Archive for the ‘Colorado’ Category

Aging and Loving

July 21, 2021
Shelton Hall, Old Town Palestine, Texas (still in progress)

I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for . . .

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

We have not yet been home a week from our Colorado excursion, but already I find myself firmly set in the daily schedule of my usual life divided between Arlington and Palestine, Texas–a life we had escaped last week for a few days. Daily, I re-open journal pages and sketchbooks from the Colorado hiatus and review the many photos taken, not wanting those memories to fade . . .

Always when traveling, I pack several books, never sure exactly what is going to hold my attention while vacationing. This time I took Martin Heidegger’s Poetry, Language, Thought, Larry McMurtry’s Comanche Moon, my Greek texts of Homer’s Odyssey and my New Testament, and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Every day on the deck of our Brookie Cabin, I found time for journaling, watercoloring in my sketchbooks and reading from Heidegger and Dillard. PIlgrim at Tinker Creek I have read twice, but the text is so rich I continually find myself re-reading passages that though highlighted had been pushed down the corridors of fading memories, needing refreshment.

I have posted above the passage that knocked the wind out of me (as if breathing at 8,000 feet wasn’t difficult enough already). Annie wasn’t very old at the time she wrote that, but the depth of feeling seized me then, and of course seizes me much more at my current age.

I’m never sure how to address this issue of aging, but these are the things on my mind this morning: First, I have been aware of a sedentary lifestyle for decades, but lacked the inititative to do anything about it. Reading books and making art and driving long distances are not acts that improve physical conditioning. Weight gains and aging finally drove me to hire a personal trainer, and for several months in the gym, I’ve experienced the Greek αγωνία as muscles have been stretched and torn. I gratefully realized the improvement last week when in the stream fly-fishing, that my footing had much improved over the slick rocks underneath and my stamina was better wading upstream against torrential currents. Scaling the hills back to the cabin also came easier. So yes, I am much grateful to Inner Strength Fitness for pointing me in the right direction, healthwise.

But of course, there is no reversal for aging. The longer I live, the more I realize how much I love life and want to suck out its marrow, as Thoreau expressed in Walden. I am not living a life of regret over past decisions, but I do regret the feeling of doors slowly closing on the road ahead. My watercolor posted above, nearly complete, depicts a subject that has pulled at my sentiments since the 1980’s–an America I knew as a child in the 1950’s that is slowly vanishing from our landscape, but not my memories. I call my company Recollections 54 because it points to my birth year along with the decade that shaped my earliest impressions. The city of Palestine is replete with these relics from the past, and I’m grateful now to possess a gallery in what I know to be the best part of that town–the historic Redlands Hotel, built in 1914 and still maintained with pride and dignity. But as I continually survey the aging buildings and properties about me, I feel the corollary of my own life that continually resists entropy.

Tomorrow I will return to Palestine and The Gallery at Redlands, hopefully complete this watercolor, then begin a new composition, picking out yet another of hundreds of its monuments from the past. We have exciting events on the horizon in Palestine as we continue to pump new life into its art scene. Next month will witness the return of Wayne White, my “Hank” hero from the short stories I’ve been writing for a book to come out sometime in the future. On Friday night August 20 at 7:00, Wayne will team up with fellow Gallery at Redlands artist Stacy Campbell to host our “Gallery Talk.” Few people can “slap it around” better than Wayne and Stacy when it comes to discussing art and humor. You won’t want to miss that event. And then the next day, Saturday August 21 will be our third “Art Walk” that will take in over a dozen businesses in downtown Palestine from 10:00-3:00. At 7:00, our concluding summer concert event will feature Carson Jeffrey. A number of Palestine creatives have pooled their enthusiasm to pump up the fine arts in town and I’m proud to play a part in the events.

The morning has stretched into the afternoon already. I plan to spend the day in Studio Eidolons to see what I can cook up next. I hope to write you from The Gallery first thing tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Finding the Seam

July 18, 2021
Sunday Morning, Home in Studio Eidolons

One week ago, we started out on our journey to South Fork, Colorado to enjoy a few days of cabin rest, walking in the mountain air and whatever else we fancied. I was enriched to enter the stream on three occasions to fly-fish and still feel the sensations of those moments now on Sunday morning a week later.

View from the Deck of Brookie Cabin
My First Catch was a Handsome Brown Trout
Second Catch was a Rainbow

The same day we returned from our road trip from the Rockies, we started out for Palestine, Texas to participate in the city’s Art Walk and maintain business in The Gallery at Redlands. Driving home late last night, I found on Facebook an inspiring note from one of my former students who had just experienced her first fly-fishing lesson in Colorado. She responded to my congratualtory note by reminding me of a sermon I had delivered in 2016 titled “Finding the Seam.” She also said she spoke to her guide about the seam.

This morning I took out the sermon and re-read it, and have now decided to go ahead and post it. Thank you for reading.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back. 

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast. 

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

          Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.  Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots, as it cuts through the banks is a virtual symphony,  Maclean’s words come back to me: “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 the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

          Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all. 

          What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

           Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

          What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness. 

          Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

          Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

          I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

          Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

          And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow. 

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.


[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson,ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.

Look unto the Rock from which You were Hewn (Isaiah 51:1)

July 16, 2021
Plein Air Watercolor Sketch during Colorado Vacation

My hope is to launch a series of blog entries this weekend encapsulating the amazing three days experienced this week in South Fork, Colorado. Departing yesterday morning at 10:00, we took our time driving back to Texas with our two small dogs, stopping frequently to visit interesting locations on the return, finally pulling into our driveway at 2:30 this morning. After about four hours’ sleep we cleaned up, re-packed, and made the two-hour journey to Palestine to be ready and in place for the city’s monthly Art Walk tomorrow (Saturday). Currently I’m sitting in The Gallery at Redlands, eyes barely focused, but still wishing to begin this series tonight just in case tomorrow brings a flurry of activity and distractions preventing me from posting.

I still cannot believe how much was crammed into those three Colorado days. Above is an image marking one of my many personal highlights. Sitting on the deck of Brookie Cabin at South Fork’s Riverbend Resort, I have gazed over the years below at this magnificent boulder seated between me and the South Fork of the Rio Grande. Several years ago I painted it and felt satisfied with the results, but still found myself since then continuing to stare at the amazing visage of that massive rock. The textured surface, the pock marks, the lichen patterns, the subtle shifts of warm and cool neutrals playing across it–I’m still mezmerized.

In recent years my desire has intensified to study the colors and textures of boulders, cliffs, canyons and mountains visited in west Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. My satisfaction with my results has been mixed with far more misses than successes. Yet still I wish to pursue these watercolor and pencil studies and hope that with the Colorado visit behind me I will nevertheless continue this focus and see if I can turn a significant corner in my watercolor ouevre.

While selecting colors for this particular rock, I turned to some pigments I’m not used to working with in my watercolors–Stephen Quiller’s Venetian Red, along with Daniel Smith’s Quinacridone Burnt Sienna and Shadow Violet. For awhile I attempted to render the myriads of pock marks with Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencils by Faber Castell–Dark Sepia 175 and Cold Grey VI 235. I then finished out the work by scumbling about the boulder surface with a pencil I’ve become attached to over the past year–the Blackwing Matte. John Steinbeck used this pencil to write his manuscripts, and Looney Tunes creator Chuck Jones, along with Disney animator Shamus Culhane, sketched with this tool. I have enjoyed the velvety feel of the graphite when scribbling in my journals and eventually used it to draw into my watercolors. I have always loved the graphite quality of Andrew Wyeth drawings, watercolors and drybrush sketches, and always hoped I could find satisfying ways of weaving pencil into my watercolor endeavors. This recent scumbling experiment excited me as I finished up this plein air sketch.

I’m glad to be back home in Texas, but still feel the Colorado excitement in the pores of my skin and am happy that the memories are very fresh and alive, though I am exhausted tonight as I write this. Hopefully, I’ll find more lucidity tomorrow after a good night’s rest.

Thanks always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Snow Rhapsody on the Stream

September 10, 2020
South Fork of the Rio Grande

The river was clear and smoothly fast in the early morning.
Down about two hundred yards were three logs all the way across the stream. They made the water smooth and deep above them. As Nick watched, a mink crossed the river on the logs and went into the swamp. Nick was excited. He was excited by the early morning and the river.

Ernest Hemingway, “The Big Two-Hearted River”

Riverbend Resort has been my favorite Colorado haunt since our friends the Darrs introduced us to this place twenty years ago. The South Fork of the Rio Grande cuts through the resort, and I decided to rent a tent spot for $30 so I could fish on this private stretch of water that I have come to know so well.

With temperatures hovering at 34 degrees and the one-foot snowfall thawing enough to make trudging through the meadows easier, I pulled on sufficient winter gear to enter the stream and not suffer chills with the icy winds coming down the gorge.

Rhapsody in the Stream

After working the waters for nearly two hours, I only encountered a small brown trout for five seconds before he shook free of the fly. Copper Johns have always been the trouts’ nymph of choice, and I was advised that they were still doing the trick this time of year in these parts. But I was having near-zero luck this time.

Nevertheless, the waters were beautiful as was the fallen snow all around, and I felt a serenity I always cherish when wading a mountain stream. The solitude was rich; I only enountered one other fly fisherman who hailed me from the shore as he was trudging back to his cabin, having caught only one small rainbow. Temperatures continued to hold steady in the mid-thirties, but I felt no discomfort. In the third hour, I finally reached my favorite hole–an enormous shelf of rock the size of a pickup truck slanting into the water, the darkness beneath making my pulse quicken.

My first cast into the shadow of the rock was greeted by a fourteen-inch rainbow whose aerobatics entertained me for about half a minute. By the time I had him within three feet of my net, he broke free and was gone. Still, watching his antics sent thrills throughout my being, and I knew there had to be more action where that originated.

After missing another trio of strikes near the rock, I finally hooked and netted a small brown and took a moment to admire the beautiful bronzes, golds and scarlets that played along his flank as he lay on the rocks. I wasn’t fishing for food today, and was glad to see him dart into the depths once I released him.

All at once the heavens opened and the air was filled with enormous snow flakes. This is the first time I ever stood in the midst of a mountain stream with a snow shower falling all over me and plopping all over the stream. I’ve been surprised before by sudden thunderstorms, always exiting the waters as quickly as possible, but this was different–the enormous flakes fell hard and thick all around me, and the sight was gorgeous. I wanted to take out my phone and shoot pictures, but the waters suddenly rippled in several areas at once as the trout were rising with a vengeance. Because I was using a nymph, I held little hope of landing any of these surface feeders, but I suddenly saw a good-sized brown rolling in the water just underneath the lip of that enormous rock outcropping. I dropped the nymph upstream and watched the grasshopper I used as a strike indicator drift along the shadow of the rock. Suddenly the hopper was gone and I saw the bright flash of gold beneath the surface. A minute later, he was in the net, all fourteen inches of him.

After a quick photo I lowered him back into the water and he was off like a shot. All I could think of was the Hemingway short story (a portion posted above) that I’ve loved since high school. And I laughed at recalling the prosaic line “Nick was happy.” That’s all I could say. Dave was happy. And exhausted. As I turned to leave the stream, grateful for such a day and thinking nothing better could possibly happen, a bird suddenly visited me. He landed on my fly rod and remained perched there. After a few frozen moments of our staring at one another, I reached into my pouch, fished out my phone, flipped to the camera mode, aimed, and caught his picture. He stayed another thirty seconds before deciding to move on. I couldn’t believe it: a bird suddenly perching on my flyrod as I waded toward shore. And staying awhile as I stood still, holding the rod as steady as possible.

Bird on the Flyrod

Two summers ago, while here at Riverbend Resort, I was watercoloring on the porch of my cabin and was visited by a bird who perched on the painting I was working on en plein air. He also remained to be photographed for warm memories. My friends laughed at the encounter, calling me Saint Francis.

Bird on the Painting

In the morning we continue our Odyssey as we venture into Utah. Thanks for reading. This has been a heart-warming day for me.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Snowbound September 9, 2020

September 9, 2020
View from the Cabin Porch, South Fork, CO

When the early morning light quietly

grows above the mountains . . .

            The world’s darkening never reaches

            to the light of Being.

            We are too late for the gods and too

                        early for Being. Being’s poem,

                        just begun, is man.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

We decided we had had too much of the Texas triple-digit daily temperatures, so we put together a plan for a one-week Odyssey to Colorado and Utah. Two days before departure, we saw the winter storm warnings for Colorado, but decided to soldier on. Spending the first night in Amarillo, we noticed temperatures dropping to 59 degrees. By the time we cleared Walsenburg, Colorado, snow began dumping on us and the temperatures dropped to 32 degrees. South Fork greeted us one hour later with no snow and a surprising 57 degree afternoon, but that changed at nightfall. At 7 p.m., the electricity for the city failed, and did not resume till 1:30 a.m. Fortunately the cabin was well-insulated and sleeping was never a problem. Morning greeted us with a foot of snow, and it continues to fall, expecting to continue till noon Thursday. Today is Wednesday. The first thing I did when rising this morning was read “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier. After that, I read the Heidegger poem, then went outside to photograph the breath-taking mountain vista shrouded in mist above.

28 degrees isn’t so bad if you’re sufficiently bundled. So I set up my plein air easel on the front porch and gazed at that lovely mountain scene, deciding to give it a try in my watercolor sketchbook diary.

View from Inside the Cabin
Sandi captured this photo of me working on the sketch

This is only my second watercolor sketch in the diary. I purchased it last week, deciding to bite the bullet and see if I could do some decent watercolor experiments and keep them in a bound book. In the past I’ve attempted many sketches that ended up worthy of framing, so I feared that I would merely tear up a sketchbook. Now I’ve decided that I will work freely in this book, and if something is suitable for framing, tough luck; I will keep the sketchbook intact and enjoy flipping through its pages.

Even when my watercolor attempts don’t pan out, I have a luxurious time painting, loving every moment. This mountain view really sent me to another world, watching the mist descend over the crown of the mountain, all the time trying to capture the colors and textures I saw evolving. Thanks to a small spray mist bottle, I was able to continue dissolving the paint at the top of the mountain while continuing my work down the slope. This is only a 5 x 7″ attempt, but I’m happy with how it came out and will gladly keep it in the book. I’m still amazed that I was able to paint en plein air outdoors in 28-degree weather.

Thanks for reading. Our first full day here in Colorado is proving an eventful odyssey, and we’re happy and safe.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Reaping the Whirlwind

September 23, 2019

20190923_1145585378017711049572944.jpg

This Watercolor Just Found a Home

Go into Nature raw and simple and just sit quietly doing nothing other than allowing Nature to become accustomed to your presence. Soon enough, often just beyond what you had taken to be the threshold of your patience and perception, Nature steps forward and begins to reveal its features to you.

Peter London, Drawing Closer to Nature

Two summers ago, I had a one-day plein air experience that now seems to have altered my watercolor trajectory in a profound way. I was sitting for hours on a cabin deck in South Fork, Colorado, staring at the beautiful evergreens lit by the sunrise. Musing over how exactly I could capture the evanescence of these lovely trees in transparent watercolor, I thought over what I had learned about sixth-century Xie He’s “canons” of painting. Briefly stated, he pointed out that the artist’s aim was to capture the spirit or movement of the subject.

I immediately began experimenting with numerous panels of stretched watercolor, combining masquing, pouring, splattering and dripping of the pigments. As I worked, I was joined by some cute critters.

bird on painting

Feeding chipmunk4

20190923_2105008578267727983044022.jpg

A New Attempt at Evergreens

Today I decided to go after the evergreen subjects with some new ideas for experimenting. All day, my mind has been in a whirlwind as I’ve thought up new techinques and approaches, filling several pages of my journal. It feels good when the mind and imagination begin percolating new ideas and approaches.

I wanted to take a moment and share the paintings I worked on yesterday at the Queen St Grille. It was a great experience, and I am grateful for Jean Mollard’s invitation to paint there again.

20190922_1306328506518675108319508.jpg

20190922_1337467045799342409407140.jpg

20190922_1342187235826586894840912.jpg

I’m painting well into the night tonight, which is unusual for me. I hope I’ll have more to share tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the rush.

Thanks always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave and Abraham Heschel

August 27, 2018

20180827_1307221871417547102271384.jpg

Heschel and The Torah

It is the sense of the sublime that we have to regard as the root of man’s creative activities in art, thought and noble living. Just as no flora has ever fully displayed the hidden vitality of the earth, so has no work of art ever brought to expression the depth of the unutterable, in the sight of which the souls of saints, poets and philosophers live. The attempt to convey what we see and cannot say is the everlasting theme of mankind’s unfinished symphony, a venture in which adequacy is never achieved. Only those who live on borrowed words believe in their gift of expression. A sensitive person knows that the intrinsic, the most essential, is never expressed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

This book by Heschel was a real treasure I found at Half-Price Books two summers ago. The only reason I pulled the volume off the shelf was because I recognized the name, invoked on the first day of class in Hebrew Prophecy, when I was studying at the seminary. The Professor read an extensive quote from Heschel, and I promptly went to the campus bookstore to purchase volume one of his work titled The Prophets. It proved to be a very technical book that I found useful in my studies way back then. But this current volume that has kept me company for two years now certainly provided a compelling word for me during my morning reading.

I lack that scholar’s eloquence when I try to describe my own pilgrimage. To put it succinctly, when I was a child, I pursued art because it was the only talent I possessed. Art was the only way I could gain entrance to a university. Once I “grew up” (I was a very late bloomer), I tumbled headlong into the study of ideas, falling profoundly in love with scholarship and the power of the word. After fourteen years of earning degrees, I picked up the pencil and brush again, and not only discovered that I had solid thinking behind my “talent”, but a reverence for the power of art that I had not acknowledged throughout the years of my youth. Even during my years of undergraduate study (majoring in art) professors would occasionally refer to art as having a “religious” foundation, and I only scoffed in immaturity, because my only notion of “religion” was liturgically based, and I thought art was a “worldly” or “arrogant” endeavor.

All of that changed after my personal “earthquake” in 1984, that I won’t go into at this point. All I wish to say, is this: following my personal crisis, I slowly moved into that circle of art as a religious instinct. And Heschel uttered with genuine erudition my heartfelt belief about art emerging from a sense of the sublime. And I am on the same page as he is, in admitting that this sublime “power” is never fully released in the finished work of art. No human can harness completely that divine force and reveal it to the viewers.

Along with reading Heschel, I am also chipping away at the Hebrew text of the Genesis creation account. I will always be grateful to the seminary for training me in Hebrew, and though my skills are clumsy now compared to back then, I can still work with the language. I am most intrigued with the first two verses in Genesis, reading about the earth as a chaos of unformed matter, and I shudder when I translate that the spirit, or wind of God “brooded over the face of the waters.” And then God spoke, and the world began to organize. In a series of words, the world began to shape with opposing forces: light and darkness, day and night, water and land, etc. Later, the Greeks would coin this word “logos” that we like to translate “word.” But this particular word points to a gathering, and organizing, a pulling together. My feelings intensify when I think of the artistic process–organizing, separating, identifying, coordinating–all the things described in the account of God creating a cosmos. When the Genesis narrative states that God created people in his own “image”, I tend to think that that “image” is one of a creator. An artist is a creator, and in that endeavor is most like the divine. Michelangelo believed that when he made people from marble, that he was doing something comparable to God’s act.

This is why I falter when I try to explain to others the profound feelings I undergo when I am drawing or working in watercolor. There is a primal force urging me forward in this endeavor, and I never feel that I rose to the intensity of that primal force when I view my finished works, no matter how good I think they may be. The act of making art, to me, is always much, much more than the satisfaction of looking at a finished piece.

Hopefully, I will have a chance to pick up the brush later today. I still have some college work to complete before class tomorrow, but I feel the itch to explore these new techniques in rendering trees that began several weeks ago.

20180818_1453521073453791339107088.jpg

One of my Colorado tree experiments

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Paul Cezanne

August 22, 2018

cezanne

Within the painter, there are two things: the eye and the mind; they must serve each other. The artist must work at developing them mutually: the eye for the vision of nature and the mind for the logic of organized sensations, which provide the means of expression.

Paul Cezanne, quoted in Emile Bernard in “Cezanne’s Opinions,” 1904

Throughout my life, Cezanne’s work washed over my consciousness in successive waves. I was introduced to his work while taking art history as a senior in high school, and recall those days of fixation on one of his Card Players paintings:

cezanne card players

Continuing my study of art history into the college years, I became more aware of his still life arrangements.

cezanne still life

But while teaching the Humanities in my early years as a teacher at Lamar High School, I twice visited the Barnes Foundation while it was traveling, first to the National Gallery in Washington D.C., and later to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. It was during that exhibition that I was smitten for the first time by the work of Cezanne, notably because of this piece:

cezanne-nudes-landscape

I was smitten because the oil colors were so rich that the painting, ninety years later, still appeared wet. I also was amazed because I recognized some kind of Arcadian presentation, unlike the natural plein air landscapes or studio nudes of the Impressionist painters of his company. I then wondered what exactly was going on in Cezanne’s imagination to frame such a presentation.

Throughout the nearly three decades of teaching art history in high school, I never gave Cezanne the attention he deserved. I was honest with my class, explaining that he had many theories going on throughout his life, and I never quite understood them, aside from the popular explanations of his attempting to find a relationship between form and color. I believe in that regard I was more honest and direct than Hemingway was in his early Paris years as an emerging writer:

. . . I could walk through the gardens and then go to the Musee du Luxembourg where the great paintings were that have now mostly been transferred to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. I went there nearly every day for the Cezannes and to see the Manets and the Monets and the other Impressionists that I had first come to know about in the Art Institute at Chicago. I was learning something from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. 

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I have laughed so many times over that passage! I scribbled in the margin of my book: “and you STILL are not articulate enough to explain it!” As for my teaching, I didn’t try to explain what I did not comprehend about Cezanne’s theories. And I will not attempt that this morning. Rather, I just want to share what his work and ideas have come to mean to me in my own pursuits.

Since retiring, I have taken up a number of famous artists in my leisure, grateful for the time and space now provided me to read quietly, reflectively, and not have to scurry about writing lectures and meeting three classes every day. I have taken up Motherwell, Rothko, Newman and Cezanne in these past two years, and poured countless hours into reading their interviews, biographies, criticisms, and poring over their images. Other artists will follow, I am sure, but I chose these particular individuals because they were serious, independent thinkers, not just skilled painters. And the Cezanne quote that opens this blog this morning has arrested my attention. As an artist, I have tried in recent years to focus my mind as well as my eye on the task of painting in watercolor. In studying the works of great artists, I have always been enamored with their talents, but their serious thoughts and constructions of theories have been just as fascinating to me.

While discussing three different ways of studying history in his Untimely Meditations, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche expounded his preference for the “monumentalistic” approach which concentrated on past heroes in order to confront contemporary mediocrity with the possibility of greatness. That has been my practice since finishing graduate school, to fasten my attention on great figures of the past in order to better myself. I like that the graduation exercises are called “Commencement” because I truly believe that a person’s real education commences once s/he crosses the threshold of the stage, diploma or degree in hand. And since my commencement, I have continually sought out the words of visionaries, all the time feeling that I was climbing the mount and approaching the temple to consult the Oracle.

Late in life, after his first one-man show, in 1895, at the age of fifty-six, things began to change. Awestruck young artists would make their way to Aix, as if on a pilgrimage, to seek him out and hear him speak–and if they were very lucky, see him paint. As accounts of these meetings began to leak out, so the word spread. The sayings of Cezanne circulated like the fragments of Heraclitus.

Alex Danchev, Cezanne: A Life

It was not until I read this biography this summer that I learned Cezanne was a serious scholar, rising at 4:00 a.m. and entering his studio by 5:00 to read for at least two hours before going out to paint. He was classically trained, and loved translating Greek and Latin texts. I was fascinated to read of his fixation on Virgil and Horace, and his ability to quote them in their original tongues, from memory. As a lover of Greek, I had always hoped that my hours spent translating would in some way feed my artistic eye as well. Now, I receive encouragement to continue from Cezanne.

During my senior years, not only have I fastened my attention on the words of famous artists, seeking some kind of Oracle to direct my own efforts, but I have also returned to nature to look at it with fresh eyes in an attempt to come up with a theory or method to capture what I see and place it on paper. I was delighted to read Cezanne’s encouragement to study the masters but always give priority to nature:

The Louvre is the book in which we learn to read. We should not, however, content ourselves with retaining the beautiful formulas of our illustrious predecessors. Let’s take leave of them to study beautiful nature, let’s undertake to disengage our minds from them, let’s seek to express ourselves in accordance with our personal temperaments. Time and reflection, moreover, modify vision little by little, and finally comprehension comes to us.

Paul Cezanne, letter to Emile Bernard, 1905

As he discussed his pilgrimage to Cezanne’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence and his trek to Mont Sainte Victoire, Martin Heidegger remarked: “These days in Cezanne’s home country are worth more than a whole library of philosophy books. If only one could think as directly as Cezanne painted.” While traveling to New Mexico and Colorado this summer, I managed to finish the book Cezanne: A Life, by Alex Danchev. And it was Cezanne’s influence that moved me to spend an entire day on the cabin deck in South Fork, Colorado and do nothing but study and experiment with watercolor, rendering the evergreen trees that were bathed in that splendid Rocky Mountain atmosphere.

I painted “on the motif” (Cezanne’s favorite expression about painting en plein air). And as I gazed at the evergreens in the changing light and intermittently fed the birds and chipmunks that gathered on my deck, I eventually developed some experimental steps to painting trees as I had never tried before in watercolor. Below is the page of my journal that I scribbled on August 5 at 2:34 p.m.:

20180822_0955011632528815015445708.jpg

s painting 6

s painting 4

s painting 1

20180805_104935

20180805_114414

Because Cezanne was absorbed with blue pigments in his rendering of atmosphere, I experimented with blues that I had not used with much frequency before: Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Blue (Red Shade), Indanthrene Blue, Cobalt Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, Prussian Blue, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Antwerp Blue and Payne’s Gray. Previously, I had only worked with blue in my skies, and a little with color mixing. But I had never worked so much with blues in and around my green palette. I was truly in a different zone, and now that I have returned to Texas, am looking forward to experimenting further with this.

I just finished my first day in Logic class, and so marks the transition into my university duties. I have three courses this semester, but two are online, so I won’t have to invest as much in travel time and lecture writing. I believe focusing on logic will be a good thing, as I work to organize my mind as well as my eye and continue in this artistic enterprise. Reading always thrills me, but so does picking up the brush.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Henry

August 15, 2018

I am home now, my imagination overrun with memories of natural beauty that was my real home for most of the summer.

dave & henry

Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have . . . Hebrews 13:5 (KJV)

That I might never be blind to the beauty of the landscape! To hear music without any vibrating cord!

And so scribbled the thirty-three-year-old Henry David Thoreau in his journal while rhapsodizing over the landscape  engulfing him. Yet, while beholding the richness of the land, he languished over his perceived poverty in his own soul:

Looking through a stately pine grove, I saw the western sun falling in golden streams through its aisles. Its west side, opposite to me, was all lit up with golden light; but what was I to it? Such sights remind me of houses which we never inhabit,–that commonly I am not at home in the world. I see somewhat fairer than I enjoy or possess.

A fair afternoon, a celestial afternoon, cannot occur but we mar our pleasure by reproaching ourselves that we do not make all our days beautiful. The thought of what I am, of my pitiful conduct, deters me from receiving what joy I might from the glorious days that visit me. After the era of youth is passed, the knowledge of ourselves is an alloy that spoils our satisfactions. 

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1850

Thoreau

I awoke this morning in my own bed, after a forty-five day odyssey across Texas, northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. In my sleep, the babbling sounds of the South Fork of the Rio Grande rolling past my cabin deck soothed my dreamscape. Waking up to suburban Arlington, Texas was not the fairest of greetings. I swear I can still smell the pines that I strove to paint early each morning in that fifty-degree Colorado climate. And if I close my eyes, I can still see the chipmunks scurrying about the deck in search of food.

20180805_104935

chipmunk

I am fortunate to be old enough to know better than to lapse into the kind of dissatisfaction Thoreau was facing in his journal. True, Arlington for me comes nowhere near the sublimity of the Colorado Rockies or the New Mexico canyons. But I have been blessed to spend a cool, seasonable summer in those environs, and I believe they have made me a better person to face the tasks that now lie before me. And I am old enough to know that the real wealth is what lies inside my soul, and my genuine happiness stems from my urge to create something from it. I could never possess the landscape, but can only enjoy it as a gift. Thoreau actually knew that as well:

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

Emerson believed that the quality of life is carried inside oneself, not in the abundance of possession:

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. 

Today marks a new day and a fresh beginning. Thankful for the summer restoration, I find myself able to pursue new work, new endeavors, while I continue to carry the thankful memories within.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

In the Great Silence of these Distances

August 8, 2018

Riverbend Resort

Last Week

starbucks

This Morning

The month-long Odyssey has been an abundant blessing, moving across Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. Though I have moved on from the mountains, I still feel their call rising within me. This morning, situated in the city, I have moved into the interior, into the Cave, which is fitting, because time has arrived for me to devote the remaining two weeks to university preparations involving intense study and the creation of necessary documents for three courses.

I will also be focused on commissions I have in the hopper, so watercoloring will also be part of my daily diet. I cannot conceive of anything more rewarding—a life of the mind each morning, and the creation of art each afternoon.

As I work, images from Colorado still flood my inner vision, both of mountains and of wild critters that visited me daily.

20180806_072514

The Mountains Called out to Me, and I Answered

20180805_104935

A Friend Recently Called me Saint Francis

20180729_091718

I Still Hear the Birds Conversing about the Deck

20180805_103026

This One Appeared Curious over what I was Reading . . .

20180803_185910

. . . and This One Spent Three Days with Me as I painted

20180805_114414

For the rest of my years, I’ll be grateful for the memories of this month-long Odyssey, as I am this morning grateful for this gift of teaching university students. In two weeks, I shall open the next Chapter, and commence the challenge of inducing young minds to embrace new ideas from Judaism and Logic at Texas Wesleyan University. Since the year 2000, this small private institution has embraced me as I have explored with my students ideas contained in the New Testament, Old Testament, World Religions, Logic, Ethics and the Humanities.

Life is much more comfortable for me now than it was when I first began my own university studies. I no longer feel the anxieties associated with having more questions than answers. After all these decades, I still have more questions than answers, but it is O.K. I hope I can pass on the wisdom to these new students that I read in the letters from Rilke to a young poet:

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. 

santa fe depot

Resuming the Commission this Afternoon

After a three-week hiatus, I am also returning today to complete this promised commission. Throughout my travels, this image has continued to compost in my mind’s eye, and I am enthusiastic to pick up the brush and resume work on this engaging subject.

Time to go to work. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.