Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From John Graves...

"If a man couldn't escape what he came from, we would most of us still be peasants in Old World hovels. But if, having escaped or not, he wants in some way to know himself, define himself, and tries to do it without taking into account the thing he came from, he is writing without any ink in his pen. The provincial who cultivates only his roots is in peril, potato-like, of becoming more root than plant. The man who cuts his roots away and denies they were ever connected with him withers into half a man." Goodbye to a River, p. 145

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We're Having 'Company'"

I have been reading and rereading various accounts of the lives of the early white pioneers in their settlement of the frontier of Texas from the 1850s on. I am embued with an emotional attachment to them and their lives in that country. Some of my earliest and most lasting memories are of being taken by my daddy to Fort Belknap in Young County, Texas as a six year old. He rehearsed the old stories of the old people in my young ears; they stuck. To this day, after over fifty years, my blood gets up when I read or hear tell of that place and time.

It was a grim and harsh time in a stark and unforgiving place. Not that it isn't beautiful, because it is. The Texas Cross Timbers meet the prairie there. The sky is an azure bowl over it all. The bird life fills it with song. But, it is riddled with all manner of things that sting, bite, pierce, nettle, and generally aggravate the human animal. Some of these things can be deadly-it is filled with Western diamond-backed rattlesnakes- "coontail rattlers" the old people called them because of the distinctive black and white stripes on the end of their tails just before the rattles themselves start.

When the earliest white people came there it was the home of various Indian tribes, and the hunting raiding territory of two of the most dreaded and dreadful- the Comanche and Kiowa. The white people were, thus, intruders. And for this, they paid dearly. Attacks were common. The Comanche in particular indulged in brutal acts of blood-letting and rape. They also took young captives to raise and "Indianize," the most famous being Cynthia Ann Parker from farther south and east, who became the wife of Peta Nocona, and the mother of Quanah Parker, one of the last warrior chiefs of the Comanche. When she was recovered and returned to her surviving family, she withered away and died in East Texas, a relatively young woman. She pined away over her lost children and her lost life on the high plains of West Texas.

So, in addition to the brutish living conditions of 19th century pioneers, the harsh climate, the isolation that drove people mad, there was the constant threat of Indian raids and the sheer brutality these involved. Fear and caution were the every-day stuff of life.

One of the only sources of relief, of pure joy, of life-worth-the-living were the occasional social gatherings they were able to enjoy. Not that these allayed all the fear and caution. John Graves remarks that even at brush arbor revival meetings (that would sometimes go on for weeks), the Henry rifles and Colt's revolvers would be stacked outside these brushy temples of salvation.

Whether it was a birthing, attended by a few women, a hog killing, a counter-raid on the Indian predators, or a dance, the pioneers took every opportunity to be together when they could. These times, whatever their form, were times of friendship, joy, and play- in a word, "love." The old stories were rehearsed, the new ones told; food was shared; laughter, tears, sighs were exchanged. For a time, albeit brief, the troubles were pushed outside the circle of fellowship. We can understand, therefore, why the words, "We're having company," "We've got company coming," would brighten their eyes and relieve their spirits.

It is this, in the stresses of modern life which we face, that can bring a similar renewal of spirit. The "crazy little screens" that fixate us- the social networks, the video games, and all such-like, are paltry substitutes for real people and real friends, real "company."

"It is not good for man to be alone."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's In the "Seeing"

"It was a wonder to him now that he'd once failed to appreciate the beauty of this land. The trick of it, he'd lately realized, was to pay attention to the sky as part of the landscape. The rising sun was gilding high cottony clouds from below. In a few hours, as the light shifted upward, those clouds would send amethyst and turquoise shadows racing over the emerald ground, and their sweep across the land would reveal subtle undulations in the terrain that only appeared flat to the careless observer." Mary Doria Russell, Doc, page 287

Friday, July 1, 2011

Good-Bye, Columbia!

God willing, sometime in August Kathy and I will leave Columbia to take up new responsibilities in Dallas. Our feelings have been mixed in making this decision. We have loved living in Columbia and in central Missouri. We have made many lovely friends here and leaving them is painful. We have made a home here with studios and workshops. We have loved our church home and have known real joy in serving its people. When we came here- four years ago tomorrow- we intended to be here for the rest of our lives. But, we are never in control of our lives and our intentions often come to nothing, or better, they come to different ends. The Christian believes that an inscrutable providence directs and guides his life, and that while it is incomprehensible, it is also loving and wise in its intent. This, we believe.

We are going to Dallas to take up a new work in the Saint Timothy School of Chapel of the Cross Reformed Episcopal Church (Anglican). Kathy will be Lower School Administrative Assistant and Pre-School Director. I will serve as Assistant Head-Master and Instructor in the Humanities for the middle and upper grades. I will also be creating a department of Fine and Manual Arts for these grades. It is hoped that this will develop into a school of drawing, painting, and sculpture, as well as a school of woodworking and metalsmithing. Those who have invited us to take these roles believe that our knowledge and experience equip us for this work. More importantly, we shall be working toward the formation of persons, rather than just the information of minds, believing as we do that that formation of the moral imagination is at the heart of all true education. This is why we are glad that Saint Timothy's School is a vital part of the life of Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church. Learning shall take place in an environment of liturgy and Christian teaching.

Moving is hard work. Leaving is painful work. Starting over is daunting work. We are engaged in all of this with a spirit of prayer and trust. For those of you who pray, we ask for your prayers. For those of you who do not pray, we ask for your good thoughts. You may rest assured that you all have both our prayers and good thoughts.

For every kind gesture, every encouraging word, every loving act that we have received from you- in the education and arts community, in the Christian family- we thank you with all our hearts. We love you and will never forget you.

In the 1820s and 30s many people in the East abandoned their homesteads and cabins to travel to a new land of promise in Texas. Often they would scrawl on the doors of these erstwhile homes, "GTT," meaning, "Gone To Texas." Without defacing the property here, that is my sentiment. Pretty soon, when you think of us, you can think in these terms