"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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Favorite Oklahoma places, even more remote

On the trail up Black Mesa, about a mile and a half into the hike
You gotta want to go there.  It's not a "day-trip." More like two, or three. It's as far from Oklahoma City as you can get and be in Oklahoma. It won't be quick. It won't be easy. The drive can be mind-numbing before rewarding in the last few miles on SH 525 west of Boise City. The hike will take most of the day.
Black Mesa, Oklahoma's highest point at the tip of the panhandle, has got to be one of my top two favorite places in the state, along with Monument Hill.
It tells you a lot about me that I like remote places...so remote even cell phones don't work, thank God. So remote you can see a long way, have time to think, listen, smell, imagine, talk to your yourself and hear God answer.
Two years have passed since I made the 361-mile drive and the eight-mile hike, and a year since we went back for a night at Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast, where they hold hands and say grace before breakfast. 
It's not just Black Mesa of course, but the whole area, actually in the Mountain time zone. 
Black Mesa from the front porch of Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast
You can walk across the dry Cimarron, cruise though the almost ghost town of Kenton, cross a bridge into New Mexico and find 17 miles of unpaved state highway leading west, or turn north on dirt roads to dinosaur tracks and the three state marker where Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico meet. There's more, still to be discovered including Indian petroglyphs and ruts of the Santa Fe trail Cimarron cutoff. That's another trip.
Black Mesa sunset, 9 by 12, painted on the porch of the bed and breakfast.
The hike is eight miles, and when you get to the top, sign the register in the ammo box, lean against the granite monument erected by the Tulsa Tribune, marking distances to the other states, and telling stories. You can see forever.
But mostly you can breathe, really see the stars, and be free.
Here are the links to articles and photos I wrote two years ago on this blog:
(My other favorite places, with no ranking of preference, coming soon, in shorter articles,  scattered around the state. included will be three others in the northwest area--the so called Washita "battlefield," the Cimarron river cliffs at Freedom, Fort Reno and its cemetery at El Reno.)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Favorite Oklahoma places? Remote hilltop

A remote hilltop in Jefferson County
Where are your favorite Oklahoma places? I bet they have something to do with special memories, and experiences. I started to list my top 10, but it didn't turn out that orderly. 
Looking at the state geographically, most of mine are in southwest Oklahoma, where we newspapered for 12 years, the short grass country I know best. But I've been blessed with traveling a lot around the state, so I've come up with 14-15 in all four sections. No, I don't have photos of mine of all of them, though I'll try to get some others.
You'll notice that most of mine are on back roads, and that's no accident. Didn't bother with urban sites...everybody does those in the "Best of" inanity. These aren't "bests" and not even in order top  to bottom--except maybe for the first one-- but there all places I would want to visit again. 
If asked about favorite Oklahoma places, for some reason, a remote hilltop always pops into my mind first. It's down in Jefferson County, on a rural road off US 81, three miles east of Addington, seven miles north of Waurika where I "newspapered" (I'm Clarking that as a legitimate verb) for a dozen years in the 1970s and 1980s. At 1.083 feet, it's the highest point in Jeffco, and you can see for 20 miles, but that's not why it's special.
Located on the old Chisholm cattle trail, it was the landmark the cowboys headed for after they crossed the Red River into Indian territory 1867-1884, heading Texas longhorns to the railroads in Kansas, on a trail blazed by Jesse Chisholm.
They called it "Monument rocks" and probably spent the second night in the Territory there, since a herd could make somewhere between five to 15 miles a day.
Today, as then, it is surrounded by good grass, and today two large ranches surround it--it's wide open remote country, and lots of sections are inside one fence.
In 1944, a black Chisholm Trail cowboy--a breed known to all as a "trail driver"--who was in his 80s and worked for the Price ranch, was buried on top, because he knew "the cowboys would be riding through there." And at sometime, a large concrete marker was erected. When I was in Waurika, there were no markers on the monument, thought I found the cowboy's gravestone. Since then, granite markers tell the story of the Chisholm Trail and the thousands of head of beef that trailed past. I use the black and white photo at top, because it reflects the Tri-X film I used back then, and because it adds to the sense of place I always associate with it.
What I find special about the place is that you can drive up the pavement and gravel to get there, pull in, and be utterly alone--except you're not.
On a spring day, as you look south, you can see gullies which are the eroded ruts of where the trail drive wagons pulled up the hill. And in the distance, there are usually cattle grazing away in the grassland below. There's usually a south breeze, and a hawk soaring on updrafts, and it's easy to feel the spirit of the place, and the past. That's why I always think of it as a favorite place.
( I won't be this detailed with my other favorite places, coming soon, thought the second one is also about a remote high place.)
--Lots of the facts, the photos and stories in this post came from several sources--

Coffee with Clark, perking away

The sounds of coffee perking is invigorating. The the unique smell fills  the house.
Ah...memories of growing up as a kid when Mom and Dad put the coffee on in Fort Worth and Albuquerque. More memories of making coffee in the cold mornings at my Uncle Mike's in Santa Fe as the sun comes up over the Sangre de Cristos. You'd get the pot ready the night before, so you could just turn on the burner. Yes, this is his coffee pot, may have been my grandmother's.
Today in Oklahoma, we are out of the fancy new xyz-cups at a time, and the drip thingy is long gone. Alas, real coffee.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Turtles and such

We had a backyard visitor today.
I started to name him after a politician or a church since he's so hard-shelled, but that seemed cruel, since he/she is beautiful,  minds his/her own business, doesn't bother others, is quiet, and doesn't seem unhappy. He/she is a three-toed box turtle, I think. 
I'm thinking of naming it"Kinkenborg," (Klinky for short), after a favorite author who wrote "Timothy, or notes from an abject reptile." Other suggestions?
(P.S. You should read "Timothy." It's short, an interesting read about a real historic English turtle. Here are my blog comments about the book Timothy.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My truck is gettin' old, and expensive

My  old 1944 truck has more than 200,000 miles on it, I'm guessing since the speedometer doesn't work anymore.
My old truck
For years, all I had to do was fill it up with gas,  change the oil every 2,000 miles, and it ran smoothly. Maintenance was limited to buying new tires, and an occasional muffler, windshield wipers, battery, and such like. It always started immediately, ran smoothly, got great gas mileage with good get up and go. Wasn't fancy, but solid, dependable. Sure it eventually lost its shine and newness, but I never had to take it to a mechanic.
I just figured it would always be that way even though it had depreciated out long ago.
Then it seemed just overnight, things started going wrong. At first, some little things were barely noticeable and annoying , but then they got more serious to where I'm always aware it's past its prime and aging fast. When you're around something a long time, you don't see gradual changes. 
first noticed some fading and a little rust on top of the cab. Some of the paint elsewhere started to fade, and rust spots appeared. Then the seat cushions lost their bounce and seemed to sag, with a tear or blemish every once in a while. The headliner drooped. The tailgate would often jar loose. There were coffee stains everywhere. 
"Sometimes it seems like it's gasping for breath." 
It's had a couple of fender benders, and has the scars to show for it. The hood and grill and front end has dents and gouges. The grill no longer shines and seems to be getting yellow. The dashboard is pealing, getting thinner, and has some cracks in it. The headlights are getting dimmer and needing changing more often. The horn doesn't sound as loud, and the air and oil filters don't last as long. Sometimes it seems like it's gasping for breath.
Then some of the mechanical stuff showed its age. In cold weather, it didn't always want to start. The thermostat, and thus the heater, wouldn't always work.  It doesn't have a built in air-conditioner, which is why I like to travel with both windows open, and a cool jug of water.
While the motor seems solid,  it just doesn't run as smoothly, it sputters some  and doesn't have the spunky get up and go it once had. It takes more time to go up hill, and waffles a bit when coasting downhill. On a rough road, or a smooth one for that matter, the springs and shocks don't cushion anything. Everything rattles and shakes. The exhaust gets noisier and drips water some days.  The brakes are more likely to fail.
Every once in a while it gets bad gas..."
Every once in a while it gets bad gas, and will barely run, preferring to stay in the garage. 
It doesn't steer as well, and gets harder to turn, especially quickly. Then the radiator started leaking, and the oil pressure is often out of whack on the one gauge that still works. There are more stains on the pavement underneath where it parks overnight. The transmission takes more time shifting, sometimes with a noticeable "sigh." On occasion while driving it, I felt one or two of the cylinders hesitate, or cut out. That's scary at 60 miles an hour, but  it almost can't go that fast anymore. Yeah, new spark plugs and wiring worked, for a while. Some of the wheels may be out of line, and there are a couple of lug nuts missing.
Lots of these things require trips to mechanics, and you can't just go to a "shade-tree" mechanic any more. Different ailments take specialists with fancy equipment.
This month for instance, I poured more money into  the old thing than it originally cost. New joints are probably in the future. So too may be some work on the motor, carburetor and some of the electrical stuff that keeps it all going.  
Some I will have to pay for, and others I just will say "I'll put up with it." Body shop work is too expensive, and so is getting rid of most of the blemishes, scars, dents and rust on the outside.
"Coffee with Clark" 7 by 3.5

About the only "cosmetic" thing I've done to it was change the rear end. Several years ago, I got tired of the long narrow rotting wood bed, and replaced it with a short wide one, which is now rusting.
It ain't as comfortable and neat as it used to be, but it's got character. I've grown attached to it because of the memories all the places we've been together and the people it took me to, or who traveled in it.  I know, it doesn't look like much, but some people always notice a rickety old antique.  Trade in is out of the question. I'll drive it till it quits.
At least the motor hasn't seized up. Yet.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hill country bluebonnets, watercolor

Hill country bluebonnets, 8 by 10 watercolor, 140 # d'Arches
I don't like to paint flowers, and I love  Texas bluebonnets. They are hard to paint, to catch the colors, the light. But, here is an attempt. What can I say, I'm a Texan..

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fort Reno calling

Do you know what this is? If you do, you're not young. I found this relic today in the welcome center, for administrative building at historic Fort Reno, west of El Reno.
The place is much improved since the last time I visited, and I'd urge you to go. The welcome center is also a museum, full of history about the Fort, established in 1874, and continuing as an Amy post through WWII. 
Some great people have been here, including General Goerge Marshal, Will Rogers and others, including Indian scouts. It was also the home of the Buffalo soldiers, and soldiers at the Fort were instrumental in maintaining order in the Oklahoma Land Run. 
During WWII, the fort also maintained a POW camp for German and Italian prisoners, some of who are still buried in the Post cemetery about a mile west of the main fort. 
I learned a few years ago, when working on a story about Fort Sill, that the first telephone line in Oklahoma territory was strung between Fort Reno and Fort Sill.
Which brings me back to this doodad on the second floor of the welcome center.
Yes, it's an old telephone pedestal set in the wall, with a little alcove for the phone. Underneath is a hinged compartment that leans outward with a place for another relic--telephone books, and the wiring for the phone.
I remember when lots of houses had these nifty conveniences. Do you?
Oh, the photo in the alcove is of Black Jack, an army rose, who carried the empty saddle  and reversed boots behind the flag-draped coffins of JFK, LBJ, Herbert Hoover and Gen. MacArthur.
History calling! Go see it--it's free.
(P.S. Army installations are Forts, also referred to as "Posts." It is not an Army "base." Only the Navy and Air Force have "bases." Also, if someone dies, and the flag is lowered, it is only at "half-mast" on a Navy base. Everyplace else, it's at "half-staff.")

Monday, June 23, 2014

Remote rural route

Remote rural delivery, 6 by 9 watercolor, 140# d'Arches

Sunday, June 22, 2014

It's in the mail, rural reverie

If it grabs your attention, you better stop and take a photo of it, because it may be gone tomorrow. I learned that long ago as a newspaper and amateur photographer. And I'm reminded again every time I paint something from out in the field or from a photograph. 
In my mailbox reverie at the moment, I remembered a painting I did five years ago, from a photo by friend Rusty Lange of Tulsa. She's got a journalistic photographer's eye for the uncommon in every day places.

I saw her photo of this mailbox, painted it and sent it to her. Later she told me the mailbox was no longer. It's also happened with the rural West Texas fence posts I painted near my daughter's house a year ago. The fence is now gone, replaced by metal posts.
So I started looking for other mail boxes to paint, and these showed up on a Google search. I can see some paintings in the future.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Art and life lessons from my granddaughter

Mailbox by Liberty Faye Clark, 6 x 9, 140# d'Arches
If you want to learn art, watch a child. That's what I thought when Derrick, Liberty and Barrett visited a couple of weeks ago. Liberty, age 5,  wanted to paint, and she promptly turned out a portrait of a ballerina, after talking about taking ballet classes. She started using yellow, and I remarked she ought to use a bolder color. She informed me she liked yellow. 
My painting
Then she wanted to see where I painted, and we came into the studio, and she saw my first painting of a mailbox. 
Back down the hall she went and turned out this painting, with much less effort, much more freedom that her uptight, fact-dominated journalist granddad had.
I envy that. For a child, there are no wrongs or rights in art, it's just art...do what you like and have a good time. She left it with me with orders to frame it and send it to her. And a reminder and a lesson in art, framed forever in my  memory.
Liberty and Barrett painting

Mailboxes I have known

Rural route--6 by 9 watercolor, 140# d'Arches
I don't know how long I've been interested in rural mailboxes, but they always catch my attention, especially when several of them are lined up in a row. My dad did a great sketch of some years ago, but I suspect my interest goes further back, or is genetic.
Mailboxes are both metaphoric for stages of my life, and like windows and gates and cabins to me...they hint of stories, of unanswered questions, of hopes and fears and the drama of every day life.
Mailbox, 7 by 9
My wife asked me if I was in a mailbox theme after seeing this, or if I was dissatisfied with my previous recent paintings. I think I'm always a little dissatisfied, but it's more like a phase than a theme. I've had my cabin phases, and old buildings and cabins, and windows and gates. After four other mailbox paintings this past month, this just seemed a natural topic today. 
It was stimulated by attending the Prix d' West Show at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum yesterday, where I spent three hours being astounded by great art, including watercolors where, among other questions,  I asked myself, "How did she do that? More on that show later.
No mail today, 8 by 10
I'm nowhere near that level of talent and inspiration, but it is contagious, thus today's painting.
Here are the previous four mailbox paintings, in various sizes, chronologically. Can you see the progression artistically?
Nobody home, 8 by 10

Mailboxes, 4 by 5 1/2

Friday, June 20, 2014

Finding the drama--taking a trip workshop--III

Here is a version of the finding the drama workshop page for my workshop session for the Oklahoma City Writers group at Full Circle Bookstore.

(Grabbing the Reader)
Your job—find the drama, organize it. Most written drama uses action words, short words, short paragraphs, to make the reader wonder what’s next, to think “Huh?”

How do I find drama? 
  • Sense of mystery
  • Mystery pronouns and nouns
  • Conflict
  • Raises questions
  • Contrasts
  • Twists
  • Missing facts
  • Specific details
  • Unexplained responses
  • Ominous detail

Organizing for drama--Storyboarding
Write this sentence before you write anything else:
“This is a story about ___________________________________________________
and it’s interesting because___________________________________________”

  • What makes it interesting? Is that not the drama?
  • Select the main scenes of your story (think of a TV commercial or movie)
  • Hinge your scenes on events (things that happen—verbs)
  • Scenes usually have action, characters and setting
  • List scenes in sequence
  • Choose most dramatic as first scene
  • What is last scene?
  • Always second guess

Tell me a story
  • Remember a trip you’ve taken
  • List, briefly, WWWWWH
  • Draw a map, where you started, where you ended
  • List three things that happened at separate places
  • Label them A,B,C and place on the map
  • What’s the most interesting scene?
  • Why? (This is a story about and it’s interesting because__________)
  • Describe the scene in one sentence.
  • What are key verbs?
  • Write one first sentence to grab my attention—20 words maximum

The writer’s first commandment
“Tell me a story; make it interesting.”

Going for the drama, in writing-- II

"Get to the point," I often irritate friends who get a little long-winded in telling a story.
What I'm really saying is, "Go for the drama."
Here is a version of the first  page of handouts for my workshop session for the Oklahoma City Writers group at Full Circle Bookstore.

Consider these first lines of novels:
  • It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
  • Call me Ishmael.
  • It was a bright cold day, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  • All children, except one, grow up.
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
  • It was inevitable; the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
  • Elmer Gantry was drunk.
  • A green hunting camp squeezed on top of a fleshy balloon of a head.
  • The last camel collapsed at noon. 

       They all grab your attention, and make you want to keep reading. Quiz--Do you know the authors? Answers at bottom.

In the beginning
“En el Principio, era el Verbo, y el Verbo era con Dios, y el Verbo era Dios.” San Juan 1:1
      “In the beginning was The Verb, and the Verb was with God and The Verb was God”
 “…le mot, c’est le Verb, et le Verb c’est Dios.” Victor Hugo
     “The word is the verb, and the verb is God.”
“No verb, no story, no drama.” Terry Clark
  • My students know I am a verb nut. Much of modern writing is guilty of "verbicide." If you want drama, you have to be a verbaholic.  
  • The most important words in a sentence are the verbs. Without verbs, nouns and adverbs and adjectives sit like empty boxcars on a siding, going nowhere, without a locomotive. Without them, nothing happens. They are action keys to getting to the point quickly, to grabbing and keeping readers’ attention.
  • Theology on John 1:1. The Word (English translation), is really Verb. The Verb is the incarnate Christ, but in the beginning was the force and the power of creation. In sentences and storytelling, the verb is the power and force of creation.

First sentences
The most important sentences you will write in a story?
The first ones.
What is the purpose of writing? To be read.
If you don’t catch your readers’ attention, you’re wasting your time.
Best test for effective first sentences: “Will I keep reading?”
It’s called, “Going for the drama.”
from my former students' stories and one I did for Oklahoma Today magazine on weekly newspapers:
  • “The sergeant fumbles with one hand to unbutton his fly.”
  • “Every Tuesday at one p.m., a silver-haired woman in her eighties centers the Sayre Record and plunks down seventy-five pennies for the latest news.”
  • “’I want to study people with the flesh on,’ she says.”
  • “The long, thin fingers of a frustrated pianist work the control board switches as her melodic voice interrupts the airwaves.
  • “The sergeant fumbles with one hand to unbutton his fly.”
In keeping with brevity, this is the end of this post. The second workshop handout follows.
  • Answers to authors--Charles Dickens-A Tale of Two Cities, Herman Melville-Moby Dick, George Orwell-1984, J.M. Barrie-Peter Pan,  VladmirNobokov-Lolita, Gabriel Garcia Marquez--Love in the Time of Cholera, Sinclair Lewis-Elmer Gantry, John Kennedy Toole--A Confederacy of Dunces, Ken Follett--The Key to Rebecca.

Going for the drama, brevity in writing-I

"Lose the drama" says a little plaque in my daughter's house, directed at the kids.
Good advice in relationships, but not in writing.
So tomorrow, I'll go for drama, when I speak to the Oklahoma City Writers group at Full Circle Bookstore, conducting a workshop on "Going for the Drama."
My experience as a journalist, and in teaching various writing class at UCO and for OPA has focused my attention on the need for drama in all writing.
I think the writer's first commandment is to be interesting, and to do that you have to grab your readers' attentions. It's even more important now than before because in the digital age, all our attention spans are melting faster than ice on a hot Oklahoma August day.
So what's on tap for tomorrow?
I'll recommend a book, but it's not a text book. It's Several Short Sentences about Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a former columnist "The Rural Life" for the New York Times. I required it of my students this year, and they loved it. How could you know, when he tells you to "forget everything you've learned about writing."
The book is full of short sentences and advice about improving your writing. He'll jog you. How about: "How long is a good idea?"  It's ironic in these days of melting attention spans that wordiness in all media, in government, in higher education, is growing faster than fungus on spoiled fruit on a hot Oklahoma day.
That's why I'll recommend the book because brevity is essential to drama, and good writing.
And since Shakespeare had it right, "Brevity is the soul of wit," that tells you something about the witless wonders in cable TV, in sports broadcasters, in government and higher ed administrators who wouldn't know a simple sentence if they saw one. The only exception I know is the Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich.
There's more to say about my workshop, but in the interest of keeping this short, that's all for this post.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day memories in black and white

Father's Day is both a somber and wonderful time for me.
I watch with interest and envy the many people who post on Facebook photos and wishes to their fathers on social media. Be assured, your fathers  can't tell you how much it means to be remembered, to be loved.
As one who has lost both parents, I urge you to make sure you never fail to take advantage of every possibility to stay close to your parents. There will come a time when you won't be able to. So your wishes to the living are somewhat somber for me too because I can't do the same for my parents.
Father's Day means more to me each year as I anticipate and  treasure hearing my children's voices. I am not fortunate enough to live close to them where we can be in more contact, but I treasure them and their mates and children in ways words can't describe. I'm more aware of the influence of our genes and our choices, and thankful.
My Dad would have been 100 this year, and he's been dead 40 years. So the memories are fading, like the black and white photos we have. We were not close when he died, but we weren't estranged, and he was my father. I gained more from him than I ever suspected.
Dad, like me for sure, was a flawed person, but he did the best he could, with a wooden leg, an artistic temperament, and an uneven life. But he came a long way from a poor  red-dirt boy from Comanche, Oklahoma, and like everyone, had lots of good in him. I see my own self and individuality  in him, and in my brother's face, and in our mannerisms, even our laughs. I am astounded at the power and influence of genes.
Dad and I at my brother Jerry's college graduation
So the years have gone by, and what we really have are some black and white photos to help spark the memories. Here are a few memories through the years.
PS: Earlier story: My Dad had a wooden leg.
Genes--Dad with my firstborn, Vance

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

No Mail Today, watercolor

"No mail today," watercolor, 8 by 10 140# d'Arches
Remember when you liked to go to the mailbox?
Hoping for a letter from far away, or a card from a special someone,  a package, or other interesting items, dropped off by the "Mailman"?
The first mailman I vaguely remember was Tommy Thompson in Fort Worth, when I was five or six. He'd stop by the house, ask "Think the rain'll hurt the rhubarb?" Always a smile, always leaving something worth looking at. Isn't it amazing I can remember that? Tells you how important the mail was. 
By the time I got to draft age, I started dreading the mail, afraid of a notice from the draft board. Since then, the number of letters and cards continued to decrease. e-mail has made it worse, and we label the old fashioned one, "Snail Mail." But we still treasure personal mail. It's not by accident that we refer to articles like this in blogging as "posts."
I think personal mail has increased in importance, especially since people are sending fewer and fewer Christmas cards. My heart lifts when I get a Thank You note from a student.
What I really treasure, we all do, is to receive something in the mail handwritten, because we know it's a personal note. You can count on friend Jill Kelsey remembering everybody's birthday, with a nice note. It's not by accident that we call her the Hallmark Queen. 
In the past few years, I've started painting individual Christmas cards for people, and I'm amazed at the reactions. They actually frame the cards. I don't think it's the art. I think it's that somebody got some mail that is personal.
Most days I dread the mail.
But most days, I still dread the mail.
Today for instance, I walked out and pulled a bunch of stuff out. Most are worthless catalogs, coupon collections, direct mail pieces for clothes, hearing aids, new windows, heating, mowing, credit card offers, and such like.
My first stop is always at the outdoor recycling trash container, where I dump it all in unopened. Most mail is indeed "junk."  My neighbor saw me do that today, and she said she did the same thing.
What's left? Bills. While I'm at the trash can, I open them and dump the envelopes, and take what's necessary inside, slumping them in a pile of unwelcome, but necessary interruptions.
No wonder I painted this, because I so enjoy days when there is no mail.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sacred stillness in a Hafer morning

In the stillness of the morning, you find people like yourself,
finding themselves in quiet time, sacred time. After a rain, as the sun comes up, time to walk, time to read, time to fish, time to be alone, time to think.
Sacred time.

"Let light
Rise from the chambers of the east, and bring
The honey'd dew that cometh on waking day.
O radiant morning..."
--William Blake

"In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation."
--Psalms 5.

"To everything there is a season..." Ecclesiastes 3

Thursday, June 5, 2014

D-Day, 70 years ago, respect written in blood

American soldiers heading to Omaha Beach in Normandy, 70 years ago.
It is now June 6 in England. At the end of that terrible day 70 years ago, 1,465 Americans were dead, 3,184 were wounded, 1,928 were missing, and 26 were captured. Omaha Beach claimed almost 2,000 of the total casualties.
Other Allied forces, mainly Brits, lost 1,914 dead. They were part of 156,000 Allied  troops who on D-Day crossed the English Channel to invade France and help defeat Germany in WWII. The Germans lost from 4,000 to 10,000 men.
I was five exactly five months old, home snug and safe and free in my crib in Dallas, Texas.
American and French flags honor each grave.
Today, the 172-acre American Cemetery atop the bluff at Omaha Beach at Colleville-sur-Mer, France, contains the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of the killed during the invasion and other operations in WWII. Included are the graves of Army Air Corps crew shot down over Europe as early as 1942. A total of 307 of the graves are of unknowns.
These men died and served to spare me the fate of much of the world which believed that all people should think alike, that free thought and expression are dangerous, that people are supposed to be subservient, that individuality and differences in beliefs, religions, races, languages is suspicious and should be squelched by force, that the might of military makes anything right, that individuals have no rights.
What frightens me is not that tyrants in other parts of the world still believe this.
The flag in the cemetery

What frightens and disgusts  me are the fanatics in America who still believe those ways. You can easily find specific recent  examples of each of those intolerant beliefs, echoed in the rhetoric by narrow-minded ideologues in our own state government, national government, political movements and media. They have invaded America by spouting thinly-designed hatred and mindless propaganda, threatening this country built on reason and respect of others. Yes, they are free to do so because of the sacrifice of those Americans 70 years ago, but they are not worthy of the mud on our soldiers' boots.
If D-Day means anything to us as a free people, we will  respect the rights of others who differ from us, encourage free thought and expression. Our vows should be written in the blood of those men who served on that day, 70 years ago.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The allure of caves, what a picnic

Dawn on the stark, flat beauty of the Llano Estacado, Texas
What is it with caves?

The Bells hiking to the cave in Palo Duro canyon
You see one, and you're instantly curious, instantly attracted.

  • Is it some atavistic beckoning from our long distant past, when our ancestors lived in them?
  • Is it some philosophic DNA that draws us, that is in our deep subconscious?
  • Is it just our natural curiosity that has helped us survive and progress through the eons?
  • Or is it much simpler than that?

Plato's mythological Cave Parable comes to mind, where we are prisoners of our words, shadows of reality.
Growing up in the Southwest, I know cave dwellers are much more recent than those from the distant past. Visit the great cave cities of the Anasazi in Mesa Verde, or at Bandelier, and you know.  More recently, consider the dugouts and soddies homesteaders in Oklahoma and Texas lived in not long ago.
Yet, we still live in caves, if you look at crowded cities and the skyscrapers people call home, gathered around their modern fires, seeking safety from the wild world below.
Perhaps that's just too complicated and philosophical. 
Cave dwellers
All these thoughts came to mind this past week when I went on a picnic in Palo Duro canyon in West Texas with my son and daughter in law and three grandchildren, Todd and Dallas Bell, Erin, Abby and Max.
I love Palo Duro canyon because it's easy to go back in time in imagination and see the Comanches camped there, and the cattlemen like Charles goodnight who had a dugout there. After the stark flat beauty of the Llano Estacado, the dramatic colors and erosion of the canyon are always surprising and magic.
Which leads us back to a cave. There are more than one in the eroded cliffs of the canyon, but one is huge in terms of height if not depth.
The kids were talking about it before we even descended into the canyon, wanting to hike to "the cave."
We stopped to eat at a roadside table as it loomed in the distance, and then we hiked there in bright sunshine, up through the sandstone and rocks.
 In the cool of the shade, we relaxed--modern "cavedwellers." Then the Bells gingerly inched up the cliffs to look down into the cave from the top. 
Looking down, you could see the allure of a cave in a wild canyon. We were not alone, as it beckoned several families  before we descended.
Max and the kids looking in from top
It's easy to see time in the canyon, in the layers of rocks and imagination, and we were time travelers, into the past and back to the present. All because of the allure of caves.
Looking back from whence we came--something caves enhance
Palo Duro canyon--surprising and magic