Archive for the ‘fly fishing’ Category

Sweet Evening Solitude & Recovery

July 30, 2022
Working Lightly in Studio Eidolons Tonight

Current wisdom, especially that propagated by the various schools of psychoanalysis, assumes that man is a social being who needs the companionship and affection of other human beings from cradle to grave. It is widely believed that interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, if not the only, source of human happiness. Yet the lives of creative individuals often seem to run counter to this assumption.

Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return to the Self

Storr’s book has been like a Bible in my collection for over thirty years now. This was the first book, read when I was in my thirties, that convinced me I was O.K. even though I didn’t have much of a social life. The ministry dripped with a sense of alienation. Graduate school meant long solitary days in a library carrell. Welding-well, how many people stand around to visit with you when you’re under the hood while the arc lights up the room? Public education for nearly three decades saw me scrambling for privacy at the end of each school day. So yes, I have regarded myself, despite having a family whom I love, as largely private.

I don’t recall the last time I was ill; it hadn’t occurred since 2017 when I retired from teaching. And I don’t recall the last time I missed school due to illness. I have lived a life for the most part without need for doctor’s visits or medication. I wasn’t prepared for what happened when I tested positive for COVID yesterday morning. The good news was that Sandi was already in Palestine to run the gallery in my stead, leaving me to attend tonight’s artists’ reception in Granbury. She has since tested negative, so she will be staying out of our house till I am past all this. To repeat–I wasn’t prepared for this enforced isolation. Yesterday and today were among the longest days in my life, here in my home and studio, alone with a pair of small dogs.

This afternoon, while the isolation had reached its bleakest moment, the phone calls started coming in. Three of my paintings sold, two of them major works.

Six Subjects in Search of a Painter. SOLD

The New Owners

I was elated to learn that a student of mine from fifteen years back purchased my large still life at Baron’s Creek Winery in Granbury. I was deeply saddened that I was unable to attend this event.

He Was Here Yesterday SOLD

And then . . . Sandi phoned from our Gallery at Redlands. She had just sold another large watercolor of mine to a local automobile restoration artist. She told me he was fascinated with my collection of gas station compositions and chose the large one from among the pack.

Evening Hole. SOLD

Sandi also sold this mid-size watercolor of me fly-fishing Troublesome Creek in Colorado.

Needless to say, news of the triple sales (and boy, Sandi sold quite a number of other artists’ works the past three days in the gallery!) created somewhat of a soothing balm for my tortured feelings the past pair of days. Though absent in body, I’m glad that my “spirit” somehow lingered in the events where my work was on display. The affirmation helps, believe me.

I believe I will sleep better tonight. I have completed the first day taking dosages of Paxlovid, and already am feeling some physical relief from this dreaded illness. And news of the art sales has certainly provided a strong measure of good will; I feel much less isolated now.

More 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.

Full Day Given to Fishing

July 11, 2022
Finally landed a brown trout at the end of a weary day

I don’t recall a time when I was more bone-weary than now. Sandi took me to three different places to fly-fish today: Big Meadow, Coller Wildlife Area, and then a return to Riverbend Resort. After a full day of missed strikes and fish not quite making it to the net, I finally landed this handsome brown trout upstream from the tent area at Riverbend Resort. The day was overcast all day with temperatures hovering around 72 degrees. I had planned on watercoloring, but the Colorado landscape colors were muted with the absence of sunlight. I did thoroughly enjoy the fly-fishing, especially on the Rio Grande at Coller Wildlife. I had not been on “big waters” since fishing the Colorado River west of Denver over a decade ago. The water was gorgeous, clear and swift. Though I failed to set the hook on a major strike, I still enjoyed the vista and look forward to returning.

It’s only 9:30, but my eyes are hardly open, so I’m going to have to call this a night. Hopefully I’ll have more to report tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Finally a Nice Brown

July 8, 2022
Finally landed a nice brown trout in the evening

It’s been a long year, waiting for our reservation at Colorado’s Riverbend Resort to come around. Driving across west Texas, the temperatures reached 109 degrees. This morning in Colorado it was 48 degrees, and I was much happier!

My first morning fishing only turned up a pair of brown trout that would fit in the palm of my hand, plus a beauty that I did not manage to land. I went to one of the local fly shops and learned that the water is too warm and the trout are holed up in swift, deeper water. I always use a stimulator for the floater and tie on an extra 18″ of tippet to attach a bead head dropper. The man at the fly shop told me to attach a 36″ tippet. It worked. I managed to catch trout this evening in the deeper holes downstream, but my real surprise was the brown pictured above that took the large dry fly.

Amazed that he hit this stimulator instead of the nymph in deeper water.
A welcome 48 degrees at 6 a.m.

I awoke at 5:00 the first morning in Colorado and enjoyed a lovely walk in 48-degree weather. The sun coming up was gorgeous.

We put sweaters on the pups, but they didn’t much enjoy the cold outdoors . . .
. . . so we went back inside the cabin and built a fire

The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment . . . to put things down without deliberation . . . without worrying about their style . . . without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote, wrote, wrote . . . By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.

Walt Whitman

I am taking a page out of Whitman’s playbook while in Colorado this visit. I brought my 2005 journal of a previous Colorado excursion because while re-reading it, I found the details very crisp and lively, and ready for editing into a better piece of writing.

Beginnings of the morning journal . . .

In 2005, I was studying Latin (regretfully, it was not available for me in graduate school), and I fell away from the language for years. This year I have picked it back up again and decided to work on it every day during this Colorado venture as I did long ago. And while I am writing, I’m going to try and apply the good habits of Whitman and William Carlos Williams in scribbling spontaneously the immediacy of impressions to be fleshed out later.

The night is closing in, and I have yet to open the Latin books today. 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.

Wilderness on my Mind.

July 5, 2022
The South Fork of the Rio Grande

Poets talk about “spots of time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

I am posting a photo I took of the spot where we will live for twelve days. South Fork, Colorado has become one of the most precious locations on this planet where I’ve had the privilege of visiting since the year 2000. Over the past weeks, I have gone back and read every single journal entry from all my Colorado visits, and now I am finding the summer of 2005 to contain some of my best writing.

My sincere wish on this trip is to find a quality balance between reading, journaling, watercoloring and fly-fishing.

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.

Anticipation

July 4, 2022

I fish mainly because I love the environs where trout are found: the woods, and further because I happen to dislike the environs where crowds of men are found: large cities . . .

Robert Traver, Trout Madness: Being a Dissertation on the Symptoms and Pathology of this Incurable Disease by One of its Victims

I love the quote above from Robert Traver, a lawyer who once described himself as “an unfrustrated fly-fisherman.” And I echo the sentiment of his contrast between the woods and the city. Preparing for our impending Colorado mountain vacation, I just tossed Heidegger’s Poetry, Language, Thought into my book bag. Heidegger is another of my heroes who preferred his cabin in the Black Forest to the university city of Freiburg where he earned his salary. He did all his best work in the quiet confines of the cabin often referred to as “Heidegger’s Hut.” And I always hope to do some of my best work when I am away at some secluded place.

I was blessed to spend nearly a week recently in my favorite “country store” residence while working on a mural in Crockett, Texas. A quiet place away from the city feeds my soul and allows me to sort out some important areas of my life while reading, scribbling in journals and practicing my watercolor craft. In a few days, I’ll add fly-fishing to those activities when we land in the foothills of the San Juan mountains at an 8200-foot altitude. And already I shudder at the excitement of entering the South Fork of the Rio Grande to listen to the waters and stalk beautiful rainbows and browns.

I’m planning on honing my skills in rendering fly-fishermen, evergreen forests and mountain streams this time when I land in this enchanted place. I took a little time amidst packing this evening for some quick sketches of fly-fishermen, and felt all the excitement returning. I’ve also been re-reading my journal from the summer of 2005, the first time I was guided at some of Colorado’s blue ribbon waters. The memories washed over me like a spring shower. I’m ready to leave behind the 103-degree temperatures of Texas in exchange for some of those forty and fifty degree ones in “Colorful Colorado”.

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.

Sunday Leisure

July 3, 2022

Creative living requires the luxury of time, which we carve out for ourselves.

Julia Cameron

What a delicious morning, waking in my own bed for the first time in about ten days. The past week-and-a-half were divided between Palestine gallery hours and Crockett mural hours with wonderful evenings living in the old country store. But this morning I was grateful to sleep late, make French-press coffee, and then sit up in bed and read and journal for hours. I recently wrote about “executive time” and “sacred space.” That describes my morning. Following Julia Cameron’s sentiment, I found myself happier than usual today in the moment of carving out quality time.

Packing for Colorado, I enjoyed going through all my fly-fishing gear and finding a way to re-pack it from three bags down to one easy carry-on. I have this horrible habit of carrying three times more gear than I’ll actually need. My next step tonight is to do the same with my plein-air art gear. Again, I’ll exercise the art of paring down for an easier load-in.

I’ve posted above the watercolor I cranked out yesterday during Palestine’s monthly Art Walk. Time spent in The Gallery at Redlands all day yielded delicious fruit as I enjoyed tinkering with the watercolor and visiting with patrons and artists that drifted in and out throughout the day. By day’s end, I was surprised to see I had finished the 8 x 10″ fly-fishing composition (a selfie from a photograph taken twenty years ago). I’ve put it in an 11 x 14″ frame and priced it at $200 in The Gallery at Redlands.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been combing back through my journals to re-read and re-live my excursions to Colorado. So far, I have read and re-written drafts from eight of those visits. During these weeks, I’ve wrestled with the re-writes, grateful that I had sketched out the accounts and recorded details that would otherwise have been forgotten. Some of the writing has been sublime, while other times I’ve struggled to recreate the narrative. And then, this morning, I was totally shell-shocked by these words from William Carlos Williams in his Autobiography. He was recording the same difficulties as he confessed the practice of writing about his Paris sojourn, relying on his diaries for details as he re-wrote the accounts years later:

To jump from the diary to memory is an exercise resulting in curious complications. Sometimes there is no meeting of the two elements, a name remains blank to the mind. But sometimes the match of the written word scrapes upon the sandpaper and a light flares.

Wow. What imagination and what an image! I think I am ready to return to the journal and see if I can strike another match.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Fly Fishing Retreat

June 25, 2022
Largemouth Bass Prior to Release

Rising at 5:30 was worth the effort as I prepared to journey north for forty-four minutes to join my new fishing buddy and Queen Street Grille’s chef extraordinaire, Joe Massa. We began rigging up our flyrods around 7:00, and had our lines in the water shortly after. Joe was immediately pulling up all manner of bream, many of them frying pan size. The temperature was 79 degrees and we knew we had only a couple of hours before the Texas heat would drive us away. I only managed to land one of the three bass that hit my assortment of woolly buggers and San Juan worms; one of them got loose as I half-heartedly set the hook, the other broke me off despite my giving him a good thirty seconds to tire out. He was a strong one, and I hope one day to get a closer look at him. The excitement of watching him zig-zag through the waters before breaking free still stirs me hours later.

Tomorrow begins a new adventure. I’ve been invited to participate in a mural project in downtown Crockett, Texas, and I’ve been chomping at the bits for the day to arrive. I’ll have more to share as the task unfolds. Most of all, I’m excited to see that part of the Texas countryside that I’ve been away from far too long.

The Gallery at Redlands is quiet at this point of Saturday evening, and that is a good thing for me; I’m still trying to iron out final details for the Crockett project, and the quiet is soothing.

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.

Rite of Passage

June 1, 2022
Where it all began . . .

The ten-year-old boy stood on the ledge of Rocky Ford, the most talked-about fishing/swimming hole of Indian Creek in rural Jackson, Missouri. With his rod & reel, he tossed an earthworm dug up from his grandparents’ farm and watched it settle in front of the opening beneath a huge slab of rock in the bottom of the pool below. Immediately a perch darted out, seized the prey, and the boy pulled up his first fish. In later years, visiting grandparents, he would return repeatedly to this same spot, dreaming of one day standing there with a fly rod. Nearly sixty years later, it happened.

My buddy since second grade, Wayne White traveled with me yesterday to southeast Missouri. Accepting the offer from my cousin, whose farm backs up to Indian Creek, we drove onto his property, rigged up and descended the steep banks to the stream. For four hours, we hiked, waded, and climbed our way upstream from my cousin’s farm, then to my uncle’s, to Rocky Ford, and I was ecstatic to see that it still looked the same.

Rocky Ford, viewed from where I stood above

The creek looked the same, but the population was different. No sign of largemouth bass, perch, bluegill, sunfish or carp suckers. Only gar, and plenty of them. The result of all our efforts amounted to four gar.

The only one in hand

The first one broke me off

OK, now what I am about to relay sounds like a lying fish story, but it isn’t. Wayne witnessed it independently and will testify that it really happened. The photo he took above was my first gar nearly landed. He broke me off. I was using a white Clouser minnow, and he struck on one of my early casts. Bye-bye.

Four hours later, after wading, climbing and clawing our way upstream we reached Rocky Ford. We had nothing to show for our efforts except one landed gar, another that broke off, and two more that threw the hook (it’s extremely difficult to embed a hook in their long hard beaks). We reached the end of my uncle’s property, noting the barbed wire fence stretched across the creek. Fishing the last hole, I was startled by a huge splash on the opposite bank. An enormous, fat gar swam straight to me, then turned in front of me and hesitated in the water, chomping at something white in his beak. At first I thought it was a minnow, but then I saw the strands of white bucktail fluttering in the current. My white Clouser minnow! The fish had worked its way upstream the same distance as we! I kept my mouth shut, knowing Wayne would never believe me. But the fish then turned back downstream and drifted past him, twenty feet away, and Wayne saw it too. So there it is. No BS. And I’ll never forget the moment.

Thanks for reading.

Putting Down the Brush and Re-Opening the Books

August 16, 2021
Artist Cecilia Bramhall and myself experimenting in watercolor

After framing the six new watercolors I created, I found myself exhausted early yesterday evening. Sleeping in late today, I descended to the gallery a little later and found the atmosphere full of activity. Mondays are ususally slow in the hotel with the restaurant and bar closed on those days. But Cecilia was ready for a refresher course in watercolor, and I found myself in the mood quite quickly. In the middle of our exercise I was surprised by an offer from Texas Wesleyan University to teach an additonal class in Ethics. I accepted. So, come Monday I will deliver my first class lecture in several years and will open up a new online course simultaneously. Time to get back to the books, and my heart is filled with enthusiasm and gratitude for this new adventure.

I want to say a few words about the paintings that held my attention over the course of this past week that now are in the gallery for sale:

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Dream, 11 x 14 in the frame. $200

Georgia O’Keeffe once said that if she painted the Peternal enough times, God would have to give it to her. A few summers ago, we rented a casita adjacent to Ghost Ranch in Abiquu, New Mexico. The Pedernal was visibe from the front patio, and I painted it every day for a week. I modeled the painting above from a plein air watercolor I did from the interior of Ghost Ranch. The Indian flute player was added at the end of the exercise, on a lark. I thought the right side of the composition needed some weight.

Desert Odyssey in an 11 x 14″ frame. $200

This is my second attempt at a mounted vaquero modeled from a painting I did of the Fort Worth cattle drive that occurs daily in the Stockyards. I decided to transport the mount to an Arizona setting since I fell in love with the Sedona region a couple of summers ago. A few weeks ago, I was pleased at the results of some scumbling I did with a soft lead pencil as I attempted a watercolor sketch of a boulder. I tried some scumbling with a dark sepia watercolor pencil as I worked and re-worked the rock formations and ground cover in the background of this piece. I feel I have turned a corner with the use of these pencils on dried out watercolor surfaces.

Watching for the Rise. 8 x 10″ in the frame. $100

Several months ago I roughed out a few fly-fishing subjects, trying something I hadn’t done before–wetting my brush and “painting” with water the contours of the fisherman and then dropping in the pigments to watch the color flow and billow. After “fleshing” out the fisherman’s body, I then went back in and laid in a few essential details and accents.

Vaquero. Sold

This was my first attempt at recreating the vaquero from an earlier painting of the cattle drive. I wanted to experiment with a night sky and try to render a rocky horizon in something more than a mere silhouette. I still have much to learn about night colors. The most enjoyable part of working on this one was the myriad of details of all the rigging draped about the horse and rider.

Longmire Stroll. 8 x 10″ in the frame $125

This is my second attempt to render Walt Longmire from my favorite television series. Again I enjoyed looking for ways to shape and model the hat and shadows on the face. I’m still trying to figure out how to use watermedia for facial shadows beneath hats. Too many times I have revised subjects such as this until the area became overworked. I’m learning to stop much sooner and leave the simplicity of watercolor wash. While making this decision I thought of Hemingway’s philosophy of writing: “The Power of Less.”

Serene Pastureland. 8 x 10″ in the frame $125

Back in 2009 I often accompanied Sandi when she went to visit her horse to ride. I made several quick plein air watercolor sketches of grazing horses, keeping things loose. All those paintings sold years ago, but fortunately I kept photos of them. Retrieving this one from the files I decided to open up and experiment with colors I’m not accustomed to using in my work. I laid down the light green wash before painting the horse over it, so you can see the green in his legs. I also allowed some of the blue sky to show through on his body. Just experimenting with some ideas . . .

It’s past 10 p.m. now as I complet this. It’s been one of those days with many, many interruptions to my blogging attempt. But at least I finally got all of it down before retiring to bed. Tomorrow is another day and I still have much work left to do for Texas Wesleyan University. I’m glad to be back in the classroom, but will find ways to continue making the art and writing about it. Thank you 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.

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.