Finer Words…”Tense Present”


I received Bryan A. Garner’s new book, Nino and Me: My Unusual Friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia today.  As I have examined this book as I do most books I receive, I read the inside cover, the table of contents, the dedication, and the acknowledgements.  In this brief perusal, I have learned of the friendship Bryan Garner, David Foster Wallace and Justice Antonin Scalia.  Also, in this glance I learned of a beautiful essay written by David Foster Wallace, “Tense Present”, published in the Harper’s Magazine in 2001.  I hope you enjoy reading the essay for the first time or rereading it.  I hope Garner’s memoir is as fulfilling as the first ten minutes.



Our Lord’s twin brother.

Our Lord’s twin brother.

Born to different centuries,

They share the same Mother.

Faithful to the Keys,

He calls an ass his brother.

Preacher to the trees,

Giving glory to the Other,

Walking through countries.

Knowing not a house,

Blessing his Brother Sun.

Befriending a mouse,

Converting the Sultan.

Our Lord’s brother Francis,

Please pray for us!

The Silence of the Empty Crib

The silence of the empty crib,

Foretells the silence of the tomb.

Eve who came not from Adam’s rib,

Prepared each bedd with love and broom.

The former an Advent of joy

The latter an Advent of rue.

We anticipate not a toy,

But the Savior who came for you.

Who is he that the world must wait?

Who is he that fishermen mourn?

He is the one who comes tonight.

He is the one who rose this morn.

Mary come see your babe the Christ.

Mary come see the risen Christ.

-Chris Teague


That Song Comes on the Radio

That song comes on the radio, the one you remember hearing, when she was driving and singing along, the brook of her voice bubbling about filling the car and lapping lightly upon the banks of your consciousness.

You turn up the volume, passing beneath the red light, sailing along Jefferson Highway,the shadows deepening from the autumn twilight. And in that moment, life seems deferential toward the two of you, the trees and streetlights casting their darkened images down before you, to adorn your way in a dappled thatch of light and shade. 
Twenty years later, you now listen to that song and  hear your children talking in the back of the car, they being the embodiment of your love and life together . But you find yourself, you know not why, considering the passing of your allotted years together, and you quietly weep for that couple who once sailed along the brindled highway, when all things seemed to exist only for the two of you.

Spring and Fall

Spring and Fall

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

        to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

An Arrival for Roy Harper

03b6c647259ba0e47ab4efa346f8839cTonight, at sundown, will commence the season of Advent in the Christian liturgical calendar.  This season is a time of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord or what is commonly called Christmas.  Most of what we take for preparing for Christmas began even not long after finishing our Thanksgiving dinners as we rushed breathlessly to malls and other commercial venues to find the best deals.  This has its place but unfortunately, we have commercialized Christmas to the point of absurdity.

I wrote and posted story this over a year ago.  I figured that I would post it again as it may provide some enjoyment and maybe something to reflect upon.  You see all of us are waiting.  We are waiting for something or someone  to happen in our lives.  And though many of us have convinced others and, more importantly, ourselves that we are getting along well enough,  the truth is that our lives are often just this side of desperation.

What happens to Roy Harper in this story happened to a man my father knew many years ago.  He was a man who had it all but was at the end of his rope or maybe heading toward an end of a rope.  He, like us, was waiting and from a seemingly small and insignificant action, he saw that for which we was waiting.

May you have a Blessed Advent and may this season end in true Christmas joy for you, whoever you maybe.


He stood beneath the gnarled live oak just out of reach of the street lamp’s luminous glow.  Shadowed by the great canopy, not living soul would’ve been suspected there, save for the single glowing point alternating intensity, as it would periodically rise and fall like a fire fly.  Taking another deep draw from the cigarette, Roy Harper’s solitary consolation for the moment was the smoky warmth that filled his chest before exhaling edgily before the little church that stood before him.   He had come to the First United Methodist Church that evening with his wife, Adele, and their two teenage children for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.  The church was one that his wife had attended from birth.  They were married there, had their children baptized there and faithfully attended every Sunday.  Adele was quite devoted to her faith.  Roy, not so much.  His lack of devotion stemmed less from hostility than from unfamiliarity.  He grew up in a family that was not religious.  As a child, his mother would respond to his inquires as to why this was so, by saying, in seemingly casual manner, “It’s just not something that we do” before quickly moving conversation elsewhere.  His father, on the other hand, was a tad more specific as to the reason for their non-attendance.  “Why in the hell, on my only day off, would I want to associate with a bunch like that?” he would say dismissively, a cigar clenched between his teeth.  And then, as if inspired by some gift of prophecy that would have been the envy of any evangelist, he’d continue dogmatically,  “The three of ‘em who actually believe that nonsense are too good to be of any use and as to the rest of ‘em, they’re a bunch of hypocrites and backstabbers.    Backstabbers!  The whole lot of ‘em, like a bunch of Judas’s in search of their thirty pieces of silver!”

Cars continued to pull into the gravel parking lot.  The popping and grinding sound of tires upon the stones agitated Roy and furthered his disquiet.  Lighting another cigarette, he watched the people bundled up against the cold greeting each other happily, walking briskly to enter the church.  The door would open and the warm glow inside illuminating the windows of stained glass, would pour forth, bathing the congregants in its inviting radiance.  Roy, however, stayed out of sight, moving more toward the inside of the tree, hiding the lit cigarette in the cup of his hand until the door was safely shut and he could take another drag without being seen.  You see Roy and Adele had had an argument on the way to the service.  Actually, this argument was just another episode in a series of arguments that had taken place over the better part of the year.  But tonight she had had enough and told had told him so in so many words. Roy had just learned wife’s forbearance with her husband extended to the point of her maternity, after that something had better change for Roy’s attitude had begun to affect their children.

In that more forbearing time, Adele asked plaintively one morning at the breakfast table “What’s gotten into you, Roy?” He’d respond with curt defensiveness, “Why do you keep saying that.  I’m fine.”  Yet they both knew that was not the case.
She’d continue concerned, “It’s like you’re walled up inside yourself or something.  We’re doing fine, hun.  And what’s not fine will be okay because we’ve got each other.”

Such words would sting him leaving him to feel like a sulking fool.  But Roy would respond with only a mutter and walk out the room feeling a prisoner of his own brooding.  Adele was right, though.  By all accounts they were doing fine.  They had a good marriage.  Their children would be a source of admiration for any parent.  And they were doing well financially.  After the War, Roy, like many of his generation, attended college on the GI Bill.  He got a degree in finance and promptly took a position in the business of office of a lumber company.  After twenty years, he had worked his way up to Chief Financial Officer of the company.  He was the youngest executive and in a few years could be poised to move even further.  By all accounts, life was good.  And that is why he found his restlessness was so disconcerting.

About a week ago his childhood friend, J.T. Spears came by for a visit.   Almost at once J.T. said  “Roy, what in the hell’s wrong with you?” as they were having a bourbon in Roy’s study.  Roy considered him perplexedly for a moment before slumping down in the leather chair.  Roy’s loosened tie and its slightly rotation to the side, gave him a look of dishevelment.  Roy turned his head silently and stared into the fireplace.  J.T., sitting opposite of Roy, waited, while watching the firelight dance upon Roy’s detached looking face. The question hung in the air and the occasional popping of embers lended the atmosphere an increasing awkwardness.

J.T. went on eagerly, “You get to golf some of the finest links in the state!  And what about that hunting camp that your company has up near Smithville?  That’s something isn’t it?”

It was true Roy had the benefit of some of the finest golf and hunting that a man could want.  When he was younger and working his way up in the company, how often he envied the higher ups who had almost limitless opportunities for such activities.  Now he was one of them.  He hadn’t missed out on golf or hunting since he knew not when.  Increasingly, however, these outings were not the occasions of leisure that they had once been.  Now they all had the leisureliness of paying income taxes. So, yes, it would seem like it ought to be something.  But what J.T. only too well himself, nothing is worse that freezing your balls off in a duck blind talking quarterly reports with some asshole you’d not spare a word to otherwise.”

Roy now figured Adele was the reason J.T.’s present visit. Roy knew this not from any discovery of their collusion but simply from knowing J.T.  What was Adele thinking?  Of all the people Roy new J.T. Spears was last person he’d employ for a task of this nature.  This task required less a nuanced understanding of the human psyche than a simple awareness of people.  And J.T. Spears had the personal awareness of a sack of mud.  This comparison could be justified by the fact that on the day J.T.’s mother-in-law passed, he purchased his wife a new vacuum and washer and dryer because, as J.T. defended himself afterward, “You always say that working around the house is the best way to relieve stress!”

Roy continued to sit silently staring into the fire as if he were searching for some beacon whereby to orient himself.  Roy’s silence occasioned J.T. to lean forward and try a new line of attack.

“Well, why don’t you go see Reverend Harpole?  He could probably help you out.  Talking to a man of God is sometimes the best medicine.”   This statement was enough to pull Roy’s contemplation from fire to cut J.T. glance that could be translated verbally as “Oh, really?”  J.T. looked down into his glass and sat back in his chair.  You see, J.T. had resorted to throwing mud on the wall hoping some of it would stick.  Most, if not all, Sundays, when J.T.’s family was devotedly attending the First Baptist Church in town, J.T. was out on the golf course.  And even when J.T.’s wife would occasionally cajole her husband into going, he’d volunteer to take up the offering so he could hang out in the back of church until the service was over.

But finally, taking some pity on his friend, Roy said, “I appreciate what you’re trying to do. But there’s not anything that Rev. Harpole can help me with that I can’t do myself.  Look, I like those folks at church.  Nice people, all of them.  But you got to make your way, you can’t go around looking for help that is best done on your own.

This idea of having to work out things on your own had been driven down deep into him by his father.  He remembered as a child passing by one of the county soup kitchens and his father telling him, “The only time I went to church I remember the preacher going on and on about Hebrew children wandering around in the desert and receiving bread from Heaven.  He spoke like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread but all I could think about is here’s all these able bodied folk being put on the dole, pickin’ up bread that they ain’t earn.  And this is the truth, there’s no such thing as charity. Ain’t nothin’ comin’ to you that you ain’t worked for. If you ain’t worked for it then it ain’t worth havin’ ”.

That had stuck with Roy.  As with most men of his generation he had drunk deeply, maybe a little too deeply, from the well of popular wisdom and imbibed sayings like, “God helps those who help themselves”, “You got to pull yourself up by your own boot straps”, “If you want something done right you got to do it yourself”, and “No rest for the weary.”

But Roy was weary.  Roy was restless.  His restlessness was like that of a man whose ship had come in but continued to search the horizon for the arrival of some yet unnamed boon.   Standing in solitude beneath the live oak, Roy could hear soft chorused voices coming from inside the church.  The presence emanating from those voices had the effect of tidal water beating upon stone.  He felt a rising and relentless struggle of opposed forces swirling inside himself, each trying to take claim upon him.  A feeling of being on the verge, of being on the verge of drowning.  He lit another cigarette and leaned against the tree to steady himself, at complete loss of how to account for his present circumstances because if there were some things that can’t be worked through then… .

Roy squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head.

Having temporarily regained his composure, Roy was taking another draw from his cigarette when a car’s headlights moved across the church yard in a sweeping arc like that of a searchlight.  The headlights caused the oak tree to reveal its shadow and of consequence Roy’s, who was not fully hidden behind the tree.  For a fleeting moment Roy could see his and the tree’s shadow distinctly but the further out he looked it they narrowed and merged together.  The commingled shadows stretched out further upon the ground as if eagerly elongating toward the darkness beyond.  The vision was over in an instant, the car having pulled into the parking lot.  Roy looked around the tree to see someone emerging slowly and not without some effort out from the driver’s side door.  He could recognize that it was Mr. Holworth, the oldest congregant of the church.  He shuffled around the back of the car to the passenger side door to retrieve First Methodist’s next oldest congregant, Mrs. Holworth.  He helped her out of the car and then overly bundled pair, arm-in-arm, made their way with a slow but purposeful shuffle toward the church.  Roy continued to watch them having moved out a bit from behind the tree.  The Holworth’s were what could be rightly called decent people.  As long as anybody could remember a bad word never known to have passed from their lips.  If they had a bad day you would never know it.  Had they complained many would have understood for they had lost both their children.  Their son died in the Great War and shortly afterward the Great Influenza Epidemic claimed their daughter.  For a better portion their married life they lived what most parents dread.  Roy was considering this as the Holworths were about to enter the church, when suddenly, Mrs. Holworth stopped.  With an ease surprising for a woman of her age she moved ahead of her husband and turned to face him.  Then in a manner as free and unburdened as the flowing of light from the full moon shining above, Mrs. Holworth reached up and straightened her husband’s tie.

That did it.

As the Holworths entered the church, Roy Harper flicked his cigarette down, ground it out with his heel, straightened his jacket and made his way directly to the church.  He made his way beneath a vaulted sky of the blackest satin, punctured with innumerable pinholes light, of such dancing brilliance it seemed the source of that light was, at last, ready to burst forth and consummate the world in illuminating glory.

The End.

Three Reflections on the Last of June in Rockport, Texas

Windswept Live Oaks 2

Windswept live oaks in Rockport, Texas

From the graciousness of a good friend, my family and I will have the opportunity to enjoy the charm of the sleepy coastal town of Rockport, Texas later this week.  His family and one other will be joining ours, where we’ll put ourselves to pleasant task of acclimating ourselves to a coastal living, however brief it is.  

This is not my first go-around in Rockport.  I’ve gone duck hunting there a couple of times with my friend.  We also took this same trip with each other’s families several years ago.

Below is a poetic reflection from that last trip.  Maybe the Muse will be afoot for this next one.


Three Reflections on Last of June In Rockport, Texas


The canal’s placid waters

awake and ripple, from a perch’s

brief entry into

the airy world.

Just above

the top’s of live oaks

a sparrow and dragonfly

pirouette in a primal

dance for survival.

Leaning upon me,

my son queries into the familial

relations of a threesome of ducks,

as girls cast their bread

upon waters,

the seagulls thronging,

crying and hovering,

with a nearness that is holy.



See the live oaks,

see their canopies,

windswept like the

waving tresses of a girl?

Their unique shape

is a tangible memory

of the shaping wind

of this place.



The storm moved

through last night

speaking in the

rumbling of thunder

and the pattering of rainfall.

Now early morning,

a light drizzle

creates ripples

upon the water’s surface

like innumerable galaxies

expanding and dying.

From the evening’s storm

the earth is fragrant made,

the air, cool and moist,

enlivened with birdsong.



Mary Magdalene

Georges_de_La_Tour_009 The Penitent Magdalene

 The Penitent Magdalene by Georges de La Tour ca. 1640


I was once a foolish girl with curled hair, a dusting of freckles across my nose and cheeks.  It was curiosity- isn’t it always- that first led me away.  The world awaited me to savor its beauty, to uncover its mystery through enchantment.  It did not take long.  How quickly it changed.  The world soured and curdled in my mouth.  My flesh, devoured to the bone by the look of insatiable eyes, my body a den for unseen savages.  Then, one day, he passed by.  He saw me.  He came and spoke a word to me. At that moment, he gave me back to myself.  And coming back, my only desire was to give myself wholly to him.  With him, I could be noble and grow strong as the cedars of Lebanon that Papa once spoke of.  That day, I followed him.  How many evenings I sat at his feet, listening to him speak of many things.  In his presence I would lose all sense of time and often forgot my chores.  My sister complained about that once.  I miss my sister.  I miss my brother, too.

I am now old woman, so many years piled as stones upon my bent shoulders.  From this cave, on this Gallic mount, I spend my day, as I have spent them for thirty years, in prayer to him.  Sometimes, the villagers visit me.  They ask what it was like seeing him, that morning in the garden.  For years I tried to describe it.  I have long since given up.  I usually say he was a radiant as the sun or his eyes shone as the morning star or something like that. What Life and Beauty really look like!  To try to speak of it is to mire them in the pitch of our words. What he is and what we shall be, through him, is beyond all telling.  In the end there is no speaking.  Only the seeing, at last.

My life in this place, so far from the land I once knew, is a penance.  Some days I watch the clouds float in their courses from the sea.  It reminds me of the cloud that shrouded him as he returned to the Father.  I sometimes see an expansive and large one rolling toward me and find myself hoping the day, at last, has come.  It will come, though not in a way that I or anyone expects.

Until then, I will wait for him, my prayers deepening as violet at dusk.


 Mary Magdalene in Mediation by Antoine Le Nain ca. 17th















Clouds: An Appreciative Essay

Cloud from the corner


I love clouds.  I could look at them all day, couldn’t you?  As a child, would often look upwards and just watch them.  I remember laying in the back of my parents car (this was before we constricted with seatbelts by state law) and looking out the rear window at a light blue sky peppered with altocumulus clouds.  My mother was having me play the game of seeing shapes in the clouds.  One cloud had the unmistakable profile of Goofy.  I could see the floppy hat and the long snout slightly curved with a nose that looked like an over-sized olive balancing at the end.  For a five year old it was something to see Goofy there in the clouds.  It was something more, before my very eyes, to see Goofy change and dissipate.  Yes, the movement of the clouds themselves became a source of delight.  I would watch them, the cumulus clouds pulling apart like a cotton balls and becoming thin and delicate before dissolving from sight.  I would watch the colossal cumulonimbus clouds that would continue to billow upward filling the sky with its snowy immensity. It was from watching the roiling, the passing, and dissipating clouds that I may have gotten an inchoate appreciation of the passing nature of things.  Just watching something changing before your eyes might make you think of the million-and-one other things changing and passing right under our noses.  Their passing beauty might lead to a consideration of Beauty itself…and that is not a bad thing, I think.

After Rain

“After Rain” Arkhip Kuindzhi


Nimbostratus clouds are the ones that bring rain or snow.  Basically, storm clouds.  Sometimes you can see them drifting close to the earth, their ragged bottoms looking could brush the ground below.  Other times, on rainy days, they appear as an indistinguishable monochromatic gray dome, screwed down overhead. These days are the dreary days.  But I learned that these clouds can sometimes can become darker, much darker.  As a child, I was riding through the Mississippi Delta with Mama, Grandma and Grandpa.  We were headed to my grandparent’s house in Greenville.  We had made it past Leland and were not far from the outskirts of town.  It was probably late spring, either the last of May or the first of June.  The fields that we passed were full of healthy cotton; you could make out a few white bolls peeping out here and there.  I loved looking at the passing cotton fields.  To my mind, if the cotton was planted properly, the seed rows would run perpendicular to the highway.  This created the most interesting visual effect.  From the window of our speeding car, the rows appeared to be whirling by, like the blades of some great telluric fan.  Sometimes, my face turned toward the window, I would make a noise, silently, loud enough for only me to hear, mimicking the sight from my window: “Shoo, shoo, shoo, shoo, shoo”.

The day promised rain for it had been overcast for most of the drive.  I was prepared for that, resigning myself to an afternoon of television at Grandma’s house.  We drove further, I lost in the rambling thoughts of a child, when I became aware of it.  The sky had darkened and darkened considerably; I mean really dark like a cast iron skillet.  The landscape, as far as the eye could see was shrouded in blackness- ominous and impenetrable.  It was an awful sight.  Unnerved, a feeling a dread washed over me.  The blackness pressing in on us seemed to be carrying more than rain.  It carried a Presence.   It felt apocalyptic, in the true sense of the word.  This storm was an unveiling and its revelation would suffer no dissembling.  There was nowhere to hide. The bubble-safe-world of my childhood was on the verge being plunged into depths I was scarcely ready to fathom.  I felt utterly defenseless before it.

Here is the strange thing.  Neither denying nor contradicting the feeling of defenselessness before the Presence within the storm, there arose a strangely harmonious sentiment.  Fascination.  As dark as it was, no sun it sight, everything that passed our window became radiant from the Presence.  The Presence was shrouded in darkness yet it was illumined and illuminating.  The Presence was a radiant darkness. How a darkness can be radiant I cannot even begin to explain. When the sun shone bright above any other time, the cotton seemed to spread out as a uniform, dull green carpet, stretching from the highway and vanishing into the horizon. But from this darkness, from this Presence everything became preternaturally vivid. The green of the cotton seemed at last to achieve the hue of green, for which it was meant.  It shone. It shined.  Each leaf seemed to articulate itself, each plant appearing to abide in its particular uniqueness. From the Presence each and everything seemed charged and crackling with new vitality.  The unveiling of the Presence unveiled the presences of all things allowing them to stand out and become more fully themselves.


At some point I took a break from my fascination of the clouds.  When did this happen?  Oh, I don’t know exactly.  I might be right in guessing that it occurred when I began to discover that other wonder of nature…girls.  They, too, seemed to float lightly about, filling the world with their enchantment.  To my poor-adolescent-boy-of-a-mind they were as elusive and unpredictable as the clouds themselves.  So naturally, they became singular sources of fascination.

When did it return, this love of the clouds?  Well, it sounds so hackneyed but it was probably when my wife and I began to have children.  Having children, you see, is a nice way of becoming reacquainted with the world.

Morning CloudsIV

For many years I taught at a high school near my home.  My room was on the second floor and situated across a hallway lined with floor-to-ceiling picture windows.  This was a real perk.  The perk came in being able to see the most stunning sun rises.  Now, I live in a suburb of Houston, Texas.  If you know anything about the place where I live, the coupling of “stunning sunrise” and “Houston, Texas” might qualify as a non sequitur.  But the given beauty of things cannot be altogether buried, try as we might with our tangled mass of power-lines and ubiquitous strip malls.  As I said the sunrises were spectacular.  Sometimes I would be treated to the cirrus clouds feathering the sky in soft lavenders and peaches.  Sometimes they’d come in like waves, lapping up from the horizon in indigo’s and oranges.  Other times, the expanse hung as a shimmering platinum sheet only few clouds resting upon it.  What they lacked in number they repaid lavishly in appearance, for they burned the firmament in fiery brilliance like droplets of molten gold fallen from the forge of Vulcan.

I remember one early morning before the start of school, I was leaving my room to go downstairs for a cup of coffee.  I stepped out and I saw a young man, probably a sophomore, sitting against the wall, caddy cornered from my door.  I say he was sitting but it was more like a slouch on its way to prostration.  He was like paint having been slopped against a wall and oozing downward, coalescing in a puddle. I offered a salutary nod in his direction that was not reciprocated. He had that sort of sleepy, blank, far away stare most high schoolers have at time of early morning.  Bathed in the sterile fluorescence of the lights above and dressed in clothing, the only contrast of which, was a few hues of black, he was lost in whatever sound that loudly blossomed from his ear buds.  It was a sort of dispiriting sight.

I continued on way to the lounge, checked my mailbox, got my coffee and then headed back upstairs.  As I turned down the long hallway leading to my room, from the large window at the opposite end, I was arrested by the most magnificent sight.  The cloud formation was of stratocumulus clouds that filled the entire breadth of the October sky.  Never, in nature, had I seen in such a mesmerizing interplay of color and texture.  The clouds canopied the heights in plush quilted cotton, lit underneath by the rising sun, rippling forth in peaches, purples, and violets that glowed like fire lit embers. To say it was spectacular is in no sense adequate to relay otherworldly the beauty of it.  I remember thinking, dazzled by the sight, “Now that just can’t be ignored; that is enough to stop a person cold in their tracks”.  And it happened; almost on cue the young fellow sitting down the hall and outside my room, rolled his head lazily in the direction of the window.  Like one overcome by the siren’s song, he picked himself off the floor, dusted off his pants, and walked toward the window.  He stood there for a brief moment and then did something that could fuel hours of contemplation.  While looking upon that sunrise with both hands he reached up and removed the ear buds. Stop and think of what that means.  Do not be too quick here.  He removed the sound from his ears so as to see with his eyes.

There are sacramental moments in life and that was one if there ever was one.    As I said, the scene is one worthy of hours of contemplation.  I come back to it often.


VChildren Contemplating Clouds

One of the earliest non canonical writings in Christianity is called the Didache.  It is believed to have been written somewhere between 60-120 AD.  It is an early catechism, if will.  It begins with these memorable lines “There are Two Ways, the one of Life and the one of Death, and great is the distance between them.” What does this have to do with clouds, you may ask?  Well seeing shapes in the clouds is a real skill mind you.  If you do not keep a certain sort of innocence, by which I mean you have become too practical, and therefore obtuse, this skill can be lost.  If you do not believe me go outside with, preferably, a small child, and, even more preferably, with a small child you know and see how many things you can see in the clouds. You’ll find the child seeing in a flash, castles, dragons, bears, squirrels, cars, and mountains; however, you’ll be standing there flatfooted only looking at amorphous blobs of moisture.  I tried doing it recently and what had once been done with the ease of water running downstream now had all the tortured work of deciphering a Rorschach.  What does this have to do with life and death, by which I mean Real Life and Real Death, you know the eschatological kind?  It has to do with the necessity of wonder, a wonder that takes delight that there is a world and the recognition of the privilege of being therein.  Wonder, you see, is the raison d’etre of a child. This is the essential difference between the child and the rest of us.  The child’s vision is clean.  Its vision is such that it can see the irreducible beauty of ordinary things and simply take delight in its loveliness.  That’s right, the ordinary things of the world.  You remember don’t you?  Ordinary things like fire flies, like Dandelions, like clouds. The child finds delight in these things where, now, you and I find only boredom.  And as one writer once noted, it is not only strange that we should find boredom before these things, it is also tragic, for “boredom is not neutral…it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.”  To my mind, living in a state of unloveliness is a fairly apt description of death.  The real kind.

(Update: I just went outside and looked at the altocumulus clouds above my home, in which, I am happy to report, I saw the unmistakable profiles of the Road Runner and Piglet.  This is undeniable proof that there is some hope for my immortal soul).


Every summer my family and I take a vacation.  We usually head to west of Houston either to San Antonio or toward the Hill Country.  Traveling Hwy 290 away from Houston you leave the placidly flat region of the Coastal Plains and crossing into Washington County the landscape begins to rise like a swell upon the ocean.  It is a most remarkable sight, this geographic demarcation of plain and hill.  The further you go the rollers keep coming, rising and falling; you rising and falling with it.  The drive to our destination has become something I look forward to.  My wife will often make the drive going, so I will sit in the passenger seat and look out the window.  The big Texas sky is blue as a sapphire and is dolloped in white, the clouds above floating in wandering archipelagos.  I have learned that the sky and clouds of summer have a magnanimous friendship.  Each is fully content to let their own particular presence reveal the splendor of the other, so that the blueness of the sky makes the clouds whiter and the whiteness of the clouds makes the sky bluer.  If only we could do the same.


Texas GroveSometimes, in the distance, I will see a grove of trees, a dense patch of deep and dappled greens resting in the midst of the wide and open grassland.  Strange to say but I get the urge to ask my wife to stop the car and for all of us to get out and begin walking toward it.  I imagine the car pulling onto the shoulder, rattling and vibrating like a plane striking a runway.  The car slows and then comes to a stop.  We open the doors of the car and our ears are met with the violent rush of the speeding traffic, our bodies concussed by the trailing gusts of large semi-trucks as they smash the atmosphere before them.  We quickly step off the shoulder unto a sort earthly estuary where the gravel and trash of the highway and the grass commingle.  We begin making our way toward that grove of trees.  I imagine that walk.  I can feel us crossing in the tall grass, the spikelets caressing our hands as we move forward, dragonfly’s hovering and darting about around us.  At first our ears are still filled with the roar of the traffic behind but it gradually dissipates as we move further from the road.  The sun is hot overhead but there is a breeze, the breezes brushes the tall grass like a hand stroking velvet.  I can imagine a sort of decompression coming upon us the further we move from the rushing highway.  The chest seems to take deeper breaths and the stretched tension in the shoulders relaxes like rubber band going slack. We finally reach the grove, a mix of Texas Red Oak and Anaquas.  We enter the shaded grove and sit upon the ground.  The dense tree cover offers shade and consequently there is not as much grass.  Sitting here we become aware of little things that usually lay hidden like the smell of the moist soil that we sit upon.  In the trees above Carolina Wrens flit and hop about.  We no longer hear the highway but the sound of rustling leaves and the chirping grasshoppers.  We sit there silently and listen, resting in blessed presence of the unhurried world and one another.  Maybe we sit there all day, taking no thought plans, we sit there until the sun takes its leave and slowly sinks below the horizon, its fading light calling forth the fireflies, who become soft pulsating beacons, quietly ascending and descending in the tall grass stretching beyond us.

It has be such a long time since I have seen the fireflies.  Anyway, that is what I imagine.

One time, on our drive, I saw a buzzard circling in a lazy gyre above the clouds.  In my mind I found myself as a boy sitting in First Methodist Church in Maben, Mississippi.  It was a Sunday night in the summer and my Grandpa was delivering the evening message.  He stood before the small group of people spaced out in the pews, a small music stand before him to hold his notes.   I do not remember the subject of the sermon only a small vignette he shared of his own childhood growing up on his family’s place in Winterville, where they raised cotton.  He spoke of it being a summer day, said that he had found himself sitting underneath a tree to find some relief from the heat.  Leaning against the tree and looking out, Grandpa said that he remembered seeing two buzzards circling in the clouds above.  He said the watched them for a long while, the buzzards slowly spiraling higher and higher upon the updrafts until they could be seen no more.  “To this day, I have idea where those buzzards went”, he mused before us, with a slight chuckle and continued with on with his message.

His boyhood and my boyhood, at that time, was separated by fifty years.  He shared a memory that has become a part of my memory, a memory I am now sharing with you as a forty four year old man.  My memory of its telling is thirty years old but the actually occurrence is over eighty.  Why do I, why do we remember such seemingly random things?  I have no idea. Maybe time, among other things, is as an immensely wide flowing river that courses through our lives.  Upon the river floats all manner of people, places, and events that transpire before and within us.  Sometimes some piece of these, floating by, snags upon the banks of our memory.  We gather these washed up bits and pieces- a recollection of a face, a nursery rhyme we sang ourselves to sleep with, the damp smell of pine straw in November, – we gather these up and cobble together a humble shanty from which to dwell and watch the river.

All of this comes from just watching a buzzard among the clouds.

Once on another trip to San Antonio, in the distance, I caught sight of a cloud’s shadow.  I had the experienced, any number of times, being covered in the shade of the passing clouds above.  But this, this was different.  This was seeing the actual movement of a cloud’s shadow.  It was a bright, hot, windy day, intermittent gusts pushing suddenly against the car.  I could see the tall grass being blown about, swaying like kelp in tidal currents.  Only a few cumulus clouds dotted the sky.  One of the smaller ones decided to make a break for it and its shadow hurried along after.  It started from a high hill diagonally and to the front, moving quickly but gently toward us.  Fluidly as water, the shadow became as the very earth it raced across, wholly filling and forming itself to the ground’s contours. Few things are as graceful, as gentle, and as free as a cloud’s shadow.  As the roving shade moved closer I could see the tops of the tall grass swirling and waving from within it.  The nearer it came, the harder it became to see.  Finally, it passed over the highway and continued onward behind us.  It was over all too quickly.  But I am grateful to have seen it.  I often think back to that day and the seeing of the cloud’s passing shadow.  One ephemeral thing making another ephemeral thing. What sound does the passing cloud’s shadow make?  Nothing you can hear but everything you can feel.  It seems to be the very essence of silence.  It is the very sound of God.


If only you could find the place where the sky and earth meet.



We sit at the red light that leads to our neighborhood. She plays with a necklace and I look up to watch the cumulus clouds, as is my custom in the summer.  Like heavenly armada they mass together, floating above, unhurried, unburdened.  Looking at one of the larger one’s overhead, I muse aloud to her, “I wonder what it would be like to be in a cloud?  I mean to be in it, not flying through it.”

“Heaven is in the clouds”, she replies unhurried, unburdened.

“Oh, that is true.”

“We’ll know what it’s like then”, she says, almost to herself.

Such a simple exchange, so unexpected, wholly unique and unrepeatable, like catching sight of a falling star.  The gold of life is spun from such moments.  Gather them up when you can.

Taking it up to hallow it, I look to the rear view mirror, and say, “I love you, Claire.”

“I love you, too.”

The light turns and we proceed homeward.



They are composed of very miniscule water droplets or ice crystals, so tiny that they are light enough to float high above the terrestrial body.  They are formed when water vapor, in the air, is heated by the sun. The heated air begins to rise.  As it rises it cools and expands, some of the vapor condenses upon extremely fine dust particles floating in the, air becoming a tiny droplet of water.  When phenomenon is replicated billions of times over, a cloud appears. The water crystals are large enough to refract the wavelengths of light, coming from the sun; from this they have their white appearance.

Now this is how it happens.  Light passes through the clear gelatinous dome of the cornea.  Because the cornea is curved the light coming through the eye is bent.  The colored part of the eye, the iris, adjusts the size of the pupil, dilating or contracting depending on the amount of light trying to enter in.  The light continues on and meets the lens, laying behind the pupil, it focuses the light further, and unto the retina, an image.  The retina is delicate and sensitive photo tissue.  It contains photoreceptor cells that translates the illumined image into electrical impulses.  From the retina, these impulses travel along the optic nerve to the occipital lobe of the brain.  It takes only 13 milliseconds.  The eye is the conduit.  We actually see with our brains; that organ weighing three pounds, consisting of seventy five percent water and sixty percent fat.

What has been described above are the facts.  This is how clouds form.  This is how sight happens.  For us, this is a necessary condition for reality.



“Cloud Study” John Constable

During the summers of 1821 and 1822 in Hampstead, England, a landscape painter began painting what he called, “cloud studies”.  In the beginning the studies include some terrestrial referent, a line of trees rooves of cottages, or the spire of a church.  However, on September 13, 1821, terra firma is left behind and he only paints the clouds themselves.  They are the most remarkable paintings.  Huge cumulonimbus clouds fill the canvas.  They are ethereal but they equally energetic; you can almost see the clouds billowing and flowing.  “I am a man of the clouds” he wrote to a friend of his.  For John Constable’s work, the sky and the clouds became, as he described, “…the keynote…the chief organ of sentiment.” Constable painted clouds with such detail, that meteorologists who have studied these paintings say that one can tell the time of year, even the hour of day from them.

In the early morning hours of December 15, 1899, French composer Claude Debussy,


Claude Debussy

completed his Nocturnes.  They were inspired after wick of his imagination was sparked by a series of paintings he’d seen on exhibition in London, by the American painter, James McNeill Whistler.  Whistler’s series was entitled Nocturnes.  In the introductory notes, Debussy said of his own Nocturnes, “[t]he title Nocturnes is to be interpreted…in a decorative sense…it is not meant to designate the usual form of the Nocturne, but rather all the various impressions and the special effects of light that the word suggests.”

There are three movements to Debussy’s composition, the first of which is entitled “Nuages” or “Clouds”.  He said of this movement, “’Nuages’ renders the immutable aspect of the sky and the slow, solemn motion of the clouds, fading away in grey tones lightly tinged with white.”

When the first few notes greet the ear they enter the imagination and speak of banks of clouds making their pensive procession across the gloaming.


“Nocturne in Black and Gold The Falling Rocket”- James McNeill Whistler

Nocturne in Black and Gold The Falling Rocket

Concerning Constable and Debussy, these are the facts, the facts of reflective and creative imagination.  And these facts depend on material facts, such as those governing the formation of clouds and the possibility of sight. The physical fact, the relationship between visible object and eyesight, is not something we can control.  To have eyes open is to look at what is there.  But there is a great difference between and looking and seeing.  Some people gaze upwards and look only at floating vaporous aerosols and then move on with their day.  They do not see dragons or kittens, much less entrusting that image to paint and canvas or committing it to music.  But some do.  And the fact that they do cannot be reduced to only material facts, as necessary as they are.  Even the fact that there are things to be seen- clouds, cotton fields, hawks, shadows- and thing that sees- you and I- are literally unanswerable from the material facts themselves. Likewise for there to be paintings, orchestral arrangements, or even reflective memory on clouds, the material facts themselves are not enough.  The material facts alone could neither explain the cloud studies of Constable nor Debussy’s “Nuages”.  For that explanation you need something further. Something like wonder.  Something otherworldly. Something like love.

But that is for another essay.

Until then, go out and enjoy the clouds.

Clouds Above Almond Spring Drive