The Falls of the Ohio State Park is a place of discovery. So many new lifeforms have been described by science in the Devonian limestone fossil beds alone. And of course, the Lewis and Clark Expedition which both began and ended at the Falls of the Ohio did much to help illuminate the breath of this country. Magic keeps occurring in this amazing place and the following post is about one such recent and personal find…meet the aptly named “Smiling Tortoise”.
The Smiling Tortoise or Clemmys helmeti is a very rare terrestrial turtle now found in just one location in the world which is the Falls of the Ohio State Park. It was once presumed extinct. Since being designated an Indiana state park…this elusive reptile has been seen more often in the last ten years than in the previous hundred years before the park came into existence. Perhaps the added protective status has emboldened it to show itself more? Park visitors have supplied a steady, if still infrequent sightings of it to the staff at the Interpretive Center. Over the years, I have learned the best way to find something is to not look for it. That was certainly true in the case of the Smiling Tortoise. Although I have always wanted to see a living example, it took 14 years of patience before I came across one last November.
We have experienced the warmest and driest Fall season I have ever lived through in the Kentuckiana area. On such a warm November day, I happened upon a specimen that was gorging on bracket fungi growing on a decayed log. In my enthusiasm, I took plenty of images and perhaps got a little too close by picking this one up to examine it. I wanted to check out its shell on its belly or plastron to see if this individual had been tagged by the park naturalists when I carelessly picked one up. Despite its benign appearance, it possesses a strong bite from a large mouth and its neck can move whip-like as it turns to defend itself from a threat. I count myself lucky not to have lost a digit, still it bit me!
I cut myself with my trusty Swiss Army knife or get poked by something else sharp out here every once in a while and so I have a small supply of bandages that I always keep with me. Forewarned, but not undaunted, I carefully held the turtle by the top of its domed carapace and held it so it couldn’t reach me. Above, it is all white, but underneath, there is a little color. I didn’t have my measuring tape with me, but it’s roughly the size of your head. Here’s what the ventral side of the Smiling Tortoise looks like.
This marvelous creature sports a yellow tail which is stained by the turtle’s own urine and by a particularly musky gland found at the tail’s base. The plastron has this unusual design and its concavity told me it was a male. The reason for the slight indentation is to give a bit more of a “foot hold” when attempting to mate with the female of the species which of course, also possesses a domed shell. This specimen exhibited healed wounds on its feet perhaps when a predator decided to try to eat it? The fact that this one was still around testifies to the ability of this turtle to take care of itself. When I showed the park naturalists my images, they were pleasantly surprised to see that this specimen did not have an identification tag on it. So, this turtle was new even to them!
After carefully releasing the turtle, I moved away to a discreet distance to see what would happened next? I followed it as it moved through the woods investigating every groundhog hole and space around the trees and rocks, but what was it searching for?
Since this is still a cold-blooded animal, the unseasonably warm weather perhaps roused it from its winter hibernation or perhaps it was still looking for that perfect den or burrow in which to over winter? Not finding anything suitable, the Smiling Tortoise left the riverbank and headed back into the woods.
Along the way, I was able to observe a few additional behaviors. For the longest time, this tortoise regarded a hunk of river-polished Styrofoam. I saw it poke the waste polystyrene both with its head and front feet. When it didn’t respond, the Smiling Tortoise moved on. This next image is going to be a little harder to explain…take a look.
Well, your guess is as good as mine on this one! Even the park naturalists were at a loss. Something about this discarded large bottle of sports drink that floated into here from who knows where stimulated this behavior. The turtle unable to mate with this bottle left the area in obvious disgust as it hissed its disapproval. This was the only sound I heard it make.
With the day drawing to a close, I decided to say good-bye and good luck to my scaly acquaintance. I picked up my hiking gear and collecting bags and turned around and headed toward the Interpretive Center. I was feeling stoked by the experience! I hope the turtle eventually found an acceptable burrow and is fast asleep as a gentle snow now falls in Louisville. Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Absurd, animal art works, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, Artist at Exit 0, creativity, ecosytem, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, material culture, Photograpy, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Styrofoam | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, Devonian limestone, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, nature story, photography, polystyrene art, recycled art, repurposed art, sense of place, Smiling Tortoise, storytelling, Styrofoam, turtles | 2 Comments »
The Falls of the Ohio offers a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year. Whether you prefer light tackle action in the shallows or the pull from a fifty pound catfish while sitting on a boat…you can find that on the Ohio River flowing by Louisville. I always check out what’s happening on the riverbank when I come out here. I am especially interested in seeing what species are being caught and what’s being used to catch them. On this warm December day the action was happening in the shallows. Fisherman were using soft-bodied jigs to catch Sauger (a smaller relative of the Walleye) and this nice White Bass.
The White Bass, (Roccus chrysops) was first described by the eccentric naturalist Constantine Rafinesque who was familiar with the fish life at the Falls of the Ohio. The White Bass is a big river fish that is also found in impoundments. This fish can get to be 15 to 18 inches long and a maximum of around five pounds. We also have a smaller relative, the Yellow Bass that is also found in the Ohio River. Both species are related to marine sea basses and scatter their eggs without further care of their young.
Since there is a lot of fishing activity on the river, I also find a lot of lost fishing gear. Broken poles, snagged line, and lots of plastic fishing lures like this recent example. It’s very easy to snag and lose a lure in the rocky bottom out here. Usually, when I find a lure, it is minus its hooks which either have broken off or have dissolved away. I also pick up lost fishing floats and have been amazed by how much design variety that fishing tackle can encompass. On the negative side, I also have a fairly full sandwich bag of lead fishing weights that I have accumulated over the years. When the river is down during the height of summer, I will check out the dried holes in the rocky bottom that catch and tumble lead and other metals.
If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered by me for the quality of the fishing. I was able to catch three species new to me to add to a growing list of species I have documented at the Falls of the Ohio. Check out the next couple of images of a rare Ohio River Bowfin (Amia ohioensis) I angled from under the railroad bridge.
The Ohio River Bowfin is only marginally related to the better known Bowfin, (Amia calva). The Ohio River Bowfin has adapted its life to living in shallow rocky streams where it ambushes other fish, frogs, crayfish, and other river invertebrates. Uniquely, its anal and caudal fins have fused into one large fin that comes in handy for scraping out nests in the gravel bottoms it prefers to breed on. After the male entices the gravid female into his nest and with a little luck and persuasion, a clutch of about fifty eggs is deposited and fertilized. The male assumes all parenting duties. Can also be distinguished by it long slender body and bright orange-colored eyes. After a few pictures and measurements the fish was released unharmed back into the river.
On another river expedition in November, I visited a different Falls of the Ohio location near the Interpretive Center to sample the fish life there. Within a minute or two of my first cast I caught this near world record Copperbelly Suckermouth, (Catostomidae cupricana). I was using a hook baited with clam meat which is the principle food of this Ohio River oddity. The boats anchored in the river are probably going after large catfish. This view gives you a good indication of the body type that evolved with some fish that inhabit swift flowing water. Drag has been minimized and the pectoral fins are strong enough to anchor the fish in place as it hovers over the clam beds it prefers.
Here’s a symbiotic side note…several fresh water clam species use the Copperbelly Suckermouth as an intermediate host during part of their life cycles. The nearly microscopic clam larvae attach themselves to the fish’s gills where for a short time, the larvae suck blood and grow before dropping off the fish to complete their life cycles in the gravely bottom. The host fish are left unharmed during the process.
A sneak peek on why this species is called the Copperbelly Suckermouth. It’s undersides are a deep, rich, red to orange ochre color that is particularly intense during the Spring breeding period. The strong sucker mouth is located on the fish’s ventral side and is flanked by barbels that help it locate food in the river’s bottom. This was also strictly catch and release as was the case with my next fishy find. As with most bottom dwelling fish at the Falls, one should limit how big a meal you make from your catch. Toxins are more prevalent in the lower reaches which then are ingested and stored in the fish’s fatty tissues. This particular species, however, has minimal food value.
Another day and location at the Falls of the Ohio and another unexpected catch! Using a grasshopper I caught on the bank and a beaver-chewed willow pole I found nearby, I fashioned a rig with an old line and a hook and caught this Kentucky Killifish, (Cyprinodontidae gargantua) by jigging the grasshopper around the shadows cast by the fossil-loaded limestone. I dropped the grasshopper into just the right dark hole and pulled out this beauty.
This is a giant among the killifishes as most are under a few inches in length. Its blue eyes are distinctive. Small invertebrates in the form of insect larvae are its main food item, but experience has shown it will go for whatever it thinks it can swallow using its relatively tiny mouth. This fish has no food or sport value what so ever. During the summer breeding period, the males of this species can get very colorful in an attempt to impress. Still, a very nice way to cap the year with a new fish to add to the life list!
Fishing on Mars or the Falls of the Ohio? The setting sun has colored the dried riverbank a lovely Martian red. Here explorers are doing what we do…searching for life in the most promising place we know which happens to be by the water. I hope 2017 manages a way to be kind to our rivers and freshwater everywhere. I’ll end my fishing story with a look inside the box where I keep my found fishing lures. See you next year…from the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Absurd, animal art works, Art, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, creativity, ecosytem, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, fresh water, lost and found, Louisville, Kentucky, material culture, nature, nature photography, Ohio River, Photograpy, plastic, public art, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Styrofoam | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, creativity, Culture, earth, environment, fact and fiction, Falls of the Ohio, fishing, Fishing tackle, found fishing lures, Kentuckiana, life, material culture, nature story, photography, plastic, sense of place, short stories, storytelling, Styrofoam, White Bass | Leave a Comment »
It’s the end of the year and I have a handful of posts and projects I intended to present here before the date on the calendar changes. I will do my best to try to catch up. I’ll start with this outing along the Ohio River that happened in November.
I have finally had a bit of a lull from my day job and so I want to start catching up on posting images and stories of my Falls of the Ohio adventures over the last few weeks. It’s also a bit of a relief from the disappointing presidential election we have just endured. Hanging out at the river is always a good tonic for the soul. May it always be that for me and other “river rats” who are drawn to moving waters. For this post, I will concentrate on an assemblage I made using found bottles, jugs, and other plastic containers that I have collected from the banks of the Ohio River in this small state park in southern Indiana.
The Falls of the Ohio State Park is not a very big place as parks go, but it is a very historic and dynamic environment. I remember when I first started coming out here it really bothered me to see so much junk along the riverbank. It still does and I tried standard recycling before settling on making art from what others preferred not to see or acknowledge. What this unique space lacks in size, it makes up for by being a very dynamic environment.
For most of the year, the river behaves itself and lets the Army Corps of Engineers pretend that it is in control of its flow. Every once in a while, however, the river reminds us through flooding and by going around the barriers set in its way to control it. It is during these high water moments that all the rubbish sins of the world come down the river from environs both local and from parts north in our watershed. As this blog documents, I find “stuff” all the time and unfortunately discarded plastic is high on the list.
Here is found plastic that I brought back to my outdoor atelier under the willow trees. I didn’t have to travel far to pick up all I wanted. I realized as I drove to work this morning that my “outdoor atelier” is now under water. A few days ago, we finally received enough rain to raise the level of the river. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have tried to do anything with plastic on this scale. Only when I couldn’t deny the bright, unnatural colors any longer that it occurred to me to try to do something “artistic” with all this waste plastic.
After I have selected a site for a project. I move my materials to the chosen location and when I’m ready, I start sorting objects according to color. I like to reference the electromagnetic spectrum and rainbows because they are about light. Plastic is made from petroleum which is sun energy that has been harnessed by prehistoric plants and stored in their tissues. Over deep time, heat, pressure and the vagaries of geology either liquefies this ancient material into crude oil or compresses it into coal. It is interesting to think about how much our contemporary world is dependent on using the energy from our sun that shone millions of years a go!
It will be a leap for some, but “light” in my mind is not only a part of the problem here, but also implies a solution. We need to do a better job of using our innate creativity to capture the light of today’s sun. Leave that “ancient energy” in the ground and we certainly don’t need anymore plastic. Through a little trial and error, I found an arrangement that suits me. If I am lucky and park visitors or the river decide not to erase what I’ve started then I expand and tinker with my outdoor composition. If I’m correct, then this piece is already gone taken just today by the river. It lasted many weeks longer than I thought it would. Thanks for tagging along with me! Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Absurd, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, collections, creativity, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, lost and found, nature photography, Ohio River flooding, plastic, Plastic art, repurposed art, sense of place, Site specific art | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, discarded plastic containers, energy from light, Falls of the Ohio, life, nature, photography, plastic, site specific art, the Earth, the environment | 8 Comments »
Well, the season for grand political theatre is almost over. I’m feeling like most of the country who are so tired of the divisiveness that has defined this overly long election. Certainly, a major disappointment is the lack of any real environmental dialogue or engagement from either of the parties. Three national debates…and hardly a mention of climate change at all. We were much more preoccupied by Hillary’s emails than we are the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed a historic and negative 400 parts per million this year for the very first time ever! We have no idea what this will ultimately mean. We believe that this can’t be a good thing, but we are willing to take the chance? Do facts matter and are we close to a point where it won’t make much of a difference what we think and feel? Nature has her own schedule and we have been consistently wrong in guessing what time it is.
I find going out into Nature breathing deeply and keeping my eyes open helps a great deal. This is my restorative. Walking parallel to the Ohio River and atop the Devonian limestone, my eyes register the circling Osprey looking for a good fish in the shallows. The nearby purple loosestrife flowers are alive with insects of many species doing what is important right now which is attending to life. Cooling its feet in a shallow spring, I come across one of the park’s box turtles. I give it my full attention and love. It’s life amazes me. Once it was a leathery egg laid in a dirt hole. When it hatched, a tiny, nearly exact replica of its parents emerged from the shell debris and soil. Instinct led it to seek shelter and to react to that gnawing sensation in the pit of its stomach by eating something. It’s alive and has its own reality deeply rooted in the history of life.
Living with the seasons, the turtle puts on a new growth ring for another year of life. I have caught up to this one…decades after it left the egg. I feel at peace and a feeling of well-being when I see Nature going about its daily and routine ways of life. This is the way it has been before there was an us to proclaim ourselves to be the height and purpose of it all. One needs to go out into nature more to fully appreciate creation beyond the strictly abstract and intellectual.
Our ability to transform our world is so complete that we can use a material like crude oil to create plastic flowers! But should we and why would we want to in the first place? It is specifically the effects of using fossil, hydrocarbon-based energy sources that have led us to the situation we now find ourselves. Collectively, we have let oil and coal become more important than clean air and water. Here in Kentucky, the political campaigns are fueled by the so-called “war on coal”. What most people miss, is that this has less to do with environmental regulations and more with market forces. Coal is a dirty form of energy that has been supplanted by the use of natural gas which is much cheaper. Ordinary citizens are not taking down the old coal-burning plants and replacing them with natural gas burning utilities…big business is. Coal jobs started to really disappear when it was discovered that you could reach a lot of coal quicker and employ fewer miners with mountaintop removal. The fracking techniques used to obtain today’s boon in natural gas are also fraught with huge issues which are now coming to light.
We have the current and not fully resolved situation involving the Standing Rock Sioux people and an ill-advised and designed pipeline that the big corporate world have decided needs to go under the Missouri River. Despite all our vaunted technologies, we lack the ability to make a pipeline that won’t eventually break releasing its poison into the waters. What is so hard to understand about that? I stand with the people who know that clean water is life. For awhile, it looked like the Ohio River was making progress, but in a way, the changes we are seeing in the climate have affected us here. Currently, we have several large basin projects under construction in Louisville to deal with the reality that it rains more and a lot harder now which now overwhelms our sewers sending untreated waste directly into the river. It will take billions of dollars and a lot of resolve to fix this, but I suspect, we will limp along trying to convince the people who make money the measure of everything to act sooner than later.
So, here I stand on the wrack line between land and liquid. I will continue to come out here and record with my camera and pen, the anecdotal changes I see happening in the park. I come out here to challenge my creativity, see what there is to see, and restore my spirit. Ultimately, the quality of our water and the environment at large is a referendum on our collective spirit. We certainly have been found wanting and another election cycle is going by without so much as an acknowledgement that there are big challenges to the very substrate that sustains us all. I will try to curb my disappointment, by immersing myself in the moment. So long for now…until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Absurd, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, collections, creativity, driftwood, ecosytem, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, fresh water, Green, lost and found, Louisville, Kentucky, material culture, nature, nature photography, Ohio River, Ohio River flooding, photography, plastic, Plastic art, public art, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sculpture, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam, watershed | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, box turtle, Dakota pipe line, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Genius loci, material culture, nature versus culture, photography, power of place, sculpture, Styrofoam | 10 Comments »
We have had some stellar days of late with the air so crystalline and fresh that it has been an added bonus to be outside. The temps have been manageable as well. I began this post more than a week ago, but put it on the back burner until now. I am no doubt busier now than I ever have been (particularly at work), but I’m still finding the time to be involved with my own art. And I must confess…if I have to prioritize whether to stay home and work on a blog article or go to the river and participate in life at that level…well, I think you know what my answer will be! I have enjoyed blogging, but must admit to myself that what I do will never be most people’s’ idea of a good read, especially since there are now literally millions of blogs out there! I do still hope, however, to occasionally connect with folks who are creative and just plain interested in nature.
Recently, I went to the river to find a wealth of Rose Mallows in bloom. That is not always the case and there have been years when I did not see any. They have become among my favorite flowers that I can find at the Falls of the Ohio. Their blooms are huge and there is some variation in our native hibiscus. In a relatively small area, I found a patch of Rose Mallows showing off those colors which can range from a solid hot pink, to a snow-white blossom. Usually, most of the mallows will sport some combination of white or pink with a deep scarlet throat. I couldn’t help collecting a few seed pods and scattering their seeds in other locations I frequent at the Falls. I don’t think this is technically legal since there is a park rule against collecting wildflowers, but since none of their seeds went home with me…I’m hoping I’ll be okay to do this?
Late summer is also a good time to see which butterflies are around. The Falls of the Ohio certainly has its regular species who inhabit its various ecological niches. Here is one of the park’s Red Admirals and it is visiting a “willow lick” to drink up the sugary exudence seeping from a wound in this tree’s bark. These wounds occur in various ways, but the most common one is with collisions with large floating logs that crash battering ram-style into these willows during flooding. This happens mostly in late winter or early spring and it is not out of the ordinary to have these willow trees be completely submerged by the Ohio River. These willow licks attract a variety of insects ranging from butterflies, ants, hornets, and many different types of flies.
Of course, every year is different from the last one and so far I have to say I think this has been just an average year for butterflies. Usually, one species will be found more commonly than the other species. For example, I can remember certain years where the Viceroy was the most common butterfly. I have also seen it when the small Pearly Crescent or the larger Buckeye Butterfly were the most plentiful individual species. This year I can’t tell that one species is more numerous than another. I like visiting the Purple Loosestrife stands particularly in the western section of the park during the height of their blooming period. I know this plant is highly invasive, but it also attracts a large amount of insects and butterflies in particular. Multiple species gravitate towards the nectar these plants produce. It’s interesting to watch different species feeding on the same plant like in the above photo. A skipper species (on top) and fritillary species (on the bottom) are coexisting on this flower because this resource is plentiful and the butterflies are focused. What these loosestrife stands also attract are predators. It’s common to come across large orb weaving spiders and praying mantises waiting to ambush a meal. I have come to think of these loosestrife stands as being important feeding areas for the Monarch butterflies that migrate through our area and this has mitigated my feelings towards this invasive plant.
Another reason to be feel grateful is that I have another solo art exhibition and it is currently up at the Artists’ Own Gallery in Lafayette, Indiana. It’s a co-op space and the duties of running the gallery fall upon the member artists. I was invited by one of the members to show at their downtown, Main Street location. The exhibit which is entitled “At the Intersection of Culture and Nature” features a selection of my Styrofoam sculptures along with a few more dye sublimation prints on aluminum I had made of site specific projects that are now gone. It is all stuff I have found and experienced at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. On the morning the show opened, I gave an artist’s talk and had a nice group present to hear more about how this work came to be. I even sold a few pieces to help offset the costs of printing my photos and renting a van to haul it all around! I really liked having the opportunity to show off my “Crying Indian” sculpture once again and it looked completely different in a gallery context as compared to where it was first shown outdoors earlier this year at Hidden Hills Nursery and Sculpture Garden. All the Artists’ Own artists I met were welcoming and I appreciated their hospitality! The exhibit will remain up until mid September and so if you find yourself in the area…please stop by and enjoy all the great art on display throughout this beautiful gallery. Meanwhile, back at the Falls of the Ohio…
On my first visit back to the river after my show opened, I had this general feeling of well-being. I went over to my stash of Styrofoam that I had collected this year and starting putting shapes together. I soon came up with the requisite head and body for a new and large figurative sculpture I wanted to make. The large chunk of polystyrene that I used for the figure’s body had been collected months ago, however, it was still a bit waterlogged and heavy to move.
Without doing any direct carving, I just accepted the forms that the river had provided for me and went with that. I did make a few small holes to insert the found objects that would serve as this figure’s features. The mouth is a piece of wood that looked like a “mouth” when I found it. The eyes are part of the hull of a Black Walnut that I split in half and inserted into the head. The nose is a bright orange, Styrofoam fishing float found that morning. For the ears, I used parts of the sole of an old shoe and then I added a small plastic ring to separate the head from the body which has become my custom over the many years of doing this activity. The rest is just driftwood picked up on site.
The resulting figure is much bigger than me and after I assembled it…I went scouting for a good location to make my pictures. As you may remember, the large piece of Styrofoam that is the figure’s body was water-logged and so I set it up relatively close to my outdoor atelier. Although the figure looks to be praying, what I was going for was a trance-like state of ecstasy? I know I have felt this sensation of being outside one’s self where you feel a part of or kinship with the other living things around you. Behind the figure is a large log with intact root mass that washed into here during the last good flood. In this photo, a small flock of Canada Geese does a respectful flyover of their own.
I seem to have started a personal blogging trend where my posts are getting on the long side! So, this looks like as good a place to wrap this up as any. By now, my ecstatic figure is probably history and martyred like so many other figures I have left in the park before. I tell each piece I make and leave behind that this will likely be its fate unless some kind soul takes pity and takes it home with them. These figures seem to understand. It’s all about being present in the moment when we are at our most alive. I have more stories to tell and art to share, but will hold of for now. Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Absurd, animals, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, ecosytem, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, material culture, nature, nature photography, Photograpy, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sculpture, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, Artists' Own Gallery, butterflies, culture and nature, ecological story, Falls of the Ohio, figurative sculpture, found materials, Genius loci, material culture, nature story, photography, purple loosestrife, recycling river junk, rose mallow, sense of place, site specific art, Styrofoam, the environment | 9 Comments »
I have always felt that if you did the research, you must publish your results. Here it is the tail-end of July and what?? not a single post this month from the Artist at Exit 0! Of course I have been out to the river on a couple of occasions and had a wonderful time. So far, it has been a relatively easy summer. We haven’t had spells of daily high temperatures pushing a hundred degrees that have marked some previous summers. Knock on wood. Every year and every season is different and 2016 will no doubt climatically distinguish itself locally in some way before this annual orbit around the sun is history.
According to the WordPress folks, this is Riverblog post #450! They are much better at keeping count than I am and so I will trust them on that. I mention this not in the way of a boast, but rather from personal amazement that I have found enough content out in the Falls of the Ohio State Park to help keep it going! I have a good friend who is also an artist and he used to blog on WordPress. He stopped writing right around his 500th post! He became a little disappointed that it was so time-consuming and didn’t lead to more sales or artistic opportunities. I guess he also got to a point where he had said everything he wanted to say? This post will combine a couple of river adventures together and is set for the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park. It’s getting to be high summer. I can tell by the heat and the blooming trumpet creeper vines growing on some of the cottonwood trees. Have you ever noticed that many of these trumpet creeper flowers have large ants in them?
Where moist conditions are prevalent out here, you will find great patches of Purple loosestrife plants growing under the cottonwoods and willows. The loosestrife is by far more common in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio. Despite being a very invasive species, they do add a beautiful pinkish-lavender color to the landscape and insects (particularly butterflies) seem to love their nectar.
I am sure to visit this area several times while the loosestrife flowers continue to bloom. Over the last several years, I have come across more butterfly species feeding off of these flowers including many swallowtail species (Tiger, Black Swallowtail, Spicebush, Pipevine, and Giant Swallowtail). These flowers are also favored by several different skippers which occupy this strange position between being true butterflies and true moths. It seems skippers possess qualities of both lepidoptera groups. Here is a nice Silver-spotted Skipper ( Epargyreus clarus ) I came across also feeding on the odd blooms of a Cephalanthus buttonbush.
There were other butterflies out on this sunny day, but I didn’t get good pictures of all of them. I did see my first Red Admirals of the year. I did manage this image of a Tawny Emperor ( Asterocampa clyton ) butterfly using the camera on my cell phone. It takes a bit of stealth to get the phone near enough to take a good image without scaring your subject away. Over the past two years, I’ve become accustomed to taking my cell phone with me on my trips to the river. I love that the device is so small, lightweight, and fits in my pocket and gives me a few more options than the digital SLR that I have. I have to imagine that these little digital cameras are just going to continue to get better and even more useful.
I am also on the alert for any bird movements or sounds in the area. On this expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I scored big by sighting two new bird species for my life list and getting decent pictures of both to show to any of you unbelievers out there! After walking in direct sunlight for over an hour, I decided to cool off by walking in the shade of the large cottonwood trees that grow along the edge of the river. I especially like the way this cottonwood tree fills the whole photo frame. When these trees release their fluffy, light seeds it can almost appear as though it is snowing in slow motion. The cotton fluff builds up and forms wind aided drifts on the ground.
I had directed my reverie up into the canopy of the trees when an unfamiliar bird flew just above my head. This bird is fast and I got a quick sensation of colors…light blue, white, and green. I was extremely lucky to get such good pictures of it in full flight. Check out how the tail feathers help with lift and aerial maneuvering…perfect for high-speed flight between the tree trunks.
I was elated when I realized that what just went whizzing by my ear is a species I have not seen in the park before. It has a couple of common names. Some people refer to it as the Cumberland Mockingbird (Mimus appalachians ) and around here I’ve heard people call it a “Mosquito bird”. This specimen was actively picking off in midair several small flies that I could detect in the sunshine flying over my sweaty head. The thought occurred to me that this bird and the Zika mosquito have moved into our area at about the same time.
The Cumberland Mockingbird seemed to be able to “read” the air and wind currents around structures like trees and high river banks. I observed it daringly flying and diving very near objects in its pursuit of an insectivorous meal. I saw it chasing another Falls of the Ohio specialty, the Eastern-eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus ). This is the largest member of the click beetle family and can get 2 1/2 inches long. It is said that its cryptic coloring is meant to mimic bird droppings. As it happened this beetle was able to escape becoming the Cumberland Mockingbird’s lunch by hiding under some loose tree bark.
These click beetles always seem to be out at the Falls of the Ohio during the summer months. They are harmless as adults. Their larvae grows in decaying wood and are carnivorous. Our area usually has an abundance of decomposing wood because of periodic flooding and the water-logged trunks that come with it. I decided to move out of the shade because the mosquitoes were catching up with me and using me for snacks. Not even an actively feeding Mosquito bird could turn these small flies away from their blood mission.
Returning to the sunlight seemed to do the trick of chasing the noisome insects away. I moved away from the shade of the trees and returned to the intermittent light by the fossil outcroppings nearer the riverbank. All was right with the world. A cormorant was swimming in the river as an osprey flew overhead with fish in talons. I was happily engaged in my little world…when I heard the most unusual animal call of all. I just had to find out what could make such a mournful noise! I found a likely spot along a trail and just went quiet and motionless. If the gods were with me then I had a good chance of seeing this mystery animal which was continuing its two-syllable call as it drew nearer to me.
There was a movement low to the ground and a parting of vegetation when a dingy white bird emerged onto the trail in front of me. It puffed its body up and displayed its tail feathers in a showy fan. A few wiry blue feathers on his head forms a crest that moves and down with the hopping dancing motion this species requires for courtship. With a certain amount of fanfare, my first ever “Dodo of the Ohio” ( Pseudo dodo kentuckiana ) let itself be known that it was looking for companionship. I had also found it in the context of a flowering and fruiting Passion flower vine ( Passiflora ) growing over the sand. A pair of round, green fruits seemed to be the object of the dodo’s attention. Our dodo is not at all related to the extinct species, but it is far from being a common bird. Fortunately, it can fly, albeit weakly. This at least keeps it off the ground while it sleeps at night. I watched the dodo for several more minutes before it flew off. The chance meeting of these two exotics was an amazing and unforgettable happening that helped make July an incredible month. See you again sometime soon from the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Absurd, animal art works, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, birding, birds and birding, collections, creativity, ecosytem, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, lost and found, material culture, nature, nature photography, Ohio River flooding, photography, plastic, Plastic art, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam, watershed | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, butterflies, creative ornithology, Dodo of the Ohio, ecostory, Falls of the Ohio, Genius loci, Mosquito Bird, natural and artificial, nature, nature and culture, plastic, rare birds, recycled art, sense of place, Silver-spotted Skipper, Styrofoam, Tawny Emperor, the great outdoors | 5 Comments »
I had an unexpected rendezvous at the Falls of the Ohio recently. I caught up with my friend Katinka as she was taking a walk along the riverbank. I have always loved the way she looks when the sun strikes her face at just the right angle and creates this wonderful glow about her. We are meeting by chance which is often the best way to go. The two of us decide to walk together for a while. She had an earlier start today than I did so I asked if she had seen anything on this beautiful morning that struck her as being memorable in some way? Immediately Katinka answered that there was a tree near the water that impressed her as being particularly heroic. Together we sought out the spot where it was rooted.
We don’t have to go far and as it turns out and I’m already familiar with this tree. It’s a Black Willow and it is growing through the metal holes of an old discarded car wheel. I noticed this one…and another similar tree growing through a tire in the western end of the park a couple of years a go. I can understand why Katinka thinks this tree is “heroic” as it tries to thrive while wearing a metal and rubber yoke. I keep wondering what will happen next as this tree moves through time? Will the limbs growing through the holes eventually get pinched off? Will the willow send out roots all around this wheel eventually elevating it off the ground? How is this tree going to accommodate this wheel?
I have documented this tree through a few seasons and so this was a good time to take a few early summer shots. The tree seemed healthy and was certainly taller than before. I noticed that after this year’s high water subsided, that the tree had shifted a bit as the tire settled into the earth. Linking the tire with the tree is an unusual union of the natural and artificial and Katinka agreed. She said that she couldn’t help but feel that the tree got the worst end of this bargain…but we shall see.
Katinka said she detected a theme developing and that she had witnessed other “unusual pairings”. She asked me to hold out my hand and on my palm, Katinka placed the soft, hollow, plastic body of a toy animal that was missing its head. She found this on the riverbank too. Interestingly, nature seems to find a way to express life and in this case, a small seed landed in the dirt that had filled the toy’s hollow body and had sprouted! This qualifies as a very small niche indeed.
I placed the plant/toy on the sand and then I wished it well. Simple as that. I followed Katinka to our next spot. She had seen something earlier and wanted to look at it again in case it was something that could fit the evolving theme of her tour of the Falls of the Ohio. After a little searching around the vegetation around the willows, we found what we were looking for laying on the surface of the sand.
Once upon a time, this was an object that required hook fasteners to adjust. In this found instance, the hooks from the cockle burr and other hardy plants have hitched a ride and their seedlings are using the man-made fabric for a substrate to germinate upon. Perhaps as the plant continues to thrive and grow, it can jump off its host by spreading its roots far and wide? I mentioned to Katinka that I knew a place that demonstrated a similar kind of union occurring between something artificial and natural and would she like to see that? It was just a short distance along the water line and the sound of the river filled up any need for conversation. The river can be satisfying in that way.
Reaching the spot, we could see a golden-yellow, tangled mess that was once a part of a large, tight, barge cable. At some point, the cable was cut and floated down the river and was now stuck joining two separate willow trees together. The yellow arc was swaying in the slight breeze. Subsequent floods and even birds picking on this large rope for nesting material have continued the process of fraying it. I thought there was something very art-like in the way this cable called attention to itself and the space around it. In places at the Falls of the Ohio you can find other trees that have snagged lengths of this synthetic barge cable in their exposed root systems and limbs. Here is another example of this as a river wave plays jump rope.
Both Katinka and I agreed that the snagged barge ropes offered us vivid examples of how the stuff we make interacts with the rest of the world. While we were looking at the ropes, a new protagonist arrived via a muddy Ohio River wave. A large plastic gasoline container became the latest piece of junk to become beached at the Falls of the Ohio.
So far, Katinka and I had spent the morning together looking at examples of how nature was dealing with us through our surrogates…the trash we create and discard. We both agreed that perhaps we should spend the rest of our time together just looking at the beauty that is nature. Although the Falls of the Ohio State Park is a rather small and some would add a rather limited place…I can usually find something that seems extraordinary and perfect in its own way.
Moving to the nearest decaying log I found a small and completely unfamiliar fungus seemingly bubbling up from the wood itself. All fungi have an important role to play and gives rise to the idea that nature’s creations are rarely superfluous like our own tend to be. I qualify that with a “rarely” since it seems to Katinka and I that what seems troubling about man is that out of synch quality with nature that we now seem to embody and in fact embrace. What was nature thinking about when it gave rise to us? The fungi have a purpose…what is ours, perhaps to usher in the next great period in the history of life?
One more small and seemingly miraculous discovery before calling it quits for the day. I spotted something moving over the shallow, water-covered fossil beds and a quick flash of the hand produced this freshly hatched terrapin. Katinka checked it out before releasing back to the same spot where I had found it. I hope it doesn’t run into any herons or raccoons that would make short work of it. This was a nice way to end the day! As my friend and I parted I watched Katinka as she immersed herself in a bed of violet flowering vines. Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Absurd, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, ecosytem, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, material culture, nature photography, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam | Tagged Art, art and nature, artificial and natural, artist at exit 0, barge rope, driftwood, ecostory, Falls of the Ohio, flotsam and jetsam, Genius loci, junk in the river, material culture, nature story, photography, sense of place, Styrofoam art, tree growing through a wheel, willow tree | 4 Comments »
Older Posts »