Tuesday, June 25, 2019

My Lord, What a Morning

It didn’t really start this morning — more like a month ago.  The phone.  “Karen, would you be willing to read the scriptures at Church one weekend in June?”

Now, at Petersburg Lutheran Church the honor comes with a bonus, you’re also the Communion Assistant, but we’ll get to that later.

Before Church Karen attends Sunday School (held at Colleen’s home next to the church) with a flock of her feminine friends, one of whom, Sally, offered Karen a ride.  Not wanting to delay Sally, Karen stood in front of our house ten minutes early.  Never one famous for her patience, nine minutes later Karen decided she had been forgotten and scuttled off on foot.

Thus, when Sally knocked on our door perhaps a minute or two late Karen had disappeared out of sight.  Off Sally drove figuring she’s pick Karen up along the route.  No Karen.  Fearing she may have fallen into a ditch, a most distressed Sally soon arrived at Sunday School, a distress she conveyed to Karen.  Minutes later with Karen now feeling remorseful and a bit rattled for causing Sally to worry, Susan set her cup of coffee down next to Karen as Karen removed her sweater.  Alas, a law of physics prevailed.  Two objects cannot occupy the same space simultaneously, namely Karen’s fast-moving hand and the coffee cup.  Yes, the coffee ended up all over Karen’s pants and the floor.

With only les femmes present Colleen suggested they had time to wash the pants during the Sunday School lesson.  Off they came and into the laundry room where Karen grabbed stain remover with which she doused her pants.  Editors note:  It might have been best if Karen had not removed her glasses when she took off her sweater.  After spraying the coffee stains she realized the bottle of Shout Out for Clothes was still on the shelf.  For the record, we now know that carpet stain remover can be substituted for clothes stain remover.

Also, for the record, Karen became the first woman in our Church known to participate in a Sunday School lesson pants/dress-free.  The clothes had about dried as the lesson ended and Colleen’s clock read 10:00 — remember she was the scripture reader this morning and that comes very very early in the 10:00 service.

That’s when Karen decided she’d better get her sweater back on.  Of course that’s also when the zipper of the sweater snagged on her blouse.  That’s also when the bells pealed to signal the start of the service.  Now Karen was due on site in minutes as she sat clad in her lingerie with her pants in the dryer and her sweater and blouse badly intertwined while hung up high on her chest.

A breathless a wide-eyed Karen dashed into Church barely in time to read the Scriptures, but not before announcing to the entire congregation that they were lucky she had her pants on.  

Still rattled she had to face Communion.  Her job — hold two cups, one filled with wine, the second, grape juice.  Now behind her when she served Communion were just two steps and her final duty was to mount those two steps and put the two vessels back on the altar.  Just two steps.  Only two.  She cleared one.  The grape juice flew onto the rug.  The wine into her face, onto her blouse and into the Baptismal font positioned at the top of the steps.  From my pew seat it looked like Karen was Baptizing herself as she washed wine out of her eyes with water from the font.

Finally Pastor Eric communed Karen.  He handed her a wafer to dip into what little wine remained.  She just ate it.  He tried again.  She just ate it.  Ah well, there will be Communion next week.

At the end of the service I couldn’t help but notice when I turned to the closing hymn, I first alighted on the preceding hymn:  My Lord, What a Morning.  We should have sung that one.  I gave Karen a ride home.

                    Courting Days   18 x 24 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

This is an older painting I did of Karen of another memorable morning, OK maybe it was an afternoon, but it was one of those days that sent my heart racing as I fell in love with this gentle lass.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Never Again

Never again! That’s what Karen said two years ago. I echoed her statement with two, no three, exclamation points. The fundraiser for WAVE, Working Against Violence for Everyone — a local non-profit — is a gala event for attendees with alcoholic beverages flowing freely along with a plentiful assortment of delicacies for the most discriminating palates.

However, the main attraction is the artwork, creations by artists mostly on a 22 X 30 inch sheet of watercolor paper to be cut up and sold by the square inch.  Supporter/patrons chosen by random numbers circulate around the artwork with various sized mat boards.  Each searches for the perfect layout they would like to see cut out of the artist’s creation to take home at the hefty price of $1.00 per square inch.  

I’ve suffered mightily in past years.   I offered pieces I composed with obvious (to me) complete compositions that anyone could see — just put your mat board around the central parts and viola. They got decimated.   Karen always painted discrete paintings surrounded by white borders.  They always survived.

This year I decided to adopt Karen’s tactic — sort of, neither one of us figuring on one little girl whose mother must have said “you can chose one little piece.  Take this tiny mat board and have fun.”  Alas, this juvenile art collector ended up being one of the first “art patrons” chosen to choose and she honed in on Karen’s and my artwork.

                   Karen's     You Are So Dear to me     Watercolor/Acrylic

Back and forth she darted between the two.  Again and again — so fast she’s obviously a future candidate for an Olympic track medal.  Karen’s largest painting of bears or one my paintings of a bear with gnomes on it’s back was going to get destroyed with hours and hours of work spent on the rest of the painting laid to waste.  We were miserable as we watched her dash back and forth between the pieces.  Oh, the agony, the pain.  In the end…the gnomes were chosen to be plucked off the back of the bear.

                    Don's     Gnome Fishing Strategies      Alkyd    
The gnomes would have been excised from the back of the bear.  

But then, an angel.  His name, Richard.  We had never met him before this event but he sat across from us at our table and saw our angst.  Richard likes gnomes and when his turn came he did the unimaginable.  He selected another of my gnome and bear paintings for himself plus….he purchased the entire gnome and bear painting the girl wanted part of so she could have the whole undefiled thing.  My painting survived because of the generosity of Richard, my hero.

In the end my four gnome paintings sold, as did Karen's eclectic selection of four paintings.  Karen was so enamored with her own largest offering she sat on the edge of her seat dreading seeing it cut up or cut out -- until it was her turn to chose what artwork she wanted.  It now resides on our living room wall.

        Karen's    When You're Done I Have a Question    Watercolor/Acrylic
                               Now part of our own art collection.     

                              Don's    A Beary Big Problem     Alkyd

Two years from now we will receive another request.  Would you be willing?  If I breakdown and say yes, which I am vowing never to do again, but if I do which I won’t, the subject will be….blotches of unused paint from every painting I work on for months — a totally indescribable abstract — blotches of color that should never ever ever ever be placed within the same room of each other.  Then, after that maybe WAVE will strike my name from their contact list. 

           Karen's    Are You Sure That Was Decaf?    Watercolor/Acrylic

                           Don's    Waiting For Some Action    Alkyd

                            Karen's      Bird Grains      Watercolor/Acrylic

                Don's    A Gnome Family Outing On The River    Alkyd  
This piece didn't fare so well with the top of the mountains and one deer perishing when they were cut out of the painting.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Karen's High Arctic Adventure

Last June Karen fulfilled a long held dream — traveling to an Arctic wilderness.  A guided trip rafting down the Kongakut River draining the north slope of Alaska’s Brooks Range enabled her to savor one of the wildest parts of North America free from the accouterments of civilization — OK, mostly without.  She brought along her toothbrush.

Prior to Karen setting off on that adventure with a close friend, four other soon to be friends and two guides, I restrained myself from encouraging her with suggestions such as: she gets airsick on small planes (she didn’t ), she’d be under siege by trillions of mosquitos (she wasn’t), and she was sure to get lost (she did).  One out of three — that would be a good batting average for a New York Yankees left fielder.

So, in mid June Karen departed Petersburg on an Alaska Airlines jet, downsized in Fairbanks and further downsized in Kaktovik on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.  The only additional downsizing came when she disembarked the tiny bush plane supported by tundra tires that enabled it to land on a gravel bar in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  There, far up the Kongakut River, she downsized into a full-to-capacity raft to set off down the river — traversing some of the wildest, most remote country in North America.

The Kongakut River originates in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the north slope of Alaska's Brooks Range.  From there it winds it's way to the Beaufort Sea at the top of the North American continent.

                                                  The drop off spot -- an Alaska-style "airport."

The big question, of course, was now how do you fit four people in that thing?  The answer is once the planes have departed you have no choice.

Each day of rafting was interspersed with a day of explorations via foot.  During those sorties mountain tops held the strongest allure for all of the group -- except Karen.  There’s no way mountain tops can come close to competing with treasure hunts for rocks and bird photographs.  Of course it was on one of those treasure hunts for rocks, when she rarely glances up to see where she is going, much less what direction, led to me being successful in one of my predictions — she spent three hours walking away from camp in a effort to get to it.  Only Karen!

                                                                          Off for a day of exploration

Carolyn surveys the upper Kongakut River from a vantage point on the way to the next vantage point one step further upslope.

So, how did Karen manage to get lost when the encampment is to obvious?  Hint, Karen, it's over on the left side of this photo.

So many choices!  Karen wanted to bring all of them home, but wait.  They had to fit in the raft and plane, even Karen's pack.  Can you guess which one of these now resides in our living room?

                           Of course she wanted to bring this family of Arctic Ground Squirrels home, too.

And this semipalmated plover.  Then again, it may well fly to Petersburg every spring and fall during it's north and southbound migrations.  Perhaps it's image even resides among Karen's 90,000 photographs on this computer.  We'll have to check on that.

            Ah, a critter she may have actually brought home residing among the cells that constitute her body.  

A bull caribout that chanced upon Karen while she was visiting the trench that functioned as the camp loo.  Inspired by Karen, the caribou emulated her action.

Somehow politicians depiction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as being a wasteland doesn't jibe with our definition.

Aufeis, Kongakut River overflow that built up in layers of ice last winter greeted the intrepid explorers as they approached the Beaufort Sea.

The final destination:  a gravel bar separating the Beaufort Sea (on the right) from a lagoon at the mouth of the Kongakut River.

                            Remnants of last winter's Arctic Ocean ice pack line the shores of the Beaufort Sea.

Just shy of the sea, aufeis lingers on even after summer solstice.  Can it ever melt before winter?  We won't know.

It’s with great sadness that we now watch tax reform wrangling in Washington.   Politicians, whose main concern is rewarding the oil industry for funding their campaigns, are on the threshold of turning parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the Kongakut River into an industrial zone.  To add insult to injury, anyone who isn’t employed in the oil industry will be barred from even accessing the area.  Politicians claims that effects on the refuge can be mitigated is total nonsense. 

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Seemingly so barren and yet it's the nursery for the Porcupine caribou herd as well as a myriad of bird species.  Turning it into an industrial complex can't be mitigated and once lost, it's lost forever.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Three Portraits

Three portraits gave me reason to head into my basement studio this past winter and spring — a couple of “would yous?” and one “just couldn’t resist.”  

                                         Jay    12 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

When I think of heroes, one of the first who pops into my mind is Jay.  Summer after summer Jay and his wife, Carolyn, would charter a plane from Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories to fly into a lake surrounded by a continental sized wilderness.  Left on their own in the middle of the Canadian Barrens they would set off in their canoe chasing the retreating winter’s ice as they paddled up some unexplored drainage to it’s headwaters, portage over the continental divide (the other one) and trace the path of another drainage until their journey ended as autumn reached the Arctic Ocean.  They had zero room for error as they surveyed countless rapids before deciding whether to risk running them or to portage past, keeping in mind the date of their Arctic Ocean rendezvous with the plane flight home.  Almost every year they explored a new drainage and most years they may have been the first people to ever set foot where they trod.  The nearest person, with whom they had no contact anyway, might be the distance from Alaska to Seattle — maybe even further.  At the end of one of their last expeditions, the two celebrated Jay’s 80th birthday by scaling a granite wall overlooking Bathurst Inlet, a branch of the Arctic Ocean.  The top of that cliff is the setting for “Jay.”

                                       Ava    12 x 12 inches    Alkyd on canvas

Ava presents a different inspiration — the creative kind.  I often reflect on how an elementary school aged child can have such a fertile mind.  Her grandma keeps us updated as to her comings and goings and there is no doubt Ava possesses “the gift.”  Ava reportedly often retreats to her room after school where she creates fabulous art work.  I only hope she can keep doing her own thing instead of someday being drawn into other’s expectations.  I painted Ava based on one of her grandma’s favorite photos of her.

                    Cadence Lost in Thought    12x 12 inches    Alkyd on Canvas

I didn’t even know who Cadence was when I began painting her.  A friend asked Karen to take some photographs during her son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law’s wedding rehearsal.  As usual, Karen’s eye for strong images gave me fodder for more painting subjects.  One photo of three children especially caught my eye.  The young lass in the photo seemed a million miles away, maybe thinking of her own wedding someday.  Who knows?  That’s for whoever views “Cadence Lost in Thought” to figure out. 

Karen’s photo translated into my painting remind me of a poem I wrote several years ago:

We passed in the morning
She a child
Lost in her dreams.
I a man
With mine.
Her eyes turned skyward
Yet not.
For hers was an inward gaze
Bound in some other world
From that which we traveled.

She, an unfinished page
Her beaming face
Like the morning sun
Clothed in innocence
Unsoiled by time
Without a laugh,
Rising corners of her mouth
Said everything
And yet so little.

Our eyes never met
Giving me the chance
To wonder.
Where was she as we passed?
Somewhere ahead,
Or just behind?
Today, tomorrow, or yesterday?

There was no hint.
Only joy.
That enveloped my today
And made my tomorrow brighter.

Don Cornelius

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Our 16-Dollar-a-Day Car

Karen and I spent a couple of weeks in southern California and Nevada this past winter..  Naturally Karen excelled in documenting the trip with her camera.  But our blog still needed a narrative link. So I focused on our rental car.  Obviously, you probably think.  So I wrote one, but wait, April is National Poetry Month.  Why not?  So this blog differs in one respect.

                                                     The ultimate 16-dollar deal

Our 16-Dollar-a-Day Car

We rented a car on a recent trip
Just 16 dollars a day said the ad.
A Toyota Corolla or equivalent
The price didn’t sound too bad.

Oops, an insurance item remained.
Something more for the shopping cart.
That price couldn’t be retained,
We still needed the collision part

For on our own car we save plenty of dough.
‘Cause for one year’s coverage the charge
Is more than the thing’s worth.
So we skip it, the saving’s large.

But, for a mere ten dollars
Added just once per day,
A fender dent would ne'er be a worry.
It seemed wise to say OK.

We reached the rental store
At 10:30 late that night,
Most weary and exhausted
From our third airplane flight.

“Now, about the insurance?”
Grinned the car rental man.
I said “Oh, we’re covered
By your ten dollar a day plan.”

“Hmm, I don’t see it here,” he smiled,
As his computer he checked.
“Are you sure it’s worth the chance
If this car should turn up wrecked?”

Drat, I strained to recall
The deal that bested my ability.
I didn’t bring the papers
What if I’d only bought liability?

I give, I said, how much the cost,
What will be my outlay?
“That comes to 20 more dollars.
Oh, that’s once per day.”

With a sigh we set off in our Corolla
Happy to be on the go,
Til the next day sunlight revealed
A front end designed to plow snow.

A rock, parking lot speed bump
We go to places that’s got ‘em.
Disaster lay in the agenda
We’d surely tear up the bottom.

Alas, our itinerary changed
We returned to the rental store.
Can we exchange this thing,
Something with clearance, just a wee bit more?

The nice man behind the counter
Scanning his computer found a blip.
Ah, yes we have a new Volvo,
Two hundred dollars for the rest of you trip.

What’s the difference? I sadly moaned.
We’ve stretched our budget so far.
And we drove away from that town
In our 16 dollar a day car.

                      Our Morongo Valley destination as viewed from our rental car.

                                           Our neighbors -- a cottontail rabbit and...

         A jack rabbit.  Life has to be tough on big ears with all those prickly desert plants.

     Unless you're a ladder-backed woodpecker who finds a cactus a cozy place into which to snuggle.

Another neighbor, a northern mockingbird on a another sharp pointy plant, probably Mohave yucca, that I found out was nice to avoid -- the hard way.  They're nature's natural sword.

                    This blog needs some color.  How about a vermillion fly catcher?

                                                  And a western scrub jay.

A real treat was hearing over-wintering white-crowned sparrows, whose notes evoke memories of tundra summers.

We can't resist including an image of a phainopepia if for no other reasons than it's exotic name -- and head adornment.

Speaking of head adornments, how about this mustang's hat.  The owner of the airbnb we stayed at has adopted two of them -- mustangs that is.

       Oops, in the last image you couldn't tell the mustang has a nose.  This photo rectifies that.

Did you think Karen forgot to photograph rodents during this trip?  Wrong.  Here's a shot of one of the neighborhood's antelope ground squirrels.

Besides all the critters Karen "adopted" during this trip, another reason to visit the area -- Joshua Tree National Park. 

By the way, remember this is California so what might you expect to see out in the middle of nowhere?  Yep, only in California.  All rewards of travel in our 16-dollar-a-day rental car.

Monday, March 6, 2017


At the tender age of 76 the event still haunts me. 

The last game of the season — Manoa School vs our arch rival.  Our team behind by a scant point. The ball poised a mere foot from the goal line.  4th down.  Barely time for one last play and our place in history.  The quarterback called a never-miss play.  Cliff — I forgot his last name although I think it began with a Ke. — would make an easy end run.  No sweat and we would be the never-to-be-forgotten champions.

Then, from an obscure corner of the huddle, the fullback, an insecure 11-year-old, squeaked “let me take it this time.  I’ve never scored a touchdown.”

The perfect snap put the ball squarely in my arms and I plunged headlong towards the ragged wall of sweating players.  Glory lay inches away that golden autumn day.

Today I can still feel the sensation.  So intent in crossing that goal line I forgot one essential item.  Rather than tackling me, that opposing guard simply plucked the ball out of my arms as easy as picking a dandelion from a lawn.  I tackled him, the buzzer sounded and the game ended.  A would-be hero instantly turned into a goat.

I was reminded of that traumatic day this winter. 

I have had paintings accepted and shown in the first two National Weather Center Biennial competitions — an international arts event in Norman, Oklahoma.  One painting even ended up on a page in Southwest Art magazine.  I felt I made up for that missed touchdown twice and was poised for a third.  I entered three paintings in this year’s contest.   My favorite was “Cold,” a portrait of Karen I painted specifically for this competition.  Karen had taken a selfie of herself at the end of a snowstorm and this one seemed ripe for the contest.  Karen documents her life by taking occasional selfies and I love how they reveal her personality in such an unassuming way.  

                                      Cold   12 x 16 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

The email of acceptance came in mid-November.  The congratulatory message came with a simple message, “further information will be coming soon.”  That’s all.  “When is soon?,” I wondered.

One thing my parents impressed upon me was the old adage “patience is a virtue.”  Maybe, when used judiciously! 

Every day I patiently waited for that message.  I waded through volumes of filtered junk mail — an uncanny amount due to several lowly spammers, pre-Christmas offers, political stuff — over 200 per day.  Nada.  I knew the event was scheduled for Earth Day.  Be patient!

Finally, in mid-January, I decided I had better inquire.  No response.  A week later, another email netted an answer.  “Sorry, you missed a December 31 deadline to send us another copy of your painting.  You’re out of the show.  We sent you several emails.” 

I'm not so sure, but if that’s true, my favorite guess as to what happened is they did indeed send me emails.  However when the show curator typed doncorn@gci.net a message popped up that I often get when forwarding something to myself.  “Did you mean doncorn@gmail.com?”  A simple yes would have sent the notifications to who knows where, but certainly not me.  Other explanations seem equally plausible, but i vote for this one.

I could be wrong, but one thing I know.  Patience is best tempered with reason.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I’m against competitive sports until children are emotionally mature.  Our society pays too much attention to the heroes, but what about the goats?  As for me, I’m still waiting to reach that level of maturation.