"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.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Water "Games"?

What had been the middle of America was a desert reaching from the Texas panhandle into Saskatchewan. Once the Ogallah aquifer was pumped dry in mid-century, cities and people disappeared. The incessant winds and dust storms  and heat turned skies a dirty orange by day. No stars shown at night.

With the ice caps gone and Greenland vanished, the oceans buried every city on the coasts. Potter's hometown of Spotsylvania was under water, and the Shenandoah valley was a shallow sea because there was no drainage, with the Atlantic lapping at the eastern base of the Blue Ridge. Houston was gone, and the skyscrapers of Dallas-Fort Worth were empty shells on a lifeless beach.

Oklahoma City was a village, its "river walk" filled with sand, its rivers dry, its energy companies vanished. The last earthquake had been more than a 9 on some forgotten scale, and collapsed the city's newest building, an energy company skyscraper. Potter thought it ironic that Tulsa fared no better, its statue of a senator who once called climate change a hoax presiding over vacant, dusty streets and empty oil storage tanks.

Most of the survivors of the famine and disease were like Potter, living in mountains like the Cascades and Alaska and Rockies and Ozarks and Appalachians and Poconos where they could still get groundwater  and altitudes cut the heat. That's where what remained of governments existed, where  power was measured in the amount of water controlled.

The Water "Games"

He was so old he could remember when there were five Great Lakes.

Today, there was only a ten-mile wide stagnant scum-filled pool where Lake Huron had been. Only old timers like himself remembered lakes. M. "Spot" Potter knew that water was no game. At age 89, he could remember when they're had been rain and trees, paper, printing presses, and a United States.

Now he lived in a tarp-covered shack on a deforested ridge in what had been southeast Oklahoma, which used to remind him of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, where he'd been  born. His folks named him Marion Spotsylvania Potter after their home town, and he detested both names. Early in his newspaper career he'd chosen to use the first initial and shortened the middle to Spot. He thought it made him sound more sophisticated. Sure, he'd had to weather the cracks about being named for a dog, but his reputation for getting scoops on breaking news made most people think it was a nickname for covering 'spot" news.  But that was back when there had been news, like the stories he broke on Oklahoma's water wars in the early part of the century.

Those were a mere drip in the bucket compared to what happened after "It" happened, with no rain, 10- month "summers," and retreating coastlines.

To be continued

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Speaking of Geezers

 “Latch on to the old geezers and sop up all you can from them.”
That’s my advice to my journalism students, and anyone else for that matter.
I’ve been fortunate to count five special people who had huge influences on my life and career as a teacher and journalist. What they had in common was a passion for their work, an interest in hard-working younger people, huge amounts of experience in their fields, a desire to keep learning with an eye on the future and change, and no sense of being old.
Every field of work and living has people like these, and I know you can think of some: a seamstress, a cook, an auto mechanic, a mother, a cattleman, a store owner, a piano player, a school teacher. Just by being around them you’d learn about their craft. They would take you under their wings and guide you with wisdom and experience; but they had enough confidence in you to let you try and fail until you found your own wings.
Mentor’s a big buzz word in education right now, but long ago I figured out if I really wanted to learn my craft, I would find these people and “sit at their feet,” as they used to say. But with my mentors, sitting was the last thing you could do--they were busy.

"Latch on to the old geezers..." 
My last mentor, Harry Heath of OSU, the dean of Oklahoma journalism, forgot more about journalism than I know. He was the embodiment of the journalist-scholar, with extensive experience in media, and a scholarly attitude to boot. Always thirsty for knowledge, he never quit writing; retirement was not in his vocabulary. From him I learned to love Oklahoma journalism and journalists.
    Before him was my partner in publishing, Donald J. Morrison of the Waurika News-Democrat. He was committed to his town and family newspaper in a way best described as “from the old school.” From him I learned that small weekly newspapers can accomplish great things--like The Corps of Engineers’ Waurika Lake. He gave up a plush public relations job to come back to the small town and run the family paper. He didn’t make as much, but he could say, “I’m my own man.” 
    Callaway Buckley, executive editor of the Duncan (OK) Banner, could chew you out and 15 minutes later praise you, because he was a stickler for serious work. From Cal, a consummate newsman, I learned a passion for timely, accurate news coverage.
Henry Africa didn’t have a degree but was in charge of the University of Iowa Linotype school, a field obsolete even in the early 1960s. Henry knew the past and future--teaching me--a graduate student--more about the entire process of journalism than anyone. I learned not to be wedded to technology--that technology always changes, and content is most important. Do things the right way, and learn to adapt.
Terrence Miller Clark, father and artist. He taught me to see beauty, and to apply its principles in everything I work at. He also , by osmosis really--by being around art and always trying to draw something, prepared me for my current passion, watercolor painting.
They’re all dead, but live on in the lives of others. I’m fortunate to be a disciple of these men. It’s sort of sad to think that I’m getting too old to have any more mentors--the years just sort of slipped by. I keep thinking that some day I’ll be described as such by some students, and, after 20 years in the business and 25 in college teaching, I guess  I am  getting to be an old geezer myself. One  former student already saucily addresses me as, "Hey Geezer."
Despite the fancy talk about mentors these days, there isn’t much practical instruction out there for journalism students or journalists. A tragedy in many newsrooms with high turnover  and staff cutbacks and "early retirements " is that there are few long-term news people with enough crust to help out new reporters. The same is true in higher education, or any field.

"You need 'new blood,' but  'old blood' too."

In every organization  and endeavor , you need new blood, but you need old blood too. Everybody  desperately needs old geezers with rich memories to pass on the wisdom and experience not found in books or employee manuals.
As I look out over the students this semester, I’ll tell them, if they want to be a success, they need to latch onto the old geezers--the more wrinkles they have, the more stories they can tell, the more experience and wisdom they have--they’ve traveled enough miles to become interesting.
I hope they’ll take that advice from this old geezer.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Geezer, God chat on top of Black Mesa

Old professor meets God while hiking on top of Black Mesa, Cimarron County, Oklahoma.

"Who are you?"
    "You can call me God, or Allah, or Yahweh or Odin or ...."
"I didn't expect you up here. And where's the long beard?"
     "You're lucky to meet me unexpectedly while you're still breathing. Most people meet me unexpectedly when they stop breathing. And I'm getting tired of the 'beard' thing. What gives you the idea I have a beard?"
"All the artists...."
    "Artists are great creative people, I like them, but I've not sat for one portrait. If you ask me, they took a little too much artistic license for that.  Beard? I've never shaved. Besides, your Scripture says I am a spirit, so what gender is that? A beard is just out of the question. Now what are you doing up here (as if I didn't know)?"
"Consider the yucca...."
    "Looking for beauty, and inspiration, and room to think."
"Have you considered the yucca? ( I know it's not like considering the lilies of the field, but hey, this is Black Mesa.)"
      "Well yes, I did when I brushed too close to it, and one of the spiny leaves struck my leg
"You should have been watching where you're going."
     "I was, but was looking ahead on the trail, wondering how much farther it was."
"So you missed the beauty of the stalk and flowers and the purpose-filled life of the leaves while wondering about the future?"
      "Hmm, never thought about that."
"I thought you said you came out here to think. Did you think about rattlesnakes? They're one of my best designs. Beautiful patterns, occupying areas others don't usually like. They keep those furry little varmints under control--I admit, I underestimated their reproduction ability."
      "Well, yes I did. It is too early for them, so I wasn't paying too much attention to the trail right under my feet."
"That's what's wrong with you Americans and humans--you look too far ahead, or you're always looking back  where you've been."
      "I only stopped at the rim to look back at the view."
"That's not what I meant. All this nostalgia stuff. You've been looking back ever since Moses wrote about the Seven Days. I'd hoped you'd 'evolved' since then (pardon the pun), but no, still hung up on how all this started. Get over it. It really doesn't matter. I'm here. You're here now.  Live now.
     "Hey, I'm a Texan and a Southerner, we grew up looking back."
"Exactly my point. Get over it. You read where you're made in my image? That means living now, not then, or sometime ahead. Present tense."
      "I was trying to do that up here."
"I'll admit you came to a good place to do that. I like high places."
     "Closer to heaven?"
"Stop it, no. I'm here. I know, I know, I made the low places too ( Great tune I put in Garth Brooks' head. and by the way, I have lots of friends like that--remember the 'eye of the camel' thing?), but they're for swamp people, and alligators, and such. Too much humidity for me. I like the free flowing wind and clear skies so I can see more of this masterpiece, especially before you people ruin it."
     "Hard to believe that up here in the middle of almost nowhere."
"Now you sound like that crackpot Senator Inhofe of yours. Honestly--no wait, that's wrong.  The evidence is everywhere, if you use the brain God (uh, Me) gave you. Just too many people--hmm, like those furry little varmints, and without natural predators, I underestimated your humans' love for copulation."
    "Most of us in Oklahoma don't use that word, but a much shorter one."
"I know, but it's much more sophisticated, which fits my personality."
    "So, do you have any more advice for me, other that watching where I put my feet?"
"I've had lots of advice for you people from The Beginning, and you mostly ignore it. Why do you ask now?"
   "I was trying to get you off politics. It's too pretty up here for that ugliness."
"By God (er, by Me), you're right. Enjoy your hike. Watch your present tense step, you might miss something important."

Geezer and God

Old professor and God, driving down an empty highway in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

"I know a lot of people call this a 'God-forsaken' land, but I like the time alone."
    "Excuse me, that irritates me. How can someone call this "God-forsaken, if they believe in God, or for that matter, especially if they don't? I mean,  I do remember creating this place."
"You startled me. I thought I was here alone. How did you get here?
    "I've always been here. That's why I'm riding with you, and you're not alone."
"It feels like it. Not a lot of people understand why I come out here."
     "Why do you come out here then?"
 "Let me put it another way. It's a great place to get away from traffic, and noise and too many people."
    "But why do you come out here?"
"Gives me time to think, to enjoy wide-open spaces, the huge skies. Fuels my imagination. I get to talk to myself."
    "What about talking to Me?"
"I'll admit, this country makes you want to pray, because you realize you're pretty small, and not in control, and being in a hurry doesn't make sense. But talking to God wasn't at the top of the list."
     "Who said you had to pray to talk to God?"
"You know what I mean...."
    "Of course I do, I'm God,  but what makes you think all those other things you mentioned aren't the same as talking to me?"
"If I told people I was coming out here to talk to God, and that talking to myself was the same as talking to God, they'll think I was just a crazy old geezer."
    "Does that bother you?"
"I like being a geezer. It allows me to be who I am, and say what I want.  Sure, my students laugh at me, and other faculty just shake their heads in disbelief but they seem to enjoy it.
   "Why do you think they enjoy it?"
"I don't know. Maybe because there are so few characters left in bureaucracy, and civilization is trying to make cookie cutter people these days. Maybe individuality is refreshing."
   "I wouldn't call that 'civilization.'"
"Well, I don't either, which is why I come out here to talk to myself."
   "And me."
"Oh, God (uh, oops), I forgot."
    "So have a lot of people."

Monday, March 26, 2012

To the northwest tip of No Man's Land

One foot in New Mexico, one foot in Oklahoma, with my finger on a little plastic bottle sitting in three states, looking straight west, camera on the hood of my car part in Colorado and part in Oklahoma.
If you travel to Cimarron County, to the tip of the panhandle of what was "No Man's Land," and get off on a dirt road, you can come to America's Three Corners--where New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma meet. An unassuming little monument marks the spot in a desolate land of few people and wide open spaces.

A few miles south the land opens up to the Great Plains where the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail angled southwest out of what was the United States and into the Republic of Mexico. I found this marker on a gravel road, just across the line in New Mexico, looking southwest toward the landmark old volcano Rabbit Ear Peaks, just visible on the horizon between the sign and the tree, north of where Clayton, N.M. is now.
No, I'd never heard of this spot either. Here I am, car in Oklahoma, me in New Mexico. Nothing in Mexoma but a church, ruined houses,  and a cemetery. I covered many miles that day, and couldn't help but think about those wagons on the Santa Fe Trail where 10 miles would be a good day.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

High, wide and lonesome

Windmill country, second attempt, 9" by 12" 140 pound d'Arches watercolor paper--$125 unframed

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Windmill country

Views from Cimarron County

I tried painting this this afternoon, but I'm not happy with the right side of the painting, Sleep on it, and add a little tomorrow, or crop it, as the second will show. But I'll paint this old one again soon. 9 by 12 140pound 'dArches paper

Stunning Western views

No trip to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is complete for me if I can't step into the huge special events room and view the  overwhelming Wilson Hurley triptychs of the American West.
My favorite of course is the one of the thundercloud over the Sandias with the Rio Grande in the foreground, from the northwest of Albuquerque where I grew up.
The others show the great falls of the Yellowstone, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and if you haven't been there to see these, to give you a sense of scale, I've included people in the one of the Pacific Coast.

"Cowboy" Museum riches

It's no longer the Cowboy Hall of Fame, though most folks still call the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum just that. We're fortunate... it's just "down the street" from us actually, a nice back road drive of a few miles south. I don't go there enough, but did yesterday and walked into a surprise. The exhibit "Pueblo to Pueblo--The Legacy of Southwest Indian Pottery shows all kinds of pottery from several  different pueblos in New Mexico and the Hopi in Arizona. It's here through April 6 from the Kansas City Museum. You can't take photos, but I've included a photo from my collection, via Uncle Mike. This is a small"wedding vase" from Santa Clara. The wide variety of pottery forms and the decorations is an adventure in art and imagination. You should go see this exhibit soon. www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/
   Part of the exhibition has included demonstrations and talks, and I barely got there in time for the second to last one. Today is the last such.
    Renny Reeves, now of Oklahoma City, Lakota and Ottawa artist whose name is also Keche Weewaquahn was doing bead work. It is astounding to me the amount of patience and time that goes into such work, whether bead work or pottery. That's where Native Americans are more civilized that we  are...they have a different culture and sense of  time--non linear. I told Renny, "You don't make art like this with a wrist watch on." I've approached it occasionally when painting and I've talked to others who agree, time ceases to exist or matter.
  Mr. Reeves does this for a living, making Plains Indian style feather bonnets, fans and moccasins and all other kinds of things too. Behind him you can see a bonnet he's made, and a poster of the pottery exhgibit. He's working on a bead covered ceremonial vest. The front part is in the foreground. His email is harlirenny@cox.net.
   Exhibits like this add to the riches of the museum, which is packed with great art about the west, from Remington to Russell and before and since, Native American art, displays on western movie actors and movies, firearms, barbed wire, the U.S. Army in the west, hunting, western hats, frontier towns, rodeo, and more. Also current is an exhibit of sculptures of Indians done from Bodmer and Catlin watercolors.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Time and a dripping candle

Time drips away
like wax on a burning candle,
one layer on another,
building up
while shrinking.
Unpredictable patterns
and colors creating
living from dying.
When the flame is gone,
memories remain
like colorful stalactites
in a dry cavern
that once dripped
with water and life.

My friend Bob Illidge, who died 7 years ago, brought this Chianti to a dinner at our house. We toast him every time we're with friends, and the wine bottle-candle holder is a powerful piece of art in our house.

The clouds are back

9 by 12 watercolor, 140 pound d'Arches paper
That's what Susan said looking at the magnificent skies yesterday and today. It seems like it's been a long time since we've had dramatic skies, and we've been blessed  with many in the past two weeks, and days. This doesn't even capture a hint of them, but I've tried. Photographs are sometimes better. Yesterday, this was out the window while I was playing chess.
And this when I got a haircut. It's watercolor weather.

Links to a year ago--India journal

Sorrow in Mali

It's been four years since I visited Mali and made friends and found my life's values changed. It was a democracy, proud of its independence, a fledging press, lots of poor people, lots of problems, Muslim, and a friend of the U.S.
   There has been trouble in the desert north from Timbuctou north from the Turaq and al queda, and today I hear from a friend in Bamako that there has been a military coup, the president overthrown, some officials and ministers arrested. The is some looting, and a curfew. This is sad. I took this photo when there, of a young woman.
And someone took this photo of me.

On top of Oklahoma

Leaning against the Granite Monument, 4,972.97 feet above sea level.

I find it interesting that the late great Jenk Jones of the late great Tulsa Tribune did this. Detail of the East side.

Each side of the obelisk has data of distances--Texas 31 miles; Colorado; 4.1 miles,. New Mexico 1299 feet, Kansas, 53 miles E.N.E.. Distances to New York, 1,605 miles,  and Los Angeles, 895 miles. Names of the survey crew, information on the granite from Granite, Ok. In the top view, and below at the base on the side of the south side,at my feet is the 50 caliber metal shell box weighted down with lava rocks that holds the notebooks you can sign in with, which I did in the 2012 spiral..."Terry M. Clark, Edmond, OK March 19, 2012. 9:56 a.m."
That's because it was Mountain Time zone there. I started my two-hour hike at 9 a.m. Central Time and walked across zones.
Two hundred yards south of the monument you can walk to the edge of Black Mesa and look out over the Dry Cimarron river valley below.
In the distance looking southeast, upper middle, you can see the light reflecting off the tin roofs almost-ghost town of Kenton, more than 600 feet  below the rim of Black Mesa.
Look the other way and you see into New Mexico, with extinct volcanos Sierra Grande, left, and cinder cone Capulin, right, blue in the 60 miles distance, and the river bed winding into New Mexico. The tip of the rocks in the foreground is the edge of the 100-foot drop off of the lava cap that gives Black Mesa its name.

Post script. This is the "Dry Cimarron." Water rarely runs here, the head "waters" of the river I've canoed in near Guthrie, hundreds of miles down "stream." I stayed and Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast, a working ranch, and the "river" "runs" through its land. I took an evening nature walk down it, and found standing water and lots of foliage, which attract deer and turkey and other wildlife.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To the top of Oklahoma, and back

A hike to the highest point in Oklahoma, on top of Black Mesa at the tip of the panhandle in Cimarron County, is an adventure in endurance. It's more than an eight-mile round trip, and you better bring water and layered clothing, and a hat in warm or even spring weather, which is what I did...I wouldn't want to take it in August. Chilly when I started, I worked up a sweat climbing, and then needed my windbreaker again. Most of the trip is on level ground, but it's still at 4,000 feet or more, which is less oxygen than we flatlanders are used to, "downstate," as the Panhandle people refer to us.
   The first two miles are marked by benches and skirt the base of the sandstone mesa capped by a 10-million-year-old lava flow--hence the name Black Mesa. By the way, mesa is a Spanish word for "Table," inherited by us after 400 plus years from the Coronado and the Conquistatores, for table-like mountain.
  The immensity of the sky, and the quiet, the landscape captivates.
Here's the trailhead and mile one and two benches, all before you head up. It's also a Nature Preserve with more than 30 unique species there, and including Big horn sheep, mule deer,  and more. I saw only deer and coyote scat and meadowlarks and ravens.

This is where you turn toward the climbing at last. Ahead, the mesa towers about 1,000 feet above you.

After you start climbing, you reach the third mile bench, overlooking the edge, about 1/2 the way up. Above you, it looks daunting.
Behind you, you can see where you've been, including the trail you took to get here from bench two.

You stop to get your breath, and drink water. It get steeper. You notice the eroded sandstone that makes walking tricky and the lava at the rim, that vies the mesa its name.

 Ahead is the rim, and then the last leg to the top.

Once on top, it's level going for another distance. Finally you can see  the granite marker ahead, and then a sign.

Then you get to the marker, the highest point in Oklahoma. You sit down on a bench, thanks to a Boy Scout group, and look and wonder at the end of the Great Plains and beginning of the mountain West.

Next chapter, on the top of Oklahoma.

Black Mesa sunset

I stayed at Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast,  http://www.bmbb1.com/  before and after hiking more than eight miles to the highest point in Oklahoma, at the tip of the panhandle in Cimarron County.  More on that later. Here's a view from the front porch, with Black Mesa in the background.
And in the evening, after the 8.5 mile hike tot he top, including standing at the lip at the farthest left in the picture and painting, I sat on that porch, a cold wind blowing, and painted the sunset.
Black Mesa Sunset, en plein aire, 9" by 12" 140 pound d'Arches watercolor paper