"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, May 27, 2017

Humidity hugging you and Distant thunder

Distant Thunder, 9 by 12 watercolor, 140# Fabriano Artistico
Summer on the southern Great Plains doesn't look at calendars. 
Today the humidity and temperature  soared, almost sticky, certainly sweaty, weather with bright sunshine. And in the afternoon, the clouds started building, and afar off you could hear the rumbling of thunder as the horizons turned hazy, and gray blotched the blue skies.
You  feel the humidity hugging you, the sense of summer sourrounding you closely. Watercolor is akin to that moisture. It leads to trying to paint that feeling of distant thunder, of dripping atmosphere.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Taking your breath away

A back roads day to take your breath away, dawn on the Great Plains--9 by 12 watercolor, 140# Fabriano Artistico
How long since something, some one took your breath away?
It's rare isn't it, and that's too bad, because it bespeaks the mediocrity we sentence ourselves to in our day-to-day existence, it seems.
What takes your breath away? There are places, people, happenings, scenery, events, and more. You remember them forever.
Today was one of those kinds of mornings, even on the Great Plains of central Oklahoma. I love the back roads, driving slowly, smelling fresh-cut alfalfa, seeing the ready-to-harvest wheat in the breeze, looking at the horizons and the undulating roads, listening to meadowlarks, watching hawks soaring overhead. The morning light was bright, and crisp and clear. 
Glen Campbell's song-- 
That keeps you in the backroads
By the rivers of my memory
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind.
My mind wandered with imagination, and the freedom from the noise of high speed traffic and congested cities. Just a peaceful road leading to who knows where, a metaphor for life. 
I didn't have the Rockies or other magnificent scenery, but the freedom of the back roads and imagination, and a beautiful, breeze, sunshiny day. "Paint what you feel," wrote my most recent watercolor influence.  Thus this watercolor.
A day to take your breath away--how I feel.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rainy weather, what do you feel

"Rainy weather traveling," 9 by 12 watercolor, 140# Fabriano Artistico
"Paint what you feel, not what you see," wrote the author, Betty Schlemm in this old watercolor book I found recently. And after reading her accomplished advice and instruction, I wondered if I should even try to paint...so much I don't know, so much to learn.
Yet I know my best attempts at watercolor come from both my feelings, from letting loose, and from happy accidents.
I was almost afraid to try again..so much to practice, so much to try.
But then it started raining, and I love rainy weather...no wonder two favorite songs are a "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "When Tears come Down."
So turn on the phonograph, put on some moody vinyl, look out the window and let your mind travel. 
Pick up the paint brush, mix some paint, attack the blank paper,  and feel...it's far short of her talent and ideas, but it's part of the journey.
Keith Richards said, when asked what he thinks when on stage that he didn't think, he just feels.
I feel I'm trying to get there, traveling along wet narrow back Oklahoma roads in rainy weather,  but miles to go... what a feeling....

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Multiple shades of gray--Daunting weather, and painting

Shades of gray--9 by 12 watercolor, 300# d'Arches
They're dramatic and dangerous, and daunting. So is trying to paint one.
A wall cloud, sweeping across the skies and the Great Plains...familiar in Oklahoma, but not to be trifled with. 

Tornado weather

Tornado weather, 9 by 12 watercolor, 140# Fabriano Artistico
 Radar shows it coming. The forecasters'  maps plot the chances and arrivals. The sunny skies are unsettled, with southerly winds blowing clouds toward it. 
Tornado weather on the Great Plains, where you can sense them in the weather and humidity, and see it on Oklahoma's northwest horizons hours ahead of time.
Today's watercolor, green and dark blue on the horizon, windswept golden wheat bending toward it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Storm's a-coming--Weekend watercolor

Storm's a-coming, 11 by 14 watercolor, 300# d'Arches
Oklahoma's skies and clouds bring constant drama to the Great Plains, adding life and imagination to every day.
(Inspired by this north of Edmond.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day journey--A Mother's Day hug

"I don't know who you are, but you look like you could use a mother's hug," she said, walking toward me.
I had no idea who she was, but I managed an astounded smile, and hugged the gray-haired woman in the middle of the Waurika cemetery.
I was there on Mother's Day, talking to Mom. It had been a long time since we'd talked and I had lots to say and questions to ask and things to think about. I was having trouble saying good-bye. It had been years since she died, and my visits to the cemetery have been few.
I was watching the grave when I noticed the car drive up the side road on the cemetery, and turn down the gravel lane where I was parked in front of Mom's grave. I know lots of people's names in the cemetery and in the town, a mile and a half to the east, so I thought it might be someone I knew from years ago when I owned the newspaper there.
The tires crunched up the gravel and the car stopped just a few feet behind mine. When she got out, I thought she looked familiar, but I was wrong. By the way she was dressed in a stylish pantsuit, I think she'd been to church.
She smiled when I said I was just talking, and after reaching up to hug me, a perfect stranger, we introduced ourselves.
She was from Ryan, 10 miles south, and she'd been out to the cemetery to visit her parents' graves, and was on the way to Oklahoma City to see her children.
Her hug is one of the most remarkable things that has ever happened to me. Things like that don't happen in cities, and I doubt they happen in a lot of states--but they do in Jefferson County, Oklahoma, and I'll guess in rural Oklahoma.
It was one of those days of omens or spiritual symbols or angels, I suppose. The low clouds come charging up out of Texas in ragged, single files, like the longhorns on the old Chisholm Trail, fresh from crossing the Red River over a century ago. The south wind blew the prairie grasses just like the cattle moving up through the green spring pastures. The first herd of the season wouldn't raise much dust on such a cool day, with the sunlight breaking through the ranks of clouds. You can hear the wind in the grass, in the flowers on the ranks of graves, in the cedars in the old part of the cemetery.
From the cemetery hill you can see the town hovering along the Beaver Creek bottom. Most buildings and houses are hidden by trees, except for water towers and new houses shimmering in humidity on the windswept prairies on the other side. 
In the trees and on the gravestones, mockingbirds and meadowlarks sing. It's a day to talk to yourself, or the occupant of a lonely grave. 

Some things fade with years, but the person sticks in memory 
You can hear eternity in a graveyard. Besides the birds and the wind, the only sound is the passing traffic on the nearby highway. Out here you can hear the tires before you see the cars--that's the sound of time passing. But time seems to end in the cemetery. The wind is timeless, and the bird song is present tense. From somewhere a cock crows and a dog barks--more symbols, more messages. A red-tailed hawk silently lofts itself into the wind from a power pole a half mile away, and high in the air a buzzard circles on widespread wings, life and death together.
I plant small potted red pansies on her grave, and go get water to soak the peat moss. They will wither and die in a few days under the wind and sun of southern Oklahoma, but they are real, alive, better than the faded plastic flowers I see nearby. Some memories wither, but others are forever. The water runs out onto Mom's gravestone, and I scrub it clean, and stand back to talk some more.
The breeze begins to evaporate the water on the flat gravestone. But I notice that the moisture retreats to the indented letters of Mom's name and the dates of her life. Water in the indentations and the face of the stone around them dries the slowest, highlighting the barest facts of a life. 
Some things fade with the years, memories come and go, but the person sticks in your memory, who she is, what she means to you. Even the dates dry out before the name, and that's right. The years don't matter near as much as who the person is. The essentials in our hearts don't dry up.
I was watching the moisture when the kind woman drove up. As she got ready to leave, I told her to be careful, and to love those kids. She smiled. I know her kids love her.
As she drove off, I looked back at the grave, and the letters of Mom's name were still moist. I bend over to kiss the grave. Now I could say, “Goodbye.” I wish I could hug you again.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mother's Day journey--what the gravestone doesn't tell you...

My tires will crunch across the gravel lane at the Waurika, Oklahoma,  cemetery this Sunday, this Mothers’ Day.

Every year I drive down to plant some flowers, to remember, to talk to Mom.

The south wind sweeps up the prairie hill west of the little town, full of memories, especially memories of the last years of her life.

It comes up out of Texas, across the nearby Red River, like she did to live with us years ago, Francis Faye Culp Clark.

Today her gravestone is almost 40 years old, and it records her name and the years of her life. But that is, was, not her.

But it cannot record the life she lived, this child of East Texas, one of four sisters and two brothers, now all dead. The girl who played high school basketball at South park High School in Beaumont, the girl who got the good job with Ma Bell, and who helped the rest of the family through the Depression, the girl who gave baby brother 25 cents a day for school lunch. It can’t record her marriage and the birth of two sons and the joy of holding and raising them. It can’t record the pride in their successes, the tears in their failures. It can’t record her love for grandchildren.  It can’t record her strength in divorce, nor her sense of humor and most of all, it can't record her unselfishness. Nor her faith in the face of death.

And I can’t either, except from too few memories, and looking back through black and white snapshots, and from stories my brothr and cousins have told me.

But I can imagine more now, as I watch my daughter—who looks remarkably like her grandmother--holding and feeding and cuddling and talking to and disciplining her daughters and son. I see the eye contact, the touch, the strongest bond on earth, and I learn what I experienced—what every fortunate son and daughter experienced—before they could remember, but not before they could know deep in their souls.

I saw the same bond recently when a tall, 60-something  man slowly led his frail mother, by the arm,  into a restaurant to have dinner with her, listening to her chat away.

I wish I could do the same, but I can’t. But I will do the best I can, and drive up to Mom’s grave, and tell her I miss her, and I love her.

I hope you can talk to your mother, face to face this Mothers’ Day. Don’t wait until it’s too late.  
Tomorrow--A Mother's Day Hug

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Oh beautiful for spacious skies....

Before the storm, 9 by 12 watercolor, first attempt, 140# Fabriano Artistico
May, the month of humidity rising, feeding the towering, fascinating clouds of the Great Plains, everywhere you look in Oklahoma.
 Drama overhead, an infinity of shapes and colors feeding connected souls. Today, they were everywhere, morning, noon and evening.

Mother's Day journey--a reunion

Mother’s Day is a reunion. And though Mom’s been dead a long time, it still is for me, in memories and more.

The fading color photograph on my shelf must be almost 40 years old.

Six sets of smiling eyes focus on the camera. All but one set are young, very young. Grandchildren’s eyes gathered around Granny’s eyes.

Mom, our four kids and my brother’s and his wife’s baby daughter are sitting on the floor. Mom’s holding the baby in the cradle of her arm, but everybody is smiling.

Having a good time, soaking up the attention—a moment of happiness frozen in time.

      The kids are grown now, and Mom’s been dead for almost 37 years. I look around my room and see a couple of other snapshots…one of Mom and Dad back when I was a kid; one with my brother on a fence, me standing by Mom on a windy day when I was a college student in Oklahoma; one of Mom’s retirement party.

Happy moments. Happy memories.

This Mothers’ Day will bring more happy moments in many homes. There will be flowers, and meals, and well-wishes, and smiles.

 I know Mothers’ Day is to honor mothers, but I think we get most of the benefit.

We move so fast these days that it’ll be an effort to slow down for a few hours, and enjoy those around us. We need to stop and say, “I love you, ” while we can. To laugh, to hug, to tell stories, to just do nothing but enjoy time together.

 Those are other reasons to celebrate Mothers’ Day.

My reunion will be an annual pilgrimage to the Waurika, Oklahoma cemetery to plant flowers and talk. 
My brother and I met there for one of those reunions a few years back. “I wonder if anyone will plant flowers at our graves,” he asked. That went unanswered, but we had our reunion, full of memories and laughs and tears. Then we went our separate ways. This week, when this photo was found, he said, "You had the pooch and I was trim. Now I've got the pooch." We have our mother's humor.

      If you follow custom and have a white flower corsage on your lapel because your mother is gone, make sure those who have red flowers and their mothers still here take full advantage of the day. Make sure children and grandchildren and spouses tell their mothers how much they love them.

This is one day when we can control time for a little, with what is important, before time takes over again.

And by the way, make sure you take lots of pictures Sunday. Because when time does take over, and the red flowers change to white, those snapshots of smiling eyes focused on the camera, which you took this Mothers’ Day, will be more important than you can ever imagine. They're part of a reunion.

Tell your mother you love her.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Mother's Day story and journey--Part 2

(My annual pilgrimage to Mom's grave comes Sunday. Part two of this short story begins a week of memories, some factual, some fictional.) 
Almost noon, just about on time to the southern Oklahoma cemetery--although he was never late.

"Mama, mama, you were so special, never complaining
"Regrets, regrets , Mama. You’d be proud of the kids, if not me after all that’s happened.”
"No wonder I stay away," he thought. "It keeps the memories in the back of my head where they're far away....
"Mama, mama, I loved you so much,  but, but...”
He slowed down before turning from the pavement onto the gravel ruts between the freshly mown grass, leading up between the concrete posts to the cemetery. Idling upward, he could hear the gravel crunch  beneath the tires. He could see his brother's station wagon already on the hill, his silhouette leaning against the fender, waiting.
The cemetery perched on top of the prairie hill, and there were no trees in the newer section. It overlooked the creek bottom  and town, shimmering in the heat, a mile  below, and the wind never seemed to stop.
His brother waved, and he rolled down the window, letting the May humidity blast his senses. The smell of cut grass and alfalfa blew through the window  as he pulled up beside the station wagon.
"Yo, bro, good to see you," said his brother, standing up and reaching for the handle. His brother was a little taller than he, and a little heavier, but he  suddenly saw how much he looked like their mother--the rounded chin, long flat cheeks, thin lips and high forehead.
"Brother, it's been too long," he said as he got out of the car, grabbed his hand and pulled his brother toward him for a brief, if solid hug.
"Yeah, it has, but you're the one who's been distant.”
"Please, no sermons, I've had a million of them…”
"The years, the years"
"No, no sermon intended. I just resent how you've withdrawn from the times we used to get together. We're all we've got left, and we're not going to be like our uncles and not speak to each other for the rest of our lives."
"Damn, I guess it's easier to go it alone--I know we're all we've got left of Mom and Dad--and I don't want to lose that either."
"You still believe that?"
" Yes, I do…the years, the years.”
" Know that bro, but that doesn't mean we can't still get together. Now let's go look at the grave. Did you bring the flowers?"
"No, I was late and in too much of a hurry."
"That's one thing about you that hasn't changed," he said, as he turned and walked toward the grave.
Tomorrow--photos and memories

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Mother's Day story and journey -Part 1

 (I will make my annual pilgrimage to Mom's grave this Mother's Day. This short story begins a week of memories, some factual, some fictional.) 

Thumpeta, thumpeta, thumpeta.

The concrete sections of the old WPA highway jolted his teeth and memories as he drove back to his Mother’s grave for the first time in years.

Heavy asphalt covered each of the seams of the narrow highway, exaggerating each bump, forcing him to slow down after getting off the interstate an hour ago.

But after the mind-numbing hypnotism of the 75-mile -per hour ribbon pavement. he found the change in rhythm and speed welcome.

Old pavement reminded him of his childhood, growing up in Oklahoma. The sections of concrete slowly keeping time under his tires reminded him of years gone by when he was a teenager in the red clay Oklahoma town.

Coming back to Oklahoma had turned the clock back even more, he thought.

"Why haven't I ever put flowers on her grave?" he asked, over and over, after his brother suggested a reunion on Mother's Day, at the cemetery.

He'd never been able to find time to go back these 20-something years--something always came up--but when he thought about it, he knew there was something else--as effective as a roadblock.

It was guilt and regret.

"The years stream by like the concrete under your tires on the interstate, but when you slow down on this road, each section jolts a memory," he thought.

He'd been back to Oklahoma  twice in those years--once for a funeral of his best friend's wife--and once for the wedding of another friend. He could tell former church friends were uncomfortable around him.  Both times he visited the grave, but he hadn't brought flowers.

Instead, he'd drive through the cemetery, searching for the grave site. He'd park, get out and walk over between the other gravestones.

When he'd find it, he'd crouch down on his haunches and talk to her as he wiped the dust and dirt out of the engraved letters on the flat granite. He'd pick at the Bermuda grass growing up around the edges.

Mostly he muttered to himself.

"Mama, Mama, I'm sorry Mama, I just never had time, did I? You were so unselfish, the most unselfish person in the world. I'm sorry I forgot the flowers. You'd sure like them," he said, looking at the flowers adorning the other graves.

He hadn’t even sent her cards in those  later years, even though she knew she loved them.

Going through her things after she died, he'd found every card he'd ever sent her--especially the ones he'd made when he was in grade school.

"Mama, mama, what is it with me?  I was too busy for you, and then too busy for family."

Now the thumping sound of the highway was hypnotizing him as his thoughts went back.

"Wish you could see the kids, Mama—our girl looks so much like you. They were sure your joy--since I didn't take time."

He hurt inside as he thought about those last months of her life...when he finally took time for her. His eyes misted as he thought about driving her to the hospital that last time, and holding her hand tightly, trying to reassure her. He swung around the curve and saw the cemetery hill in the distance.
(To be continued)

Graduation...beginnings, not just endings, and hugs

After the ceremony at UCO...time for family, friends, loved ones, lots of smiles and hugs
Graduations are beginnings, not just endings. This one at UCO was my last, but also a beginning for my students and for myself, avoiding the dreaded "R" word. 
So here are some photos of the people who matter, plus a few from my last class and Vista two weeks ago. And yes, the hugs matter.
Jade Braun, quirky, creative
My students come from many different heritages, beliefs and personalities. Home-schooled, private and public schooled, Christians, Muslims, Caucasian, African-American, Indian, Asian, Malaysian, Canadian, not especially religious, atheists, liberal, conservative, type As, quirky creative rule breakers, young, more mature, veterans, Okies and many states. 
My joy has been in earning the respect of them all. Some I've had in several classes, some only one or two. On graduation day, I get to meet husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, grandparents on graduation. They matter.

Misty Jordan, Christian and smiling
Jake Searock, U.S. Army Afghanistan vet
Megan Prather, who wants to work for AP

Pam Todd, a leader in every class

Mark Zimmerman, friend and colleague before ceremony

Moose Tyler, creative dynamo and colleague

Last class, International Media

Jennifer Byrd, a professional

"Sam"atha Marcus, spunky and serious

Evonne Wong,  Malaysian coffee drinker

The Vista at Hideaway, my treat, and honor
Graduation from @okieprof's seat, with Jennifer Byrd getting diploma

Saturday, May 6, 2017

My last graduation--endings and beginnings

My first UCO graduation, BA, English, Central State...Dad's handwriting
This afternoon, I'll attend my last graduation ceremony at the University of Central Oklahoma, wearing my funny hat, and other academic regalia  as a prof.
We'll walk down the aisle in front of the students and their parents for what is the culmination of my career, a beginning of a new personal  identity and a beginning of my students' new adventures.
I expect there will be a group photo of my colleagues beforehand. Afterward there will be photos outside with some favorite students.
There have been many such photos over the years. I still have many on my computer, but don't want to select one over the other. But.
This is what I have worked for...getting students to graduation and  on their way.
In 27 years at UCO, there have been at least 55 such ceremonies --a couple of years we had three--but most years there are spring and fall events. I've only missed one or two.
Hundreds of students and memories. Not an ending, but...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

After the storm

"After the storm," 9 by 12 watercolor, 140# Fabriano Aristicco
The past few days astound, if  you look at the skies. Hence, today's watercolor. Life's storms, life's clearings, life's dramas, life's triumphs.