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Under the railroad bridge, Tainter Gates, Sept. 2014

Two years have passed since I last set foot on the fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the river.  I had to wait until I fully trusted a bum knee to be well enough to walk upon the hard, irregular limestone surface that for most of the year is underwater.

This is after all, the bottom of the Ohio River and accessible most summers when water is diverted to fill water levels at the McAlpin Locks and Dams.  The Ohio River is a managed river for much of its length.  Closing the snow plow shaped tainter gates helps regulate water levels for commercial navigation and flood control, but it also exposes the majority of the fossil beds to inspection at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

I have rolled my ragged jeans up and I’m wearing a pair of shoes for sloshing through knee-high deep water at best.  As I move under the old iron railroad bridge, I walk past the gigantic concrete and metal gates holding the river back.  Something in their hieratic designs reminds me of ancient Egyptian art.  Here on a massive, civic-project scale, abstracted silhouettes of seated pharaohs serve the gods of engineering.  My goal today is to reacquaint myself with this unique environment and mark the day in some way.

The railroad bridge looking back to the Indiana side.  Sept. 2014

From experience, I know that there are far fewer materials to access on this side of the fossil beds.  Most of the Styrofoam, plastic, and driftwood I frequently use is driven by wind and river currents to the Indiana bank where I’ve preformed  most of my projects.

Being out in this environment with its varied materials often inspires me to want to make something, but what will I do today?  I take advantage of the river polished coal I found around the railroad bridge and envision an image I can work with site specifically.

I have come to like working with coal as a material because it is timely and is also invested with so much meaning.  In Kentucky, coal is currently a big political issue and many good people truly believe there is a war on coal and climate change is a not supported by the facts.

Anthracite is a deeply, shiny-black crystalline material out of the mine… but the river can tumble it into dull, but smooth feeling, egg-like forms.  I prefer the more river polished pieces of coal.

I’m guessing I’ve picked up about 10 or 12 pounds of coal which I carry in a canvas collecting bag.  Okay, I have my material and my feet are already wet.  With walking stick in hand, I walk along side the high walls that separate the Ohio River from the now exposed Devonian Age fossil beds.

Wall seperating Ohio River from fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

 

The dam’s concrete wall that separates the river from where you are standing on the fossil beds is maybe 18 to 20 feet tall?  It’s up there and sobering as well because the Ohio River’s waterline is just below the top of the wall which is just on the other side!  A series of pre-formed notches along the top of the wall allows water to flow over a section of the fossil beds.

A small wetlands area has been encouraged here that draws many water-loving birds.  Among the species I observed on this day included:  the Belted Kingfisher, Caspian Terns, Great Egrets, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, Killdeer plovers, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard Ducks, Black Vultures, and an American Coot.

Although it’s not hot today, there is little to shade you from the intense light out on the open fossil beds.  Most of these beds are high and dry, but the surface is pockmarked in places with potholes that hold water.  Most of the shallow pools that caught fish when the river level dropped have been cleaned out by the water birds.

In the above photo, a large log has become stranded on the top of the wall placed there when the Ohio River was receding from flood stage.  It was in this area that I set down my heavy collecting bag and laid out my first Coal Man design on the fossil surface.

Coal Man variation, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

The figure has a marionette-like presence, but I relate more to it as a simple sign for figure.  In my head I’m seeing an ancient landscape marked here and there with this contemporary pictographic/petroglyph.  The Falls of the Ohio have been occupied by man for thousands of years and I like relating to this history.  The water is shallow and green from algae.  Molted bird feathers define the circumferences of many of these water holes.  Annoying small flies and gnats fly around the potholes and around your head seeking salt or other moisture.

Coal Man Series, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

This figure has been laid out on a table-like boulder surrounded by very shallow water.  It’s a very temporary site-specific expression on a very tiny island.  I have heard people describe the exposed fossil beds as being a “moonscape” and it does feel like this landscape could be from another planet.

Seated Coal Man on Fossil Beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Many of the fossil beds are in layers or courses and here I am trying out some of the pictorial possibilities using my now seated Coal Man.  The Interpretive Center is the structure in the far distance.  After a while,  it’s time to cool off a little and have a good sit.  There’s a series of small cascades up ahead that are the nearest to imagining what the Falls may have originally looked like and I head that way.

Coal Man by the Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

I see in my mind’s eye, each different Coal Man design introducing a different feature on this side of the park.  I have been wading in shin-high to knee-high water to reach this place.  It’s like an oasis on the exposed and fossilized ancient coral reef.  I like resting here and having a water and snack break.  If you remain inconspicuous you can often spot many different bird species here.  The shallow but swiftly flowing water has small schools of baby fish seeking places of safe harbor.  I’ll bet the oxygen levels in this water is very high?

Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

I cool off wading and exploring this area before moving on.  This space has a bit of the amphitheater feeling about it.  The cascades take on a larger horseshoe formation connected by many small waterfalls.  In the recent past, much larger cascades existed and put on a water show that I wish I could have seen.

Cascade at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Time to move on and dry off.  Today, I’m only planning on walking to the beginnings of Sand Island where I will make my final images with this Coal Man.  I definitely see returning out here again soon while the river level remains low.  It won’t be too much longer before autumn rains and winter snows replenish the Ohio River and re-submerges these fossil beds until next year.

Skyline of Louisville as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

So far, I had kept the Coal Man dry.  At this location which was the extent of today’s visit…I took advantage of clear, shallow water to create these pictures.

Coal Man Series, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Coal Man Swimming, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

The wet coal turned deep black and I liked how many of the images graphically benefited from that.  I guess this is Carboniferous Man swimming above the Devonian Age?  From here I bagged the coal and started the walk home over the fossil beds.

Before closing, here are a few actual fossils I photographed along the way.  This was once an active coral reef over 300 million years a go.  Life was in the oceans.  The species first discovered here have greatly expanded our knowledge of life at this time.  This was the high point for corals and sponges and also gave rise to the first fishes.

Fossils from the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

Fossils from the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

This was my last river excursion of the summer.  It is amazing how quickly this year is flying by!  I was really happy that my left knee did not give me any problems.  I am feeling encouraged and I still have this bag of coal I can keep playing with on a future visit.  Thanks again for coming along…from the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park…so long for now.

Fossil Beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

Distant view of Louisville skyline as seen from Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

It’s a fresh month at the Falls of the Ohio.  Today has opened up on the cloudy side and there is a slight chance for rain…but I’m going to risk it anyway.  The lure of the river is too strong and I’m looking forward to exploring the western fringes of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Stray migrating Monarch butterflies pass by me and the loosestrife flowers are still in bloom.  I can tell the inevitable changing of the seasons is near.  Already I can detect a slight yellowing occurring in the canopies of the willow and cottonwood trees.  In a few weeks, all these leaves will be on the ground and ready to become recycled by and for life.

Old man as seen from the back, Sept. 2014

I’m walking along the shoreline which is a mix of limestone rocks and sandy/muddy beaches.   Mostly I’m being engaged by my own thoughts which change quickly like the reflections on the water.  I was so preoccupied by my own surrender to nature that I did not immediately notice the elderly gentleman sitting on a nearby log.  With a motion of his arm, the figure said to me in a clear voice, “It’s alright my man, I saw you coming down the beach.  Wonderful day to be alive isn’t it?”  I replied something affirmative and instinctively walked towards him.

Old Man drinking tea, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

Old Man holding a Thermos cup, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

“Now that I’m retired…I like to come out here and sit by the river.  Can’t think of a better place to have my morning tea and breathe deeply,” said the old man.  I admit to being intrigued by him and I’ll bet he’s a real character too.  I also sensed a kindred spirit since he was doing essentially the same thing as me, namely hanging out by the river.  I asked where he was from and with a nod over his shoulder, he said:

“My friends call me Jimmy D. on account of my bulbous nose. I don’t expect someone as young as you would remember the entertainer Jimmy Durante?”  I told him I had heard the name before, but it really was before my time.  Jimmy D. then said, “I’m a life-long resident of Clarksville, Indiana.  You know, that little town beyond the giant berm behind us?  I was just a boy in 1937 when the whole town disappeared under twelve feet of Ohio River flooding. My family and I spent about a month with kin in Indianapolis before we could move back and start over.  They had to rebuild the whole place because it’s just too historically important…you know, we date back to 1783 and we’re the oldest settlement in the Northwest Territory?”

I agreed that is indeed a great distinction and one I noticed being touted on several signs in the local parks.  I then gave Jimmy D. my particulars which included my name, being an artist, and living across the river in Louisville.  I then said, “Jimmy, I guess that makes us Metro neighbors.”

Jimmy D. drinking tea, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

I decided that I had a few minutes to get to know Jimmy better.  When I make my excursions to the river…I try (not always successfully) to not rush things and be in a hurry.  I will confess, thinking about time and the nature of time has become a preoccupation with me of late.  I see so many people rushing around and I wonder what’s so important about being in two places at once?

Jimmy D., facing forward, Sept. 2014

I broached this subject with Jimmy D. and here’s where I can get a little preachy.

I told Jimmy, “It seems to me that one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the planet is to slow down to the speed of life and find a good log to sit on.”  I further added, “Nature has evolved processes that have been hard-won over millions and billions of years.  What is it about our kind that wants to accelerate and consume the experience of living as quickly as we can?  Sometimes it can come as a big relief to stay put and appreciate the good around everyone which is all too easy to take for granted.”

Jimmy D. puts his cup down, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Jimmy D. put his cup down on the river-polished log he was sitting on.  I could tell he was weighing my words through his own sensibilities.  Before too long he turned back to me and said, “Fella, you just might have something there.”  He then began to explain a little more of his own life’s experience.

“When I was a young man I couldn’t wait to leave this little town and experience the wider world.  I thought my chance would come during World War II.  All my friends who were of age (and even a few who looked older than they actually were) were joining the armed services.  I decided that this would be my ticket out too and I tried to enlist.  As it turns out, I couldn’t pass the physical on account of having one foot larger than the other!  I tried not to get discouraged and wanted to do my part.  So, I walked next door (bum foot and all) to Jeffersonville and joined up with Jeffboat.  I learned how to weld, which became my profession, and helped build the LSTs (Landing Ship-Tanks) that made the invasion of Europe a success for the allies and the free world.  I realized that even from the comforts of my home, I could help shape events in far away places.  After the war, my wanderlust had diminished considerably and love found me. After that there was a family of my own to take care of.  I stayed on at Jeffboat and helped make them the largest inland ship builder in the country.  I can’t recollect how many towboats and barges I helped construct.  And when it was my time…I retired and that is why you are finding me sitting on this log.  I can honestly say I have no regrets for how my life turned out.”

Jimmy D. lights his pipe, Sept. 2014

My new friend then pulled out a blue-colored pipe with a long stem and lit it.  A puff of white smoke was quickly dissipated by a light, passing breeze.  Jimmy D’s pipe kept going out and so I offered to help.

Me helping to light Jimmy D.,s pipe, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

My new friend thanked me and asked to hear something about my own story.  I obliged him although as a rule I’m not all that crazy about talking about myself.  I said that like him, the military factors into my life.  My dad was a career soldier and our family shuttled back and forth between the United States and Europe.  It was great being exposed to so much history and culture, but as a kid I wondered what it would be like to have a deeper relationship with my extended family?  My mother is Dutch.I was born in Amsterdam.  My dad’s family hails from the New York City area and we have relatives in southern New Jersey.  Seems that we only saw our relatives when we were in transition from one place to another.  I grew up without having life-long friends.  After art school, I settled in Louisville, Kentucky and have been here going on thirty years now.  My two sons have had the nice experience of getting to know my wife’s family and so have had the reverse experience I had.  Much about the art I make revolves around a sense for place and seeing the value in materials that are considered worthless.  A lot of what I do is about being in the moment which is why encounters at the river are so valuable to me.  Jimmy D. just nodded and took another drag off of his pipe.

Profile of Jimmy D., Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

It’s funny how often I have been willing to reveal some detail about myself to a complete stranger…especially if we are traveling together and there is little chance of running into one another again.  I have had some great conversations with persons unknown to me while sharing rides on European trains.  I suppose after conversations that might be of an intimate nature, can you truly say you are still strangers to one another?  Jimmy D. and I alternated our conversation with just staring at the river going by.  The Ohio River may not be a train, nevertheless, it is moving on a journey of its own.  You can tell when two guys are comfortable with one another if time goes by and neither feels like they need to say something.  When the tobacco was spent from the pipe, Jimmy D. knocked the ashes against the log.  Among the last words I recall from our meeting at the river came from Jimmy D.  “I’m an old man now and my time is coming.  I hope my ashes will get the chance to mingle with the river.” I completely understood and wish for something similar for myself.  I like the idea of merging with nature with the chance to become part of something else.  I left Jimmy D. where I found him waiting for that train that will take him to the ocean and the wide, wide world beyond Clarksville.

Jimmy D. by the river, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

 

 

Micro Polo alone on the ocean, Aug. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

Of all the names from the distant past, few shine as brightly or are as well remembered as that of the legendary explorer, Micro Polo.  Rest assured, he must have been an actual person because too many stories and discoveries have been connected with his legacy.  A few rare, hand-copied journals have been preserved in some of the world’s most obscure libraries documenting his remarkable life.  An intrepid traveler and explorer, it is said his ambition was to take the measure of the world even if he fell off its flat edge in the process!  Few individuals in recorded history have had the thirst for knowledge or have traveled so far in the name of adventure.  By far, the most unusual story that has come down to us comes from Micro Polo’s last adventure.  Widely believed to be a fantasy, a recent manuscript discovered in an ancient clay pot and buried for a millennia in the desert ruins of a forgotten city has resurrected the tale and its supposed veracity.  This previously unknown manuscript offers the most detailed version of Micro Polo’s last voyage and is augmented by fantastical drawings scribbled onto the margins.  We offer this contemporary retelling of this ancient tale for your amusement.

Micro Polo alone on the wide ocean, Aug. 2014

On a moonless and cloudy night upon the open sea…tragedy struck!  Micro Polo’s sailing ship caught fire and sank on what would be his final voyage away from home.  There was barely time to escape and a life raft was quickly thrown overboard.  Only three scared and injured sailors including its captain, Micro Polo, climbed into this bobbing cork before the last of the fiery masts disappeared beneath the waves .  During the next week, one sailor perished from his burns and another went mad from thirst and flung himself into the waters never to be seen again.  This left Micro Polo alone in the raft as he drifted with the currents to points unknown.  He resolved to survive and thoughts of his family back home kept him alive.

Micro Polo and his raft, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo survived by catching unwary seabirds that landed on his craft and by collecting rainwater from passing showers.  It was during the second week of his ordeal that our hero noticed a fresh change in the surrounding air.  Around him floating in the water were bits and pieces of vegetation and he knew he was near land.  Spying terra firm and the entrance to a large river that flowed into the sea, Micro Polo furiously paddled and reached the shore of a completely unknown world.

Micro Polo finds land, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo's beached raft with paddle, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Upon setting his feet upon the solid ground and through parched lips, Micro Polo gave thanks to his gods and drank deeply from the fresh water of the river.  His spirits were uplifted!  He still had no idea whether or not he was standing on some previously uncharted island or land mass?  At this joyous moment, it did not matter where he was and Micro Polo was eager to leave the confines of the tiny raft and look for help and food.

Micro Polo and skeleton of a giant fish, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo had not travelled very far down the sandy beach before he realized that he had arrived at someplace extraordinary.  Before him laying on the coarse sand was the largest fish skeleton he had ever seen!  It was a monster and Micro Polo felt lucky not to have encountered him in the water.  The size of the creature’s mouth was large enough to have easily swallowed the explorer!  Judging from the scales and boney plates, Micro Polo thought this behemoth resembled the common carp of his home country.  Soon our hero would come upon many other large and unusual sights.

Micro Polo with large white flowers, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo next to giant Rose Mallow, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

The vegetation of this new land was outstanding!  It was verdant and outrageously populated with the largest blooms imaginable.  There were immensely long vines and grasses as tall as trees!  As he walked and explored this oversized garden, Micro Polo noticed that like the fish he found…many of the flowers of this new land resembled varieties that he was somewhat familiar with and had grown at home.  Over here were giant morning glories and could this be some new type of gigantic rose mallow?

Micro Polo and field of giant loosestrife flowers, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Wandering further afield, Micro Polo came upon a clearing populated by a large stand of loosestrife flowers. The purple color of the flowers was intoxicating and the explorer could not take his eyes off of the huge butterflies as large as eagles sipping nectar from the blossoms.  In addition to being a riot of color, the loosestrife flowers were alive with the buzzing sounds of hundreds of insects flying around.  Here Nature was undisturbed and at peace going about its business.

Viceroy butterfly on loosestrife flowers, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Cabbage white butterfly on loosestrife, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo recognized the Cabbage White butterfly from his homeland, but there were many new species here and all the more remarkable for their immense scale and beauty.  The insects (including some very large bumblebees) all left the traveler alone as they were preoccupied gathering nectar and pollen from the flowers.  As the sun was setting, Micro Polo began to get very weary and he sought out a place to spend the night.

Micro Polo among the roots of a giant tree, Aug. 2014

Of all the immense delights of that first day, nothing struck Micro Polo with more awe than the size of these trees.  The roots alone were thicker around than a man’s body.  The captain in him noted that a single one of these gigantic trees would provide enough lumber to build a single new ship.  For now, he would be happy to take shelter for the night under its huge and leafy canopy.  He found a nice safe space protected by interlocking roots and decided to settle down for the evening.

Micro Polo with a large yellow leaf, Aug. 2014

To pad the ground for sleeping purposes, Micro Polo gathered the immense yellow leaves that were lying around the tree.  There was an intoxicating spicy smell from sleeping upon a bed of leaves and our intrepid explorer barely registered the distant thunder storm that was approaching before falling asleep.  Micro Polo was so fatigued by the excitement of the day that the brief but intense rain showers were not acknowledged at that time.  The explorer later recalled that this was the most restful night of sleep he had ever had.

Micro Polo the following morning., Aug. 2014

The following morning was wet from dew and the previous night’s rain.  Micro Polo decided to get up at first light and further explore this unbelievable landscape.  He found some greens that were palatable and had breakfast.  Later he crossed over an area that was rocky and had large deposits of driftwood bleaching in the sun.  Thus far, he had seen nothing that made him think that he wasn’t the only person walking this land…but that was about to change.

Micro Polo and the giant sandal, Aug. 2014

Tangled up in the driftwood were certain outsized objects that looked like common household items that had been carelessly thrown aside.  Micro Polo came upon a large black sandal that was as long as his body!  There were other fragments whose purposes and materials he did not recognize.  Not far from this discovery, he came upon this find.

Micro Polo with large toothbrush. Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo recognized this an implement for cleaning one’s teeth, but on a gargantuan scale!  For the first time since arriving on these shores, the explorer began to fear and have doubts.  It was now clear that a race of giants also inhabited this land!

old firepit, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo decided to return back to the area where he first landed.  Along the way, he passed by what he previously thought were the possible ruins of some kind of stone fortification only to learn upon closer inspection that it was the remains of someone’s old camp fire.  There were immense charred logs within the stone ring.  Our explorer decided to hasten his step back to the raft.  He had no desire to see what type or kind of “man” could work on this scale!  Micro Polo was also determined not to become either this race of giants next pet or worse yet…a meal.  He had seen enough and was ready to take his chances upon the sea again.

Micro Polo with plucked morning glories, Aug. 2014

All manner of bizarre thoughts crossed over Micro Polo’s mind.  Had he in fact landed on some fantastic island or continent of giants?  Or, was it possible that by some unknown method or means that his very being had been shrunk down in size rendering him diminutive?  Could prolonged exposure to the elements while on the raft have this effect upon him?  Regardless, if he were to return home he would need proof of his latest and perhaps greatest discovery.  Thinking quickly, Micro Polo tore off a length of morning glory vine with blossoms and threw it across his shoulders.  He would take this plant specimen home with him or perish in the process.

Micro Polo looks for his raft, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

When the great explorer reached the spot where he thought he left his raft…it was nowhere to be seen!  The rain storm from last night had swelled the volume of the river and the raft, left unsecured, simply drifted off.  Micro Polo was in a panic and searched up and down the riverbank, but the black craft that bore him to safety once before had simply vanished.

Micro Polo and large white bowl, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo and his new "boat", Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

As the story continues, many hours and several miles or kilometers later…Micro Polo came upon an artifact partially buried in the sand that would save him.  It had been shaped by the giants and had probably served as a bowl or at least it looked like one.  Being a resourceful individual, Micro Polo had the great idea to use this bowl as his getaway vessel.  He gathered up some provisions for the journey, wrapped the now wilting morning glory vine around his body and launched himself back upon the waters.  He would trust that whatever mysterious forces brought him here would also return him home again.

Micro Polo homeward bound, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo was discovered adrift after several weeks by a passing merchant ship and he was taken back to his homeland.  The sailors that found him reported that he was speaking gibberish and hallucinating badly.  All his provisions were gone along with the morning glory vine which he had eaten when nothing else edible presented itself.  He kept telling anybody who would listen about this fantastic land of giants he had discovered, but nobody believed him.  Those with a kind heart and ear just let him go on with his crazy story.  Eventually, Micro Polo’s health returned to him with his family’s care, however, his days of great discoveries were over.  The famed explorer spent the rest of his life chronicling his adventures in his notebooks and navigating the known world through hand drawn maps and charts spread out upon his library’s wooden table.  In the many years that passed, nobody else came across Micro Polo’s land of giants…however, people had a devil of a time explaining where that odd bowl-like boat came from?

Rose Mallow, side view, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

Head in Hand, Aug. 2014

Each trip I take to the Falls of the Ohio results in lots of other images recorded on site.  Although I may think all of my photographs are interesting in some way, for brevity’s sake…they can’t all make it into a post.  If a storyline develops while I’m at the river, I will try to prioritize that and hope that at some other time in the future some of these other photographs will fit in somewhere?  This post is an attempt to include some of the other pictures that were taken during my last excursion to the river.  Although that visit resulted in my last published post about this tiny artist persona with a penchant for creating micro installations with plastic cup lids and straws…there were a few other sights at the river that caught my eye on this day.

Wild Potato Vine bloom, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

The Wild Potato Vine is a common flowering summer plant at the Falls.  The flowers are large and its leaves are heart-shaped and grow on very long vines.  This plant is named for the large tuber it produces.  I’ve noticed that out here, these large blooms attract large bumble bees.  This is a genuine and indigenous wild flower which contrasts with my next discovery.

Yellow-flowering Mud Nymphea, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

In a pool of stagnant water I came across this other interesting bloom.  Don’t bother looking it up in a field guide to flowers because you won’ find it.  I discovered it and so I take credit for naming it.  I call this the “Yellow-flowering Mud Nymphea” and it “mimics” members of the lotus family.  This plant has a single leaf that floats on the surface of still water or upon particularly juicy mud.  Rising from that leaf is a large blossom (about the size of a child’s hand) that is a dingy yellow color and the petals have a cloth-like texture.  Most fascinating of all…there are fake droplets of water that “bead up” on the individual petals.  Imagine if you took hot glue and applied small drops to the petals…well, it would look a lot like what is happening on this plant.  Knowing how this plant functions out here will require additional study.  The Falls of the Ohio is a highly disturbed place and oddities are springing up all over.  This just happens to be the latest mutant plant to add to a growing list.

Grass growing from small hole in a plastic, toy wheel, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Another topic I have explored in a past post see “Life in a Bucket” are real plants that grow in less than promising circumstances.  Like many people, I have marveled at how plants can grow in narrow cracks in the sidewalks. The next trio of images are related to that phenomena.  On my last adventure, I found three examples to share with you that demonstrate how opportunistic life can be.  The image above shows a couple of sprigs of grass that are growing out of a small hole in a plastic, toy wheel.  The wheel was probably originally part of a child’s tricycle.  Over time, the detached hollow wheel filled with dirt and silt and retained enough moisture to allow grass seeds to germinate.  Next is another wheel/plant combination that I see more commonly in the park.

Tire garden, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

This is a tire garden.  Because old, ruined automotive tires are frequently thrown in the river (out of sight, out of mind) they frequently wash up here.  Over time, they sink into the sand and mud and are very difficult to move.  Opportunistic seeds colonize the central space where wood, silt, and other nutrients collect and before long you have a mini ecosystem growing out of a circular island in the sand.  My next image is an amazing willow tree that I have posted images of before.  Let’s look at how it is doing this year?

Willow tree growing out of a tire, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Amazingly, this willow is growing through the metal holes of the wheel.  Previously, I had speculated on whether or not this tree would lift the tire into the air as it grew or be choked to death as the holes became too small?  This year’s seasonal flooding has tipped the wheel up on one edge and exposed the roots of the tree.  So far, it appears to be okay.  I will be keeping tabs on this tree to see how it fares in the future.  How the natural and artificial come together in the wider environment is an area of great interest for me.  Our next example is a good illustration of this.

Willow roots and strands of frayed barge cable, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

willow roots and barge cable merge, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

I walked passed this willow tree and noticed that a frayed, root-like, barge cable was intertwined with the living tree’s root system.  Perhaps it’s the cable’s bright colors contrasting against the natural tones of the willow roots and earth that give it an aggressive appearance to me?  The actions of the river help unravel these large nylon ropes used to moor and secure very large barges.  Interestingly, I have seen various bird species hasten this process by picking apart the fibers for use as nesting material.  The Baltimore Oriole is especially good at this and uses the colorful fibers in the construction of their hanging basket nests.  The Ohio River, per tonnage moved, is one of the busiest waterways in the world for commercial navigation.  I find the remnants of old barge cables frequently washed up upon the shore and buried in the sand and on occasion have integrated them into different projects.

Soft drink can in the water, Aug. 2014

Sometimes it’s just the incongruity or coincidence that I feel just finding the trash in this context.  The photo above finds a partially crushed “Sunkist” brand soft drink resting upon a piece of rusty-colored concrete in the water on a sun-kissed day.  I later noticed at home, the small damselfly that is also resting on the concrete.  Do you see it?  Or, how about the next one?

squished plastic "Real" lemon juice container, Aug. 2014

Washed ashore upon the fossil rocks was this smashed plastic lemon.  It once contained “real” lemon juice.  Over the years, I have found many of these lemon-shaped bottles.  What I find interesting here is the presented combination of image and substance…a plastic lemon that once held genuine lemon juice.  It doesn’t take much to pique my interest!  I never know what I will find on any given day at the Falls of the Ohio.  The river washes in “fresh” material on a regular basis.  The river is like our subconscious and who knows what lies below its depths or floats upon the surface to be discovered by someone walking its shoreline?

people fishing at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Note on wood piece, Aug. 2014

A hot and sunny August morning and over Louisville’s rooftops I could hear the river’s siren song calling my name.  “Al”…Al…where have you been?”  The call was getting louder and more irresistible by the moment.  What’s a fella to do but heed the call?  I slurped down the last of my cold coffee, gathered my collecting bag and walking stick and twenty minutes later I transported myself to the Falls of the Ohio.  The river was receding into its summer pool and most of the riverbank was now exposed.  Here and there fishermen were trying both their luck and patience.  If birds could laugh, the numerous herons were enjoying themselves for it looked to my eye like they were having more success than the other bipedal hunters holding long rods and bait buckets.  I did a quick look around the old railroad bridge, filled a found, empty, glass liquor bottle with coal pebbles and headed for my spot under the willows.  Among my stash of Styrofoam and driftwood I came across a piece of wood I had previously picked up…and found this simple message written in ink… ” Hi Al”.

My stash of found art materials, Aug. 2014

Whoever penned this simple note at my discovered spot remains a mystery.  In my mind, I associated it with any of my many artist friends who also find inspiration among the driftwood…but it could have been the river too.  This place has been utilized by artists for many years.  Each new generation seems to discover this place for themselves and I hope it always remains this way.  I lingered under the shade for a bit and watched a mix flock of chickadees, warblers, and gnatcatchers move through the tree canopy.  With the show over and satisfied that my haul of river junk with all of its latent potential remained in place…I headed back into the bright sunlight.  Other mysteries and visual delights would await me.

plush Tasmanian Devil toy, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

Imagine coming face to face with the Tasmanian Devil!  Well, I did and lived to tell the tale.  Actually, this plush toy (which I found face down) was quite small and easy to overlook upon the driftwood.  Seems I’m always finding cartoon characters out in this landscape.  I suspended him by his arms upon the exposed roots of an overturned tree stump.  Someone may find him and give him a new home…or he might just fall apart over time eventually finding his way back into the river?  Walking through the sunlit clearings between willow stands, I came across this interesting found composition.

Upright red straw and cup lid with willow stumps, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I must have stared at this for an indeterminate amount of time?  Perhaps it was the upright and very bright red plastic straw that caught my notice?  Or, it could have been the very careful placement and arrangement I was discerning?  I felt I was looking at a rather intimate and odd bit of public art.  I found myself thinking…why didn’t I think of this!?  In my heart and mind I saluted the anonymous person who created this scene and walked away appreciatively.  A little further down the riverbank I came across a similar example.

Plastic straw and cup lid wedged in rock crack, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Wedged in a limestone crack was another plastic straw and disposable cup lid “sculpture”.  This time the straw was white with red stripes running down its length and the lid was an opaque white color.  Like the previous straw sculpture, this one seemed to activate the space it occupied and caused me to notice what else was happening in this micro-location.  The remains of ancient horn corals that lived in a shallow sea millions of years ago were preserved on the surface of the stone.  The straw was strategically placed in a deep silt-filled fissure which was the only place that would allow it to stand upright on this hard rock.  Finding a second upright straw and lid piece confirmed that the first one was not just a happy accident.  There was someone moving through the area with a purpose.

Upright red plastic straw with clear cup lid, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I soon came upon a third straw and lid site specific piece and it was different from the others.  While it was also made from plastic, the lid was clear and in the strong sunlight cast the most wonderful shadow upon the sand.  It occurred to me that I was following a fresh trail because the slightest bit of wind could easily knock these ephemeral works over.  I kept walking and as luck would have it, I came upon the artist responsible for these creations.

artist with orange hand on his head, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

With a big blue smile a diminutive persona standing at the edge of a stand of willow trees greeted me with a friendly wave of his thin stick arm.  He sported an orange hand symbol on his head and had very dark eyes as I recall.  He had a blue-collar around his neck and a yellow belt around his waist.  Otherwise, he was wearing nothing at all!  I heard him say that he had watched me from a distance checking out his last piece and what did I think of it?  I told him that I loved the simplicity of his works and admired how his careful placement made me more aware of the locations where they were sited.  They were such simple gestures made with the most economical of means.  I went on to gush about how surprisingly sophisticated I thought they all were, but he just stood there smiling.  It was then my turn and I asked him how he came upon the idea?  He said it happened quite by accident.  Reflexively, he set the first one up without any thought and liked the result.  On a hot, sunny day…it reminded him of an umbrella set up on a beach which further reminded him of a family vacation he made as child the first time he saw the ocean.  The other straw and lid pieces became tops spinning in his mind and on and on, but most of all…he was doing this to have fun.

artist with straw and lid sculpture, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I asked if it would be all right to tag along for a short while with him and he said that it would be fine.  We passed by one of his earlier projects and I snapped this quick picture. He was looking to make another piece or two and there (unfortunately) didn’t seem to be any shortages of straws and lids to work with.  The artist recognized that these elements were not supposed to end up here.  Setting them upright was also a good way to get other people to notice these things and perhaps give a thought or two about the state of the environment.  We eventually worked our way back to the water.  Sure enough, my little friend found another straw and lid along a trail frequented by fishermen.

The artist and his materials, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Just as the artist was about to plant his new-found straw and lid into the moist ground…a nice group of people came over and greeted us.  There were two brothers and a sister and a family friend who was taking them to the river to hang out and enjoy themselves.  They had also been collecting river junk and specifically looking for small, intact, glass bottles.  They were curious about the little artist and we talked for a while about being creative.  The group expressed an appreciation for recycling and reusing the cast off stuff of the world.  They asked if it was all right if they could pose with the artist to take their own pictures.  Here are a couple of those images.

Posing for pictures with the artist, Aug. 2014

The artist posed with his new family, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

The youngest of the group then asked if it was okay if the little Styrofoam artist went home with them?  There seemed to be no objections.  The little man with the orange hand on his head was open to anything.   I, however, did ask for a few things in return.  The first was that a nice piece of wood be found out here that would make a good base so that the figure could stand upright.   The second request was that a little bit of craft glue be used to hold all the loose parts together.  Doing these things would make the figure last a bit longer and remind the family for years to come of this time they spent together at the river.  I thought this was the perfect ending to a most entertaining day.  So long for now from the Falls of the Ohio.

Portrait of the straw and cup lid artist, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

Map detail of the Falls of the Ohio State Park

Most of the work that I have created at the Falls of the Ohio State Park was made between the two “P’s” on the above map detail.  I lifted this image from a recent brochure about the Ohio River Greenway.  I’m just noticing that the word “park” has an “e” at the end…what’s with that?  Is this a variation of Ye Old Park(e) or a simple misspelling?  Anyway, the green line that separates the dark blue river from the blonde fossil beds is the area I walk.  Most of my river finds and the pieces I make from them occur in this area.  The thicker black line is the old iron railroad bridge that I have  featured so often throughout this blog.  It’s been a while since I posted anything new here.  In fact, since I started the old riverblog, this is the longest I have gone without posting something.  I have had a series of misfortunes that have dented my mojo with the biggest being losing my day job.  I’m not one that easily compartmentalizes my life and occasionally things spill over and affect other areas.  Among the other changes included having to purchase a new computer.  It’s taken a while to get used to doing things in a different way.  I’m still in the process of transferring images and data from the old machine to the new one.  I have too many images that need parking in a “cloud” somewhere.  I debate with myself whether or not I absolutely need all of these pictures?  I do harbor the ambition to produce a book or two about my stories and collections, but I’m sure I have enough material already.  This blog after all, has over 3,ooo images that I have already published.  What it doesn’t have are the first five years or so of this project that are recorded on 4″ x 6″ color prints that were developed at the local drugstore.

At the water's edge, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

Although I haven’t posted much recently, I am still going to the river.  It’s been an unusual year out here and for much of this spring the river has been high.  Summer is now upon us and with that comes the high heat and humidity.  This adventure happened in early June after the willow trees had fully leafed out.  I believe this is also my first post using just images recorded with my cell phone.  I now have a new Nikon my brother gave me as a birthday present.  He is an avid nature photographer living in Florida and had a spare digital SLR he could part with.  I can’t wait to try out the new camera at the river and I hope to do this soon.

Old willow tree at the Falls of the Ohio, 2014

willow tree detail, 2014

I have really fallen in love with this old willow tree.  Last year, I photographed my “La Belle Riviere” piece using this tree as my model.  This tree is a survivor.  It’s managed to go through many floods and while it is severely bent over and its roots are exposed…it keeps on living and adding character to this landscape.  I have noticed that the center of its trunk is starting to hollow out a bit.  I wonder how long this willow has held this ground?  I was musing about these things when I noticed movement in a nearby stand of mixed maple and willow trees.  I picked up my collecting bag and walking stick and quietly moved over to investigate.  I was quite unprepared for what I was about to discover!  Here are a few of the first images I made of my new find.

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

It was another giant spider!  I recalled that it was about this time last year that I encountered the Giant Driftwood Spider which is a completely different animal from the spider I was looking at now.  It’s body was a bit over two feet long and a mottled white in color.  This seems to be another example of what I have come to coin as the “Falls of the Ohio Godzilla Effect”.  Over the years, this particular park has regularly produced freaks of nature.  The most striking of which are the giant insects (and now spiders) that pop up on occasion.  My theory as to why this happens here has everything to do with contemporary pollution and a degraded environment.  For some reason, arthropods in particular are sensitive to these ecological changes which can result in gigantism in these organisms.

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

Great Wolf Spider on a stump, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

I decided to call this the Great Wolf Spider, (Lycosa styreni).  Looking around, I could find no trace of a web and decided that this was a ground hunting species like other members of the family of wolf spiders, Lycosidae.  I imagined that this impressive spider subsisted upon the small mammals that it could capture within the confines of this park.  That would include many rodents including squirrels, rats, groundhogs, and perhaps the occasional beaver.  I also imagine that stray cats and dogs would be on the menu too.  This spider has large pink-colored fangs that gave it a somewhat bucktoothed appearance.  As long I kept my distance and did not make any threatening moves…the spider tolerated me.  I also noticed that this amazing creature also has unusual eyes.

Detail of Great Wolf Spider eyes, June 2014

From what I could discern…this spider sported four eyes total and all in a row.  It had two large and rather mismatched eyes.  One eye possessed a large red iris that leant a diabolical aspect to it.  On either side of these “great eyes” were two smaller, black vestigial eyes.  I wonder if the smaller eyes are used to detect peripheral motion?  It was disconcerting in the least to be the object of attention from these unblinking eyes.  I approached this spider with caution.  Although I was fearful once the spider moved…I, however, was never in any actual danger since the spider never took any aggressive actions toward me.  I was of course satisfied to keep my distance just in case!

Great Wolf Spider waiting in ambush, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

The Great Wolf Spider seen from behind, June 2014

My last images of this impressive arachnid show it blending into its surrounding environment.  The sun light filtering through the tree canopy produced a dappled light and dark pattern that helped camouflage the spider as it lay in wait of its next meal.  The only bit of movement that could betray it was the slight, subtle twitching produced by its driftwood-like legs.  It was at this moment that I decided to back off and head home.  I don’t know if this spider is a one of a kind creature or whether there are other examples of this species that could populate this park?  I’m inclined to believe that I was observing a single individual.  The question is…how long will it be before our continued abuse of the environment produces monsters we may regret?  Until the next adventure…

At the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

 

Louisville seen from the Falls of the Ohio, early May 2014

We have seen a lot of water flowing over the dam at the Falls of the Ohio this season.  The month of May has been punctuated by intense storms and ample sunshine.  Rainfall across the Ohio River Valley has been plentiful.  On this particular excursion, the river was high and many of the places that I like to sit and work were inaccessible.

wood and debris in the Ohio River, May 3, 2014

 

There was plenty of wood and trash in the soupy brown water and despite the beautiful sunshine, I was thinking that I might need to go home early today.  Instead, I decided to do a little exploring along the margins of the high water and see how far I might be able to go.

high water at the Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Skirting the margins of the high water, I was able to walk over logs and driftwood and reach small pockets of higher land that remained dry.  After initially feeling that my day in the park would be a loss…I started to feel excited again!  In part, this was due to the abundant bird life I was seeing and hearing.  This particular area has always been good for me and finding birds.  There is enough shelter here under the cottonwood trees and willows that provide relief from the wind and is close enough to the water.  Among the species I was encountering included this colorful grouping of birds: Baltimore Orioles, Northern Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Palm Warblers, Gray Catbirds, American Goldfinches, and a tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  Here’s an image I captured of a Gray Catbird singing.

Gray Catbird singing, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

These birds are very territorial and the males chase one another out of their areas when interlopers trespass.  Catbirds have a wide variety of sounds they make including a “mewing” call that reminds people of cats.  Usually, I hear catbirds before I see them.  Thus far, this has also been a good year to observe some warbler species.  Warblers are my favorite group of birds to see because they are diverse, beautiful, transient (they are famous for their long migrations) and challenging to photograph.  Here’s a picture of a Palm Warbler that I recorded on this day.

Palm Warbler, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

This guy hung around for a while.  The guidebooks say that this warbler species summers in the northern bog lands and really has nothing to do with palm trees. That was an unfortunate bit of naming.   The Falls of the Ohio are just one stop among many that this bird will make and I was glad to see him.  In addition to birds, I was also finding plastic junk and other bits and pieces including a miniature plastic banana…I’m sure you want to see that?

miniature plastic banana, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

This banana (my second of the year) will enter my Fake Fruits and Vegetables Collection which now numbers hundreds of pieces found in this park.  Here are other found objects, some of which I will use to create a new figure.

Found objects, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

And…here is the figure I constructed on this day.  He’s pretty outlandish looking and another in a long line of pieces that reflect how I feel about our species’ absurd handling of the environment.  For the moment, he remains unnamed, but if one comes to you…please share!

Unnamed figure, found objects from the Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Styro-figure with white plastic bleach bottles, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

He’s made mostly from insulating foam, plastic, and driftwood and sports one jaundiced eye and what appears to be a unique, pink moustache.  The area I was working in had so many plastic bottles lying around that my latest Styro-figure decided to put some of the colorful ones to use.  Every year, the park does its best to keep this special place clean and orderly.  Unfortunately, most of the trash I use and show originates elsewhere…mostly along the Ohio River flowing north of here and is carried to this down river location during flooding and high water.

small, plastic container, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

various colorful plastic oil containers, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Looking around the immediate area I was able to locate various colorful plastic oil containers and my Styro-figure decided to line them up for a photo opportunity.  Here’s the results.

Styro-figure with plastic oil container color spectrum, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

 

It’s an oily color spectrum of sorts.  The Styro-figure seemed happy with it and for this day…left it at that.  I have used this similar idea for other plastic found objects discovered in the park.

Styro-figure under the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Soon it was time to go home.  The day turned out to be a more creative and productive day than I originally thought it would be.  I gathered up my collecting bag, camera, and walking stick and made the very short walk up to the parking lot.  Looking back, I spied a Canada Goose taking advantage of the high water to feed from bushes it normally could not reach.  This seemed as good an image as any to end this post with.  Thanks as always for tagging along on another day at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Feeding Canada Goose, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

 

 

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