, from literally half a world away in India the last week of February.

It was a whirlwind, and my travel journal and note pad are full of scribbled impressions and thoughts and facts recorded. And my cell phone and camera have video and still photos to go with some of the writing.

I add this disclaimer. I visited only Chennai, formerly Madras, on the southeastern coast. What I saw and experienced was overwhelming, but I know it was only a tiny glimpse of civilizations and cultures much older than mine, in a democracy much younger. So my perspectives and conclusions are limited by my journalistic training and senses. No more could I fully understand and comprehend the vastness of India's population and history and geography from this visit than an Indian visiting Oklahoma City could understand and comprehend  the vastness of America's geography and history and much smaller population.

But still, impressions of small realities hint at larger truths and realities, just as impressionistic painting hints at them.

For the record, I went there, thanks to UCO and the College of Liberal Arts, to attend an International Symposium on Globalization in Media and Information Technology at SRM University. I was the guest of the journalism and mass communication department faculty and students, and presented part of my paper--The Effects of Information Technology on Newspapers in a Small State in the U.S.A." and chaired a panel on "The effects of social media, twitter and whatnot." I was one of about 10 faculty members and media professionals involved--from India, London, Singapore and the U.S., and we had from about 150-800 students in the audience in the two day-event.

I learned much technologically and about media in other countries, but more from the people and the experience.

Those impressions, like dabs of color in a Monet painting, will follow in pages of my "India journal."