Archive for May, 2010

About sixty miles away from Louisville and the Ohio River is the small central Kentucky village of Nerinx.  It’s smack dab in the middle of an area renowned for its bourbon distilleries, but it also has an older, interesting history.  I brought my friend and video artist Julia Oldham with me on one final adventure before her stint as artist in residence at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest comes to an end.  On Memorial Day, Julia will be back in her familiar Brooklyn and far from bucolic Kentucky.  We started the day by listening to National Public Radio’s story about SETI and the search for intelligent life in the universe.  After fifty years of scanning the heavens for “intelligent” radio signals, only once was a signal received that had promise and that was back in 1977.  That search for promising signals became a theme for the day and dovetailed nicely into Julia’s latest videos from the Possumhaw Plant Electrics series.   I was honored to see her latest artworks which walk the fine line between art and science.   It should be fun to see how the rest of the world receives them post Bernheim.  After that, it was breakfast at Mammy’s Kitchen in nearby Bardstown, of my Old Kentucky Home fame.

Although Nerinx and The Loretto Motherhouse (which we were seeking) isn’t that far from Bardstown, I managed to get the vehicle turned around on a few occasions.  Julia discovered that her global positioning application didn’t really work very well out in the country.  Still searching for intelligent signals!  Eventually, we just stopped and asked someone and we were set upon the right road.  Some of America’s oldest Catholic roots are found in Nerinx.  The name is actually a variation on Nerinckx which is the name of the priest who helped found the Motherhouse.  We thought his image on his statue looked somewhat like the young Beethoven.  Nerinckx was joined by Theodore Badin who would become the first ordained priest in America (1793) and it was they who helped found the Sisters of Loretto in 1812.  There is a statue of him too! With the help of sisters Ann and Mary Rhodes, the order set up a school for girls since education in the frontier was often neglected.  No statues for them, but there needs to be!

Two hundred years later, the Loretto Motherhouse operates a farm and infirmary.  Julia and I were also in Nerinx seeking out an artist friend of mine that is also one of the Sisters of Loretto.  Her name is Jeanne Dueber and she is an accomplished sculptor with a wonderful studio and gallery.

Jeanne and Julia share a common friend and so it was nice that we were able to connect.  Jeanne’s studio and gallery is called Rhodes Hall and it is a wonderful old structure filled with the artist’s work.  It’s practically a retrospective of Jeanne’s life work as an artist.  There are more traditional ecclesiastical figurative works, but what I really enjoy are her abstract wood sculptures that just reach for space in all directions.  Here are a few views of the installed artworks.  Jeanne is not a big person, so it’s all the more amazing she has the energy to wrangle these larger works.

There is literature relating to the Loretto Motherhouse for sale and Julia and I found the donation box to be really charming.  The reading glasses are a nice touch.  We found little hand-painted signs all around the art works and must be Jeanne’s handiwork as well.

After parting company with Jeanne, Julia and I took a stroll around the grounds.  There were beautiful birds singing all around us.  It was a beautiful, warm, Kentucky late spring day that made you feel as if you were far away from the concerns of the rest of the world.  And we were!  Plastic bottles in a small garden caught my eye and I went in for a closer look.  Perhaps they were frost protection no longer needed?

The cemetary on the grounds was really interesting!  The first few rows of stones remember some of the contemporary, longer lived sisters.  It seemed that was quite a string going of people who lived into their 80’s, 90’s, and there were a few 100’s too!  This contrasted sharply with the early years where many of the women only lived to be in their 20’s and 30’s.  Tuberculosis and various fatal influenza outbreaks during some particularly bad years spoke of the difficulty of life during the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s formative years.  Interestingly, there were two large stone slabs set upon the ground that recorded the names of perhaps 30 or so (?) sisters who donated their bodies to science!  After the walk through the grounds it was time to return to Bernheim.  I said my farewells to Julia and wished her a good trip home.  She will be returning to our area in August for a solo show scheduled in New Albany, IN and it will be great to see her again!  Julia also wrote up a Loretto Motherhouse story which can be read at her blog, “Bee Sting Brose”.  It’s on my blogroll for your convenience!

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I never have a dull visit to the Falls of the Ohio.  Each time I come out here I can expect an adventure of one type or another.  On this day the river had noticeably receded and this large boulder of Styrofoam that I had been watching for days as it floated out here was finally on the shore.  I tried to move it, but it was so waterlogged and heavy that I gave up…for now.  All around it were Styro-bits that were ground off by abrading against logs and the sandy bottom.

Near my polystyrene giant was this section of the riverbank.  It’s the aftermath of a tug of war we are engaging in with the planet.  In this type of struggle there are no winners.  Recent images from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico come to mind which incredibly still flows unabated weeks later.  Since much of the garbage in this photo is derived from petrochemicals, I wonder if this also could qualify as an oil spill?  If I scooped up a handful of sand around here…I would see tiny bits of plastic and the ever-present polystyrene bead.  This stuff is likely to never go away.  But life does try to keep carrying on as it always has.  I also came across this interesting beetle and a smile returned to my face.

I have seen these out here before.  It’s an Eastern Eyed Click Beetle and I think I read somewhere that this is our largest click beetle.  If you placed this beetle on its back, it would flip right side up with an audible “click”.  Hence click beetle.  There are other species, but they are all smaller.  This one is just under two inches (about five centimeters).  It’s coloration is similar to a bird dropping, but it also has these dramatic eyes on its pronotum.  These guys do fly, but most of their lives are spent as larvae living in decayed wood.  I passed by the mulberry tree with its ripening berries and there are birds who just can’t resist this plentiful food source.

Among the bird species eating fruit from this tree included this Blue Jay…

…and this Catbird which does make odd sounds which sometimes sound like the mewing of a cat (hence catbird!).  They can be quite territorial to their own and other species too.

Not too far from this tree, I could hear some squabbling going on and I moved towards the sound.  You can imagine my surprise when I came upon this scene!  I stayed hidden behind a large willow and just observed.

There were these two little figures and one of them was tugging on a rope attached to a plastic gasoline container and his “friend” with the wierd hairdo was jumping up and down on one leg trying to get him to stop!

The figure with the rope eventually succeeded in knocking the container over while his friend continued hopping!  What he thought he was going to do with this gas can is a mystery?  He soon grew frustrated with his efforts and a shouting match between the two began.  That deteriorated into another contest where each tried to take the rope from the other.

All this effort must have been exhausting because after a little while they gave up and abandoned the rope and the gas can leaving them lying on the sand.  They reconciled and walked away from here hand in hand. 

Perhaps they realized the futility of their struggle and came to their senses?  Perhaps they recognized that it was better to conserve their energies for more constructive pursuits?  Who knows, but while I pondered these questions I came across another image of futility and I will leave you with that until next time.

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While wandering the Woodland Trail in an area best described as temperate semi-rainforest, I made another unusual bird discovery.  I believe that I have these privileged sightings because of two principal reasons.  The first has to do with frequency.  I am at the Falls of the Ohio as much as I can get away from my other responsibilities and so I have more chances for encounters.  The other has to do with motive.  Being knowledgeable about our avian friends, I simply am out here looking for birds and therefore open to their discovery.  On this particular day I was actually anticipating members of the wood warbler tribe when I came across what must be a first for this park…the rare Cumberland Greencrest!

This is one species missed by both Lesson and Gould in their individual monographs on hummingbirds of which the Cumberland Greencrest is an atypical member.  The Cumberland Greencrest was first discovered on the Guatemalan Highlands in 1910.  It is larger and slower on the wing than the average hummingbird.  It’s flight can best be described as being Swift-like where the individual wing beats alternate between extreme activity and gliding.  In its main haunts, this bird constructs a small nest from lichens and spider webs on a suitable tree branch and a single jelly bean-sized egg is produced.  The adults take both small insects on the wing and feed from the nectar of rare orchids found only in certain protected valleys. 

I was exploring the trees lining both banks of Parfume Creek (so named because on certain days, the scents of various laundry detergents are detectable emanating from the water using one’s  open nose) when the Cumberland Greencrest made its appearance.  I immediately recognized I was in the presence of something special and limited my movements so I wouldn’t frighten it away.  As this single individual coursed along the creek bank, I slowly brought my camera up to my eye and recorded these images in quick succession.  I think they show this bird in its glory very well and are worthy of sharing with a larger audience if I say so myself!  But please, don’t just take my word on this…judge for yourself!

I recorded these images using my high-speed camera as the bird made its passes back and forth along the creek.  In these images one can see why this bird is appropriately named with its lacy green crest atop its head.  The encounter was brief, but memorable!  What was this bird doing in our area to begin with?  The answer may lie in the very powerful thunderstorms that are becoming a staple of the Western Hemisphere.  I speculate that this bird was simple blown way off course as is known to happen with other species of hummingbirds.  I returned to this area the following three days, but never again encountered this specimen.  I did, however, see the duckling of a species of which I am currently unfamiliar and recorded its image among the driftwood and I hereby also present this to you my very dear reader in the hopes it will fuel your curiosity!

The Cumberland Greencrest was made from materials found entirely within the park and include:  Styrofoam (body and wings), wood (its tiny feet), coal (the eyes), plastic ( the bill which was part of a fishing bobber and the tail which is a plastic lettuce leaf!, the yellow collar is from a soft drink bottle) and lastly the green crest is some foam-like material.  It is held together in places with small, sharpened wood pegs.

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I thought I would post a recent collection of photographs of some of the stuff I’ve come across since mid April.  The river has been very up and down during this time and accessing the shoreline hasn’t always been possible.  Whenever I come out to the Falls, I’m also interested in what else I can find in addition to what I can make from some of this stuff.  I’ll start with this “Sunny Ball” I found lying in a pool of water with a sheen on it!  I see this frequently as it surfaces through the sands.  Here’s another.

The iridescence isn’t just motor oil (although there has to be some of that here) but also includes decaying organic matter in the form of old leaves.  In this case, there is also fluff from cottonwood trees.

Nice recent cracks in the mud.  I’m not sure what the blue plastic object is, but the tracks going through this scene are from a white-tail deer.  How about some more found faces?  Here’s another lost ball with images.

I found this ball when Julia accompanied me.  Here’s another image from that adventure with a Halloween theme.

For those of you unfamiliar with this American custom, on October 31, children go door to door in their neighborhoods in costume and collect candy.  These plastic jack-o-lanterns are popular for storing the candy.  Here’s another I recently came across peeking out among the debris.

I also find many other figurative toys.  The more traditional dolls I come across frequently make disturbing images.  I’ll save those for another time but I think these are interesting as well.

His shirt says “Forty the Legend Continues”.  I wonder if this is a novelty item from a barbeque establishment along the river?

Another pig-themed…not certain what this is?  It could be the lid from something and was about two feet across and heavy.  His eyes caught me as I walked across the sand.

Continuing with pigs…here’s a plastic stopper? I found recently.  Maybe this belongs with a bottle of pig perfume?  Nice bow tie.

I’m walking along looking and listening for birds when my eyes are drawn downward and I see a “Big Bird” I wasn’t expecting!  I lifted it off the ground and a quick photo is taken at the place of discovery.

I came across this lying on the sand and maybe because of the orange color, may be a Halloween novelty too?  It was flat and lightweight and the white spinner-thing spins.  Perhaps off a glider toy?  Anyway, it has personality as does my next image.

The “A” is for Alvin of the Chimpmunks’ fame.  He is a little worse for wear.  The river is very tough on everything.  He is posed by some carpeting that washed ashore near this object.

Came across this just yesterday and I “love” (almost hate to say this) the patina on this plastic snowman bottle.  I popped this into my collecting bag.  I imagine this must have been floating out on the river for a while to acquire this surface color.  Not sure what I will eventually do with it.  I think that’s about it for now.  I have one more image, also from yesterday.  I came across a really large expanse of beach left high and dry and this was its surface.  This is what’s created when a really large piece of Styrofoam gets chewed on by the river and floating logs…a Styro-aggragate.

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Extraordinary images from a remotely placed camera-trap yield glimpses of a rare mammal.  Long thought to be gone from the Falls of the Ohio, it appears the Feralocitor is recovering parts of its former range.  The Feralocitor is a carnivorous animal about the size of a very large house cat.  Genetically, a Feralocitor’s closest living relative is the Fossa from Madagascar which is that island’s largest and rarest native predator.  Both share a relentless drive to pursue prey and are especially adept at catching birds and small mammals in trees.  Like the Fossa, the Feralocitor has a long tail which it uses to balance itself as it runs and jumps from branch to branch in its arboreal home.  Pictures of the Feralocitor at the Falls of the Ohio came as a shock to the park’s naturalists who remain mute about its existence here although there have been long-standing rumors.

The image above shows what the Feralocitor is especially good at which is stalking its prey.  Noiselessly, this predator can get low to the ground (or log in this case) and approach within striking distance of its formidable claws and teeth.  Once a Feralocitor has a hold of its intended victim, there is no escape.  In addition to stalking, some Feralocitors (especially older or injured individuals) are excellent at hunting by ambush.  The original inhabitants of this land have an almost supernatural reverence for this animal and their name for it roughly translates to “…ghost-spirit of the trees”.  This reverence, however, wasn’t shared by the farmers who settled this area and saw the Feralocitor as another predator who killed and ate their smaller livestock.  It was shot on sight, poisoned, and trapped until it became so scarce that it was rarely seen and believed gone from these parts.  Today, the role of random predator is played by domestic dogs that have gone feral and occasionally run in packs causing fear and damage.  Such dogs exist at the Falls of the Ohio and here are a few images of them.

The feral dogs in this area are a motley crew of mixed breed dogs.  I recently came across two of them while bird watching and I was so intent on looking up, that I didn’t notice that these dogs had walked quite close to me.  In far western Kentucky, I recall an experience of being out in the woods and being surrounded by five wild dogs!  It was a tense moment because dogs in this situation can be dangerous.  I remember yelling at them and throwing rocks in their direction to chase them away.  Once there was a thriving sheep industry in the western part of the state that was decimated by feral dogs.  An old biology professor at Murray State University told me that one.  The dog in this second picture doesn’t seem particularly glad to have run into me and I’m probably interrupting his attempt at a meal from a nearby dumpster.  They seem always hungry and will take nearly anything that crosses their path.  There is a shortage of ground nesting birds in the park because there are just too many predators on the prowl and not enough cover.  World-wide, feral dogs are a resilient and growing problem and rabies is also on the rise.

I decided to camp out in an area where a Feralocitor was last seen.  After several days of nothing, I was rewarded with two separate  images of a hunting Feralocitor.  In this case, the prey animal (the Ohio Valley Rail) is also rare and endangered.  The first hunt I observed was successful, however, the Feralocitor was so efficient and quick at the kill that it was over and gone before I could get obtain another picture.  It waited until the bird’s head was down before launching its fatal attack.

In this second photo, the Feralocitor was unsuccessful when the bird sensed something was wrong and flew away.  By listening to its instincts, this rail lived to experience another day.  It is great seeing an animal that once existed in this area recovering some of its former range.  Similar stories exist from the recent past.  Once black bears were rumored in the eastern section of  Kentucky.  This was proven, they became studied, protected,  and  now there is a limited hunting season on them.  The same could be true of the mountain lion.  Persistent claims that they too are re-entering  their former territories will probably pan out as young lions move eastward pursuing the ever burgeoning deer population.  As for the Feralocitor, time will tell.  It isn’t an animal likely to be prized by hunters.

The last image is of the Feralocitor in progress.  It’s made of found Styrofoam, wood, nuts (for eyes), rubber, and plastic and was constructed on location during a light rain.  The sculpture was held together with sharpened wooden stakes and pins.  With the exception of the Feralocitor and the Ohio Valley Rail, other mentions in this post are factual.

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Guess what everybody!  An interview I did with one of my favorite blogs was recently published and I’m honored to be placed in the spotlight.  If you get the chance check out the interview and scroll through some of Lynda’s stories.  If you like art, poetry, popular culture and more…than you will find her blog worth the visit!

Here’s the link to the Echostains blog, http://echostains.wordpress.com/

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I love this photo!  This Swainson’s Thrush seems so happy sitting on its berries.  At the Falls the migrant birds are around and our trees are flowering or fruiting.  I have been doing my best to come up with some nice bird photos in between other river activities like making art.  Most of the warblers are proving to be tough subjects.  The difference between getting a nice image and nothing is a thousandth of a second.  Warblers are very small and constantly moving.  There is a lot of thrush and catbird activity around the sweet mulberries and squabbles are frequent.

These pink and red mulberries will be ripe when they turn dark and black.  That’s when the wildlife particularly go for them.  This is a prolific tree and seems to be on the rise.

This bird atop a willow tree is a bit of a head scratcher for me.  I like that I was able to get such a relatively clear shot among the foliage, but what species of bird is this?  When I first took the photo, I thought I was photographing one of the seasonal vireos.  However, there is a suggestion of light-colored wing bars and perhaps a slightly streaked breast too which is an unusual combination.  That’s what I like about bird watching…it can be challenging even when you think you have a good image.

Wafting through the air were the tiny, cottony seeds of these black willow trees.  Many of these will land upon the sand and germinate.  Only the fittest can thrive in this tortured soil and manage the periodic flooding that helps define this place.

There were birds that I was able to photograph and identify like this pair of Mallard Ducks.  They were away from the river and more than likely have a nest nearby.  This Mourning Dove is showing a little of the iridescence on its neck that comes with the breeding season.  It’s hard to believe now that Audubon’s first drawing of the extinct Passenger Pigeon was made at the Falls of the Ohio.  That is certainly a bird I would have loved to add to my list of living species in the park.

I was able to add a new bird to my list on this trip and it’s an unusual one!  It’s called the Ohio Valley Rail and is usually heard more than it is seen.  It is not typical to run into one during the daylight hours.  So, when I came across this female near the river…I got real excited!

This bird is in transit to the marsh habitats that exist around the lakes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Since the Ohio Valley Rail is believed to travel at night…it is a mystery why this one isn’t sleeping in a secluded spot.  Originally discovered and named within the river valley by early 19th Century naturalists, it would be many years before it’s true northern haunts would be known to science.  The males are slightly smaller but have more developed plumage which they use to their fullest glory when they leap and dance into the air trying to win the favors of a female.  Successful dancers will pair up producing a clutch of two eggs usually in a nest located on the ground and made from cane leaves.  One last image of this rarely seen oddity with the big head and bright red bill.  Bon voyage!

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