When I received the call from my friend Eric, I was already heading to the Falls of the Ohio. A simply gorgeous autumn day was upon us and the smell of freshly dropped leaves perfumed the air near the river. Soon we would experience our first full frost that would truly signal an end to the warm days and the coming cold, grayness ahead of us. For now, everything seemed perfect and both man and animals reveled in being outside. Like so many of my friends, Eric is a bit of an eccentric. He’s highly creative, full of surprises, but has difficulty at times channeling his enthusiasms into something positive and useful. I can somewhat relate to that and perhaps this forms the basis of our friendship? The plan was to meet at my outdoor atelier under the willow trees so he could show me his latest invention and sure enough…I found Eric standing next to what looked like some kind of unusual machine. Eric was fiddling with the various gizmos, dials, and buttons when I greeted him.
My friend was excited to see me and rushed to shake my hand. He spoke to me in out of breath fashion until I told him to relax and slow down. Of course, I was curious to learn what he was up to. Eric told me that he thought he had the answer to all the world’s energy problems and it took the form of this contraption that clearly looked like it was cobbled together from secondhand junk. Eric called me because he wanted a witness to observe a demonstration of his device’s capabilities. If all went well, Eric intended to send the plans for his latest invention to the patent office and from there who knew? Filled with curiosity, I asked Eric what was the function of his machine and how exactly did it work?
To back track a bit, here is a fuller description of the look of this device. The main body of the machine was boxy and covered with a white insulating material. All sides of the box were embellished with tubes, light bulbs, vials of mysterious fluids, gears, pulleys, dials, levers, and what appeared to be radiator panels for keeping the machine cool while it operated. A large yellow hose protruded from the back of the machine. In the front where the operator did his “thing” was a “hopper” where material could be fed into the machine. A large, clear, horizontally mounted bottle introduced water into the process. The whole contraption was mounted on four wheels which made it a mobile power plant that could be moved to any location that was required. Now, I’m not a scientist and so a lot of what Eric told me I frankly did not understand, but in short, here is what the machine did along with its practical applications. The purpose of the machine as Eric explained it to me was to produce “UBF” or Universal Bio Fuel which my friend believed would not only make us energy self-sufficient, but would also solve the world’s hunger problems as well! Anything organic could be fed into the “hopper” and as a way of demonstration…Eric picked up a large arm load of dried leaves and stuck them into the cup and fired up his machine. One of the beautiful things about his invention was that it operated on the fuel that it produced. The next stage occurred within the bowels of this odd mechanism. I could hear sounds of the leaves being broken down, ground up and masticated into mush. Water, various enzymes, acids, and yes…bacterial cultures were introduced into this leaf mash. As this bolus moved through various internal chambers, the mash would ferment and in quick order convert into “UBF”. The desired product has a waxy consistency when cool. Eric’s machine not only could produce “UBF” to be utilized for industrial needs, but also had a soft-serve function where it could be doled out like some nutritious, but hardly tasty ice cream. Flavoring could come later. According to Eric, apart from a cheese-like odor, very little waste would result…so complete were the reactions that created the “UBF”.
As I watch, I’m thinking the machine is working as intended, but soon notice that Eric is frantically operating the buttons and dials and a small puff of white smoke emanates from his machine. He quickly runs to the yellow hose where a small bowl for receiving the “UBF” has turned over on its side. Too much of the precious bio fuel is being produced and is spilling forth and coagulating on the ground. I ask is there anything I can do, but Eric doesn’t hear me and for some unknown reason takes the following rash action.
Eric grabs the end of the hose and sticks it into his mouth! I hear a guzzling sound as he swallows a massive amount of the surplus “UBF”. He then runs to the front of the machine and hits the button that stops all the reactions. Why Eric did not do this first is due to the fact that he panicked. He told me that in his mind, he heard his inner voice saying that this fuel is precious and should not be wasted. Eric had a dazed look upon his face and then the oddest thing happened…all the hairs on his head stood straight up and they remained that way!
Exhausted and over-wrought, Eric decides to call it a day. He leaves his bio fuel extracting machine where it stands and with assistance from me…we head for home. Eric is a persistent fellow and with his mission to solve the planet’s energy needs… I know this latest setback will not keep him down for long.
Sure enough, about a week later, I run into my mad scientist friend back at the Falls of the Ohio on another beautiful day. As it turned out…this hair-raising experience was permanent. The “UBF” is such a rich mixture and the full physiological effects of eating such a large dose are unknown. Certainly, he had eaten more than a minimum, recommended serving which according to plan was to be determined later. Just a little bio fuel goes a long way. Luckily for Eric, there were no other scary after effects. Undaunted, Eric is willing to try his machine again soon, but first he had to clean it out and replenish his water supply. On this day, I find him waste deep in a stagnant pool of water. He has adjusted his hose by placing one end into the water and the other end delivers liquid into the hopper. This is required to flush all the enzymes and other residues out of his bio fuel plant.
As he tinkers with his contraption we converse. Eric told me that he has a lot more to learn about which organic materials produce the most energy. I ask him if by organic, would that also include plastic and a lot of other waste products and detritus that our current technologies produce? He’s intrigued by the question and thinks plastic by-products could work to create energy although he doesn’t think they would have much food value. I nod my head in agreement.
I don’t know if Eric was ultimately successful in earning his hoped for patent. I didn’t hear what happened the other times he tested his machine. I know he places a lot of faith in technology and believes that it will save us in the long run. Of course, reality is more complicated than that. Part of me fears that if he was successful in his quest…some large corporation would just buy him out and warehouse the solution until they could profit from it. What I appreciate about Eric is that he never talked about money or getting rich. There simply are great problems out there in the wider world and he finds fulfillment in trying to resolve them. Working on his machine has given Eric a renewed sense of purpose. As I contemplate the prismatic colors on the surface of the water…I hope Eric finds an answer. Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in Absurd, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, assemblage art, creativity, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, Green, material culture, Ohio River, photography, plastic, public art, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sculpture, sense of place, Styrofoam | Tagged absurd story, Art, artificial and natural, artist at exit o, bio fuel, energy machine, environmental machine, environmental story, Falls of the Ohio, finding one's purpose, found wax, material culture, photography, plastic junk, sense of place, Styrofoam | 8 Comments »
My images have been chosen and I’m writing quickly to create this Halloween-themed post before the big day arrives in our country. Meaning I have until tomorrow to post this if I want this story to be relevant to the day at all! 2015 was a very good year for finding Halloween related junk at the Falls of the Ohio. Some of this stuff I’ve saved into a small collection and the rest of my discoveries are preserved digitally. I have long since moved from the position that I need to save every physical object that I come across. Most of the time, having the picture is good enough.
The two bouts of flooding that we had during the Spring washed all manner of goodies into the park. It was an especially good year for plastic jack-o-lanterns. These common objects are essentially a plastic bowl for receiving and holding trick or treat candy. Naturally, real jack-o-lanterns are carved and hollowed out pumpkins that are illuminated from within often using candle power. I’m always surprised by the variety of plastic jack-o-lanterns that I have come across. This example was photographed as I encountered it…upside down and laying on top of the sand.
Here’s one that was crushed by the flood and some passerby hooked it onto a branched log. Here’s another plastic jack-o-lantern deposited by the river, but this one is much smaller.
Over the years, I have found many Halloween novelties including other containers for holding the precious bounty of candy. The jack-o-lantern form, however, is overwhelmingly the most popular. This year, I did find two different forms. Here is one that is the head from an unlucky black cat!
Now for a black plastic witch’s cooking pot that I nearly overlooked resting in the driftwood. The witch is dancing in silhouette next to her fire.
I even came across the remains of a mask. Costumes are a big part of Halloween and I don’t find many of them at the Falls. This one was pretty muddy, but after cleaning it up a bit…I saw that it was a devil’s mask made from a soft foam.
Okay, let’s look at a couple of shots of assembled river finds. This one has a variety of different character references.
This shot has a little bit of everything including vampire teeth, Shrek, Frankenstein’s head, a skull, a witch’s head, and a couple of scarecrows that also have a Halloween connotation.
Owls also are iconic to Halloween. Here I offer three found plastic bottles in the shape of owls. The big red one was found in 2015 and the other two are earlier.
Most of these are associated with candy novelties, but not all. I put this collection together at home when I noticed I had so many jack-o-lanterns in my various collecting bags.
Can’t say until now that there is actually a Halloween-themed chap stick that you can purchase. I am not likely to run across many of these along the riverbank.
I threw this guy into here because I like how expressive his face is. Some of that is due to the dark river patina it has acquired being in the water for a while. No doubt, I will keep running into this stuff at the Falls of the Ohio and I will try to document and or collect as I go along. One last image from this year…earlier I was doing site specific assemblages using found colorful plastic elements. Here is a detail of one piece I made and look who is taking pride of place? Happy Halloween everybody…be safe and have fun. See you in November!
Posted in Absurd, art and environment, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, collections, Falls of the Ohio, Found objects, material culture, Ohio River flooding, photography, plastic, sense of place, unusual collection | Tagged Art, artist at exit 0, black cats, candy carrier, Falls of the Ohio, found objects, Halloween, Halloween novelties, Jack-o-lanterns, material culture, odd collections, Ohio River, plastic novelties, pumpkins, skulls | 5 Comments »
That big summer rush is over now. The Interpretive Center panel is finished and this past Saturday, I picked up all the works I had on display at Eastern Kentucky University. I now have no other plans for my art which feels good for a change. I like staying busy, but don’t want to be so on the go that I don’t enjoy what I do. Art is one of those things we eat greedily until it time to move over to the next course. The process of creating and displaying new works has become such a consumptive activity on its own and it’s funny that I don’t hear more artists talking about the good and bad aspects of this. With this officially being Autumn, I went looking for traces of color at the Falls of the Ohio.
I showed up under the old railroad bridge with a mostly empty collecting bag. At this time of year, it isn’t so much the interesting objects that just floated in here with the latest flood, but rather the interesting items that have come to the surface after all this driftwood started to break down. As proof, I offer this recently discovered snow globe or dome. It’s too hard to see from my image, but there is a winter holiday scene inside the dome! It will be cold soon enough and Christmas as well. I’m all set with this little decoration that still has bits and pieces of fake snow inside.
Today I have no plan other than to wander. As luck would have it, I revisited an area that I haven’t checked out in the past 2 1/2 months. One of my favorite pieces I made this year involves setting up green plastic bottles inside an old boat dock that was deposited on top of the driftwood pile and that happens to be in this spot. When I was here last, the vines had pretty much ensnared and intertwined with all this wood and made walking a bit treacherous. All the greenery from those vines is now history, but the woody stems are still a tripping hazard. Coming across my piece from earlier in the year…I decided to reconstruct it as best I could. All the bottles were still here and the light was looking especially good.
Under the wooden dock are four compartments that I filled with the bottles. They can only be seen from this side and so this piece has evaded detection for the most part because it is not visible from the path that skirts the periphery of this driftwood mound. I just happen to like how the light gets concentrated within these green plastic bottles and activates the work in just the right conditions. The wooden compartments add a little structure to what would be generally be thought of as a chaotic composition.
Although we still have plenty of “green” in the environment. You can also see where “yellowing” is happening with the foliage. I expect as the season wears on and transitions to another that this Green Bottle piece will subtly change over time.
Walking over the mound, I came across an area that was completely obscured by vines a few weeks a go. What I uncovered in place was a series of found flip flop sandals I had parked here until a better idea showed up. For now, I record the lightweight shoes and move on. It might be transformed into something different the next time I pass this way.
The cottonwood trees that flank part of this driftwood mound are much “yellower” than before. When I first came out here during the month of May, everything around me was verdant and dark green. After setting this piece up again for the second time, I turned and walked away and cleared my head by walking to the riverbank. I will periodically stop by here and maybe after a few months will be able to create a series of images documenting this site specific assemblage as it changes with the seasons. For now, I will check out if the fishermen are having any luck…at the Falls of the Ohio.
Posted in art and environment, Art and Nature, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Installation, lost sandals, material culture, nature, Ohio River, photography, plastic, Plastic art, public art, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, watershed | Tagged Art, art and nature, art and the environment, artist at exit 0, assemblage art, driftwood mound, Falls of the Ohio, green plastic bottles, lost and found, material culture, photography, sense of place, snow globe | Leave a Comment »
Although I could have gone on making this panel richer and richer, at a certain point, you need to call this piece finished. Solid Light, Inc., the Louisville-based exhibit design team responsible for the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center’s renovation wanted to have everything in place by October. Officially, the center won’t open to the public until January 2016, however, the center wants to do a series of trial runs to see how well the new exhibits will work with school groups under the center’s educational staff. I worked pretty feverishly at my friend Tom’s large studio to get this panel realized before needing to turn it over to the designers. Also compelling me was the need to undertake a personal trip to Florida with my family to visit my ailing mother. Mom is getting better, but it’s just not life anymore if there aren’t many balls being juggled in the air simultaneously! I had more than enough found objects and river materials to get the job done. If anything, I may have had too many things to choose from! For this post, I thought I would share images of the panel in progress as well as some detail shots of its surface. The fun of this piece is looking up close to see the variety of objects both natural and artificial that have been fixed into place.
I tried several arrangements before settling on something that I thought would work. Central in all my compositions was the use of an old marine cable and the fragment from the side of a discarded set of wooden steps. The design team wanted a look that seemed to suggest that the objects and materials I was going to use had just washed up upon this place. Having something that appeared casual and spontaneous, but also composed was a big challenge. My own formalist tendencies wanted to work within a tighter composition, but I relaxed that by doing several dry run layouts before I nailed or glued anything in place. Of course, there is fantasy operating in the finished panel too because no where at the Falls of the Ohio have I ever encountered this much concentrated stuff in such a small area.
Another step that I realized was prudent before attaching stuff was painting my wood panel. I went for a mottled brown and gray background that resembled mulch and dried leaves. I think I did a good job of covering the surface and only in places can you see through to the wood panel below.
I was really proud of myself! I only dipped my painting brush into my coffee once! Once the surface was dry, I began by attaching the nylon cable around the panel first. I used a borrowed nail gun hooked up to an air compressor to do this. In fact, where possible, I used the nail gun as much as I could. I also used screws and a variety of adhesives (depending upon the material being glued) to attach items to the board. Working with polystyrene and various plastics can be tricky because certain compounds will eat and dissolve these materials.
I worried that my barge cable might make the panel look too much like the decor you see in seafood restaurants, but I think I managed to barely escape that impression. After the cable, I attached the wooden steps and glued the larger pieces of Styrofoam into place. I had other limitations that I haven’t mentioned yet, but this is as good a place as any to say what those were. First, nothing could project off of the surface any higher than 3.5 to 3.75 inches! The panel would need to be able to slide into a case that is 4 inches deep. Another concern was keeping a clean 3/4″ open wood margin along the entire outer edge of the panel. This would assist in sliding the panel into its case. Apparently, after the above shot, I didn’t take any more in process photos because I was too busy making the thing! Here’s a pretty close to finished view of the panel. I worked on this panel horizontally, but did tip it up to see it as others will see it and to find out if anything would fall off the surface? Fortunately, everything pretty much stayed in place.
There is a whole list of things you can find on this panel. On the base level, it is a good mix of the driftwood, polystyrene, glass, coal, aluminum, and other plastics found in the Ohio River. Here are a few details to give you a better look.
Some of the items on the panel like the coyote skull …I’ve had for many years while other pieces like the plastic Native American came to light a month a go. I had to include at least one doll in this assemblage because outside of toy balls…dolls are the most frequently found toy I come across at the Falls of the Ohio. I sprinkled in enough polished coal, walnuts, and mussel shells to keep it lively. I’m looking forward to seeing all the finished displays sometime soon. I’m sure this panel will look completely different in its case and in the context of the other exhibits. Looking forward to getting back outside to the river sometime soon. I still have a trip to Richmond, KY on the schedule to pick up my art that I have on display there . For now, I will content myself with this picture taken in the park several weeks a go. Thanks for dropping by!
Posted in Absurd, art and environment, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, collections, creativity, driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, lost and found, material culture, public art, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam | Tagged aluminum, Art, artist at exit 0, assemblage art, broken flamingo, coal, coyote skull, driftwood, exhibit display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center Panel, Falls of the Ohio State Park, found objects, glass, lost and found, material culture, plastic, sense of place, Solid Light Inc. | 6 Comments »
My Artist at Exit 0 show opened at the Giles Gallery on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY. I was able to make the opening reception which is a two-hour drive from my house. Gallery Director, Esther Randall did a great job of installing the artworks so they flowed easily from one piece to the next. I was wondering if I had brought too many or too few art works, but it seems everything worked out just right.
I was especially interested in how Esther would display my giant necklace entitled “La Belle Riviere”? She mounted the piece in a corner of the gallery and created a shape similar to the one I photographed on the willow tree. I had a new enlargement of that image created, a dye sublimation print on aluminum and it looked great located near the actual necklace.
What was especially gratifying was getting to meet and talk with some of the art students and faculty members who attended the reception. Many of them had previewed the show and a few had formed opinions which they shared with me. There was a lot of curiosity about the work. In general, the artworks were received favorably, however, knowing what my materials are and how I obtained them is also a sad state of affairs that left a few of the students feeling conflicted. My art is my attempt to reconcile those very same feelings within me. I describe the situation as being “absurd” which to me is a word that encapsulates both comedy and tragedy. Many of my Falls artworks have a surface charm to them, but when you dig a little deeper you find a darker side that critiques our handling of and perceived place within nature.
The reception lasted just a couple of hours and the time went by quickly. Before leaving for home, I did a quick spin around the space and made these snapshots of my work installed in the gallery. At home, I’m used to seeing them stacked on boxes or leaning on one another in my basement. Lack of storage space is also one reason I don’t save every work I make at the Falls of the Ohio. For me, it is also an odd feeling seeing my work on pedestals and treated the way other art is presented. That is another whole discussion altogether and it was touched upon in my conversations with the students. Following are a few more gallery views.
Here’s a few images of new works and details from favorite pieces. Let’s start with my plastic bottle piece, “Petrochemical Color Spectrum”. It’s a more formal work, but I like the color it brings to the show.
Another bottle piece from a few years back and made with found coal, plastic and glass bottles, and wood…entitled, “Mountaintop Mini-bar”.
Here’s a detail from a figurative sculpture I created entitled “The Inhaler”. Finding the inhaler on the riverbank was the starting point for this work.
A recent figurative work…”Jimmy D.” This piece has a nice presence to it. I think making the eyes a bit mismatched contributes to that.
A couple more images before closing this post. I did send Esther an artist’s statement I used unsuccessfully while applying for a grant. She did a good job editing it and this was posted on the gallery walls.
I was sorry to see the night drawing to an end, but there was one other nice surprise in store for me. On the drive home, I was treated to a really wonderful sunset! The exhibition will remain on view through October 16, 2015. See you soon near the banks of the Ohio River.
Posted in Absurd, Art, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, collections, creativity, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, Installation, material culture, recycled art, sculpture | Tagged Art, art exhibition, art show, artist at exit 0, Eastern Kentucky University, Falls of the Ohio, found bottles, found objects, Giles Galleries, repurposed art, Styrofoam | 20 Comments »
Although this is my first post of the month…my heart has not been far from the river or the odd kind of art that I make from the found remains of our material culture. A few months back, I accepted the generous offer from Esther Randall, who is the Gallery Director of the Giles Galleries at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond to show in their upstairs gallery. The bottom gallery will hold the colorful welded sculptures of Walter Early and his show will run concurrently with mine. I do like the postcard Esther created. She found two works by two very different artists that share the word “star” in their titles. Our exhibitions will open during the upcoming week and if you happen to be in the area. Please do stop by and check out our art shows. Richmond is about 22 miles past Lexington, KY or about an hour and 45 minute drive from Louisville. Here is the reverse of the card that gives other particulars about the opening reception and run of the show.
As you can see, my show is called “Albertus Gorman: Artist from Exit 0”. For all the work I’ve done at the river, I still identify very much with the “Exit 0” sense for place and the slightly existential “feel” that it implies to me. So much of my river art has been located in that interstitial area between the natural and artificial, between water and solid land, and between my own despair for the continued environmental degradation I experience in the park and the hope and optimism I want to feel as a human being rooted in the physical world. So what am I going to present in this newest exhibition?
Like many artists, I have the world’s greatest collection of my own artwork…or at least the pieces I’ve bothered to save from the river. Like many artists, I tend to keep moving forward making new stuff which means that many pieces exist that may have been shown only once or not at all. Of course, that is a big shame because different contexts bring out different qualities in the individual works and potential relationships that exist with the other pieces on exhibit.
Here are a few more artworks I have “staged” prior to loading them in a cargo van. I have many figurative Styrofoam sculptures that I have never shown in exhibition contexts. In the above image, you can see my latest piece which continues the work I have been doing with found plastic containers. I built a wall-mounted shelf from river-gifted wood and arranged the colorful plastic containers that I have also scavenged off the riverbank. The individual bottles have Velcro on their bottoms to help secure them onto their narrow shelf. A length of twine is there to help keep the bottles together while in transport.
All of these Styro-sculptures have stories associated with them and I remember them like old friends! This blog is their genealogical source recording their creation, their “lives” as art objects, and in some cases…even their demise.
I have five new works that were created specifically for this show. Three of them are larger photo enlargements I have had made that show works I created in the contexts of their river environments. For now, I will let Esther work her magic and I will post other images from the completed installation. I also have one other project going on that I have remained mum about so far. As you might remember, the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center has been closed for renovation as they upgrade their displays? Well, they have contracted with me to create an assemblage on a roughly 8 foot by 4 foot wooden panel showing some of the river junk I have collected within the park. I am really excited by this since this panel will be a part of their new presentation and will be the last panel seen as you exit the new displays. Thousands of people (many school tours) will get a chance to see this piece which will document many of the things that you can unfortunately find in the Ohio River. This panel is due soon and I have a lot of work left to do on it. Once completed, it will slide into a vertical case with a sheet of plexiglas with some text elements on it to help explain, cover, and protect it. It has already gone through several permutations, but for the moment, I will show just a few images taken of it in progress. Here are images from Phase 1.
As you can tell, this can go in a lot of different directions because of the wealth of materials available. All the stuff going onto this panel will have been collected within the Falls of the Ohio State Park. There is no need to go anywhere else! I want it to be as authentic as possible in so far as representing the kinds of stuff you can find floating in the Ohio River. Since these images were made, Solidlight (the Louisville-based company creating the new Interpretive Center displays) has suggested some changes. They want to see more driftwood used as a unifying element which should be easy enough to do. I hope, however, that they will appreciate that people will be just as interested in the variety of crap I’ve collected as well and not settle for a cross-section of materials that can be found at the water’s edge. To see that, a visitor simply needs to go down to the river to experience that already in place. My good friend, sculptor Tom Butsch is letting me use his studio to construct this. My own space at home is simply not large enough to accommodate this. A couple more pictures before ending.
A river found barge cable and section from a set of stairs are big individual elements going onto this panel. I keep playing around with different compositions. The trick for me is in keeping it more informal. My impulse as an artist is to want to order this in some more formal way. I will let you know how all this turns out. I have an early October deadline, so this panel will be my focus for the next few weeks. Until then…and from the banks of the Ohio River…see you next time.
Posted in Art, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, collections, creativity, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, Installation, material culture, Ohio River, Ohio River flooding, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam, unusual collection | Tagged Art, art exhibition, artist at exit 0, assemblage, driftwood, Eastern Kentucky University art department, Falls of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, found materials, found objects, Giles Gallery, lost and found, material culture | 10 Comments »
Once a year, usually in mid to late summer, the dam is closed and the water retreats off of and exposes the ancient Devonian fossil beds. It is an other worldly landscape of blonde-colored rocks that preserves in limestone the proof that life existed over 400 million years ago. This exact place during that time too ancient to imagine was in the latitude of the present day Bahama Islands. Then it is was a marine reef supporting early salt water animals, most especially a large variety of corals. Today, this is a fresh water environment defined by the Ohio River. My goal is to cross over to the Kentucky side (where the majority of the fossil beds are located) by wading through the shallower areas near the tainter gates. Unfortunately, and unforseen by me, all the recent high water has made the riverbank a slippery muddy mess and the current that is allowed to flow through a channel by the dam is still too strong to wade through. I got almost half way across and found the footing treacherous. I didn’t fear for my personal safety, but I didn’t want to risk dunking my camera and phone in the water. Thwarted today, I will need to make better provisions for that the next time I attempt this.
So, I did the next best thing which was to explore the riverbank and nearby Willow Habitat. The resident colony of Black Vultures was hanging out under what shade some of these willow trees could provide. The bird in the above image is a sentry maintaining its post outside of where the main group of birds were resting under the nearby trees. The vulture flock doesn’t seem as large as it has been in the recent past. Perhaps the prolonged conditions of having a high river forced some of these large birds of prey to seek greener pastures? The vultures would allow me to only get so close before jumping into the air in search of thermals to lift them even higher. I continued my modified trip by walking towards the fossil cliffs below the Interpretive Center.
It was a very hot day and in places you would come across areas that were once very wet and had dried revealing a wonderful network of cracks.
I’m proud of myself. In addition to wearing a cap…I made sure to bring along plenty of drinking water on this very hot and humid day. Here my bottle is wrapped in a heavy mil plastic bagel bag. I used this to keep the other items in my pack dry just in case this bottle leaked. I continued my hike to the fossil cliffs when I could see something snow-white in color moving along the ground. At first I thought this was a piece of paper disturbed by the breeze, but soon noticed it was moving in bird-like fashion. I continued approaching very carefully yet deliberately and had my cameras at the ready. Here is my first image of what would soon be many.
Switching over to higher magnification, I could see my new bird was a species I had never encountered out here before. In the comfort of my own home I was able to identify this little guy as the Yellow-collared Sandpiper (Caladris fascinati). This is a tiny shorebird more at home in the Pacific Northwest and has rarely been recorded east of the Mississippi River. This is the first recorded instance of this bird at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. So, what was it doing here so far away from home?
It is not unusual for this park to record rarities during the migration seasons in early spring and autumn. To see this bird here outside the normal times shorebirds would be migrating through our area makes me think this bird is here by accident. Perhaps one of the monster storms we have experienced this year blew this little one way off course? Looking at my reference guides, I identified this as being a juvenile of the species. You can tell that by the pink bill. Once fully mature, the bill turns dark, nearly black in color. I have recorded other juvenile shorebirds migrating through the park on other Falls of the Ohio adventures. In particular, I remember seeing juvenile Golden Plovers and once…even saw a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher. What makes these sightings all the more incredible for me is knowing that a few short weeks ago…these birds were beginning life as eggs in shallow nests located in the high Arctic tundra. Normally, the Yellow-collared Sandpiper migrates down the Pacific coastline of the United States, crosses into Mexico, and winters in Central America. This is a journey of several thousand miles.
I observed this bird for about a half hour or so. I watched it feeding around the margins of small pools of water that had puddled on the fossil beds. It used its pink bill to probe the soft mud in search of the tiny invertebrates that make up the bulk of its diet. The bird seemed not to be concerned about me and I took many photographs to document its presence in the park.
The mouse-like bird moved like a wind-up toy on the fossil rocks. When it moved, its tiny legs seemed to be going as quickly as they could. The sandpiper had a curiosity for the world and checked out every clump of vegetation and crack upon the limestone surface as potential sources for food. Perhaps it was the hawk that flew high over our heads casting a fast shadow upon these ancient reefs that scared it away or perhaps it just grew tired of my company…regardless, the Yellow-collared Sandpiper flew away in a blur of brown wings. I thought I could detect a high “peep” call note as it went skyward. Heading back to my vehicle, I had one more pleasant surprise in store for me. While this is not on par for rarity, seeing the beginning of the Monarch butterfly migration going through our small piece of the planet is still an awesome occasion. Like the Yellow-collared Sandpiper, the Monarch butterfly has a very impressive migration of its own as it moves from Canada to Mexico and back again. On my way home, I said a little prayer asking for the continued safety of all the small things moving through the world. I guess that’s it for this time at 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, creativity, environmental art, found materials, Found objects, material culture, nature, nature photography, Ohio River, photography, repurposed materials, sculpture, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam | Tagged accidental bird, Art, artist at exit 0, birds, Devonian fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio State Park, found art, material culture, Monarch butterfly, nature, photography, rare sandpiper, sense of place, site specific artwork, Styrofoam, the natural and the artificial | 4 Comments »
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