"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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

An almost spooky story and view from the past

Retro--glass lenses, trifocals, and real ear pieces.

I broke my glasses the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, while getting ready for the arts festival and then a long road trip to Walsenburg, Col., to see my last uncle, Mike, in the Veterans Home.

Now I can see at a distance in daylight pretty well, which is why I have the nasty habit of taking my glasses off and putting them down where I can't find them, or in this case, step on them. But the eye strain is increasing in dim light or anytime, and I definitely need them--the cool ones with the gradual bifocals, to read anything smaller than 14 point type, without strain.

But you can't get anything done on a holiday weekend, so off I went, using sunglasses and reading glasses as needed, knowing I'd have to come back and get new glasses--and it was pass time for an annual exam anyway.

But when I got back, in the still cool weather of early June--which seems unreal now--I started cleaning out the garage of accumulated stuff. You know on Facebook of my getting rid of more than 200 books and National Geographics. Still there are other boxes there, including stuff you cant throw away but don't know what to do with. These include  a lot of my Dad's early drawings, family photographs, and mementos and memories of an earlier life.

I've written previously of "Momma's glasses," (Sept. 14, 2009 on this blog--read it if you haven't) so you know what I'm talking about. Anyway, as I repackaged and sorted "stuff"  from my Dad, I was going through this one cardboard box of things that belonged to him before he died in 1973.

When I got to the bottom of the box, I saw in one corner an old eyeglass case. When I picked it up to throw it in the trash, it felt too heavy. So I gingerly opened it, and inside....inside were a pair of old glasses--untouched for almost 40 years.

I gingerly pulled them out. they were glass lenses, and trifocals. So I naturally picked them up, unfolded them, and decided to try them on...out of curiosity, to look through lenses my Dad's eyes had once.

I couldn't believe my eyes...the prescription, all three levels, were perfect.

I knew putting them on made me look old and uncool, and the wrap-around ear pieces were difficult to get used to--as is the glint of light off the clear lines of the trifocals. But I'm really sort of cheap, and didn't want to buy new glasses, even with insurance, if I could help it.

Then my young and cool stepdaughter Alexx saw them and said they were "cool. Retro is in." Another cute young thing at a restaurant commented on them. My stepson Chad saw them and said, "I want those  glasses." A not-so-young guy (my age) at a bar/restaurant this week, saw them and couldn't stop talking about them, telling me stories about his dad, and so forth.

I occasionally think about what Dad saw, looking through these lenses--but I know, I have lots of his artwork to know. So I think I'll keep them...Even as I write this, they give me a whole new way of seeing.

Cabin of lost dreams, watercolor

9 by 12 d'Arches 140 pound paper
This cabin used to be about as far up a dirt road leading up to the Truchas Peaks that you could go,  from the remote town of Truchas on the high road to Taos. It has since crumbled into decay. Still, it is a symbol of lost dreams and memories, an icon to me, that I've used it as a subject many times.

By the way, this is watercolor 20 in the past 22 days, since I heard Norman Poet Nathan Brown talk about writing a poem a day. Yes, you won't see the bad ones, and this is the second attempt on this subject this weekend--taking two days. The previous Hoping for rain also took two days and two attempts.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Birthday thoughts of a firstborn

We headed into the rising sun on the rural highway toward the hospital 35 miles away.
Her labor had started in pre-dawn darkness, but we waited until the contractions were five minutes apart.  We’d been up late the night before, playing board games with good friends, and joking tomorrow would be a good day to have a baby.
In Iowa, the ripening corn fills the valleys between the rolling hills with mist, and the morning sun turns it golden. The highway dipped down into the mist and back up again as the little Volkswagen plugged along, pushed as fast as I could go. I don’t remember the conversation, but I’ll remember that morning forever.
Once my wife was in the delivery room at the hospital, the redheaded Irish doctor told me to put on a white nursing robe and mask: “Come in here, you’re responsible for this,” he said.
I went in and sat down on a chair as the birth neared. I don’t remember much about that either, except praying for my wife as her cries of pain increased, and for my first born, for her health and for his normalcy.
Then, in an instant, the cries of a new baby replaced the  mother’s cries of pain. I knew then that every birth is a miracle.
That was years before ultra sound and knowing what sex the baby was, and when they let fathers in the delivery room. The Catholic doctor ordering me in there said it was his method of birth control. In our case, it didn’t work, because that baby would have a sister and two brothers to join him later.
I remember a few days later, taking him and his mother home from the hospital, with  no car seats to strap him in, just a small portable bassinet in the back seat. We headed toward home, but I pulled over a few blocks from the hospital, and turned around and just stared at my son.
I remember details on the births of our other children, but not in as much detail and emotion as the first born. I know his mother has her own memories of each of them.
What do you remember about your first born’s birth?
I would have liked to ask my mom and dad their memories of the day I was born on cold January in Dallas long ago, but didn’t, and can’t. That’s lost forever. And I wonder, about 100 years ago in Comanche and in East Texas, what my grandmothers and grandfathers remembered of the births of their children. I’ll never know.
But at least my son, Master Sergeant Vance Conrad Clark, USAF, who has three children of his own, will know, on this the day we headed into the rising sun in Iowa 44 years ago.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Winter dreams--watercolor

9 by 12 140 pound d'Arches paper

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Great Plains skyscraper--watercolor

10 by 22, 300 pound d'Arches paper
I'm fascinated by these boiling towers of cumulus in the afternoon heat--an infinity of shapes and shades and colors, changing second by second...they're alive, adding vertical texture to a horizontal world

Pueblo country rain--watercolor

10 by 11, 300 pound Artistico paper

Friday, July 22, 2011


5 by 7 140 pound paper
I saw this old timer today driving through rural Oklahoma. Add 100 degree plus heat at sunset. and....

I wanna 'boose

“Boose. Where’s the boose?”
“Here it comes, honey. See the big red caboose? Wave at the man in the window.”
The man wore a striped long-billed cap and overalls and rode in the top of the red caboose as the last of the long freight clickety-clacked through the Fort Worth intersection. Flashing lights on the big X-shaped railroad crossing  sign would soon stop. But the man smiled and waved at the little boy in the front seat of the car, hanging out the window to watch the train.
I’ve wanted a caboose ever since--even though trains no longer have them. Cabooses are victims of technology and change. I guess I am too.
Every  time I see a caboose--usually at a chamber of commerce office these days, it catches  my attention. A caboose draws me like a magnet. 
I’ve prowled over vacant ones parked on sidings in weedy railroad yards, captivated and saddened by the peeling paint, cracked leather on seats, the sullen smell of coal and diesel and grime. Smells of memories and miles.
 Climbing up steel steps, I yearn to ride in the cupola looking down the track over the swaying tops of box cars, toward the distant locomotive, spewing steam and smoke as it goes around a curve.
Cabooses are bright sunshine and memories.
You can buy a caboose these days--although the wooden ones are almost long gone. I hear they cost about $10,000 and I don’t have that, and I haven’t stopped to ask, because I don’t have a place to put one, yet.
My family thinks I’m crazy, and I guess they’re right...but I wanna boose!
It would make a great addition to the back yard--I could make it a sort of study, or den, a boar’s den of a sort, and a partial storage building.
You’d have to wire it and plumb it of course, but that wouldn’t be too hard. I’d like to set it up as a place to write and read and to escape the present. 
I’d have a wood-burning stove in it and kerosene lanterns. I’d want a cot with a warm olive drab army blanket on it, and a cat. I’d put shelves in there for books and a music system--which would have to include The Wabash Cannon Ball and The Rock Island Line. 
Mainly though there would be quiet. The computer and notepads  would be up in the cupola. I’d  climb up the ladder to the seat, listen to the sleet tap on the window, and then I could really write, looking out the window into the past.
“I wanna ‘boose.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Where's the 'boose?

I've been captivated, as long as I can remember,with Cabooses.

They no long follow long freight trains, but every time I see one sitting on a siding, I want one. I've written about them many times, and will do so more, I expect. I'll share those ideas and yearning s later. So today, I tried  painting one sitting on a siding at the Heber Railroad in Utah, taken years ago.

First time was  a failure...too much detail and not enough emotion.
so today's painting is smaller--5 by 7 at the most, but the kind I've given to friends and fellow railroad enthusiasts Jill and Roy Kelsey in Christmas cards...

But at least , on second try, I've managed a painting a day since Saturday--there's another story.

I wanta boose!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chaco power--watercolor

Dawn at Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico 12 by 9 watercolor, 300 pound Artistico paper

There are places of power in the earth--where the universe is thin--and this is a favorite. The Anasazi's sun dagger atop it wasn't discovered until the 20th century...predicting sun and moon and seasons 1,000 years ago. You can camp nearby today and sense the ghosts and greatness. Fortunately its 25 miles off a paved road.

Newspaper novel, chapter 2?

Stumpy had tried to jump a freight train in Tucumcari when he was 18, slipped and fell under the big steel wheels of a boxcar. He’d pushed himself away and that had cost him his little finger too.
“Came home to die—couldn’t rodeo anymore, play football, nothing,” he said when Greg asked about the leg. “But my coach told me to quit feeling sorry for myself. Same guy I’d cold-cocked the year before for picking on my little brother.” Stumpy laughed.  “Got expelled for three days.”
“The coach bought me a crutch and took up a collection for my wooden leg.”
“Worst part is when my big toe itches. I can feel it, but it ain’t there.”
Newcomers to town would be shocked when they’d see Stumpy ccassionally without his leg. He’d hobble down the sidewalk with a pant leg penned up, hopping along on crutches with a peculiar clop-plop sound, alternating with the one cowboy boot.
But if he was crippled, he wasn’t handicapped, Greg knew.
One time a drunk cowboy had been thrown out of a downtown bar and landed at Stumpy’s foot as he hobbled along.
The cowboy stood up, cussing loudly as a crowd gathered at the door of the bar. People from the adjacent Phillips department store gathered in the window and he started threatening them.
Stumpy told the drunk to shut up and leave, that he ought to be ashamed.
The cowboy turned on Stumpy and pulled a knife.
What happened next happened so fast people weren’t sure it did, and the legend grew. Greg’s dad had been in the department store and got the story though.
Balancing on his one leg, Stumpy swung one crutch and quickly caught the cowboy in the groin. As the drunk bent over in pain, Stumpy brought the crutch around and slapped him on the side of the head with a loud pop, knocking off his dirty Stetson.
The cowboy slumped to the pavement out cold, and Stumpy hobbled over to his pickup and drove off, while the bar owner called the police.
The next day the Index carried the story, with the headline: A Crutch to the Crotch. The first two sentences still made Greg smile: “Stumpy stomped a drunk, leaving him out cold. He may be handicapped, but he’s not foot-capped.”
Stumpy was so proud of the article he had it laminated and tacked to the wall behind his cash register.
“That’s when we became friends,” Greg’s dad told him. “Only time he got his name in the paper. Course it embarrassed your mom to use such language in the paper, and the ministerial alliance thought I was giving him free advertising.
“They’re all for the First Amendment when they agree with it,” Greg said.
“Yeah, remember to put out the paper for the little people—the Stumpys,” his dad had said.

Weekly newspaper novel--Chapter one?

Greg Caldwell had scandalized the town when he starting running ads from Stumpy's Spur.  
Stumpy Clark wore wide-striped suspenders,  had a wooden leg and walked with a limp. But he was the fanciest  two-stepper in the Texas Panhandle. His dance hall at the north edge of Darling, Stumpy’s Spur, reeked of beer and urine and cigarette smoke. Attracting bands and dancers from the entire Panhandle,  the Spur was Darling’s biggest attraction, although the  chamber of commerce wasn’t too proud of it. The gravel parking lot covered two acres, and would be packed with pickups and cars every weekend.
The Darling Index needed the money. Even the Ministerial Alliance had called to protest what they saw as a newcomer changing the paper. Greg ignored them, reminding them they all wanted 20 percent discounts for their church ads, and were often late paying.
Stumpy always paid cash, pulling out a thick roll of bills and flipping out  twenties until the half page a week ad was paid for.
He and Greg would have coffee once a week at the Fat Lion, and Greg always got an earful about what was really going on in town—not the official view—but the gossip and behind the scene politics of the town’s leading citizens.
“What you hear at the Spur is usually reliable—once you clean the bullshit off the boots,” Stumpy would say, tearing off a wad of Beechnut tobacco and putting it in his cheek as they left the Lion.
He’d asked Stumpy about the brick thrown through the newspaper door.
Stumpy winked. “You ever dance, Greg?”
“Yeah, but not much…you know those Baptists.”
“Bet you step on toes when you do, then, right?”
“Yep,” Greg’s face flushed, thinking of the last person he’d held close to him and hurt her feet.
“What happened?”
Stumpy smiled. “Any more questions about the brick?”
Greg stopped, then laughed and waved at Myrt for more coffee.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Home to roost--watercolor

Great Plains homestead--8 by 10 300 pound Artistico paper

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sangre de Cristo sunset-watercolor

Later winter's cold  last light at Santa Fe--8 by 10 300 pound d'Arches paper

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hope for rain, watercolor

Cumulus--watercolor, 6 by 9, 140 pound d'Arches paper

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Prairie throne--watercolor

6 by 9 watercolor, 140 pound d'Arches paper

I saw this monster sprouting this week as I drove down I-35 in 100 degree plus heat. It's great to see cumulus in the  sky, reacting to the heat and humidity and bring some respite to at least part of our parched state. How can you not try to paint this, from a quick photo on an iphone. It's only 6 by 9, but I've got a narrow old frame that would accommodate something much larger, like a 12 by 22 or so. So this is a brief study, wondering if I can pull it off.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Adobe dreams--watercolors

5 by 7 arches 140 pound paper

Revised, Autumn morning, High road to Taos near Penasco 9 by 12 140 pound Arches paper

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Studio time, part 2

Where I paint and think...my stuff, some of Susan's sketches and Dad's art also. Stained glass cross was made especially for my uncle Rex and hung in my uncle Mike's apartment until last year. The oak drawing table where I paint standing up, was my dad's.