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Archive for April, 2011

The Ohio River continues to rise because the sky continues to rain.  This flood will be one for the record books…perhaps in the top ten when it’s all said and done.  But who knows when that will be?  The weatherman hasn’t been very encouraging of late.  The timing of this flood is especially bad because it overlaps with the Kentucky Derby Festival and its two weeks of partying and activities which culminates with the most famous horse race in the world.  The additional water will keep the tourists away.

These images were taken just a couple of days a go and now the river is even higher.  In the City of Louisville, some of the most powerful pumps outside Holland are working around the clock pumping water from the low-lying areas.  Streets have been closed and the flood gates are up.  For the people who live nearest to the river…they have packed up and left a few days a go.  By now, the water has reached the roofs of their homes.  There’s nothing more that can be done.  It’s sit tight and see how much more rain will come and how high the river will rise.

My son Adam was curious to see the extent of the flooding and so we visited the Falls of the Ohio.  The familiar wooden steps that lead to the river bank were now half way underwater.

We watched a box turtle flushed from its home in the underbrush swimming to higher ground.  Fortunately, it received an assist in the form of currents pushing it to land where it was able to escape drowning.  Watching this greatly affected my son who has a tender heart when it comes to all animals.  He really gets upset when the nature shows on television become too graphic. He doesn’t understand that life feeds on other life and that this has been the way of the world for a very long time.  This flood has also affected my creative routine at least by the water.  I’m forced to hopscotch back and forth between events in time which I think is a healthy thing in my life.  I was beginning to feel a little too linear anyway.  So, here’s another Styrofoam project I made sandwiched between the last flood of a couple of weeks a go and now.  This project is also now a memory remembered by these images.

I really thought the previous inundation would be it for the year.  And so I set up shop atop this immense pile of wood and explored what was mixed in with all the natural debris.  Among the “treasures” was this toy gas hose…but that’s not all that I found!  Here’s something unusual too.

I set it up to help orient it for the photograph.  It’s what’s left of a taxidermed deer head.  The tanned skin that would have been stretched around it is now gone, but the remnants of the deer’s actual skull and broken antlers are screwed into the molded foam form.  This is another object that exists at the intersection of the natural and the artificial which I find curiously to be another sign of the times we live in.  When this trophy was intact, it probably was praised for its life-likeness.

I also picked up this Styrofoam fragment of what I’m guessing was perhaps a Halloween novelty?  Amazingly, the little skull image survived.  I found another human bone reference out here on the wood pile.  It’s a miniature pelvis made out of plastic.  Luckily, I have never found the real deal and probably would freak out if I did.  Here’s that hip bone and a second image with some other fun stuff I picked up including one of the smallest and cutest squirt guns I’ve seen.

Sitting on a huge log, I started getting comfortable on my new spot.  I thought I could last here until the summer heat drove me under the willows.  I began to gather materials to make sculptures with like I had done with my previous plein air “studios”.  Mother Nature was providing all the material I needed to keep me and this project going for a long time.  Here’s my Styro-cache with its river-polished foam.

It’s all gone down river now, but before that happened I made one other figure out here.  I called him “Hoser” and set him up next to the “Danger” figure.  First, I started with making a head.  The eyes are old fishing floats.

I felt very meditative in this setting.  I could see the skyline of a city with its proximity to nature and it made me speculate on how it all was going to turn out?  Would we eventually strike some kind of working balance with the planet or was this a taste of what was coming or even worse?  I would walk around my wood pile looking for a stick or branch I could use for a limb to help blow life into this Styro-man.  This is how he eventually turned out.

With gasoline approaching four dollars a gallon I decided to put the fake gas pump nozzle and hose to good use.  I strategically placed this object into the figure’s polystyrene body more as a reference to the fact that here was another resource that we pissed away.

I located “Hoser” near the “Danger is My Middle Name” figure, took my photographs, and walked away.  That was the last I was to see of them.  Within days, the river started to rise more from rain that fell north of here and then it started to rain in earnest in the Ohio River Valley.  That was two weeks plus…it’s still raining and the river keeps on rising and the adventure continues.

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It’s raining as I write this post.  It has seemingly rained the entire month of April in my area resulting in a swollen Ohio River.  I think we are on another collision course with the record books for most precipitation during April.  Only once this month have I been able to access what passes for our normal river shore line and it was very muddy!  We have had tornado warnings and flooding this Spring.  The following adventure occurred between the two episodes of high water we have experienced.  I was walking along the Woodland Loop Trail at the Falls of the Ohio State Park when I was stopped in my tracks by this hand painted sign the river deposited during the first flood.  Is it another way that the universe is trying to communicate to us?  Is nature saying we are taking a big chance with our treatment of the environment?  I wonder who will win and what the prizes are?  Care to buy a ticket?  I decided to pass, but there were plenty of consolation prizes all along my walk courtesy of man and a too high river.  Since this is Indiana, I thought it was fitting to find one of these.

For thousands of years the Falls was home to a sizeable population of native people.  Now, you are more likely to find one of these.  Another piece of Americana I came across I added to my fake food collection.

What can be more iconic than a fake cheeseburger?  What’s sad is that this isn’t the only one I’ve ever found out here.  I even have found a couple of plastic crinkle-cut french fries too.  Let me see if I can find a picture of one…hold on…yes, I also found this recently.

Moving along the trail, the unmistakable smell of skunk kept getting stronger and stronger in the humid air.  It’s possible that one of these animals drowned in the flood and its carcass was deposited here.  Or, one of the many birds of prey could have taken it.  At the odor’s epicenter, I discovered two species of vultures polishing off what’s left of the unfortunate skunk.  There were three black vultures and one large turkey vulture taking turns at the miserable remains.  Here’s one of the black vultures keeping an eye out while his friends gnosh.  I could see them around the tree trunks.

The dominant bird here was a big turkey vulture which is unusual from what I have observed at the Falls of the Ohio.  I normally see them retiring when the black vultures arrive.  This bird was the last to leave the skunk and the first to return.  Here he is giving me the “eye” from a low hanging branch.  As I approached, he joined the other vultures in a tall tree with a vantage point of me and the skunk. 

All that was left of the skunk were a few innards and its skull.  Perhaps the vultures will eat this too?  That skunk odor was so pervasive and offensive, I’m amazed that these vultures could stomach this, but then again, they have probably had worse meals.  Not to far from the birds, I did find a big piece of Styrofoam that was washed into a bottomland area.  Using what I could find nearby, I constructed this unnamed figure, photographed it, and kept moving down the trail.  Where I left this figure was in the center of a trail loop that curled back towards the Interpretive Center.  Here are images of this improvised piece.  It was an especially pitted and worn hunk of polystyrene.

I circled around and could see the sculpture from another angle.  Funny thing is that while I write this…I know it is no longer standing and was probably swept away again by the Ohio River for parts unknown.  It occurred to me recently that this month is the riverblog’s second anniversary.  As long as the river keeps things interesting, I will try to do the same through these posts.  I have many other images of recently found junk and once this more recent flooding subsides…no doubt will be able to fill this virtual collecting bag.  My parting image is the last picture I took of this short-lived artwork.

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I’ve added another collection to my Pages section.  Inspired by the theme of “Beach Combing”, here are images of objects found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  My Pages section can be found on the column on the right. 

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Seldom seen and thus aptly named, the River Ghost is an unusual small mammal living at the Falls of the Ohio.  Over the course of several days I was able to photograph a young adult as it was surveying potential territory.

Don’t let the cute face fool you.  The River Ghost is a relentless pursuer of anything it can catch and eat.  It’s diet includes birds, fish, other mammals no larger than twice its size, eggs, reptiles, and if necessary, insects and carrion.

The River Ghost has a long and flexible body that allows it to pursue its prey through underground burrows.  It also utilizes abandoned burrows to raise its own young.  Two kits are usually born, but only the strongest will see the light of day.

I photographed this specimen walking along the mud line that was deposited by the recent flood.  The mud is a five-inch thick layer of “fudge” and very soft and moist.  That’s my boot print in the picture.

This mud is also perfect for recording the foot prints of other animals that cross over its surface.  Scientists are uncertain which senses are most important to the River Ghost, but it seems to have a keen sense of sight and hearing.  This odd animal has kinship to both rodents and weasels and may be a throw back to an older evolutionary line.

Despite having formidable survival skills…the River Ghost is not thriving for a variety of reasons and primary among them is habitat loss.  More and more the riverine bottomlands it prefers are being divided and developed.  It’s prey species are also experiencing a decline in populations.  Many species are dependent on large areas of intact ecosystems in order to remain viable.

It would be a shame to allow this curiosity among the local fauna to disappear before its time.  Humans have coexisted with this intrepid predator for thousands of years.  The native people have legends and myths about the River Ghost’s ferocity and toughness and its way of getting out of trouble that it starts.

The last time I saw our River Ghost it had moved onto higher ground around the Interpretive Center and Woodland Trail.  It seemingly followed every lead and poked its head into every hole looking for food to satisfy its insatiable hunger.  It occurred to me, that it was heading for the picnic tables where people have been spreading dry cat food on the ground.  I wondered if the River Ghost “knew” that other animals would be attracted to the feeding station…or was it here for a bite of cat food too?  Perhaps I will see it again?

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It’s a wonderful spring day on the debris heap.  On the old bridge several diesel trains have been carrying their vital shipments back and forth across the Ohio River.  These trains are also a noisy element here when they are crossing.  Among the other sounds you can count on hearing are the aircraft about to land at the local airport and the sound of the river flowing under the gates.

The flooding we experienced a few short weeks a go has left a lot of debris deposited at the Falls.  During the height of the water, the area I’m exploring today was a watery gyre of spinning driftwood, junk, and plastic jugs and bottles.  It’s dry now and in the eastern section of the park under the railroad bridge.  You can’t miss it because in places it must be 12 to 15 feet tall.  It’s all interwoven logs and debris and it can be very treacherous walking here.  You always must be careful where you place your foot and weight because it might just be an air pocket covered in paper and leaves that can cause you to fall into a hole.  It would be no fun walking out of here with an injury.  I usually have a long walking stick with me to help me maintain my balance walking over the backs of logs.

If you are careful, you can explore this wooden mound safely.  It presents several interesting vantage points for photography.

Naturally, I’m also on the look out for interesting objects that have come to rest here.  My collecting sack soon fills with mostly plastic artifacts.

This wooden mound has waves of its own.  It has peaks and valleys and you can sense how the water moved from the artifacts that were swept along and how and where they came to rest.  The lightest stuff like plastic bottles are good indicators of how far the margins extend and where drainage occurred.

After exploring the area and collecting materials, I soon had another temporary studio going.  This time I’m not finding any huge sections and chunks of Styrofoam around.  There are, however, lots of smaller pieces absolutely everywhere.  I gathered these pieces up and soon I was making a figure to take advantage of this riverscape configuration at the Falls of the Ohio.

I found a spot with a good view of the city and made this guy.  His name comes from the spot where I left him.  I can feel that my face has received more sun than unusual and since I didn’t bring any sun block…decide that it’s time to go back home.

The place is marked by a “Danger” buoy that drifted in with all the other debris.

Around “Danger” are all kinds of other junk mixed among the driftwood.  Tires are ubiquitous as are all the plastic containers and playground balls.  Among the natural materials are wood (limb and lumber), nuts, dried reeds, and lots of shredded tree bark.

I’ve been busy cataloguing with photographs all the small items I found and collected from the Falls over the years.  I have posts to come of that material. I also have several other figures and adventures to relate to you.  With this project you have no choice, but to work with the river and I have been trying to play catch up where and when I can.  The next expedition takes place in the western section of the park.  There I will attempt to capture images of an unusual animal rumored to have been seen there recently.  Wish me luck!

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This is a post from the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  The high waters from the recent flood have taken their sweet time abating.  I slogged through a lot of mud, but have to admit I had a good time exploring.  Along the way, I could see odd items that had been snagged by the trees and here they will stay until they decay or another flood carries them away.  Here’s a wooden stand of some kind that found refuge in the branches of this tree.

And here is part of a hurricane fence that the river deposited high and dry onto another tree.  Nearly every where I go I can find (mostly plastic bags of all sizes) stuff caught by the tree branches.  Sometimes this items “decorate” their new homes for years to come.

I’m always on the look out for signs of life.  On this trip I came across a flock of American Coots, but they swam away before I could take one decent image of them.  In the soft mud all around me, were the tracks of the various small animals that call this place home.  I believe these are tracks made by raccoons next to this plastic baby toy that floated in with the river.

Investigating the other debris, I nearly missed seeing this Eastern box turtle.  He looked like an old-timer and because it was still a cool day…he was moving slowly.  This allowed me to take several pictures and I had a great opportunity to check him out.  Here is a series of images of it.

The weird part is that earlier in the day, I came across a completely different kind of turtle.  This one is usually found in close proximity to sand and has a penchant for children’s company.  While the previous turtle embodied substance and image…this one is all image.

I also came across my “Mud Duck” which was hanging out in an area that was much drier than before.

This duck and all the genuine birds and small animals better look out this spring and summer because the feral cat population keeps increasing.  On my way back to my vehicle, I came by this site near the Interpretive Center.  Frankly, this “blew me away”.  There were two picnic tables and each one had the equivalent of a large bag of dry cat food spread under each table.  I’m sure this person has a kind heart and means well, but I don’t see how this helps the other wildlife in the park.  Well fed cats still catch birds and hopefully they will also catch the rats that I’m sure this scene also attracts.  I’ll end with these two images, but will be posting more post-flood pictures very soon.  Until then…

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