Thoughts in the Winter Night

November 11, 2018

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The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction cannot so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable than with fact. Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be less finished than an architectural finial.

Herman Melville, Billy Budd

Oklahoma temperatures are dipping near the freezing point as I sit up and write this. My friends have retired to bed, and the cabin is still. The outdoor patio fireplace is providing more than enough warmth as the fire continues to burn brightly. While the hours extended into the cold night, I finished reading Billy Budd, and our conversation drifted to reasons why we all love to read when we can find the leisure (and all of us being retired are now very grateful for those more frequent moments that we can spend poring over the printed word).

In the heat of our conversation I tried to express something that I have probably tried to express at least once in the history of my blog entries. And I don’t feel that I successfully nailed what I was trying to say. Now that I am alone and still not yet sleepy, I thought I would power up the laptop and see if I could find a more accurate way to express what is on my mind.

Since the age of eighteen, while in college, I have been in quest of the Oracle. I have always sought a Word of guidance, some kind of navigational aid, a pole star if you will. In my college days, I was poring over the Bible daily, a practice that would land me eventually in the Protestant pastoral ministry. Believing that the Bible was the Word of God, divinely inspired, I approached it daily, prayerfully, seeking a divine Word to direct my path. I was very seldom disappointed. If I stayed with it long enough, patiently, some Word would come, and I would write fervently, seeking to clarify what it was I needed to do in my life.

About twelve years later, I left the ministry, but did not leave the conviction that a Word was always available for anyone who sought it. The only thing that changed was the medium; I came to believe that revelation was everywhere, in great literature, in philosophical treatises, in comic strips, in conversation, in walks through the woods, in modes of semi-sleep. I believe passionately that a Word is always available to anyone who seeks to hear and understand.

In my days of theological study, I was always captivated by the idea uttered by Swiss theologian Karl Barth. He argued that through the act of preaching, the Bible had the potential to become the Word of God. When I was a pastor, I worked in conservative circles, and my colleagues continually raged against those words, arguing that the Bible is the Word of God. I felt then that they were not really listening to what this theologian was saying. What I came to believe Barth was proclaiming is this: the words of the Bible become the Word when the listener genuinely connects with the message. There are so many interpretations  concerning how exactly this phenomenon occurs. The moving of God’s spirit on the listener, the openness of the listener, the spiritual preparation of the preacher, etc. The point that interested me was this: the event of words becoming a Word for the listener is an occasional one. A reader can read thousands of words and nothing significant happens. A listener can listen to an hour of preaching and nothing happens. Words fill the space, but no defining Word occurs.

In my senior years, my views on this have not changed. I am aware that I can read pages and pages of text with no significant encounter. I can write pages in my journal and find no significant truth flowing out of my pen. I can listen to hours of discourse on the television or on YouTube and not feel strangely moved. But it is accurate to say that seldom if ever does a complete day unfold without my being touched by a jolting Word that stops me in my tracks, holds my attention, and convinces me that I have been quickened by a higher truth. Revelation has occurred. Enlightenment has dawned. I consider this a gift; I cannot make it happen. I cannot create the encounter that I so richly seek. I can only trim my sails in an effort to catch the wind once it blows.

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.

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Quiet

November 10, 2018

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And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward, But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to our Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward. you.

Gospel of Matthew 6: 5-6

You think Gottlieb isn’t religious, Hinkley. Why, his just being in a lab is a prayer.

Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith

Beaver’s Bend State Park is overrun this weekend with a Folk Festival. Fortunately, we reserved a cabin months ago outside the park, so we’re surrounded with space and quiet. I’ve been reading almost daily from the Sermon on the Mount, and this morning was struck by the passage posted above. My conception of prayerfulness is not the one I held in my earlier church attendance days. Rather, I feel it is a state of mind that I know when I am alone reading or making art. When I read the statement above about hypocrisy and praying in public, I felt like I had been called out for my blogging preferences. I spend mornings in quiet devotion, reading books, making art, writing in a journal, and then post pictures of my morning, and now wonder if I am praying on street corners. I am just trying to let others in on my practices that mean a great deal to me. And I am trying to encourage anyone who is going through a low moment in life to consider retreating into solitude with good books, good thoughts and good views.

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It is 38 degrees outside and I continually bundle up to spend some moments at the easel–then dash back inside to coffee and  books and journal and warm conversations with friends.

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The painting isn’t turning out the way I intended. But as I’ve said before, I am absolutely thrilled to the core while painting, even if I don’t like the result. Making art takes me to another world and contributes to what I feel is a prayerful life. I enjoyed reading Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, especially when the young medical student held up Professor Gottlieb as an example of a pious man, though religiously unaffiliated. The professor’s activity in the lab seemed an act of religious devotion. This is how I feel when I engage in the arts.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Retreat

November 8, 2018

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Deep sigh . . . I have arrived.

I am not complaining about the level of industry I’ve sustained over the past months–truly, I love what I do, and am glad to be semi-retired so I have time to do it. But I have only so much physical energy, and know what it means to need a rest. And I need a rest. The Darrs, whom I love deeply, included me in their plans for this escape months ago, and the timing could not be better. I drove three-and-a-half hours today to get to this location, and it has been four years since my last stay here, but I believe it will be more than worth the wait.

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Four Years Ago

Tomorrow, I’ll find out if the fishing is still as good as it was then.  In that day, my fly rod got a workout as I fished a beautiful stretch of trout waters beneath a towering bluff. And today, while making the journey here,  I was ecstatic to see the fall colors peaking in this territory. In fact, I was so excited at the fall foliage that I dialed up Hobby Lobby on GPS and discovered there was one three miles ahead, just off the Interstate. I dashed in and scored a couple of full sheets of watercolor paper and a handful of stretchers. So I’m all set for plein air.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Morning Coffee Before the Escape

November 8, 2018

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Preparing more Collage Materials

. . . the might-have-been is but boggy ground to build on.

Herman Melville, Billy Budd

“The things we could have done together.”

Steve Jobs speaking to John Sculley near the close of the film Steve Jobs

Days have rolled by since my last post. I just finished a whirlwind of activity between my college classes, art gallery and art festivals. In addition, there was plenty of travel for business purposes. And I have had some meaningful visits and conversations with friends. The fall season is always busy for art. And, I experienced a profound loss as well during this space in time. Hence, the quotes above.

At the time of this writing, I am preparing to meet my last college class of the week, and then will leave for the wilderness for awhile. The vacation was planned long ago, and it includes my closest and steadiest friends over the past thirty years. In fact, they were the ones that made the cabin arrangements and invited me to join. I am glad the day has finally arrived. I need the rest. This could prove to be the fullness of time.

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My Favorite Trout Stream within Driving Distance

Years ago, on a chilly November morning, I pulled four 20-inch rainbow trout out of this stream. It was the best fishing I had known in years, and I haven’t returned, until today. I hope the re-visit will fill me with the same calm that I knew back then. Few things stir me more deeply than the sounds of a flowing trout stream beneath towering bluffs. Times like this call to memory a text I read long ago:

Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. 

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.

I am haunted by waters.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

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My Attempt to Paint that Scene

I have packed my supplies for watercolor as the fall colors are peaking at this location (hopefully I can do some plein air painting, though forecasts call for temperatures to dip into the thirties). I also have a number of collage ideas surging in my head, mostly of Jack Kerouac themes. Happily, I sold my recent Kerouac collage to genuine friends I have happily known for a number of years. And of course, a stack of books have been packed along as well, mostly Kerouac, Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and a few others. I intend to devote days to meaningful conversations with my close friends, reading, writing, painting, journaling and thinking. I don’t yet know if I will have Wi-fii access where I am. So, if I go quiet a few days, the readers will know I am off the grid, which is also good.

At this time, I also wish to offer my sincere “Congratulations” to the Historic Redlands Hotel for being awarded Best Renovation/Rehab/Restoration by the Texas Downtown Association! I still cannot believe I have been offered the most beautiful gallery space in this special building!  And now, I have been joined by the best roommates I could ever imagine: Smooth Rock 93.5 FM. I miss the “boys” already. “Kevin and Marc in the Morning” from 7-10:00 provides great company for me at my desk every weekday morning.

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 Redlands Hotel, Palestine, Texas

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Joined by the “Kevin and Marc in the Morning” Personalities

So, until next time . . . thanks for reading.

I make art, hoping to discover.

I journal, being mostly alone.

I blog to remind myself sometimes I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

Genny Wood Art Show & Sale

November 3, 2018

Morning Coffee with Dave and Walt Whitman

November 2, 2018
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In The Gallery at Redlands, Working on Whitman Collages & Greeting Cards

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, 
Healthy, free, the world before me, 
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. 
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune, 
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, 
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, 
Strong and content I travel the open road. 
Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
Yesterday, after class, I set off for Palestine to work in my gallery and make preparations for the weekend Genny Wood Art Show & Sale. After the two-hour drive through the country, enjoying the bright sun and 60-degree weather, and filled with the ecstasies of Kerouac’s odyssey, I decided upon reaching Palestine to spend some time outdoors. I had spent too much time the past few weeks chasing deadlines. Finding a park bench beneath an enormous shade tree, I sat in the cool, took a cleansing breath, and opened my volume of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  Reading Kerouac’s On the Road yesterday prompted me to look up Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” today. He published this poem the year after his Leaves of Grass took flight, and the adrenaline was apparently still surging through his creative consciousness. My heart floods with good sentiments every time I read verses such as this from Whitman’s hand.
After five years of reading rave reviews of his Leaves of Grass (some of which he published anonymously himself!), he felt the time had come to publish a second edition of this collection of poems. There was only one problem–he had reached ebb tide and his creative surge had faltered. Perhaps he was still too young (first edition came out when he was thirty-seven) to realize that creative output is cyclical. At any rate, he was feeling morose and second-guessing whether or not he had genuine talent or was just over-sold with that first edition.
While walking pensively one evening along the seashore, he composed a poem that reflected his sagging sentiments of the time: “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life”–
O baffled, balk’d, bent to the very earth, 
Oppress’d with myself that I have dared to open my mouth, 
Aware now that amid all that blab whose echoes recoil upon me I have not once had the least idea who or what I am, 
But that before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands yet untouch’d, untold, altogether unreach’d, 
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows, 
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written, 
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath.
Whitman’s second edition of Leaves of Grass contains a number of troubled verses replete with his second-guessing. As we all know, he got over it eventually. The surge returned, and the collection of twelve poems grew to over five hundred, as he remained prolific throughout his life.
This is why I read so much biography–I want to learn all I can from these creative heroes about the dynamics of creative eros, including those barren times when the winds of inspiration have stilled, and how they addressed the problem.  At this very moment I am tired, exhausted. But not depressed, not panicky. I am confident that quality time for creating will offer itself up to me again, and that I will be ready to answer the bell. But for now, the appointments are joined end-to-end, it is the high season for art festivals and shows, the semester at the university is entering its final stretch run, and there is much demanded from me. I thank God that I am (semi) retired, have my health, and at least don’t have to answer to a Monday-Friday, 40-hour a week job. Life is much better now, and at least I can find the time to sit beneath a shade tree, read, reflect, and think about where I am going next. I have never been happier, even when tired.
Today I am packing up the Gallery to take to the Genny Wood Art Show & Sale at the Bullard First United Methodist Church Family Life Center. Today I will enjoy seeing my artist friends again as we set up, and the show will run all day Saturday. Below are a pair of photos of my booth from last year. I am hoping to make a much better display this year. Among my offerings will be collages of my creative heroes, including Walt Whitman and Jack Kerouac.
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Last Year’s Display at the Genny Wood Art Show & Sale

Smooth Rock 93.5 FM is humming along in fine fashion as I write this. I cannot describe how much I enjoy my new “roommates” as they broadcast out of this gallery, looking out their “Window to the World.” The Redlands Hotel is decorating for Christmas and yesterday began bringing decorations into the gallery and studio. The “Kevin and Marc in the Morning” show broadcasts live from 7-10 a.m. Monday through Friday. You can stream it on your computer, and even get the app for your android or I-phone.

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“Kevin & Marc in the Morning”–Smooth Rock 93.5 FM

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 & Jack Kerouac

November 1, 2018

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Kerouac Collage in Progress

I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I did not anticipate this, but since my retirement in June 2017, I have spent more time on the road than home. Such a life was always a fantasy of mine, but I never expected it to become reality. And now that it is reality, I am surprised to find it even better than I had visualized it. What I call “windshield time” is a great clearing out for me, perhaps in ways that Buddhists speak of their experience during zazen. 

This weekend, I will be taking my art to the Genny Wood Art Show & Sale in Bullard, Texas (Saturday only). There are two links, one general and the second one is their Facebook page:

http://bullardmission.org/category/fundraising/genny-wood-fine-art-show/

https://www.facebook.com/gennywoodart/

My daily reading recently has taken me back to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  I really don’t know how many times I have read the book myself (at least twice), but I have had the audio books read to me countless times over the past ten-plus years. But now I am reading the original scroll for the first time, and after about fifty pages, I must say that the experience is much richer than I had imagined. Kerouac’s original manuscript was typed on a continuous roll of paper like one would obtain from a teletype office. I actually saw this scroll on display in recent years at an exhibit in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

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Jack Kerouac’s On the Road–the Original Scroll

Reading the continuous text with no paragraphs indeed reads more like a stream of consciousness piece of literature. And I got the sense of the narrative unrolling much like the highway does in front of me when I am actually on the road. Whether I am reading (or rather, trying to read!) James Joyce’s Ulysses or Kerouac’s On the Road, I am thrilled at the sense of odyssey and adventure. After teaching my morning Logic class at Texas Wesleyan University, I’ll travel the two hours across the wide-open countryside to Palestine, Texas to gather my art work from The Gallery at Redlands to load into the Jeep for tomorrow’s set up in Bullard, Texas (an additional hour’s drive). I am fortunate that I get to stay as a guest tonight in the historic Redlands Hotel. In the morning, I’ll enjoy “Kevin and Marc in the Morning” as Smooth Rock 93.5 FM shares studio space in the gallery with me. After the broadcast, I will travel to Bullard to set up, and then Saturday spend the day at the art show. I’ll be grateful for that extra hour of sleep when the clocks change Sunday.

In the picture at the top of the blog, I have included a new collage of Kerouac that is still in progress. At the Genny Wood Show, I will be bringing out collages, a medium I have not displayed and sold for a number of years now. Yesterday, I picked up an extra print bin from Pro Panels in Irving, Texas that I will take out of the box tomorrow and set up with a host of collages of Kerouac, Whitman, Emerson, Proust, Tillich and many, many more. As I posted in yesterday’s blog, I am finding new life and inspiration as I make collages of the creative spirits who fuel my imagination on a daily basis.

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.

I Live in Two Worlds

October 31, 2018

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Cutting, Tearing and Pasting

And at 4 in the morning wrote 500-words again, with the admonition to “Keep it moving.” Thank God for work!

Jack Kerouac, Journal entry , Friday, April 29, 1949

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Shakespeare and Descartes

While meeting with my artist friends last night over dinner, we discussed new directions we are taking with our art. I resolved yesterday that I was bringing collage back into my body of work. I have been restricted to watercolor in recent years because of the higher-end art festivals requiring us to display a single, unified genre. I understand that. And my “signature” is in the body of watercolors I have put together over the years. But during those years, I have never ceased to pursue academic subjects in my reading, drawing and collage endeavors. And so, this weekend, at the Genny Wood Art Show & Sale in Bullard, Texas, I am adding an extra bin to my booth which will feature collages of Shakespeare, Kerouac, Tillich, T. S. Eliot, and a host of luminaries in the fields of literature, philosophy and theology.

It has been a joy in the studio recently, tearing and cutting papers and materials and combining drawing and watercolor and manuscript fragments into my compositions. I am able to live in my two worlds as I make art while at the same time reading, journaling and pursuing new ideas from my heroes of literature. Jack Kerouac has held my attention the past few days, so today I will turn my attention to collages bearing his images.

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.

Shifting Gears

October 30, 2018

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A Moment with “Kevin and Marc in the Morning”

I am back at my own desk at home this morning, preparing for my Logic class, but my heart is still beating in Palestine. The weekend was filled with great moments, as I enjoyed my new friends, Kevin Harris and Marc Mitchell, while they hosted the Hot Pepper Festival. Spending the entire Sunday in the old country store was also a profound blessing, especially watching the deer come out in the evening to graze. Yesterday was a labor intensive Monday, as I rearranged the gallery yet again and took down all my art work in the lobby of the Redlands Hotel. Weekday morning hours in the gallery are always electric, as “Kevin and Marc in the Morning” pulsates just twenty feet to my right, in the same gallery. The fellows surprised me by calling me over to the microphone twice this time. I never know what will happen when I sit at the broadcast table with them. I wish everyone could experience firsthand the dynamics of a live radio broadcast.

Now it is back to my other job–teaching Logic at Texas Wesleyan University, the institution that has been so good to me since the year 2000, providing adjunct contracts that help keep my mind sharp. Nietzsche wrote of the dual forces of Apollo and Dionysus that work in our psychological makeup, with Apollo representing order and Dionysus providing spontaneity (many like to speak of left brain/right brain issues). With my art and passion and overall lifestyle, I have been closer to Dionysus, often feeling more disorganized and undisciplined than creative. Yet, Apollo has had his say in many of my life skill disciplines as well, and most particularly, teaching Logic, with all its inflexible structures.

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This morning I will introduce the Traditional Square of Opposition, credited to Aristotle. I particularly enjoy this part of the semester, and appreciate the positive attitude of this semester’s students.  And of course, a ton of grading will be waiting for me once I return home from class. But . . . by bedtime, all of this will be completed and tucked away. Meanwhile, I continue to seek quality in the day.

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.

Another Buddhist Monastery Morning?

October 29, 2018

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2:17 a.m.

This happens often when I spend my nights in the country at my favorite hideaway—I’ll retire to bed around 8 or 9:00 and find myself awake at this mystical/magical/meditative hour.

Waking in the midst of yet another night, I lay in the quiet darkness and could not stop thinking about the enchanting day I spent yesterday at this place. Having slept late into yesterday morning, I made the decision to spend the entire Sunday here and not make the fifty-minute drive to the gallery. Sundays in the gallery usually are spent completely alone; hardly anyone comes into the Redlands Hotel or gallery on Sundays. I manage to get plenty of work done then, but this time I just wanted to let the day drift by slowly with reading and contemplation.

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The owners of the Gallery at Redlands own this property where I am privileged to spend weekends when the Redlands is completely booked. They come out to their ranch to feed livestock daily, and I always enjoy moments visiting with them. But yesterday was different; they had more time on their hands, and stopped by for a visit on the veranda that extended for quite a stretch. The conversation inspired me so much that I wrote the rest of the day in the journal, fleshing out the ideas we discussed. They are just as inspired as I with the possibilities now for an art culture to take root in Palestine. With the arrival of the radio station in the gallery and the enthusiasm of the personnel there, I was able to see during the weekend’s Hot Pepper Festival the possibilities now awaiting all of us. We have decided to launch an art festival next fall for the very first time in Palestine. I’ll be discussing more of this in the months ahead.

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As evening descended, I sat motionless in the rocker, hoping for deer to come and visit. I wasn’t disappointed. Looking way off across the pastureland to my right, I saw one, two, three, four, then five deer emerge from the edge of the forest and slowly make their way out into the pastureland to graze. Turning my head back to the yard in front of me, I felt a jolt like electricity flashing through me—a deer was standing thirty yards directly in front of me. She had stepped out from the shadows of the trees behind the barn. As I continued to watch her, a second one then materialized out of the darkness. Then a third. A fourth. A fifth. A sixth. And as I continued to watch, I then saw silhouettes of more in the shadowed woods—seven, eight, nine and ten. I continued to sit still for about fifteen more minutes, watching all of them, grazing, suddenly jerking their heads up and standing erect, ears out, listening, then lowering their heads to graze, then heads up again—a continual rhythm of eating and watching for potential danger. Then, as if following a signal, one exited stage left, followed by the next, then the next, and in less than a minute they were all gone. I then looked out over the pastureland, and all the deer out there had vanished as well. The moment had passed.

Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all . . . 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature 

Most of yesterday was spent on the veranda reading slowly and taking observational notes from Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen. Fifty-four pages into the text, I find myself very absorbed with this practice of zazen, having already become acquainted with it from occasionally teaching World Religions at TCU and Texas Wesleyan University, and reading Natalie Goldberg the past couple of days has once again brought these ideas to my attention. I cannot honestly say that I have spent time seated in the lotus position, and have yet to spend time counting my breathing, but I am intrigued at the Buddhist writings concerning enlightenment, and these writings convinced me to stay here at this country retreat for an extra day yesterday. Now, having risen at this hour, I have a few more hours to spend with these writings before driving to the gallery to join my radio friends.

7:25 a.m.

Smooth Rock 93.5 FM is in full swing with the “Kevin and Marc in the Morning” show underway. Kevin Harris and Marc Mitchell are always in good spirits when I see them in the studio, and this morning is no different, though they were stretched considerably by the weekend’s festivities. It has to be rough rising before daylight on Mondays when you have hosted a huge weekend event. The Hot Pepper Festival is in the books, and I’m sure they feel no regrets over its success.

And so, this is Dave, along with Kevin and Marc wishing you a splendid day as we send out our greetings from The Gallery at Redlands and Smooth Rock 93.5 FM, live from the historic Redlands Hotel in downtown Palestine, Texas.