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Plastic Thumb Moth, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Beyond the Woodland Loop Trail in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio is where today’s river adventure finds me.  It has been many months since I last visited this side of the park.  I have been looking forward to walking on the driftwood that accumulates on this riverbank.  As always, I’ve got my trusty walking stick and collecting bag with me.  It’s time to find what there is to find and make something from that.  Right away, I found this plastic butterfly or moth (fireworks perhaps?) and enjoyed taking several images of it juxtaposed with the riverbank landscape.  Just a quick look around and I can see lots of plastic and polystyrene to potentially use.  I will also keep my eyes open for a good site to do one of my plastic arrangements that I have been having fun with of late.

Brown Bagging it, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I was fairly confident that I would find as much plastic debris on this shoreline as I had found in the eastern section of the park.  That would prove to be correct and I brought an extra collecting bag along to help with the gathering process.  I have been enjoying organizing the colorful plastic bottles and containers that I find into mostly chromatic and rainbow-inspired arrangements.  The driftwood and sand out here is unified in coloring presenting a monochromatic landscape where bright, colorful plastic notes sing out among all these lost trees.  You soon realize as you sort out the plastic from the driftwood, how much of our material culture is intermixed into everything else.

Found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan 30, 2016

Colorful, found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

After walking the high water line for a couple of hours, I dumped all the colorful plastic I had collected onto the sand.  I thought I had picked a good location that was between the water and the riverbank.   I picked up a nice plastic milk crate along the way to assist with the gathering.  I notice that I usually pick up intact items preferring them over plastic bits and pieces…although, I will use fragments too especially if they are a hard to come by color.  Most all of the plastic bottles and containers I find have had their labels washed off by the river.  I put a lot of trust in the cleaning power of millions of gallons of water.

Sorting plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Using the patterns and intervals of driftwood that the river had previously laid down here as a supporting structure where today’s found plastic is sorted by color and staged.  Here is where you might find out that you picked up more green bottles than yellow or that purple was that day’s hard to find color.

Found plastic on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Here’s a view looking eastward with a bit of the skyline of Louisville suggested through the distant trees.  From my experience, fewer people visit this section of the park and many who do often prove to be residents of Clarksville which is just over the flood wall.  Let’s show a few more images of how this piece rounded into shape.

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I like the big wooden beam lying parallel to the plastic.  Not all the driftwood out here is of the wild variety.  I find lumber cut-offs and planed planks of all kinds and have used them in my art as well.  These shots were taken on a beautiful end of the month day where we had a respite from the cold and grayness.

Western park plastic arrangement, Jan. 30, 2016

There was one large blue plastic drum that was buried in the sand and had water in it as well.  I didn’t like how it intruded into these pictures and so tried to take it away.  Well, it was much too heavy for one person to life out of the sand.  Fortunately, among the few people I did see on this day were old river rat friends who gave me a hand with this.  The blue drum nearly folded in half takes its position at the end of the line.

Variation on an image, Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30,2016

detail of Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I hung around and admired all the bright colors as they revealed themselves in a setting sun.  I think this is the most complex plastic assemblage (as far as variety and number of individual pieces used goes) that I have made thus far.  I will go ahead and tell you that this work no longer exists except as digital images.  Over the past week, we had strong rain storms that went through the Ohio Valley resulting in a high river.  Although the rains didn’t affect us directly, all the water that was dropped into the watershed caused it to inundate many of the familiar places on the riverbank that I like to work.  The river has been unpredictable of late and I have had at least three new projects washed away.  As I walked home, I did find an interesting bottle that I walked over before.  I’m fairly sure this is Fred Flintstone based on the diamond pattern on his “garment”.  A quick inquiry over the internet yielded some results.  This find was originally part of a four plastic baby bottle set that featured Fred, Barney, and their kids Pebbles and BamBam.  This vintage baby product was more than likely manufactured between 1977 and 1984!  I wonder if its possible for my find to be that old?  Judging from the wear and tear and severe fading…that’s a distinct possibility.  Happy with my new find…I dropped it into my collecting bag.  I think it is the unusual items I come across that make this such a fun way to spend time at the river.  With the sun going down, the temperatures are getting cooler…time to go home.  Until next time from an ever-changing Falls of the Ohio.

Very faded Fred Flintstone character plastic baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Fred Flintstone baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Trash intermixed into the driftwood, Jan. 14, 2016

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend I was able to make it out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park on a couple of occasions.  It helped that this was a three-day weekend.  I was curious to see what was lying around the riverbank after our first dusting of snow had blown away.  As I was expecting, I found a lot of plastic bottles and containers, Styrofoam, and plenty of driftwood.  I first inspect an area for the larger pattern left by the river.  The stuff that floats most readily often defines the high water mark on the riverbank.

Junk on the driftwood pile, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 14, 2016

This is a typical detail of stuff that builds up on a driftwood mound.  There are many automotive and boating references particularly plastic bottles that held various petroleum products.  There is also a wealth of plastic beverage bottles to illustrate the carelessness of some folks recreating on the river.  I have a mental image of this stuff eventually flowing downriver, into the Mississippi River, and out into the wider world through the Gulf of Mexico.  What I see at the Falls of the Ohio is only what I see.  I know there is a glacier of plastic and junk that by passes me and will show up somewhere downstream.  With each succeeding flood, I keep thinking that all the stuff that had been accumulating upriver has already been washed into the watershed.  That, however, doesn’t seem to be the case and the amount of “fresh trash” that shows up in the park seems not to have a limit.

Found yellow and green plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

Both days that I worked at the river were very cold ones.  The piece I made using found yellow and green plastic was the coldest with temps hovering around 10 degrees and it was colder than that with the wind.  After picking up what caught my eye, I retreated to my little studio area near the U.F.O. (Unidentified Floating Object) that is this welded and painted steel platform that washed into this area over five years ago.

Massed yellow and green plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

I saw a possibility in the space under the UFO that was formed when the river shifted the driftwood mound.  I cleared the space a little bit and found a plank and stump in which to set up what I would eventually call “Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic”.  All the bottles and other colorful plastic items were picked up in the immediate area.  The wind was really biting and so I sought shelter by the treeline.  It took a little patience to make this piece because the wind kept blowing away the lighter items.  Eventually, I fit everything together and held it in place by strategically using found bottles that still had weight to them because mud or sand had become their new contents.

"Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic", Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

My photos of this piece vary from one another because elements kept blowing off.  I was struck that I could make a colorful gradation using primarily yellow and green plastic found just in the willow habitat.  I favor doing these color pieces because they also reference the electromagnetic spectrum and without light, those ancient plants that lived and succeeded millions of years ago would not eventually become the crude substance from which these bottles were fabricated.  It’s interesting to me to think that much of the energy we derive from fossil fuels is captured starlight from an ancient time.  We owe it to the plants to be able to stabilize this energy through photosynthesis and fix it into their very tissues.

Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic by the old railroad bridge., Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

Studio view, Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

Eventually, the cold started to get to me and I was fast losing what little light was present on this day.  I might have moved the blue plastic drum out of the bottom picture, but it was frozen into the ground and full of sand and mud and would have been a challenge to lift.  After awhile, I began to like it for the additional color it lent this scene.  One thing concentrating so much color in one area does is call into attention the brown drabness that subsumes everything else.

Random, found plastic in red, purple, and blue, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 18, 2016

I returned to the river two days later.  It was still very cold, however, a big improvement over the previous day.  The sun was shining and the wind was absent.  Having completed and photographed one colorful plastic arrangement, I set about creating a new one in a different palette of colors.  Searching the area I decided to work at…I could see plenty of red and blue plastic items spread out among the driftwood.  It took me an hour or so to pull these bottles and objects together.  I wished that I might have come across a few more violet or purple items, but I guess these are colors that are used less than straight up red or blue?  I know that in terms of lightfastness, red and purple plastic fades away quicker than many other colors.

Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 18, 2016

Using a bit of the geometry I was feeling from the willow trees and the way the sunlight was hitting their trunks…I decided to site “Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic” on the sand.  There’s a distant view of the Ohio River through this informal avenue of trees.  Watching how the shadows of the tree trunks were being cast upon the sand was an important element in the overall composition of this piece.

Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 16, 2016

detail of Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic, Jan. 18, 2016

Among the items comprising this work are a blue plastic child’s putter golf club, the cap to a plastic cane that held Christmas candy and several flip-flops of the right color.  When I finished this piece, I left it in place as I did the other arrangement.  Perhaps the next time I return to this area, I may combine the two groups of plastic?  I could create another grand rainbow with the addition of finding more orange in particular.  I probably would throw in some black and white plastic items since they are here in quantity as well.  I felt relatively good about this weekend’s projects and some of the images that resulted.  When I am occupied with a project, I really don’t feel the elements in the same way.  I suppose there is a bit of mind over matter happening too.  When I do feel the cold, however, is when I decide to turn for home and come across a frozen sight like these containers locked in ice!  Stay warm and safe everybody…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Plastic containers frozen in ice, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 18, 2016

First Snow of 2016

First snow at the park, Jan. 12, 2016

The new year is off to an auspicious start.  First we had a bit of minor flooding that rearranged the park and the new and improved Interpretive Center has successfully opened.  I was curious to see what the river had left behind and make my first foray upon the riverbank and fossil beds.  On the day I had prepared to venture forth, well, it snowed the night before and covered many areas with a light dusting of what looks like confectioner’s sugar upon the landscape.

Artist at Exit 0 in winter gear, Jan. 12, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

I come prepared…mostly.  Even covered up, I could feel the wind and the cold which was blowing hard enough that it made my eyes water.  Reaching into my trusty Dutch field jacket, I pull out my vintage “Wind-Dodger” goggles and put them on.  I came across these goggles still new in their 1950’s box at a favorite junk store that is now gone.  They were manufactured by the Kono Manufacturing Co., of Woodside, N.Y.  I think the graphics on the side of the box sold me as to their value.  Printed in red ink it read:

“The scientific construction of the Wind-Dodger fits the natural contours of the features-providing maximum exclusion of wind and rain and all foreign particles in the air.  The elastic tape holds the Wind-Dodger firmly in place under every condition of work and play in all kinds of weather.”  I am a big believer in the value of science.

Further more, printed on the side of the box, was added they were suitable “For Work” and “For Play” and would be useful to railroad men, farmers, mechanics, construction workers, as they engage in sailing, hunting, fishing, flying, skiing, and driving.  It was a natural leap for me to assume that they would also be perfect for a river junk artist like yours truly.  One thing that the Kono Manufacturing Co. forgot to say is that they also steam up inside the goggles and require frequent drying.  Still, they prove to be better than nothing.

The scarf I’m wearing is the oldest piece of clothing I own.  It was given to me by a friend and artistic mentor back in the mid 1970’s and somehow I have held on to it over the years.  I realize that with a lot of the clothing I own…I can be ridiculously sentimental.

Snow on driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

The biting wind and cold are a concern, but so is the footing.  The snow covers up a multitude of sins that cannot be seen.  It is still slippery out here and in places the mud hasn’t completely frozen.  Much of what I think I can find out here will remain hidden until warmer weather returns.  But, I’m out here anyway and so I make a quick walk around some familiar places and record what I can with my camera phone.

Bent over willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

I discover that a favorite willow tree is now almost completely bent over and resting on the ground.  A huge log that the river deposited on top of this tree has shattered one of its main branches.  I suspect that it is not long for the world.  Spring flooding will repeat this battering process and I assume the tree’s prognosis is not good.  Of course, there are other things that present themselves in this frigid landscape that rode in with the high waters.

Purple plastic rocking toy, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

My eye is immediately drawn to this purple plastic “dragon” rocking toy.  I find another giant reptile reference on the rocks nearest the river and here it is.

Plastic dinosaur, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

This plastic sauropod arrived in a fresh water wave.  I believe this species was formerly called “Brontosaurus”, but has been renamed “Apatosaurus” since it was discovered that an earlier scientific find gave the new name priority over the older, more familiar name.  I briefly allow myself to soak in the irony of finding an object made from ancient petroleum that washed up on these even older fossil beds that references this prehistoric animal.  Heady stuff indeed!  Nearby, was my next find that continued this line of thinking.

Plastic, Shoveler duck decoy, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

And, what happened to some of the dinosaurs?  It is believed that they evolved into birds.  Right on cue, I find this plastic duck decoy!  It represents the male Northern Shoveler, (Anas clypeata).  I have found many other plastic duck decoys out here, but this is the first for this pretty species.  The winter river at the Falls of the Ohio is a good place to see different duck species.  In fact, winter may be the only time of year to see many of them.  The river is steaming because the actual water temperature is warmer that the surrounding air, but the wind is a little fiercer too.  I decide to keep walking and soon come across an old project I did from last year.

Site specific, green plastic bottle assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

Site specific, green plastic bottle project, Jan. 12, 2016

snow-covered, green plastic bottles, Jan. 12, 2016

I created this site specific piece using green plastic bottles after last year’s flooding.  It was sited high upon a big mound of driftwood that was too big for this recent minor flooding to affect much.  Originally, I had filled the underside of what I think is the remains of a boat dock with the green bottles.  Time has shifted the bottles to the bottom of the wood form.

snow-covered vines, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

While the snow is beautiful and transforming as these snow-covered vines can attest to….it is also getting ridiculously cold!  The fingers on my right hand hurt and sting from the cold because I have to take my glove off to operate my camera.  Soon images of a hot cup of coffee began to intrude upon my winter reverie.  It’s time to go home, but there was yet one more very pleasant surprise waiting in store for me.

Styro-Snowman in snow, Falls of the Ohio, jan. 2016

Styro-Snowman, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

As I was heading back to the parking lot…I came across an old friend whom I was happy to see!  We first met at the Falls on an absurdly warm day in December when the temperatures were in the low 70 degree range!  I had photographed him as he was decorating river trees in advance of the holiday season.  My old Styro-Snowman buddy was just beaming!  At last, he was in his element and I’m so happy that his patience was rewarded.  Not wanting to intrude too much in his special moment, I bid farewell and took this parting shot as I left the river.  Stay warm everybody…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-Snowman in his element, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

 

Ribbon cutting ceremony, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 8, 2016

On January 8 of this new year, the exhibits at the renovated  Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center opened to the public with a grand ribbon cutting ceremony.  The interior of the Interpretive Center had been closed for 13 months.  About 6 million dollars had to be raised to upgrade the 22-year-old permanent educational displays.  After a national search, Louisville-based exhibit design company, Solid Light, Inc. won this high-profile contract and solidified their growing reputation within the exhibit design field.  Judging from the enthusiastic response of the people attending the reopening it was worth the wait.  I played a very small part with a commission to create an assemblage from objects I found in the park and I was eager to see how Solid Light used it.

From "An Ancient Sea", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

video projection of the Devonian Sea, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2015

The displays are divided into four themes or sections beginning with “An Ancient Sea” that highlights early marine life during the Devonian Period.  The extensive fossil beds in the park date roughly to 400 million years ago and are the remains of an early coral reef ecosystem populated with many species of coral, brachiopods, and early fish which make their first appearance during the Devonian Period.  I was glad to see some of the older models that made up the original display were re-purposed into the new display.  The exhibit is interactive and there are hands on elements that children will enjoy.  Large, wall-sized videos help set the scene through many of the sections and in “An Ancient Sea” an animation depicting a shallow marine environment includes fish swimming through sun-dappled waters as trilobites search for food among the corals.

Reconstructed Native American house, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Signage about the Shawnee language, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

The second theme is entitled “A Changing Land” and covers all the geologic changes from the Ice Age to the appearance of the first Americans.  For me, the highlight of this area is the inclusion of the Shawnee language which can be heard spoken inside a reconstructed shelter.  It’s wonderful that the contemporary descendants of these ancient people were involved in the design of this display and acknowledges their presence at the Falls of the Ohio.

Archaic tool display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Prehistoric tools on display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan 8, 2016

Previously, the remains of prehistoric man’s material culture (primarily represented through flint tools) were a focal point in the old center’s displays.  For those worried that examples of the “real thing” would be replaced with virtual images and copies will be pleased that you can still explore original material through some inspired casework.  Be sure to peek inside many of the drawers in the different themed areas to see fine examples of specimens and artifacts.

From " Converging Cultures", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Frontier-themed video image, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Blacksmith video image, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 8, 2016

The third theme “Converging Cultures” recounts the history of the Falls area with the arrival of the Europeans.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition is a key moment not only in the history of the United States, but of the Falls of the Ohio as well.  Many of the men that comprised the “Corps of Discovery” were originally from Kentucky and Southern Indiana.  Wall-sized videos in the Lewis and Clark Theater recount the biographies of many of the men who made this epic transcontinental journey.  The story of John James Audubon is also noted and forms a transition into the last themed area of the new displays.

Display within the "The Falls Today", Jan. 8, 2016

Virtual aquarium image from the "The Falls Today", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

This last section is called “The Falls Today” and focuses upon the Falls of the Ohio as a rich contemporary ecosystem.  Some of the old taxidermy mounts have been reused to highlight some of the many species that live within the park.  Another large video display, this time a virtual aquarium, speaks to the richness of life in the river, particularly the species of game fish that are of interest to fisherman.  There is also a call to responsible and sustainable living and the need to keep pollution at bay.  This is where I come in.  I was commissioned by Solid Light to create an assemblage of found objects that is representative of what can be found in the Ohio River.  Here is the finished result that was placed within its own case with graphic elements added.

River Object Assemblage by Al Gorman, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2018

The panel within the case is 8 feet by 4 feet large.  I posted about the panel as I was creating it and showed many details of the more than 100 different objects that comprise it.  Of course, everything I’ve attached here was found within the context of the park.  The early reaction is that children in particular love looking at all the odd elements especially the found toys.  My panel is among the last things you see as you leave the exhibits area to exit the building.  I’m glad that there has been a greater emphasis in this new interpretation to include the current state of the world.  One could argue that as interesting as the past is…it is the present that is of the greatest concern. Further reinforcing this idea are the results of the minor flooding we experienced the previous week.  As the river has subsided, another massive new inventory of junk has washed into the park.  As I was leaving the ribbon cutting ceremony and walking to my vehicle, I could clearly see how much more work needs to be done.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Detritus on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Jan. 8, 2016

 

City of Louisville as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2016

Happy New Year to everyone out in the blogosphere!  Before closing the book on 2015, I want to thank everybody who checked out the old riverblog over the course of the year.  According to the WordPress stats wizards, I had people living in 107 different countries stop by to see what I was up to!  For an artist whose activities are as localized as mine are…publishing what I do on the world-wide web through this blog is an important part of my artistic activities.  It’s been great connecting with other creative minds and people trying to make a difference in their home locations.

The Ohio River elevated at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2016

As far as 2015 went…I haven’t heard the final statistics on this yet, but we either had our third or fourth wettest year on record.  We ended the year with the river at flood stage due to the great volume of rain that went through the Ohio Valley (although thankfully, we aren’t experiencing what’s going on at the moment on the Mississippi River).  We have also had an anomalous month of December that had several record-breaking temperatures with highs in the 70 degree range!  So much for a White Christmas.  These images were made on the first day of the new year and reflect the river actually going down after cresting on December 31.  We had two significant bouts of high water early in 2015 and we ended the year at the Falls of the Ohio underwater.  The four wettest years on record for our area have all happened since 1996.

Louisville as seen from the riverbank in Southern Indiana, Jan. 1, 2015

With holiday and work obligations temporarily out-of-the-way, I went out to the river on the first day of this new year.  The weather was seasonable, meaning it was actually chilly and I needed my gloves, hat, and heavy coat to stay warm.  The river level had dropped a little and side stepping the muddy areas I went to see if anything of interest had been stranded at the high water mark.  Most all of the areas at the Falls of the Ohio where I usually cache materials and make my art were underwater.  Here are a few of the things that I found.

Today's finds include three plastic ball pit balls, Jan.1, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

In addition to the usual Styrofoam and plastic containers…I found these three colorful plastic balls.  I found them at different places on the riverbank.  All three are hollow plastic balls that bear the ENOR stamp.  Looking up this company, they are a large toy manufacturer based on the East Coast that specializes in blown plastic toys.  In particular, they make the balls for ball pits.  Wal-Mart is a big distributor of their toys.  Ultimately, I don’t know what I’ll do with them?  I suppose they will enter the bags of other found balls that I’m currently storing in my basement awaiting inspiration.  The other really interesting item I encountered on this day is 100% natural and here are some images of this find.

Box turtle by a discarded tire, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Near the Interpretive Center I came across other junk that had washed up with the river.  In the shadow of a discarded tire I spotted the distinctive pattern on the shell of an Eastern Box Turtle.  I assumed that this turtle was dead and washed into this area with the other river-born stuff and I picked it up to get a better look.

Found Eastern Box Turtle, Jan. 1, 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Side view, Eastern Box Turtle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Because of the cold, I was not certain whether or not this turtle was either dead or in a winter torpor?  It’s possible that the river washed it here, but then I would assume it would have drowned?  Another explanation I thought possible was that this turtle was still active due to the unseasonable warmth we had experienced and when the cold suddenly appeared and being cold-blooded it became trapped in this spot?  Normally, box turtles will dig and bury themselves under dirt and leaf debris to overwinter.  This guy probably didn’t get the chance to do this when the cold hit.  Regardless, I could not decide if this old turtle was still with us?  As a precaution, I brought it to the Interpretive Center and presented it to the park’s naturalist who said he would look after it.

Eastern Box Turtle carapace, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Eastern Box Turtle plastron, Jan. 1, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

I have heard that counting the growth rings on the turtle’s shell is a good gauge of determining its age.  This turtle’s shell is worn in places and the rings were difficult to count.  One estimate I came up with had it being about 35 years old or so.  You can fairly and reliably determine the turtle sex by looking at the plastron which is the shell that protects its belly.  If there is a concave area like this turtle has…it’s more than likely a male.  The simple explanation here is that to make mating easier…the concave area conforms to the female’s carapace and keeps the male from falling off.  Several years ago during another period of flooding, I came across eight different individual box turtles and photographed them.  Looking through my old images, I wondered if this was a turtle I had seen before and it was not.  I hope that this turtle is indeed alive and can be returned to the park.  I would think this would be a great sign for the new year.

As for what else I plan to do this year…well, much depends upon what the river gives me.  When the water subsides I will come out and take a look.  On January 8, the newly revamped Interpretive Center will open and I will get my first look at the installed 8 foot by 4 foot panel of assembled river found items I was commissioned to create.  I hope it all looks great and we shall see.  I also have two other opportunities to show my work in the new year and I will give you more details about those shows as they develop.  I haven’t ever been aggressive about seeking exhibition opportunities, but rarely turn down an invitation once it presents itself.  In closing, I was reminded of this plaque that is fixed to one of the outdoor walls at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center.  In so many words, it gives as good an explanation as to why I use this place to site my art.  Here’s hoping we all have a memorable and wonderful 2016.  See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Plaque at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 1, 2016

 

Four trees with exposed roots, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Here’s a little story set at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana that will help carry us into the new year.  This tale is from a few weeks back, but I have been saving it.  I have, however, been using many of the images I created on this day for use with my Christmas cards.  Making ornaments, setting up holiday lights, and coming up with a new batch of cards to give away are my ways of getting into the spirit of the season.  I also enjoy attempting to put into words something about my Falls experiences and the following is this year’s gift from the river.  Today, we are in the western section of the park.  I know of four special trees with exposed roots (three sycamores and one cottonwood) that hang out together and have survived a very tough year and were due a visit from me.  With the daylight fading, this would be a good place to watch the sun set as the Ohio River turns left on its journey westward.

Styro-Snowman, full face view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015Getting into the right spirit of the season can be difficult for some folks.  Especially, when the weather is abnormally warm and you were hoping for snow to get winter kick started in the right direction.  The Falls of the Ohio, like much of the eastern portion of our country, is currently in the grips of El Nino.  Our area has set several all-time records for heat for this time of year.  What a contrast from last year’s polar vortex!  As luck would have it, the Styro-Snowman happened to be around when I was visiting the river.  I stuck around to see what would happen next.

The Snow Star arrives, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Although this snowman wore a fixed expression, his odd movements communicated befuddlement?  Something was missing or just not right.  I could see him looking around for something…perhaps a reminder of the season, but nothing appeared obvious?  After roaming the fossil cliffs for several minutes he stopped and looked towards the sky.  That’s when an amazing thing happened and if I didn’t have these pictures to prove it…I am sure you would not believe me.  As the sun, our star, was setting…another star much smaller and shaped like a snowflake descended from the sky.  I wondered if my friend here had willed it to him or did the star appear spontaneously?  As the star drifted by the Styro-being reached up and gently brought the star down to earth.  I could sense a feeling of joy coming over the snowman.

Styro-snowman gets a big idea, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Along with the snowflake star…a small white sack appeared on the ground.  Inside the sack were five, slightly beat up plastic tree ornaments like the kind you can sometimes find at the Falls after the flooding has subsided.  The snowman looked into the sack a pulled out a roughed up, but still functional, deep red ornament.  His expression widened and I almost felt like I was reading his mind.  The snowman walked over to one of the four trees with the great roots and began decorating its branches.

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The first tree the snowman embellished had a more open arrangement with ornaments hung on several branches.  For whatever reason, the snowman didn’t find this to be satisfactory and he took his five ornaments off and moved to another nearby tree.

Hanging the ornaments with care, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Hung the ornaments on the branches of a sycamore, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

On a low hanging limb of another rugged sycamore, the snowman hung up his ornaments with care.  He saved his bright red bauble for last and placed it upon the branch which was accomplished precariously by standing on a large tree root.  The snowman looked content when he was finished and paused a moment or two to soak up his handiwork.

The Styro-snowman admiring his work, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Styro-snowman with baubles arranged all in a row, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Oddly, the snowman had hung up his ornaments in a straight line that ascended the tree branch.  Wordlessly, I could tell that he was moved by this alignment, but why?  The tree, after all, could have been decorated any number of ways.  Something about this configuration made me think of celestial models and how we rank planets based by size or their proximity to the sun.  The now extraordinary branch seemingly had this cosmic link going for it.  The snowman stood behind his decorations and peered up the line which seemed to be sighted to a particular spot in the night sky that seemed a little darker than the surrounding space.

Returning the star to its rightful place, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Without saying a single word, the Styro-Snowman elevated the star that had come to him from high above.  He had borrowed some of its magic and now it was his time to pass it on.  It floated off until it reached that now dark spot in the firmament that it normally occupied.  A bright flash of light signaled that the snow star was back in position.  It is said that all life contains a little star power within it and I think I just witnessed that in action.  With his spirit lifted, the snowman looked over his shoulders at me and with his fixed acorn smile disappeared into the river.

I dedicate this little story to all who seek some personal connection to the spirit of the season or who simply are following magic stars of their own.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Season’s Greetings from the Falls of the Ohio.

Found Christmas star in the shape of a snowflake, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Ruined toy shopping cart, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Here’s a tale from my last visit to the river which happened to be a wondrous and warm Thanksgiving morning at the Falls of the Ohio.  Before the family gatherings and the feasts that  followed, I jumped out of bed to put in a few hours of personal time.  As I recall, on this day last year it was 17 degrees and we had already experienced a snow fall.  Despite Turkey Day’s  balmy 70 degrees, I didn’t see many other folks out here with the exception of a few early rising fisherman who were casting for Sauger near the dam.  Nobody seemed to be having much luck catching fish. I decided that I needed to start off my holiday season by doing a little holiday shopping Falls style.  Meaning, no money is required…just come out here and sooner or later you will find something interesting that drifted in with the driftwood.  After all, everything out here has a story connected to it.  It’s finder’s keepers on the riverbank and you can cross off your gift list those particularly “hard to shop for” loved ones in practically no time at all!  First, you need a shopping cart and after searching around I found this…see above picture.  Despite its small size…I decided to pass on this find because the missing wheels would just get in the way.  I decided that one of my many collecting bags would have to suffice.  So, what kinds of things stood out on this day?

Osage orange, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I came across many fruits from the Osage-orange tree (Maclura pomifera).  I love their glowing color and weird surfaces that remind me of brains.  A squirrel  was eating one when I approached.  I have heard of people who put these fruits in their closets and trunks to keep insect pests away from their out of season clothes.  People do collect and sell these soft ball size fruits for this purpose.  Osage-orange trees have quite a few other nicknames including:  hedge apple, monkey ball, horse apple, mock orange, and yellow-wood.  Potentially this orb could be a stocking stuffer for an organically inclined friend or two?  Our next item was found waiting for me on the wet and slimy fossil beds.  The rocks were so slick, I had trouble remaining upright as I approached the mystery object.

Soggy fabric "Hulk" hand, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Here’s something else sporting an unusual shade of green.  As gentle river waves lapped the exposed limestone fossil beds…something that looked like a large fist presented itself lying next to driftwood logs.  As I suspected when I first spotted this item…it was a toy “Hulk” hand.  Essentially, this is an over-sized, comic book character, soft boxing glove that a child could insert their own hand within when their inner Bruce Bannon gets overwhelmed by their raging Hulk persona!  Smashing could then ensue.  I considered dropping this into the collecting bag, but it was so heavily saturated with river water.  Still, definitely a pop culture item that would be appreciated once the darned thing dried out.  I’ll come back to this later, unless someone who wants it more takes it home first!

Two large chunks of found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

After I did my rounds around the Willow Habitat, I headed for my outdoor studio under the trees.  I had stashed two large chunks of found Styrofoam at my site that had floated into the park earlier in the spring with this year’s flooding.  I had to wait months for the largest piece to thoroughly dry out before I could even attempt to lift it.  These larger chunks may originally have been parts of boat docks which do absorb water while retaining buoyancy.  As I was imagining what I could make with this material, a stranger approached me.  I was so rapt upon my polystyrene pair that I had let my usual guard down.

Giant Styro-Snow Shovel Man, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Face of Giant Styro Snow Shovel Man, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

“Excuse me…I don’t mean to disturb or startle you, but do you mind if I ask you a question?”  I’m sure I must have had that slack-jawed look of amazement on my face!  The absurd looking persona in front of me was much taller than myself.  I estimated he was at least 6 feet 5 inches or even slightly taller than that.  Dressed all in white, he had a large nose and two eyes that were different colors on an otherwise huge head.  Over one of his shoulders he was carrying a snow shovel that was missing half its snow blade.  I did my best to gather my wits and replied in a slightly cracked voice…”Sure, what’s your question?”  It’s not that unusual for people (especially children) who see me out here to wonder about what I’m doing?

Large absurd figure at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Giant absurd figure, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

“Can you hear that?” asked the giant.  I’m sure I looked puzzled and so he repeated the question.  I then stood still and listened and replied that all I heard were the local birds moving through the trees.  I had noticed earlier that the chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers and other seasonable birds had been especially active on this beautiful day.  My large “friend”, however, said that it wasn’t the birds he was hearing but rather something more abstract than that.  My response was to ask him what he was hearing that seemed beyond the threshold of my own hearing (which is no mean feat these days)?  The big guy gave a one word response to me and it was…”Winter”.

detail of the head from the Giant Styro Snow Shovel Man, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

The big guy had this wistful look upon his strange visage and he said, “Winter is coming my friend and that is what I hear.”  He then continued, “This year is nearly history now and all it’s good, bad, and indifferent moments will be covered up by a cold, white blanket of forgetfulness.”  I’m sure he was right about that, but it did seem odd considering it was 70 degrees outside today!

Large, absurd figure with half a snow shovel, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I asked my new acquaintance if he thought this was going to be a particularly tough winter since he seemed to be presenting himself as something of an authority on the subject?

He replied, “That’s difficult to say considering all the weather patterns and all the factors that generate the weather are in a state of flux.”  He continued, “It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen the planet be this confused.  I have been wandering the land gathering clues and I’m afraid, that I can’t give you an accurate forecast.  The only thing I’m sure of is that at some point winter will arrive and I will be out here to meet it.”

My own thoughts turned to an episode of Falls of the Ohio history.  This whole river valley was originally sculpted by one of the last glaciers at the close of the last Ice Age.  You can even find deposits of gravel here that date from that period thousands of years a go.

Styro Snow Shovel Man facing the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Styro Snow Shovel Man waiting for winter to arrive, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I had to ask this Styro-Snow Shovel Man if he believed the changes in the weather had something to do with our species’ activities?  “Well”, he said…”there are a lot of you on the planet now and as a group, you don’t seem very concerned about what’s happening in the big scheme of things.”  I reluctantly had to agree with him.  I have my own anecdotal information gleaned from this park to back up my own thoughts on the subject.  At the time of this writing, many of the world’s leaders are meeting in Paris to try to decide if any changes could be made that might help reduce the impact of our overall activities.  I remain open and hope a positive consensus can be reached.  Like the approach of winter…we shall see.  With Thanksgiving waiting for me…I said my good byes and left my new friend standing in the park.  Perhaps I will see him again…after the first snowflake falls?

Last photo of the standing Styro Snow Shovel Man, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

 

 

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