"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 29, 2014

A postcard from the past

 Cleaning out boxes brings discoveries, and last night Susan found an old Christmas postcard written to my great grandmother, Mary Unit Watts Clark, almost a century ago. How it was in her box of old photos, we don't know.
I'm indebted to cousin-in-law Cherie Atkinson Clark of North Carolina for her genealogy work making it easy to look up the details.
Another mystery--how did this Mississippi woman who lived through the Civil War have a friend in Buffalo, N.Y? No clue.
And the families are mixed up too. She was the sister of  my great-grandfather's (Batte Peterson Clark Jr) first wife, Alice C. Watts Clark, who bore him 11 children, I think, recalling conversations with my now deceased uncle Mike. Then she died and Batte married her, and they had my grandfather, Erle Thweat Clark.
Here's the genealogy--
 Mary Unit Clark formerly Watts aka Baxter
Born in Marion, Clarke County, Mississippi, USAmap [uncertain]
Wife of — married in Panola County, Texas, USAmap
Wife of — married in Panola County, Texas, USAmap
Mother of
Died in Comanche, Stephens County, Oklahoma, USAmap
Here are photos of her grave, with my grandfather's and my dad's graves in line, in Fairlawn Cemetery. The other shows Batte's grave.

November's end in Oklahoma

"Oklahoma Autumn"--14 by 20 watercolor, 300 # d'Arches
December arrives in a few hours and the days grow shorter. Now is a good time to be in the country, not fighting traffic, not shopping, but enjoying those brief hours while there is still color in the trees and skies. Breezy weather rattles and scatters the leaves, the squirrels are all in a hurry. It's good to hear the crunch of another passing year underfoot, to smell the change, to drink coffee around a fire or on the back porch, wondering and wandering.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


"November"--8 by 10 watercolor
Thanksgiving Day
       is a journey of years, 
of lives, 
of memories, 
of tears,
of laughter, 
of togetherness, 
of separation,
of places
      and tables
      far and near.
Bountiful plates
      of food
are only symbols
      of  servings
of  years between
and family and friends
      gathered around tables
as the journey continues.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

'Thank you for your service,' Veterans!

The Thunderbird atop the monument outside the 4th Division Museum
"Thank you for your service, sir," said my veteran, M/Sgt Vance Clark, USAF, last week as we toured the 45th Infantry Thunderbird Division museum in Oklahoma City.
At the base is the roll of combat
He'd been talking to a Korean War vet who was one of the staff.
That veteran replied to him the same way, "Thank you for your service."
They are a unique band of brothers, especially those who have been in combat.
If you haven't been to the museum on NE 36th street, don't be fooled by all the military vehicles outside. That's impressive, along with the monuments  and comments.
Inside is an amazing museum of more than just a division that fought and died in WWII and Korea. There are Bill Mauldin originals, a history of military firearms throughout American history, a room dedicated to WWI, relics from the divisions  WWII battles across Nazi Europe, including Nazi flags and gear, relics that belonged to Hitler. Most moving to me is the room commemorating the concentration camp at Dachau, which the division liberated.
On this Veterans' Day, or on any other, you come out of there, and you know the value of the words,
"Thank you for your service."
Snap a salute, and be thankful.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

And where is your campsite?

Woodsmoke and morning coffee in the Manzanos--5 by 7 watercolor, 300 # d'Arches,
Woodsmoke is responsible for this.
Smelling the aroma of a pinon fire the other night on my back porch made me realize how long it has been since I was camping.
The answer is too long...actually March of 2012 at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Alone, after visiting my uncle Mike in Santa Fe. My sleeping bag was good to almost 0 degrees. I still almost froze to death, but the time alone was medicine.
"I need to go camping," I said to myself the other night. That's what's missing. Yes, I'm too old to sleep on the ground anymore, and camping is often uncomfortable, but there's something essential missing if you don't endure it.
Camping in Chaco Canyon
Camping puts you in touch with eternal values I think. It certainly puts you in touch with Abraham, who spent his nomadic life "pitching his tent." Our Plains Indians knew those values. When you're in a tent, or under the open sky, you know how small and impermanent you and everything else is. How much a part of a bigger Nature you are--wildlife, landscapes. How big the universe is. How unimportant time is. How you don't "own" anything but are "just a-passing through." You learn to appreciate warmth, food, your surroundings, the stars, other people.  We are all immigrants, nomads.
I started thinking about all the places I've camped. It's a long list, and the memories are filled with family, friends, loved ones. The times that stand out most tend to be when not everything went perfectly, and of special places visited.
One of the best memories of camping there or anywhere is having to roll out of the sleeping bag in the cold morning, see your breath fogging in the air, shiver,  fire up the Coleman stove to start coffee, and try to stir last night's campfire into life for warmth.
Where is your campsite? Your favorite? The memories?
My brother and an "Army" cot in the Manzanos, 1955
My first memories of camping including sleeping on "army cots," canvas stretched over wooden frames in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque. We were building a cabin up there, and my brother and I would either sleep in a big center pole canvas tent, or outside under the stars. As pre-teens my friends and I would often "camp out" on the lawn outside our house on Sandia Base.
Mom and our tent at the Grand Canyon, 1954
 I also remember camping near the south rim of the Grand Canyon on a family vacation with Uncle Mike along, using that big green tent. Later as a teen, my friends and I made a fishing camping trip to Fenton Lake in the Jemez wilderness in New Mexico. I also camped with my best friend in a tent,  his family in a trailer,  near the Pecos River, with a danger of black bears. 
My two favorites are in New Mexico--several times at Chaco Canyon and Jack's Creek in the Pecos Wilderness. Chaco because its 25 miles off a paved road, because the Anasazi still inhabit the 1,000-year-old ruins. I've been there alone and with family. It's traveling back in time, human and geological, and your imagination runs wild. You can see time here--in the stars wheeling overhead, or the yip of coyotes in the early morning, or in the shadows climbing the sandstone cliffs early or late in the days. Mostly it's quiet.
Jack's Creek is at the end of the road  above 9,000 feet, near the headwaters of the Pecos River. There are aspen and fir, and a trailhead into the Pecos Wilderness. My family and I camped there several times, either in a tent, or in a Coleman popup tent trailer we had.  
Great memories.

Where else have I camped? Many of my memories involve that pop-up trailer and cherished family memories, but not all.
  • New Mexico--near Cloudcroft, in a pouring rain storm. Chama, near  the tracks of the Cumbres and Toltec steam locomotive. Conchas Lake. Story Lake. Coyote Creek. In Taos canyon. At Tesuque Creek  campground, above 10,000 feet near Santa Fe. In the Manzano mountains.
  • Texas--Big Bend National Park, where we were afraid the wind would blow away our popup trailer. And outside Amarillo, downwind from a feedlot.
  • Alone in the Arkansas Ozarks.
  • One windy campground in western Kansas.
  • Wyoming--in the Wind River Mountains, in Yellowstone, and in the Tetons, where our van was broken into, and they stole our medicine bag, thinking it was my wife's purse.
  • Utah, in the Wasatch mountains.
  • Montana, on the Canadian border--third favorite spot, and it would be first if it were more frequent and closer--Glacier National Park, with family, and also, the last time, with son Trav.
  • Pennsylvania, just 20 miles from Gettysburg.
  • Maine--near Portland.
  • Vermont, on the banks of the Connecticut River, where  we found a graveyard with dates back in the 1600s.
  • Oh, Oklahoma? Not much. Maybe at Waurika Lake. Definitely with the pop-up trailer on a sand bar southwest of Waurika on the Red River with men friends, running trot lines and having a good time, just a few feet from the south shore, which is Texas.
Another great memory of camping is at the close of day. Tent's up, sleeping bag unrolled inside. Coleman stove is cooking some chili, and I've started a fire. The flames send up the  woodsmoke, and as the day darkens and the stars come out, the embers glow like little universes. Night sounds of insects or wildlife break the silence. You can sit and stare into the fire, drink coffee or something else, think, and smell the woodsmoke.
Or more recently, with best friend  Mark Hanebutt at the now extinct (sold and bulldozed for an expensive cookie-cutter housing development} at Melo's, a small private lake and campground on OKC's far nw-side...an evening of sparse food and drink, laughter around a fire, woodsmoke , and sleeping in a tent, no matter the glow of metro lights to the southeast. Precious, connection with what matters.
It's past time to go camping.

The Fall of the Wall

Sections of Berlin Wall, the Churchill Museum, and at far right, Churchill's statue, Fulton, Mo.
Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall fell, the chisels and hammers and noise sending shock waves around the world. I know this was the anniversary because of Google's home page graphic showing video. Sections of the wall are now located all over the world, monuments to the desire for freedom. The video shows many of those. 
But it does not show the ones in Fulton, Missouri, at the Churchill Museum, commemorating his "Iron Curtain" speech. I took this photo when visiting my son and family there a few years ago. 
I'm not only old enough to remember the wall coming down, I remember when the Soviet Union started putting it up in 1961, sending shock waves of a different sort across the free world . We then wondered if WWIII was going to start. The U.S. didn't send in tanks, and we survived that crisis. 
It seems to me the lessons of history are clear--our current crises will also pass, and we have no idea nor guarantee how they'll turn out or if we'll like the results. I do know one thing. Regardless of politicians, political parties and movements, revolutions and dictators and extremists, the fight for freedom, and the existence of tyranny,  will never end until homo sapiens becomes extinct. 
That's what the Berlin Wall symbolizes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

'I've never had a geography course'

"I've never had a geography course."
So said a senior in my International Media class this week, after I gave them a blank map quiz on Asia, and posted another of Southeast Asia for next week...mistakenly putting it on this blog, instead of the class blog, ClarkInternational.
We started with the Mideast, then South America, Europe and then to Asia. Next on tap will be Africa.
One student said he'd last had geography in eighth grade. I don't understand. I'll admit, with the breakup of the Soviet union and independence of many African Nations, I don't know all the countries, but I sure know most of them, and especially all those who are in the news.
It tells me something about our education and politics that students no longer know basic geography--we are becoming more isolated  and provincial as we are being more affected by the rest of the world.
I'll admit, filling in a map doesn't make you less provincial and ethnocentric. Only travel will do that, but still, howcab to function in this world without some grasp of "Where"?
"How can you function in this world without some grasp of 'Where'?"
One of the students quipped, asking for a map of the United States. I shot back, "Ok, and also name all the capitals." They balked.
I learned all that stuff in seventh or eighth grade when it mattered a whole less than it does now. Come to think of it, I think I'll give the students a blank map of the U.S., without state borders, and make them draw them, label them and name the capitals.
I'll admit, I also grew up in a home with National Geographic maps on the walls, and have been fascinated with maps ever since. They hint of places I can only dream of, of places I want to go, of faraway places and peoples and stories.
You don't get that perspective of a big world with a GPS system or a computer...especially if you don't know where countries are in relation to each other.
I know, I'm a dinosaur, and the students probably get amused and talk about me, when I start telling them about why Korea split, or Vietnam and a brick from the Hanoi Hilton that is in Oklahoma City (few know what the Hanoi Hilton was). But that is precisely why I incorporate these map quizzes in my International Media class. Thus the map of Southeast Asia.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

And where is your cabin?

The cabin, 5 by 7 watercolor, last light of day on the west wall.
In my imagination, I thought, when asked this years ago.
And today, after posting a black and white photo of the Clark cabin in the Manzano Mountains of New Mexico, I knew. Friend Joyce Carney of Eakly/Hinton said she wanted a painting, any color.Thanks to Joyce for inspiring me to paint today.
It's hard to give color to concrete brick, so it became an adobe cabin, and while it's not good enough to give, it captures the spirits of my brother, my Dad and me.

Christmas card and cabin season nears

Our cabin, 8 by 10 photo
I found this copy of one of our family's Christmas cards recently. Dad always sent out Christmas cards, usually like this--a photo of our cabin in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque, or one of his pieces of artwork, like the scratchboard snow scene of a Rock Island locomotive taking on water in Fort Worth.
 After a few early years when the kids were young, we didn't send out many.  But now that I've started painting, this photo explains why I was thinking about needing to get started. I realize where that primal urge to send out a few personal cards comes from. And my attraction to cabins, in my paintings and just generally in writing and dreams. 
 It's November, and I've already got the blank cards ready to paint, and the checklist of friends and family.
Now if I just had a cabin in the mountains to retreat to, put wood in the stove, look out that big north-facing picture window, a little adult beverage, and start painting.