Archer City, Texas
I met a seer,
Passing the hues and objects of the world,
The fields of art and learning, pleasure sense,
To glean eidólons.
Walt Whitman, “Eidólons”
As our public schools transitioned into a three-day holiday weekend, I chose to begin mine early by trekking to Archer City, Texas, leaving the bustle and the clatter of the city in my rearview mirror. Seven weeks of high school and university teaching had rendered me tired and in need of a change of pace. Long stretches of time had passed since I last nestled into the town of Larry McMurtry’s “Last Picture Show” and his iconic Booked Up Inc. (over a hundred thousand quality used books in his store).
After climbing three flights of stairs and dropping my luggage inside Room 7 of the historic Spur Hotel, I wandered across the desolate Main Street (Highway 79) and into Cobwebs, an antique store I have enjoyed shopping over the past decade. It only took a moment, drifting through that dimly-lit store with more smell of the musty past than light from the present, that phantoms of memory emerged from the gloom, and I was “home” again. The real seasoning of life for me may be found in those Proustian moments of recognition of episodes long buried in my childhood past. Moving past vintage plates, coffee mugs, and tools, I continued to peruse those mute occupants of the shop, until I found something I could not push away—a $12 lantern covered in dust and grime, with its globe still intact. Winter is not far away, and still life painting is my passion during those long dark months in my garage studio. I made the purchase and hurried to my room across the street to get busy sketching and watercoloring this iconic object from my past.
Lantern Purchased from Cobwebs
As the chilly weather descended on Archer City and the overcast skies remained dark, I cozied myself in my rented chamber and set to work sketching the lantern in the corner. Allowing myself stretch breaks for walking about the desolate town, perusing the used book store, and reading in the quiet of my room, I would return to this lantern at night, finally succumbing to drowsiness a little after 9:00.
At 5:00 a.m., I awoke with a runny nose (ragweed season has arrived in the Texas country). Outside it was raining hard and 53 degrees, and I could not return to sleep, thanks to eight hours’ rest accompanied by the excitement to return to the lantern waiting silently in the dark corner. I adjusted the bedside antique lamp to throw light on the lantern, and then arranged a small desk lamp on my makeshift drafting table, leaving the rest of the room in darkness and quiet, save for the rain on the windows.
Watercolor Sketch of Lantern
I will write more later of my Archer City excursions. As I write this now, I am enjoying a darkened Columbus Day Monday morning in my quiet home. I set my alarm for 6:00 as though getting up for school, but when it chimed, the 60-degree morning had made the house chilly, and the rain was steady on my bedroom windows, so I pulled the blanket tighter and slept another 90 minutes. Rising for a quick shower and an old-fashioned country breakfast, I took my coffee to my bedroom writing table and turned on one lamp to light my table and prepared to read from Thoreau’s Journals. Whitman got in the way, however, because all I could think of during my stay in Archer City was his poem “Eidólons.”
Monday Morning with Whitman
Taking out Leave of Grass, I found the poem and read it three times slowly, letting the words sink into my grateful, receptive consciousness:
Put in thy chants said he,
No more the puzzling hour nor day, nor segments, parts, put in,
Put first before the rest as light for all and entrance-song of all,
That of eidólons.
I will always be grateful that my seminary days provided me the opportunity to study the Greek language, and following those years, I have expanded my explorations beyond the New Testament and Septuagint texts to those of Homer, the Presocratics and the Classical Age. In a later post, I’ll probably write of my Presocratic “morning after” as I alternated my time between the lantern watercolor and Presocratic reading.
Eidolon is Greek for phantom, often translated in the Bible as “idol.” Walt Whitman, a serious student of words, kept a “Notebook on Words,” and developed this eidólon theme to express that ancient Platonic sense of eidólon as an image of our own imagination, behind which lies an ultimate reality, eternal and changeless. In our world everything changes and is ephemeral, but our sense of imagination tries to seize onto that changeless and spiritual reality lying behind all these shifting images.
In Critias, Plato wrote of the eidólopoiía, the painter who forms images to point us to that underlying reality: the substance of an artist’s mood or savan’s studies long—(Whitman again). I often refer to myself as a “painter of memories,” because I paint only the images that evoke memories worth remembering. I have generally shunned popular images that may tickle the fancies of the masses, but do nothing for my own imagination.
The present now and here,
America’s busy, teeming, intricate whirl,
Of aggregate and segregate for only thence releasing,
The themes of light and darkness have profoundly moved me since the years before I could read, and still do. Hence, the lantern, with memories of my grandmother’s farm house that relied on coal oil lanterns and heaters in the dark winters, those all-night campouts and fishing trips when we graduated to Coleman lanterns, and that winter of 1986 when I lived in a house that was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I endured a brutally cold and dark winter, and chose to gather up several lanterns to light the interior with those antique lamps instead of flipping on light switches to power up those boring incandescent ceiling fixtures from the 1950s that were in every room.
Ever the dim beginning,
Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,
Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)
This has been a good weekend, and thanks to Columbus Day, it is not yet over
Thanks for reading.
I paint in order to remember.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.