"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.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Booked Up, 2021, Part 4--Soul Food, Poetry and Art


Poetry and Art, bottom, top
I suppose books on art, and poetry, should be considered non-fiction for the most part, but I separate them because they're special to me. 

I think that's true even of Whitman, His poetry touches parts of us that are as real as our heart beats. This past year I've been through about 10 such books, not counting Walt, whom we turn to often even for a few lines and memories.

ART: Other than those reread, posted earlier, there have been two more. The most recent art book is one we bought in October, visiting Susan's favorite town, Truchas, on the high road to Taos.

  • Truchas, Sally Delap-John. We stopped in her gallery years ago and bought her first book, and couldn't pass up another chance to view her paintings of Northern New Mexico. We will eventually buy one, but this time settled for her little book with great painting of my favorite mountains, the Truchas, on the cover.
  •  The Art of Noticing, 131  ways to Spark Creativity..., Rob Walker. A book Austin Kleon recommended, and full of ideas to push me out of ruts and find inspirations for painting.
POETRY: “Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough."--Ray Bradbury

There were only four poetry books  I read in these six months, but they brought life and honesty and sense into this pandemic world.

Poetry is a tradition in our marriage. We have more than one shelf of thin books of poetry in our front room, many by people I know, others  I've found at the Western Heritage Awards at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. And, Susan usually buys me a poetry book or so on either our anniversaries or Valentines days. They also are usually poets I've never  heard of.

So it was in October, we walked into the smaller, a "boutique" bookstore in Santa Fe, Gunstock Hill Books, with more than 8,000 books. Owned by a retired doctor from New Hampshire, it is packed with first editions and signed books of all sorts. As we got ready to leave to go across the street to eat, Susan cam e up with three poetry books, all first editions: 
  • Turquoise Land, Anthology of New Mexico Poetry, 1974, New Mexico Poetry Society, 99 pages of poetry plus bios of the poets.
  • Leonard Cohen, Poems and songs, 1993, 234 pp.
  • The San Franciso Poems, Victor di Suvero, inscribed. 1987. 63 pps.
Closer to home:
  • In The Days of Our Resilience, Nathan Brown. 2021, www.brownlines.com The fourth  in his Pandemic Poetry Project, a poem a day since May, 2020, poems  written on prompts from sponsors, including one from me. 287 pps. Brown is former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. Reading his books is like taking a journey back in time through the last almost two years of turmoil in the U.S. They exercise and stretch the senses and mind, with wit, compassion and insight.

Booked Up, 2021, Part 3--Fiction, stories that are often real

me a story," we often said as children to our parents.

That's why we like novels, short stories, plays--the flights of imagination that can be, or are, real.

My fiction books are simply those whose subjects, authors or ideas interest me, just as non-fiction does.  I find elements of reality in all of them, whether in landscapes, characters, the writing, the humor, the conflicts. 

This year's were no different, though as a journalist I don't have much patience for wordy, drawn out tomes of earlier authors. I simply couldn't get through Moby-Dick earlier this year. I find myself looking at chapter lengths, even in non-fiction, and measuring my progress by percentages--yes, I am a type A anal journalist prizing brevity, though you can't tell it by the length of this sentence.

So here are the  four novels I've read in the past six months, not counting the two rereads previously posted, in order of reading.

  • Daughter of the Morning Star, Greg Johnston, his latest Longmire book, the best yet in writing, plot, characters and the spirits of Native American. A real Western.
  • Lightning Strike, Wm. Krueger, author of the great This Tender Land. 
  • Bless Me Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya, I'm ashamed I've just read this. One of the best I've ever read, spiritual deep, magic, the real New Mexico.
  • Stardust, Neil Gaiman. Will finish tonight. Last book of the year. Another I should have before. His magic and story telling fire the imagination.

Booked Up, 2021--part two--nonfiction


Some of my 2021 reads
As an old, and former journalist, I read more non-fiction than fiction, and that's been certainly true this year.

Of the 21 this year, 13--including rereads-- were since June, not counting art and poetry books.

In order of reading, minus the two rereads:

  • Remembering Santa Fe, William Clark
  • Mythologizing Jesus, From Jewish Teacher to Epic Hero, Macdonald Dennis 
  • Forget the Alamo, The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, Bryan Burrough, et. al. 
  • Sea People, Christina Thompson, the ancient settlement of Polynesia, another one recommended by a favorite former UCO student, Lauren Vargas, Ph.D, who reads more books than I can count.
  • The Brass Ring, Bill Mauldin,  his life and World War II experiences
  • Everything That Remains, story of minimalism, Milburn/Nicodemus
  • Being Mortal, dealing with aging, Dr. Gawande
  • Lost City of the Monkey God, Doug Preston, the discovery of a Central American city, loaned by friend, former UCO student and fantastic travel journalist Heide Brandeis, after her trip of the Amazon, which this book survived.
  • After Jesus, Before Christianity, Vearncombe, et. al. Before there was a New Testament and organized Christianity, up to 200 A.D.
  • Apocalyptic Polly, A Pandemic Memoir, Polly Basore Wenzl. One of my favorite former students at O.S.U., now of Wichita, former terrific journalist, who had the courage to quit a full time job and write. Envious of her and this book--more later.
  • Tony Hillerman, A Life, James McGreggor Morri Makes you want to read all of Hillerman again. 
Note: can you spot the inconsistency in the photo above with the contents of this post. The post is correct.

Booked Up, in 2021--part one

"If a book's not worth reading more than once, why keep it?"

                                                                           --Terry Clark, 2021

Some of my 2021 reading, 

 I thought that as  another  year goes "into the books," in that old cliche. For me,  it's not just a cliche. While we always seem to look back, as well as hoping for the future, especially in these years of the plague, I also turn back to the books that helped me survive.

There have been 54 of them this year, 27 in the first half, and 28 as of today, six of which were reread.

First, here are the genres I read, second half, first half:

  • Non-fiction--13, 8--21.
  • Fiction--7, 3--10
  • Poetry--4, 6--10
  • Art--3, 4--7
What did I reread?
  1.  The Blessing Way, Tony Hillerman, an Okie's first novel,  first edition, inscribed to his friend Carter Bradley, Purchased at an SPJ silent auction a few years ago. Fiction
  2. Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon, a creativity dynamo, whose weekly email newsletters and books expand the mind and spirit. https:austinkleon.com Art
  3. Show Your Work, Kleon. Art
  4. A River Runs Through It, Norman Mclean, heavily marked up and underlined from our previous readings. Fiction
  5. Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, Reflections on 60 and beyond, Larry McMurtry, who died this year, first edition, signed to me at his bookstores, "Booked Up, " Archer City, leading a UCO student trip, 1999.  He soon quit signing books there. I also bought a Booked Up coffee cup there. You can see it at the top of the photo. He quit selling those at the bookstore too. In the past few years he began selling most of the 200,000 books in his several buildings. Non-Fiction, essays
  6. Out on the Porch, Reynolds Price, first edition, signed. Essay, black and white photos of Southern porches matched with quotes from fiction writers.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Old Ones

"The Old Ones at Sunset," 8 x 10 acrylic on canvas panel

That's been on my mind more than I realized, as another year nears end and another birthday looms.

Looking back last night after I finished the last of the seven books I've read in the past two months, it dawned on me that three of them were in some ways about that theme.

I finished rereading Larry McMurtry's "Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen," one signed by him that I bought 22 years ago. He died this past year, and that book is about his thoughts on aging.

Before that, I picked up our copy of Norman Maclean's "A River Runs Through It," and reread that for the first time in years. "I am haunted by the waters," the old man closes the book.

The other book was by a doctor, on helping people as they age, "Being Mortal," recommended by my son-in-law Todd Bell, himself a doctor.

Yesterday, after a walk in Hafer Park and talking with my favorite old tree, I picked up my acrylic paints, palette knives and brushes headed to the back porch, obviously thinking about aging.

The result is pretty rough, but that seems fitting texture for the bark and wrinkles, as I tried something new, palette knives first, then brushes. 

 I call it "The Old Ones at Sunset. I suppose  if you're being snarky, thinking about me, you could call it "Portrait of the Old Tree Hugger." If you were sarcastic, you could simply call it, "The Golden Years."

Saturday, December 25, 2021

A day of light in days of darkness

"Christmas Light" 5 x 7 watercolor card

“In Him was life, and that life  was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.”--John 1: 4-5

Nothing much has changed in human nature since Jesus was born some 2,000 plus years ago. War, poverty, disease, racism, violence, bigotry, greed, the list goes on. 

 "Progress" in technology and science hasn't defeated that darkness inherent in the most dangerous species because it is only physical.

Ignoring His teachings of forgiveness, of love, of mercy, of hope, of inclusion, those who use organized religion for personal power,  profit and politics  (the spiritual offspring of the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees who crucified him for those teachings 33 years later),  literally and blindly "take the Lord's name in vain."  John knew what he was talking about.

But His teachings still bring life and light and hope into the world for millions, struggling for survival just as his early followers struggled.

This day is testament to that life, light and hope, in spite of the darkness.

Thus today's painting.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Eve--pilgrims

"Christmas Eve," 5 x 7 watercolor greeting card

We are all pilgrims. 

For those who believe and attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus, this religion-ordained eve of his birth prompts a pilgrimage of sorts to church services throughout the world, perhaps reminding us that we, like Jesus and his Jewish parents on the night of his birth, were also pilgrims. 

We are not alone. "Next year in Jerusalem," is the closing wish and song of Jews the world over as they remember their pilgrimages at Passover in the Seder meal. As children of pilgrim Abraham, of exodus from Egypt, of exile and return, and of 4,000 years of existence, they too know they are pilgrims.

The other children of Abraham,  Muslims know they are pilgrims. Every year millions travel to worship in Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed. One of the five pillars of Islam is this pilgrimage, the Haji, once in  life.

Many others make pilgrimages, whether for religious or personal reasons on this week or at other times of the year. Christmas is a time for family pilgrimages for reunions. "I'll be home for Christmas." My pilgrimages are to my mother's grave, once a year or to New Mexico. Many others who return to home country for family and other special occasions.

 Consider the English term "pilgrim" originally comes from the Latin word peregrinus (per, through + ager, field, country, land), which means a foreigner, a stranger, someone on a journey, or a temporary resident. We even have a falcon from that name, though given the migration of birds and animals....

What should that remind us of, especially in these uncertain times--that there are always uncertain times, that we are on a journey?

Are we are not all children of Abraham, pilgrims?

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Beacons of Hope

"Beacon of Hope," 5 x 7 watercolor card

a  dark world of war and despair and hatred and pandemic, people yearn for peace, for hope of light.

No wonder Jesus compared himself to light. In New Mexico, symbols of that light and hope have been the beacons of the adobe churches for centuries. 

They will be filled with worshipers Christmas eve and Christmas day, for Christ-mass to bring peace and hope into hearts.

Thus this painting, of the iconic Church of St. Francis at Ranchos de Taos.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Four Days--Sanctuary

"Sanctuary," 5 x 7 acrylic greeting card

live in a country, a world, a season of people seeking sanctuary.

  • You see it in the immigrants, the migrants, risking their lives trying to escape war, terrorism and poverty.
  • You see it when governments and  politicians build walls for protection, whether in America, North Korea, Berlin or China.
  • You see it in people living in "gated" communities out of fear or greed, whose medieval ancestors built castles for the same reasons. It's reflected in the aphorism, "A man's home is his castle."

I suppose we are not the only creations that seek sanctuary. Consider the multitudes of wildlife, mammals, fish, birds, insects, that find strength in numbers and choose living places for protection. 

Perhaps it is natural for beings. For me, an isolated cabin or camping out is my dream sanctuary from the busyness and worries and craziness of the world. I imagine almost everyone has such a place in mind and heart. 

When we lose the illusion that we are in control of our lives, there is another kind of sanctuary when the physical fails--spiritual. That realization, that need is responsible for the religions of the world--and that is really what Christmas, the fourth day from now, symbolizes.

Jesus came when the world was dominated by a violent, domineering empire built on slavery and Emperor worship. In the face of those conditions what he taught offered sanctuary from a materialistic and hopeless existence where there was no physical sanctuary.

You will see it as thousands flock to churches this Christmas eve and Christmas day, seeking an inner sanctuary in this uncertain, unhealthy and unsafe world.

All these thoughts caused me to look up  the root meanings of the world. The etymology tells you much about spiritual sanctuary.

It comes from the Latin sanctuarium, from sanctus ‘holy’. It was first used in Middle English from the Old French sanctuaire, adopted from church or other teaching for a sacred place where a fugitive was immune, by the law of the medieval church. By the way, the root word sanctus is also where we get the word "saint."

"This world is not my home."--Are we not all fugitives seeking sanctuary?

Thus this painting of a sanctuary on our journeys.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Five Days

"Spirit Country," 5 x 7 acrylic card

Deserts. And stars. Solstice.

Three of the world's prominent religions grew out of the aridity of deserts, where you intimately learn the stars to lead you to water. When you are people of the desert, you know how small you are in a gargantuan universe, where you seek and find Spirits to help lead you.

With human-ordained Christmas in five days, on this the longest night of the year, think of the three wise men who followed a star..."from the east" which means they traveled across deserts. It seems no accident that all the religious art of that story shows them riding camels. 

Growing up in New Mexico, camping in mountains surrounded by arid "deserts," or camping  and hiking on remote trails, you learn the power of the night skies, value the wide open spaces and long horizons.  

One of my favorite places on earth is at Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, where you can camp and hike, see the Milky Way, watch the stars wheel above you, see time move. I heard a ranger say you could feel the earth move beneath you.  Camping in that desert place puts you in contact with  Spirits.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Six Days 'til Christmas

"Season of Silence," 5 x 7 watercolor card

Can you hear the silence?

Not often in this hectic, noisy, busy "holiday" season, can you?

We live in a world of noise, bombarded almost 24/7 with blaring media and traffic; in fact, it seems most people are afraid of silence, avoiding it. 

What once was a season of hope for peace has ironically become anything but. One author termed our culture as the "attention economy."

And if there is no silence, can there be any peace? When do we have time to stop, think, meditate, dream, create if our senses  are constantly assaulted with noise--both visual and aural?

That's one of the reasons I enjoy driving the back roads, sparsely settled, where traffic is scarce. No music, no news, just alone with my thoughts. Or walking a trail in Hafer park where at least the noise of traffic is muted, and you the sounds of birds and leaves in the breeze are the only disruptions.

That's why memories of hunting pheasant in Iowa or deer in Oklahoma remain, or  driving remote roads in New Mexico remain so vivid. I remember the silence of of walking the empty corn fields or being in the woods, or traveling the wide open Great Plains. Having lived several years in rural areas, you learn to value silence when you move to a city.

It's certainly why I value falling snow. It muffles sound, and turns the world into a quiet wonderland, where you can cuddle up with a book, a cat, some coffee, and enjoy the silence inside and out.

Thus this watercolor card. Can you hear the silence, more important than ever. Pease.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Seven Cold Days 'til Christmas


"Moonlight," 5 x 7 acrylic greeting card

The Mohawks named it the "Cold Moon." 

It's also known as the "long night moon," and is the longest full moon of the year. I don't quite understand the science on that, but as the moon closest to the winter solstice, our shortest day of the year, it appears as a full moon longer.

I woke before this morning with the temperature at 18 degrees,  and it was still there in the western sky, as bright as ever, like it was at its brightest last. night.

Both names are fitting in this season of darkness, in these years of cold darkness of other kinds. 

We need the light more than ever, including the holiday lights adorning buildings and homes, as we approach the darkest day of the year. It's also a beacon for the coming of a  spiritual light, which we observe in seven days. Humans, creation, always seeks light.

In painting also, our eyes always go toward the lightest areas first. Thus this greeting card.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Blue Highways

"Blue Highways," 5 x 7 watercolor, 300 lb d'Arches cold press

Among the Clarks' favorite books is "Blue Highways," by William Least Heat Moon.

It is now more than 50 years old, but to anyone who loves travel, and especially travel on the backroads, this personal journey is Gospel. I once found an inscribed hard cover first edition, and one son is now the proud owner. 

Note to those who haven't read it. The old maps of America had the main roads in red and the others in blue. He circumnavigated the U.S. in a van writing of the people and places he met.

A sampling:
  • “On the road, where change is continuous and visible, time is not; rather it is something the rider only infers. Time is not the traveler's fourth dimension - change is.”
  • "A true journey, no matter how long the travel takes, has no end."
  • "Life doesn't happen on the interstates. It's against the law."

Thus this little watercolor from yesterday, as the urge to travel deepens.

Eight Days 'til Christmas

"Sunrise, Sunset," 5 x 7 acrylic on card

 "Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the years."

                   --Fiddler on the Roof

Perhaps the saddest song I know of because it strikes so deep in my heart as a father, yet also a favorite.

Why? Because this season, as another year draws to a close, these truths sung by an aging Jew fit the mingling of happiness and sadness that is always part of the Christmas season.

Those words, and this season, bring back  the mountains of memories with family, especially as I get older--as another sunrise and sunset pass.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Nine Days 'til Christmas

"Wind Chill," 5 x 7 watercolor card

wind did more than "come sweeping down the plains" this past week. 

We escaped the hurricane force winds causing havoc elsewhere in America, but we knew this was not your normal December weather. The steady southern wind pushed temperatures to record highs. 

 It won't be a typical Christmas this year, but this painting tries to capture the actual and personal isolation of a frigid Norther on the Great Plains, when we all need warmth. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Ten Days 'til Christmas

"Christmas Spirits," 5 x 7 acrylic on card stock

             Unseasonable weather in a disruptive year make it difficult to realize Christmas is only ten days away.  But change brings change, and I had to try something different to cope

When it doesn't even seem like Christmas, I need  therapy for the turmoil and hassle and down moods. I find it in painting, especially in an annual tradition of painting and sending greeting cards, which I've done for more than a decade now.

Up until this year, they were all watercolors, each one unique. But what started as a small effort for family members and a few friends grew to a project, while enjoyable, that seemed to be stuck in a rut devoid of creativity.

So this year, I changed two approaches. First, I switched to acrylic paintings. Then, instead of doing about 100 individual cars, I did about 11 different ones, bought a new printer, and printed about 10 of each to send.

It still took time, especially deciding who would get which card and trying to avoid duplicating crds with the same group of people.

I've already posted two of the cards on the blog earlier--one of the moon on snow and another of a red mailbox in snow. Here's one for today, catching the spirit of the season and my spirit as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Back road stories

"After the Storm," 8 x 10 acrylic on canvas panel

Back roads in rural areas captivate my imagination, and beckon traveling, even when stuck at home.

They speak silently of stories told, of stories to tell, of stories to come.

This painting has several stories, and I'm not sure of a title, yet...back roads, stormy skies, wheat, home.

Another story is in painting it, deciding on complementary colors for contrast, and using  palette knives for challenge, texture, and learning.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

When America is attacked

U.S.S. Arizona, Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor, 5 x 7 watercolor

Have you thought about what happens when America is attacked?
Eighty-years ago today, a divided nation united when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Four years later, two powerful foes were defeated in the world's deadliest war.
In April, 1861, a divided nation was attacked by South Carolina extremists, plunging a divided nation into our most deadly war, but eventually uniting the country. Before that tragedy, when referred to, the United States was always followed by a plural noun, "The  United States are." After that war, it's always been "the United States is." 
On 911, 2001, the United States was attacked by Muslim terrorists. The country united, and the world was on our side. Part of what followed was America's longest war, ending only this year.
On Jan. 6, 2021, domestic terrorists attacked the United States, threatening the lives of our elected officials in a coup attempt to overturn the U.S. Constitution. The last time the Capitol was attacked was by the British in 1814. A united country defeated a stronger enemy.
But this time, there has been no unity, only more division. Will America survive this attack?
I'm still waiting and hoping. That's why we need to remember Pearl Harbor today.