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Willow Portrait

bent over willow tree, July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Last weekend I visited an old friend and was shocked by the state that I found it in.  In this case, my friend is a favorite Black Willow tree (Salix nigra) that grows within the Willow Habitat in the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  We have just come out of a particularly wet June and July that saw the area this tree grows in being mostly underwater.  Record amounts of rainfall have kept me on the very fringes of an encroaching Ohio River.  Of course, I rushed back into the park when opportunity presented itself and things looked like they were returning to “normal”.  Usually, lots of water is something that willow trees can appreciate.  In this case, however, the willow trees near the old railroad bridge were submerged twice this year  by the flood waters.  In addition, floating and semi-submerged logs batter the stationary trees when strong currents push against them.  Spreading willow roots do their best to maintain their hold upon the land.  To add injury to insult, receding river levels often strand their floating driftwood loads in what’s left of the branches and crowns of these willow trees.  The weight of this wood is a big burden which then further shapes the living willows.  This is what happened to my friend.  I found the formerly nice arc of its main branches and trunk now growing nearly horizontally with the ground.  I decided to put together this post of images of this particular tree to see if I could detect other changes over the years.

Black Willow, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2010

Looking through thousands of images, I found this shot from November of 2010.  Looks to be a cold morning.  I’m not certain when this particular tree caught my attention, but it must have been around this time.  I’m sure, however, that the processes that shape these trees were already at work.  I can imagine this willow growing straight and tall if circumstances were different.

Willow Tree, Falls of the Ohio, June 2011

The next image dates to early June of 2011.  This is the same tree with its long, narrow, and slightly saw-toothed edged leaves out in full.  Already you can see an impressive and exposed root mass anchoring this tree in position.

Willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, March 2012

Here’s an image from March of 2012 showing water encroaching upon our willow tree.  I wonder how large the root mass actually is that keeps this tree alive in what seems an unpromising place?

Willow tree at the Falls, 2012

A month later, April 2012, and the waters have returned to their seasonable pool and the tree is beginning to leaf out.  From the way the three main trunks of the tree are all leaning west…I suspect that the weight of deposited driftwood? helped “train” the tree to grow in this position.

Willow Tree, September 2012, Falls of the Ohio

September 2012 and the leaves are beginning to show hints of autumn yellow.  Soon the willow will drop all of its leaves which will eventually gather around the base of this tree.

"La Belle Riviere" in favored willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2013

"La Belle Riviere", Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

Two shots of one of my favorite Falls projects.  For over ten years I had been collecting the yellow form cores of contemporary soft balls that wash into the park minus their leather coverings.  I decided to make a large necklace from my special river pearls that I named “La Belle Riviere” or The Beautiful River which was the name the French missionaries gave the Ohio River very early during its exploration.  I posed my “necklace” and photographed it in many different places and positions.  The images I made while it graced this willow tree were among the best.

Black Willow, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

The following images are from 2014.  This one was taken in June.  And, the following two are from August of the same year.

Willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Willow root ball, Falls of the Ohio, August 2014

Now for some winter images.  These more stark pictures were taken during February of 2015.  We had some decent snow falls this year.  I like getting a good variety of images showing the park during all the seasons.

Old willow in winter, Feb. 2015

willow tree in winter, Feb. 2015

That leads us to my most recent photographs.  For parts of June and a lot of July, this tree was submerged from view.  I never did get a good look at it with the driftwood that rafted onto it.

Willow tree leaning over badly, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

Bent over willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

 

The willow tree has bent completely over and is “resting” on some of its branches.  The tree is still in leaf, but turning more yellow, (perhaps due to all the stress it has endured?)  So far, this tree has been a survivor and I hope that it can somehow “bounce back” from this turn of events.  We shall see.  I will make a special attempt to record what happens to this tree from here on out.  I will close this post and the month of July with one last image of this remarkable willow tree.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Black Willow root mass, July 2015, Falls of the Ohio.

Super Wet July

High water with Louisville in the distance, July 18, 2015

I’ve been to the river three times this month, but this is my first post for July!  Where to begin?  It’s been eventful in so many ways.  First, the hard drive of my computer crashed which put me out of business for a few weeks.  All the while this was being dealt with…the river has been high due to what seems like at times, monsoon-intensity rains.  Not light, gentle rains, but strong storms that dump inches of rain at one time and are often accompanied by high winds.  I suspect that this year’s June and July will be among the wettest combos recorded around here.  There has been tragedy too.  Five people lost their lives in a boating accident while watching the 4th of July fireworks display in front of downtown Louisville.  The river was especially high and fast flowing when their pontoon boat struck a parked barge sending people into the water.  It took several days to recover the bodies.  We may think that we can manage the river through levies and dams, but nature often has other ideas.  Where is all this water coming from and can be this be further evidence of the planet’s changing climate?  When I see before and after pictures of what were former glaciers or images of huge ice shelves breaking off of Antarctica…that fresh water goes somewhere right?  Seems there is a lot of moisture being drawn up into the atmosphere which then precipitates out over the land.  Too bad it doesn’t seem to be going where it is needed the most.

Muddy flood waters below the Falls Interpretive Center, July 2015

For the moment, all my usual haunts at the Falls of the Ohio are under water.  Usually during this time of year, the fossil beds are at their most extensively exposed.  I love being able to walk over the fossil beds which makes me feel like I’m on another planet.  Once the water recedes, there will be a newly rearranged landscape to explore along with its attendant material culture that gets left behind.  This is how I obtain my art supplies.

High water by the Upper Tainter Gates, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This is a view along the Fixed Wier Dam and Upper Tainter Gates in the eastern section of the park.  The water level had been higher and is in the process of going down a bit.  I noticed fish activity and was surprised to see Asian carp congregating in the swirling, muddy water.

High Ohio River with jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

About midway down you can see a carp that is doing its own impression of a salmon going upstream.  Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

Here are a few more details of fish jumping.  I was surprised that my cellphone camera was able to catch this action.  Some of the fish I observed were very large.  I would estimate the largest ones I saw were plus 50 pounds.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

And here is one more image catching a fish in mid air.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

There are a couple of species of Asian carp and they are all highly invasive and non-native.  To see these fish jumping to overcome obstacles on their way upriver shows how determined they can be.  These fish feed on algae and other tiny water organisms.  They out compete native species and are highly prolific.  Extensive campaigns have been launched to control or eradicate these fish with limited results.  The big fear is that they will make their way into the Great Lakes were they pose a huge issue for that fishery.  In Western Kentucky, at Land Between the Lakes, a commercial fishery has been created to harvest these carp by netting them.  Because they eat tiny micro organisms, they can not be taken by rod and reel unless you happen to snag one by accident.  The goal is to create a commercial demand for its flesh and apparently they are a coveted food item in China.  Although a demand for these carp may be created…they are also in our waters for good now.  The fish I photographed are on their way to Cincinnati and points northward along the Ohio River and all its tributaries and streams that feed this great river.  Carp were not the only creatures around on this day.  Check out this guy!

Large Common Snapping Turtle, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

Walking along the edge of the flooding, I came across this large, Common Snapping Turtle that was bulldozing its way to the river.  It emerged from underneath some high weeds and was unaware of me at first.  As I came closer, it started to pull its head underneath its shell as much as it could while raising up on its legs to appear even more menacing and large.  This big turtle did hiss and lunge for me a few times and after a couple snapshots…I left it alone.  This turtle was large enough to remove a finger if that unfortunate person should offer it.  Although it moved slowly for the most part, it did have the ability to strike quickly and its neck could reach out further than you may have anticipated!  I have found dead snappers at the Falls before that were washed into here by flooding or were caught and killed by fisherman.  This is the first live one I have seen here and it was a beauty!  Being confined to the margins of the swollen river did have some benefits.  I came across two remarkable flowers that I would like to present.  Here is the first one I discovered on the Fourth of July.

Giant Mud Flower from the genus Siltana, Falls of the Ohio, early July 2015

detail of Giant Mud Flower, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This is the first of two Giant Mud Flowers (from the genus Siltana) that I have discovered at the Falls of the Ohio.  They are large perennials that appear only when the conditions are just right.  Apparently, all the flooding we have experienced along the river has proven ideal for this rare bloom.  This flower sports large, fleshy “petals” that are organized around a central core that emerges first from the soil.  No leaves are visible and much is unknown about this rare plant.  It is believed that after blooming, the Mud Flower puts its remaining energies into producing a single, round seed about the size of a golf ball.  Attempts to grow this plant under controlled conditions have thus far proven to be unsuccessful.  Here is a different flower which may or may not be a related species?

Second Giant Mud Flower from the genus Siltana, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

Giant Mud Flower detail, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This specimen was found during mid month in a different section of the park.  On the surface, it compares well with the preceding example.  Noticeably, the thick petals are of different colors and the central core is a different structure.  Botanists may eventually determine that these two Giant Mud Flowers are related, but different species too.  Much is needing to unlock the key to how this species survives and whether there are any pollinating agents involved at all?  I am going to end today’s trip with one more flower photograph.  This was taken in front of the still renovating Interpretive Center.  There is a wonderful day lily garden here with many different varieties.  The center is hoping to be back open to the public come this fall.  I want to thank park director, Kelley Morgan for inviting me to talk during their volunteer appreciation dinner.  I loved being in a room full of left brained people who must have thought where did this “odd duck” came from?  Everyone was very nice and interested in what I do which admittedly, deviates from the norm!  What I like is that however we view and use the park…we all have a passion for this very special place.  Here’s hoping my next post will occur under dryer circumstances!

From the Day Lily Garden at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, July 18, 2015

End of the Woodland Loop Trail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Balancing on the spine of a water-soaked log, I crossed over to the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  A gorgeous day with the river high from torrential hurricane remnant thunder storms the valley experienced a couple of days a go.  It has been a few weeks since I was last in this section of the park.  Everything is green and growing and pressing upon the life around it.  This was another productive excursion to the river and I made several site specific works with the plastic I found.  I’ve decided to break those posts up into several stories because many of the pictures came out well.

The days found plastic, mid  June 2015, Falls of the Ohio

For this piece, I selected an area that I knew would have lots of plastic washed ashore.  With the river currently high, the searchable area is constricted by the encroaching water and high-walled riverbank and by dense vegetation.  When I unloaded my collecting bags and the contents of a milk crate I pressed into service…this is what I picked up.  Interestingly, this collection also includes plastic palettes from rival cola companies.  The rest of the best includes plastic containers for petroleum and laundry products.  As you can see, most of the labels have come off of the bottles due to river immersion.  I picked a place with lots of growing grape vines and set up my latest bottle piece.  Here is a quick sequence showing the progress…starting with building a three-tiered structure using local wood and logs I found in place.

Wood structure for Triple-tiered Petroleum RainbowTriple-tiered Petroleum Rainbow in progress, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015Completed

There are always surprises in what colors are available in a given area.  In this section of the park, black, green, and purple colored plastic was harder to come by.  I used five boards, three small logs, and a large log (hidden in the grape vines) to build this three layer structure to hold my found bottles.  I worked on this piece and another one I will show later moving back and forth between the hot sunlight of this assemblage and the piece I was making in the cooling shade.  Here are a couple more bottle details which I like to show off the color.

Detail of Triple-tiered Petroleum Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Plastic bottle detail from

Everything about these containers is so highly artificial that they contrast with all the greenery around it.  So much thought and effort went into the design of these bottles to make their intended contents as desirable as possible.  That part worked because these plastic bottles were consumed in large numbers and many of them found their way carelessly into the Ohio River.

Triple-tiered Petroleum Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

The reality that this was made from discards is balanced by the good cheer I feel from the rainbow-inspired colors arranged on the weathered wood.  If I had not put them into this form, they would be nearly invisible plastic units scattered over the land.  These bottles are ubiquitous in our lives and even without the labels…we recognize what many of the products were.

Triple-tiered Petroleum Rainbow at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

This is where I left the latest of the Petroleum Rainbow series…pressed by verdant grapevines and an ever encroaching river.  Since I made this piece last week…our area has been buffeted by torrential rains and high winds.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see that water now laps at this assemblage’s “feet”.  It has been a remarkable week in other ways with the upholding of the Affordable Heath Care Act and making marriage a right for all throughout the land.  I hope that these great quality of life decisions we make will keep the state of the environment a high priority too.  One last picture before leaving…also taken in the western section of the park….so long from the Falls of the Ohio.

downed tree with log resting against it, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Life in a Bucket II, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Life in a bucket.  I’ve seen this before and written about it in an older blog post.  Regardless, whenever I encounter something like this I remain amazed at life’s ability to thrive in less than optimum circumstances.  A little river mud in an old broken plastic bucket gets colonized by a few windblown grass seeds, add a little rainfall and sunshine and life does the rest. Well, some life can do this and some can’t.  The future will be determined by the life that can adapt and be resilient in the face of adversity.  Walking on the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio I wonder about our chances for success living on a planet that we have diminished to suit our own ends.  I have no doubt that whatever the future holds, life will find a way.  Whether or not that includes us remains to be seen.

Freshly gathered plastic jugs, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

On that jolly note I introduce my latest two projects!  I got up fairly early in the morning and got a head start on the heat.  By the early afternoon, I was whipped, exhausted, and wet from the humidity trapped in the local vegetation.  Summer is officially upon us.  It’s interesting how many conversations I’ve had this year with people similar in age to me who have remarked that as the years pass by their tolerance for the heat and humidity decreases.  This was one of those days I could commiserate with them!  As I was walking along the Falls landscape, I noticed an area that seemed to have a good supply of plastic containers and decided on the spot to do another petroleum rainbow piece.  This is how I started out, literally beating the bushes for containers of different sizes, colors, and shapes.  The material lying on the driftwood was easy to access, but in other places the vines were beginning to cover and camouflage what was under their urgent greenness.

Colorful castoff plastic containers, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

I started out collecting various plastic jugs that originally held contents of one gallon or greater…hence “big jug”.  I soon expanded that as the need for particular shades of colors became a priority.  I would have liked to use more “orange”, but couldn’t find enough plastic containers in this area that day that were that color.  Still, I managed a small sliver of “orange” to mark the transition from “red” to “yellow”.

"Big Jug Rainbow", detail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

"Big Jug Rainbow", Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

“Big Jug Rainbow” is situated under a stressed willow tree that is bent over from the weight of lots of driftwood that was deposited in its canopy by flood waters.  A nice verdant cave was formed and it felt like a good framing element for this piece.  Here is what it looked like from the other side of the tree.

Back view of "Big Jug Rainbow", Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

The willow trees in this habitat are twisted up and have lots of character.  They remind me of the forms you find in bonsai trees, except their size is obviously much larger.  In a past post, I’ve mentioned how this area’s beavers like to prune off small branches and eat the bark.  This helps shape the trees.  This year, I can see in dramatic fashion another element that contributes to the trees’ overall forms.  The weight of the deposited wood bends the branches down and the willow continues to grow under this burden.  The driftwood will remain in the tree until the river rises or the wind knocks the deposited logs down.

"Big Jug Rainbow" on location at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Bleaching, exposed driftwood atop a willow tree with my “Big Jug Rainbow” under its influence.  Happy with this piece, I collected my bag and walking stick and headed further under the trees seeking shade and relief from the sun.  Along the way, I was delighted to run into one of my favorite insects found at the Falls of the Ohio.

Eastern Eyed Click Beetle, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

This is the Eastern Eyed Click Beetle or Big Eyed Click Beetle, (Alaus oculatus).  This is one of the larger beetles you will find in our area and this is the largest of our click beetles.  The biggest specimens are nearly two inches long or roughly 45mm in length.  They have this wonderful, cryptic bird-dropping coloring.  The eyespots on the pronatum or thorax are dramatic and large.  The females lay their eggs in or near rotting wood (in abundance here) and I’m sure to come across these slow flyers at least a couple of times per season.  Last year, I was startled when one landed on the back of my head and got tangled in my hair.  It gave me a momentary fright to have some then unknown large insect crawling on my head.  Fortunately, they don’t bite.  The larvae on the other hand will eat other insects they encounter.

"Stump Flower", Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

As has been my recent custom, as I walk along I collect any lost flip-flops that I find.  At day’s end, I find a place to make something with the day’s finds.  I came across this table-like tree stump that seemed like an invitation to do something with.  I emptied the contents of my collecting bag and created “Stump Flower”.

"Stump Flower", found flip flops, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

"Stump Flower", detail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

The circular form in the center I believe is a sand toy?  I found it laying nearby and thought it helped suggest a flower head.  I think as I return to many of the places where I’ve made these flip-flop projects…I will re-gather them and perhaps recycle them into a more complex form.  At day’s end, the walk back to my vehicle took a lot of effort.  I did go by my “Big Jug Rainbow” piece and took one last image of it from some distance.  You can barely see it through all the leafage, but it is there in all its artificial glory.  That bottle of warm water I had stashed under the car seat sure tasted good!  Thanks to everybody for stopping by…until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

"Big Jug Rainbow" as seen from a distance, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Wooden boat dock on debris pile, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

So easy to get behind on creating new posts!  As it often happens out here at the Falls of the Ohio…more stuff goes on than most people care to read in a single post.  This will be a relatively short, but hopefully sweet story.  A few weeks a go on a lovely sunny and warm weekend morning I decided to visit the Falls and see how my green bottle piece was surviving.  I had positioned it on the other side of a washed out boat dock that was peaking out of a huge pile of driftwood and debris that had washed into here a few months a go.  The above photo is how it would first appear to anyone venturing onto this driftwood mound.  And, this is how it would appear from the other side looking towards the parking lot and fixed wier dam.

Green plastic bottle assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

My segregating all the green glass and plastic bottles into the exposed structure of the boat dock was holding up fairly well.  I just had a little bit of straightening up to do.  The fact I went back to something I had made before was somewhat unusual since I prefer moving forward by making something new.  I guess this piece was holding up a little better than some of my other projects by virtue of it being somewhat hidden and few folks want to venture onto this shifting mound of materiality.  You can get hurt here if you are not careful and it’s easy to have a foot go through a weak spot on the mound.  This has happened to me many times, but knock on wood, I have never been injured by my carelessness.  I was admiring my handiwork and whistling to the Baltimore Orioles that were in the nearby cottonwood trees when I saw two people approaching my position.

Marjie and Anika make a Styrofoam sculpture, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Marjie and Anika and their Styrofoam creation, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Here are a couple of pictures of my new friends in action.  It’s the mother and daughter team of Marjie and Anika and they were here at the Falls collecting flat, weathered boards for a shed they were making back at their home.  When they saw me they came right over to see what I was doing and they saw the bottle piece which they enjoyed.  Of course, one thing led to another and we had a great conversation about conservation, recycling, and the value of being outdoors.  We even discovered that we have a good friend in common in Claude Stephens who works at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.  They were once neighbors.  Marjie is a very practical and inventive person and I was particularly struck by how she has been able to eliminate all the soap products from her home save one.  I don’t want to mention that product by name, but you are familiar with it.  It’s a dishwashing liquid that is especially good at cleaning oil soaked sea mammals and birds.  Apparently, by adjusting the strength of the soap by diluting it with water you can have an all-purpose cleanser that’s good for the laundry and can be used for shampoo too!  Standing on this debris mound, it would be very easy to show you examples of all the many plastic containers that are used by all the myriad kinds of soap products.  Cutting them out of our waste chain would be a dream come true!  I showed them images of other projects I had made and stored on my cell phone and they became inspired by some of the figurative pieces I’ve made from Styrofoam.  That got this dynamic duo going and they were off to make a Styrofoam sculpture of their very own!

Anika and Marjie make a figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

They are an ambitious pair and decided to use the biggest polystyrene chunks they could find on this mound.  I helped them set the body upright since it was still a bit heavy with retained water.  The figure soon became a robot with found toy balls for eyes and a light bulb stuck on top of its head like a cherry on a sundae!  It was a bit tricky keeping one’s balance standing on the driftwood.  I find it helps to stand on the bigger logs which are less likely to shift or break.  After sticking on a pair of arms, Marjie and Anika left their creation in place.  We said our goodbyes and they collected the boards they had chosen for their shed and went home.  I stuck around a little longer and took a few more images.

Marjie and Anika's Robot Man, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Robot Man at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

It’s rare when I meet folks out here who not only “get” what I do, but want to participate too.  Creativity is a human birthright and can be expressed in so many ways.  I especially enjoy it when I meet people who use their creativity to benefit the planet even in the smallest way.  Those individuals inspire me.  I exchanged email addresses with Marjie and she later sent me pictures of the shed she built at home.  As it turns out, this was not the last time I would meet mother and daughter.  They came out in support of a Public Art Walk event that was produced by the organization I now work for…the Carnegie Center for Art and History in historic New Albany, Indiana.  Work there has been keeping me busy, but I manage to come and visit my beloved Falls and Ohio River whenever opportunity allows.  I’ve made other projects lately and look forward to sharing them with you soon.  Here’s to everyone having a great summer this year!

Diesel engines crossing the Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Driftwood mound with partially exposed wooden boat dock, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

May was a quick month and this year is flying by.  I’m still exploring much of the flotsam that was left behind by early Spring flooding.  At several places in the park you can encounter large driftwood mounds and debris fields that are aggregates of the natural and artificial.  I was exploring a large mound near the railroad bridge and came across this large, wooden, manmade structure that was laying partially exposed.  I was curious about what this could be and so I picked a route over the driftwood to take a better look.

Destroyed boat dock on the driftwood pile, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Walking carefully to the other side, I discovered that this wooden structure is a fairly long boat dock that the river had claimed.  I was taken by the dock and its visual proximity to the railroad bridge.  The idea that this could make a nice location for another site specific work soon came to mind.  I have been having fun making images and assemblages of plastic bottles that washed into here and looking around…well, despite the overwhelming browness…there is also a lot of colorful plastic mixed into here.

Beginning of green bottle/dock piece, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

What I could see was a “wealth” of green plastic soft drink bottles that lemon/lime carbonated beverages come in.  So, I walked around the mound and boat dock and collected all the green bottles I could find.  In the interest of full disclosure…there are also a few green glass bottles in here, but 95% of them are plastic.  My idea was to activate this area by massing all the green bottles I could collect and store them “inside” the boat dock.  Here are several views of what this looked like after I was finished.

Green plastic bottles piece, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Green plastic bottles in ruined boat dock, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

The wooden dock echoes the structure of the bridge behind it.  I feel that this site specific piece successfully worked with its immediate environment.  The green of the bottles plays against the verdant green of the vegetation.  As of this posting, this artwork is still intact.  Many things I make out here are either destroyed by visitors or eventually fall apart on their own.  If you were looking at this dock from the other side…nothing would betray the surprise that exits on the flip side.  Here’s a few more views of my plastic green bottles piece.  I’m needing a good title for this one, but nothing has registered with me yet.

Green plastic bottles in ruined boat dock, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Altenate view of green bottle work, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

detail of green plastic bottles, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

While I was searching through the debris field, I was also looking for lost flip-flops.  I found a nice number of them consisting of all sizes and colors which I stored in my collecting bag.  After finishing the idea I had for the bottles…I looked around for another location to do a flip-flops site specific piece.  My search took me to the nearby fossil outcropping and rocks.  I emptied my bag upon the rocks and played around with several configurations until I hit upon something I found visually interesting.

Flip Flops and fossils, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Flip flop oval on the fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

I arranged the sandals from right foot to left and from largest to smallest.  The oval shape echoes some of the ancient coral forms present in the rocks which date back to the Devonian Age over 350 million years a go.  One of my all time favorite fossil discoveries was made in Laetoli, Tanzania by famed archaeologist Mary Leakey in 1978.  She found preserved in hardened volcanic ash, a set of bipedal hominid footprints of a possible family group that dates back 3.7 million years and at the time were the world’s oldest human-like footprints.  Flash forward to the present, these flip-flops are the descendants of those ancient tracks.  When I’m out on the rocks at the Falls of the Ohio…I often think about how deep time is and how far back the history of life goes.

Flip flops on the fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

June is already shaping up to be a rather interesting month at the Falls of the Ohio and I will be interacting with the park in some different ways than I usually do.  More about that as the month progresses.  For now, I will end with one more image of my flip-flops piece as I left it upon this ancient landscape.  See you later!

Colorful flip flop oval at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Driftwood pile, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

May has turned into a productive month for me.  If April was defined by rain and flooding…May has been on the dry side.  This break in the weather (along with the nice coolness of Spring) has me out at the river at every available chance.  Friends of mine already think that I live out here, but that’s far from the case.  I wish I could physically be out here more because I don’t tire of the park and I find enough stuff to keep me busy.  The reality is I’m lucky to make it out here on the weekends and holidays.  Over the years, I’ve established routines and I know the place so well that as I walk along, I’m strategizing on what can be done with the materials that I find at various locations.  The digital part is done from home.

Sand Rose, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

In the aftermath of our most recent flooding, a great amount of wood and manmade debris has settled into the park.  I find something interesting to me most everywhere I look.  Here’s another Sand Rose that I encountered, blooming among the driftwood.  This blossom has fabric-like petals and lacks the wonderful perfume that more conventional roses possess.

Plush Parrot Toy, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Covered in burrs and various plant seeds is this plush parrot that I found intertwined in the driftwood.  Lost toys are evocative and in this case, I’m also reminded that 2016 will mark the centennial of the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet which was this country’s only native member of the parrot family.  Both the Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet passed from existence within a couple of years of one another in the same small aviary that now stands as a memorial to them at the Cincinnati Zoo.

White-tail deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Walking through the driftwood I found this intact and antlered deer skull which is a first for me. I have found other white-tail deer skulls before, but they all were from does.  Over the years , I have found deer remains out here in the wake of flooding.  Perhaps the most memorable experience happened about twenty years a go.  While hiking with a friend, we came to an area where we could smell the sickly sweet odor from something decomposing, but searching the grounds we weren’t able to locate the unfortunate creature.  By chance, I happened to look up where the smell seemed the strongest and discovered a deer carcass that was lodged in a tree about 12 feet or so off the ground.  Of course, it found its way there when the river was high and became stranded when the river receded.  At the Falls of the Ohio State Park you are likely to find unexpected things snagged in the willows.

Red Compostion, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

"Red Composition" on site, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Over the last few weeks, I have been “playing around” more with the brightly colored plastic elements that wash into the park.  I find these site specific compositions rather fun and provoking to do.  Usually, all the plastic elements that the river delivers become somewhat unified and integrated within the matrix of mud, wood, and other detritus.  I believe this thorough mixing keeps people from seeing the true extent these artificial materials and objects are present in the free world.  By choosing to concentrate on a color, like red in this case, I hope to call attention to these materials in a novel way.  This piece started with the nailed together wood frame I found on the driftwood pile.  There are also lots of milled and used lumber elements in the mix too.  Building on previous pieces I did with other colors, I decided to see how much red was in this given area.   “Red Composition” was the result.  With red being such a popular color…I thought I would come across more red than I actually did.  What I did find seemed subject to bleaching in the sun and made me wonder if red plastic was in general use less because of the fugitive nature of the pigments?  Next time I’m at the grocery store I will test this theory more.  Among my red finds of the day include an old flashlight body that had filled with dirt and had a small willow tree growing out of it.  Here’s another example of a plastic composition I did on this particular day.

From the "Petroleum Rainbow Series", Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

From the Series "Petroleum Rainbows", Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

From the series, "Petroleum Rainbows", seen from behind, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

This is another in a series I have been calling “Petroleum Rainbows”.  I started with the wooden bench I found in the immediate area and set it up near the riverbank in the willow habitat.  I gathered all the brightly colored items I could find tangled in the driftwood and sitting on the sandy beach and of course most of them are made from plastic.  Testing my fugitive color theory, I did notice a prevalence for the colors green, black, blue, yellow, and white.  Red, orange, and purple were a little harder to come by.  I filled the top of the bench with my river finds and loosely organized it to resemble a color spectrum.  As one Facebook observer noted with a little ire, my colors don’t follow the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet scheme of a true rainbow.  I have done this intentionally as a further provoking element.  Beyond the surface attraction of this party-colored plastic, the brain does register that something is not quite right here which is the feeling I want to leave the observer with…hence, disquieting rainbow.  I made this piece a couple of weeks a go and it has remained relatively intact.  I have been busy at the Falls and have more to show, but will wait a bit before posting those projects. I hope everyone out there is having a nice Memorial Day holiday. See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Detail of objects, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

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