July 4, 2023

Notes to My Younger Self

A project of a lifetime! NOTES TO MY YOUNGER SELF is a look back at how I wish I had looked forward in life. (Clicking the link will open a harmless little PDF in Google Drive. Open to the public. No admission fee.)

What's that? Oh, you want a sneak preview, do ya? Well, here's the first page and some other snippets.


In the beginning God created the Clark.

The Clark was formless and void,

and the Spirit of God was moving over the Clark.

Although not without matter and energy, I do look back upon my younger self and I can still feel that formless and void comprehension of life. This little screed is me pulling up a chair next to young Clark, sometime in my early 20s, and saying "Buddy, it's going to be alright, but you've got some work to do." I was intelligent, creative, gregarious, stubborn, and cynical. Those were the raw elements that God intended to develop into something useful for mankind and someone who had peace.

This is the most useful form of an autobiography (a cautionary tale, if you will) I can provide – an attempt to construct a better me. Some of my notes are strictly personal storytelling, but I lean toward sharing what may be helpful to other formless and void characters.

A great way to set up Notes is to take you onboard The African Queen – a thirty foot coal-fired steamboat hauling supplies up and down a branch of the Congo River. A grouchy alcoholic, Charlie Allnut, has just rescued a prim, proper, and pious missionary, Rose Sayer, whose mission field was slaughtered and torched by Nazis in the quest for world domination. Neither Rose nor Charlie are happy about the immediate situation, but, well, desperate times…

Rose is in no mood for Charlie's vulgarity, humbuggery, and unreconstructed behavior. Charlie is in no mood for Rose's mood. Charlie gets lickered up and Rose continues pecking at his comportment.

CHARLIE: Feller takes a drop too much once in a while. T's only yoomin nyture.

ROSE: Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put into this world to Rise Above.

That's it. That's the essence of life on earth. Do we live out our formless and void Nature, or do we Rise Above and live a life with purpose, meaning, and consequence?

Our Nature is composed of our raw elements and energies coming out of the womb – our personality, giftedness, natural ability, and inclinations. Once born, Nurture is the process of molding our Nature into what life will look like to ourselves and others. We can only make weak guesses about the Nurturing of Charlie and Rose through life, but in the movie moment, we can see that Charlie had a thin, flat, self-serving, and desperate existence. Rose was living in sacrificial service to others in hopes of Nurturing them to Rise Above.

You can see where this is going? Good for you. This will be fun.



Do Not Be Conformed
"Why does it even take up the ground?" Jesus
The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen. Dennis Prager
Joy is the reward of time well spent.
People tend to be unattractive in their area of greatest need.
Utilize your margins of time. Ethyl Peasgood
Gaining wisdom is the greatest utilization of time. paraphrase of Solomon
A man is rich in proportion to how much he can let alone. Thoreau
Borrow peace from the future.
Don't hide behind your Nature
Avoid the Avoidable / Don't be annoying
Have a sense of the history of the world 
Know your number!

Enjoy all these quips and many more in this 50+ page screed of aphorisms, euphemisms, unauthorized photographs, and painful life revelations. From the  classroom to the boardroom, I take you behind the tall velvet curtain of my life and show you what did... and what didn't form my void. Spoiler alert: There are no actual boardroom scenes so I doubled up on the thrilling classroom action.

December 30, 2021


The book of love has music in it
In fact that's where music comes from

The Book of Love / Peter Gabriel

My music, like yours, is the result not only of where and when I have lived, but most importantly, how I have lived. Growing up in the cultural wasteland of central Texas in the mid-70s, I was grossly limited in my exposure to music in general and certainly I had no appreciation of the unbounded genres of musical expression. This sonic desert evoked in me a lingering passion to grasp not just beautiful sounds, but meaningful songs and hold them tightly. I've annotated this list for anyone with an interest in what the song means to me.

When Paul Simon received his Grammy for Best Album in 1987 he said that Graceland (possibly the best album of all time!) was "music of power, nuance, and joy". Amen. This list, then, is music that has spoken with power, nuance, and joy to me and I recommend it to you accordingly. The first twenty-five songs (in green) are presented in roughly the order I would rank them. (It is as unfair to rank songs as it children - but you do have the ones you would beat to death last.)

Especially these first twenty songs are entwined with my love affair with my wife. Wishes, whims, wonders, and wanders are bound up in these songs. From Vivaldi on Galveston Beach well over three decades ago to discovering and sharing Norah Jones before the rest of the world, my wife's love is part of the atmosphere created and reflected in these tunes. The second set of songs (in blue) continues that theme of loving and being loved with a touch more rambunctiousness, which is also a great blessing in my marriage.

I apologize for all the great tunes that are not on this list; like Good Vibrations and Good Riddance. Chicago is under-represented in light of all they meant to me in my teen years. Likewise Led Zepplin is over-represented. I am outright ashamed that Stevie Wonder is not represented here. His Songs in the Key of Life (e.g. "On Saturn") double album set (plus a 45rpm disc) was revolutionary and beautiful. I'm going to have to reconsider a song or two from that album. If the list went to 46, Walk Like An Egyptian would be the next addition. As you see, my Top 10 is a Top 25 and the short list runs forty-five. I'll make additions... as the spirit leads. Such is Life. 
Clark H Smith

Want to see some "official" lists of the greatest songs of the Rock'n'Roll era?
Two of Us Going Nowhere / Beatles

My wife gave me this song. What a wonderful expression of a loving life at play. After a quarter century of marriage, we're still going nowhere and having best time on the journey. youtube
He Leadeth Me / The Martins

This song is near the top of the short list for its message as well as the absolute power of its presentation. If you are interested, here's a video version. It;s not as good as the vocal recording, but dang it, it's good!
First Time Ever I Saw You're Face / Roberta FlackYears before I met my bride, I believed in love at first sight. When I met her it confirmed my deepest convictions. (I bought sheet music for this song in high school. Years later, I met Roberta and had her sign the music. She called me "blessed" for still having the music. youtube
Been to Canaan / Carole KingI don't know what Carole King knows, but this song speaks to every heart's innate longing for a Garden gone and still to come. youtube
Let the River Run (New Jerusalem) / Carly SimonDitto to Carly. We pray and plead for that New Jerusalem when all things will be as they should be. youtube
Trouble in These Fields / Nanci GriffithNobody's praying for rain! This little gal hailing from the barren dirt of West Texas knows that rain is not an inconvenience, but as essential as air. youtube
The Mason’s Apron / The ChieftansAn instrumental, like Bach Preludio below, that leaves me shaking my head at what the human mind can conceive and then achieve. Here is The Chieftans' Matty Malloy cutting loose on the flute. Even Roger Daltry can't believe it. 
MacArthur's Park / Richard HarrisA poignant song of love lost, yada yada yada. This was the first song that I heard that really stretched me beyond my Top40 AM horizon. And of all the analogies of love... a green-iced cake? Maybe it is about drugs. youtube

Volte / Dances from Terpsichore / PraetoriusFive hundred years ago, Michael Praetorius scored music of incredible joy and fervor. I relish this whimsical selection for it's sheer enthusiasm. The movement I enjoy most is the climax. I believe that it is technically called "Volte 4 (201) à 5 (full band)". For a listen, try this page and listen to the last track sample labelled "Volte". 
Somewhere Over The Rainbow / Willie NelsonWillie's whiskey-flavored crooning puts the perfect voice on an old standard. youtube
Birdland / Manhattan TransferAnother horizon-stretching tune that I met during college. Weather Report does a fantastic instrumental version, but I prefer this thumpin' vocal specimen. youtube
Big Yellow Taxi / Joni MitchellJoni rocks! "Paved paradise and put up a parking lot" is simply one of the best social commentaries every recorded. youtube
Both Sides Now / Joni MitchellA sad song of innocence lost. This was one of the first "modern" songs I played in band. The older I get, the more I understand the pathos. I strongly disagree with the songs despite of rain and snow. Pray for rain! 
Dreamboat Annie / HeartWho of us had not mused upon our "ship of dreams." Beautiful, soulful, wistful. youtube
Killing Me Softly / Roberta FlackI read a reference to this song before I ever heard it. The lyrics honor the gift of a great song-writer - to look inside and speak what goes unspoken. It is an art worth studying. youtube
Midnight At the Oasis / Maria MuldaurWhat a frisky song. I thank my wife for being my constant oasis. Hoochaaaw! youtube
She’s Always A Woman / Billy JoelAnd so it goes, that puzzling, complicated mystery of femininity - sine qua non! I think the lyrical work in the piece is among the very best in the history of music. There, I said it. youtube
Colour My World / ChicagoSimple and sweet. youtube
The Luckiest / Ben Folds FiveMy story as told by BFF. This recent discovery is biographical of me. youtube
Under African Skies / Paul Simon with Linda RonstadtPaul, Linda, and music of power, nuance, and joy. Included more for its musical quality, this song does for my soul what music is supposed to do. youtube
Wishlist / Pearl JamI'm jamming this song into the Top 25 26 for every good reason. This may be one of the finest love songs of all time (with apologies to Minnie). Take this song and mash it up against Ben Fold's The Luckiest and you have a composite of my romantic outlook. youtube

Okay, that covers the Top 25. Now let's just jam.

Hey Jude / BeatlesLet's Rock! There is a rumor that this song may be about drugs. I think it is really about camaraderie and the mutual support that we all need to get by in life. Yeah, right. youtube
Black Dog / Led ZeppelinWho knows what this song is about it? It grabs your face and screams Rock 'n' Roll. youtube
Do You Feel Like We Do / Peter FramptonA playful concert-rocker that transcends the generations, right Noah? youtube
Don’t Know Why / Nora JonesSweet Norah Jones, daughter of Beatles sitar-teaching guru Ravi Shankar, wafts her way through category-busting, small-club-jazz-combo songs that deserve her 8-in-one-night Grammies... and where did she go to college?youtube
Find Me Somebody to Love / QueenQueen was a blazing comet across the musical sky. This great song finds a big-haired rock band in a small southern church. ...found me somebody! youtube
Let It Be / BeatlesPerfect and Timeless. youtube
Loving You / Minnie RippertonSo simple and so true. This great song wound up being a cliche through its ubiquity. It's not Minnie's fault. youtube
They All Asked for You / New Orleans "folk song"Late at night, lost in some peanut town between Dallas and El Paso, a young lad would scroll across the AM radio dial and catch glimpses of Wolfman Jack in Juarez, WLS zanies in Chicago, and a strange cast of characters in New Orleans.This song was a station bumper at WNOE. It has given me hours of merriment and made my boys bust a gut.
This Night (Will Last Forever) / Billy JoelThe chorus of this song is based on the second movement of the Pathetique by Beethoven. It showcases one (well, two!) of music's great geniuses. youtube
Waters of March / Art GarfunkelSuch a playful song. The summer of 1977 was a rich, awakening season. Art was right there. youtube

Yesterday / BeatlesWistful. Wishful. youtube
You Are So Beautiful / Joe CockerThe ugliest man in showbiz growls out the most wonderful song inspired entirely by my Alyse. youtube
Preludio by BachBach picks up where Praetorius left off. This perfect instrumental once sparked a disturbing conversation about what was complex and what was complicated... but that's another story. Bach is the reigning grand master of everything musical. This piece shows why. I recommend watching it on video to prove it is just one violin at work here.
Frankenstein / Edgar WinterThis song really doesn't deserve a place on such a short list, but it's just so dang rowdy. Frank here represents Smoke on the Water, Inagoddadavida, and Earschplittenloudenboomer. youtube 
I Want to Know What Love Is / Foreigner"I want you to show me." Decent tune, perfect lyrics. youtube 
Just Wait / Blues TravelerThis song came to me at a crucial time and told me the story of a love and a lover who was waiting for me. Thank you. lyrics
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds / BeatlesNo, certainly not about drugs. Let's all lift a 'shroom to the Baby Boom. youtube 
Stairway to Heaven / Led ZeppelinVH1's #3, probably better than that. In my teens I listened to Led Zep 24/7... and hey, I turned alright. youtube 
Thick As A Brick / Jethro TullA token nod to cerebral rock. youtube 
True Colors / Cyndi LauperIn this world of gray and beige, I am thankful for the Mary Claborns who saw more than a box of 16. youtube 
Land of Make Believe / Chuck MangionePlayful, sentimental, and musically adroit - I have always regarded Chuck as much more than elevator music. youtube
Peter Gunn / Henry ManciniThis old chestnut stuck with me from my rickety old band days. I never knew how the song was supposed to sound. If you are not familiar withthis classic, wise up.
Take A Walk on the Wild Side / Lou ReedThis song puts a smirk on my face. I'm not as far out on the limb as Lou, but we ALL have a wild side. youtube
You're So Vain / Carly SimonWhack, right in the face. "You probably think this song is about you." We all know that person and the calamity that trails them. Later in life we learn to be where we should be all the time... youtube
I probably should add: (a growing list)
Life Is A Rock / Reunion (great summary on wiki / great visual on YouTube)
Blinded by the Light / Manfred Mann's Earth Band (cuz that's where the fun is!) (great back story!)
Fly Me Away / Annie Little (Amazon already discovered her. I think she's gonna make it.)
2001 Space Odyssey / Eumir Deodato (OMG! classic version | cool new version)
Think About Your Troubles / Harry Nilsson ("a point in every direction is the same thing as no point at all"
I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) / Stevie Wonder, covered by Art Garfunkel on his killer Breakaway album

March 20, 2018

An Ingenius Solution

Base camp needed an outstanding grill solution. Son, Gideon, dreamed this up and I engineered, built, and installed it. Grill swings 360 degrees for easy tending away from the fire. So far ribs, chx wings, burgers, and brats have graced the grill. Dandy times.

December 25, 2017

A Very Merry Christmas!

I want to share a story about the gifts my wife and I exchanged this Christmas (2017). I hope our readers will appreciate the back stories that make our gift giving meaningful and memorable. And if any of this inspires your gift-giving, then I really have accomplished my purpose. 

Big Picture: My wife (Mary Alyse Butler-Smith) and I exchanged branding irons this Christmas. I commissioned mine this Fall to be made by a welder/friend in Beagle, Kansas near PeCanaan Land. Then it dawned on me I needed to find a brand suitable for the Missus! I found Ferrum Studios in Colorado who went a thousand miles above and beyond to create a memorable, personal gift. Now, enjoy the back story.

[Message from me to the Krems, owners of Ferrum Studios - fabricator of snowflake brand. I sent this message to them just after ordering the brand.]

I'd like to tell you a story about brands that I hope will encourage you in your
My dad worked his own brand
out of his initials - CAS.
In this case, he hand carved a Texas cowboy boot
and wood burned his brand in front.
work. I was born and raised in Alaska to parents who were both from Texas. My dad loved to collect brands (just the symbol, not actual branding irons) of ranches in Texas. I wanted to be like Dad. As a six-year old child, when we traveled down to TX, I carried a 3x5 card and pencil with me. When I would see a "long, tall Texan" (basically anyone wearing a Stetson hat and cowboy boots), I'd walk up to him and ask for the brand of his outfit. Dad eventually made a small box for dominoes and wood burned our brands all over it.

The brand my dad
designed for me.
My initials are CHS. Dad pondered for a long time how to form them into a brand. Finally, in the last few years of his life Dad figured out an elegant solution - he arranged the letters as if they were three slices of pie.

I use the logo extensively in print and in some of my online work, but it never dawned on me to actually make a branding iron out of the logo. A month ago, I asked a welder friend to fabricate one for me. I'll pick it up this week. My wife gets to claim credit for it and is giving it to me for Christmas.

I'm left looking for a great gift for her. She loves snow. So, I scoured the
My dad worked my initials into a logo/brand
and then carved them into the top piece
of this small "grandfather clock".
internets and found your branding iron.

Matching branding irons for Christmas! So glad I found you guys. I'll be promoting you on my Facebook page... after Christmas. Sorry, can't let the cat out of the bag before then.

Wish you the very best!

[Message from the Krems to me]

Hi Clark!

What a nice way to start our morning...I read your email while sipping coffee and just had tears streaming down my face. Even my husband was so touched. Your touching email sparked an hour long conversation between us (my husband and myself) reminiscing about my husband’s late father and what he treasures now and even what he treasured as a young boy.

What a touching story and we love, absolutely love hearing these poignant and sentimental stories. Your brand is absolutely stunning...just stunning. Even more special your father created it.

We have made the snowflake for your lucky wife. Given the sentiment of branding irons, we took the artistic liberty of upgrading her handle. I hope you don't mind but given there is sentiment smothered all around this Christmas for you, we wanted to put a little dash of you into her brand. The fact that Texas was such a big part of your upbringing, we had a handle forged out of a horseshoe into a heart. Texas...Stetson hats...cowboys...I can only imagine there were a few horses there somewhere.  I hope you don't mind but we wanted to do something nice for you, for her and to pass something special on.

Hope she absolutely loves it! We're shipping it out first thing tomorrow so you should have it by the end of this week.

If you were here I'd hug you. You truly made our day that much more special.

Stacy and Kurt Krems

[My message back to the Krems]

Well, guess who's crying now? I'm so touched. I'm sitting beside my wife in our living room, gasping, and all I can say is "I can't wait for Christmas!" Thank you so much for listening to my little story and understanding what is important to me. You captured the sentiment perfectly. Yes, there were horses involved!

I was born when my dad was 45. I went away to college and rarely saw my folks until my dad passed away at age 72 in 1986. In a lot of ways, I feel like I am finally discovering my dad through these shards of memories and unique experiences. Obviously, you fully understand how these branding irons are a long, strong hug with my dad. He would be so proud of me.

Thank you again, very very much.

Can't wait for Christmas!!

And now... the branding irons:

Alyse with snowflake branding iron.
Note the horseshoe heart handle!

CHS with CHS

May 6, 2017

One Kansas Farmer

For almost forty years, the Kansas Agri-Women Association has honored the Kansas farmer by
This sign is typical of the 1999-era signs.
erecting highway billboards across the Sunflower State.

When the billboards were launched in 1978, one Kansas farmer was feeding 55 people + YOU! 

By 1999, it was up to 128.

By 2012, the Association undertook a new round of updating the signs, this time to 155!

The ever-increasing productivity of the farmer is a tribute to the ability of the farmer to adapt and employ new methods - often using fewer resources (seed, water, fertilizer, etc). Today, even though the number of farmers has dropped dramatically over the last few decades, their ability to feed a hungry world is an amazing, praise-worthy accomplishment.

We encourage you to celebrate the Kansas farmer… who feeds 155 people + YOU!

We're fortunate to have a reproduction of the classic roadside sign painted by a friend of mine, Rebecca Gabriel. It proudly hangs in our kitchen, overlooking the fabulous fare Kansas farmers have provided us.

Now, for the last chapter in this story, I was tickled silly when I got a personalized license plate with my favorite theme!

For more spiritual insights on the importance of this sign, please visit my blog post "Pray For Rain".

July 10, 2016

Wheat Center

WHEAT CENTER mural in Hoisington, Kansas

In 1984, I saw an exhibition of Grant Wood paintings in San Francisco. For me, it was breathtaking. Wood's subject matter and unique composition were completely new to me. As an Alaskan/Texan, I saw the self-reliant, industrious American Midwest for the very first time. (I didn't know yet, but at that very moment, I had fallen in love with the Midwest.) 

In recent years, my wife and I began to express our love for the Midwest (and Kansas, in particular) through weekend jaunts across region. Photos and local diners are our rewards for our journeys. They can be yours, too, if you'll get out there!

Among the many treats that Kansas holds for us is what is generally known as "Post Office Section Art", large murals installed in post offices and other public buildings. These murals celebrate the local culture and were intended to inspire and uplift folks slogging through the Depression. 

As soon as I discovered that the murals existed and I began to explore them online, the Hoisington mural stood out. Titled "Wheat Center", the mural shows a community working together to finish the wheat harvest. There is both urgency and celebration to be seen in this mural. All the wheat is cut, threshing is going smoothly, the end is in sight. The regional economy is safe... this year. Faith and hard work are rewarded.

The mural was painted by Dorothea Tomlinson in 1938. The beauty, the genius of  Tomlinson's mural is in it's composition as well as it's subject. The hot-air-balloon's-eye-view captures the broad scope of a region's industry. Where have I seen that technique before? Ah, in San Francisco at the Grant Wood exhibition! Tomlinson's style is clearly similar to Wood's... and it should be. In 1932, Tomlinson studied under Wood at the art school he founded - Stone City Art Colony. Dorothea Tomlinson is the beautiful link that connects my adoration of Grant Wood and my love of agricultural industry of Kansas (and the Midwest at large).

If it possible to make the experience even more special, I took this picture of the mural on July 9,
2016. At the very moment I took the mural picture, the skies all over western Kansas were tinted the color of wheat chaff. The wheat harvest was in full swing, just as depicted in the mural, only mechanized.

Postscript: I took the mural photo at about 6:00pm. The late summer sun splashed off the sidewalk and flooded onto the left side of the photo. It is far from ideal. The sad thing about all these great murals across Kansas and the Midwest is that there are not many "professional" images available (not online, anyway). I am happy to send you a 2meg file of this image if you request one. If you know of a collection of large format images, or even a coffee table book, please email me.

Thank you for sharing this treasure with me.

March 14, 2016

March 2016 Update

Thanks for dropping by my site.

I find March to be a period of hopeful anticipation. The holidays are over and Alyse and I have quite an ambitious agenda of travel lined up for the coming months.

But first, we have to "finish" working on the house. We began remodeling upstairs bathroom, hallway, and stairs... oh, back in September. We are both babies of the family, great at making plans and staring projects, but terrible at finishing the job. Trying to sweep up the details in March.

Isaac and Heather (and baby-to-be) are coming in April, then we have a number of destinations around Kansas and Missouri to visit. Along with art fairs and air shows scattered across the Midwest this summer, we have a trip to Utah planned and the soon-to-be-famous California Sip-N-See Tour to meet our two new grandeez - one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco.

If you haven't already, find me at Facebook and let's be friends.