Posts Tagged ‘Thoreau’

An Artful Life

September 20, 2014

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 the arts.
Henry David Thoreau,  Walden

Negative sentiments have no space in my day-to-day life since my last blog post. I only regret to write that this past week was packed to the point that I never stopped to post blogs, though my daily journal continually piled up pages of written expostulations-all of them running over with gratitude.

For manifold years, the daily task of teaching (for me) was a solitary enterprise, and the occasional student crossed my path outside the classroom,  and intellectual/spiritual bonding occurred. When the school term ended, over 90% of those relationships severed, and I just accepted that – life goes on.

Last year witnessed a change – a core of creative, passionate students found me and would not let go of me. Not only did they comprise several of my classes, they dropped in at lunch, after school, and showed up at every art festival where I was a participant.

I fully expected this year to revert to the way things were before these beautiful minds found me last year. Gratefully, it did not happen. I am overwhelmed now with the spirit of good will emanating from more individuals than ever before in any given school year. There are no words to describe this new sentiment. This experience is leading this old man to examine new ways of defining “Art” as people around me are showing me symptoms of a more “artful life”. So, with all my love, I send out my deepest thanks to last year’s “core” of enthusiastic learners who have changed my life profoundly.


Musings on the Storm-Free Area and the Chambered Nautilus

July 24, 2014
Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth's Scat Jazz Lounge

Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

There is a great virtue in such an isolation.  It permits a fair interval for thought.  That is, what I call thinking, which is mainly scribbling.  It has always been during the act of scribbling that I have gotten most of my satisfactions.

William Carlos Williams, Autobiography

Kerouac escapes this encircling loss in the act of writing.

Howard Cunnell, “Fast This Time: Jack Kerouac and the Writing of On the Road

The past few days, because of my understanding that Jack Kerouac was fascinated with Melville’s writing, I turned to a copy of the original scroll of On the Road and have been reading introductory articles on the manuscript, and re-reading portions of the Tom Clark biography of Kerouac.  Many agree that his longing for the American road was a response to his sense of loss due to the breakup of his family life (death of brother and father along with his own early divorce). Thoreau himself intimated that his move to Walden Pond was a search for something lost.

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.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

For most of my life, I have been enthralled with the sense of the personal odyssey, and have myself benefited from many American road excursions.  But honestly, at this juncture in my life, I don’t really need the road; I have memories, photos and journals that pull up the past as often as I choose.  But I am pursuing the odyssey of the mind inside my newly reorganized home, and enjoying what feels like limitless space and extensive free time.  I think what I have been seeking recently is what the German scholars of the nineteenth century called a Sturmfreies Gebiet, storm-free area.  This was sought by Descartes, Hume, Emerson, Thoreau, Tillich, Kerouac, and a host of our revered luminaries, a storm-free area where one is safe to come to some sort of self-understanding.  William Carlos Williams found great satisfaction scribbling thoughts and poetic fragments on his prescription pads while on the road to make house calls, or pounding the typewriter in his office when patients weren’t lined up and waiting.

While pondering these matters over the past couple of days, I happened across “The Chambered Nautilus,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Though I’ve read this piece several times throughout my life, I never really “got it” until this evening, when it washed over my soul with fresh revelatory power.  Having grown up in the shadow of the Prostestant pulpit, I came under the conviction quite early in life that there is a power in that word, that oracle that comes when the hearer is ready, when the teachable moment has arrived.  When the student is ready, the master will appear.  I guess I was ready this evening.  I had decided to go to a local Starbuck’s with an armload of books and my journal, and sit in the outside cafe with some iced coffee and a sense of anticipation that something could happen.  It did.

“The Chambered Nautilus” is Holmes’s meditation of a mollusk that has died and can no longer expand its chambers.  They now lie open to him, and he gets a sense of its developing natural history by examining the chambers in the house it’s left behind.  As I pored over these words, my soul poured out nine handwritten pages in my journal.  What a rush!  It led me to Emerson’s essay “Circles” and to Whitman’s poem “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”  I felt my entire being stirred from within as I felt the cooling carresses and kisses of the evening winds sweeping across the nearby prairie and across my cafe seating area.  It was truly a delicious night.

Now, back at home, I feel my heart stirred with gratitude at this gift received this evening, and in the spirit of the chambered nautilus, I wish to continue expanding new chambers in my existence as I continually read new things, think new thoughts, and try to figure out this wondrous gift called Life.

Oh yeah, the painting!  Posted above is what I worked on after summer school and before the oracle stirred me at Starbuck’s.  I finally got some texturing accomplished on the right side with the bricks, and tried to scratch in some grooves to show the lines of the bricks.  I then turned my attention to the sign, carefully painting in the red fluorescent tubing within the letters, along with the shadows cast and the brackets securing them.  This of course took a great deal of time, but I am in no hurry with it.

And now, I still have to continue working on material for this new online Logic course I’ll teach this fall at a nearby university.  The things I’m learning in that area are also opening up a new chamber of thought within me, and I’m grateful for that as well.  I’m delighted that this mollusk hasn’t yet perished.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Memories Arriving in Layers, Like Waves

July 19, 2014
Relaxing on the Oregon Coast among the Rocks

Relaxing on the Oregon Coast among the Rocks, July 26, 1992

The ocean is the ultimate earth mother,I mean the constant change of the tides, its relation to the moon, the sound of it rolling back and forth—it’s almost too beautiful.  And I regard being on the water during the summer as my substitute for a Parisian café, and I can sit there by the hour.  It is certainly not profound, but it’s—I enjoy it.  All artists are voyeurs, not people of action.

Robert Motherwell (interview)

Sleep did not come easily last night.  My mind continually drifted over what I had been reading in Moby Dick.  Decades ago, I scoffed that I had probably been a whaler in a former life.  The legend of Moby Dick has always resonated with me, as have thoughts about life in nineteenth-century New England, though I have never even been to the coast in that region; Concord, Massachusetts is as close as I ever got.  

When I awoke this morning, my first thoughts recalled a 1990 summer afternoon in rural Waxahachie, Texas, when I gazed across a vast field bathed in the golden glow of the afternoon sun.  I was spending the day at an annual Renaissance Festival, Scarborough Faire, and as my mind drifted, I heard the voice of a storyteller entertaining an audience of children with a seafaring tale.  He was shouting in the dialect that I was reading in those days from Herman Melville short stories, and recalling that sound today makes me think of the settings in New Bedford and Nantucket.  I felt on that afternoon in 1990 that I was being transported far back to another era, another space, and the undulating meadow before me was turning into a rolling ocean.

Growing up in the Midwest, I never even saw an ocean until I was thirty-eight years old, in 1992.  I landed in the Pacific Northwest for a five-week study in New England Transcendentalism at Oregon State University.  My plane touched down in Portland, and my rental car took me westward to the coast for that first look at the vast, sprawling Pacific.  Above, I have posted a photo taken of me on Sunday, July 26, as I relaxed for a day on the coast, reading from Emerson and Thoreau, and listening to the thunder of the tides crashing against the cliffs that enclosed me.

Throughout this Saturday, I have not shaken off these deep feelings induced by Melville and personal memories.  I pulled my volumes of journals and read all my handwritten entries from that month spent in Oregon, as well as the dawn I sat on the beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, six years later, translating The Iliad and reading from Thoreau’s Walden.  Today has been a day of ocean memories, and I have gladly been enveloped by an ocean of space and time–no appointments, no agenda–just reading, reflecting, recalling.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.



A Restless Monday Evening in the Man Cave

November 26, 2012

Lucky Strike Watercolor in Progress

Sleeping Shih-tzus at my Feet

My word, what an evening this is shaping up to be!  I had to take a late-afternoon nap, because my cat woke me throughout last night, craving attention.  I returned to school from holiday today with one eye half-open, and tried very hard to navigate my students through Advanced Placement Art History (Romanesque architecture) and English IV (Shakespeare).  Now I sit in my man cave with a stack of Philosophy Journals to finish reading and evaluating and the need to prepare them for a roundtable dialogue in the morning on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. 

At my feet are a pair of sleeping Shih-tzus.  They ought to be named Yin and Yang, if you are able to tell that they slumber against each other, and one is blonde, the other dark grey.  A cute, adorable pair they are.  They have spent most of this weekend with me, sleeping at my feet as I study or pursue watercolor in my garage Man Cave.

I am finding it extremely difficult to settle into tonight’s work, though I know that (thanks to the late nap) I will have many hours of quality time to pursue what I must.  And what I must do is finish these journals and dialogue, then get back to the Lucky Strike watercolor.  But, as so often happens about one hour after rising from sleep, my mind takes off.  I suffer like Moses, from the Saul Bellows novel Herzog, explaining his problem to his physician: “My thoughts are shooting out all over the place.”  Currently, I cannot stop thinking about Shakespeare and this compulsion I have to create a collage of his portrait and his works, to write in my journal, to continue reading in my own Thoreau Journal as well as Walden, and alas, I just re-read T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and have so much I want to think through and write about that text.  And yes, I really REALLY want to return to painting tonight.  Funny–as my mind frantically and restlessly darts down all these corridors, I have Yanni’s “Out of Silence” cassette playing on my Man Cave stereo.  What a contrast!  His music so lilting, so serene, so aglow, and here I am, wanting to do a dozen things at once.  I laugh when I recall the scene from Amadeus when Mozart is trying on three different powdered wigs, and concludes that all of them are lovely, and “I wish I had three heads!”  Sometimes, I wish there were three or four or six of me sitting at this drafting table, pursuing all these interests that consume me at once.  I have been complimented from time to time by friends, students and associates who call me a “Renaissance Man.”  I cannot really own that.  I think of a Renaissance Man as multi-talented.  As for myself, I am multi-interested to the point of feeling that I have attention deficit disorder, and perhaps would have been diagnosed with that as  an elementary student, had there been such diagnosticians in the schools in my day.

O.K.  I just realized that I have not even prepared dinner yet.  I forgot (how pathetic is that?).  Perhaps a good meal will settle me down, even me out, and I will get to pursue an evening of bliss in the man cave, with my pair of Shih-tzus, cat, my paintings, my books, my journals and all the good things that keep me company this evening.

Thanks for reading.

A Meditation on the Seasons of Creativity

November 25, 2012

Christmas Card Workspace in the Man Cave

Good morning from the “bedroom’ studio of Arlington, Texas.  I confess that I have posted a year-old photo of what I was creating during the Thanksgiving Break last year.  I plan to return to the “Man Cave” studio later in the day to paint.  Currently, I am propped in bed with coffee, two slumbering Shih-tzu dogs, one cat and a large pile of volumes and journal.   And life is pensive but serene.  My breathing is slower and easier.

Let me open by saying I am not sure where this blog entry will take me this time.  It may be a stream-of-consciousness, with little-to-no-editing, but I’ll take my chances.  I am in bed with a large volume of Henry David Thoreau journals (the Harvard volumes 1-7, 1837-1855 are in one immense tome) and reading pensively his entry of June 20, 1844:

If we only see clearly enough how mean our lives are, they will be splendid enough.  Let us remember not to strive upwards too long, but sometimes drop plumb down the other way, and wallow in meanness.  From the deepest pit we may see the stars, if not the sun.  Let us have the presence of mind enough to sink when we can’t swim. . . .

When the heavens are obscured to us, and nothing noble or heroic appears, but we are oppressed by imperfection and shortcoming on all hands, we are apt to suck our thumbs and decry our fates.  As if nothing were to be done in cloudy weather, or, if heaven were not accessible by the upper road, men would not find out a lower.  Sometimes I feel so cheap that I am inspired, and could write a poem about it,–but straightway I cannot, for I am no longer mean.  Let me know that I am ailing, and I am well.  We should not always beat off the impression of trivialness, but make haste to welcome and cherish it.  Water the weed till it blossoms; with cultivation it will bear fruit.”

I love reading words of wisdom that address our cycles of creativity and un-creativity, our highs and lows, our energy and our inertia.  When I was younger, I was frustrated by those times of famine, when I was not “on” creatively.  I think I was “saved” by essays of Emerson and poems of Whitman that addressed those cycles as natural.  (most notably Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life”).  We inhale, we exhale.  We intake, we exhaust.  We inspire, we expire.  Emerson wrote that it comes into us as life, it comes out of us as truth.

I could describe my current moment as low, as lethargic, as uninspired, as inert.  But the reality is, I am taking in sublime thoughts from Thoreau, from Emerson, from Whitman . . . and I am pushing them back out, distilled by my ever-emerging philosophy.  Sitting up in bed, surrounded by an untidy house and slumbering critters, I am setting a course for today’s navigation (the Hebrew word translated “wisdom” is chochma–“the helmsman, or art of steering.”  I am plotting a course with mandatory stops in Romanesque Europe (A. P. Art History for tomorrow) and Act I of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (English IV).  Beyond those towns, who knows?  Maybe a return to my watercolors (I think I hear the longhorns shuffling around in the garage, they must be getting restless).  But whatever occurs along my way, I am anticipating another good journey today.

Thanks for reading.

Return to the Man Cave

October 28, 2012

A Peek at the Refurbished Man Cave

“A man must keep a little back shop where he can be himself without reserve. In solitude alone can he know true freedom.”

Michel de Montaigne

Finally, after months of formidable Texas heat, I am permitted to return to my abandoned Man Cave!  The space in the garage had become so run down during the hot months, that it took a good part of Saturday evening and Sunday to render it habitable.  I moved in this evening and christened the space by grading senior English tests (ugh!).  Now that those have been laid aside, I have returned to some subjects that I left behind with my Philosophy class last Thursday, namely Descartes’ discovery while in the stove, and the notion of great thinkers withdrawing in solitude when they had matters to sort out (we discussed Jesus, Emerson, Thoreau, Hume, Nietzsche and a host of others).  This evening I thought I would spend a little more time with Montaigne and Benjamin Franklin before calling it a weekend and working on a decent night’s sleep.  I’m grateful beyond words for the museum, the painting time, some major house cleaning, and above all, reclaiming my Man Cave for the coming winter.  This weekend has been sublime, and I look forward to the next one.

Thanks for reading.

Picking up the Brush Again

August 7, 2012

Historic Church

It has been more than three weeks since I last posted, since I last took up the watercolor brush.  Much has happened around me that has impeded my work and desire to pursue watercolor.  I’m trying to find my way back.

I’m glad that summer school has ended, and I have a little under two weeks before reporting back to school for the fall term.  During this interim, I did allow myself a short vacation, read a great deal of great literature, and scribbled many pages in my personal journal.

I look forward to getting back into plein air activity, but with Texas offering triple-digit temperatures daily, it appears that that is going to have to wait awhile longer.  Going through my archives, I have selected some historic church sites that I have photographed in my travels over the years, and thought I would give this one a try.  This church sits in the historic district of Leadville, Colorado, and I have photographed it on two different occasions while visiting that mountain town.  I am using my laptop to view the image as closely as I can, and truly regret that I am not on the actual premises (it would probably be just as cool outside there as it is inside my air-conditioned home here!).  But, we work with what we have.

As I resume this blog, I am having serious thoughts about sharing what I’ve been reading the past few weeks from Henry David Thoreau, as I read from his Journal and from his Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.  After all, it is Thoreau and his writings that have given me this impetus to pick up the brush again.  And for that, I am grateful to this beautiful man.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll be back tomorrow with progress on this 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch.  Today is my first day back in the studio, and I’m glad for this moment.

Fly Fishing Watercolor for the One-Man Show

September 9, 2011

Finding the Seam

My breathing changes profoundly the moment I step into a mountain stream with waders and a fly rod.  There will never be enough of those precious moments, so every time I journey to the Colorado high country, I breathe a prayer of gratitude.  The crystal clarity of a trout stream moving over the rocks from the basement of time contains a beauty beyond the reach of my words.  Henry David Thoreau 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.”

It took a number of years for me to work up the courage to watercolor a fly fishing composition.  My wife took this picture of me fly fishing in South Fork, Colorado.   I chose to pour this composition, masking out tree patterns and pouring pure watercolor pigment from bowls onto the soaked paper.  Sprinkling salt and spritzing the drying pigments created a number of satisfying textures in the foliage as well as the surface of the stream.

I am now counting the hours toward the opening of my One-Man-Show.   Forty-two watercolors are in place at the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery (  The show opens Saturday night 5-9:00.   This watercolor has been framed and is now hanging in the show.  I’m proud that my friends get to see the painting at last.  I’m deeply satisfied with the depths of colors and the effects created by the pouring technique.

Thanks for reading.