Following is a unique portfolio of never before published images of the latest Unnatural Flowers that have bloomed at the Falls of the Ohio. This follows a previous article on this riverblog (see…”Unusual Flora at the Falls of the Ohio”, Jan. 13, 2013) that first exposed the bizarre flora that have adapted to this highly disturbed site on the Ohio River. It is speculated that these new organisms are able to metabolize decaying plastic in novel and sometimes disturbing ways. Characteristic of these faux flowers is a lack of photosynthetic leaves. It is believed that the energy utilized by these plants is created from breaking plastic polymer bonds and forming new compounds or by elaborate parasitism. Examples of both will be highlighted. Key also are the various petrochemical connections which rhyme historically to a more ancient world illustrated beautifully by the site’s Devonian Era fossils and our culture’s reliance upon oil and coal to power and pollute everything. It is my belief that these unique forms appearing here are no coincidence. Let us first acquaint ourselves with various members of the “Chemical Rose” family. An example of which leads off this post. Here are more recently found roses.
This variety appears to have rootlets growing between the plastic-hard rose petals. As with all “Chemical Roses”…there is no sweet perfume to inhale.
This “Chemical Rose” example is growing out of the mud on a leafless, thorny stem. No telling what chemical compositions are co-mingling in this ooze?
This ” Red Chemical Rose” has adapted to growing on sand. While the next example has synthetic, fabric-like petals. It does add a beautiful yet bittersweet presence to the landscape.
This “Petrochemical Petunia” is a late Spring oddity and prefers moist, iridescent sand and full sunlight. It presents as a completely synthetic, hybrid blossom. It is not clear at this time if some pollinating agent is necessary for its propagation.
Imagine my surprise upon discovering this “Little White Polymer Phlox” growing from the ruined wood on this stump. This specimen was found very close to the water and in an area that floods frequently. The phlox needs just the right temperature and water content to break down this former tree’s cellulose matrix to make the nutrients it needs to grow.
Also growing in poor wet soil is this florid “Chemical Chrysanthemum”. Among its requirements are a warm, CO2 rich atmosphere and coal which washes up within the Falls of the Ohio State Park from the frequent barge traffic that moves up and down the Ohio River.
Growing between the beached and bleaching logs is this aptly named “Driftwood Tulip”. It can appear at any time and shows itself briefly upon its woody stem before sinking back into the riverbank from whence it came.
For a lack of a better description…this plant had temporarily been named the “Epiphytic Mimic” because it presents like some of our true orchids. This specimen may have flowered recently. Its green leaves do not perform photosynthesis. It hangs out and receives moisture and nutrients through a complex system of fine polymer rootlets. And now…for something a little different. The following unnatural flowers appear to be parasitic, but patient study may find them to be more complex and perhaps even symbiotic by nature?
The “Yellow Fabric Pansy” in this photo appears to be hitching a free ride on a primrose flower. The same relationship can be found from on this “Pink Blossoming Indigo Bush”.
The pink flower with the rhinestone-like center is unlike the rest of this flowering and indigenous shrub. Next we come to the “Augmented Moth Mullein”.
The prevailing thinking about how some these strange flowers acquire their petrochemicals is through ultraviolet decomposition of man-made plastics. On the microscopic if not molecular level…these tiny compounds recombine with the existing plants’ DNA. Here’s another fine example.
Like the previous plant, the “Yellow-flowering Pokeweed” is a recombined hybrid and favors appearing in the early summer. Traditional pokeweed plants produce weak looking white flowers that will transform into dark, pigment intense berries in the Fall. It is not certain how this plant will respond, but I have my eyes on it. In closing, I would like to present one more image that illustrates the tremendous crossover potential of plastic polymers and living tissue. Thus far, this is the only example of a “Mushroom Flower” that I have come across and the only unnatural fungus that I have discovered at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. No doubt other species are out there just waiting for a trained botanist to reveal to all. As the environment warms and the normal weather patterns change, the natural rhythm of life will be altered, however, life may prove to be the most plastic and resilient of all.
Posted in Art, art and environment, creativity, Falls of the Ohio, ecosytem, recycled art, unusual collection, Absurd, environmental art, collections | Tagged Art, recycled art, photography, nature, Falls of the Ohio, plastic, artistatexit0, the environment, earth, unnatural flowers, pseudo botany, plants of Kentuckiana, artificial flowers, effects of plastic breakdown on flora, unnatural story | 3 Comments »
I’ve had some interesting birding encounters of late at the Falls of the Ohio and so I thought now is an opportune time to post them. I took this image of the Northern Rough-winged Swallow recently. To my eye, this species seems to be on the increase as is its cousin, the more familiar Barn Swallow. This is especially good since they eat big quantities of flying insects. Herons (especially Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons) are abundant and since the fishing has been good of late…I’ve seen plenty of both species. Here are two more recent images. The first is of a pair of Great Blue Herons that were taking advantage of the recent Skipjack Herring run.
The most common heron here is the Black-crowned Night-Heron. They are considerably smaller than the Great Blues and have striking red eyes. You can find them wading in the shallower waters looking for fish, crayfish, or small frogs. This image was taken in the eastern section of the park and this bird was perched on a log stranded on top of the dam’s wall.
I’ve saved the two most interesting avian encounters for last. A couple of weeks a go, I was sitting at my outdoor studio under the willow trees when I heard the sound of a young bird pleading for food. Looking around, I was able to find the hungry bird and I snapped this picture of it.
I recognize that this is the young of the Brown-headed Cowbird. What is fascinating about this species (and the two other species of cowbirds in North America) is that the adults do not raise their own young. Cowbirds parasitize the nests of other bird species. In the case of the Brown-headed Cowbird they have been known to lay their eggs in the nests of about 200 different species of birds. Usually, the young Brown-headed Cowbird out competes the host specie’s nestlings. I was curious to see who this bird’s “parents” were and it didn’t take long to find out.
In the case of this cowbird chick it is being raised by a hardworking pair of Carolina Wrens. The baby is nearly double the wren’s size and vibrates its wings along with calling out to stimulate the wrens to feed it. Here are a couple more pictures of the wren feeding the cowbird.
In case you were wondering, cowbirds are not the only species to lay their eggs in other bird’s nests. In Europe, the cuckoo also does this, but parasitizes fewer species. I often wonder how does the cowbird know it’s a cowbird especially if it is raised by a completely different species? Obviously, some behaviors are “hard-wired” and innate . In the early Spring, Brown-headed Cowbirds are early arrivals and always on the look out for other breeding species of birds and their nest sites. Their courtship is not a thing of beauty with each drab Brown-headed Cowbird female usually being pursued by multiple males. Moving on, here is a recent picture of an adult male and you can see why they are called Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Recently, I was in the far western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park where I saw my very first Indiana Rail. Rails are much smaller relatives of the heron family and other wading shorebirds. The Indiana Rail is a little smaller than a chicken and rarely seen since it favors dense underbrush and is usually more active at night.
I was taking a break sitting on the fossil rocks when this bird with a long, bright red bill appeared from among the ever-growing vines. I held still and was able to record this species with a small series of photographic images. This bird seemed very interested in the holes situated among the rocks.
Unlike the cowbirds…both the Indiana Rail male and female participate in raising their own young. Typically, four or five green mottled eggs are deposited in a loose bowl constructed of decaying river vegetation. It is believed that the heat generated from this decomposing matter helps to incubate the eggs , but this is still speculative. There is a lot left to learn about this enigmatic creature.
I watched the rail for about twenty minutes as it poked around the vines that were beginning to cover the fossil rocks. Every now and then it would use its strong-looking bill to probe the cracks around the drying mud. Just as mysteriously as it appeared…it disappeared leaving me with this wonderful memory and a hand full of pictures to prove it was here. See you later!
Posted in animals, art and environment, birding, birds and birding, creativity, ecosytem, Falls of the Ohio, nature, nature photography, recycled art | Tagged Art, art and the environment, artistatexit0, birds, Brown-headed Cowbird, Falls of the Ohio, herons, nature, nature story, photography, recycled art, Styrofoam | 6 Comments »
It’s the beginning of June at the Falls of the Ohio. I arrived at the river to find a dozen or so fishermen that were up on this cool, grey morning before me. There are both people and boats in and on the water. Many fishermen are knee to thigh high in the river balancing themselves on the shallow, but rocky bottom.
The river attracts all kinds of fishermen. I see people who have lots of fancy, expensive tackle and for the most part they are using light gear for smaller, sporty, quarry. And then there are the guys that seem more local and blue-collar. No fancy gear here that the anglers might prefer. Rather this is a big pole, five gallon bucket, come as you are affair. Word has probably been passed down the line that the “shad” are running and it’s a good time to catch a mess of fish.
This is the fish of the day…the Skipjack Herring, (Alosa chrysochloris). This fish was first described by the naturalist Rafinesque in the early part of the 19th century. It’s an abundant and beautiful fish found in all of Kentucky’s major rivers and up into the Mississippi River too. The Skipjack is anadromous which means it migrates up rivers from the sea to breed. During the right time of year large schools of Skipjacks are congregating under the dams and waiting for the chance to move forward. The Skipjack gets its name from jumping out of the water like a skimming stone in pursuit of the smaller fishes it eats. At the Falls, the fishermen are catching Skipjacks to use as bait. The fish is cut into quarters and set upon large treble hooks in the hopes of catching big catfish. One fisherman told me he witnessed a 30 pound catfish being caught with this method the previous night. I recently read that these waters were also once home to the Ohio Shad (Alosa ohiensis) which were first described from specimens caught in the Ohio River at Louisville in the late 19th century. This fish is so rare now that it is on occasion listed as being extinct. The Ohio Shad was probably not common to begin with.
Along the water’s edge the smell of dead fish demarcates the air where water and land meet. The riverbank is littered with the unlucky who through lost scales and exposed bone are returning to the world from which they came. There was one unfamiliar fish that I came across and I did a series of photos of it. Here are several views I made of this new fish.
There isn’t anything in the literature about this fish and so I’m going to designate it the Yellow-fin Carp for obvious reasons. In life, it probably was in the 3 to 5 pound range and I’m surprised it didn’t get cut up for bait as well? It has the tell-tale large eyes that suggest it is a deeper water fish. It was probably caught by mistake, released, died, and washed up here with the other unfortunates. Here’s a couple of images made along the riverbank.
Since this is something you don’t run across out here very often, I thought I would post a few more images that provide a more formal portrait.
And now for a head-on view of this interesting fish.
People were not the only animals out here after the Skipjacks. Several bird species including Ospreys, Double-crested Cormorants, Black-crowned Night Herons, and Great Blue Herons were taking their share. Here is a heron couple that are set up by the tainter gates in the eastern section of the park. Between catching fish they mirrored each other in a few courtship moves.
The fossil limestones at the Falls of the Ohio are famous for the diversity of Devonian Age life forms that are preserved within the rocks. Ironically, the Devonian Age is also known as the age of fishes because they first appear in the fossil record over 350 million years a go. At the Falls, however, fish are poorly represented in this rock record. I imagined that if they had preserved as well as other creatures…their remains might look something like this.
Posted in Absurd, animal art works, art and environment, creativity, ecosytem, Falls of the Ohio, fresh water, Louisville, Kentucky, nature photography, Ohio River, recycled art, Styrofoam, watershed | Tagged Art, art from found objects, artistatexit0, Falls of the Ohio, fish, fishing, nature, nature story, photography, recycled art, sense of place, site specific art, Skipjack Herring, Styrofoam, the environment | 6 Comments »
I couldn’t get my mind off of the Giant Driftwood Spider and so I paid an extra visit to see if it was still around…unfortunately it wasn’t. I was hoping to get better images, but my original ones will have to do. Its web near my studio spot, however, was still intact and being effective too! I also noticed that the cocoons were missing and either they hatched, were taken by some other predator, or were moved by spider mom since their location had been discovered by me? Although the spider pics in this post are a couple of weeks old by now…these latest web images are more recent.
The web can’t have been abandoned for very long. I was, however, amazed at all the plastic bycatch that had drifted in and been ensnared in the silk. We have had some strong winds and storms blow through the area and that is my explanation for how all this plastic wound up being suspended off of the ground. Most interestingly, much of what the web caught has a petrochemical pedigree. There were a couple smaller pieces of Styrofoam, but the majority of the bycatch included plastic oil or antifreeze containers.
I must also admit to becoming fascinated by the pictorial possibilities that this web with its bycatch presented. I liked the idea that I could see these shapes seemingly floating on a screen in front of an image of a greater spatial depth. I was struck by the “art-like” sensations I was feeling studying this web. I could see a certain play occurring with shapes and colors and even in the relationships between objects. Is this not an installation piece? It made me wonder if it was possible for any other animal to make something we could recognize as being art? I have always felt that for humans, art was an important survival mechanism. Could it be for other animals as well? Wasn’t too long a go , we didn’t think animals could even feel pain! Surely, we are short-changing them in other ways too?
If I should happen across this amazing arachnid again…I will see if I can test it in some aesthetic fashion. Perhaps it could draw me a picture in the sand with each one of its eight legs? That’s meant as a joke…I’m not sure what I would do to tell you the truth. Here’s one last image and if you look in the upper left hand corner you can see the Off Road Triker sitting on his ride. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it and was in the world in this configuration a little less than two weeks total before being thoroughly smashed in the sand. That’s just the way things go some times at the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Art, art and environment, creativity, Falls of the Ohio, Styrofoam, public art, nature, recycled art, sculpture, Absurd, environmental art, animal art works | Tagged Art, art installation, artistatexit0, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, large spider, nature, petrochemical junk, photography, plastic, recycled art, repurposed art, spider web, Styrofoam | Leave a Comment »
Another great day at the Falls of the Ohio. Although it’s late May, we haven’t immediately jumped from a cool spring into a sweltering summer heat. We still have time for that. I’m following the deposited driftwood which forms these nice clearings punctuated here and there by small stands of willow trees. There’s a method to my walks. I carefully and as quietly as I can listen and look for any bird life in each new area I move into. If I don’t find any birds than I move around the driftwood looking for interesting pieces and any other water born junk of note. If an object captures my eye, I usually take a photograph of it in the context of the environment surrounding it. If it is something really unusual, portable, and potentially useful…then I may drop it into my collecting bag. I also try to pay attention to any new flowers or insects that are out since my last visit. I don’t collect anything living since with the exception of fish…it’s against the park’s rules.
I will also walk the river bank doing much the same thing before heading back into the trees and my studio under the willows. It’s here at my outdoor “atelier” that I check out my latest finds and with the materials I’ve previously collected…attempt to make art from them. I was taking a break sitting on a bench I made and letting my mind “go blank” and just listening. In the trees I could hear Northern orioles, Blue jays, and Catbirds all making their distinctive sounds. With birds, you don’t need to see them to know they are present. Small, noisy flocks of Cedar waxwings were flying from mulberry tree to mulberry tree seeking out ripe fruit. I also kept hearing a “clicking or clacking” sound originating behind where I was sitting which I mistakenly took for a squirrel moving among the branches. I would look over my shoulder every now and then, but I didn’t see anything at first. I didn’t see anything at all…until it moved!
Between its cryptic coloration and the dappled light effects of sunlight filtering through the tree tops…I had completely missed seeing the biggest spider in the world! I know I had to walk by this marvel, but it didn’t register at all until this moment. The spider wasn’t making any threatening gestures yet…perhaps it was remaining still “thinking” that I hadn’t located it. The spider on its web was perhaps a dozen feet away from where I was sitting. Meanwhile the hairs on the back of my neck were on end and I had an acute case of goosebumps all over my body! Instinctively, I reached for my camera and started taking pictures.
Carefully walking around the spider and its web, I snapped off as many images as my nerves would dare. I still had no idea what it was capable of doing especially in protection of its nest? I had my stout walking stick at the ready. Nestled in a depression in the wood at the web’s base was a silk-lined “pocket” that held three white cocoons. I wasn’t sure if these were egg cases or the wrapped up remains of former meals?
In trying to describe this spider to you…I utilized my walking stick not only for protection, but to gauge its size as well. Later in the comfort of my home, I estimated that the length of its body from the head to the tip of its abdomen to be approximately 30 inches or 76 centimeters long. It’s moving legs made the spider seem much larger, but they were harder to measure. The legs were perfectly camouflaged resembling the driftwood all around us. The spider’s abdomen is covered with coarse hair arranged in bands of orange, white, and a bluish-black colors. Otherwise, the spider is as white as the large river-polished chunks of Styrofoam that wash up on these fabled shores all the time.
The head of what I’m now going to call the “Giant Driftwood Spider” is very unusual for a spider. The fact it is nearly distinct (as in insects) and not simply continuous with the thorax makes it different. The head was not, however, capable of movement. This spider features four eyes. It has two, larger dominant eyes and a vestigial pair located between them. The fangs were purple in color and supported by black jaws used for gripping prey. The clicking sound I had heard earlier were its fangs rubbing together. Like all spiders…I assumed that this species is carnivorous as well.? Consistent with true spiders, this giant species also has eight legs, although the Giant Driftwood Spider’s are not uniform. After watching this great arachnid for several minutes, it surprised me by leaving its web and walking towards the river. I naturally, followed behind it at a discreet distance.
The giant spider moved deliberately through the driftwood field pausing once in a while for whatever reason. Thoughts about what this spider did for food crossed my mind. Was it an ambush predator secretly lying next to a log waiting for a meal to walk by? Did it rush and overwhelm its prey with a lethal bite to the body? I thought this likely since its web by my outdoor studio didn’t seem big enough to capture anything larger than birds or rodents. I got the sense that this spider was able to go a long time between feedings. I continued to follow the spider when it stopped at another silk construction it had previously created.
The spider stopped by what I’m guessing to be another silk trap? The spider may have been trying to hide its form with the silk? Perhaps it uses a method similar to trapdoor spiders in catching its food? I will confess that I do get “creeped out” by having spider webs go across my face. I have always had an aversion to this feeling, although generally speaking…I’m okay with the spiders themselves. In this particular area, it felt like I was constantly wiping my face which made me very ill at ease.
I circled back around to get a better look and when I did the spider lunged for me! With fangs clacking together and its legs gesturing wildly, the spider held its ground, but did not advance towards me. With stick at the ready and in deep fear, I was prepared to swing down as hard as I could on the spider if I had to. That’s when it occurred to me how wrong that would be? Who was doing most of the provoking anyway? Perhaps the spider was reacting in self-defense? As with most living things, this spider had as much if not more reason to fear humans. Even though this was the biggest spider I had ever seen…I was still bigger than it. With that realization I backed off and took my leave of the Giant Driftwood Spider. Reaching my home, I couldn’t wait to see the pictures and to tell the story of this remarkable animal encounter. The world is full of natural marvels and the Falls of the Ohio…has many of them.
Posted in Absurd, animals, Art, art and environment, creativity, ecosytem, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, nature photography, recycled art, Styrofoam | Tagged absurd story, animal encounter, Art, artist at exit 0, driftwood, earth, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, giant spider, nature, nature story, photography, plastic, recycled art, spider web, Styrofoam, the environment | 8 Comments »
I was at the Falls of the Ohio last week when I spotted this plastic toy tricycle just sitting by itself near the river’s edge. Although I didn’t see anyone around, I just assumed its owner must be nearby. I took this picture and walked away. After a time spent looking for driftwood and anything else, I was heading back to my studio under the trees when I was approached by this character I’ve come to know as the ” Off Road Triker”. He was quickly peddling that tricycle I had seen earlier.
With his trademark orange goggles, the Triker likes to explore the world from the seat of his three-wheeler. I recognized him as the subject of a few human interest stories in the newspaper, but this was a first spotting him on the shores of the Ohio River. I have heard that he used to own a car, but now he just peddles everywhere he wants to go. As a side benefit, he’s in the best shape of his life. His legs alone must be as hard as wood. The Triker’s ride came to a smooth stop in the sand in front of where I was standing.
Removing his goggles from his eyes the Triker greeted me pleasantly on a picture perfect day. We introduced ourselves and talked about our observations and connections to this landscape. The Triker remarked that he had seen a lot of rubbish along the water’s edge and I nodded in agreement. He wondered why nobody did anything about this, but I had to tell him that the Falls does see several clean-up attempts a year, but with each new flood or high water the new “largess” in the river just washes up again. It’s like rolling that proverbial rock up the hill only to have it roll back again and again.
The Triker said that there was a place where several old automotive tires were laying half buried in the sand and that I should check it out. He put his goggles back on and I walked beside him as he peddled to the spot. I didn’t tell him this, but I was already familiar with these tires and have photographed this feature many times. I found the Triker to be amusing and so I just played along to get a sense of who he is and what he might do next. The reason all these tires are in this particular location is that once upon a time a river clean-up had occurred and these loose tires were gathered here for future disposal. Ironically, the future never came which left these tires mired in the present. Now these tires are so full of mud, sand, and water that it would take a herculean effort to dig some of them out of the riverbank.
The Triker thought these tires would make an appropriate obstacle course to maneuver through and he asked me to photograph him while he made his run. Everything started off well enough, but that was not to last.
It’s at this point that the Triker hits a snag or rather a tire. The slalom at the course’s start went fine, but midway through the Triker swung wide and he had to over correct to get around the next obstacle. Here are some different close up views of the action.
As you can see…hitting the tire caused the tricycle to go up on two wheels. The speed and forward momentum nearly caused the Triker to completely lose his balance!
Fortunately as an experienced rider…the Triker held it together and was able to regain his composure and balance to complete this impromptu course. He pulled off to the side near some willow trees and exhaled deeply.
“That was a close one my friend. I thought for a micro second I was going to eat sand and rubber in a hard way!” I praised him for his skill on the tricycle and told him I would post the images on the internet which seemed to please the Triker. Recovering his breath, the Triker said he enjoyed his visit to the Falls of the Ohio, but it was now time to return to the city. With his goggles back on, my last view of the Triker was of his back as he peddled his wobbly ride with a newly bent axle towards the skyline of the nearby city.
Posted in Absurd, Art, art and environment, creativity, Falls of the Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky, public art, recycled art, sculpture, watershed | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, earth, Falls of the Ohio, found art materials, nature, Ohio River, photography, plastic, sculpture, sense of place, site specific art, Styrofoam, the environment, tricycle | 11 Comments »
Every now and then it’s good to purge stuff that has been building up over time. With my river project, I do this by emptying out my collecting bag(s) to make way for new finds and by deleting images stored on my camera’s memory card. I have gotten into the habit of using the memory card as another form of digital storage just in case something bad happens to all the other places I store data. In this post, I will feature favorite images of plastic flotsam and jetsam I have gathered at the river’s edge the past two months. I will start with the image with the flip-flops and Croc-like shoes. These are tiny to small kids’ sizes. A few weeks a go, I picked up eight of them along a favorite walk and realized once I reached my outdoor studio that they were all meant for the right foot! I have since added a few extras, but the initial shock of realizing there were no left shoes remains. I wonder if subconsciously I selected for right-footedness? Anyway, here is a still life photo portfolio of other plastic river junk toys.
One last item and while it is not made of plastic…is nevertheless memorable.
Posted in Absurd, collections, Falls of the Ohio, unusual collection | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, doll head, earth, Falls of the Ohio, flotsam and jetsam, found objects, lost and found, photography, plastic character bottle, plastic novelty, plastic trash, rivers, the environment, toys | 4 Comments »