It’s been a hot, hot summer at the Falls of the Ohio. For me, the best time to be out here is as early in the morning as possible. One advantage in doing this is you are more likely to see birds and other wildlife. I found this Indigo Bunting singing away from the topmost branch of this tree. For as open and publicly trampled as this park is…witnessing such small and intimate moments where man and nature freely mix keeps me coming back for more.
This adventure occurred during my last visit to the park and early in the month. As it turned out, it was a memorable visit. I’ll go ahead and tell you that I twisted my right ankle which isn’t big news or a particularly rare occurrence. But this time, I was sure it was broken and I limped out of the park with the aid of my trusty walking stick. I was walking along in the sand and my ankle just collapsed. That’s all it took. All my early sports injuries have left me with a weak ankle. The x-rays didn’t reveal a fracture, but I was surprised by the bone spurs and bone deterioration. As I write this three weeks later, I’m still limping along but without the aid of crutches so I guess I’m on the mend. Returning to that day and before the sprain, I revisited the sand sunken tire from previous posts and replaced the coal that was removed from it and then moved on.
I created a little friend to keep me company and to help me with the day’s projects. He’s made with Styrofoam, sticks, plastic, and a little bit of coal for his eyes. I have used the coal that washes up here for as long as I have been doing this particular body of work which is approaching eight years now. As a material, its relevance has always been appreciated by me. Like the corals and brachiopods that have left their traces in the limestone at the Falls…these black rocks also speak of ancient life, but coal has a different and contemporary purpose that is won at great cost. Walking along the eastern section of the park, I explored and gathered the coal I found interspersed among the sand and driftwood. My little helper tagged along and soon we filled the hole in a second found tire.
I noticed after I selected this tire that it had once been painted white. I have seen this before where people of thrift have used cast off tires for garden planters. On this one, most of the paint has worn off and the river has given this tire a unique patina. For the Little Man and myself, this would just be the beginning of our play with the found coal out here.
Among the other found objects I scavenge along the beach are empty pint bottles made from glass and plastic. I like them when I find them with their labels soaked off by the river and their bottle caps in place. A little more than a year a go I shared a river adventure with video artist Julia Oldham and we marked the day by putting notes and colorful fishing floats in other empty bottles. I sometimes think of those bottles and wonder if anyone has ever found one of our notes? In all my years here, I have never found a note in a bottle and by now I have looked at thousands of bottles. Some of my friends at Living Lands and Waters report finding notes in bottles all the time and I’m guessing that this happens more along the Mississippi River than it does the Ohio River? For me, finding a note in a bottle will happen when it’s supposed to…I just hope that it’s written content will be interesting!
You have just seen a few of the bottles I have filled with coal. The white flecks you see mixed into the coal are bits and pieces of mostly zebra mussel shells which is another unwanted element in this river. Filling these bottles with coal is meditative for me. Usually, there is still a little bit of whiskey or alcohol in the bottom of these bottles that scents the coal inside its container. Coal is such a complex subject in our region that it is enough to drive one to drink. On one side it is a common and available form of energy, but the costs to the land, people, and larger environment are extreme. Having visited the coal fields in eastern Kentucky, it is certainly plain that the people whose land and mountains have been mined out from under them haven’t benefited to the extent that you would think since poverty and despair are far too common.
I’m going to continue to explore coal as a material and social issue with the help of some new friends. I have been invited by a group of mostly younger Kentucky artists to participate in an exhibition to be held sometime in the near future. A blog has been set up called Project Reclamation and if you would like to follow along…just click on the link on my Blog Roll on the right column. I will keep you posted. To close, here is one other bottle or carbon storage image I photographed with a found rubber duck behind the transparent bottle. I look forward to going back out to the Falls of the Ohio as soon as my ankle fully heals.