Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi River’

White Owls

October 14, 2013
Evening Watercolor Sketch of White Owls

Evening Watercolor Sketch of White Owls

“Dad, why do we always go to the Mississippi River to fish all night?”  We were seated in the backyard of my parents’ home, enjoying a cool summer evening.  My son was about twelve years old, had not lived with me since his mother and I separated when he was young, but an essential part of our visitation was an annual summer camp-out on the Mississippi River dike near Neely’s Landing in southeast Missouri.  Three generations—my father, myself and my son—made the journey and stayed out all night on the dike, fishing for catfish, alligator gar, sturgeon, buffalo, carp—anything that would bite on minnows or nightcrawlers.  I wasn’t sure how to answer the question, but took this approach: “Well, I guess I still consider fishing with Dad a key part of my rite of passage.”

“What’s a ‘rite of passage’?”

“That’s the transitional moment when the boy becomes the man.”

“I don’t get it.”

I looked behind me at the half-open kitchen door, checking to make sure we were not being monitored by my parents.  I had to reach far back into my childhood memories to pull out the thread that I wanted to explain carefully to my inquisitive son.

My own father never talked much.  A decorated combat veteran from the Korean War, he chose not to talk about what happened that night in 1952 on Hill 191.  We knew only that it was unspeakable, and for that he was decorated with the Bronze Star.  Getting married, raising a family and working as an auto mechanic left him weary in the evenings, and he was content to be left alone with his evening paper and the television while we did things that small children do.  By the time I was twelve, he began taking me fishing, and his profound love for that activity resonated profoundly with me.  I don’t know how much of it was the outdoors, or how much of it was the reality of being invited to spend quality time with my dad—I just know that fishing Indian Creek in southeast Missouri where my father grew up was an important part of my own growing up.

On one particular excursion, Dad had chosen not to fish, but to smoke his White Owl cigars and meander up and down the creek banks while I fished the holes for bass and bluegill.  I was using a Lazy Ike, and on one particular cast, put it too far over the hole, where it landed in a tangle of weeks and tree roots on the opposite bank.

“Dad, I’m hung up.”

“Wade out there and get it loose.”

“I can’t go out there.” (I was worried that there might be snakes in the water.)

“You know why?  Because you’ve been petted all your life.”

Those words stung me.  Enraged me.  My father never spoke much.  But on this day he did.  So that was what my silent Father thought of me!  A sissy.  A momma’s boy.  Petted all my life.  I threw down my rod, waded the creek up to my armpits, untangled the lure and returned to fishing.  And stewed.  “You know why?  Because you’ve been petted all your life.”

The next day I still wasn’t over that stinging rebuke, though nothing further had been said between us.  I approached my dad as he sat in the living room, while all the other in-laws chatted about nothing worth remembering.  But he was sitting there silently.  My father never spoke much.

“Dad, I want to go fishing this afternoon.”

“I don’t feel like it.”

“But I want to go, alone.”

“You’re old enough.”

“There are snakes.  I should take the .22.”

“You know how to use it.”

“I might stay until dark.”

“Be careful.”

I gathered up the fishing tackle, the Mossberg .22 bolt-action rifle, and borrowed cash from my mom.  Then I set out on the three-mile trek to Indian Creek, stopping first at Marlin’s store, an old-fashioned country store at a bend in the county road.

Walking into the store, I leaned my rifle against a wooden bench and approached the counter.  I was going to need food and provisions for this day-long rite of passage.

“Five pieces of bubble gum, a Royal Crown soda, two Pay Days, and a Slim Jim.”

“Will that be all?”

Looking up to the top of the shelves behind the clerk, I pointed to the stacked boxes of cartridges.

“And a box of .22 long rifle shells.”

The clerk reached up and took down a box of cartridges, setting them down next to the candy and soda.

“Anything else?”

Looking beneath the glass at the tobacco section, I added:

“And a couple of White Owls.”

The clerk set the two cigars down before my delighted gaze and asked if there would be anything else.

That afternoon, I ate my provisions, smoked my cigars, fired my rifle at phantom snakes in the weeds, and fished.  And felt large, that the twelve-year-old had become a man.

As I finished relaying this rite of passage story to my son, I turned and noticed a movement beyond the kitchen door behind us.  Someone had been listening.  My dad wouldn’t do that, but Mom probably would. And if she heard, there is a good possibility she would pass it on to Dad.  But he would not be the type to say anything about it.  Dad never talked much.

Four o’clock came early the next morning.  Bleary-eyed and silent, the three of us loaded the Chevy pickup and piled into the cab.  It was still dark, and we had a two-and-a-half-hour drive before us.  Stopping at a convenience store to gas up, my dad and son got out.  I knew my son would want to go inside for soft drinks, candy, etc., and Dad would be filling the tank and then going in for coffee.  I chose to stay in the cab and doze.  A few moments later, I was startled awake by the thump of a package tossed through the open truck window, landing in my lap.  A package of White Owls.

Dad never talked much.

Still Trying to Finish the Winfield, Missouri Store

May 4, 2011

Winfield, Missouri store along Highway 79

Mercy, mercy me!  I cannot shake loose to find quality time to paint!  Just finished my last college lectures and am preparing to give finals, and high school has a way of accelerating in the final weeks.  I worked on this painting a little last night, this morning, and again this afternoon.  I am covered up with high school preparations for tomorrow’s classes, have fallen behind on grading, yet this painting is no longer whispering from the corner of the studio, but shouting, indeed shrieking for my attention.  And it’s all I want to look at now.  I suppose the only positive thing that I can say is–it appears Icould be finished with this by the weekend.  I would truly like to have it signed and delivered by then.  That is my goal.

The painting is large by my usual standards (about 22 x 28″), and I seem to get lost every time I get involved in rendering the shadows under the awning, or the depths of the interior seen through the windows, or even the wood grains on the carpentry that graces the front of this dying structure.  This morning, I began laying in the lines for brickwork along the left side of the composition, and believe me, I will get lost once I begin the brick rendering.  I love this part of a painting–when I know I am more than half-way to the finish.  That is when the quality of my breathing changes, my pulse slows, and I feel that I have entered another world.

O.K., back to the school work.  Maybe I’ll be privileged enough to return to this tonight.

Thank you for reading.

A Summer Morning in Sleepy Winfield, Missouri

April 27, 2011

Winfield, Missouri Store

I have put in two consecutive late nights in the garage studio, painting till past midnight.  It makes it a little rough, going to school the next morning, but there it is.  This is another full-size sheet of watercolor paper (22 x 28″).  I have painted this abandoned store twice before.  I discovered it in the summer of 2009 while driving highway 79 north of St. Louis along the Mississippi River.  The small town of Winfield is where this store rests, just along the west side of highway 79.  The light was so bright that August morning, the sun had just risen.

I’m having some struggles with this painting (I hate it when a watercolor starts out badly!).  I poured quite a few layers of pigment on the tree/foliage area at the top, wanting to get the woods very dark and deep.  I’ve decided to just let the foliage be for the time being, and go ahead and work on the store facade.  Tonight involved plenty of close, tedious drawing and drafting, but I’m still convinced that a strong and accurate drawing will yield a good watercolor (hope I’m right this time!).  I’m not sure that the pencil work can be seen in this photograph, I always have trouble getting a good digital image under light bulbs late at night.  Most of my blog shots are taken out in the driveway in the middle of the day.  I guess I’m admitting that as a photographer, I fly by the seat of my pants.

At any rate, I am finally settling into, and enjoying this watercolor composition.  And with the kind of school schedule I have this week, I reckon that I’ll be having to put in late hours in the garage studio (my least favorite time to paint).  I’ll take what’s offered.

Thanks for reading.

Summer Morning Odyssey along Missouri Highway 79

March 7, 2011

Sun Rising on Winfield, Missouri

I have completely re-written my opening blog page “Hello and thanks for entering my blog.”  That was long overdue.

I posted yesterday that it seemed unlikely that I would get into the studio today.  I have high school all day, and Open House tonight.  However, I got an early start on this day, and it now seems possible that I could get in some studio work this afternoon during the interim.  If I do, I’ll certainly post my progress.

Meanwhile here is a piece I have at the Weiler House Gallery (  I came across this location during a 2009 summer odyssey I took from my home town of St. Louis, north up Highway 79 en route to my college alma mater.  The location is Winfield, Missouri–a sleepy little Mississippi River town.  The sun was just rising over the Mississippi when I came across this abandoned store front–to me the most perfect setting for a watercolor study.  I photographed it at least twenty times from every conceivable angle, totally delighted at the warm early light of the sun and the cool shadows dancing everywhere.  The bright reds made me think of Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning. I have painted this store a second time–the other from a frontal perspective like Hopper’s painting just mentioned.  Very soon, I hope to return to this and capture it from yet another angle.  I wish there were more structures like this in our small towns.  It seems they have all been cleared away and replaced with Seven-Eleven or comparable stores.

Thanks for reading.

Back in the Watercolor Studio, January 16, 2010

January 16, 2010

Watercolor nearing finish in studio

(Painting now finished, on sale at the Weiler House Fine Arts Gallery–$400)

It’s terrific, having this Saturday free to return to watercolor, I’ve missed it so.  This work in progress was posted a few weeks ago.  Though it might not be readily apparent, much detail has been added throughout this day.  I know, the Devil is in the details, but I just love it so, whittling away at small areas that few viewers are going to see–blistered paint on wood, decaying wood grains, lichen on the concrete, subtle changes in the shadow colors.  I just get lost in all of that.

This abandoned store is in the town of Winfield, Missouri, a Mississippi riverfront town on Highway 79 northwest of St. Louis.  I was following this winding road back to my old college stomping grounds, in Kirksville, Missouri.  It had been decades since I last traveled this route.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Ghosts of memories past drifted across my conscious, Proust-like, as the day unrolled.  I photographed this store just an hour or so after the sun rose, and really wished to stop on the spot to do some watercolor sketches, but I decided instead to trust my digital camera, and my own interest to return to the subject later.  After all, Kirksville was still over 200 miles away via meandering state highways through farm country.  I knew I would be driving most of the day, because of the constant stoppages for photographing potential watercolor sites–and I did get out of the Jeep twice to do sketchbook work rapidly in pencil.  All the while, my tension between lingering and moving on echoed the words of Robert Frost–“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.”

I really hope I can get this painting finished by tonight.  I have several others waiting, and I’m interested in all of them at the same time–so scatter-brained this day!