CREATIVITY is the soul reflected

Master Painter

Master Painter
Prairie Sunrise by Charlie Clark

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Return to PrairyErth

"The American disease—and I'm quoting someone I can't remember—is forgetfulness. A person or people who cannot recollect their past have little point beyond mere animal existence; it is memory that makes things matter."
—William Least-Heat Moon in PrairyErth a deep map

Book published in 1991

Saturday I attended an event in my county celebrating memory and "things that matter." Heat-Moon was here. And he was paying tribute to his memories of Chase County, Kansas, with the premier showing of a PBS documentary "Return to PrairyErth."

William Least-Heat Moon signing PrairyErth for me

When  PrairyErth first hit the bookstands (it was a best-seller) in 1991, I was already a fan of the author, having read Blue Highways. I still lived in Illinois, and Kansas was not even on my radar. Little did I know that only a short while later circumstances would bring me to the very heart of the country featured. I began to read the book again, and in those very passages that had fascinated me upon my first reading, I recognized my now-neighbors, people and places I now knew and had come to love. 

I had come home, somehow recognizing my own roots in the prairie put down by my ancestors who drove covered wagons across the country to settle on what was then named Prairie's Edge in Illinois. 

Ironically, it was Heat-Moon's book with its chapter-opening grids of Chase County that guided me here in the first place, though. I was working in Topeka and was beginning to hear about the Flint Hills, a reportedly magical area. I didn't yet equate it with the portion of my occasional drive from Topeka to Wichita on the Kansas Turnpike that cast a spell over me, an area of open space and rolling green hills.

Chapter opening for Matfield Green

I thought to myself, "I wish I knew someone who lived around here so I would have an excuse to exit the highway." I can remember the exact spot this thought occurred: the Bazaar cattle pens, about midway between the Emporia and Cassoday exits. It reminded me of a similar area I had driven through once in Wyoming. I got the same feeling of attraction, something drawing me there, a longing.

Those grass-covered rolling hills represent the largest expanse of what's left of the native tallgrass prairie. With only three percent of this endangered ecosystem left in the world, two percent is right here. Big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass and Indian grass.

My drive to town

The town name Matfield Green also kept cropping up, though I couldn't tell you how. I was intrigued. One day I attended a meeting about 100 miles southwest of Topeka and decided to try to find Matfield and Chase County. I did not want to follow the paved road. I did have my book along (I grabbed every opportunity of down-time in my then-busy work life to read). 

Chase County town names are written in rocks on the hill above. This view is from the old cattle loading stockyards on the railroad siding. These may have been the last in the state to survive, but have since been burned.

I followed the map and grid in the chapter about Matfield Green and I found myself on a stretch of "open range," where cattle moseyed across the road. The hills were now tawny with fall's influence, the waving grass reminiscent of the sea which once covered the area. Meadowlarks sang, killdeer flitted about, trying to draw me away from their nests. The sky was endless October blue with only an occasional patch of fluffy white. I did not see another vehicle the whole time. Finally, I stopped on a rise of the hills that overlooked what appeared to be a tiny village and guessed it might be Matfield Green. It was. 

The story gets complicated from there, but two weeks later I was back in Chase County, and after a long weekend, I knew I was "home." I had to return. No matter what. It was seven more months before I finally relocated on the ranch of Jane Koger, to whom Heat-Moon had devoted a chapter. A lifetime resident and ranch owner, Jane founded Prairie Women Adventures and Retreat. I was becoming a Prairie Woman and on my very own Adventure as I became director.

"Return to PrairyErth" resonates for me on so many levels. 

"You must not be in the prairie; but the prairie must be in you. That alone will do as qualification for biographer of the prairie…He who tells the prairie mystery must wear the prairie in his heart."
—William A. Quayle, The Prairie and the Sea (1905)

It is a mystery, and I know I have the prairie in my heart. It has called me, soothed me, excited me, taught me. Yet, I can never really explain or describe it. I have taken thousands of photographs and written even more words about it. Its "mystery" and magic are elusive. I once wrote that it seeped into my soul. Upon much reflection, I believe that my soul was always here, the prairie was always within it. I just had to "return" to it. 

Others have recognized this lure. One couple—from Chicago—also relocated here not long after I did. They are realizing their dream of establishing an education center on the site of a ranch and farm settled by one of Chase County's pioneers. The Rogler Ranch—now referred to as Pioneer Bluffs—is just north of Matfield Green. Pioneer Bluffs  hosted Saturday's event. 
People often say that Heat-Moon "put Chase County on the map." If that was the case, then Bill and Julia McBride along with a host of others are doing their best to uncover and tell the (hi)story of the county, the land, the culture, its pioneers, and those who have lived here most or all of their lives. 

They pay tribute to them through a photographic exhibit in the restored Rogler Homestead. They farm a cooperative garden in much the same way it was done over a hundred years ago. School children are charmed by the log cabin, the barn, the animals. Pioneer Bluffs hosts monthly seminars and workshops about the land and community. Neighbors and even those who don't live close volunteer their time and hands to help tell the story. 

Saturday was a big day, for Pioneer Bluffs, for William Least-Heat Moon, for Chase County, and for me. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plain and Simple

I've been rereading a book that years ago made such an impact: Plain and Simple: a woman's journey to the Amish by Sue Bender

Lately I've been drawn back to the Amish, as I have been various times through my life. Recent trips to Yoder, KS, an Amish community may have triggered it. Seeing their simple, basic life. The practical hardware store, horse and buggy transportation, a country store where I found fabric, canning lids and rings, where there is no television. And the Quilts on Parade….our main reason for visiting this little town on the prairie. 

Was it a coincidence, then, that as I looked through my bookshelf for something to read when I finished my last book that my eyes fell upon Plain and Simple

A restlessness has seeped into my life lately, after months of mostly sedentary life. Content during that time to read, scrapbook, surf the 'net, I balked at physical activity. Then the days became warmer, and green sprigs poking through the ground in my herb and flowerbeds beckoned me. It was as if they cried, "Help! Clean away the leaves and debris so I can stretch and feel the sun."

Spring is a piece of God's patchwork. Spring, summer, fall, winter. A definite pattern. And yet, within it, differences, tension and harmony: calm spring days when one feels at peace with the world. Turbulent spring storms that threaten to destroy everything with their wind, hail, pounding rain.

Awakening of life, growth, waning and dying. 

Bender's description of the Amish quilts: 

"The relationship of the individual parts to the whole, the proportion, the way the inner and outer borders reacted with each other was a balancing act between tension and harmony."
"How could pared down and daring go together?…calm and intense at the same time?" 

Nature's pallette: Brilliant indigo iris that looks like velvet, pale apricot tree blossoms; vivid red tulips, soft lavender phlox.


Sometimes I think I am learning, as I grow older and (I hope!) wiser. But I used to relate all too well to Bender and her lifestyle, rushing toward goals, not stopping to smell these spring flowers, busy busy busy, trying to do it all.

Bender: "I wanted it all, a glutton for new experience…accumulating choices was a way of not having to make a choice…I pushed myself, trying to make each piece (of pottery) more original than the previous one." 

Ah! So me. My cooking, my art, my life. The other night, as we were cleaning up after dinner, Charlie said to me, "You always make it so complicated." I told him I don't know how not to.

When I discovered Simple Scrapbooking and The Big Picture
, a style taught by Stacy Julian and a few others, it was another Aha! I was drawn to the basic, uncluttered, simple approach to scrapbooking.

When the magazine SS was discontinued a year ago, I mourned. Then I rediscovered Cathy Zielske
and, going back through my collection of the old SS books and magazines, rediscovered what had drawn me there in the first place. I had been lured away by the plethora of scrapbook products flooding the market: embellishments, bling, tools. Not to say these are bad, but read on….

The cliche' "back to basics" (photo, paper, story) within a simple pattern speaks to me. I've always been attracted to the nine-patch quilt pattern more than any other. After reading Plain and Simple, I understand. It is ordinary, common, providing a framework within which to be free. Sounds contradictory, but it is not. I've been doing some layouts based on Cathy Zielske's digital templates that are the framework for her page designs I like so much. They are so freeing.

Freedom to be creative within a framework, just as the Amish women use quilting stitches (feather, tulip, wreath, pineapple, star) in their seemingly austere, minimalistic quilts to exercise their creative selves. Often their flower gardens are reflections not of a rigid lifestyle, but of vibrant color and artistic expression. 

I balked at first at using the scrapbooking templates. I didn't want cookie cutter, look-alike pages. But then I discovered they are like using a recipe to cook or a pattern to sew: again, they provide the basic framework, freeing me from that initial hard decision. I can vary the photos, the fonts, the colors, the text within to put my own stamp on a page.

This thought process leads into more I want to say, but as always, I have more to say than space and time allow. So, I will continue this another day because it seems I am leaving this unfinished. 

Meanwhile, Ali Edwards, a "life artist" and scrapbooker I find so inspiring along with Cathy Z, is exploring something that fits well here. She and Cathy are both doing "Week in the Life" projects this week. Read their blogs and tune in here later to see how it all fits together—part of the whole pattern of life and creativity, The Big Picture

Now I'm going out to check the progress of the garden Charlie's been planting. From the window I can see the rows of green already making a pattern within the square of the whole.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine Surprise

I had a wonderful surprise this morning...this was in my chair when I got up.

I said it was a surprise, not because Charlie's not the most thoughtful, romantic man a gal could want. It's just that sometimes, because we live so far out in the boonies and buying cards hasn't always been his priority, he forgets to get me a one. But this time? Not only a beautiful card with the most appropriate senti- ment, but also a heart-shaped box of chocolates and a little Valentine teddy bear. I ask you: what more could a girl ask for on Valentine's Day?!

I just finished taking the Red Velvet cake from the oven. That's just about his favorite. Cake decorating is not my forte'. But, my buttercream frosting is excellent.

Red Velvet cake

It's here! And it's a good thing I haven't had anything pressing to do this past week because it might not have been done.

My new Macbook Pro (laptop computer to you non-Apple readers) arrived Tuesday morning.

I did a lot of online research. After agonizing over whether to buy a PC because of the price, deciding I couldn't make the sacrifice, then wondering if I could settle for a smaller screen and finally deciding that because of my worsening eyesight I could not….with shaking finger, I took another deep breath and hit the "confirm purchase" button.

And I don't regret my decision for one second! I could not be more ecstatic. This Macbook has everything I have grown to love about a Mac and even more. The basic wonderful and intuitive interface; intelligent file organization; an incredible backlit, sharp screen; and some new-fangled technology like "cover flow" and a touchpad that is something out of CSI. I always thought rotating a photo with one's fingers was fiction! (I know, time to crawl out of my cave.)

So now I've spent untold hours (and have the bleary eyes and sore neck and shoulders to show for it) migrating my files from my older Mac Mini; setting up new internet browser and e-mail programs; and…yes, I admit it…setting up a Facebook account. I had previously tried multiple times to navigate Facebook. Not sure if it was our satellite connection (often like molasses), my pretty good but slightly older computer, or Facebook's site itself. I finally decided it was a little of each, along with impatience on my part. At any rate, I always gave up in frustration when I tried to access a friend's photo albums—which was my reason for logging on in the first place.

But I have been able to login, navigate, chat, and set up my own account. Woo Hoo! It was fun chatting with my husband, sitting four feet away from me, last night!

Now I have to get back to real life…

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Saying Good-bye

Quest: January 2, 1996—January 21, 2010

I'm still not sure I can do this...Each time I think I'll post, I start and get a few words written and get stuck. I finally began gathering photos of Quest from our 14 years together to assemble a scrapbook. My scrapbooking activities have helped me deal with loss in the past.

Ironically, last fall I was working on another album ("ME: The Abridged Version" from Cathy Zielski's class at Big Picture Scrapbooking and one entry I wrote was about my faithful friend Quest.

I have decided just to use that tribute to him now, rather than reinventing the wheel. Little did I know then how short his time would be. 

A tiny black lab was given to me when I made my home at the Homestead Ranch near Matfield Green, KS. Quest was the runt of a litter of 11, son of Traveler. I named him “Traveler’s Prairie Quest” because he represented to me my own quest.
After his mom, he became a guest favorite at the ranch. The smartest (and most intuitive), best behaved dog one could ever imagine. 

Obsessed with balls, sticks and rocks, he could sniff out a tennis ball from any hiding place—guest luggage, dresser drawers, a high shelf. He amused himself—and us—by rolling onto his back, getting a ball between his paws, tossing it into the air, and yes, catching it in his mouth! He’d also push a rock (and it had to be big) around on the ground with his nose, flipping it so he could chase it and catch it. He really loved pushing one off the bank of the creek and jumping in after it. He’d root around under water until he found that exact rock. All that play with rocks has, unfortunately, ground his teeth down to nubbins.

Quest grew from “tiny” to very big—75-85 pounds big. He dwarfed seven-pound Heidi, my cat and at first a natural enemy and later a best friend. Me and my dog, going for walks and rides in my pick-up through the hills. Always so obedient and loyal, wanting nothing but to please and to have my affection.

He became a teacher to our new lab Sadie, who learned to sit for her food and treats as he did without any prompting from us. They roamed the prairie together, patrolled our land every time they went out, and “protected” us from deer, raccoons and other critters. They played tug-of-war with toys and sticks; napped in the sun; and got into trouble together—digging up moles, eating garden produce right off the plants, and digging holes in the mud. Sadie taught Quest grubs were great little treats while he taught her how to shimmy beneath the barbed wire fences.

Christmas 2009
Now, he’s old and decrepit, like a very old person. Deaf as a post, with arthritis and nerve/muscle problems, it’s painful to watch him get up and down. His mind is often fuzzy and he gets confused. And yet, he still has so much heart. He wants so badly to play, to retrieve that toy so he can bring it back to me to toss again. Not long ago I watched Heidi deteriorate and eventually die, and now I watch Quest with such sadness, and guilt, because I have not given him the attention and affection he so desperately wanted from me. 

The world’s most special black lab. 

Fast forward to two weeks ago yesterday (a Tuesday). Quest and Sadie had had their morning trips outside as usual and settled down inside for naps. About noon Charlie took Sadie to the veterinarian to have staples removed from some earlier surgery. After a while, Quest decided he'd had enough napping and attempted to get up and come to join me. He had had trouble hoisting his arthritic body up for quite a while, but always managed by pushing up with his front legs. This time one of those legs didn't seem to work. At first I thought he'd injured himself, as he occasionally did. 

By the time Charlie and Sadie returned, it was apparent Quest was in pretty bad shape, so Charlie hoisted him up and helped him outside for his constitutional. He barely made it back inside, where he collapsed.

I'll spare my readers details of the next two agonizing days. We knew the "time" had come and talked to Tom Jernigan, our vet, making the arrangements for early Thursday morning, not believing Quest would even make it through the night. But that ever-present spirit was still there, despite his inability to move himself except for head and tail—the tail still wagged each time he'd see me or I'd stoop to rub his ears. That made it even harder. Never one to moan or cry, Quest was whimpering and making strange pained sounds the last 24 hours. 

Tom told us he thought Quest had had an embolism that traveled into his lungs. His heart had been weak, and more lately, his breathing labored. He was old. We simply never envisioned anything so drastic, though.

Well, we buried that big old lovable friend a few feet from his companion of many years, Heidi, on that bitterly cold, gray, windy morning, along with the Kong toy he loved so much.

Life just isn't the same now. Both Charlie and I miss those soulful brown eyes, the tilt of his head, and that "Please, oh please, pet me, play with me" look. And, that wagging tail. 

 Good-bye old friend

*Thanks to Katie Pertiet at Designer Digitals for her Book of Memories scrapbooking template and Messy Stamped Alphabet letters