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Ambler, No. 34 [On Taking the Common Highway]

"A Mooreland Road"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Charles John Holmes 


Subzero Hunt


Draw closed the curtain of the woods
as you trace a boot-stamped furrow
through tree-lined fringe;
cabin lights dwindle to a thin haze
before headlamp and trail remain
your only guides, the beam
whetting edges of muddled tracks,
labyrinthine in their aimless wind,
some hoof, some heel, some overlaid,
as though prints tread by some mythic creature.
Listen beyond your heartbeat’s reverberant brush,
fabric against fabric, beyond the hum
inside yourself, to this—a pure, intimate silence,
where even whispered breath
disrupts the untouched scene. Rustle, snap, crunch,
snug your rifle to palm and shoulder,
the heft of icy metal, the single shot within.
Up the stand, settle to chair, and stop
all but your scanning eyes. There is a pull to the immobile
that the cold cannot ignore, a welcoming,
to inhabit the stowed reserves of warmth
sunk down beneath the flesh. This begins your meld
with the backdrop of the land,
like an optical illusion in reverse,
tucking back into obscurity,
another fallen log, another branch
sheathed in frost, another acorn or apple core
cratered in the snow. When the deer pad in with the dawn
to feed, when you raise and aim and fire
and drag the gutted carcass away,
the blood warm on your hands,
the blood flowing hot, afresh in your stiffened legs,
you may think back to that morning wait,
that readiness to endure, and wonder
if a piece of you remains, never to thaw,
frozen to the roost.

Bryn Homuth
A log cabin, in the Minnesota wilderness
11 December 2014

"Fox in Snow"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Tom Stephenson 


Ambler, No. 33 [On Doing Nothing]

'Tis hard to find a whole Age to imitate, or what Century to Propose for Example. -- Sir Thomas Browne

NT; (c) Erddig; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

There is perhaps no greater fear for the modern educator than the fear of running into his own student in public. In times of these trials grown men have been known to dive under objects with the swiftness of a sergeant diving into a trench. It is indeed a grave moment when an educator hears some random voice call out "Mr. S----?" And this only occurs when one finds himself in a store he has no business shopping at. Alas, that is what Christmas has unfortunately become, and it is with great sorrow that the Ambler sees this inevitable practice in his future. In any case, there exists in the mind of many an educator, and perhaps student, the odd sense that their students probably have little in common with them. Thus we find it rather awkward and alarming when our students enjoy the same activities we do. But all this is only meant to lead up to a few experiences I have recently had with my own teacher and much older and wiser professor.


It can be truly said that the best classes ought to be had over beer and tobacco. But since the modern world is absolutely bent on making sure man cannot smoke anywhere, I suppose we must settle for beer. The best class, I say, is the one that meets over beer as men once did regularly. And that's another modern morbidity--that men do not gather round great pints of ale and have real, genuine discussion. The modern man is to busy doing things, and it's ironic that nothing ever gets done. It is perhaps a paradox to say that the first thing a man ought to do in order to get something done is to drop everything and get nothing done; it is to drop everything and accomplish everything; it is to drop everything so that your mind can be free and open to contemplate the wild adventures ahead of you; it is, in short, to drop everything and think--or, better, to drop everything and drink. Four men gathered 'round brown, red, gold, or black hued pints will create enough lively discourse to approach any situation with a clear-minded objective.

It is in this very setting that I have had the privilege to have class with an older professor who--as most of the older ones do--has more knowledge stored in his brain than the rest of the department combined. It is a real shame that simply because the older professors refuse to gab about their gender, they are looked at as old dinosaurs who can't contribute to the current academic conversation. Why anyone would want to contribute to a conversation in which no consensus can be had on even the most fundamental of facts is beyond me, and perhaps that's why the old professors are so happy and yet so annoyed. I would say the old professor is happy he no longer has to engage in a conversation in which the only reason we know twice two is four is because the academic community has reached a consensus founded on dialogue. Of course, this same academic community will tell you the consensus easily could have been that twice two is twelve, or fourteen, or even--for the sake of interdisciplinary studies--a box jellyfish or an adverb. The old professor can enjoy himself because he has reached a point in his career where his discipline is not regulated by the standards of another discipline. It seems that the best basis in which to judge mathematics is is math, not philosophy, and the best to judge a man's philosophy is truth, not gender.


So it was that I sat at a table with another colleague and this older professor. It was by far the best class I had because it was the most natural. A man should be able to sit down with a much older man over a beer and have the most fruitful of conversations--ours being the prose style of Hilaire Belloc and how a writer should properly imitate his style. Indeed, it is a false assumption that men have nothing in common with the older generation. It is likely that we actually have more in common with the dead than the living. For the dead often did things that we only talk about doing. Those who came before us went on long ambles and had more terror and adventure in a ten mile trek than we could ever get out of 100.

And perhaps that is the big difference between the Ages. Men once made mountains out of molehills, now we only get annoyed at the molehills, if we even see them. Why just the other day, I was traveling home from work in my car and this very thing occurred. I usually take the same route every day, as routine is a very real blessing from above. However, as I made my way home, it happened that my way was blocked, and, annoyed, I tried a different. This too was blocked, and it was not until the third or fourth roadblock that I completely gave in and lit out for the outskirts of town, fuming. But I must admit that about halfway through the debacle, I thought to myself that a true ambler would not get annoyed but would stop his car and see what the ruckus is all about. Now, it is true that had I been ambling in the way of an ambler, I would have been far more inclined to stop and take a gander, for my way would not have been so easily obstructed. In any case the point of this very incoherent and unfocused rambling is that the modern man should be less concerned about doing things--for truly, he does little as it is, and he should be more concerned about what's done to him. That is, he should look at the world not as some space where he does this or that. He should realize the world is full of wild and unexpected adventures. Mere existence ought to fill him with enough wonder that he does not feel obligated to do anything but breathe. I do not mean "obligated" here in a moral sense but in a productivity sense. And even in that sense it is only meant to question true productivity. Running around to fill in our schedules with as many entertaining activities as we can is not as productive as taking an hour a day to contemplate the wonder of the thumb. And if we only began to see the wonder and creativity in the smallest of things, we may be more excited to see the grandeur of the big things.

Sam Snow,
Written with Little Direction,
Manhattan, Kansas,
December 6th, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
Kansas State University,
December 9, 2014

Photo: "A Group of Gentlemen Drinking"
By Joseph van Aken (Attributed to),
Oil on canvas, n.d.


The Unfinished


Schubert’s 8th in B minor floats it to me
in two movements, down the channel
of a violin’s sorrowful cry—
the fragile raft of the incomplete
buoyed again, bound
for the most distant of waters,
for a harbor beyond reach.
Its waterlogged planks splinter
and sag beneath ages of cargo:
Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia,
towers spearing through clouds;
Chaucer’s nameless pilgrims on horseback
to Canterbury, hoof-tracks erased
as they’re clopped into dirt;
Da Vinci’s Gran Cavallo crumbling,
arrow-gouged legs frozen mid stride.
It’s as if each is two works in one,
the piece that is and the piece that is not.
At symphony’s close, I soak
in the stillness of an end not quite an end,
satisfaction present and still missing,
a feeling I knew once before, on a drive
through urban China—
road lined with skyscraper sketches,
one fenced by bamboo scaffolding.
At a distance, the trellis appeared
like blank ledger lines on staff paper,
spaces to fill in between.

Bryn Homuth
While riding the coattails of an inspiring orchestral performance
December 4, 2014

"London Symphony Orchestra Recording Shumann's 3rd Symphony"
Oil on Canvas - 1968
Ruth Tomlinson 


On the Evils of the Backspace: An Imitation of Hilaire Belloc’s Prose

I wrote the following for an independent study on the prose styles of Hilaire Belloc, Rudyard Kipling, and G.K. Chesterton. This is my attempt at Belloc's prose, found chiefly in his travel writing such as The Path to Rome and The Cruise of the Nona. It is only loosely based on real events. If you do not know Belloc and are shocked by my undisciplined, wild statements about technology and the church, fear not. I attempt to imitate his thought as well as his style.

As I was strolling the world one day, strengthening my legs and my heart for the Day of Judgment, I came upon a monastery in the hills. There were trees all around, losing their leaves in cascades and beginning to show stark and bare against the evening sky. There were monks going in and out of this great stone edifice with their heads on their chests, building with impervious bricks, as it were, the foundation of the true church. But I cared little for all this ceremony, for my stomach was not yet empty enough to seek the company of other men. I had a notebook in my pocket and had it in my head to write, so I found a shady nook on the lee of a hill, away from the wretched north wind—for which I had cursed Boreas this five mile—and pulled out my notepad. 

Here with native soil beneath me and ancient limbs above I felt the weight of the human experiment—that is, the experiment of God making man—, the satisfaction of the pen, and the fierceness of the glacial hill. But chiefly I felt the satisfaction of the pen, for the pen’s most commendable feature is that it is not the computer or, as venerated men have described it, diabolus in nobis. If, of old, Poseidon had known of such malignancy growing among the children of man he would have poured his watery wrath over every server from Portland to Berlin to Tokyo. Indeed, I have laid a curse upon many a processor that had grown proud with speed and electric heat. You who scoff at the pen know not the power you have unleashed in the computer and the terrible judgment that awaits you and your unholy machine. The spirit does not reside in your devices!

While I was musing on these things and writing a solemn poem in trimeter, I became aware of my need for food and looked longingly at the good monastery in the distance and thought how the church fed men’s bellies as well as their souls. I thought also of the virtues of beer on the mind and the stomach and of cheese and bread and broth. So, using the last strength from my meager lunch, I hobbled down from my perch toward the monastery. There was now, a shadow crossing the patch of meadow between my nook and the door of the good brothers beyond, and the isolation of the place made it and its land seem hearty, healthy, and truly free, like they were before the adulteration of North America. There were also winter birds silhouetted in the trees opposite and a smoke wreathing its way from the monks’ fire into the twilight through a kitchen chimney. I sang as I walked, the oldest song I knew, and one that complemented the place, the time of day, the temperance of the elements, the location upon earth, the geopolitical epoch, and religious aura of that region. I would write it down, but all its power was in its setting, and you could not understand its grandeur, being narrow-sighted and too prone to reading alone late hours.

I knocked on the great door of the place and was greeted by a ruddy monk in black.

“Good father, Is this a monastery where the brothers practice hospitality, and, what is more, do you have beer and bread and cheese?” I said.

 “Father so-and-so will bring you some cheese and some beer from our barrels,” the good man replied, and I blessed him for his long service to the church and his true understanding of virtue. Having eaten and drunk deeply of amber beer from a sweating mug, I fell into a deep sleep in a room given me by the monks. 

When I awoke it was still dark, and there were noises of wind and rain upon the window. I rose and walked feebly (for my road the day previous had been long) to the small desk in the corner and sat to write more of my epic trimeter poem. But finding the muse had abandoned that work, I began anew an essay on the virtues of listening to church bells. There were words enough for this small endeavor (though I have since put it aside for a larger history on the subject). Next I wrote on the power of the night wind over the day wind and the unalloyed pleasure of the man who can hear but not feel a dark gust. As I wrote I thought further on the computer and the evils of the backspace key, for I have noticed that when I write on some device unsullied by digitization, I cannot erase what I have written with the stroke of a key. And this limitation has been the very thing that has freed me to write more clearly—to push on, as it were, despite my errors. Oh! If only man could see this. The key to freedom is limitation. The key to unbridled joy is morality. The key to good prose is the lack of a backspace key.

LECTOR. Is that last, rather flowery, claim hyperbole?

AUCTOR. Yes, dear Lector, it has what used to be called a ‘seed of truth’ in it, though you moderns can’t distinguish a seed from a oak.

LECTOR. So you’re saying that the only way to write good prose is without a backspace key?

AUCTOR. Go back to the den from whence you crawled! If you and your ilk had your way every shaky-handed, unlettered, squint-eyed, weak-armed, pale-faced, schoolboy would worship before some illusion three hours a day in the name of progress. You would have him erase all his primal work with a few pats of a key. You would have him develop his ideas before he knew how to write a sentence. You would have him wreck his attention span before a flashing idol to teach him algebra. You would un-soul him by giving him a digital crutch consolidating the foolery of the ages and call it education. Away with you, I say!

I have not time for further comment, for, even now, the sun is rising on me and the monks are stirring below.

R. Eric Tippin
In "The Wee Nook," The Catacombs, Kansas State University
December 1, 2014 

"Cowfold Monastery"
Oil on Board - 1940-1960
T.B. Mills