"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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Uptight chronicles...Not there yet...watercolor studies

5 x 7s, today's on top
Which version seems more vibrant, alive?
Second attempt this morning in a study for a larger painting, leaves me still wondering.
This is after I tried the first version on 10 x 30  yesterday, concluding it was just too uptight, lacing something. All I accomplished was the main building, the focal point, but still....
Back to work, to make it jump off the page, I hope...probably a combination of the two, but not in any way a duplicate.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Study in adobe country

"Adobe morning," today's 5 x 7 watercolor study, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
This is a quick study for a larger painting than I usually attempt. 
Small paintings bring me lots less stress than larger ones, because I'm daunted with ruining a good piece of paper, or failing to translate the images in my mind. Not being able to accomplish what I'm after makes me get tighter and nit-picky, which is almost a guarantee of failure or any art. The lesson to me is to be as loose with larger works than I am on these small efforts. 
Excuses, excuses. 
This little one has lots of faults in it, but I learned something. Next task, a 10 x 29 on 300 lb. paper, for a frame and mat given me.
But I didn't dare try to approach that one, till I'd at least tried this. 
It speaks to my spirit, of the southwest, of the earth, of the far vistas and the brilliant skies.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Desert Dawn--When peace like a river--study in pastel colors

"Desert Dawn," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
"Desert Dawn rise up early and lift your song,
From the breathe of life that rises...."

        --The String Cheese Incident
Pastel colors time, early morning, late evening, when changes bring soft hues to the desert, a sometimes harsh landscape of rigid lines and colors.
In the words of the old Gospel song, it's "when peace like a river attendeth my soul...."
Softness, beauty in the midst, in the need, of the often harsh deserts of life.
This I find in watercolor, in memories of the far horizons, of never-ending, always varied colors...a place of rescue, of solace when most needed.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

August in Jefferson County, Red River Valley--Study in brown

"August in Jefferson County, Red River Valley." 5 x 7 watercolor, Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
Six months from now...late August, the season of dry heat.
Especially in southwestern Oklahoma, along the banks of the Red River where a month of 100 degree days turn the landscape, even the trees, and the skies, brown.
Called the Red River because it carries so much silt, it's really more brown, like its surroundings.
There's more sand than water, and you can literally walk across the several shallow channels, now just  trickles compared to the force of flood stage that has taken out highway bridges.
Long ago, some. of us, fathers and children from a church in Waurika, camped out on those sandy shores. We ran trot lines to catch catfish, built a campfire, ate hot dogs, joked, watched the stars through the dusty skies, heard the night sounds and the gentle ripple of water. There was sand in everything that night, and the next morning.
Today's watercolor, a study in browns, in earth colors, which are really mixes of red and yellow comes from those memories of that river, those days.
(This is the third of color studies--can you figure out what two characteristics are common to all three?)
Study in green, "When vegetation rioted..."

Study in purple, "Coming home to roost."

Friday, February 21, 2020

"When vegetation rioted..." Conrad and Watercolor study in green

"When vegetation rioted," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press paper
"I'm captivated by the images, the language, the brooding story in my favorite English literature, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Thus today's watercolor, a study in greens--"When Vegetation rioted..."

"Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish...."

   --Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Monday, February 17, 2020

Front porch kind of day

"Front porch weather," today's watercolor, 11 x 14 140 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
Remember when we had front porches?
Many had swings, hanging from chains, where you could sit with a girl friend or boy friend. Or as you got older, just a chance to go out in the cool late afternoon and watch the weather and the birds.
It always seemed to be spring on those days...days of wildflowers, birds chirping, gentle rain falling.
They were neighborhood places too, where people walking in the neighborhood would stop and visit for a "spell."
Now, we've moved into the privacy of fenced back yards, patios and "porches," when we decide to get out of our air-conditioned, privacy-alarmed  cocoons. And nobody comes by to visit. Don't get me wrong...I enjoy our humble back porch, the solitude, occasional gatherings of friends and family, the birds and more, but it's not the same.
But on an almost spring day like today (one month to spring), I think about those swings, the front porches, the fresh air--when it's springtime in your heart.

Monday, February 10, 2020

"Time Zones," watercolor sermon

"Time Zones," 10 1/2 by 13 watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
Obsessed with time? Watching the seconds of life tick away? Hurrying toward eternity when the present, eternity is all we have, and thus miss it.
Think we're important and significant in the brief moments we inhabit the present, divided into "time zones" instead of "life zones"?
Not when you grow up like I did where geology shows you how small and brief humans are amid all of creation, and we dare to think we're in charge, and dominant, and control creation? Arrogance and ignorance of little people, and if you're a believer, blasphemy--that is literally "taking gods' names in vain," not profanity. 
I think that every time I view the magnificent geology, the strata, the raw landscapes of the Southwest and West, open books into "time."
Thus today's watercolor, "Time Zones."
"You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes."-- James 4:14
 "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars...what is man that you are mindful of him...."--Psalms 8: 3-4

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Unsettled metaphor

"Spring storm in the Flint Hills," 11 x 14 watercolor, 300 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
'Tis the season of unsettled skies, especially on the Great Plains. 
Such was today in Oklahoma, as a warm southerly wind pushed clouds ahead of an approaching cold front. Infinite cloud forms, colors and light shouted "change, change change."
Those skies, this weather, are a metaphor to me, and others I figure, as the promise of a new season opens possibilities for change, for new vistas, for imagination.
The Flint Hills of Kansas are one of my favorite places, where the imagination can leap into the unsettled landscape and ever-changing skies and weather, beckoning to travel, to discover.
Today's watercolor...Spring storm in the Flint Hills.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Where have all the manners gone? Long time ago

Reading my article about Mom teaching us manners, clashed with what we all see in this country today. A sheriff calls for a roadside bomb to murder the Speaker of the House. A preacher wants gay people shot. 
Their mothers didn't teach them manners, if they know who their mother is, I'd like to respond, but that shows a lack of manners, doesn't it? Every day, every minute, almost every second there are more instances of people totally devoid of manners, or respect, of responsibility, of decency.
America has descended into a nation of rudeness, of hate, of extremes--of no manners or respect.
Where have all the manners gone? Manners are an indication of respect, or civility, even it you don't agree, you don't insult. You take responsibility for your actions and words and demeanor.
Have you seen any manners in American politics or religion or culture recently?
One of the tragedies is that is most obvious is  this didn't happen overnight, that these rudest, crudest of the bunch, weren't taught manners. It's generational.
Then I thought of the Pete Seeger song, "Where have all the flowers gone?"
My adaptation:
Where have all the manners gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the manners gone?
Long time gone
Where have all the manners gone?
Parents have forgotten them, every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Where have all the children gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the children gone”
Long time ago
Where have all the children gone?
Gone to hatred every one
How will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Where have all the manners gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the manners gone?
Long time ago

What are your foundations? Eight year reverie

I wrote the following eight years ago this month, and have forgotten about it, till I noticed that some one clicked on it and read it today--someone from the U.S., the U.k., Portugal or Australia, according to my stats.

So I read it again, and think it's more apropos than ever, as foundations crumble.  Here it is:

What are your foundations?

I grew up where foundations lasted longer than the people who made them. Never much thought about it, just took them for granted.
Some of the ruins, and foundations, of the Pecos Pueblo, east of Santa Fe
In the arid Southwest, especially New Mexico, we'd visit Indian ruins where you could see the crumbling rock walls of buildings set in place hundreds of years before. The climate helps preserve them. In more recent times, I've camped at Chaco Canyon http://www.nps.gov/chcu/index.htm  amid ruins at least 1,000 years ago.
I came across this photo of the ruins at Pecos. http://www.nps.gov/peco/index.htm I always wondered about the people who lived in those rooms so long ago, and I wonder more now about the people who put those stones together. I wonder what they thought, how they talked, how they lived. I know they had a different sense of time than us, that they were tougher than us without electricity or central heat, or running water.
Yet they put in place stones and foundations that outlasted them, and will outlast us. Some would call it primitive, but it was not. Much, especially the Anasazi, was precise and oriented with the heavens.
Ruins at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Started me thinking about foundations in humid Oklahoma and Texas, where I've seen rotted or termite -eaten boards sitting on the ground, and crumbling concrete or concrete blocks serving as foundations sinking into moist earth.
digs on the east coast can barely recover traces of early white settlement...the foundations are gone, sometimes no more than mounds of earth.
Have you lived in a house where the foundation cracks, or sinks, or decays? Then you  get bugs and rot and slugs in the house. We're luck today we have building codes---yes it costs more, but at least, especially with slab floors, there are standards to prevent foundation decay.
But other foundations are crumbling...personal, social, and political, in this country and elsewhere. Religious and political turmoil here at home are common with others around the world.  I know...I disagree with many of my kinfolk, and as long as we can respect each other and still disagree, but even argue--we're ok. But when we can't the foundations of our country crumble, as they are now
The foundations of civility in disagreement, of compromise for  the common good, of listening to people.
I'm reading Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum's book "This Used to Be Us," http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/bookshelf/that-used-to-be-us about how America fell behind in the world we invented.
essentially say the same thing...the foundations are crumbling.
I'm reminded of the foundations I grew up with, especially from my East Texas  mother...love your family, care for your family, be respectful of others, hear them out, look them in the eye, don't be rude, have manners, be polite, say "Yes Sir" and "Yes ma'am," and don't hate.
I started thinking about this during the reunion of first Culp cousins last April in East Texas. We have many differences, but solid foundations. I know personally, that when I've strayed from those foundations, or neglected them, or ignored them my life has suffered.
Sounds like stuff from the Sermon on the Mount, doesn't it?  It really bothers me that many of these people preaching hate and discrimination and violence today claim to be Christians. They need to read the foundations--Matt. 5-7.
this isn't about just politics or religion, it's about every foundation we have. If we're civilized, we keep our foundations strong and build on them. then they'll last. Every stone has a place, every stone contributes to the whole. Damage one, and all suffer.
if we don't--a century ago, England was the  world's  greatest nation and civilization. It's not today. All foundations can  rot and crumble and disappear...and an arid climate won't sustain them.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

If winter comes, can spring...

"Old one," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. d'Arches cold press paper

The more we fast-paced, self-centered humans learn about trees, the more ignorant we discover we are.
Thinking that homo sapiens is the climax of evolution, of life on earth, Western "civilized" humans arrogantly ignore science and history, leading to our eventual suicidal extinction.
Bleak? Only from a human point of view, because every indication is that life, in its many forms, will survive our aggressive  exploitation of this planet--if we don't exterminate everything off first. 
But that is a narrow view as well, because of the billions of life forms under our feet, in the depths of oceans, in caves, and in forests.
Which brings me to today's watercolor--a "dead" tree I've admired in Hafer Park for a long time. 
It is in the winter of its existence, but it is not dead--it is a necessary host that teems with other life forms we probably can't even see.
If you read about trees--having a "heartbeat," having a community, communicating and caring for each other, you have to cope with what Eastern thought has long known.
All life is connected. 
Western mankind is systematically committing genocide in the oceans and forests, and eventually, us. Homo sapiens is the most dangerous predator ever.
Think about it. Deforestation of the Amazon, the lungs of the planet, is nothing more than suicide...essentially infecting our lungs with emphysema--depriving us of oxygen.
This painting began as a challenge for beauty, not negativity...the older I get, the more beauty I see in aging creations, organic and non-organic. I've tried this before, but my challenge has been to give an impression, an abstraction, almost an Eastern thought process.
Abstract brush strokes lead to abstract ideas....
"If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" asks Shelley. 
"No man is an island," wrote Donne, words more apropos than ever.
Winter is coming. In the long life of trees, and creation, homo sapiens is a recent organism that may not see another spring, but may become host for other unknown life forms.
"No man is an island," wrote Donne, words more apropos than ever.
Trees have "heartbeats"

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Dimp's life and society, chapter 3.

Dimp doesn't like cold weather, but he prefers snow to rain, because he's insulated inside Sol, his tree, and not getting wet which is a miserable as wet wood.
Dimp peering out from inside his tree on a snowy day
He, like other Emps, is used to moving slowly, because his pulse often comes close to that of his tree. 
That's not to say he can't scurry back into his sanctuary or up a tree if need be if one of his few predators approaches when he's outside at night gathering bark and acorns for food. 
Other wildlife, especially owls or coyotes,  as with a few humans who happen to see him after a late night trysting and drinking in Hafer Park, probably consider him some form of mutant squirrel or prairie dog, but he's smarter and more patient that them, as are most emps. 
Most emps are only about four to six inches long, and seem to be that way most of their lives, evolved to move through the interior of the roots and cavities of trees. 
In terms of procreation, there is a little evidence that they are spawned perhaps by spores or fertilized molecules  left on acorns outside on the ground, which are then brought into a tree by another emp. This is an unsolved mystery, and emps seem never to talk about it, but fits in with the possibility that they may be a link between the plant and animal kingdoms. 
Each emp apparently recognizes other emps by name, and the trees were they live. There is some evidence that they help name each other, but since nobody has ever managed to capture and figure out the age of emps, that also remains a mystery, as does their gender differences.
Dimp is obviously short for his dimples. Other names I picked up on from the vibrations I felt around Sol were Gimp,  for an emp who tended to limp and Timp, short for temporary,  one of the few who are impatient.
I found it refreshing that emps have no use for political correctness or politics.  Thus one who seems to lack courage is named Wimp, and another who isn't the brightest, Simp. I heard of one named Pimp, but since emps also have no use for exploitation or sin--apparently not being bothered by differences of gender or social status, I am at a lost to explain that one. 
Their social gatherings on special days like Arbor Day and Earth Day are rare and brief. It would be a mistake to call them religious rites, because emps believe all life is connected and therefore equally important. Perhaps the gatherings are more for just celebrating life as such, or to share news they can't gather from their network of tree roots, or to help acculturate the younger ones.
It's obvious that they're very peaceful and open-minded creatures since they're not burdened with politics, gender and social inequality, and religion. 
That leads to the next chapter, chapter four, about their roles and influence on their trees, and the benefits to humans.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Solitude, and Thomas Merton

"Solitude," 8 x 10ish watercolor, 140 lb. d'Arches cold press paper
How do you ease your mind before you go to sleep, eliminating all the violent noise of the day?
I pick up The Pocket Thomas Merton, open it anywhere, and read a few lines. Last night, I came to his thoughts on Solitude.
One quote: ..."turn aside from controversy and put away heavy loads of judgment and censorship and criticism of the who burden of opinions that I have no obligation to cary..."
Another about living in the city from the 1960s (We all now live in a city of media) "...where the radio makes you deaf with spurious news and where the food destroys your life and the sentiments of those around you poison your heart with boredom..." 
Or: "The world is the unquiet city of those who live for themselves and are therefore divided against one another in a struggle that cannot end;, for it will go on eternally in hell."
Then you breathe in deeply, think about the solitude of the Great Plains, or the mountains, or your own thoughts. 
Out of such stew comes sleep, and today, what was going to be an abstract painting about the Great Plains at end of day, turned out this way, purple, and colors, and the joy of solitude.

Green eyes? What you need to know about Empus Arboli Haferae, the new species--Chapter 2

Dimp the Emp, looking out from his Emp tunnel in his tree
Having met Dimp the Emp, you ask, "What exactly is an Emp?" I'll tell you what I've learned from listening to trees about this new species.
In fact, it may be difficult to distinguish between plant and animal with Emps, because they are so closely intertwined with trees.
But, by trying to feel the pulse of trees, and thus being rewarded for my patience and open senses in walks in Hafer Park, Emps shouldn't surprise us.
We know that trees talk to each other--scientific fact. We know that their pulse is much slower than humans. Yes it quickens in the spring and summer and then slows late in the year--much like hibernating bears and other creatures.
An Emp tunnel in Hafer Park
Emps, each one living inside a tree near the ground have evolved to the same slow pulse. Other creatures have slow pulses too...just this week a salamander was found in Europe that didn't even move in an entire year. 
Emps' close relationship with the inside of trees affects more than just their pulse. Notice the green color of their eye balls. Those eyes are very large because they primarily live in the dark, and come out only at night. But they're green. Yes green.
Why? Because of their long  lives--nobody knows exactly how old they are,  and their food--acorns and diseased bark--their eyeballs are green. Why? The chlorophyll that comes from the trees breathing.
Notice that their ears and  tail are stubby, unlike those rodent squirrels they are mistaken for at night in brief sightings. When you're small and need to navigate cramped spaces inside trees, you don't need long ears or tails to become obstacles.
Their teeth are all molars, perfect for cracking open acorns on the ground, or decaying wood inside the tree trunk (ever wonder why you see so many hollow logs on the ground?), or from aging bark on the outside or the ground.
And speaking of bark, guess what kind of noise they make? They're hard to hear, but yes, they sound like faint barks, like those you'd hear from an old dog with tonsillitis.
Do they talk to each other? I think so--probably the way trees talk to each other through the roots in the ground. Emps are so in tune (key word) with their trees that they probably use that same network to communicate. 
They also have a few tunnels you can find that may be used for gathering at their religious rites, especially on Arbor Day and Earth Day. Those ceremonies are very sacred and private. I hope to learn more.
That's enough science for today. Since I've discovered the Emps, I get to name the species in the tradition of discovery, after where I found them and their important life roles. They are Empus Arboli Haferae.
Chapter three will explore their behavior and importance to trees, and to us!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Meet "Dimp" the Emp discovered in his tree home--chapter 1

"Dimp" the emp
Have you heard about  Emps?
Probably not, unless you walk in forests or around a lot of trees and pay close attention.
On a recent walk in Hafer Park I noticed some holes in trees very need the ground. Pausing and breathing and listening, I picked up on some unusual vibes.
Then I put my hand on the tree I've named "Sol" for Solitude, trying to feel the pulse of whatever it was.
The more relaxed I became, the more I learned, finding out why being around trees helps spur imagination.
Demp's home in Hafter Park
Looking inside one of the little holes, I found evidence of habitation, so while connecting pulses with the tree, I learned, almost by osmosis,  about an important new species on the planet.
Humans never really see these nocturnal little creatures, but I learned they're called Emps, adopting and caring for individual trees in a mutual relationship.
The longer I stood there, the more of an image I had of an Emp, learning they even have individual names and are not dangerous, unless you're an acorn.
This tree, Sol,  was the home of Dimp, because he has dimples. And today, I was finally able to get a firm image of Dimp, so I could translate it to watercolor, which Sol wanted me to share because trees and emps are so important to all of us.
In future chapters, I'll spend more time talking about why and how Emps have evolved like they have, what they eat, what they do, their names, etc. 
But first here is my portrait of Dimp the Emp, and a photo of his tree home in Hafer Park.