Chris Muhl Art © 2018

The Blog

Have you read the news lately? It’s a bit discouraging, right?

With all the lies, and all the hate, and all the turmoil in our society today, I suppose it is time for a post on love.

What is love?

Perhaps the poet Rumi said it best, “What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest.” Love is beyond description. Love is beyond what we know. We channel it from within us outward to light up the world. And like a flower that shines to share all it has to continue the cycle of life, it is love that drives us to share all we have to nurture the next generation.

We can’t really see love, or hear it, or smell it, or touch it, or taste it, yet we use the senses to express and receive love every day. There are many forms of love, such as love for a romantic partner, love for a friend, love for a parent or child, love for a pet… Our hearts can be deprived of it for years, and then in a moment we can become absolutely drunk with love, and fall clumsy, and goofy, and silly. At the same time, where once love was abundant, we may find that only little remains, or that the type of love has changed.

For so many of us, it is love that gives us meaning in our lives. In caring for others, we strive to assist, nurture, and provide, and in so doing, we find purpose. And perhaps it is love that sparks empathy. Most of us have a capacity for empathy, but who or what we empathize with may vary greatly from individual to individual.

Empathy, among other things, seems lacking these days. From school shootings, to racial conflicts, to political chaos, it seems too many people have lost the ability to understand others, to see their points view, and to share their feelings.

Morality itself is in jeopardy. On both sides of the political arena, people have sacrificed honesty, integrity, and dignity, in their unwavering commitment to blind allegiance.

All this conflict calls to my mind the story of Larry Trapp. In short, it’s a true story about a leader of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Nebraska who, when confronted with the unwavering love of a rabbi, ultimately renounced the Klan and converted to Judaism. The story is the ultimate display of how love and tolerance can conquer prejudice and hate. To learn about the story of Larry Trapp, see the New York Times article titled, Lessons on Love, From a Rabbi Who Knows Hate and Forgiveness.

While the current political scene in America is of great concern to me, I find that I am far more disturbed by the overwhelming presence of prejudice and intolerance among the public. As Jack Johnson has sung, “Where have all the good people gone?”

In reality, good people abound, but there is a disturbing trend among some groups in the direction of hate.

What is the point of hate? And how will hate help us to achieve anything?

America is the melting pot of the world. We are the amalgamation of every race, every religion, every culture, and every belief. In nature, diversity is fundamental to the health and vitality of every ecosystem. In America, diversity is fundamental to our health and vitality as a nation. It is diversity that has driven us to dizzying heights of economic success. It is diversity of background and thought that has fueled innovation in health care, manufacturing, computer technology, performing arts, and so many other industries. Diversity has carried this nation to its place as a leader in the world.

Our lives are made better because of diverse minds and ideas. When technology saves a friend from dying in a car accident, we have diversity to thank. When a parent is saved from the grasp of decease or cancer by advances in medicine, we have diversity to thank. All that we enjoy from food, to music, to travel, is sensational because of diversity.

Our progress in the previous decades to embrace equality, to provide equal opportunities, and to give everyone the strength to succeed, has fostered unprecedented growth. Granted, we have not always succeeded in providing opportunities for all. Our systems are not perfect. There is much to be improved. But we have come so far in a positive direction. There is a reason why so many immigrants come here to make their mark in the world.

The American paleontologist Stephan Jay Gould once said, “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

In America, we must nurture this “equal talent.” In America, we must fight for opportunities for all, so that all can realize the full extent of their capacities and share with this world the gift of everything they were born to be. In America, we must provide the mechanisms for all people to shine because this is true freedom!

America is teetering. We are, increasingly, the laughing-stock of the world. Our influence as a leader is waning. And it is hate and intolerance and prejudice and indecency that are driving us downward.

We must not forget how we came to be who and what we are! Look upon our own history with open and honest eyes. As we came together, we grew stronger. Love, not hate, is the most powerful force in this world.

We must put down our fists. We must withhold our hateful rhetoric. Differences there may be between you and me, but let us overcome them with love, not hate, and with courage, not fear.

We must look around us and see that this Nation is the sum of a splendid diversity of parts. And we must realize that we are only as strong as our weakest link, and hate is a very weak link!

We are all in this together. No group is forcing any other group out of here. We either win together or lose together. There is no single victor.

So, let us strive to understand one another. Let us appreciate the importance of each other. Let us work together as a team coupled by unbreakable links of love, and support, and understanding.

We may fail at times. We may frown when we should smile, and judge when we should understand, but all the while we must strive to be good, to be kind, and to help those around us to stand and shine. One lonely star in the midnight sky is hardly a spectacle to behold, but a trillion individual stars, radiating with all their might, and sharing their colors with all, create the brilliance of the universe.

We are meant to shine together, and it is love that makes this possible.

The trunk is finally done!! Or rather, the outline is. I still have a little shading to do.

My goal with this project is not to create a photo-realistic result. Rather, I want to capture what it is in elephants that makes them so grand. It’s more than just their size; they look wise, they look ancient, they appear almost omniscient. And perhaps they are, and we’ll never know. But how do you capture this in a work of art? I am sure 100 artists would create 100 unique ways to do so.

If I were to paint the galaxy, conveying its enormity, would I need to paint every star, or is there a threshold beyond which the eye of an observer can no longer perceive a difference? And is there a threshold at which point the imagination can easily expand from, filling in the gaps? In drawing this elephant, I have played with these questions, and they have defined my style.

The trunk of this work contains ~15,000 (this is a rough guess) tiny shapes. The entire artwork may contain over 100,000. While I have not captured every tiny detail, I hope that I have captured enough to trick the mind into seeing more than is actually there, and to stimulate the imagination to implant an aura into this inanimate form.

What is the purpose of this art?

Elephants are sentient and intellectual beings. They posses an extraordinary degree of emotion and affection. It is sickening to think of how these creatures are treated. Poaching is a grotesque act of pure evil. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that humans and elephants share similar capacities for empathy and love. And so it is, that when a heard of elephants is gunned down by poachers bearing fully automatic weapons, we can only assume that they feel the same pains (physical and emotional) that we would feel in that situation.

The battle against poaching has become a violent engagement. Both poachers and rangers are losing their lives. This could all be avoided if consumers would just stop buying ivory. A product with no demand has no market value.

This artwork is meant to generate further awareness for the plight of the African elephant, but I mean to do so by depicting what we stand to lose. The artwork is very much scientific, produced in a style akin to scientific drawing. Producing the artwork in this style conveys the elephant as the result millions of years of evolution; sculpted by the forces of nature over a great expanse of time. Or, for the religiously inclined, the product of divine creation. But regardless of their origin, their future lies in our hands. In the blink of an eye they could all be gone.

So, when completed, this elephant will stand as an artistic and scientific depiction of what is, or possibly in the years to come, of what once was.

Around the world, there are many extraordinary creatures on the verge of extinction. Whether or not they will be here in the future is left for us to decide. Most importantly, we as consumers of the Earth’s resources have control over what we will and will not buy. This world will always be filled with greedy people willing to make a dime at any cost, but consumers have the power to control what these costs will be.

The learn about the current wave of extinction events, please see The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.

 

Thoughts from the Road

I mostly post on this website about my art, but what I have written here arises from my day job as an incident mapping specialist on wildfires.

This season, I’m working with small teams producing maps for the various other teams engaging wildfires. I work out of a trailer, miles away from the dangers of the uncontrolled fire edge. I work to support the firefighters that risk their lives to protect other lives, and homes, and properties.

On my last assignment, I had the tremendous honor of working alongside the incredible women and men of CAL FIRE, the Forest Service, and other agencies and organizations as they battle the Carr Fire around Redding, California. The Carr Fire has been an extraordinarily devastating incident, burning over 229,000 acres, consuming more than 1,000 residences, and claiming the lives of three firefighters and several civilians.

On this incident, I was struck by a firefighter’s comment about the severity of the season’s fires, “climate change should never have become a subject for political debate.” The reality is, the stakes are simply too high. We stand to lose too much. There is no time for debate.

It is true that wildfires occur naturally. However, the severity of California’s fires is escalating and the duration of the fire season is steadily increasing as annual temperatures rise and conditions grow dryer. With this change comes increasing risk to home owners, firefighters, and other emergency responders.

Taking Action Saves Lives

Personally, I ask myself, how could I ever expect firefighters to risk their lives protecting my home if I’m not voting in favor of policies that reduce the risk they encounter in the field.

Whether or not you believe in climate change, there is no denying that the frequency and intensity of wildfire events are growing as a consequence of hotter and dryer conditions. With these changes, lives are at risk. There is no time for blind allegiance and skepticism. We must be proactive today. If something can be done, it must be done.

Click here to be redirected to an informative article in High Country News about the current fire situation in California.

Also, if there are fires near you, check out airnow.gov to see air quality data for your area.

Wrinkle by Wrinkle

For anyone following my blog, I’m sure you’re wondering, when will DFA #1 (a.k.a. the elephant drawing) be done. I hear this a lot from friends. The answer is, it’s still several months away from completion.

Why is it taking so long?

Well… I’m not a full-time artist. I’m currently working on wildfires, and my pencil only hits the paper between field assignments. Come the end of the fire season, I’ll be on DFA #1 non-stop until completion.

For those of you who have followed me this far, thank you!!! I have some big plans for the completed drawing and prints. I look forward to sharing the experience on my blog.

Cheers!

I am currently back at work on the elephant drawing, a.k.a. Drawings for Africa #1. This is by far the most taxing project that I have ever undertaken. I’m working from photographs and trying to sketch out every detail that I can see. Each little feature of the skin becomes a polygon, or a line, or a dot on this enormous sheet of paper. I estimate that I have now sketched out somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 tiny polygons.

When zoomed in, the patterns appear as a scene of chaos, like a madman’s abstract depiction of the galaxies of the universe crammed onto a Petri dish.

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As I listen to audiobooks while drawing, the shapes seem to transform with each story. A few weeks ago, I listened to Hemingway’s “The Green Hills of Africa,” and the shapes began to appear as animals, and lakes, and rivers. I then listened to “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” and the shapes started to resemble the broken hunks of ice on the vast, antarctic, ice sheet upon which Shackleton and his men were stranded for 15 months. Now, while listening to Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” the shapes have become an odd illustration of the tumultuous personalities and harmonious interactions of Dickens’ enchanting characters.

Standing back from the drawing, it is hard to believe that this jumble of shapes becomes the figure of an elephant.

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I suppose many parts of life require a glance from a distance to be fully appreciated, as the totality of their magnificence lies in the synthesis of their elements.

Lie upon your belly on the valley floor of Yosemite, and you’ll see a jumble of pebbles, and twigs, and leaves, and sand. Rise up to your feet, and look out towards the peaks, and the eyes take in a seen that could tickle one’s fancy for eternity.

And in love, isn’t it true that we, from time to time, find ourselves so caught up in the deluge of life’s events that we must step back to see how wonderful our relationships truly are?

I wonder how magnificent the universe would appear if we could stand atop a prominence and view upon its entirety. Perhaps we’ll never know the beauty of this scene, but maybe, just maybe, it bares resemblance to the assemblage of shapes on the surface of an elephants skin.

Well, that sums up my ramble. I hope everyone is well!

Hi everyone! I hope 2018 is treating you well.

I haven’t posted in a while, and that’s because I have been focused on less exciting business development tasks. However, I have made some interesting discoveries along the way!

Key biz dev highlights include integrating e-commerce functionality into my website, developing an executive summary and other company documents, creating company graphics, writing grant proposals, establishing relationships with frame makers and framers, ordering shipping supplies, and so on.

Making Stamps

If any of you have a business, it may interest you to learn about the process of making rubber stamps. I wanted to make a few stamps for company stationary. The process is very easy; simply create your design in Photoshop, Illustrator, Gimp, or any graphics editor, save it as a JPEG file, and upload it to a website that develops custom stamps from digital image/graphic files. I chose www.rubberstamps.com, because this company makes it extremely easy to produce custom rubber stamps from image/graphic files. The downside is, this company does not use recycled materials. Other companies make stamps from recycled materials, but are limited to producing stamps with only letters and numbers. I have yet to find one that uses recycled materials and allows for customization with graphics.

For you artists out there, archival ink pads can be purchased from Dick Blick Art Materials. Archival ink pads enable you to put your logo, or other graphics safely onto your artwork!

Shipping Tubes

Another biz dev topic I’ve had to address is shipping. I want to use shipping supplies that are created from recycled materials and provide the protection to ensure that my artwork makes it to its destination safely. I came across a company called Yazoo Mills. This company manufactures mailing tubes from 100% recycled materials. Additionally, their tubes are considerably thicker than general mailing tubes, providing far more protection. I have also opted for metal end-caps, as they are “tamper-proof” and can easily be recycled.

Storage Containers

Another subject to address is storing and organizing art and office supplies. Admittedly, when I “need” something, Walmart and Staples seem to come to mind. I live in a small town and sometimes I just have to go to Walmart to find what I need, or do I? Every time I go to Walmart, I find myself a little overwhelmed and sickened by the enormous volume of cheap, plastic crap that fills the shelves. Yet, somehow I still end up there. It’s as if I have been programmed by society to think that when I need something, it has to be new and cheap. Luckily, I have a guilty conscience that deactivates my subconscious thought process in times of emergency, and activates a conscious stream of logic. This invariably drives me out of Walmart in search of better solutions. I usually end up at local antique shops and thrift stores. The products that I find are, reclaimed/second-hand, made of wood and metal, fulfill the same functions as plastic items found in Walmart, and are often in the same generally price range. Additionally, they have history and are visually far more appealing.

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I know some people don’t like the idea of buying second-hand items, but as the old quote goes, maybe “what we think is so, just isn’t so.” The products in today’s society are laden with extremely toxic chemicals. Some of these include BPA (a key component in polycarbonate – found in water bottles, baby bottles, plastic containers…), Phthalates (a key component in plastic – found in shower curtains, vinyl flooring, food packing…), PFOA (a key component in non-stick and water-repellent products – found in cookware, furniture, carpets…), formaldehyde (a key component in resins – found in pressed wood products, glues, fabrics…), and PBDEs (a key component in flame retardants – found in televisions, computers, furniture foam…).

My guess is, if you’re not buying the newest, non-toxic items, buying older second-hand products is probably a much safer option than purchasing cheap, Chinese-made junk heavily laden with chemicals.

To conclude…

If you have read through this, thanks! I hope my words provide value to the reader. I’ll keep you posted on more interesting biz dev events.

I hope you’re all well, and thanks for your support!

The first print (01/25) of The Gaucho has been sold, and is now safe at home on one of California’s most extraordinary ranches.

The artwork’s new owners are leaders in grassland conservation in the Central Valley, with thousands of acres of land in protection with conservation organizations. I am honored that they have chosen The Gaucho to adorn a wall in their home. From its perch, The Gaucho now looks out upon a landscape of sensational beauty.

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The overarching concept of my artwork is “Drawing for Change.” I want my art to, not only please the buyer, but serve as a means through I can make ongoing donations to non-profit organizations that work to improve the condition of our planet.

A percentage of the sale of this print has been donated to Groundswell International, an organization that works “to empower thousands of rural communities and organizations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to sustainably improve their lives.”

Thanks for your support!

As another year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting upon my journey through the days, weeks, and months of 2017. As with every year, this was a period of growth, with successes and failures along the way.

The eighteenth-century poet, Alexander Pope said, “To err is human…” Error is a part of everyday life. Trial and error is the pathway to growth and success. However, reaching our true potential in work, and life, and love, requires a good deal of introspection, and an honest evaluation of the causes and effects of our actions. Socrates once said, the unexamined life is not worth living. I believe that the most significant personal growth arises from an examination of our errors, shortcomings, and failures, and the determination to learn from them.

I want to give an example from my own life to illustrate this point. In 2017, I moved to Oregon. The move has allowed me to spend considerable time with my brother. He is 17 years old, and I am 35. I initially thought I would be the one sharing knowledge and wisdom for his personal growth. But as the months have passed, I have found that he has taught me more lessons than I could have ever imagined.

Just recently, we attended a dinner party. The event presented the opportunity to watch my brother perform a few songs on his guitar, and to meet new people. Of the skills that I do not possess, socializing and mingling are certainly among them. So, I soon found myself walking aimlessly around, drink in hand, munching on snacks, and talking only briefly to an acquaintance here and there. With time, I joined the ranks of those men and women that just stand against the wall, sip a cocktail, and watch the dancers on the dance floor. My brother was one of those dancers. As the songs changed, and the people came and went, his dance continued on. For a time, he was the only one on the dance floor, yet he carried on with not a care in the world.

“As I watched him, an old quote came to mind, “Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”

And so, I put down the drink, strolled onto the floor, and danced alongside him until the evening’s end. From the dance floor, I looked back to the onlookers, standing alone, drinks in hand, and was amused to think that just a moment ago, I was one of them.

Well, right there and then, I was reminded that the quality of our lives, and the condition of our surrounding environment, are shaped by the choices that we make, and the effort we take to effect change.

Thoreau once said, “It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man [and woman] is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”

As the new year approaches, I think about my resolutions. How can I “carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which I look” to affect the quality of the day, not only for myself, but for the people around me, and for the natural world to which I am so deeply indebted?

I hear the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

New years resolutions are all about actions. We reflect on the experiences of our past, and resolve to take steps that foster the change that we want to see in our lives.

While change is not always easy to achieve, we can take comfort in knowing that baby steps, and tiny steps, and little steps, and small steps all, over time, can amount to great change.

For 2018, my resolutions include making consumer choices that reduce my ecological footprint, donating monthly to causes that are important to me, embracing new acquaintances with an open heart, and dancing and singing like no one is watching.

To conclude this post, I want to share with you the words of Eleanor Powell, “what we are is God’s gift to us, what we become is our gift to God.” For the evolutionists, the atheists, the agnostics, and so on, I believe these words can be rephrased as, “what we are is the world’s gift to us, what we become is our gift to the world.”

Happy new year to everyone!

Also, here are a few pics of my current drawing. I’m happy to say, it’s nearly completed. The original and prints will be for sale. A portion of each sale will be donated to an organization(s) supporting the rights of indigenous tribal people and/or organizations supporting ecological farming. I am still researching this, but Survival International will likely be a recipient of donations.

Happy holidays!

It’s been a while since I posted an update. Here’s the latest on my end.

The elephant drawing is coming along, but progress is slow. The detail that I want to achieve takes a long time to lay down. I’ve decided to mix in a series of smaller art projects along the way.

I plan on doing a number of small drawings and paintings to promote simple living. This artwork is a tribute to the people on our planet whom live more sustainable lives than we generally do here in the U.S.

The title of this project is, Rich Simplicity: An Illustrative Journey Among Sustainable Lifestyles.

The first drawing is of an Argentine gaucho named Moreira. The photograph was captured by Ezequiel Casares, an Argentine friend of mine, while on a trip to visit his family in Patagonia. Ezequiel is an incredible cinematographer, and one of the best photographers I’ve ever met. I am so lucky to have his permission to use his photograph for this artwork.

If you would like to learn more about this project, and why I feel the purpose of the artwork is important, please visit the project page for The World Until Yesterday.

Happy holidays! I hope everyone is well!

Here’s a quick peak at the artwork in progress.

 

A few months ago, I started dreaming up an idea for a vintage-style art/drafting stool. The idea was to use mostly reclaimed material, and produce a stylish stool, designed for artists, and sturdy enough to last for generations.

Along the way, I created the Not So Sexy Art Chair, as part of my exploration into the utility of a chair designed specifically for artists. This unimpressive, quirky invention, has served its purpose very well, and helped to guide the development of a higher-quality solution.

The final product is the Pump Stool. It’s comprised of a vintage Singer sewing stool, an antique water pump handle (hence the name), a wooden backrest, a hand-forged beam brace, four steel links, and two springs.

If you would like to see how the project came together, check out the short video! Or you can read about the Pump Stool project on the Design page.

Prior to the Drawings for Africa project, I had never attempted to create big artwork. It seems that every week I encounter a challenge, or a small problem in need of a solution.

After spending countless hours standing on a stool, and reaching up and down, and side to side, I got to thinking, there must be an easier way to do this.

I present to you, The Not So Sexy Art Chair.

This modern marvel is the perfect solution for any artist crazy enough to attempt to draw every wrinkle of an elephant’s skin on a 4 ft. x 6 ft. sheet of paper.

The Not So Sexy Art Chair wobbles, it’s crooked, and it completely voids the warranty of the original chair from which it began its life. However, it serves its purpose exceptionally well.

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from the challenges of doing big art, The Not So Sexy Art Chair could be the perfect solution.

Do not attempt to use The Not So Sexy Art Chair if you are prone to motion sickness, suffer from a balance disorder, or are otherwise clumsy.

To learn more, please watch the following video.

And feel free to share this information.

Thanks for reading and watching!

Honoring the Victims

When will we collectively come to agree that something is seriously wrong with our society? What does it take for us to come together to stand up against the ills of our ideologies?

I’m tired of seeing and hearing the pathetic displays of grief and morning enacted by politicians to give the illusion of sympathy. Actions always speak louder than words. If we are to protect life and the pursuit of happiness, we must support politicians that defend policies that define liberty in a way that truly values the well-being of each human life.

Prevention vs. Cure

In honor of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting on October 1st, I want to share a poem by Joseph Malins. The poem, “The ambulance down in the Valley,” eloquently addresses the difference between prevention and cure. I share it with you as food for thought. And if you have already read it, perhaps this can be a moment to reflect upon its meaning, and its application to our society today.

If you’re not keen on reading, or would just simply prefer to hear John Denver recite it, here’s a link to his 1982 performance at the Apollo Theater, where he recites it to the crowd. In the video, the poem begins at 3:25.

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became full of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds and gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,
“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would those rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.

Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.”

“Oh he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We’ll support them forever.
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?”

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best
To prevent other people from falling.”
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.’