Welcome to my second look at wood as expressed at the Falls of the Ohio. The first post concentrated more on the river and water as an agent of change moving material through the landscape. This post looks more closely at the driftwood that gets stranded in this southern Indiana park. I once curated an exhibition at the Louisville Visual Art Association entitled “River Sticks” where all the artworks were made from locally procured driftwood. The majority of these works of art utilized raw, natural sources, but there is also wood in the mix of a slightly different character.
There is a wooden staircase placed here by the Department of Natural Resources (which maintains this state park) that is a popular access way onto the riverbank and fossil rocks. It is not unusual during bouts of flooding to see part of this staircase submerged by the Ohio River. During those moments, all you can do is look from a distance or visit the Interpretive Center.
Over time this staircase has needed frequent repairs as it gets battered by floating logs and tree trunks. Only after the water has drained away can you walk among the driftwood and see what else made from wood has been left high and dry.
Here’s a dramatic shot of a different staircase that has floated down the river and has been snagged by a willow tree. Objects stranded in trees bear witness to how high the river rose.
I frequently find wooden pallets and they get snagged in the trees too. This one is a little different in that it appears the tree is growing through and around this artificial form. Over time, the pallet will fall apart. Perhaps wood is wood, but one can’t help noticing how much milled and processed wood is a part of the mix. Here are a few other images showing this contrast between natural and man-shaped wood.
Sometimes it seems like there are enough planed boards at the Falls to build a small house. Fishermen and visitors use these planks to span muddy areas and puddles to keep their shoes clean and dry. All this wood is a disposable resource? I’ve seen visitors taking lumber out and I’ve done the same. I like using river-worn cut boards as bases for the Styrofoam sculptures I choose to keep. To me, even the smallest board tells a story of our relationship to trees and nature. I tell myself that someday I’ll make some rustic piece of furniture from this wood. The same processes that break a tree down in the river…do a similar “service” to disposed of wooden furniture.
Here’s a piece of a child’s crib or bed that I found at the river’s edge.
This is one of many table legs and turned pieces I’ve come across. Sometimes I pick them up and take them home. I’ve used them on rare occasions in my art, but I have also given many pieces to artist friends to see what they could make of them. I suppose I could make an homage to Louise Nevelson’s sculptures, but would prefer to create something more personal. Nevertheless, I have picked up a few wooden artifacts from the river and here’s how they look collectively.
I left the toes of my shoes sneaking a peak for scale! Here’s some of the hand-turned and machine-made table legs, chair staves, and spindles I’ve saved. These artifacts do break down over time and eventually revert back to nature. Now for a detail.
Here’s a slightly different collection of wooden artifacts I’ve saved over the years. Some things I recognize and others require pondering to figure them out.
The objects on the right are mostly finials from fence posts. The circular objects with the holes in them…I’m not sure how those were originally used? Could they be part of a float system for barge ropes or are they wooden wheels for toys…could they be lids for some kinds of containers? In this grouping I have also included a small rustic picture frame I found as well as a whittled stick I could tell someone cut and scored and is perhaps the most minimal artifact in my altered wood collection. I find many board fragments, but I kept one small piece because someone named “Bill” tried routing his name in the wood and drilled a few holes that became bigger as the wood softened and aged from exposure to water. This piece of wood exhibits several ways we leave our mark on nature.
I also have a sign collection that can be seen in my Pages section. Most all of them are also made from wood and were once part of this unusual driftwood mix that came from the Ohio River. I’m thinking of putting my found “Bill” board in that collection because it too is a sign of the times as we lose our ability and desire to write in cursive. Very few schools in my area even bother to teach this skill anymore.
Not all the driftwood in the river consists of logs, branches, and roots. Much of my riverblog bears witness to the extent our handiwork pervades the larger environment. What I see happening in my part of the world I assume is transitioning simultaneously across the surface of the planet. We have added our own distinctiveness to the overall material aggregate which challenges our now quaint notions of what is “purely natural”. I was right when I mentioned in an earlier post that the month of July would find a way to be memorable. It’s official now, July was our hottest month ever in what is shaping up to be our hottest year ever. Much of our country is experiencing an intense drought and so I end with a picture of what it looks like when there is too much water.