"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, December 31, 2016

Spurts, in the pages and books of 2016

Spurts. I read in spurts. Fall was not kind, immersed in teaching a new class and the depression of the election. I have to read, or my brain, my creative,  seems to die--which was the case in reading and blogging during the drought of autumn.
But it picked up in December as the year ended, bringing a total of 23 books for the year, plus five partial and unfinished.  (All nonfiction except f=fiction; e=poet essays; p=photo/essays.)
It's obvious that I prefer non-fiction, hey, I'm a journalist...concentrating on themes that have to with nature, wildlife, history  and the West. There are a lot of "self-help" books having to do with art and attitude--these seem to be increasing with my age. Some partials will be completed, and others won't.
I skip around a lot when I read, and always have more than one book going--ADD, probably.

December: Usually, I write about each of these books, and may later. You can find articles on the earlier books on the blog starting backward in July.
  • The War of Art, Pressfield
  • Tribe, Junger
  • Upstream, Oliver-e
  • American Serengeti, Flores
  • An Obvious Fact, Johnson-f
  • Unbranded, Masters-p
  • Partial--A Different Drum, Peck
  • Partial--What the Best College Teachers Do, Bain
  • Partial--The Next Species, Tennesen 
July was the last reading month:
  • Happy Potter and the Cursed Child, Rowling-f
  • The Timekeeper, Albom-f 
  • Yellow House Mauve Sky-art/fable
First half of year:
  • The Blessing Way, Hillerman (reread)
  • Art and Fear, Bayless/Orland (reread) 
  • American Ghost, Nordhaus
  • Deep South, Theroux
  • Laguna Pueblo, Marmon/Corbett-pe
  • The Highwayman, Johnson-f
  • The Great Spring, Goldberg
  • The Soul of Octopus, Montgomery
  • Coyote America, Flores
  • One Man's Wilderness, Keith/Proenneke 
  • Woe to the Land Shadowing, Shuttlesworth-poetry
  • The Beekeeper's Lament, Nordhaus
  • Childhood's End, Clarke--sf
  • Finding Abbey, Prentiss
  • Partial--Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle
  • Partial--Cimarron Crucible, Fretwell-f
  • Partial--Across the Cimarron, Wilson-f 
  • Partial--Broken Open, Lesser
  • Partial--The Western Cattle Trail, Krasingers


New Year's Eve spirits

Trying to blog about the books read this year...thankful for Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite on vinyl to provoke the spirits.

Icon of Oklahoma's years

As 2016 ends, another January, and semester,  is about to begin around an Oklahoma icon, now 124 years old.
Classes began in Old North at Territorial Normal School in January, 1893, in Edmond, Oklahoma Territory. Construction began in summer 1892. The school was founded in December, 1890, and first classes began in November, 1891. 
It's the oldest public institution of higher ed in Oklahoma, and Old North is the oldest building still standing from the Territorial Legislature. In 1971 it was added to  the National Register of Historic Places. Thousands of teachers and other grads are alums. If you tell someone you work there, they either attended, or know someone who did.
The college--now University of Central Oklahoma--has had many names as it has grown and changed, and most people just call it "Central."
The building has been vacant for safety reasons for years, though opening is scheduled soon. It's taken many more years, and dollars to renovate and restore her than the actual construction did. 
I had classes inside as an undergraduate long ago, and the clock tower has been a part of my almost daily view and life for more than a quarter century now. Old North faces west, but I my building is east of her, so I've watched the seasons change with the morning sun on her east face.
My watercolor card was inspired by the winter scene from 100 years ago. Black and white photos from the UCO archives. Others are mine.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Sanctuary from time

El Santuario de Chimayó -- 9 by 12 watercolor
Time seems to stand still in certain places. For me, one of those is El Santuario de Chimayó on the high road to Taos in New Mexico.
While the church turned 200 this year, visiting it is like going back in time, to medieval faith and thought. 
The shrine, a National Historic Landmark, is famous as a pilgrimage site and its miraculous healing dirt, referred to as the "Lourdes of the Southwest." More than 300,000 visit it every year, many as just tourists, but most as Catholics professing faith and seeking healing.
About  30,000 people from all over the world make pilgrimages during Holy Week. Walking is traditional. The highway shoulders are crammed with people during those days. 

 Why? Step inside the church and you enter a different world of 16th Century faith--you are breathing time standing still. The side room contains a small room where a round pit holds the "holy dirt"--tierra bendita. People rub it on themselves or take it with them (Yes, I have some). The dirt is blessed by priests and  replenished daily.
What is impressive are the walls crowded with discarded crutches, crosses, photographs and other testimonials from those healed.
Legend says that during a holy week in the early 1800s, a friar saw a light shining from the hillside and dug the crucifix up with his bare hands. A priest took it to the Santa Cruz church, but the crucifix mysteriously returned to the spot where it was found. After the third time this happened, a chapel was built to house the crucifix, and then in 1816, the present church.
Built of adobe, it is 60 feet long and 24 feet wide with walls more than three feet thick. The present caps on the tower and metal roof were added in the 1920s. 
Inside you find hand carved doors by 19th century carpenter Pedrom Dominguez. The nave containes a six-foot tall crucifix by the santero Molleno, 1800-1850, representing Christ of Esquipulas.
Much has been written about the shrine and it is often painted and photographed, and change outside is coming rapidly. It even has a web page, and parking areas and other fancy touristy stuff are being added close by.
But for me, whether you believe in the legends or miracles or not, it is a place where time stands still. Today's watercolor hopes to catch that spirit.   

The early Santuario.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tree rings--El Alamo Viejo

El Alamo Viejo, Santa Fe, 11 by 14 watercolor
 My favorite tree, an old twisted cottonwood at the corner of Alameda and Paseo del Peralta on the banks of the Santa Fe "river" in Santa Fe, has put on another ring this year, a record of its growth and the weather.
As another year comes to an end,  the tree reminds me of the values of age, and of life, of being different.
The older it grows, the more interesting, more substantial, more important. 
Its weathered, rugged trunk and twisted limbs bespeak its character. Deep roots thrive in an arid land on the nearby  often scarce water.
Santa Fe tree, 11 by 14 watercolor
It endures, ignored by throngs of hurried travelers driving by every day, who think it's just another tree, unaware of the stories it has  lived. I don't know how old it is but I expect it is older than anyone now living.
I guess that's why it's my favorite tree, because it reminds me of aging humans.  We, with shorter life spans, also become more interesting, develop more character, have lived more stories and become more substantial as the years go by.
Tree rings. Thus it is that I've tried to paint it many times.
A previous article, photo and paintings: El Alamo Viejo

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"Hating" hate mail--questions and guidelines

  • Why are they so angry?
  • Why are they so unhappy?
  • Why do they hate?
  • Why can't they abide different opinions?
  • Why can't they respond in a civil manner?
  • Why can't they respond without profanity? Without using trite labels devoid of thought? 
  • Have they ever read Jesus' words about love and judgment and kindness?
  • Didn't their mothers teach them any manners?
These are some of the questions that ran through my mind after being subjected to "hate mail" this week.

A better question--How do you respond?

National news about Enid
My comments in the New York Times article about the negative reaction to the Enid News & Eagle's endorsement of Clinton have drawn a deluge of  positive comments on "social" media.
That's because I posted the article and bragged about being quoted, proud of contributing to recognition of the importance of community journalism. 
Here's the link to the story online: Oklahoma newspaper
Then there were a few very angry comments in twitter and Facebook, throwing labels and judgments about me, the newspaper, media, and professors.
One I immediately blocked, and reported for abuse--not even responding.
Another, I wrote some facts, no opinions, in response to some of the inaccurate statements, and then blocked the person.
I'm proud of myself for not responding in my usual snarky, sarcastic style.
I wasn't exactly surprised at negative reactions, except for their vitriol. I was afraid someone would take my comments as critical of Enid. I would have apologized for that, because Enid is a great community. In the context of the article however, I meant all small towns and their newspapers.
Those comments came from  my personal journalism experience and more than 30 years working with community journalists.
So how should I have responded?
Perhaps I should have responded with "Thank you for your opinion. Have a great day."
That, or any other comment, would have provoked more negative comments.
I also slept on the situation, before acting, and slept again, before writing this.
Here are some of the thoughts I had on how to react to "hate mail."
The comment from one of my twitter for media class speakers, and I'm not sure which one, was one of my first thoughts, "You don't have to join every fight you're invited to."
Then I thought about Jill Castilla, the dynamo leader of Citizens Bank in Edmond, who just spoke to my students last week. She's used social media to rebuild that bank into a national model, and her methods ooze positivity: "Elevate where you're at," she says. Her social media framework is "GAP--Genuine, Authentic, Positive."
Another teacher of mine also had advice:
  •  "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."  Matt. 5:39.
  •  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
  • "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." Matt 5. 
So the best response to hate mail, is no response. Don't feed the fire. I don't want nor need more negativity in my life, and I'm not going to change anyone with those attitudes. They are not worth my time or words or mental health.
More than the actual personal attacks, two issues really bother me. The first is the hate-mongers' virtual ignorance about American government and the roles of the news media (That's a separate story).
Underlying it all  is the absolute disregard for civility and respect for others' opinions in today's America.
My former student from OSU, Roy Lee Lindsey from Cordell who now leads the Oklahoma Pork Council put it best: "This story is about everything that is wrong with our society today. When I refuse to do business with someone or stop talking to someone just because they have a difference of opinion than I do, I limit my ability to learn. Exposure to differing opinions and ideas is how we challenge ourselves and grow."

My mother taught me manners--be polite, don't criticize people, be respectful. The people we looked up to, including our country's leaders, were those kind of people.
My mother would take a bar of soap and wash out the mouths of  people who spout hate mail, including our so-called leaders.

But then, I thought of the words of Jesus again, which explains all the actions of the hatemongers, which is another reason to just turn away and not join them:
"But the words you speak come from the heart--that's what defiles you." Matt. 15:18.

P.S. Another note--my attackers are so blinded by anger and hate that they missed the point, taking it as a political comment. It is only perspective about what it takes to be a courageous newspaper in a small city. I would have said the same thing if the politics and situation had been reversed.
Here were my words that sparked all of this, accurately reported by Manny Fernandez, Houston bureau chief of The New York Times: 
  • "There used to be a saying that the editorial page was the soul of a newspaper, and if that’s the case, we’ve got a lot of weak-souled newspapers in the country because they’re afraid to offend anybody,” said Terry M. Clark, the director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and a professor of journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. “This is an excellent example of the way American journalism ought to be — standing for something — and, man, it takes guts to do that in Enid, Okla.” 
I'm very aware that many other people have been subjected to, been more than upset, and survived  a lot more "hate mail" in this past year than I. My experience is minuscule. The perspective, as with the article, is the point.

Years and memories lost

Memories lost, computer digitally altered painting
Travel the back roads in rural Oklahoma, or anywhere for that matter, and you find relics, memories and lives long gone as the years past.
Just as this year is passing, there will be relics, and memories lost.
This is the third version of this image. The first was a black and white photograph on Tri-X film on a wintry day in Jefferson County, Oklahoma, north west of Waurika, long ago.
The second is below, an 11 by 13 watercolor, on 300# d'Arches paper.
Versions are like the memories and years...always changing, and sometimes lost, but still brief records of a few instants.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"All aboard" for the journeys

All aboard, 5 by 7 card
Trains have captivated me since I was a little boy. This card, from a previous year for dear friends who are also train loves, captures my desire to go.
The composition isn't original, but based on my Dad's drawing and scratchboard that became our Christmas card almost 60 years ago. 
I was a little boy with Dad when we visited the turntable at Fort Worth long ago, when he did the original drawing (it wasn't winter), and still have it, along with the winter scene (scratchboard is when the artist covers a white board with black and "scratches" out the image--I can't imagine the talent and patience that takes).
I've written about it before on this blog. See the story from last year, also titled "Journeys", the same as today before I even looked back to find it. 
Apparently I'm not the only one who loves trains, because every time I put "All aboard" in a headline, my page hits go way up--notice the list of favorite posts in the sidebar.
The mystery of heading out, traveling, journeying must be the allure of trains.
Fort Worth turntable, 11 by 13  scratchboard, Terrence Miller Clark
Framed, on our wall

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dreams of Scotland

Dreams of Scotland, 9 by 12 watercolor, 140# Fabriano
Inspiration--Yesterday's unsettled skies, and following Scottish sites on Instagram.
Our brief time time in Scotland two summers ago captivated me...the wild, picturesque landscapes, the wonderful people, proud history and language, and powerful whisky.

Journeys resume

Journeys, 5 by 7 watercolor
Every day, every year, is a journey. This card was by request two years ago for two very special friends in Santa Fe.
After pausing for Christmas, we head out again, down paths we know not what nor where.
It's taken me too long to realize that life is about  journey, not the destination.
To me,  "journey" is a verb--that way destination does not loom so large.
I don't want to "arrive," but to live each step.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas day - simplicity

Simplicity incarnate, 4 by 6 watercolor
There wasn't any thing fancy about him. He was a simple man.
No wonder his simple teachings echoed with so many people, tired and burdened from organized religion's ornate rules and judgements and liturgies.
Born ordinary. Raised simply. Worked with his hands. Taught with thoughts and words forged by simple people living uncomplicated lives.
The power and passion of straightforward common sense for common people. Love. Forgive. Be  kind. Be humble. Be thankful. Be generous. Don't judge. Care.  Remember me.
Simple words from simplicity incarnate--remember him this over-hyped, over-organized, over-hectic day?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas eve thoughts--far away

Far away thoughts, Christmas eve -  5 by 7 watercolor
On Christmas eve,  my children are scattered far away and happy.
I'm fortunate to have today's technology to bridge the distances.
Today's watercolor brings warmth and comfort to all who are far away.
Merry Christmas.

Christmas eve--night of hope

Night of hope--5 by 7 watercolor
Christmas eve.
Even the words hold magic.
Magic of memories, 
of loves and losses, 
of hopes and fears, 
of living and dying, 
of years and miles
of past and future.
A night of hope
for more
than the morrow.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Santa Fe Memories - watercolor

El Palacio do Los Gubanadores, La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis, Nuevo Mexico--9 x 12 watercolor, 140 # Fabriano
On days like this I dream of Santa Fe, where I've made many memories in the past 15 years, visiting and caring for my Uncle Mike, meeting new friends, and visiting  time and again.
I am always drawn to four icons of this oldest capital city in what is now the United States--the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis, La Fonda Hotel where my Dad drew portraits to make a living in the Depression, the National Cemetery where Mike is now buried five years, and of course, the Palace of the Governors, on the Plaza, at the end of the Santa Fe Trail.
I don't go as a tourist, but as an observer, a pilgrim almost. During the day, I walk the wide "portales" where the Indians of many tribes and pueblos are selling their wares to tourists.
But I especially like to go back after night fall, when the crowds are gone. And if you go after a snowfall, as I have on several occasions, there is the magic of the silence of more than four centuries.
Thus today's watercolor, and some of the photographs that helped inspire it.
Santa Fe-- "The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi" --memories and dreams.

Two days til Christmas - Starlight

Starlight, 5 by 7 watercolor
Two days til Christmas.
The light of stars
on snow and adobe.
Cold outside, warm inside.
Spirit of the season
Sharing life's blessings
with those who are cold.
Is there room in the inn? 
"Mi casa es su casa"

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Three days til Christmas - light in darkness

Light in darkness, 5 by 7 watercolor
Three days til Christmas.
The day after solstice, a few seconds more light as winter officially arrives, but holding the promise of warmth and life.
Light becomes more precious as darkness descends--on a room, a nation, a world, a life. When a living creature dies, the light goes out of their eyes--as it does with a nation, a world.
Light--the  hope of life amid death and despair and destruction.
That's why humans have always wondered and worshipped stars, and the moon, and the rising sun.
Would that all those who worship at Christmas would bring light into this darkening world.
Was that not his wish--the man whose birthday is celebrated in three days--trying to bring peace, and mercy, and forgiveness--not the darkness of division and judgment and violence and hatred?

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Four days til Christmas--solstice thoughts

Open Gate - 5 by 7 watercolor, digitally enhanced
Four days til Christmas - Winter solstice began at 4:44 this morning--when this article was posted, the shortest day of the year.
An open gate, between the past and the future, as was and is Christmas.
The steps in the past are fading. Those in the future are indistinct.
We let those fading steps slow us down.
The unknown future brings worry and hesitation.
We should just put our hand on the gate of the present, and walk through, in present tense.
Shouldn't Christmas be about present tense?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Five days til Christmas - born of earth

Born of earth - 5 by 7 watercolor
Five days til Christmas
The hustle of Christmas season invades the places of peace this season, as churches around the world prepare.
I love the adobe missions and churches in northern New Mexico, many of them centuries old, rising from the mother earth, beacons of strength and eternity in a feeble and often cruel world.
There's a silent serenity, an agelessness, a comfort in their thick walls, in their solid timbers. The nearby graves in their campos santos  remind all who enter, born of earth...
Life is brief...is that not a message of Christmas?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Six days til Christmas - homestead

Homestead, watercolor
Six days til Christmas - "I'll be home for Christmas."
Homestead--where you grew up? Where you returned to, or yearn to? Where you remember?
Urban folks don't much use this word, but it's common in rural areas, for good reasons, especially in Oklahoma
In Old English, before 1000 A.D., it was  "hamstede"-- "home, town, village," from home and stead (locality). In the English colonies in the 1690s, it was "a lot of land adequate for the maintenance of a family. The  1862 Homestead Act, designed to help white Americans push further west, defined a homestead as 160 acres. The verb was first recorded in 1872.
Don't you imagine Jesus had a homestead in Nazareth, a poor little rural village?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Coincidence of "Journeys"

On a whim, I looked back one year today on the blog, and found a coincidence that confirms today's watercolor title, "Journeys."
Here's what I posted then then...indeed a journey of years, and more.

Journeys, 2015

Seven days til Christmas - journeys

Journeys - 5 by 7 watercolor
Seven days til Christmas
Journeys ...
In memories
In miles
In years
In people

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Eight days til Christmas - Winter's coat

Winter's coat - 5 by 7 watercolor
Eight days to Christmas - winter sets in, coating the world in cold.
The stars too are cold, against a brittle sky.
Silence. Stillness. Memories.
Time to slow down, to consider the stars, the cold, the season.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Nine days til Christmas-gateway

Invitations--5 by 7 watercolor
Nine days til Christmas.
Gates can be barriers or invitations, depending on the owners, on the fences.
Christmas seems to be a gateway that is never locked, is always open and inviting, promising relief and shelter and homecoming, and life..
Shouldn't the followers of the man born on that day also be inviting gateways?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Ten days to Christmas - "called out"?

"Called out" of the cold--5 by 7 watercolor
Ten days to Christmas - season of the "called out."
In a season of "going to church," we forget the meaning of the word makes that impossible.
"Church" is wrongly translated from the Greek word word meaning "called out," ekklesia  (ἐκκλησία), and Jesus used it only three times. Greeks used the word to refer to an assembly of citizens, called forth, from "ek" meaning "out of" and "klesis" meaning "a calling."  
In Matthew 16:18 the proper translation should be "I will build my "assembly" not "church," and other teachings in the New Testament make it clear that the "assembly" is Christ's mystical body. (See Christ's ekklesia and church compared.)
How much better would this world, and this season be, if people thought of themselves as the living church, the actual body,  of Jesus, rather than  a place to go remember him as someone born long ago.
Would that affect behavior, and the way we treat our fellow humans --knowing that all followers of him are actually part of him, are "church"? Would that end division and hatred and judgment between all the groups that gather "in church"?
"Called out" of the cold, out of the material world, into the warmth, into a life of putting his teachings into practice in our own lives and in how we treat others--isn't that what "Christ" mass is supposed to be about? Not "church."
You can't "go to church"--you "are church."

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

11 days til Christmas...lonesome country. And you?

Lonesome country, 5 by 7 watercolor
Eleven days til Christmas.
'Tis a lonesome country season also... for those far away, or isolated in solitude out on the Great Plains, or crammed into crowded cave dwellings we call urban apartments.
Hopes and fears through the years...memories of those before.
And being aware of being alone...yet connected by memories and those before.
Maybe that's why a star shines so brightly--we are not alone.
Who do you know who is lonely, who is lonesome?
What are you going to do about it?
What is "Christ"mas about, if not you? 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

12 days til Christmas - viewing eternity

Viewing eternity, 5 by 7 watercolor
12 days til Christmas...a star appears.
Humans have always followed the stars, those mysterious, far away beacons of mystery, and eternity, signals to us here below, guides to navigation, symbols of ways of living and character, even today.
Science explains the star of Jesus' birth as a super nova, an exploding star. Faith says it was God-made. I'm not sure there is a difference.
I know that when you look at stars, you are looking back in time millions of years...the years it took that light to reach here from lights years across the universe.
And the light a super nova, once exploded, would last for days and nights as something extra bright long enough for travelers to "follow."
 Rock art in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico records a  super nova from about 1054...it lasted long enough, and in the day, for those mortals to chip it as a petroglyph into sandstone.
For fellow travelers, we short-lived mortals, viewing stars is viewing eternity in comparison to our lives.
Stars beckon for many reasons. Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2016

13 days till Christmas--the call of mountains

Mountains call, 5 by 7 watercolor
13 days till Christmas--The high places of earth
 rise above the ordinary, and call, deep within.
Once you've been there, lived there, they abide.
People who've been to the mountains
reflect their separateness in their lives.
Even when they descend to the ordinary
you can tell their spirits come from elsewhere.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

14 days til Christmas - sunrise, sunset

Toward a new year, 5 by 7 watercolor
14 days to Christmas, as the current year nears end, and a new one approaches.
Sunrise, sunset--which, or both?
Just as water flowing down a mountainside in a creek...
Each day is a gate along a path, a lane, from somewhere to someplace as yet undetermined.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

15 days til Christmas - light becomes a treasure

Awaiting light, 5 by 7 watercolor
15 days til Cshristmas--the days get shorter, the darkness and cold gets deeper.
Light becomes more valuable as darness decends, a needed treasure--anticipating the dawn and the warmth of the sun, and of the fire and light in a warm home.

Friday, December 9, 2016

16 days til Christmas--reflections

Reflections--5 by 7 watercolor
16 days til Christmas--a time for reflections, on what happened before.
Little things that stick in your mind over the years, a First Grade teacher's name, a postman, a saying, a special gift...the memories of certain journeys, of those who have gone on before us, but are still part of who we are.
The reflections are brilliant, and brighten the short days and long nights.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

17 days til Christmas--traveling a long way off

A long way off, 5 by 7 watercolor
17 days til Christmas--a season of traveling a long way off, as it was that first Christmas long ago.
We're used to traveling long distances these days, usually at high speed, either in the air or by car, to get "home" or to relatives for brief reunions, and then scurrying back to work or other obligations.
The holidays have become almost anything but holidays, with complicated plans, scheduling and the actual travel--lots of stress, all for a few hours of days of getting together to supposedly rest.
Of course it's worth it, and we're fortunate to be able to cover those distances.
But there was a time when it was not so. Anyone who has lived on the Great Plains knows that.
There's a reference in the Bible, in the parable of the prodigal son, that speaks of those times.
Remember when Jesus says the father saw him, while he was still "a long way off"?
That doesn't happen these days. In spite of the distances, we arrive almost instantly.
I remember as a little boy in Fort Worth watching for a bus to drop my Dad off from work several blocks away. I would see him when he was a long way off, walking toward the house.
Years later, I remember when my first born was coming home for Christmas from college that first year, watching out the window for his car to turn the corner several blocks away.
The anticipation and joy has to come close to what the prodigal's father felt...he too had been hoping, watching, praying for safety.
Yes, in this season, there is anticipation of loved ones arriving, or going to visit from a long way off, people we've not seen in a while as families grow and spread out. 
But what a pleasure to see someone at a distance, like people in a car, or on horseback, or on foot, coming up a country lane.