"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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

November nuances

The sun is setting on November. A walk in Hafer Park's curving trails highlights the shadows, and bare branches  frame a blue sky.
After a week of icy weather, and Black Friday madness, most of the surround streets are fairly calm with little traffic. 
In the park, fewer than usual people gather at tables on on the trails, in spite of pleasant sunshiny weather and no wind. With traffic muted, the loudest sounds come from the ducks and geese quacking away in the pond.
It's as if we're catching our breath for the coming holiday hassles and blue norther cold fronts as another year wanes toward solstice.
Our inner clocks want to wind down with longer nights and colder weather, but our civilization won't allow, until we take a walk in a park, noticing the birds, the seeds, the leaves, and the setting sun.

It's as if the world is catching its breath.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday blues

I've never done Black Friday, and here's why...shopping for a new TV. I ask computer-tech guru son Travis for advice, and we go shop at Target yesterday. I plan to avoid the Best Buy madness, and figure I'll come to the local Super Target today and figure it will be more sane.
It opens at 8 pm, and I arrive, park in the nearby Lowe's parking lot, 'cause I can see the other is over flowing.
I walk up to the door, at 8 pm, and a stream of people files hurriedly in, all the way down the front of the long building. I say to the cop, "This is crazy," and he asks me to move across the street with the other longlookers. I walk down the front of the building, past a constant stream of people both ways, and see the line stretched all the way around the building to the rear, far away. Already, by 8:05, there are people coming out with 50 inch TVs in shopping carts. 
I walk back and stop to talk with an onlooker. He says he waited in his car, until about 7:46, got out, and just stands amazed. It's his last "black Friday," he says. I can't imagine the lines at the checkout counters inside.
Me, I walk away, shaking my head, wondering what the world has come to. I'll order online, thank you.

Brown leaves and Thanksgiving thoughts

"All come from dust, and to dust all return."
Most of the color is gone from the autumn leaves. They speckle the ground with infinite shapes of brown as another winter approaches.
Others cling to their trees, as if waiting for another stiff breeze or cold front to sweep in and bare more branches. Those leaves still with some yellow and red and green in them stand out even more before they too turn brown.
It's still and quiet early Thanksgiving Day, skimming white clouds muting the sunlight and the shadows, almost as if the human world is catching its breath and noticing what is important. 
The leaves are a kaleidoscope of memories and blessings... infinite, unique  and unending  relics of lives lived, melting into the ground from when they came. 
On a day of giving thanks, for uncounted blessings,  surely, the lesson of the leaves is to enjoy today, and be thankful for the present. I'm reminded of the words of The Preacher, Solomon, in Ecclesiastes:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A magic walk of Thanksgiving

Walking to the magic garden in November.
I went for a walk in a magic garden today, with a friend from long ago who lives there.
Every time I go there, I find him healthy and happy, and we have long talks.
Even though it seems I do most, if not all of the talking, he always seems to give me new perspectives and ideas and inspiration.
Today, I found him cooking breakfast on a Coleman stove, bacon sizzling in an iron skillet, coffee perking away, hot oatmeal ready to serve. 
Nearby a brook gurgled and I could see the movement of trout in the shadows. 
Ponderosa pine, fir and blackjack bordered most of the garden, which was alive with sunflowers, bumblebees buzzing, hummingbirds  and meadowlarks.
In the distance, blue mountains, dusted with snow, rose in the crisp autumn air, but the morning sun warmed the garden where we sat down to chat.
Hawks soared overhead, as grey clouds began changing the blue sky.
We sat on camp stools by the little morning campfire, savoring the smell of woodsmoke, bacon and coffee.
Sipping that coffee, I told him that tomorrow was Thanskgiving Day, and while it is a family day, it is also a day of memories for many, and of loneliness for others. The "holidays" are like that--a two sided coin...one side warm with comfort and joy, and the other cold to the touch.
Then he just looked around his magic garden, and I followed his gaze, drinking it in like another sip of coffee.
He didn't utter a word, but I know what he said.
Every day is a day of thanksgiving.

Friday, November 22, 2013

When the world was young, and so were we

Fifty years ago today...tread lightly
I can not watch any of the almost unending coverage this week on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, especially the black and white TV footage, or the many old men talking about that day, and the historical events. It's too personal.
The day dawned bright at Oklahoma Christian College in Oklahoma City 50 years ago. It was homecoming, and I'd come with friends from Albuquerque to visit friends from a year ago, and to see a special person. I'd attended OCC the year before as a freshman, but went back home to a semester at UNM because of finances. But I never forgot this high school senior I'd met at church.
Snapshots by a friend in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963
The day turned black. Many students were gathered in the student union that morning, when terrible news from Dallas changed the mood. The Young Republicans...of whom I'd been a member...immediately draped a wall with a photograph of President John F. Kennedy, assassinated a few hours earlier.
I remember little of the rest of that day, except for my date with the special person. Later than evening, outside her home in Bethany, Oklahoma, she accepted my marriage proposal. 
The day turned bright. I remember little, and when children were mentioned, she said "four." So it was over the following years.
When there was hope and joy, and Jackie
Back home in Albuquerque, while black and white TV droned on and on with the funeral, friends commented how great it was to hear my voice full of hope and joy. The next semester, I returned to Oklahoma, to Central State University, and marriage that summer.
The years were good, and not so good, as with wine, and some were bad, and there were also mistakes and sorrows. But thankfully, the four children are healthy, smart and terrific, and today there are eight grandchildren, two of them bearing their grandmother's name.
Thus it is, that every Nov. 22, in spite of forgetting other dates, I always remember--tragedies, hopes and joys, and sorrows. Journeys ended then, and also began.
America lost hope, and I found it. As with my country, there have been bright days, and fewer dark days. Today, I'm thankful for all the bright days, and the many lives and memories  that have followed.
When the world was young, and so were we.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Micro-managers' manifesto & guide, chapter 1

(Based on experience, observation, and stories of victims of micro-managers)
  • You must be in charge of every aspect of your subordinates' jobs
  • Trust no one
  • Boost your own ego and importance
  • Act like you're an expert in fields you have no experience in
  • Lie about directives coming from higher up
  • Demand complete agreement
  • Surround yourself with "Yes" people--sycophants who have no backbone
  • Increase your staff with such people, so you have more time to micromanage others
  • Overrule, and get even, with anyone who disagrees with you
  • Be vengeful; double talk and fear rules
  • Only give credit to others when it increases your stature
  • No independent thought or actions allowed
  • Master all the acronyms of your organization, so that nobody knows what you're talking about
  • Keep plenty of slogans handy, about being good for the students, or customers, or whoever
  • Always demand recognition for what you do from your subordinates
  • Always demand they recognize how great you are
  • Never allow independent thoughts or ideas without your prior approval
  • Insist on multiple, frequent, long meetings, without agendas
  • Use the code  words for control:  "We want to help you" 
  • Insist on uniform rules and forms for everyone
  • Lavish praise and big words on those above you
  • Always defend those above you
  • Always act like you're really on the side of the others
  • Always come up with "new" initiatives and paperwork, to keep your underlings occupied with busy work and away from meaningful, creative work
  • Always smile 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My heritage of veterans in three countries

Do you have favorite veterans in your family, in your life?
I started out to write simply about my two favorite veterans, but the more I thought, and looked at photos and memories, the harder and more emotional it became. 
I come from a long heritage of veterans from three countries. 
My favorite veteran, M/Sgt. Vance Clark, USAF
Two years ago I sat in the Albuquerque airport, sketching the Manzano mountains, a day after burying my favorite uncle and one of my favorite veterans, Mike, in the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Search this blog for veterans or Mike, and you'll find numerous posts over the past few years.
But he's not my favorite of course. First-born son, M/Sgt. Vance C. Clark, USAF, holds that rank. There's no way I can put in words how proud I am of him, of his patriotism and loyalty.
And I have known many veterans as other relatives and friends in my life, including many former students. If I try to list them all, I'll leave some out, but they have been blessings to me, not necessarily for their service, but for just who they are. But some have to be mentioned, and every time I think of one, another name comes up. 
Stop and think about how entwined veterans lives are with this country, with our lives. I won't use the overused word "hero" to describe them, because most would decline the term. But it is appropriate to honor them today and tomorrow for what they mean to all of us, in so many ways.
Cdr. Steve Curry, USN
I'd have to add Col. Charles Fleming, USMC, who was a colleague at OSU, and helped me earn my doctoral degree. He's since paid the price for Agent Orange, but I so remember having to celebrate the Marines birthday every year. 
I've been blessed with many former students who were veterans. They are more mature and focused on their studies that most students. They don't gloat nor wave the flag, and in fact, if the enrollment sheet didn't specify "veteran," you wouldn't know it in most cases.
 Near the top would be Commander Steve Curry, US Navy, a former student who has remained a good friend, and two years ago booked me on the USS Abe Lincoln for a Tiger Cruise. More recently there has been Andy Jensen, who shares Ray Bradbury and a love of reading and writing. There have been many more. 
Petty Officer 2 Mike Clark, Grandmother, Dad
Uncle Mike was my Dad's favorite brother, hence my middle name.  But two other brothers served, Rex and Champ in the US Army. Dad didn't serve of course, having lost his leg jumping a freight train in 1932, but he spent much of his life drawing portraits of veterans.
I know from genealogy work from Vance, Dad, and my aunt Vera "Sissie" Culp that my ancestors served in The Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War and Spanish American War. Not sure of WWI.
CSA grave, Vicksburg
And I can't conclude without honoring those ancestors of mine who served in two other countries, the Republic of Texas, and the Confederate States of America.
They're in my blood.
It's little wonder that I am drawn to the POW/MIA flags, and to the veterans' gravestones in cemeteries, or my affection for wandering down the ranks of graves in national cemeteries, whether at Santa Fe, Arlington, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Fort Smith, and elsewhere.
Join me and snap a salute to your veterans, past, present, and for the future.
First day of school duty

Final port of call, Santa Fe
Eternal duty, Vicksburg National Cemetery

Monday, November 4, 2013

Third time is a charm...42 years ago

"It will probably be a boy."
So said the doctor, before ultra sound let parents know the gender and health of a child. We already had two boys, and that was his advice, and what we expected. We had always said we didn't care, but prayed for healthy, normal children.
Sitting down the hall from the delivery room in the Clarinda, Iowa, hospital, those were my prayers 42 years ago today. For some reason, the door to the delivery room was open and when the doctor lifted the baby up, I knew immediately we had a daughter.
"Third time is a charm...a charming little girl," was the headline on the pink birth announcement we sent out. We've been charmed ever since. We named her Dallas Page...Page being an old family name, and we were in Page County, Iowa. I'd wanted to name her Clarinda, but was mocked and outvoted, and Dallas just so fits.
Dallas and Todd Bell
We soon moved back to Duncan, Oklahoma, where she developed an alarming reputation for independence--climbing on kitchen counters, or fences, or opening the door latch and wandering outside. If you didn't hear her in five minutes, you knew to panic, and indeed she scared us more than once. 
I even had to take her outside one night, and walk her around the block, trying to scare her with the dark shadows so she'd not wander. I'm not sure that worked. As far as I know, about the only thing she's afraid of are bugs. So it's fitting where she and her family now live in the country near Canyon, Texas, her house has seen centipedes, tarantulas and rattlesnakes.
One of my favorite photographs--one I can't find now--is of a smiling young daddy, short hair and big ears, on all fours on the floor at Duncan, with the two-year-old daughter clinging to his neck, riding horsey. Her brothers also learned quickly who was in charge, and while they might fuss or fight, it was always prudent to yield to her. "Big D, little D, what begins with 'D,' Dallas...." was heard often. And she always got in the last word.
Her independence grew--she seemed to need a brief spanking about once a month in the early years--which didn't seem to have much effect. She came to love cats and animals. She'd eventually become part of the high school flag team and excel at the piano. At OSU  she met her future husband in church, a smart Arkansas country boy in vet school, who later switched to med school. Dr. Todd Bell now teaches at the Texas Tech med school in Amarillo.
Today, they have three terrific children--Erin Ann, Abby Page and Max Samuel, and they are fortunate to have her as a full-time Mommy. When she was younger, she looked some like my mother, and now she looks much like her Mother. She has her Mother's strong character, genuine faith and goodness, and some of her Dad's sense of humor and determination.
We've been so blessed and charmed because the doctor was wrong. Happy birthday.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Friday night, 44 years ago

It was a chilly November night in southwest Iowa 44 years ago tonight when I came  home to find a note on the door. I'd been out of town covering a football game between the Clarinda Cardinals and another team, for the Clarinda Herald-Journal, one of my many duties in my first newspaper job.
Our second child was due, but we thought we'd have a few more days. The child had already been nicknamed "Thumper" for a habit of kicking inside the womb.
When I pulled up at the house after 10 that night, a note from my wife Neysa said she'd gone to the hospital and our oldest son, Vance, then just over two, was at our friends the Negleys.
I sped down the street to check on him, before going to the hospital, and there, sitting around the table with smiles, were both my wife and our friends, enjoying the joke.
But the next day, our second son was born, given the name Travis Austin, the first for a cousin-in-law and the next because, because. 
When we brought him home a couple of days later, his brother burst into tears. By Thanksgiving, as we sat down to dinner around a round oak table, with him in a baby seat on another table, he loudly fussed away, until we put him on the main dinner table, meeting his demands to be included. My mother's sister and my favorite Aunt, Sissie, humorously nicknamed him "Lake  Travis," for his active bowels.His nephews and nieces call him "Uncle Ta-Ta."
He's always liked to take things apart, and enjoyed marching to his own tune, gaining a snarky and dry Culp sense of humor, and independent Clarkiness. He's come to love basketball, survived ups and downs, become a computer jock,  a passionate motorcycle owner and traveler, and a lover of music.
Tomorrow, he'll be 44 years old. It's  an always interesting journey.

Colors of November

The entrance to our neighborhood
November again, nearing the end of the year, and my favorite time of year, autumn. Driving around our neighborhood reminds me that aging can be beautiful, that there is more to this world than work and mere existence.  In the ugliness of the world, in the turmoil of life, in the worry of uncertainty, in the anger of people who don't get along, it seems to me that what is missing is an acceptance of the beauty of life, and the tranquility that comes from appreciating our existence. Time to breathe deeply of the season.