"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, July 31, 2013

111 countries, and a record July

Panama became the 111th country to have had a reader click on this blog, and total number of hits for the month of July is reaching a record, well over 4,300. Earlier in the month two other new country-clickers were Uruguay and Togo.
Panama has a long history intertwined with the U.S. It was originally colonized by Spain, after Balboa crossed the isthmus to be the first European to see, and  name the Pacific Ocean, in 1513. It gained independence in 1821 and was part of Colombia until 1903.
That's when the U.S., wanting to build the Panama Canal, managed to get it to secede from Colombia. The 48-mile canal was completed in 1914 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and remained under American control until 1999. That happened because of a 1977 agreement, and there's an Oklahoma connection. Senator Henry Bellmon was one of those backers and he was criticized heavily in his home state and  on the editorial pages of The Oklahoman. I remember seeing a billboard saying "Benedict Bellmon."
But American intervention has also been tawdry. The country was largely democratic until the military took over in 1968, and the US and CIA supported it, including a military strongman, Manuel Noriega, tho took over in 1983, even though he was involved in drug deals and assassinations. 
President Reagan  supported him, using secret funds to back Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Congress learned of it, and blocked the funds, but Reagan and his CIA subordinate Marine Oliver North used secret money from arms sales to Iran to work with Noriega and illegally keep the funds going. It's called the Iran-Contra affair. Eventually though Reagan invoked sanctions on Noriega, and President Bush(the first), invaded in late 1989 to capture him, based on threats to Americans, drug charges, and protecting the canal. Noriega was captured in five days, and was in prison until 2007. He was extradited to France on murder charges and sentenced to seven years in 2010. But the French released him to Panama, to serve 30 years in prison.  Oliver North now works for Fox news.
Since then, the country has had four successful democratic exchanges of power. The country is economically strong. A 2012 poll found that its capital Panama City has the happiest people in the world. Revenue from the canal is a huge portion of the country's income.
Its flag, dating from independence, has two stars and four squares, representing the different political parties. The blue is traditional for the conservative views, and the red for the liberal. America has it backwards, referring to blue and red states. Until that division in very recent years, calling someone in America a "Red," amounted to calling them a Communist. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Humidity, heat and haze--August

Today's clouds...humid, hot and hazy...August is almost here
August is almost here, and you don't need a calendar to know it. The day's humidity and heat is rising, especially after last night's rain. The sun covers everything with a haze that blurs sharp outlines. It's my least favorite month, even if the days are getting longer. there's supposed to be promise with the coming of the school year, but the heat just drains enthusiasm and spirits, soaking the world in sweat.
For the record, on common years, no other month starts on the same day of the week as August. On leap years, February does. August ends on the same day of the week as November.
It was first called Sextilis in Latin, as the sixth month of the Roman 10-month year in 773 BC, with March the first month. January and February were added about 700  BC, and it was given 29 days. Julius Caesar added two days in 45 BC. It was renamed August in honor of Caesar Augustus in 8 BC, the eighth month  marking the month of many of his triumphs, including the conquest of Egypt. That's more than you kneed to know. It's still one day off, but sine calendars are men's creations, the weather knows, it's just time to be hot.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Memories of the first born

We headed east over the rolling hills of northwest Iowa 46 years ago.
The rising sun turned the mist from the corn golden, as we sped up and down the hills in a light green Volkswagen to the hospital 30 miles away. My wife's contractions had started before daybreak, and we left the house shortly after 5 a.m.
"Come in here, you're responsible for this," said the red headed doctor O'Toole, handing me a gown and mask, and about noon, a baby boy was born.
Those memories are still real, and I know his mother remembers even more, because mothers remember more than fathers do, including  more about the births of our other three children. 
Years have passed and there have been lots of ups and downs since then for all of us. But we're blessed with our children and grandchildren. That boy is now M/Sgt. Vance C. Clark, USAF, and he's on temporary duty in Kosovo, with his family in Germany. He's inherited his parents' travel spirit, humor and much more.
Happy Birthday son, and here's to the memories all parents have of their childrens' births, and the years since. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Birds, and Sabbath, meditation

Need a meditation for the closing of this day--though it's not really the Sabbath?
Check Turtle Rock Farm's blog postBirds and Sabbath

It's a cross kind of day

If there is a symbol of Sunday, in much of the world, it is the cross. It comes in so many forms and materials, a sign of cruel execution that has become a sign of hope. Nowhere do I see it more poignantly and photographically  than in New Mexico. I'm obviously ready to return

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Back road journal, and a cat

The Rock A Way tavern north of Edmond.
The urge to get out of the city...it doesn't take long, driving north on what is called Sooner Road, into Logan county, toward Guthrie. You always meet people and places you didn't expect.
The first was the Rock A Way bar, tavern, and old rock building on the Seward Road, with a bunch of motorcycles parked outside. 
It's busy on Saturdays. Catty-cornered across the intersection is a place busy on Sundays, the Lakeview Baptist Church.
Drive down that road and you come to Liberty Lake, surrounded by homes. But firs,t you come to the end of the pavement and a red dirt road stretches in front of you. And where does it lead?
But the cat on his shoulder will stick in my mind, forever.
I stopped to get a bite to eat, before heading back  to Edmond. There beside the entrance to Loves stood a man, with a sign. He had a big pack on the ground, and a couple of jugs of water. Thin, hatless, white T-shirt.
I pulled around to see the sign.
"Home Destroyed in Storms"
And then I noticed the tawny cat draped around his shoulder. I was going to stop anyway, but the cat cinched it. I keep what I call a "hitchhiker kit" in the car, a plastic sack with Gatorade, water, peanut butter, crackers, Poptarts, a fruit cup. I do that because you see all kinds of people on the road, and many are hungry. I've also discovered that every time I find an occasion to give one of those kits away, it's when I need it the most. Here are previous articles about the Hitchhiker kit.
This was one of those times. Feeling listless, I'd started out on this little drive. When I gave the 30 or 40ish man the kit, I said "I don't know if you need it, but here's some food."
He said, "Thank you brother. Then I said, "Nice cat." He said, "Thank you, big brother." And waved as I drove off.
Some would argue with me on giving something like that, with a multitude of excuses, included being suckered. But I know this. If I was suckered, so what? I spent perhaps $6 on those contents. So far, I'd spent about $8.00 on gasoline, 79 cents on coffee and $4.00 on a sandwich, and drove off in my air conditioned car, while he stood at the side of the road. I'd rather be taken advantage of, than to be haunted by the fact I didn't help someone from being hungry. I don't feel listless, but thankful.
It was a beautiful cat.

Korea...60 years later, and still no peace

Korean War Memorial in D.C., where an American infantry brigade moves  weary and wary
This is the 60th anniversary of the signing of  the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in Korea, where 36, 516 Americans were killed in three years. It was an armistice and not a peace treaty, and we still live with that hostility  from a paranoid Communist dictatorship. Only a few yards away, across a "demilitarized" zone,  American soldiers are still on duty, in one of the places in the world where nuclear war could break out. South of the DMZ, flourish a free economic dynamo, South Korea.
Have you been to the Korean War Memorial in Washington? I have, and it was on a rainy day, fitting the mood of the gray soldiers marching uphill,  weary and wary. Here's some things you should know about the Korean War.
I know three people who served in that war. The first was my late uncle Mike, who was aboard an LST, under fire, at the Inchon landing. The next was my late cousin Charles Rogers Lutrick, and I have no idea of his duty there. The third was my former colleague at the OSU j-school, advertising professor Charles Overstreet, who was a "tanker." I think most Americans probably know about the Korean War because of the TV show "MASH."

Here's a salute to those men and women who served, died, or have survived. The veterans observed a solemn  ceremony today. It was a "forgotten" war, except to them.

Friday, July 26, 2013

After the rain...A day to watch clouds

It's a day to watch clouds. We woke to steady rain, and then intermittent rain. By noon, the skies dried up and the ragged clouds began moving south. Soon the mugginess was pushed out by a cool front, and patches of clear sky and sunshine. Then a north breeze began marching more clouds in steady processions across the skies, like armadas of invading ships. Infinite shapes  and colors and contrasts. Quite a show. The sights and sounds of summer.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wildflower day in Hafer Park

110 countries, and a German battleship

A reader from a country I've often wanted to visit clicked on this blog today, marking the 110th country to have had a reader--Uruguay, in South America.
Officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, and about the size of Florida, it has a little over three million people and a long history dating to the Portuguese in 1680, followed by the Spanish. The country gained its independence in 1828 after a four way struggle between Brazil, Portugal, Spain and Argentina.  Since then it's been through typical turmoil, including democracy, insurrection, dictatorship and military rule. But free elections  restored democracy in 1984.
Its flag first appeared with independence. The stripes represent the country's departments, and the sun a new nation. The design comes from both Argentina and the U.S.
Uruguay gets its name from the Uruguay River that forms its western border, and the name perhaps comes from a native people's language, meaning painted birds.
The country first caught my attention as a history-loving teenager when I read about the first sea battle of WWII between the German pocket battleship KMS Graf Spee and the British navy. Three cruisers, HMS Exeter, Ajax and Achilles--an inferior force to the battleship, engaged the ship which was damaged enough to flee to Montevideo, neutral Uruguay's capital for repairs. Forced to leave, still damaged, and believing false British intelligence that a larger force was waiting to do battle, the ship was scuttled within sight of land, as people on the shore watched.. 
The Graf Spee had been at sea for three months in the South Atlantic and Indian ocean, sinking merchant ships, without loss of life. The captain offloaded the crews before sinking the ships. The battle was a boost to British morale and a setback for one of Hitler's bold steps to control the seas. It's a story that continues to grab the imagination.
If you're interested, here are five You Tube war-time and documentary videos of the engagement--one British, two German,one in Spanish and one in Italian.

Infant graves--the hard life in Indian Territory

I stopped counting the infant graves, as I wandered through the Oakwood Cemetery on east 15th street near Arcadia Lake yesterday. There were so many.

I don't know why I'm drawn to cemeteries, except there are so many stories there, and perhaps somber realization that someday I'll visit one permanently.

But after photographing the Civil War veteran's grave, and seeing an infant's tombstone near by, I kept walking, and kept seeing small red bricks with infant names on them, and some without a name. That next tombstone was the oldest with a date, 1892, of an infant boy named Loid, the same year Central Normal School for teaching teachers was founded on a treeless prairie less than 10 miles miles northwest.

A darling baby daughter
There were others too of one year olds, and darling daughters. Most were undated, but the other early graves made it likely they were before statehood. Many have little lambs curled up on top of the stones,or doves carved into stone, eroded by time like the letter on the stones.

A few months old son
They may be gone and forgotten, but they're monuments to the grief and hard times the first settlers of Indian Territory endured to stay here. No air conditioning in brutal heat. No heating other than a wood stove. No running water. Manual labor. And the hard times that killed mothers in childbirth and children as infants or only a few months old.
At Oakwood, there are new graves, up into the 1990s at least. A central display shows all the plots and available names is near an American flag. The grass is recently been mowed. Someone is attempting to care for this small plot of history. There are phone numbers to call. They've updated the infant graves and marked them the best they can after all these years.

A lonely Civil War vet's long shadow
Another Civil War vet's grave stands at a tilt, lonely. I can make out that he was from Iowa, but that is about it. Then there are the decorated graves of what I think must have been related, an eight-year-old girl who died in 1943, and a five-month old boy in 1940, linked with gravel and trinkets and other offerings. Nearby, you can sit on a broken marble bench and stare down at an eroded stone almost covered with grass, the name illegible. Flowers and more decorate the shrines.

Double heartbreak...two graves of a boy and girl
The old stones, the pillars and crosses and different shapes that catch my attention most. Unlike most modern gravestones that are boring in their uniformity, the old ones have so much individuality and tell stories of grief and love and hope eternal, read in the simple words, "Infant." 

Come and sit a spell and ponder mortality, and eternity
I think these people were much more in touch with life than we, because they were so much in touch with death, while we try to isolate ourselves from it.
The old stones...stories of hard lives and faith, and so much individuality

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Morning stories in an old cemetery

It's amazing to me the stories you can find when you don't expect them. A graceful buck pranced across the road in front of me when I took a short  drive in the cool of the morning, into the "rural" roads east of the house near Lake Arcadia. Trees on both sides, no traffic, quiet.
Then I noticed a small cemetery I'd either not seen or ignored in the past. I backed up and parked, noticing some old tombstones among newer ones. "Oakwood Cemetery" the gate sign said, and an American flag flew in the distance.
What really caught my attention was just inside the gate, the distinctive shape and shield of a Civil War veteran's gravestone. In front of it, on the ground, lay a small American flag. I stooped, picked it up, and planted it in front of the grave.
This veteran served in the 27th Missouri Infantry and died at age 48 in what was then Indian Territory in 1894.
Coming back to town I looked it up on the Internet. You never know if a Missouri unit was Union or Confederate, since the border state had slaves, and citizens served on both sides. The 27th Infantry was a Union company, organized by volunteers. These volunteers came from Schuyler County, in Northeast Missouri up on the Iowa border. It was organized in late 1862 in St. Louis, and served in Missouri until called to serve in the Army of Tennessee's siege of Vicksburg in 1863. That means this vet saw some heavy fighting under Grant. 
There's a marker to his unit at Vicksburg battlefield. and then he served under Sherman in the march on Atlanta, and up into the Carolinas. He may have seen the surrender of Gen. Joe Johnston in late April, and was mustered out in June 1865. The unit lost two officers and 35 soldiers in combat, and 135 to disease.  27th Missouri Infantry service record
1892 infant grave
I don't know when Private Rees Hildreth came to Indian Territory, or the rest of his stories, but he enriched my life this morning.
His is not the oldest grave in the cemetery.  I wandered around, shoes getting wet from the sparkling morning dew, taking photos, thinking. The oldest I found was of an infant, the next grave over, who died in 1892. But then there are a large number of infant graves in this cemetery, but that's another story.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Metaphor and more--blogs to think by

An infinity of shapes and lives and meanings
Metaphor. Yesterday's post about clouds continues today, in the skies and in the blogs I read.
Today's heat made clouds unlikely , other than a general high haze, but a few have drifted across the skies. It's good that clouds are like people and snowflakes...infinitely different, never the same. That's part of the fascination of living. An infinity of shapes and lives and meanings.
And metaphor helps tell the stories, helps make them clear and relevant...one reason among many that Christ's parables were so powerful.
A metaphor master in my mind is friend and colleague Sherri Ward, and her blog, Blonde Moments illustrates that every time she writes. There's usually humor, pathos, and concluding thoughts that almost take the wind out of you. The most recent post linked zip lining and life and God. I'm Tethered. 
Another blog that always causes me to stop and think, almost as a daily devotional, is Turtle Rock Farm, published by Henry Bellmon's daughters at their Billings retreat. The most recent post  will wake you up to the sounds of summer. Read Morning symphony.
And for an upbeat, avant-garde blog full of energy and offbeat content that'll make you enjoy thinking, you should look at Really Most Sincerely, the blog of my former student Sheri Guyse, a modern media maven. Read the most recent, The Internets.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Today's clouds, and living in texture

There's an old Gospel song, theoretically based on Rev. 22, The Land of an Unclouded Day, written in the 1880s by Josiah Alwood. It's a song of growing older, of missing those who have "passed over," and of surviving life's tribulations.
I love that song, but it occurs to me, I don't want to live in a place without clouds. Growing up in the Great Plains, clouds bring both hope and horror, as we've seen recently in Oklahoma. But life would be so boring, so featureless without them. So hopeless in fact, I think after a recent visit to the Oklahoma panhandle where there has been less than an inch of rain since January. Ranchers are selling their stock, pastures are gone, ponds and wells running dry. These are tough people, but they know the toughest drought in four generations when they see it.
As a child of the Great Plains, I can't help but take photos of clouds, of wanting to paint them to enjoy them, because they bring a source of life and life itself would perhaps not be worth living if not for the metaphorical and real clouds that come through our lives over the years. Johnny Cash sings it.
If there weren't clouds, would there be any happiness? And as August approaches with its withering heat, I hope these cloud photos of the past few days get to continue, rather than the dull, sun dried pale blue that is the opposite.
"Out here there's the sky," --Willa Cather

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Road trip without roads, a book of summer

Road trip! We're traveling 350 miles plus into northwest Oklahoma, and then, staying on the back roads as much as possible, into Colorado, covering 2,000 miles in about seven days.
But before you get to the Western scenery, you need a book to listen to on long stretches of highway. 
Susan found an audio book that just fit, and I downloaded it on Audible. Thus Horatio's Drive became the first book I've "read" in July, my eighth this year.
It's the story of the first American cross country automobile road trip, in 1903, undertaken by Horatio  Nelson Jackson,  his mechanic Sewall Crocker and his dog, Bud.
No paved roads, sometimes no roads, no maps, no gas stations. 20-30 miles an hour was high speed in an open  20-horsepower Winton "touring" car he named "The Vermont." Starting in San Francisco and ending in New York, 61 days later, winning a $40 bet that it couldn't be done in under 90  days.
It's the book by Dayton Duncan, written for Ken Burns' 2003 documentary for PBS Horatio's Drive. The book is hard to come by in print, but easily available as an audio, and you can buy the documentary film too.
You know about Ken Burns, of course, including his recent documentary on The Dust Bowl which had its premier screening here in Oklahoma, in April, 2012, and we were fortunate to attend thanks to former student Ashley Barcum at OETA. Here's my report on that Dust Bowl documentary.
Duncan has also written other Burns' PBS films, on the West, Lewis and Clark, the National Parks, Mark Twain, and more. He's won many awards, including a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum here in Oklahoma, A conservationist, he's been involved in New England politics. The Audio book has an introduction by Ken Burns, beginning with a quote from Walt Whitman.

What a trip. Go take it. 
"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road," --Whitman
"The Vermont" is in the Smithsonian, plus this display.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Oklahoma clouds

Today's clouds, as the temperature and humidity climb, so do these beauties, towers of the Great Plains.

The Lady in Red, RIP Helen Thomas

America lost a giant of journalism today with the death of Helen Thomas, famed "lady in red," of the Washington Press Corps, at age 92.
She was a pioneer, "barrier-busting" journalist, covering 10 presidents in her long career with United Press International, and was feared and admired by politicians and press alike, because she would always ask the tough questions many in the sheepish herd of the Washington Press Corps wouldn't. She always sat in the front row, usually in a red suit, and after a few years, always got to ask the first question at press conferences.
But she didn't rely on press conferences to do her work, and was an excellent reporter. She was also tiny, and was questioned in later years because she spoke her mind. One such instance was a speech where she supposedly made anti-Semitic statements, though I think it was just her speaking her mind by saying unflattering things about Israel that people didn't want to hear. She was Lebanese, which to me raises her stature, because all of the Lebanese I've known are wonderful people--journalists and students alike, including Oklahoma's late Anthony Shadid (who also spoke at UCO), his cousin Ed now running for Oklahoma City mayor, and Edmond's Ray Hibbard of Edmond Life and Leisure.
I admire her most for being the tough questioner, for being so objective and even-handed in grilling all politicians without bias, for searching for the truth without an agenda. Alas, like UPI and now her, much of that is missing from today's so called journalism at Foxfart and MSNBC and elsewhere on cable and the Internet, which have agendas  that make them seem to be no more than mouthpieces for political viewpoints, where "fair and balanced" is anything but ironic hypocrisy, not in depth news.
Her passing is  a metaphor for the state of journalism in this country. 
I got to meet her when she came to UCO to speak in 1999, both in a reception in Edmond, and at the speech, and she signed this photo for me. The next morning, I had a flight somewhere early, and there she was at the airport, by herself, at 6 a.m., waiting on a plane, at age 78 or 79.
Thank you Helen, America needs many more of you, but you are the end of an era.
Helen Thomas obituary

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fracking and water

"Much obliged" to my friend and newspaper publisher Ray Lokey of Tishomingo for this comment on Facebook, and to blog friend Ron Rabenold in Pennsylvania, for more takes on the fracking issue:  (Ray's paper, the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, has been in the forefront of dealing with threats to the local water quality and supply)
Ron's Comment: Ronald Rabenold I challenged the accepted status quo in regard to fracking in our state when I ran for State House last year...Private Corporations are running amok...I feel their right to swing their fist extends beyond the tip of my nose....

Ray's Take:  Ray Lokey Terry, I discovered this link over the weekend http://fracfocus.org/which has a wealth of information, including regs for Oklahoma. Greatest concern here remains groundwater contamination of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, although to my knowledge no fracking is currently going on within its boundaries. While fracfocus.org shows drilling well locations, when it comes to earthquakes, I am more interested in disposal or injection well locations which I have been unable to find thus far (although they may be there; just haven't found them yet). While I maintain a healthy skepticism, I am somewhat amazed at the number of oil and gas wells across the state and how few problems have been encountered so far.
FracFocus is a hydraulic fracturing chemical registry website designed to provide information about chemicals used in the HF of oil and gas wells.

All aboard for nostalgia, steam

What beauty, power and nostalgia...from the BBC
Oh how I wish I could ride on one of these wonders, holding the record for the world's fastest steam locomotives. Thanks to my son Vance Clark for finding this BBC program.
Steam train record

Is Quakeahoma "Fracked" up?

This  won't be real popular in Oklahoma since state politics and culture are so subservient to oil companies, but the increases in Oklahoma earthquakes may indeed be linked to energy companies' "fracking" processes underground to extract more oil and gas (Injecting brine and chemicals at high pressure underground to fracture rock). 
This blog has never been political, but that doesn't mean issues can't be discussed, especially health and environmental. We've seen an increase in earthquakes here and elsewhere to make it a national topic of debate. Thus a new study, plus an HBO documentary will cause a lot of denials and excuses in the coming weeks. The energy companies claim it is environmentally safe. Further west, it is a topic of controversy because of the use of scarce water resources. And everywhere, there's the question of effects on the ground water table.
For a look at what I'm talking about, check out colleague Kurt Hochenauer's analytical blog post today, on Okie Funk, Notes from the Outback. Worth reading. Fracking 
And if you want another view, here's Bloomberg, the major national financial report.  Earthquakes

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Nothing to celebrate today...when words don't work

An eight-year-old boy died today in an accident in the Edmond Liberty Fest parade. We don't know if he jumped off the float or what, but near the end of the parade, he got off, and the wheels rolled over him, apparently driven by his dad.
All the young media peeps, mostly broadcast,  are asking questions about the safety of the parade, etc., but other than expressions of horror and sympathy, they don't even touch the grief of parents and grandparents tonight....
Who keep asking, "What if, what if?"
I can only cry with the parents. I have not lost a child, praise God, but I know people who have, both young and old. My grandmother's wish was that she not outlive her children. but my Dad died before she did. I can't imagine what she felt.
So spare the words "condolences," "tragic," and so on. 
There are times when words don't work. This is one of  them.

The blog at 109... Africa again

There was a new reader of the blog today, and that person lives in Togo, marking the 109th country in the world to have clicked on this site. Whoever it is, I'd like to think they checked here because of America's Independence. Togo has a history of promised democracy overruled by the military and unrest. At any rate, it becomes the 16th African country to have readers of this blog.
It's a small country, 317 miles long and only 87 wide at the most, about the size of West Virginia. Largely tribal, it became part of the "Slave Coast" from the 1500s to the 1700s as Europeans raped the country. Germany claimed it as a protectorate in the late 1800s, and after WWI, France took over. It gained independence in 1960. The country has about 6.9 million people, and the official language is French, but many tribal languages are spoken as well, with about 40 ethnic groups. Indigenous beliefs are the main religions, with both Christian and Muslim minorities.
The flag was designed in 1960 by renowned artist Paul Ahyi, and uses the popular pan-African colors of Ethiopia, but with the star on red, resembles the flag of Liberia which echoes the flag of the U.S.A.
I don't know who this reader is, but wish I knew. There are so many stories. And I thought you'd like to see a map of how Africa was "colonized" by the Europeans befoe most gained Independence in the 1960s.