"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, May 11, 2011

Red River watercolor

Storm 'a-coming, near Waurika
9 by 12, Arches 140-pound cold-pressed paper

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ghost towns

Traveling to Wichita Falls and then Waurika this Mother's Day to visit Mom's grave with my brother Jerry of Lubbock stirs ghosts in those towns and in my life.

We gathered last night for dinner and personal time, in the city where my grandmother on my Dad's side, Cuba John Miller Clark Reasor, had a watermelon stand and restaurant downtown back in the early 50s. I barely remember it, but it was hot then when we visited in the summer. It was already 101 yesterday. That's the city where we drove every week for 12 years to have the newspaper printed when I owned the Waurika, OK, News Democrat 25 years ago.

Crossing the Red River
Jerry and I drove north through Burkburnett, crossing the Red River, and turned east on US 70 toward Waurika and the cemetery where Mom is buried. It's a long 28 miles and it was hot already at 9:30, going into the sun through the rattlesnake-infested Red River breaks, the mesquite, the wheat--land largely unpopulated except by cattle. Years ago, we used to travel that route west going to New Mexico and Texas.

At the windswept hill west of Waurika, we pulled off  the road, crunched over the gravel and drove up by Mom's grave. I've come most years to plant real flowers at the grave, saturating the plot with water and cleaning off the gravestone. This is Jerry's second or third trip. He said he was "going to see Momma."

Jerry at Mom's grave
We planted the flowers, and stood around, talking, to each other, and to her too, remembering, thinking, wondering, about the past and the future, as the wind slowly dried the water off her marker, leaving only the incised letters of her name and her dates of life wet:
Francis Faye Culp Clark
June 15, 1909
July 5, 1980

It's not quite in the cemetery. The wind always blows and you can hear doves and meadowlarks all the time. But we were quiet inside, I think. We wandered around other graves, commenting on the names and the dates. Babies and children, and a lot of people I remember personally having known them or worked with them when we lived there before leaving in 1986. The names themselves are stories, and ghosts. I should have written them down. Maybe someday. Ghosts.
My great partner and wife, Donald J. and Lorene B. Morrison
His meeting me there revived other memories and ghosts. Every year I search for the grave of my former newspaper partner and his wife, Donald J. and Lorene B. Morrison. Never have found it, because I thought it was in an older part  of the cemetery.

Wandering with Jerry, not far from Mom's grave, I found it. More memories and ghosts.

We didn't spend long there, lost in our thoughts and he with a four to four and a half hour drive ahead.  I kneel down and kiss the gravestone and say goodbye.

Jerry asked if I realized that when we're gone, no one will visit those graves. Mortality hangs in the warm air.

Red brick streets
Ghosts of a past life
Then I drive through the little town of Waurika, about half the size of when we lived there...withering like most of the state west of I-35. I can tell you stories about many of the buildings--with the people involved, as I drove up those red brick streets, past the old newspaper office, the railroad depot, vacant store fronts once alive with people and hope. I drove past crowded parking lots of the church were we went, and the one where Mom went. More memories, more ghosts. Took a picture of the first house we had there, when our youngest was born. Drove past the high school, turned north on US 81.

The restored Rock Island Depot--now the library. It was vacant for years.
I stopped to take a photo of vacant buildings in Addington, which had a Socialist newspaper in 1909, and is now barely there. I think most towns have ghosts, but they're easier to find in small towns, rather than metro areas where "progress" erases them.  I pulled into Comanche, 15 miles north of Waurika where my Dad was born, past the boarded up brick school of the Comanche Indians he and his brothers attended.  More ghosts. A new bank building is going up on the corner, replacing the old Chief Cafe where granddad used to sip coffee. Around the block a few cars are in the gravel parking lot of the Comanche Church of Christ where Dad's funeral was.

Terry and Jerry at Mom's grave
North of town I stop on old US 81 and drive up more gravel to plant a few flowers at Dad's grave. He died in 1973. Beside him is the grave of his father, Erle Thweat Clark, who died in 1963. Just north of his grave are two more. Mary Unit Watts Clark, who died in 1926, and Batte Peterson Clark, who died in 1916. My brother and I carry their name and more. Who will visit our graves?

I talk briefly to Dad, and then head north, not stopping in Duncan, because there are ghosts there too. I'm eager to get to Chickasha and the turnpike and head home at 75 mph. Slower speed and memories and ghosts and ghost towns are important

But it's important not to try to live there, or stir them too much.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day thoughts

Francis Faye Culp Clark

“Those are Momma’s glasses,” I said to myself.

I was digging through an old box in the garage, rummaging through old letters, faded photographs, artifacts of an earlier time.

There they were--thin gold octagonal wire frames, around slightly scratched bifocals. Beside them was a Mothers Day card colored on torn, faded construction paper by a little boy named Terry. There were yellowed photos of a young woman and friends in flapper dresses, old cars, brittle brown envelopes with three-cent stamps and hand-writing scribbled on them, postmarked in Texas in the 1920s and 30s.
Mom, with her first five grandchildren--Travis, Dallas, Becky, Derrick, Vance
I was sitting on the concrete floor of the garage, trying to straighten up and sort through the boxes one more time...you know, a typical weeknd chore. Among the boxes of junk--junk that is too valuable to be thrown away--were baby pictures, kid pictures, young adult pictures that record the passing of time in individuals, in families.

There are days like that, family reunion days. You sit and visit with people you’ve known for years, watching them grow older. Some with walkers, some with oxygen tubes, kids and grandkids and great grandkids scrambling around, people feasting on a smorgasbord of food and faces and family.

And then you think about them watching you grow older...like the stuff that spills out of an old box. A guest book of a wedding or a funeral, scribbled family history notes with dates of births and marriages and deaths of brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, children. Tears of memories in small items like a tiny black leather coin purse stuffed with a black and white photo of a young woman, carried by your mother 70 years ago.

Certificates of membership, graceful handwriting you immediately recognize...and the boxes they’re crammed in. Old magazines, newspaper clippings.

My brother Jerry and I at the Culp
reunion a month ago.
A musty smell of growing older, perfumed slices of time frozen in eternity. It brings tears, until you think about your own children growing older, and what they’ll look at and remember some day when they’re sifting through boxes, wondering when certain snapshots were taken, who those other people are. The tears are of sadness and regrets and memories, but not of growing older.

Years and memories are like children, the more you have the fuller your life becomes.

I picked up Momma’s glasses and looked through them briefly, and they gave me a new outlook on all those boxes in our lives.

*My brother Jerry and I will meet at Mom's grave in Waurika, OK.,  tomorrow, plant some real flowers, and remember. It has been so long.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Great Sentence Search in Oklahoma

I use the NY Times to teach writing, believing that my students must be exposed to good writing to improve, to learn the craft.

We're fortunate to get it every day free to students here on campus at UCO. That makes it easy, except you have to be on the ball ahead of the students every morning, if you use it in the classroom.

One of my techniques is "The great sentence search."

I contend that the best writing comes when the writer almost loses self in the story and has fun. Then the best sentences come. You as a reader can tell when a writer really had fun crafting a sentence. He/she would finish the sentence and, reach up from the keyboard, clinch a victory fist and almost shout, "Yes!".

I find such sentences throughout the paper, business section, arts, news, columns, editorials. I make them find them and we talk about whey they're great sentences.

Yesterday, a story on the front page caught my eye: "An Oklahoma Farming Town is Tested by a Cruel Drought."

It's by Katharine Q. Seelye, about Boise City, the small county seat of Cimarron county, 367 miles from here (closer to Santa Fe and Denver), at the tip of the Panhandle, bordering Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

She shows the impact of the drought on the western half of our state, shriveling after 222 days without rain.  She visits with townspeople and ranchers, survivors of The Dust Bowl 70 years ago, facing the same kind of drought.

Here's the great sentence, describing the drought's effects at a ranch trying to raise cattle:

"On the Sharp Ranch, 15 miles outside town, the cattle were grazing on dirt."

Oh yes, now that's journalism!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Via Appia...thougths and photos after Easter

". . . and the next day we came to Puteoli, ...And so we went toward Rome.  And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns.  When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage." (Acts 28:13-15, NKJV)

     (The Appii Forum or Market of Appius was a town on the Appian Way about 55 miles south of  Rome. )
A few years ago we visited Rome and Florence. I wanted most to see the Appian Way, the famous, 2,000-year old+ basalt-paved road from the south of Italy into Rome, walked by Paul the apostle

Here's my post-Easter thoughts, plus photos of that historic route that Paul saw, on the way to his death at the end of his third missionary journey, about 60 AD.

The guards were tired of listening to him. He never stopped talking, rambling sentences that never seemed to end, and the topic never changed. He spoke three languages fluently, and if you tried to argue with him, his debating skills were smooth and powerful and led to more harangues.

Soon you learned to just keep your mouth shut and keep the procession moving, a step at a time, day after day.

Pity the poor soldiers who had been months with him on the ship or in house arrest. At least at the end of this road, you’d be relieved and other soldiers would be saddled with bringing him to court.

At first, he was entertaining, and interesting. He’d certainly seen much of the world, Asia Minor, Greece, troublesome Judea. But the stories soon wore off. He lived up to being a pedantic, preachy Pharisee, and he just wouldn’t shut up.

Officers joked that being handcuffed to him was not to keep him from running away, but to keep the guards from deserting their duty.

Zoom in on this to see the street sign
Now at long last, he walked up the ancient stone road, the Via Appia, past the tombs of the nobles, flanked by Roman soldiers.

Someone told him he ought to be ashamed, being hauled to the world’s capital city, on its main thoroughfare, in chains.

That started another sermon: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God for the Jew and the Gentile,” he spouted. He was a wizened, old man with bad eyesight, but there was nothing wrong with his voice.

The trouble was he was a Roman citizen, and he had the gall to appeal to Caesar. He was proud to be “an apostle to the Gentiles,” and never missed a chance to preach, to try to convert the solders, and others throughout Italy to what he called The Way.

People still walk  the Appian Way
He obviously wasn’t afraid of death, and used the tombs along the way to keep nagging about a different kind of life. He’d cheated it many times already. Ask him and he’d tell you he’d been shipwrecked, stoned, imprisoned several times, beaten and chased by his own countrymen, almost drowned, lied about and betrayed.

They were disgusted with him, but his determination and courage astonished them too.

He was on a mission, a religious fanatic who would stop at nothing to do his job. He almost bragged that God was sending him to Rome, although both the guards and he probably knew it could cost him his head for treason and insurrection.

Modern Sundays, on The Appian Way
Instead, he was happy, smiling almost as much as the suffering guards when they approached the southern gates to the city, after years in prison, in Judea, a year-long voyage,  months in Malta after shipwreck, and then up the 300-mile coast, a step and a day at a time.

He never stopped talking about the poor Jew who’d been disgracefully crucified 30 years before, whose believers were turning the Empire upside down. He acted as though that troublemaker was still alive.

Dare to warn him of the consequences of continually running off his mouth, and it only ignited another sermon.

He preached on, unfazed, unashamed, unafraid. On the way into town, he passed the Roman Forum, Agrippa’s Pantheon, the temples, even the Coliseum where some of his ilk were murdered.

Other soldiers were stuck with him as he spent two years in house arrest awaiting Caesar’s pleasure. He preached like he wrote, long sentences filled with passion.
He left Rome and then came back, and there, the guards probably joked, the guy who figuratively lost his head over religion, literally did also.

They didn’t get it. They couldn’t grasp what drove him. But he KNEW what was important.

Facing death years before, he argued with and assured his fellow believers of what he considered “most important”: “If Christ is not raised, your faith if futile; you are still in your sins…. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…. I want to know Christ  and the power of his resurrection…. Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

On Easter Sundays, when the sun comes up in Judea, and Rome and across the world, remember the Apostle Paul and his words of encouragement to the followers of that Hebrew who preached not a fancy, fake religion, but simplicity and sincerity; not hate, but love; not damnation, but forgiveness; not death, but resurrection and life.


The southern gate to Imperial Rome, over the Appian Way
Writer’s note: I walked the Appian Antigua  on a Sunday morning, crossing the same stones Paul trudged up, flanked by those suffering guards, and through the gate to Imperial Rome. Paul isn’t dead either.


Scriptures come from the New International Version

Lifetime achievement...hmmm

Thoughts about receiving the lifetime achievement award at the Society of Professional Journalists' Oklahoma Pro awards banquet in at Southern Hills Hilton in Tulsa last night (also known as a version of speech), after being introduced by former student, freelance journalist, friend and organization president Carol Cole-Frowe.

"When I think of things I deserve, an image of the guillotine comes to mind, or thoughts of being locked up for eternity with Beck, O'Reilly and Sally Kern.

So I was almost speechless a couple of weeks ago when Carol left me a message to call her. I thought she might have a new job, or want to gig me about the Sooners and Longhorns.

This is such an honor, one I never dreamed of. I have the best of two worlds. I get to work with journalists and do some journalism, but I don't have to put the paper to bed and work late on Tuesday nights.

Susan kids me because at OPA I always refer to community journalists as "my people." I feel at home here with you. Thank you.

And I get to work with students, 25 years now at OSU and UCO. Their passion, energy, hope and passion fuels me in this cynical doom and gloom work of journalism today. I look over this room and see so many former students. Thank you, you save me from the world of academic red tape (I used another word in the speech).

I also thank my wife Susan for putting up with me. And my ex-wife and four wonderful children who have done the same thought the years. 

To be included in this honor with the likes of Mick Hinton, John Greiner, Phil Parrish, Ed Montgomery, Carter Bradley and Ralph Sewell really does stun me. That's major league

To the young journalists present--keep entering the contests. You need these pats on the back because you won't get them anyplace else. And work on being a character, an individual, like those guys and, maybe me.

My colleagues present from UCO (Drs. Hanebutt, Nelson and Krishnaswami) know I'm liable to say anything. In my case, I know this award is also because I'm old--increased tree rings, increased waist line, and increased trips to the bathroom at night.

But I still know how to write a tight lead.

I'm proud to be a journalist.

Thank you.