Posts Tagged ‘Henry David Thoreau’

The Silence of the Rock

August 5, 2017

HEIDEGGER

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”

Every morning my soul floods with enchantment at the sight of Colorado light slowly giving shape to mountains towering above me. I snapped the picture above with my phone while walking outside. South Fork stands at an altitude of 8180 feet, and I don’t know how many additional feet overshadow me every morning as I look up in silence at these massive cliffs. Last year I tried multiple times to paint them; so far this year I only look at them in wonder, feeling something special easing into my essence.

The whispering of the South Fork of the Rio Grande below my cabin contrasts with the brooding silence of the cliffs above me. In all my years of teaching, I never felt that I was able to capture in words the dual perspectives of Heraclitus (everything moves) and Parmenides (there is only stasis). For most of my adult life I have felt these two worldviews flowing through me–change versus permanence. Long before the book was released A River Runs Through It, I have pondered these two views that Plato and many successors struggled to fuse into a harmonious world view. And now, once again in Colorado, I feel more centered in life, experiencing this flowing stream against the eternal rock.

Save for some postings on Facebook, I have shunned Internet traffic, certain that if I pulled up any news pages they would be parsing the latest tweets springing from a small mind. Life is much too large and expansive to waste time over shallow words.

My reading while in the mountains has been sparse, replaced with more time walking outside, fly fishing in the stream and relaxing with precious friends. Last night before a fire, I returned to reading Heidegger and felt moved to scribble several more pages in my journal, which then led to a blog entry. Rising this morning at 5:30, I am now enjoying another fire in the fireplace (49 degrees and wet outside) and feel compelled to explore further the writings of Heidegger. I feel at this point to say that I am fully aware of this thinker’s moral failures, but I choose to use his ideas at their best, not their worst; bad people are still capable of truthful insights.

Martin Heidegger had a cabin built for him in 1922 in the Black Forest while he was engaged in his university career. Though providing his livelihood, he disdained city and university life, and chose to spend as much time as possible in this cabin without electricity. All of his most important published writings were born in this quiet space. I have enjoyed comparing the lifestyles of Heidegger in the Black Forest and Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, each thinker preferring the quiet and nurture of solitude. I myself have been blessed with a store in the wilderness where I am allowed to withdraw as often as possible, and now this quiet space tucked away in the Colorado Rockies. Something precious occurs every time I step away from a life of calendar appointments and withdraw into a quiet place where the clock seems to evaporate.

Thanks always for reading.

 

 

 

Warm Thoughts Following the Retreat to the Wilderness

February 13, 2017

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Pleasurably Wrestling with Heidegger’s Being and Time

There are times when thought elbows her way through the underwood of words to the clear blue beyond.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, December 12, 1837

After an arduous week of school chores, I lit out of town late Friday afternoon for my three-and-a-half-hour drive into the country to stay in my favorite getaway spot. I truly believe my heart rate changes the moment I drive up to this place, and my breathing comes easier. Words cannot encapsulate what I felt as I spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday in the quiet of this remote countryside.

I managed finally to finish my reading of Goethe’s Faust, loving every line of text. After that, I turned to Heidegger’s Being and Time, and this book is always a struggle for me, but I believe worth the trouble. I turned to this book because I was smitten with Thoreau’s words that I read from his journal while I was in the midst of this weekend withdrawal. I see Thoreau and Heidegger both as lovers of words, their origins and their possibilities. Hans Georg Gadamer testified that Heidegger could trace the etymological “arteries into the primal rock of language.”  Heidegger said that “language is the house of being.”

Among the many facets of language, one element that intrigues me is the elusiveness of thought when we try to attach words to it.  George Steiner, in his introductory book on Heidegger, wrote: “The letter kills the spirit. The written text is mute in the face of responding challenge.  It does not admit of inward growth and correction.”  In Faust I found the same message this weekend: “The word dies when we seize the pen.”  I always find myself halting when I try to describe the sensations I experience when I’m deeply moved by the printed text.  And so, I labored over Being and Time, enjoying what portions of it I could understand.

Returning to my self-portrait, I managed to finish it Saturday evening, and put it on facebook. The response has been overwhelming, so I guess I did O.K. with this effort. I’m wondering whether or not to enter it into competition as shows are rapidly approaching this spring.  There also seems to be interest in limited edition giclee prints. Perhaps I’ll go that route.  I’m still contemplating.

finished

I’m feeling warm thoughts this evening, because I’ve received word recently of a new gallery opening and the prospects of my having a one-man-show there in the not-too-distant future.  I’ll release details if this opportunity actually materializes, and it appears that it will. I’m extremely happy with the possibilities, and already have a number of new paintings in my head, waiting to be born. I cannot thank my dear friends enough for all the encouragement and inspiration they provide. This weekend could not have been more pleasurable.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Into the Sanctuary

January 15, 2017

corn

Up-to-Date Photo of my Most Recent Watercolor in Progress

At most a city-dweller gets “stimulated” by a so-called “stay in the country.” But my whole work is sustained and guided by the world of these mountains and their people. Lately from time to time my work up there is interrupted by long stretches at conferences, lecture trips, committee meetings and my teaching work down here in Freiburg. But as soon as I go back up there . . . I am simply transported in the work’s own rhythm, and in a fundamental sense I am not in control of its hidden law. People in the city often wonder whether one gets lonely up in the mountains among the peasants for such long and monotonous periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness, it is solitude. . . . Solitude has the peculiar and original power of not isolating us but projecting our whole existence out into the vast nearness of the presence of all things.”

Martin Heidegger, “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” Radio Address, 1934

This three-day weekend arrived like that rare thoughtful friend. Some kind of stomach virus kept me out of school Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I returned to school, a shell of what I normally am, and I remember very little of that day. Thursday and Friday I was just tired, still not fully recuperated from the illness. The holiday weekend offered promise of a healing balm.

The reading posted above came from a book I just acquired, Heidegger’s Hut by Adam SharrBefore purchasing the volume, I was aware that the philosopher Martin Heidegger spent much time in a cabin in the Black Forest at Todtnauberg in southern Germany. What I did not know was that he wrote from that secluded dwelling for fifty years, and even turned down the offer to occupy the chair of philosophy in Berlin because it would take him too far away from this country sanctuary. In the same year, he broadcasted the quote posted above.

When I read that passage Friday evening, I just closed the book and sighed, staring into the dark night. I had already decided not to travel over the weekend, and stay in my own suburban home so I could have three days for reading, reflection and getting back to a watercolor I had abandoned before becoming ill. The temperatures had dropped enough to warrant a fire in the fireplace, so I put on music conducive for studying and spent much of this weekend reading the Heidegger book along with primary source texts I have enjoyed in years past from this unusual mind. I am over halfway through Steinbeck’s East of Eden as well. Finally I returned to the watercolor and have posted the latest developments on it for anyone interested in seeing it. I’m experimenting more with India Ink to darken some of the background and stale breadcrumbs to add more texturing to the wood and burlap surfaces. My intention is to continue working on it tomorrow and posting the progress to this blog.

store-picMy Favorite Country Escape

rocking-chair

Porch Time at the same Country Sanctuary

In one of his rhapsodic passages about thinking and writing in the country, Heidegger wrote: “The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.” That is exactly my sentiment as I try to express how profoundly the reading of this book has enraptured my own soul.  Thoreau had his cabin at Walden. Hölderlin had his Tübingen tower. Goethe had his Gartenhaus in Weimar. And Nietzsche had his convalescent home at Sils Maria in the Austrian Alps. For decades I have craved such a “sacred space” for retreat from the work routine so I could enjoy the quiet and hopefully create something special, mentally or aesthetically. Above I’ve posted two photos of a very special place, several hours from where I live–a place to which dear friends have offered access for just such activity.

In 1985, while writing my doctoral dissertation, I fled Fort Worth and lived in rural Whitesboro, Texas in the home posted below. It was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I preferred to write by the light of oil burning lamps at night and still recall the smoky smells that filled the house during those winter evenings as I worked. I still miss those days, thirty years later. Once the dissertation was completed and I graduated, I reluctantly moved back to the city to find work and have been living in the suburbs ever since. I have since revisited this home, too damaged now for an actual residence. The photos are posted below of how it looked around 2010.

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dscn2458

My Residence in 1985

knob-1

Close-up of the Painting in Progress

I look forward to retirement at the end of this semester. Though I’ll continue to live in my suburban home, I’ll seek opportunities to flee to the country for the quiet. I’m grateful that Heidegger left behind his musings on the values of retreat.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Seeking Aurora

October 4, 2016

claude-unfinished

I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

No matter how old I get, the visual effects of a bright sun will always arrest my gaze. The watercolor with which I struggle now focuses on this derelict gas station in Claude, Texas that my eye has engaged for over a decade of travels to and from Colorado. My previous attempts at painting it have been satisfying, but this time I’m struggling to catch the quality of the warm sun glancing off the gas pumps. My first wash of colors appeared too dirty and drab for my satisfaction. I’m wanting to capture that burnished glow of sun glancing off the rusty facades. As the sun waned that afternoon when I photographed them, the pumps seemed to wax. I thought that Apollo was lending his strength to any object with the stillness and strength to reflect it. The complementary clash of blue and orange has always been pleasing to me, and if I can get these pumps to complement the sky colors, then I’ll be more satisfied.

The foliage texture in the trees has pleased me, but again, the flickering fireflies of colored sunlight reflecting off the leaves didn’t happen this time either. I’m pushing myself to let the sun paint this watercolor, and so far I seem to be getting in the way.

claude-changes

Introducing some changes . . .

Once I got home from school, I had some more time to spend on the painting, using prismacolor pencil colors of yellow, scarlet and orange to try and bring some glow to the gas pumps and the tiled roof. I then added the concrete and asphalt of the sidewalk and street in the foreground, along with some fringe grasses.  The foliage was darkened and extended as well, and finally some deepening of the shadows beneath the roof.

Once tomorrow arrives and I can get some natural light back on this painting, I’ll have a clearer idea of how it is looking.

Thanks for reading.

Good Morning, America

August 12, 2016

loco (2)

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, . . . 

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to no one else.

Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing”

Good morning again, blogging and facebook friends. I unplugged from your company a couple of weeks ago, needing some time away to sort out some unsortable issues. After a week, I experienced little success in sorting, and then didn’t really know how to return to you, and still don’t, actually. Wayne White, a loving friend from high school days (http://www.doubledacres.com/), used to open his daily facebook with the warmest greetings to us all, and I still feel the warmth from reading his posts. So, here is my hope this morning to leave words of good cheer for anyone needing such. Wayne always encouraged us to spread the love, so I shall try.

A number of watercolors have been completed since I last posted, including the one above. This is a larger work by my scale (16 x 20″ unframed), and recalls a good moment from last spring while I was judging and workshopping at a plein air event in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, one of my favorite American towns for painting.

This summer has provided the luxury of grazing amidst many lush literary pastures.  A host of luminaries have shined a light before and within me throughout this sojourn, and I love them all for sharing their literary gift. During a joyful re-reading of William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry, I revisited this passage:

Depth roots us in the world, gives life substance and wholeness. It enriches our work, our relationships, everything we do. It’s the essential ingredient of a good life and one of the qualities we admire most in others. Great artists, thinkers, and leaders all have an unusual capacity to be ‘grasped’ by some idea or mission, an inner engagement that drives them to pursue a vision, undaunted by obstacles. Ludwig van Beethoven, Michelangelo, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr.—we call them ‘brilliant,’ as if it were pure intelligence that made them who they were. But what unites them is what they did with their intelligence, the depth they reached in their thinking and brought to bear in their work.

Balancing social encounters with a quiet contemplative life has made this entire summer truly unforgettable, with a host of splendorous emotions accompanied by a commensurate number of stumbles, bumps and bruises. That happens, and we should welcome it. After all, we know the sentiments of Henry David Thoreau as we continue to pursue the phantom of fulfilment throughout this Odyssey:

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

We know of that which Thoreau speaks. Each of us still tracks that phantom whose memory continues to haunt. And as Whitman observed, each of us sings our own carol.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Musings in the Wilderness

August 2, 2016

new train (2)

He had many of the qualities of a great poet, and was in some degree worthy to precede Shakespeare. But he seems to have run to waste for want of seclusion and solitude, as if mere pause and deliberation would have added a new element of greatness to his poetry. In his unquestionably fine, heroic tone it would seem as if he had the rarest part of genius, and education could have added the rest.

Henry David Thoreau (writing of Christopher Marlowe), Journal, 1837-1847

Reading from Thoreau early this morning stung me, and as I returned to work on this large watercolor, I could not stop thinking about the sad fate of Christopher Marlowe and Thoreau’s assessment of his gift. How many times has history witnessed the tragedy of gifted individuals who never developed beyond their native abilities because they would not nurture those skills? Looking back over my own life, I recognize that I was often a workaholic, and felt constrained to respond to every invitation to some sort of duty. In recent years, I’ve tried to find a way to slow things down and see if I could not water and feed some of the abilities I have been given.

This painting is a challenge on many fronts.  At this age, I still have too many unanswered questions about color and composition, but it’s a comfort to know that I’m not working on a commission. There is no deadline.  No one is waiting for this.  No competition lies ahead. And school is still a few weeks away.  I took this painting on my recent two-week vacation, and never unloaded it from my vehicle. I thought that perhaps I could give it some attention, but better things were offered during vacation time.  Now that I’m back home, things have slowed down, my routine is beginning to emerge once again, and I’m grateful for another quiet morning to read, reflect, and work on my painting.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to grow.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Up early for another round

May 3, 2016

image

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.  To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.  Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Rarely do I retire to bed before 9:30, but I hardly remember last night.  Driving through severe rain storms from Arlington to Tyler, Texas for a one-day workshop, and then driving another six-and-a-half hours to Cotter, Arkansas for a two-day workshop took its toll finally.  My hosts have offered wonderful accommodations and hospitality, but finally I physically and mentally cratered.  Last night I wanted to blog, and did in fact put something up, but don’t care to return and read it.

The six o’clock alarm found me refreshed, optimistic and oh so happy to go the next round.  Today will be my final workshop day, followed by some days of demonstrating and judging a plein air competition, but the hardest part of the schedule is just one full day away from completion.  So glad to be rested!  And so glad I set the alarm for a three-hour cushion before going to class. Can’t wait to see the participants again, absolutely love their drive to paint!

Henry Thoreau is a man I wish to God I could have met and spent time with.  So grateful am I that he cared enough about us to leave behind such precious words.  I’m angered every time I read of how his fellow citizens regarded him as a waste of a life when he died at forty-four without ever holding down a regular job.  His two books were failures in his lifetime.  Yet when his family opened his locked trunk after his death, they found over four million words of publishable print.  Why did he write and save all those manuscript pages after his failed publications? Because he believed he had something to say and that someday there would be grateful souls with hands outstretched to receive his message.  I am one of those hungry souls. His every word nourishes me.

My waking thought at six a.m. was the quote I’ve posted above.  I love carving out pieces of the world to put onto paper for myself and others to view, but wish all-the-more to carve and paint the atmosphere through which I peer daily and thereby to live a more artful, satisfying life for myself and others.

Trout Lodge bridge

Early morning attempt

It is a chilly fifty-one degrees early this morning in Cotter, Arkansas.  Yet the sun is bright and warm enough that I decided to pull up a table outside my lodge door and do a quick watercolor study of this magnificent Cotter Bridge just one hundred feet from my door. My fingers finally stiffened enough in the cold that I decided I pushed this one far enough and have a good record to take back to the studio.  No doubt this subject would make a beautiful painting to frame one day.

It’s nearly time to leave for class now.  Thank you always for reading and spending some of your morning with me.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

One Final Commission Before Christmas

December 22, 2015

fly fishing watercolor photoshoppedTime 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.  I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.  I cannot count one.  I  know not the first letter of the alphabet.  I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The first days of the holiday have been busy, but I finished my final commission for Christmas and now am ready for some r ‘n r.

Thanks for reading.

Morning Brings Back the Heroic Ages

September 12, 2015

The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

A Satisfying Saturday Breakfast

A Satisfying Saturday Breakfast

Waking at daylight without an alarm on a Saturday morning was a pleasant surprise, and even the greater surprise of learning that it was 65 degrees outside. I made coffee and sat on my back deck for the first time since last spring (Texas summers are beyond torrid) and felt the serenity of the world engulfing me. Going back inside, I decided to make a more satisfying breakfast of coddled eggs with herbs of Provence along with some fried Canadian bacon.

Following breakfast, I learned the sad news that the husband of a dear friend I’ve known for thirty years had just passed away. About an hour later, I was sitting with the family and listening for the most part–we are all so helpless when we sit with friends who have suffered such an unspeakable loss. There is no way I can describe the love I feel for this family, and frankly the rest of the day was just going through the motions for me. There is a gigantic hole in our world right now.

This evening, before the light faded, I decided to begin a new watercolor of the Laguna Madre environment. I barely got the sky and horizon laid in before the light was gone, and for such landscape paintings, I really hate working under artificial light bulbs. So this will have to wait until morning. It measures 14 x 20″.

A New Beginning on the Laguna Madre

A New Beginning on the Laguna Madre

There is plenty of Saturday evening still stretched out before me, and I have a number of books I have been reading. Last night Don Quixote was providing plenty of mental stimulation. Perhaps I’ll push him a bit further this evening. I still cannot make up my mind whether to sit in the comforts of my study or go out on the town–Fort Worth’s Sundance Square has been so delightful, especially with falling temperatures. And there are always the Starbuck’s Cafes. . .

Thanks for reading.

A Thoreau Saturday

August 29, 2015

image“Home” means so many things. On the most basic level it’s simply a location, the place where one lives. It’s also the physical structure, the house or apartment that is home. Last, home refers to the environment that’s created inside that structure, a world-away-from-the-world offering refuge, safety, and happiness.

It’s this last idea of the home as sanctuary that’s absent from most thinking and decision making about technology.

William Powers, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age

Saturday could not have come sooner for me. The first week of school was exhausting, but successful, and by the time Friday evening arrived, I saw the weekend as a luxurious gift. I spent hours in a comfortable reading chair last night, enjoying my journaling and reading, while looking up occasionally at my recent artwork tossed all over the sofa across the living room from me, and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

I am loving this book by Powers that I have nearly finished reading. The current chapter is over Thoreau, and how he fled the modern telegraph and railroad sensations to live quietly in Walden woods. I feel that my home is an escape from the daily flood of data and deadlines that harry me throughout the school weeks. Home offers shelter in the evenings and weekends, and a chance to feel that I have gotten back to my real life. Reading this book has been a godsend, because the author discusses ways to keep social media from driving your daily agenda, hence taking over your life. Since I started reading it, I have become painfully aware of how much time daily I have given to facebook, texting, email, blogging, etc. and less time to reflection over what I actually want to do with my life. The book has been a precious gift, and William Powers has offered us genuine spiritual wealth in his writing.

Recent 20 x 24" Laguna Madre Watercolor in Progress

Recent 20 x 24″ Laguna Madre Watercolor in Progress

Today, I am hoping to go deep into this painting that I started this past week. Daily I feel the call that it puts out to me, and I want to engage in growing it to its fulfillment.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.