"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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The plumber and the professor did both agree...ditty

Note from Facebook:  Conversation with colleauge Dr. Kole Kleeman today, him saying more people should consider vocational careers. He cited his plumber, who makes good money.
My rejoinder. I agree. "We have much in common." Trying to clean this up for fb. "We both deal with effluent." Later thoughts. At least he can flush it and wash his hands. In higher ed administration, it just clogs everything up and we're stuck with it.

The plumber and  the professor did both agree
Effluent runs downhill, until there's a clog.
When it backs up, it's plain to see
Someone needs to free that log.
For the plumber it's a plunger,
but the prof  can only hunger
'Cause the pipe's gonna flush
but higher ed makes more slush.
At the end of the day,
what can you say?
The plumber did his ministration
and the prof gagged on administration.
The plumber washed his hands well,
The prof just choked on the smell.
The pipes ran free from curse
But higher ed got worse.
Just give the toilet handle a jerk,
while profs are drowning in paper work.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sunday "stroll"

Sunday  stroll, 4" by 5 " watercolor, 140# d'Arches
How long since you've "strolled" anywhere? Out in the woods on a fall day? Across a springtime pasture? On a rural path in the summertime?
Such a pretty word. It means a leisurely walk, first used in English very late 1500s, perhaps from German. Even the word is leisurely, calming, in our fast-paced world.
No wonder we don't stroll very often--when we're not speeding in a car, we exercise on a treadmill, jog, pedal. If we do walk, we're usually in a hurry to get from one form of transportation to a meeting or something. The rare times we do slow down and explore our senses and the world around us--do they not bring back good memories?
I guess these are just thoughts strolling through my mind, as I practiced painting a family out for a Sunday "stroll."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Voyages of imagination

Today's New York Times magazine featured four people's voyages, with this photo illustration on the cover cover, unrelated to the specific articles.
But it made me want to go, to see the desert again, and thus, here's a watercolor painting. Time to travel.
The desert beckons, watercolor, 8 by 10, 140 pound d'Arches

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Stumpy's Spur, and the worried moods of the moon

Chapter 9
The swollen moon inched above the silhouetted sandstone rim of the caprock as Greg walked out on his wooden deck with a cup of coffee and his binoculars.
     After the day of the threats and warnings, Greg wondered just how much other people knew, especially after he'd started teaching a night class at Panhandle State Junior College, one of the bright spots in Darling in his opinion.
     'The first time I remember seeing Aunt Sissie was when she showed me the moon,' Greg thought, putting his coffee down on a table, and lifting the 7 x 50 Bausch and Lomb binoculars to his eyes as he twisted the focus ring.
     He often went to the deck at the back of the house to think.  It helped him focus on what he was going through, and tonight, he needed focus. Did anybody else know? He'd covered it up well today, but Myrt's warning  stuck in his head.
     At least he thought he remembered the dark shadows of summer-thick bushes and trees rising above him on the sidewalk, the black built of nearby buildings framing a few yellow-lit apartment windows, and the huge round silver-white face in the dark Dallas sky reflecting its light off Sissie's equally round, kind face.
      'Perhaps it's just that I heard Mom tell me about it, how Sissie would take me for a night-time walk and show me the  moon.' he thought. "'How I'd reach my little hands and stubby fingers for it, and how she'd tell Mom, "Well Faye, get it for him"'
     The full moon seemed to always make him talk to himself, and think. He knew Sissie would take him out in a baby carriage, but seeing in moon seemed to make it fresher. He knew his parents may have told him about it, but they wouldn't have mentioned the details about the shadows and lights. "Can you remember anything that far back, at age three or four," he said out loud to the night as the moon kept rising.
      Aunt Sissie was his favorite aunt, and even now, years after she died of cancer, when the moon jogged his memory, his throat thickened, and his eyes would water.
      "Let him reach for it,  Miss Vera," was his mother's reply. That's what Sissie told him years later, when as a teenager, he'd visited her.
     "Seems like you've been reaching ever since," she'd said, chuckling.
     Greg didn't know if it was a blessing or a curse, or both. Maybe that was the key. Always reaching, challenged by some remote destination; yet, once attained, never satisfied.
 Easily bored when newness wore off and routine set in, a  journalist's life was at once a sop and a sentence, Greg knew. The Panhandle Index, despite his resentment was important, as was his family and reputation.
     Still, he treasured the full moon and moonlight, and the hunt for adventure. Maybe that's what had attracted him to the older student in his college class. It had been casual, at first, but then a friendship formed in the first few months in Darling.  With stress at home and at the newspaper, with boredom in the small town, it had deepened.  He should have known that nothing in a small town was ever discrete, but he'd been in the big city too long. At least Stumpy didn't seem to know anything about it, or wasn't saying, but Myrt's words had worried him all day.
      Now as he watched the moon rise, and remembered the day's warnings, he finished his coffee, the family already asleep inside. He was worried, and could talk to no one--except perhaps the moon.
     Watching the moon, shining through the edges of swiftly moving clouds, he put the binoculars down next to the coffee cup, reached up, and said, "Come on, Babe, I want you."
      It was a short night.

Down a Dark River with TR--September's Pages

Enthralled by Ken Burns' documentary on the Roosevelts, learning so much history I'd never known, we went to the bookstore to find more stories. In the meantime, my friend Joyce Carney, publisher of the Eakly, Oklahoma, Country Connection, recommended a book about TR's 1914 exploratory trip down an unexplored Brazilian river, a tributary of the Amazon.
It's "The River of Doubt--Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey,"(2006) by Candice Millard, a former editor and writer for National Geographic.  I couldn't pass it up, and while Joyce said the book would tire you out, I found it a fascinating narrative and compelling story, my 13th book of the year.
In addition to the story about Roosevelt, Millard packs the book with information about the Amazon jungle, including the origin of the name "Amazon." In addition, there's much about the animal and plant life of the area, including the evolution of trees, insects, fish and more. Did you know that ants make up about 10 percent of the entire Amazon biomass? That's a lot of insects.
The trip almost killed Roosevelt--more than once, and in fact may have weakened him, I think,  so much that it led to his early death. He lost more than 50 pounds on the trip--one fourth of his weight.
Roosevelt writing
I learned more about TR's courage. He was so ill from a wound, infection, malaria and fever that he wanted to be left behind so the rest of the expedition could get out alive. He carried a vial of morphine so strong it would kill him if he took it.  Only the determination of his son Kermit saved him.  And through it all, Roosevelt would sit down most nights, covered with netting and gloves to protect against insects, to write for articles in Scribners.
Everything went wrong on the trip--inadequate and wrong supplies, having to travel in dugouts rather than boats, innumerable rapids, attacks by Indians, drowning,  murder, and near starvation. Of the 19 men on the expedition, only 16 returned. 
The river was later name El Rio Roosevelt.
So ill he couldn't sit up in the dugout, TR suffered under a makeshift tent, weeks from rescue. From caption in the book.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Retracing "Blue" Highways --a journey of words

"The English language has the largest vocabulary on earth, so why should we live
 on dry, white toast when at hand is one fine smorgasbord?"
So asks William Least Heat Moon about some of his word choices in both "Blue Highways," and his new "Writing Blue Highways," and of his discussions with editors.
Which means when I'm reading his books, or any for that matter, you'll find me with pen in hand, circling words I like, or want to look up.
Here are the ones I noted in his recent book. They give you pause, but also spark curiosity.
  • purlieu-- the area near or surrounding a place.
  • ordinance-- the systematic or orderly arrangement of parts, especially in art and architecture.
  • unsnaggle.
  • soup├žon--a very small quantity of something.
  • microcephalics (used disparagingly of critics)--people with microcephaly have a condition in which a person's head is significantly smaller than normal for their age and sex.
  • sententious--given to moralizing in a pompous or affected manner.
  • dispassion--about students.
  • fob--a medallion or ornament attached to a pocket watch to assist in handling
  • cognomen--an extra personal name given to an ancient Roman citizen, functioning rather like a nickname and typically passed down from father to son.
  • rebus--an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words.
  • bifurcation--the division of something into two branches or parts.
  • gestalts--forms or shapes.
  • synonymicon--thesaurus.
  • escritoire--writing desk.
And here are are some phrases and sentences I underlined, marked or starred. 
  • "I was over-degreed and under-educated." He'd completed his Ph.D.
  • "Byways grant space and time to reevaluate what one should not have slighted, and they can stimulate ways to discover."
  • "To have a run at escaping the greatest cage of all--the interior of the human skull."
  • "Curiosity to a writer is as quadriceps to a weightlifter--the place hoisting begins."
  • "Drafts are strata, and they can be read like an archaeological record."
  • "To revise fewer than a half dozen or even a dozen times means either you're an unmatched genius or you're kidding yourself."
  • The opening paragraph had  91 words and he rewrote it two dozen times.
  • "Remember, rewriting is redemption."
  • "The biggest danger to a teacher is to be infected with student indifference."
  • "'Blue Highways' began not with a typewriter but with a camera. A photo can go where words cannot."

Retracing the "Blue" Highways--September's Pages

"'Blue Highways' began not with a typewriter, but with a camera.
 Photos go where words cannot."
As a backroad traveler, I've been a fan of William Least Heat Moon's 1982 "Blue Highways, A Journey Into America" since it came out. He did then what all of us vagabond spirits want to do...take time off and travel and write.  He covered 13,000 miles in three months of 1978 literally going "around" America--traveling the "blue" highways--the backroads that are in blue on maps. He photographed and told the stories of the people in the out-of-way places he stopped. 
Then this past year, he wrote "Writing Blue Highways, The Story of How a Book Happened." As a traveler and a writer and a student of writing and writers, fascinated by how writers write, I had to read it, finishing turning its 164 pages this month.
Good books provoke more stories, and there are many too tell here, for travelers, and writers, and readers.
This is not a book about how to write, though he tells how he agonized and labored to write it, and suffered innumerable rejections. It, like his other books, is really a story about journeys.
"Blue Highways" is the shortest of his several books in the past 30 years, and the only one I've read through is "Roads to Quoz," about more back roads and discoveries. His thick "PrairyErth--A Deep Map," about a rural county in Kansas, is the kind of book I'd like to write, but I only got have -way through it. Another thick one, "RiverHorse," about taking a boat across America,  just didn't click with me. He's written others, all about traveling.
Least Heat Moon showing one of his drafts.
I first learned of this new book when I saw something on Facebook where he was reading from it at a library in Columbia, Missouri, where he lives. The library was just two blocks from where my son Derrick, his wife Naomi and their children lived at the time. Wish I could have been there.
What impressed me much about his writing is that his first draft was written with pencil on paper, and his comments about that excruciating process fell in with many of my thoughts. And they give me ammunition  and information for when I teach non-fiction writing.
You will learn much here, including how the author went from William Trogden to his Osage name, Least Heat Moon.  
Then there's his robust vocabulary, not used to impress, but to use precisely the right word.  His comments on writing, editing and teaching add more stories.
He's extremely quotable, his writing full of fresh imagery, and the book also has photographs and philosophy throughout. "Blue Highways" began after a divorce and his being fired from a teaching job. Then after the three-month journey around the country, it took him another almost four years of writing and rejections to get published. So this new book was a must read, a story about stories and travels. To whet your appetite,  the next post will feature some of his words and phrases.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--Breakfast advice at the Fat Lion--II

Chapter 8
Greg had usually been able to take the criticism  and barbs of the crowd in the Fat Lion, but that one made him pause.
The place had been sort of a safe haven, and his journalist's sense of humor gave him a reality check. Besides, he'd learned to hate the plastic food of fast food joints, and the Fat Lion was anything but fast, and definitely not plastic.
"Told you," Stumpy said, as Myrt came over to refill their coffee cups, balancing his breakfast order in one hand and the coffee pot in the other.
The Fat Lion had cheap paneling on the walls. One broken window was boarded up with construction grade  plywood. High school kids had painted graffiti on it till it was covered with a spastic motif that Beau left as a sign of his school spirit--or laziness, Greg wasn't sure.
Oscillating fans covered with West Texas dusty buzzed away even in November. Beau and Myrt had tried to remodel with rough-cut wood on the walls, decorated with lariats, old iron relics and a few dusty hanging green plants. But the siding merely serve as cracks for  cockroaches to hide in.
Greg watch one move slowing down the wall toward the next table where some biscuit crumbs waited. Jeanne wouldn't eat here, but Greg loved it.
An assortment of different-shaped formica topped tables with dingy faded red tops, and chairs with vinyl covering and torn padded add to the "decor. " A cigarette machine in the back corner sat under an air conditioner poked theory the wall.
Stumpy quietly sipped his coffee, and Greg began eating, picking up one of the yellowish grease-stained menus. While Beau wasn't much of a cook, at least he had a sense of humor, and comments on the menu were always worth reading.

"The Fat Lion--the 'mane' place to go--You'll roar about your food--a lion-sized share of good eatin'"
"Tell us how you want your steak, but we only fix it rarin' to go."
"The 'paws' that refreshes--Sink your fangs into Bad Beau's bar-b-cue. Sides of big, red sweet onions--If she'll kiss you after you eat one of these, she either loves you or her nose is stopped up."
"Chicken fried steaks, smothered in homemade gravy--If they don't fill you up, you need an operation or a cork--We'll supply the cork, just 49 cents each."
"Cold Lone Star Beer--Long neck, short neck, just don't neck in here."
"Homemade lemonade--It'll make more than your mouth pucker--for the sour dispositions in town." "Try the Palo Duro--a malt the size of Texas--so thick you need a knife, so tall, Big Tex looks up to it."
"If your food's good, tell your friends. If you've got any complaints--shut your mouth."

When Myrt came over to get his plate as he finished, she lowered her voice and bent over, while pouring another cup of coffee.
"Greg, you're a good customer and a friend. You don't ask for advice, but I'm gonna give it. We been hearing a lot of, well, shit, and it's not good. I don't understand all this prison stuff, but don't get hurt. It's not worth it. This town's not worth it."
"Myrt, "Greg said, smiling. "Thanks, but I know what I'm doing."
"Do you Greg? Be sure. You can get hurt in more than one way. " In the back, Beau yelled "Order Up!" and she turned toward the kitchen.
He watched her leave, thinking about what an unlikely couple they were. Tall skinny Myrt, and short, fat Beau. Some called them "Mutt and Jeff" behind their backs, but Greg liked them. They seemed to be some of the few people in town who didn't seem to have any pretensions of importance. 
"Unlikely couple," he said aloud, thinking of the way they just accepted people regardless of faults.
"Yep, they are," Stumpy said, "And their advice is as good as their menu comments.  You ought to listen to them."

Death of an old friend

This oak near our front door has suffered from canker  for a few years now. Its bark is peeling, and fungus is sprouting from its splotched skin. It is terminally ill. We had a few limbs amputated a couple of years ago, and yes, greenery has come back, but there are more dead spots. A good Oklahoma windstorm could cause real damage, and its death is, like all of us, only a matter of time.
So today, there is sadness here as the brutal sound of chainsaws begins to remove it. It will help the value of the house to remove this character, though were we out in the country, it would be allowed its full life cycle. 
Euthanasia is always painful, whether a pet or a tree, for the older I get, the more I value all life forms, also realizing we're all connected.
"No man is an island, entire of himself,"--John Donne

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--Breakfast at the Fat Lion-I

Chapter 7
Greg unzipped his coat as he walked into the Fat Lion Cafe, busy even at 6 a.m. with the coffee and breakfast crowd. The downtown greasy spoon attracted high school kids and some college students on afternoons, but old-timers and early risers waited for it to open every morning.
Named by owners Myrtle  and Beau Perkins in honor of the Darling High School mascot, the Pumas, the cafe occupied a narrow brick building a block from the paper. Greg soon learned the regulars knew more about what was going on in town than anyone else.
This morning, conversation died down when Greg came in, and he suspected it was the editorial. He heard somebody mumble to Myrt about getting Caldwell some jelly to sweeten his sour disposition. Stumpy was sitting in the corner by the steamy plate glass window waiting for him.
Greg grabbed a chair, and propped his back to the wall. He could always get a quick "read" on what people were paying attention to in The Index by eavesdropping and watching out of the corner of his eye what they read. He  knew the academic content analysis researchers would be dismayed and scoff, but he suspected what he learned at the Fat Lion as just as reliable as their "scientific' research.
"Well, you do know how to open a can of worms," Stumpy said, sipping his coffee. Before he could reply, Myrt came over with a coffee pot and a mug, "Morning Greg. "Coffee?" She was pouring before he answered.
"Yep,  a coupl'a eggs, hash browns, sausage and biscuits and gravy, please."
"Sure, be a minute," and she turned back to the kitchen in the rear where Beau was cooking.
Looking Stumpy in the eye, Greg said, "Yes, I guess I did. What do you hear?"
Stumpy sipped his coffee, frowned, and paused.
"I think you're right, and maybe so do a lot of people, but most of 'em have learned to keep their mouths shut when the town's big dogs want something. They've learned, or given up. You do have guts, boy, but I think you're also still a little naive about who runs the town."
Greg started to respond, but was interrupted by a conversation at the next table.
"Whattya thinking, Henry?"
"Nothing much. I had Post Toasties for breakfast, and read the paper--now I've got nothing on my stomach and nothing on my mind."
"Anything in the Index?"
"Naw, nothing."
Greg smirked, mainly to show them he wasn't irritated, even though the comments were meant to annoy. He knew a sign of respect in a  small town was the good-natured banter and jibes between people. That's why he enjoyed coming into the cafe, for what he called "real food and real people."
But the next comment was not good-natured, and Greg's apprehension returned.
"Except for that editorial yesterday," Henry said. "I think there will be hell to pay."

Last day of summer--equinox thoughts, and a cat

Driving west early this morning to tell son Travis goodbye as he heads to Colorado,  I was nearly blinded by the glare of the golden rising sun in the rear view mirror--almost directly east.
 "Equinox," I thought, the last day of summer, the first of fall." At times like these I can't help but think of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, where the Anaszai precisely marked such times with their stone kiva windows and marker on top of Fajada Butte. 
I've seen time move there, one spring equinox a few years ago. You get a feeling of how small and brief you are, how ancient and vast the world and universe are.
Snoops the watcher
But for today, I had to tilt the mirrors down to keep from being blinded in suburban Oklahoma City. After Trav left, I could tilt the mirrors back up, but had to use the visor to shut out the sun's glare as I head directly east.
When I got home, I picked up the New York Times and my coffee, heading for the back porch. It's quiet there, and cool...the heat and humidity of summer are already gone. Before I went back inside, clouds had moved in, making it even cooler.
Over my shoulder, I found Snoops sitting in the window, watching, waiting, wondering? Snoops, I think, lives only in present tense, compared to we modern humans who are so obsessed with time that we mark the seasons even when they no longer are key to survival. But I know even animals are aware of nature's rhythms, and maybe that's why, deep down, we are too. 
Actually, equinox is not until 9:29 p.m. tomorrow, when fall officially arrives. So this is the last full day of summer. Tomorrow the sun will "rise" and "set' precisely aligned with the center stripes of those roads I traveled today. 
Equinox sunrise on Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--A Prison for a Prison?

Texas highway 70 to site of Darling on Canadian River in the distance, looking north

Chapter 6
No sooner had he returned to Darling, than the chamber of commerce president and a few others had began pressuring Greg to support what they called "The Prison Project." His dad an been lukewarm about it, and they wanted the Index to support a local bond issue for it.
Looking enviously at Oklahoma, where several private prisons had been built, they thought it would  be a quick cure for the town's economic ills.
"Caldwell, it's the key to our survival. It'll bring jobs, more business and more advertising for your little paper too," said Jim Bob Brantley, an attorney with a big belt buckle and ego, who was also a deacon in the Baptist Church. Greg said he'd talk to his dad, but the longer he was there, the more people kept pestering him.
After questioning his dad about his reservations, Greg had dug deeper.  He couldn't help being skeptical of what sounded like a too-good-to-be-true private prison project.  The more he tried to get information, the harder it got, and the more something smelled.  It looked like a get-rich-quick deal for a few, at the expense of the regular people. His reporter's instinct, honed by covering the corrupt and hustling Houston politics several years ago, made him suspicious.
Stumpy added to his suspicions with a few vague remarks during their Sunday morning breakfasts, though he wouldn't be specific. Greg got the feeling he was afraid to say too much. He could also see the irony, a town he viewed as a prison wanting to build a prison.
 He had more legwork to do, more digging, but he was almost sure something that looked so good had to be crooked. The more people pushed, the more the prison began to stick in his craw, like a piece of gristle on what looked to others like a lean, juicy cut of sirloin.
Brantley cornered him after a Friday Rotary meeting where he'd railroaded a motion though for unanimous support for calling a bond issue, as Greg sat there and didn't vote,
"It's a win-win deal, Brantley said, "You need to get on board for the good of Darling, and the good of your paper, cowboy," he said."
"Anytime someone says it's a win-win deal, somebody's going to lose," Greg sarcastically shot back, and Brantley turned on his cowboy boot heels and walked off, muttering, "Be careful."
That threat did it and Greg went back to the office and knocked out an editorial for next week's paper. He stewed over the weekend, changed a few lines, and dreaded the reaction.  Jeanne urged him not to run it. His dad seemed to hesitate, but Greg reminded him of the advice of putting out the paper for the little people.
When he told Stumpy he was going to editorialize against the prison, Stumpy arched an eyebrow, almost smirked, and then grimly said, "Now the shit's gonna hit the fan."
A cold front Monday turned the skies gray, matching Greg's mood as the presses rolled the new edition of the Panhandle Index.
His stomach churning, he rehashed the harsh words he'd used in the sarcastic editorial as he delivered the paper to the newsstands.  "Instead of unlocking Darling's economic future, there's no evidence the project will do anything but imprison it, while freeing taxpayers from their money for the benefit of a few. The prison would be a crime," he'd concluded, signing the editorial formally: "Gregory L. Caldwell." 
The reaction was swift.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--A Wrong Kind of Dance

Chapter 5
"Living in Darling is like living 30 years in the past. Will the 1990s ever get here?" Greg  complained  to Stumpy one Sunday morning.
"What's wrong with that?" Stumpy shot back. "You just miss all that hurry-up rat race of the big city where your blood pressure goes up? You ain' slowed down since you got here. Quit being so uptight and enjoy life."
Greg snapped back, ""I've been in a hurry all my life. And no matter what I do, it's not enough. I'm always afraid of what others will think about me."
 Always in a hurry to meet deadlines or get somewhere, he would drive out of his way to avoid stop lights, or long lines of traffic.
He knew he was obsessed about time, but blamed others. Over his computer was taped a piece of yellow legal paper with a quote from his old iron-disciplined Linotype instructor, Henry Darge: "The's the Darge way, and the wrong way." His father, also raised in the unforgiving, unbudging newspaper world of hot type, was equally as picky. His mother had believed you had to earn you way into heaven, or into anything else, with inflexible, punctual obedience to the rules.
"I should have been a Pharisee," Greg said as he ground his teeth. "All I do is hurry, hurry, hurry, trying to keep all the rules, no matter how small."
"You got too much religion, boy," Stumpy said. "You need to get out of the newspaper and out on the Spur's dance floor."
"Oh, that would do it," he said, laughing. He could imagine the reaction from Jeanne, who still hadn't gotten over his absence at church. "That would be a wrong kind of dance."

 Their move to Darling had been widely anticipated in the church where they were heavily recruited to teach Sunday school. They'd been there, every week, and Greg wasn't sure they were valued for their talent and presence, or because, as owners of the paper, their membership added prestige and perceived influence to the church. He only knew he was expected to be active, just as he was expected to run the newspaper, and to work for the town. 
He sometimes felt he had lived most of his life fulfilling other people's expectations... including Jeanne's expectations of perfect appearance at home. It was getting old. 
He had to admit this week's editorial had already jarred a lot of expectations.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

'Shake a Leg at Stumpy's'--the talk of the town

Chapter 4
The  twice-a-week  newspaper had been struggling to survive the rural economic woes and the town's declining population for years. Darling, on the banks of the Canadian River  at the edge of caprock and prairie, had only about 3,000 people left. 
When he first came back, Greg wanted to cut it back to a weekly. His dad, an old-time newspaperman who was owned by the paper more than he owned it, refused to consider the idea, just as he'd refused to consider selling it to the Donrey chain.
"The Index has been in this family since 1904. It won't be Don Caldwell who sells our birthright and our town to those bottom -line boys at Donrey," he'd yelled when Greg suggested letting the paper go.

"You should retire, Dad."
"Hell, no. Shitfire, no! Son, the paper is more than in my blood. It is my blood. And yours too."
Greg was trapped. He'd quickly learned that a hurry-up lifestyle, excellent writing and idealistic journalistic standards wouldn't save the paper, at least in a small town. He'd grudgingly began to concentrate on advertising.
 That's when he had scandalized the town as he starting running ads from Stumpy's Spur, after a conversation of coffee on Sunday mornings.  His dad, a tee-totaling Methodist, wouldn't run ads having to do with liquor.

Facing declining advertising with more stores boarded up, The Darling Index needed the money. After the first half-page ad appeared featuring a local band and with a big bold headline,  "Shake a Leg at Stumpy's," right underneath the obituaries, the town started talking. The Ministerial Alliance had called to protest what they saw as a newcomer changing the paper and endangering morals. Greg ignored them, reminding them they all wanted 20 percent discounts for their small church ads, and were often late paying.
Stumpy always paid cash, pulling out a thick roll of bills and flipping out the twenties until the half-page-a-week ad was paid for. Greg wondered why Stumpy agreed to advertise in the first place, and had asked.

"Respectability," Stumpy said, winking. "And maybe just to irritate some people."
Greg had already managed to do that in the first six months with his editorials too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--Breakfast at the Fat Lion

Chapter 3
Reluctantly giving up a cherished academic career at an Oklahoma City college, Greg had returned to Darling a year ago to run the family newspaper after his dad had a stroke. His wife Jeanne and two children didn't want to leave city life and friends behind either.  The empty Texas Panhandle and cliquish small town made it worse.
The only social life revolved around the churches, a few social clubs and high school football.  Jeanne eventually fit in at the First Baptist Church because she could sing in the choir, but the members' holier-than-thou attitudes toward the rest of the town only irritated Greg. After a month in town, he quit attending, much to Jeanne's chagrin.
"What will people think?" Jeanne demanded when Greg first said he wasn't going back one Sunday morning.  "What am I going to tell them?"
"Tell them I'm busy, or I don't agree everybody else is going to hell. I don't care," he'd snapped back.   After another 15 minutes of arguing, Jeanne took the teenagers to  the car and drove off. 
Greg drove downtown to the Fat Lion Cafe to get breakfast. When he walked in, he saw Stumpy in the corner, motioning him over.
"How come you ain't in church, Greg? Backsliding?" He smirked." Sit down here with a sinner and have breakfast."
"I'm surprised you're up after a late night at the Spur," Greg shot back, smiling as he pulled up a chair. "Conscience keeping you up?"
An hour later, they were still talking as Greg finished his sausage and eggs, hash browns, pinto beans and biscuits and gravy.  Cafe owner Myrt Brown was giving them a good-natured hard time about emptying two coffee pots. Meeting Stumpy became a Sunday morning ritual every week that Greg joked of as "Church at the Fat Lion." 
It relieved the tension at home, and kept Greg in touch with what was really happening in town--not the chamber of commerce version—but the gossip and behind-the-scene politics of the town’s leading citizens.
“What you hear at the Spur is usually reliable—once you clean the bullshit off the boots,” Stumpy would say, tearing off a wad of Beechnut tobacco and putting it in his cheek as they left before the "church crowd" showed up.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--'A Crutch to the Crotch'

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--a story

Chapter One
Stumpy Clark wore wide-striped suspenders,  had a wooden leg and walked with a limp. But he was the fanciest  two-stepper in the Panhandle. His dance hall at the north edge of town, Stumpy’s Spur, reeked of beer, cigarette smoke and urine. Attracting country and western bands and dancers from all over West Texas,  the Spur was Darling’s biggest attraction, although the  chamber of commerce wasn’t too proud of it. The gravel parking lot covered two acres, and would be packed with pickups and cars every weekend.
Stumpy always drank Long Island teas, mingled with the crowd, picked the prettiest bosomy blondes  to dance with. His favorite songs were “Great Balls of Fire”  and "Red River Valley." When they were played at least twice a night, Stumpy would be at the center of the wooden dance floor, two-stepping to the wild music with some big-haired, boot-wearing girl in tight jeans. There was plenty of talk about how many sweet young things he’d taken upstairs in the office behind the DJ’s booth afterward for encores.
Somebody would yell across the room at him, after the dance, “Hey Stump, how ‘bout an encore?” He’d turn, tip the edge of his worn straw cowboy hat, wink, and lead his partner off the dance floor.

Sunday morning porch time

A crisp, bright fall morning, coffee and the Sunday newspaper. That's when I need a porch.
I'd prefer a front porch, a wooden rocking chair, where I could sit and muse, read, watch people walking by, but alas, they don't build them any more, like the one we sat on at Turtle Rock Farm a few Sundays ago.
But we do have a back porch, tucked into the corner of the house, where I can sit at a round table, drinking coffee, spread the New York Times out in front of me, listen to the chatter of birds and squirrels, ignore the weeds in my herb garden and other yard work desperately needed. Instead, here I sit and relax and enjoy every moment, as the cats watch me through the window and door.
Today's paper was a treasure of stories and information spurring thoughts and wonder and ideas to write about, as time flitted away with the dappled sunlight through the trees. 
Front porch at Turtle Rock Farm
A porch is a church of sorts, with nature all around, with time for quietude and the music of wildlife, and the communion of coffee and the written word. To me, that's not sacrilegious, but just the opposite...connecting with the wonder of spirit and creation and life.
I decided I'd write more about those ideas from today's paper later. For the time being, I just enjoyed the back porch.
Sophie checking up

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vibrant Texas Panhandle

Texas Panhandle, 8 1/2 by 14 watercolor, 140 # paper
"Paint," she said, after a night of good food, wine, drinks and discussions and agguments about God, prayer, spirituality, and more, thanks to Richard Rohr, "Immortal diamond" and more, including a chiminea and pinon fire on a cold back porch.
So here it is, thanks to Susan, another version of my trip through the Texas Panhandle.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Great sentence search--a masterpiece

Great sentence search--something I urge on my writing students--find one in the NY Times where you know the writer had fun writing it. Today there was a masterpiece, written by Michael Powell, in a column blasting the NFL for ignoring the Michael Rice event, headlined, Lucrative League Sees Only What It Wants to See. 
Here's the terrific sentence:
"So ambiguity curls up like a cat around the foot of intentional ignorance."

Just wow. Here's the link to the story: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/sports/football/ray-rice-in-lucrative-and-ludicrous-nfl-the-show-goes-on.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Texas Panhandle

Texas Panhandle, 8 by 10 watercolor,  140 # paper

Prairie skyscrapers

I love the Texas Panhandle. For many, it's perhaps boring and desolate, but I love the starkness, the far horizons, and the always changing weather.  My trip last weekend ran into the front that eventually brought more than an inch and a half of rain, and fall temperatures. The clouds moved in quickly the farther west I got, building constantly changing moods and infinite shapes and shadows all the way.  Beautiful country with awesome prairie skyscrapers.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Where Peace Prevails on the Earth in Oklahoma

Hebrew, "May Peace Prevail On Earth"
In Noble County in Northern Oklahoma, on a historic farm, there is a peace pole.
You walk up to the front porch and on one of the polls supporting the roof is the saying in English, "May Peace Prevail on Earth." Look closer, and one another side is the Hebrew version, and the opposite side, the Arabic.
Peace inhabits the George Bellmon Centennial farm in rural Billings, settled by the parents of Oklahoma Governor Henry Bellmon. After attending the mindfulness retreat at the brick Bellmon home a quarter mile north a week ago, run by his daughters as the Turtle Rock Farm, we paid extra and spent the night for a restful, peaceful and quiet night in rural Oklahoma.
Farmhouse at the George Bellmon Centennial Farm
Though a little more than a mile east of I-35, the southern wind and night sounds drowned out the truck traffic sounds. What we hear instead were chickens clucking, guineas chattering, roosters crowing, swifts chirping away. You could sit on rocking chairs on the front porch, and enjoy the fresh air. When the sun goes down, you step out in the driveway and marvel at the Milky Way. 
Long morning shadows, rocking chairs and peace on a front porch
How long since you've sat in a rocking chair on the front  porch, sipping coffee, listening to roosters, watching wasps and hummingbirds attracted to feeders?
Pat Hoerth, who lives in the house except when she rents it out for the night, arrived to put the chickens up, and told us there were eggs in the frig for breakfast. Asked how fresh, she handed Susan four she'd just retrieved from the hen house, "This fresh."
The alpacas will nuzzle you after feeding, Susan finds out
The farm house has a completely stocked kitchen, and Susan and Christy Vincent had prepared salmon and salad for dinner an hour before, and we'd been watching the chickens and a rabbit out for their evening meals.
You can tell I had a good time--Susan photo
 Three alpacas were grazing in the pasture and would need to be fed some supplement in the morning.  After a breakfast of fresh scrambled eggs, we helped out.
Then we loaded up the car, and headed back to the Interstate, leaving peacefulness behind, but not forgotten. Soon we were suburban Sunday traffic, still thinking about the previous day's lesson from the roadrunner to us roadrunners, The Angel Had Wings.
The Centennial Farm Program through the Oklahoma Historical Society was initiated by Bellmon to honor pioneer farms in the same family for 100 years, marking the centennial of the Run of 89. Eventually his  farm was selected as well. 
Ann and Pat--Photo by Rebekah Workman
Then his daughters, Pat, and Ann Denney, returned to operate the Turtle Rock Farm as a center for sustainability, spirituality and healing. You can read their blog, including a little about our visit. They said their dad thought they were crazy, but they have the Bellmon genes for being individuals. Bellmon was the state's first Republican governor, worked with Democrats, supported busing and giving the Panama Canal back to Panama. And he spent a lot of time on his farm, where he gained his strength and peace, close to the land. 
Where Peace Prevails on the Earth in Oklahoma