American Art – Part I of IV: Clifford Smith
According to one critic, American “Clifford Smith is a realist painter best known for seascapes and landscapes in which he seeks to, ‘parallel nature rather than imitate it.’ Motivated by a desire to ‘get beyond the physical essence of something,’ Smith encompasses a broader experience of a subject, by expressing its past, present, and future. Often his spatial compositions appear to extend beyond the perimeters of the picture frame to convey the transient nature of experience. Clifford Smith’s influences include Caravaggio, John Constable, and contemporary painters such as Rackstraw Downes, Frank Stella, and Gerhard Richter.”
A Poem for Today
By Walter Clyde Curry
Grieve not that winter masks the yet quick earth,
Nor still that summer walks the hills no more;
That fickle spring has doffed the plaid she wore
To swathe herself in napkins till rebirth.
These buddings, flowerings, are nothing worth;
This ermine cloud stretched firm across the lakes
Will presently be shattered into flakes;
Then, starveling world, be subject to my mirth.
I know that faithful swift mortality
Subscribes to nothing longer than a day;
All beauty signals imminent decay;
And painted wreckage cumbers land and sea.
The Mountains – Part I of VI: John Muir
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.”
Musings in Winter: Bede Griffiths
“I was suddenly made aware of another world of beauty and mystery
such as I had never imagined to exist, except in poetry.
It was as though I had begun to see and smell and hear for the first
time. The world appeared to me as Wordsworth describes
with ‘the glory and freshness of a dream.’ The sight of a wild rose
growing on a hedge, the scent of lime-tree blossoms caught
suddenly as I rode down a hill on a bicycle, came to me like
visitations from another world. But it was not only my senses
that were awakened. I experienced an overwhelming emotion
in the presence of nature, especially at evening. It began
to have a kind of sacramental character for me. I approached it
with a sense of almost religious awe and , in a hush that
comes before sunset, I felt again the presence of an almost
unfathomable mystery. The song of the birds, the shape
of the trees, the colors of the sunset, were so many signs
of the presence, which seemed to be drawing me to itself.”
Here is one writer describing the artistry of Dutch painter Yvonne Olgers: “Yvonne Olgers can be described as an unique and versatile artist, always fascinated by the diversity of nature and mystery of the world around us. Currently, women in particular are her great inspiration. A glance, a loose shoulder trap, a daydream on a face.
Yvonne is keen on using contrasts. Paint that drips from the canvas and finding it’s own way alongside clear choices and sharp details: ‘In my work you often see different combinations of materials and techniques. Many structures, splashing paint, pieces of paper, transparent acrylic, homemade paint, chalk, glue, etc. While I am painting I try to catch a piece of inner beauty, a feeling, an idea, basically that what you do not see.’”
Musings in Winter: Annie Dillard
“It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.”
A Second Poem for Today
“They Call the Mountain Carlos,”
By Ray Gonzalez
They call the mountain Carlos because
it is brown, though its purple slopes
at dusk suggest other names.
Those who name it have to brand
the earth with something they know—
a name, a face, even the heat that says
“I know Carlos and he is the mountain.
I am going to cover his eyes in light.”
They call its peak Carlos because
it is the sharpest feature on the face
that stares south, watching people
cross the border, pausing to catch
their breath and meet the cliffs of
Carlos because he is there.
When they ascend the canyons inside
the face, Carlos shifts and the climbers
discover what he has done.
The moving earth changes everything
and they are forced to stop playing
the game of naming a mountain
that keeps touching the sun.
Musings in Winter: Michael J. Cohen
“Our incredible bewilderment (wilderness separation) blinds us from seeing that our many personal and global problems primarily result from our assault of and separation from the natural creation process within and around us. Our estrangement from nature leaves us wanting, and when we want there is never enough. Our insatiable wanting is called greed. It is a major source of our destructive dependencies and violence.”
The Mountains – Part II of VI: Li Po
You ask me why I make my home in the mountain forest,
and I smile, and am silent,
and even my soul remains quiet;
it lives in the other world
which no one owns.
The peach trees blossom.
The water flows.
Musings in Winter: Richard Nelson
“Or I would be the rain itself, wreathing over the island, mingling in the quiet of moist places, filling its pores with its saturated breaths. And I would be the wind, whispering through the tangled woods, running airy fingers over the island’s face, tingling in the chill of concealed places, sighing secrets in the dawn. And I would be the light, flinging over the island, covering it with flash and shadow, shining on rocks and pools, softening to a touch in the glow of dusk. If I were the rain and wind and light, I would encircle the island like the sky surrounding earth, flood through it like a heart driven pulse, shine from inside it like a star in flames, burn away to blackness in the closed eyes of its night. There are so many ways I could love this island, if I were the rain.”
“The Northern Lights have seen queer sights…” – From “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” by Robert W. Service, Canadian writer and poet called “The Bard of the Yukon,” who was born 16 January 1874.
“A Grain of Sand”
If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.
Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.
For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.
Musings in Winter: Richard Nelson
“The mountain has left me feeling renewed, more content and positive than I’ve been for weeks, as if something has been given back after a long absence, as if my eyes have opened once again. For this time at least, I’ve let myself be rooted in the unshakable sanity of the senses, spared my mind the burden of too much thinking, turned myself outward to experience the world and inward to savor the pleasures it has given me.”
Died 16 January 1943 – Franz Courtens, a Flemish painter.
Musings in Winter: Rebecca Solnit
“A year ago, I was at a dinner in Amsterdam when the question came up of whether each of us loved his or her country. The German shuddered, the Dutch were equivocal, the Brit said he was “comfortable” with Britain, the expatriate American said no. And I said yes. Driving across the arid lands, the red lands, I wondered what it was I loved. the places, the sagebrush basins, the rivers digging themselves deep canyons through arid lands, the incomparable cloud formations of summer monsoons, the way the underside of clouds turns the same blue as the underside of a great blue heron’s wings when the storm is about to break.
Beyond that, for anything you can say about the United States, you can also say the opposite: we’re rootless except we’re also the Hopi, who haven’t moved in several centuries; we’re violent except we’re also the Franciscans nonviolently resisting nucelar weapons out here; we’re consumers except the West is studded with visionary environmentalists…and the landscape of the West seems like the stage on which such dramas are played out, a space without boundaries, in which anything can be realized, a moral ground, out here where your shadow can stretch hundreds of feet just before sunset, where you loom large, and lonely.”
Below – Albert Bierstadt: “Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California” (1865)
A Third Poem for Today
By May Sarton
As the tide rises, the closed mollusc
Opens a fraction to the ocean’s food,
Bathed in its riches. Do not ask
What force would do, or if force could.
A knife is of no use against a fortress.
You might break it to pieces as gulls do.
No, only the rising tide and its slow progress
Opens the shell. Lovers, I tell you true.
You who have held yourselves closed hard
Against warm sun and wind, shelled up in fears
And hostile to a touch or tender word—
The ocean rises, salt as unshed tears.
Musings in Winter: Pat Conroy
“It was growing dark on this long southern evening, and suddenly, at the exact point her finger had indicated, the moon lifted a forehead of stunning gold above the horizon, lifted straight out of filigreed, light-intoxicated clouds that lay on the skyline in attendant veils.
Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold….The new gold of moon astonishing and ascendant, he depleted gold of sunset extinguishing itself in the long westward slide, it was the old dance of days in the Carolina marshes, the breathtaking death of days before the eyes of children, until the sun vanished, its final signature a ribbon of bullion strung across the tops of water oaks.”
Died 16 January 1901 – Arnold Böcklin, a Swiss symbolist painter.
Musings in Winter: Karen Davis
“The recognition that human beings are specifically and deliberately responsible for whatever aberrances farm animals may embody, that their discordances reflect our, not their, primary disruption of natural rhythms, and that we owe them more rather than less for having stripped them of their birthright and earthrights has not entered into the environmentalist discussions that I’ve encountered to date.”
A Fourth Poem for Today
“A Lobsterman Looks at the Sea,”
By Richard M. Berlin
His new hip healed in, we’re working
on a bluff, talking doctors and health care
reform as we shove a new propane tank into place.
A shape on the surface catches his eye:
“Right whale,” he says, but I can only see
endless swells rolling in from the east.
He points out the gradations of gray
and green that mark deep ledge, the tide’s
shape along the islands and rocks,
the whale’s glistening back suddenly in focus.
I react with the same surprise
my patients feel when I observe
what they can’t see—
a sudden shift in gaze, or a crease in a cheek,
understanding how a doctor becomes
like a man who has spent sixty years
on a lobster boat, watching the world
swim fast and shining, right before his eyes.
Musings in Winter: Edward Abbey
“The weather here is windy, balmy, sometimes wet. Desert springtime, with flowers popping up all over the place, trees leafing out, streams gushing down from the mountains. Great time of year for hiking, camping, exploring, sleeping under the new moon and the old stars.”
From the American History Archives: Pinnacles National Monument
16 January 1908 – President Theodore Roosevelt establishes Pinnacles National Monument in California. On 10 January 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill passed by Congress making the monument a National Park.
Musings in Winter: Jay Griffiths
“And we were taught to play golf. Golf epitomizes the tame world. On a golf course nature is neutered. The grass is clean, a lawn laundry that wipes away the mud, the insect, the bramble, nettle and thistle, an Eezy-wipe lawn where nothing of life, dirty and glorious, remains. Golf turns outdoors into indoors, a prefab mat of stultified grass, processed, pesticided, herbicided, the pseudo-green of formica sterility. Here, the grass is not singing. The wind cannot blow through it. Dumb expression, greenery made stupid, it hums a bland monotone in the key of the mono-minded. No word is emptier than a golf tee. No roots, it has no known etymology, it is verbal nail polish. Worldwide, golf is an arch act of enclosure, a commons fenced and subdued for the wealthy, trampling serf and seedling. The enemy of wildness, it is a demonstration of the absolute dominion of man over wild nature.”
The Mountains – Part III of VI: John Marsden
“I’m a person of the mountains and the open paddocks and the big empty sky, that’s me, and I knew if I spent too long away from all that I’d die; I don’t know what of, I just knew I’d die.”
Musings in Winter: Norman Maclean
Here is the Artist Statement of British artist Jackie Morris: ”I was born in Birmingham and lived there until at the age of four my parents moved away to Evesham.
Here I grew up and remember little of those times. I do know that from at least the age of six I wanted to be an artist. I watched my dad drawing a picture of a lapwing, making a bird appear on a piece of paper using only a pencil, and I thought it was some magic that made this happen. So there and then I decided to learn how to conjure birds from paper and colour.
I went to school in Evesham to Prince Henry’s High School and I remember walking to school past shop fronts above which elegant buildings grew. I used to get told off at school for drawing and dreaming. Now I get paid to do both.”
Musings in Winter: Wes Jackson
“What we must think about is an agriculture with a human face. We must give standing to the new pioneers, the homecomers bent on the most important work for the next century – a massive salvage operation to save the vulnerable but necessary pieces of nature and culture and to keep the good and artful examples before us. It is time for a new breed of artists to enter front and center, for the point of art, after all, is to connect. This is the homecomer I have in mind: the scientist, the accountant who converses with nature, a true artist devoted to the building of agriculture and culture to match the scenery presented to those first European eyes.”
A Fifth Poem for Today
“The Paper Boy,”
By Thomas R. Smith
My route lassos the outskirts,
the reclusive, the elderly, the rural—
the poor who clan in their tarpaper
islands, the old ginseng hunter
Albert Harm, who strings the “crow’s
foot” to dry over his wood stove.
Shy eyes of fenced-in horses
follow me down the rutted dirt road.
At dusk, I pedal past white birches,
breathe the smoke of spring chimneys,
my heart working uphill toward someone
hungry for word from the world.
I am Mercury, bearing news, my wings
a single-speed maroon Schwinn bike.
I sear my bright path through the twilight
to the sick, the housebound, the lonely.
In the words of one writer, “Vanni Saltarelli was born in Lombardy in 1945. He studied art in Milan and started exhibiting his work in 1964. His early participation in competitions has won him numerous awards. Salterelli’s paintings are characterized by a highly dynamic representation of the figure in motion. Harmoniously expressionistic, the female form is balanced with a tension between color and graphics. His paintings are part of important collections in the U.S. as well as in Europe and a significant book has been published on his work.”
Musings in Winter: Craig Childs
Died 16 January 1985 – Robert Fitzgerald, an American poet, critic, and translator whose renderings of the Greek classics, in the words of one critic, “became standard works for a generation of scholars and students.”
The adolescent night, breath of the town,
Porch swings and whispers, maple leaves unseen
Deploying moonlight quieter than a man dead
After the locust’s song. These homes were mine
And are not now forever, these on the steps
Children I think removed to many places,
Lost among hushed years, and so strangely known.
This business is well ended. If in the dark
The firefly made his gleam and sank therefrom,
Yet someone’s hand would have him, the wet grass
Bed him no more. From corners of the lawn
The dusk-white dresses flutter and are past.
Before our bed time there were things to say,
Remembering tree-bark, crickets, and the first star…
After, and as the sullenness of time
Went on from summer, here in a land alien
Made I my perfect fears and flower of thought:
Sleep being no longer swift in the arms of pain,
Revisitations are convenient with a cough,
And there is something I would say again
If I had not forever, if there were time.
Musings in Winter: Francis Assikinack
“In my opinion, it was chiefly owing to their deep contemplation in their silent retreats in the days of youth that the old Indian orators acquired the habit of carefully arranging their thoughts.
They listened to the warbling of birds and noted the grandeur and the beauties of the forest. The majestic clouds—which appear like mountains of granite floating in the air—the golden tints of a summer evening sky, and the changes of nature, possessed a mysterious significance.
A Sixth Poem for Today
By Sarah Browning
“When the sun returns”
it is hallelujah time,
the swallows tracing an arc
of praise just off our balcony,
the mountains snow-sparkling
Here is our real life —
a handful of possible peonies
from the market —
the life we always intended,
swallow life threading
the city air with
our weaving joy.
Are we this simple, then,
to sing all day — country songs,
old hymns, camp tunes?
The Mountains – Part IV of VI: Philip Connors
“The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble — to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.”
“In France, I’m an auteur; in Germany, a filmmaker; in Britain, a genre film director; and, in the USA, a bum.” – John Carpenter, American film director, screenwriter, producer, editor, and composer, who was born 16 January 1948.
No movie-loving American could possibly consider John Carpenter a bum, since he has created at least three cinematic masterpieces (“Halloween” , “The Thing” , and “Big Trouble in Little China” ) and two near-masterpieces (“The Fog”  and “Prince of Darkness” ).
Musings in Winter: Craig Childs
“This is not wilderness for designation or for a park. Not a scenic wilderness and not one good for fishing or the viewing of wildlife. It is wilderness that gets into your nostrils, that runs with your sweat. It is the core of everything living, wilderness like molten iron.”
A Seven Poem for Today
By Stephen Behrendt
Pruning back the old spirea bushes
that sprawled for years in summer’s heat,
I bared the snake skin, a yard and a half long:
its naked empty length rippled in the streaming wind
lifting its ghostly coils from the dead shoots
that scraped the slough from the slithering body
that shed it in that narrow, shaded space.
I paused—who wouldn’t?—shears poised,
slipped off gray canvas gloves, extracted
the sere, striated casing from the brown stalks
that had held it, silent, hidden.
I coiled the paper-thin curling sheath with care,
delicately, eased it into a simple squatty box
for keeping, for care, for my daughters
to take to school, to show, to explain
how some sinuous body we’ve never glimpsed,
that haunts about our shrubs, our porch,
left for us this translucent, scale-scored wrapper,
this silent hint of all that moves unseen.
American Art – Part II of IV: Suzanne Vincent
Musings in Winter: Philip Caputo
“Directly overhead the Milky Way was as distinct as a highway across the sky. The constellations shown brilliantly, except the north, where they were blurred by the white sheets of the Aurora. Now shimmering like translucent curtains drawn over the windows of heaven, the northern lights suddenly streaked across a million miles of space to burst in silent explosions. Fountains of light, pale greens, reds, and yellows, showered the stars and geysered up to the center of the sky, where they pooled to form a multicolored sphere, a kind of mock sun that gave light but no heat, pulsing, flaring, and casting beams in all directions, horizon to horizon. Below, the wolves howled with midnight madness and the two young men stood in speechless awe. Even after the spectacle ended, the Aurora fading again to faint shimmer, they stood as silent and transfixed as the first human beings ever to behold the wonder of creation. Starkmann felt the diminishment that is not self-depreciation but humility; for what was he and what was Bonnie George? Flickers of consciousness imprisoned in lumps of dust; above them a sky ablaze with the Aurora, around them a wilderness where wolves sang savage arias to a frozen moon.”
An Eighth Poem for Today
“With Spring in Our Flesh,”
By Don Welch
With spring in our flesh
the cranes come back,
funneling into a north
cold and black.
And we go out to them,
go out into the town,
welcoming them with shouts,
asking them down.
The winter flies away
when the cranes cross.
It falls into the north,
homeward and lost.
The Mountains – Part V of VI: Robert Macfarlane
“Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction – so easy to lapse into – that the world has been made for humans by humans. Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.”
American Art – Part III of IV: David FeBland
A Ninth Poem for Today
“Wearing Indian Jewelry,”
By Heid E. Erdrich
I was wondering why that guy
wore the blanket coat, bone choker, rock
watch, woven buckle, quilled Stetson—
I was wondering why he wore
that beaded vest, like a ledger drawing
or a Winter Count, its skinny figure
forever sneaking after two bison
around belly to back,
around back to belly—
I was wondering why, when he said,
‘I wear these getups every day—
Every day, because these things
are sacred, these things are prayer.’
Then I knew I could live this life
If I had blue horses
painted around and around me,
shells and beads like rain in my ear
praying ‘Prairie open in me’
at stoplight, hard city, last call, bank line,
coffee break, shopping cart, keycode,
‘Prarie open in me’
‘Prarie open in me’
every day every day every day.
Below – John Nieto: “Kicking Bear, Sioux”
The Mountains – Part VI of VI: Jeffrey Rasley
American Art – Part IV of IV: Andrew Wyeth
“I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future – the timelessness of the rocks and the hills – all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” – Andrew Wyeth, American painter, who died 16 January 2009.