"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.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Journeys of an aging, changing blog(ger)

This is the ninth December for this blog, started in May, 2009, and it has changed over the years, as has the writer, and perhaps more so this year.
What started off as a text-heavy journal the first year, modeled on a newspaper personal column  seems to have evolved, as has the blogger. This is only the 136th post this year, ranking it in the lower half of those years. It was almost comatose in 2016, and what has saved it this year has been watercolor. 
July paintings tuckered out me, Sophie and Snoops
Daily paintings in July and this month boosted the total.
I'm not so concerned about quantity, but know most blogs dry up and don't last this long because they cease to have quality content consistently. and it's not a niche blog, that makes money, so that makes it more difficult to have a voice, a reason to even sit down and compose.
What also saved it through  the years was creating and teaching a semester-by-semester blogging course at UCO, which was motivation--you have to do what you teach. But with retirement, that has also changed, as has my urge to write--writing well and blogging well takes time and commitment, and focus. 
It has been a year of looking back, and exploring the future. The blog will change even more in 2018, if it survives, as retirement sets in. But there are more stories to tell, more paintings  to go with them.
Favorite, or best  posts of the year? 
  • November, and September--farewells to newspaper friends Ray Lokey, Steve Booher, respectively.
  • June--Riding in the classic aircraft, Ford Tri-motor, 3 parts
  • May--Mother's Day, 3 parts; last graduation, 2 parts
  • April--My retirement reception, 7 parts
  • February--Why do you teach? 2 parts
  • January--Retirement clock
  • December and July--31 daily watercolors.
There have been  about 254,000 page views, up 20,000 from a year ago, from at least 150 countries around the world. Some of this mystifies me, that readers so far away would click on a personal, non-political, non-religious blog. But I wish I knew who, because there are so many stories to tell.
Countries with the most all-time readers:
United States-- 146,300+
Number of posts of the years:
2017--136--December, 36
2016--137--December, 39
2015 --136--December 26
2014--246--December, 33
2013--203--December 2
2012--2013--December, 15
2010--292, December, 9
2009--339, December 47
Here are the 150 countries with readers.
Actually there might be more, but I lost track of checking it every day this year. This is the list from last year:
  • Africa--Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Togo, Ghana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, Gabon, South Africa, Mali, Mauritus, Mauritania, Cameroonx, Zambia, Mozambique, South Sudan, Senegal, Benin, Angola, Botswana,  --26
  • Asia--Russia, China, Taiwan, Cambodia, S Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Kazahkstan, Azerbaijan, Japan, Mongolia, Armenia, Georgia,  Nepal, Uzbekistan, Macau, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Burma (Myamar), -26
  • Caribbean--Caymans,  Sint Maartin, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, Anguilla, Netherlands Antilles,  St. Kitts and Nevis, Bermuda-11
  • Central America--Panama, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador-5
  • Europe--UKx, Isle of Man, Francex, Spainx, Germanyx, Italyx, Switzerlandx, Monaco, Czech Republicx, Polandx, Croatia, Greecex, Macedonia, Netherlandsx, Icelandx, Norwayx, Swedenx, Denmarkx, Finlandx, Latviax, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukrainex, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Austria, Sloveniax, Belgium, Irelandx,  Bulgariax, Turkey, Portugal, Luxemborg, Slovakiax, Albania,Slovenia, Leichtenstein, Montenegro-42
  • Indian Ocean--Maldives, Seychelles-2
  • Mediterranean--Maltax, Cyprus,-2
  • MidEast--Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, UAE, Kuwait,Qatar, Bahrain, Palestine, Lebanon, Oman, Yemen-, Syria-14
  • North America--US, Canada, Mexico-3
  • Oceana--Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Indonesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Fiji-7
  • South America--Colombia, Peru, Chili, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Bolivia, Paraguay-12
(Ignore the little x at the end of some--those are countries I wrote about. And the Flag Counter on the sidebar is not accurate because I started it long after I started counting countries)

December journey

"Journey of Souls,"  4 by 4 acrylic on canvas
December ends, again, the end of a journey, or a beginning, like every second, minute, hour, day, month, year. Mortality, immortality.
The earth is not the center of the universe, and neither are we. Atoms in constant flux in the cosmos, where nothing is permanent, in spite of our feeble efforts to make them seem so. Would we not be better off, if we took each step of our journeys like that?

Thomas Merton:
  • "Contemplation is the loving sense of this life, this presence and this eternity."
  •  "To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell."
  • "Love is the door to eternity."

Today's little 4 by 4 acrylic on canvas was done for a Paseo Arts District silent auction earlier this month.
(Day 31 of December paintings)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

December Solitude--Cabin Fever

"Cabin Fever," 5 by 7 watercolor card
"Cabin Fever" can set in on days like this, cold and bitter, when you're forced to be alone with your self, even if other people are around. "Cooped Up" is another such term.
The hassle and hurry and crowds of the holidays finally fade in late December. Reactions include solitude, being alone, loneliness, but they are no synonyms, no matter how many people are around. 
You want to escape four walls closing in, but that can also be metaphorical. Crowds can make you lonely, lost almost. 
There is a hunger for solitude, physical, or differently, mental and spiritual. Many seek to withdraw and just be alone as an antidote for the busyness and noise.  I follow "Cabin Life" on Instagram, about someone who lives off the grid in Alaska. He's not a hermit, but lives a purer life than I could take all the time.
Still I yearn for a perhaps mythical cabin where I could find solitude from the world and crowds of people and traffic and commercialism. Not all people, but just the chance to slow down. I really think that what this world needs is to slow down and be rather than do. That's what the world needs--time to slow down so people can think rather than react.
My cabin would be perfect for that.  My "cabin fever" is of a different kind.
 "Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it," Thomas Merton
(Day 30 of 31 December paintings.)

Friday, December 29, 2017

December Deliberations

"Southwest Memories," 5 by 7 watercolor card
The Southwest is deliberate--dry air, far horizons, immense skies, high altitudes, intense light...thus the landscapes are sharp-edged, the colors saturated. No wonder the country gets inside of you and lingers. 
As the year ends, while some memories of people and places and events fade into the humidity of cluttered life and time, more are as deliberate and vivid as New Mexico.
The silhouette of the Sandias at sunset, just south of Santa Fe, from a recent visit with friends Zina and Lori, captures that experienced landscape and memories.
"Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul." --Thomas Merton
(Done earlier this year--Day 29 of 31 December paintings.)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

December Determinations

"Cabin Time," 5 by 7 watercolor card
'Tis the time of year to take stock, to review and preview, to sit in solitude and silence and have time to think.
Determination--Finding peace amidst all the noise--retreating from the world's chaos so you can just be, not do, for fortitude and direction for whatever lies beyond the next daybreak, the next month and year. 
"Cabin Time," is where I see such a refuge.
"We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and imagination left for being." --Thomas Merton, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander, 1966.
(Day 28 of 31 December paintings.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Turning the pages of 2017--Books I've read

Who am I? Books tell lots of stories. Here's what I've read since late August--11 complete, four others in various stages.
      Total completed this year--30. Partial, and probably unfinished, 8. Four current at the bottom will be completed.


  • Draft No. 4, John McPhee, fav author, stories about his writing
  • Falcon, Helen Macdonald, the story of falcons throughout history
  • River of Traps, William deBuys & Alex Harris, story and photos of a New Mexico mountain life
  • Valles Caldera, William deBuys & Don J. Usher, story & photos of New Mexico's national preserve 
  • Pure  Quill, Photographs of Barbara Van Cleve and her story, Susan Hallsten McGarry, western horse woman
  • Becoming A Warrior, Moose Tyler, my friend and UCO colleague
  • The Western Star, Craig Johnson, Longmire
  • The Bridge Troll Murders, Shelton Russell, Oklahoma author and Oklahoma train setting
  • The Pocket Thomas Merton, insightful Catholic monk
  • The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
Reading Now
  • Texas Blood, Roger D. Hodge, seven generations in the borderlands
  • Death in the Sahara, Michael Asher, Timbuktu railway expedition massacre
  • Enchantment and Exploitation, William deBuys, story of New Mexico's Sangre de Cristos mountains
  • A Moveable Feast, (Rereading) Hemingway
Partial--English Grammar and Composition, John Warringer, high school senior English text

Here's the link to my first eight months' reading:

December--Sunset, Sunrise, Barn Again

Sunset, Sunrise, 5 by 7 watercolor card
Another trip around the sun...every day marks the end and beginning of that journey, no matter what the human calendar says.
But as December wanes and the month named for the two- faced Roman god Janus nears, we seem more aware of endings and beginnings.
I've painted versions of this aging barn many times this year, and I'm not sure what is the attraction, except maybe a fascination with the passing of time. Yesterday's and today's are the most recent, reminding me of the journeys we all travel as the earth makes its journey.
Six months ago, July's daily watercolor challenge included eight more versions, including the seasons, beginning July 6.
Oklahoma Sunrise, 5 by 7, July 6
Here are the links on my blog to each of those: "Oklahoma Sunset," "Oklahoma Winter," "Oklahoma Springtime," "Oklahoma Moonrise,"  "Oklahoma Dust  Bowl," "Green Leaves of Oklahoma," "Oklahoma Autumn."

(Day 27 of 31 December paintings)
"People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall."--Thomas Merton

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


December metaphor, 5 by 7 watercolor card
Old barns fade as they fall into disuse, like novas that appear and then their light dims after original brilliance. Like December, like years, like lives and experiences. Metaphors for every day.
"Enjoy every day you live, Terry," said my Uncle Mike, shortly before his death.
"Let us come alive to the splendor that is all around us, and see the beauty in ordinary things."--Thomas Merton
(Day 26 of December watercolors)

Monday, December 25, 2017

December miracle--Christmas Day

Nativity,  6" by 9", 140 lb. paper

Alone,   5" by 7 1/2, 300 lb. d'Arches paper

Dawn of life, 5" by 8" 140 lb. paper
All births are miracles.
You learn that when you witness the birth of one of your children. It's common practice today, and was long ago, but not for many years. So it was when my children were born, but the doctor insisted I be in the delivery room for our first born. A miracle of new life.
I have often wondered what the father of Jesus experienced when he helped deliver his first born. 
He and his wife were far from home, and had no hospital, no midwives, no family or friends, no place to stay. Imagine the anxiety, the  uncertainty, the fear of a mother, a father, in such circumstances. How long was the labor? What did they do for sanitation?
People then, and in what we condescendingly  consider "primitive" cultures are tougher, closer to life and death,  that those of us in sanitized societies. But still, what were the emotions, the actions, to be alone at the most important time of parents' lives? Miracles.
I've painted the "nativity" for several years, and these are three of them, including the dawn of the new day.
(Day 25 of December watercolors.)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

December Stars--Christmas Eve

"Christmas Eve," 8" by 10" watercolor, 140 lb. d'Arches cold pressed paper
Christmas eve--in the remote villages of the Southwest, Catholic mass at the adobe churches brings physical and spiritual warmth in a cold world.
December means light and hope for those of faith, peace that passes understanding in spite of poverty, and crime and war in a world devoid of peace.
(Day 24 of 31 December paintings)
Blue palette--Ultamarine, Cobalt, Phalo.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

December Stars--Gates to peace, 2 days til Christmas

"Anticipation," 5 by 7 watercolor card
Anticipation rises when you approach a gate, the road or path beckoning to the other side. 
Christmas nears, and much of the world anticipates a day of peace, respite from the babble and hassle of the god of commercialism. It too is a promise, or at least a hope,  of peace amid a world of unending war and violence and hatred and cruelty and pollution among humans.
Not much has changed since a "Prince of Peace" was born more than 2,000 years ago, and why should we expect it to have? 
He didn't preach and teach because the world was wonderful. He did so because we will always need a different kind of peace as an antidote to our daily, uncertain lives and world.
 "I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." --John 16:33
So said the man who would be crucified because he dared to confront the falsehoods of organized religion and  rampant materialism, lies that bring no peace.
Anticipation of life beyond the gate.
(Day 23 of 31 December watercolors)
 "I have learned that an age in which politicians talk about peace is an age in which everybody expects war: the great men of the earth would not talk of peace so much if they did not secretly believe it possible, with one more war, to annihilate their enemies forever. Always, 'after just one more war' it will dawn, the new era of love: but first everybody who is hated must be eliminated." --Thomas Merton, Collected poems, 1977.
"The sin of religiosity is that it has turned God, peace, happiness, salvation and all that man desires into products to be marketed in an especially attractive package deal." --Merton, Faith and Violence, 1968

Friday, December 22, 2017

December Stars--Barn season, 3 days til Christmas

Season of Barns, 5 by 7 watercolor card
Barns loom large in history and imagination, and in images and variations. They're iconic of rural life and agriculture.
The word "barn" is old, and in Old English (450-950 A.D.)  was "a covered building for the storage of farm produce,"  "bereƦrn" literally  "barley house," because that was a primary grain crop--from "bere" and "aern," house. Eventually it changed with Old Norse and Gothic  influence to the Old English word "rest," meaning a resting place. (From Online Etymology) 

Obviously through the years, the functions and forms of barns changed to meet the needs of the users.
I don't know that Jesus was born in a barn. The only hint is he was laid in a manger, a trough for feeding livestock, which may have been inside a barn. It may have been a crude stable, but to me, that's still a barn. When I see a barn, in the back of my mind, I am aware that greatness comes from humble beginnings.
"And she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn," Luke 2:7.

(Day 22 of 31 December watercolors)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

December Solstice Star--4 days til Christmas

Chaco Solstice,5 by 7 watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
A thousand years ago, the ancient ones were measuring the stars and heavens in northwest New Mexico at Chaco Canyon. 
At solstice and equinox, I always think of them, of their remarkable achievements. 
The Chaco nova
They recorded the super nova of 1054. We know because of a pictograph that has survived these centuries. And much more measuring the movements of the  sun and moon with a stone calendar atop Fajada Butte.
The shortest day, the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. I've camped at Chaco on spring equinox, in the high desert, and experienced its magic.
A place of power still calls. It inspired this painting.
(Day 21 of 31 December watercolors)
Palette--Ultamarine blue, Phalo blue, cobalt blue, a touch of Prussian blue.
My photo from a few years ago.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December Stars--Living Water, 5 days till Christmas

"Living water," 5 by 7 watercolor card
 Find it, you can find life. That's the premise as we search distant planets here and around even more distant stars for life other than on earth. No water, no life.
The sound of running water, a creek, a river, draws us, not just our physical attention, but deep inside, linking us to the stars, eternity.
When you grow up in the West, you don't take water for granted as you might in other well-watered, humid places. You know water is life. It and its opposite, deserts, are metaphors for our lives, physical and spiritual.
In a sense, all water is "living water."
One Buddhist wrote: "Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water."
Three of the world's major religions are religions of the desert, where water was sacred--Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Islam teaches that Allah created all things using water: "We made from water every living thing. "(Qur’an 21:30).
So does Judaism: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:2) (Interesting original thought for me just now--water existed before Creation?) 
Jesus preached living water, for travelers in a dry land:.  
"Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." (John 4:14)
This puts Christian baptism, an Catholic "holy water," in a new context.
No wonder Mohammad, Moses and Jesus saw water as purifying. 
Purifying. Isn't that what "Christmas" is supposed to be about?
"The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning,we cannot begin to see."--Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander," 1966.

(Day 20 of 31 December watercolors)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December Stars--6 days till Christmas

Mountain Stars, 5 by 7 watercolor card
Mountains call...places of power, where the air is thinner and clearer, where stars are so bright it can seem like day.
It's no accident that many world religions consider specific mountains as sacred. They can be places of solitude, of individual focus, of retreat and rejuvenation, of spiritual preparation for ordeals.

Psalms 121:1--"A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from?"

The Quran, 16:15--"And He has set firm mountains in the earth so that it would not shake with you."

A favorite song: 
"Go tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

"Go tell it on the mountain—
Yeah, Lord—
Over the hills and everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

When I was—when I was a seeker,
I sought the Lord both night and day.
I asked the Lord to help me,
And he showed me—showed me the way."

From Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, writing in The Seven Storey Mountain: " Solitude is not something you must look for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present, you will never find it."

(Day 19 of 31 December watercolors)

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time." --Thomas Merton

Monday, December 18, 2017

Stormy palette

Blue Mountains Storm, 9 by 12 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico
Blue palette--Ultamarine, Prussian, Antwerp, Cerelian

December stars - 7 days 'till Christmas

"December Stars," 5 by 7 watercolor card
Stars--eternity to us mortals. 
When we see stars we are looking back in time, to millions of years for that light to reach us across the expanses of the universe.
A nova, an exploding star, dominates the night sky, causing wonder and worship through the ages, a sign of royalty and divinity,  of auspicious events.
Today, our scientific and materialistic cultures have robbed those stars and novas of their magic, of their power, of the myths and beliefs that gives them meaning, reducing them to being barely noticed in the light- and life-polluting urban world we live in.
But they still exist and have significance for those cultures who know the physical and magical of life are united. 
Life is a miracle. Stars should remind us every night, especially in December. 
(Day 18 of 31 December watercolors) 
 "I believe the reason for the inner confusion of Western man is that our technological society has no longer any place in it for wisdom that seeks truth for its own sake, that seeks the fullness of being, that seeks to rest in an intuition of the very ground of all being." --Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence, 1968, University of Notre Dame press

Sunday, December 17, 2017

December "Downs"

December Isolation, 5 by 7 watercolor card
Gloomy December days like this can bring "the downs," dropping moods like the temperatures--in contrast to the joy and "holidays" are supposed  to foster, now polluted with unending traffic and insignificant commercial hassle.
Then it is good to have coffee with a friend, explore a bookstore, play music, read, anything to fight off the isolation such weather seems to bring. 
Here's to a warm fire, a snug cabin, coffee, friends and loved ones, a cuddling cat or dog, music, a book, even a paintbrush or pen and a blank sheet of paper to help us find beauty, endure and survive.
(Day 17 of 31 December watercolors)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

December colors

:December Colors," 8" by 10" watercolor, d'Arches 140 lb. cold pressed paper
Three  blues--Ultamarine, Prussian and Thalo. Today's larger watercolor, comes from the earlier card. Matted in white and ready to frame. Yellow tint on mat from incandescent light.
(Day 16 of 31 December paintings)

December Departures - Old North

"Old North at UCO," 5 by 7 watercolor card
Graduation days are departures as well as beginnings, and this marks the first December in more than two decades that I won't be attending at UCO,  congratulating favorite students receiving their degrees. It's why we teach.
Retirement has been departure, and they so are students, beginning new phases of our lives, leaving behind the iconic Old North, oldest higher education building in Oklahoma, dating from 1893. 
For years I've painted snow scene watercolor cards for several friends on campus, but not this year. However I've photographed it a lot this year, watching its construction, and through the years. 
Old North was often the first thing I saw early in the morning as I arrived on campus, lit by the rising sun, or in the evening, silhouetted by the setting sun. Departures.
But  this year has been important for it as well. After sitting vacant since 2001 because it was unsafe, it reopened this fall, rebuilt inside, and added on to as well, the result of lot s of fundraising and committed administrative leadership. It is once again a showcase of the promise of education, including excellent art and photographs, the latest technology, and classrooms full of students. 
Anybody who has attended UCO in its various name changes through the years probably has stories to tell, because there are literally thousands of people who have had classes inside this former teacher's college--including me.
Here is last year's painting, and some photos I took walking around  campus in May, and some from earlier years. Departures.
(Day 16 of 31 December paintings)

Icon  of education

The new and old, and Chickasaw Plaza



Campus beauty

From UCO archives

From UCO archives

Friday, December 15, 2017

December Devotions

"December Devotion," 5 by 7 watercolor card
Month of devotion to many, December brings the faithful to worship. An icon to many is the mountain church of San Jose de Gracia, in the village of Las Trampas on the High Road to Taos in northern New Mexico.
Built of adobe and wood in the 1760s, it is an icon of devotion and simple Catholic faith. 
As its more than 260th Christ-mas approaches, the parishioners will gather, often trudging through snow, to candlelit mass inside the ancient walls, amid the campo santo surrounding it.
(Day 15 of 31 December watercolors)
My photograph from this October

Thursday, December 14, 2017

December Horizons

"December Horizons," 5 by 7 watercolor card
Mountains,  the high places on earth, always beckon, always grab attention, always call, but even more in December when they're capped with snow, or far away on the horizon. 
December is a high point in each year, beckoning with promise and memories, and also a horizon between years.
Mountains bring color, and warmth even in cold to our lives, breaking the monotony of everyday life and landscapes. 
No wonder that mountains figure so importantly in all the religions of the world, magnets for prophets and saints  and saviors to find themselves, and sacred symbols and sanctuaries forever after.
(Day 14 of 31 December watercolors)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December drama

"December Drama," 5 by 7 watercolor card
"Out here there's the sky," I say, describing the influences on my painting. 
December brings its own aerial drama to the Great Plains, different from the thunderheads and storms of spring and summer.
Whether is cold clear night air, or cloudy skies with a hint of snow, or dawn and sunset though, when light is at the extremes, moods reflect the beauty overhead.
While mountains are in my soul, I find myself attracted in art more and more to the color and drama
of those wide-open spaces and places underneath that vast sky.
(Day 13 of daily December watercolors)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December Nights

"December Nights," 5 by 7 watercolor card
Starlight on snow in clear, mountain air... December nights are cold and crisp, but the stars seem closer, and bright enough to illuminate memories and love,  quiet enough to inspire worship,  calm enough to awaken creation and songs.

"Silent night! holy night!
All is calm all is bright....

Glories stream from heaven afar"

(Day 12 of 31 December watercolors)