Friday, May 26, 2017

fort god dropped

"Help me down Uncle Karl," he asked.

His flip flop had caught in the crux of the tree where he was standing. I pulled free the pinched sandal and slipped it on his extended foot. Once on the ground and free from my arms, he already had the redbud sized up. His young hands tight around the narrow limbs, muscles tugged and hoisted up legs and feet as he had before. He appealed and I lifted him down a second time to the ground. Flip flops were stuck in the crux.

His aunt Jan Jan suggested he try a young maple in the backyard. Our great-nephew found more room this time and was able to lean his back against the ascending trunk. 

When I was in grade school, my parents had let me climb the oak tree in our yard. I discovered back then there was nothing like being up in a tree, confident, knowing how to go up and down the ladder-like branches. To feel the drift and sway of branches in the breeze. I felt this boy lacked that joy, a cautious parent kept him indoor too much, he was not given free reign to make forts for himself. 

In contrast, I thought of the boyhood activities two brothers did in a Carl Sandburg story:

"They went barefooted and got stickers in their hair and teased cats and killed snakes and climbed apple trees and threw clubs up walnut trees and chewed slippery ellum. They stubbed their toes and cut their feet on broken bottles and went swimming in brickyard ponds and came home with their backs sunburnt so the skin peeled off."  from How Googler and Gaggler Came Home with Monkey Wrenches, Carl Sandburg

THAT NIGHT, after the nephew returned home, the WILD WINDS took down three trees in our side yard. Double click to see images bigger.

The redbud where he had stood earlier that afternoon split under the weight of the bigger tree.

The next morning, I surveyed the mess. Protected by the long sleeves and jeans, work boots, gloves and face mask, I cleared limbs with my hand saw. Out of curiosity I waded head down past the leaves and into the middle of it all. More limbs came down. I cleared a space between the two trunks. It reminded me of forts I had built. That feeling of being hidden from view. That was when THE  IDEA came to me.

Three minutes. Horizontal trunks to climb on. God had dropped these trees in our yard to become an outdoor fort.

Over the next few days I loaded the truck, and hauled debris out to the city burn pile. I carried short stump trunks into the fort space. I climbed up on the lower branches to see if they would support my weight and support his weight. They did. When a week had passed, the boy was able to be with us again all day. Instead of flimsy flip flops, he had strong sneakers on his feet.

The morning started cold. He and I played the matching color matching number game UNO and the Aggravation marble board game until it had warmed up outside. What would he think about the fort? How would he respond? 

He made my day!!!!

"There's the window, there's the back door, there's a room," when he first saw it. He wanted to make walls. Hoped to knock down a broken limb, he whacked it with a stick. He walked on top of the trunk to the uprooted end and peered over the pond water and the duckweed. "There is water below me. I see two frogs," he said. He told me he was a gorilla.

One minute. His souvenirs. 

He was a fort builder after all. "I built this fortress," he said when he was all finished. He called it "The Fortress of the Egyptian Gorilla."

Him, arms clasping a stump trunk to his chest, waddling away. Returning for the next stump. All four ending up where he wanted them to be. "Go find them Uncle Karl."

He selected a wiggly shaped log with spike knobs, where the branches used to jut out. Talked his uncle into helping move the back end of the wonky dead trunk as he managed the front end. I called the log "the prehistoric petrified eel." He made the "pretend eel" a bridge he walked on up to a higher branch.

Beforehand I had made a wide north entrance for him to use. That day he took liberty to hide the entrance with branches from the debris pile. To reach the inner room, he explained... "you had to go in the back door and open the front door. Because the front was hidden to outsiders. Camouflage."


The boy delighted. Singing to himself.

Three minutes. Him fitting branches in place.

Working up a sweat. Making it work.
I was so proud of him.

Thank you god for the fort you
dropped in our yard !!!!!!!

Two minutes. Parting shot. Stump trunks revealed.

Monday, May 22, 2017

turns reading aloud

The day came.

After waiting two weeks for the right moment, it was my turn to watch the boy after school got out. The book lay on the seat beside him in the pickup. It was raining out. I watched as he first picked up the book and thumbed through its pages. He read silently to himself.
We came into agreement.
He would read one sentence aloud and I would read the next. And so on, taking turns, sharing the story. Listening to the sound and shape of the words and imagining the characters we were fond of.

 A while ago, my wife recalled, back when we were dating, I had found a vinyl record at Link Library at Concordia University in Seward. I was attracted to the rich grandfatherly voice of Carl Sandburg as he read his Rootabagga Stories. The stories were transferred to a cassette tape of mine. And last year my great-nephew enjoyed the audio stories on tape at his house. That day he and I were drawing doodles on paper at their dining room table. Hatrack the Horse was telling the night policeman in the Village of Cream Puffs about the Three Wild Babylonian Baboons.
"Soon the baboons, all hairy all over, bangs down their foreheads, came sneaking through the door. Just as they were sneaking through the door they took off their hats to show they were getting ready to sneak through the house........The last he saw of them they were walking away in the rain eating bread and butter. And they took off their hats so the rain ran down and slid on the bangs of their foreheads." Carl Sandburg

Word had come to me that my great-nephew had been talking to his GG about wanting to HEAR that baboon story again. His grandmother mentioned it to her sister (my wife) and I heard of his renewed interest. That was when I ordered the book through our local Carrollton library.

The second grader was surprised that I had to WAIT a whole week for the book to arrive. He asked me where CARTHAGE was. The book was on-loan from the Carthage Public Library. It was a city near the bottom on our state of Missouri, I replied.

What astonished me was that there were OTHER tales in the book that were not on the vinyl record. More stories with new titles to explore.

When we got home to the yellow house with dark green shutters, he and I read one of these. One we had not heard of before. "Many, Many Weddings in One Corner House." "... bug games bugs-up, bugs-down, run-bugs-run, or beans-bugs-beans."

I was so glad this opportunity was fulfilled. WE  DID IT and the idea worked.

The boy told me he scored high on the reading chart in his class. Great. Here are two audio files I found on Youtube. Both stories are on my cassette tape.

Four minutes. Carl Sandburg reads aloud. (courtesy of Youtube,, accessed May 26, 2017)

Seven minutes. A second story from that audio file.
(courtesy of, accessed May 26, 2017)

Rootabagga Stories

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Monday, May 15, 2017

shale wall at bluff creek

Behind Richard Hall with the meter running, a curly headed guy and gal with long hair were trying to load a huge stretched canvas into a much smaller station wagon. An end-of-the-semester dilemma art students can face. Typical. When I passed by next time, the guy had returned with a long cord. Whether he was going to strap the canvas to the outside roof of the vehicle was not clear.

Shale Wall at Bluff Creek 30 by 40 inches, plein air acrylic on canvas. On the back are the notations: "1:00 - 3:00 pm 3:30 - 4:30 pm"

I had driven up to Lincoln in my car to hand deliver my piece. The office had many works still in crates and packed in cardboard. Staff advisor Christy Aggens signed my paperwork. I don't remember who were my classmates when I took ceramics, painting, and printmaking my last year of college. The name Susan Pueltz looked familiar. And I believe Karen Kunc was in the same class I had with Michael Nushawg for printmaking. The Art Department invited art graduates from 1979 to 1982 to take part. The works are currently up in the Eisentrager-Howard Gallery over the summer, June, July. I plan to come up to meet classmates on the final night of the show, Friday, August 4th, three days after my 62nd birthday. The closing reception will be at  5 - 7 pm. 
In the meantime, I was going to look around the campus. The flatness had been changed up in a good way. More earth mounds, more leafy canopies, more sculptures.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

saying it set it in place

In school I learned about electrons, protons, and neutrons. The pieces that make up an atom. A named attraction pulls these pieces together. The same attraction pulls atoms together on our planet Earth, throughout our Solar System, and out out out over in galaxies on the other side of the Universe. It is a constant. It is a boundary. It has been set in place. The words of the British astrophysicist Paul Davies tell me how important that particular attraction is in the scheme of things. 

In his book Superforce (1982) Davies talked about four constants. He concluded that all that exists is made possible by way of these four constants. His words are like poetry to me. The closest vision I have to the known universe is at my feet. Asphalt, embedded gravel, and the particulate that is revealed by deterioration on a sidewalk or a street.

"Without gravity, not only would there be no galaxies, stars, or planets, but the universe could not have even come into being, for the very notion of the expanding universe, and the big bang as the origin of space time, is rooted in gravity.  Without electromagnetism there would be no atoms, no chemistry or biology and no heat or light from the sun.If there were no strong nuclear force then nuclei could not exist, and so again there would be no atoms or molecules, no chemistry or biology, nor would the sun and stars be able to generate heat and light from nuclear energy. Even the weak force plays a crucial role in shaping the universe. If it did not exist, the nuclear reactions in the sun and stars could not proceed, and supernovae would probably not occur, and the vital life-giving heavy elements would therefore be unable to permeate the universe. Life might be impossible. When we remember that these four very different types of force, each one vital for generating the complex structures that make our universe so active and interesting, all derive from a single, simple superforce, the ingenuity of it all literally boggles the mind."         
(Paul Davies, Superforce, 1982)

In Judeo-Christian literature I have found this same view regarding boundaries. The poet credited a Maker for giving commands to the elements. Water fled at the sound of a Voice. The orbits of the sun and moon were drawn to circle the earth, and in this way help human beings keep track of time.

"You are clothed with majesty and intensity, You cover yourself with light. You spread out the universe like a tent and built your home on the waters above.
You placed the ocean over the earth like a robe, and the water covered the mountains. When you rebuked the waters, they fled; the waters rushed away when they heard your shout of command.The waters flowed over the mountains and into the valleys, to the place you had made for them.You set a boundary they can never pass, to keep them from covering the earth again. 
You created the moon to mark the months,the sun knows the time to set.Your constant love reaches the farthest reaches of space.Your faithfulness touches the atmosphere above. "
zig zig.  Song of David   
Opus 104 lines 1-3, 6-9, 19 and Opus 108  line 4   
1000 BC

An author of Hebrew descent described the constants of the universe as being thrust into compliance by a verbal order. (Hebrews 1:1-3) The words of a personal super-entity regulated every living system, right down to the atoms, and pieces even smaller. I think about that text like poetry, something to take my mind deep into thought. How the smallest of small, the proteins, how they assemble molecular structures as if by following written instructions. That is how biologist Michael Behe talked about molecular machines in the cell.  

Biochemist Michael Denton did not point to an entity or a maker, but his text convinced me that a simple protein molecule was capable of carrying multiple tasks, in ways much like the technologies human beings have coded, multiplied several times over. My eyes glaze over from the wonder of Denton's descriptions. I think about a voice giving instruction to proteins and the thrust to comply. Denton's writing gave credit to an entity none could match, one without a name, one with no foot print, but one which dumbfounded me, amazed me, wowed me, blew me away.
“We would see that nearly every feature of our own advanced machines had its analogue in the cell: artificial languages and their decoding systems, memory banks for information storage and retrieval, elegant control systems regulating the automated assembly of parts and components, error fail-safe and proof-reading devices utilized for quality control, assembly processes involving the principle of prefabrication and modular construction. In fact, so deep would be the feeling of deja-vu, so persuasive the analogy, that much of the terminology we would use to describe this fascinating molecular reality would be borrowed from the world of late twentieth-century technology” (Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 1986, pp. 328, 329

 Out of nothing. The idea that all that is substance, and the incredibly small or beyond our ability to detect it with our instruments, all of that -- it came out of nothing. Once it did not exist. Then Time and Space and dimensions and worlds and entropy and dark matter BECAME.

A way of thinking, faith, can be had and held. Hope comes out of it. The certainty of things we cannot see. That people in ancient times were able to know God's approval. This way helps us to understand that the universe was thrust into compliance by the command of God, so that what can be detected by human beings and their instruments was made out of the absence of all things.  (Hebrews 11:1-3)              
"Contemplating the Rhythms and Boundaries That Your Voice Sets for Sub-Atomic Particles, While I Stand on the Sidewalk and Look Down at the Asphalt on My Way to School" by Karl Marxhausen

(courtesy of, accessed April 28, 2017) 



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

spring placements

Light Among Trees
Acrylic on panel, 2009
Janis and John Mc Kenzie, Clay County, Nebraska

You Paint Joy On Top Of Me
part of core series
Acrylic, sand, and charcoal ash on board, 40 x 40, 2002
John E. Brenneman, Kansas City, Missouri

Terra Wild
Acrylic on panel, 2004
Robert Cranmer, Carrollton, Missouri

Wall screen
Mixed media on burlap, 2014
Linda Birkes-Lance, Seward, Nebraska

Mother and Daughter in Samarkand
Acrylic on canvas, 2005
Frank Raasch, Norborne, Missouri

Ribbons   (details, above)
Acrylic on board, 7 x 31 inches, 2003
Susan Nashan, Carrollton, Missouri

Wired To Hear Your Voice 
part of core series
Acrylic paint, oyster shells on panel, 2002
Daniel Griffith, De Witt, MO

Monday Standing
Acrylic, 26 x 40, plein air, 2007
Janis and John Mc Kenzie

Acrylic on board, 2004
Linda Birkes-Lance

Bluff Creek April 2016
Acrylic on panel
Lori Buntin, Kansas City, Missouri

Dancing With Jesus
part of core series
Acrylic on canvas, 2001
Trisha Nyberg, Olatha, Kansas

 Sky Blue
Acrylic on panel, 38 x 28 inches, 2007
Janis and John Mc Kenzie

Afternoon On The Missouri River, Carroll County
Acrylic on panel
Linda Birkes-Lance