Archive for July, 2017

Snatching at Happiness

July 13, 2017

20170713_092129 (1)

People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose than to find . . . “

Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

Some memories are realities and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.

Willa Cather, My Ántonìa

Good Day, friends.  My blog has been quiet for several days. I left St. Louis last Monday, and drove all afternoon and into the night, arriving at my Texas home with 90-degree temperatures indoors.  Yeah.  The third time in a decade I’ve returned from a vacation to discover a central air conditioning unit on the fritz. The good thing about a home maintenance contract is the cost of only a service call.  The bad things include waiting (this time four days and counting) for a contractor to arrive, who frequently puts a band-aid on the unit rather than replacing it. So I’ve spent this entire week in air conditioned businesses by day and hotels or dear friends’ homes by night. Hence not much to express on the blog.

But I came across these Willa Cather quotes this morning while reading from a novel I just purchased, a piece of the world. The narrative explores the life of Christina Olson, the forlorn subject of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World. Since high school, I have known this workand brooded over its layers of possible interpretation. In this engaging literary, piece, Christina muses over these quotes, and my heart was stirred as I recorded them in my journal and pondered their messages.

I won’t pretend to understand the notion of happiness, and have always wondered whether or not I myself could be regarded as a “happy” individual. Frankly, I’ve considered myself serious and (most of the time) contented. But happy?  I’m not sure. Throughout my life I have known multitudes of friends who exude a happy exterior that I feel I have never projected. During several occasions of my classroom encounters, when the subject was raised, I would muse aloud whether or not happiness was overrated.

Already, I feel that I am rambling, but I want to get this out: I have known countless moments of unspeakable happiness in my life. But the bursts of happiness were always ephemeral, and I always had to cope with the moments that were low or just benign. But I’ve never complained that life was overall unhappy. I guess what I am saying is that I agree with the first quote–happiness is easier lost than found. And oftentimes I feel that happiness finds me, surprises me, visits me, rather than claim that I successfully found it.

As to the second quote, I offer a resounding Yes. My memories are among my greatest sources of happiness. My life has been abundantly blessed with a myriad of memories that will never evaporate. And the memories are always there for the recall.  Unlike happiness that I find at will, the memories I can indeed call up anytime I need them.

Thanks for reading. I just wanted to get this off my chest, while I flit from place to place, seeking an air-conditioned environment!


The Long Road Home

July 10, 2017


. . . what I want and all my days I pine for is to go back to my house and see my day of homecoming.  and if some god batters me far out on the wine-blue water I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit inside me, for already I have suffered much and done much hard work on the waves and in the fighting.  So let this adventure follow.

Homer, The Odyssey

Forty years ago, on July 3, I made my first trek from St. Louis, Missouri to Fort Worth, Texas, a twelve-hour drive, to open a new chapter of my life as I entered graduate school. Of course, I assumed I would return “home” in a few years and begin my profession. Instead, I began it in Texas and only recently retired from it.

The intervening four decades have been marked by that back-and-forth highway odyssey of sustained windshield time and interior thoughts allowed to flow like a river through my consciousness. I suppose the most constant theme has been that notion of “home.” Where has that been?  Coming to St. Louis has always meant coming home, and seeing parents and siblings–all of them still living–and feeling the welcome embrace of homecoming. Yet, all the while here, while enjoying the comforts and conversation and new /old sights surrounding me, I’ve been conscious that my home is far away, and the day will arrive that I return. And so, this morning, that day has again arrived. Before me lays that unwinding road, with the undulating windshield cinematography and the unspooling thoughts drifting through my mind. As always before, I expect I’ll find comfort in all that.

As usual, I awoke too early this morning, without an alarm, and Dad won’t be getting up for breakfast for about an hour. This affords an exquisite opportunity to sit on the carport and gaze at yet another splendorous display of lemon yellow sunlight pouring through the tall trees surrounding my parents’ house, and listen to the winds and the chorus of the birds.

Dad and I always go to Dave’s Diner for breakfast on the mornings that I am up here, even though I sleep in my sister and brother-in-law’s house a half mile away.  Yesterday morning, while returning home, my 88-year-old dad, a Korean combat veteran, dropped a CD into the console, saying, “This is the only song I care to listen to anymore.”  It was Billy Joel’s “My Life”! And so, I awoke this morning with those lyrics still pulsating through my head. My dad is quiet, with a great deal of space always surrounding him. How my heart vibrated to know that these are the kinds of thoughts that matter to him, at his age. We always wonder what kinds of notions lie at the bottoms of deep pools of silence in the ones we love. Yesterday, by just playing a song, Dad parted the waters and gave me a glimpse of what was at the bottom. I’ll be thinking a great deal of that while I’m on the road.


My Dad

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”


Thanks for reading.

And Some of the Words were Theirs

July 8, 2017

big river dark

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Spending an entire day fishing the Big River, with Wayne White, the River Sage, has filled me with ideas that are still incubating. River metaphors continue to resonate with me, and waking shortly after 6:00 this morning, sitting outside in a 67-degree paradise with a journal in my lap, I decided to explore this theme further.

For a number of years now, I have combed the surviving fragments of the Presocratic thinker Heraclitus, and this morning I added yet another gem to my favorite quotes from him. Previously, I have discussed with others his famous sayings: “All things flow; nothing abides” and “You can’t set foot in the same river twice”.  In my classroom, I have often contrasted him with Parmenides, arguing that Heraclitus represented a worldview of change while Parmenides offered a world of permanence. Heraclitus was fond of river metaphors while Parmenides preferred the circle.  But this morning, I was struck from the following, Heraclitus Fragment B50:

When you have listened, not to me, but to the Word,

it is wise to confess: One is All.

Yes, at face value that offers little. Translations always leave far too much in the shadows. The Greek text, however, is loaded, and once we try to expound the layers of meaning within those few words, the explanation becomes so ponderous that listeners become just as bored with the elaboration as they were dismissive of the terse text.

Having written that, let me try to offer this: The first line contrasts the one speaking and the Word.  Heidegger has pointed out that the Greek notion of “word” (logos) can mean “the gathering together.” The idea is immense, with “word” referring to some kind of cohering force. Keeping that in mind, the first line contrasts listening to speakers’ scattered opinions with the force that coheres.  All my life I have heard the noise of conflicting voices, often as annoying as today’s talk radio, everyone arguing for the supremacy of his/her position. Behind the cacophony of those scattered remarks lies the truth, the word that is coherent, not divided.

Second line: wisdom is something that always comes with time, never early. So, following the first line, when one has finally learned to listen to the force that gathers, s/he makes the wise choice of “confessing.” The Greek term for word (logos) is echoed in this word for confession (homologein).  “Homo” is “the same”. “Logein” is an infinitive, often translated “to speak”, but you see that its root is “logos”.  “To speak the same word” is what we translate “confess.”  And, when one hears that gathering force, and speaks in the same vein, what exactly is this confession?  “All is one.”

To sum up, when one listens to the gathering force rather than the scattered voices, wisdom dawns, and s/he confesses that there is an ultimate unity. Yes, this is my take on the Heraclitus fragment, and I’m holding it up, still believing that in our age, as in all previous ages, confusion often arises from the chorus of conflicting opinions, many of them shouted, and some of them backed by physical force. But I believe that there is an ultimate ground, a unity, from which all these fragments have spawned. The only limitations I see are the small minds unwilling to accept that there is much more than the perspectives they champion.

A day on the river was what I needed, and today more than yesterday, I realize the value it has brought to my life.

Thanks for reading. Now, let me offer up a few photos from yesterday’s odyssey:

big rock david

I shuddered when I finally saw this bluff with my own eyes.  Wayne has christened it “The Rock of David,” honoring me for doing a watercolor sketch of it last year from one of his photos. I promise that, having seen it now with my own eyes, I will endeavor to do a better painting of it in the future.  We anchored and fished next to this magnificent edifice for quite awhile.

big black

Throughout my life, I have caught so many species of pan fish that I have identified as perch, bluegill, red ear, warmouth, sunfish, etc. But never before have I caught anything as black as this. Wayne caught one as well.  These were firsts for my eyes.

big sunnie

As I’ve written before, I used to catch many of these as a boy, but haven’t seen one now for decades. Yesterday I caught at least half a dozen of them.

big little sunny

Even as small as this!

big wayne

Finally, hats off to Wayne, my trusted River Captain. He and Mark Nelson are the ones who make me feel safe. Alone, I am capable of capsizing kayaks. With these gentlemen, I am always safer whether in a canoe or in a john boat. My heartfelt thanks goes out to both of them for two splendid river excursions.

big river light

Call of the River

July 7, 2017


Fly Fishing Big River Earlier this Week

At 2:51 this morning, I decided to rise from my bed with a bruising headache, take some Ibuprofen, and sit up to wait for the pain to subside.  Headaches for me are an extremely rare occurrence, but when they do arrive, there seems to be no dispatching them without medication and a period of time sitting upright.  As I wait, I suppose I’ll attempt this blog.

I have posted above a photo my friend Wayne White took of me during our first attempt at kayaking Big River–a comedy of errors involving my capsizing my own kayak more than once, and Wayne having some difficulty transporting supplies on a separate vessel. At this point, we decided to beach the yaks on a sandbar and spend some time fishing this beautiful stream of water.

The river still calls out to us, and I am supposed to rise at 6:30, in just a few short hours, to join Wayne again for another boating expedition.   Despite my current pain, I am eagerly looking forward to this event, as Wayne is going to take me to a bluff that I tried to render in a watercolor sketch last year from a photo he took and sent to me.  I look forward finally to seeing the bluff with my own eyes.

rock of david

Watercolor Sketch of Big River Bluff

Earlier today, I managed to work further on the Palestine Texas and Pacific #610 that I began a few days ago.  I am getting bogged down in the details of the locomotive and choose not to rush the process, as I still have a number of unanswered questions concerning the actual tones of this complex subject.


Night Train

Fortunately, my headache has ceased. Time now to return to bed and hopefully get some quality sleep before rising to meet the river again.

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.

Still Working on the Night Train

July 5, 2017

night train

I have had difficulty finding quality time to work on this old iron horse, but found a second wind late this evening, and decided to give it a few more nudges.  Hence I’m posting it for any of my blogging friends who have been interested in watching it take form. My biggest trials at this point are the rendering of all the details on this machine, as well as differentiating between so many shades of gray.

Thanks for reading.

Fourth of July Painting

July 4, 2017


Family is starting to arrive for our Fourth of July cookout, so I’m posting what I’ve done so far today.  Working on details becomes so tedious that I frequently turn my attention to reading and writing, taking breaks from the watercolor.  The biography on Cezanne is amazing, as I’m reading now of how captivated he was in his scrutiny of inanimate objects.  I have always felt that unusual draw, as inanimate objects hold my attention. Recently, it is all these steam locomotives that I have been photographing in Palestine, Texas and St. Louis, Missouri.  Throughout this day, I have pored over the minute, exacting details of the portrait of this old #610 Texas and Pacific loco of which I’ve already attempted an earlier painting.

I enjoy our all-too-rare family gatherings, and hope that posting this blog will bring a sense of release so that I don’t sit quietly thinking over it while others are trying to visit. I’ve always struggled between the private and social moments of my day-to-day existence.

Thanks for reading and happy Fourth of July!

Independence Day Gratitude

July 4, 2017

4th of July

Before the Zen calligrapher begins his first stroke, he pauses to bring himself into full awareness of what he is doing.  That moment’s pause is crucial to what follows.  Instead of plunging pell-mell into the task at hand, he takes a moment to settle down in order to be at one with what he is about to do.

The Creative Spirit

I enjoyed my early morning reading today, particularly the passage that I posted above. Reading it made me think of the gymnast who pauses before plunging into his/her routine, or the guitarist before stroking the opening strains from the guitar. Having prepared my ground last night for this new watercolor of the old #610 Texas and Pacific locomotive housed in Palestine, Texas, I spent a considerable time of quiet, looking over the composition this morning before making my first move.  Using a toothbrush, I splattered masquing fluid all around the perimeter that I hope will translate into stars or cincders.  After it dried, wishing for a deep blue background that lightens as it approaches the engine, I sprayed the page with a bottle, then mixed a considerable quantity of Antwerp Blue, Winsor Blue (Green Shade) and a touch of Cerulean Blue and then applied these pigments to the moist paper, occasionally spraying it with a small bottle to feather the pigments toward the train.  As it began to firm up, I sprinkled stale bread crumbs all over the area, again hoping that it would look like debris in the steam once I get to putting that into the picture.

Fourth of July finds me with all my family, and the homecoming is always sweet to me. There will be a houseful this evening and several of my family members will be cooking and preparing dishes throughout the day.  I’m in someone else’s kitchen, so I guess I’ll spend the day working on this watercolor and trying to stay out of the cooks’ paths as I pore over this composition.

Thanks for reading, and happy Fourth of July.


The Return

July 1, 2017


Relaxing in a Dining Room Again

Artists, [Taine] proclaimed, had to have their own way of feeling, inventing, producing–their own way of being–otherwise they were nothing more than copyists, or hired hands.  In Voltaire’s terms, they must cultivate their garden.

Cezanne: A Life, by Alex Danchev

This is a relaxing, serene Saturday morning after a couple of days on the river. I slept long hours yesterday afternoon as the river trip drained me of my strength.  Now, sufficiently recharged, I wait for a full day of family activity. Waking at 6:30, I realized that decades of public school teaching converted me into a morning person.  Before the rest of my family stirs, I’m glad for some quiet reading time and reflective time in my journal.

I am fortunate that my parents still live and thrive in the St. Louis vicinity, as well as my siblings.  There is a place to return several times a year that I can still call “home.” And thanks to Facebook, several of my high school friends have re-emerged and become important parts of my life.  I moved five hours away immediately after high school, then when college ended, I moved a couple of states away and still reside in Texas.  But coming “home” grows in warmth and tenderness as the years advance.

Because of Saturday family plans, I doubt that I’ll be able to pick up the brush, but reading the Cezanne biography during the quiet of the morning certainly has my mind on what to try next, artistically.  I have a number of railroad compositions in mind, and will most likely go in that direction.  And I hope to push into new frontiers rather than crank out some kind of “signature” piece.  I’m sure that no artist recognizes his/her own “style”.  I certainly do not discern my own.  But throughout the years, friends and acquaintances have told me that they recognize my work without looking at my signature.  I’m never sure whether or not that is a good thing.  At any rate, I would like to try something new and daring when I sit down to my next piece.  The quote posted above from the Cezanne biography has been my mantra for years.

Thanks for reading.