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Archive for October, 2011

After a brief cold and wet spell I made it out to the Falls of the Ohio last Saturday.  The Ohio River was rising as were the temperatures which had dipped into the 30 degree mark  for a few days.  One look around here and there is no doubt that it is autumn in Kentuckiana.  The willow leaves were noticeably yellower and many of the trees were in the process of losing their foliage.  I was scouting around for what else was different in this environment and spotted this tiny butterfly moving about.

This small whitish butterfly was sipping on something on the sand.  I was practically nose to nose with it and recognized that it was a member of the skipper family.  Last year was such a banner year for butterflies at the Falls and to my eye…this year was a noticeable drop off.  After following this skipper for a few yards I was able to take this image of it.  At home I identified it as the Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis) which is considered a very common species.  It seemed rather late in the season for a butterfly, but I was able to observe a few rag-tag Buckeye butterflies and a few tattered Viceroys too.  Funny how I had never noticed this skipper before.  Nevertheless, I felt a sense of personal discovery as though I was the first person ever to see this tiny revelation. It was about this time I heard a distinctive tapping coming from a stand of willow trees.  Somewhere a woodpecker was plying its trade.

With its jet-black wings, white body, and bright red bill this bird is easy to identify…it’s the Pied Woodpecker.  About this time of year the northern population of this interesting woodpecker begins its southerly migration to the warmer climes of Central America.  Although I had added this bird to my “Life List” while on a family trip to Wisconsin…this was the first Pied Woodpecker I have seen at the Falls of the Ohio.  I observed it moving up and down the trunks of the willow trees exploring the crevasses in the bark for small insects.  It likes to move head down in its search for food like nuthatches are known to do.  Every now and then it would use its bill to chip away the wood to uncover the bugs it sought and it seemed quite unconcerned about me taking pictures of it.  I snapped as many as I could as I followed it on its path through the woods.

Soon it came to a grove of trees that were covered in wild grape vines.  The Pied Woodpecker explored the bark here too, but I saw it augmenting its diet with the tiny fruits this vine was producing.  Every once in a while it would make this nasally sound that I tried imitating.  Fortunately, this bird didn’t take offense and fly away.  Perhaps it “cut me some slack” for at least trying to talk to it in its own language…or at least that was my thought at that moment.

From the vine-covered trees, the woodpecker next flew to a large log with a large exposed root mass.  When this tree was living it must have been huge. The Pied Woodpecker didn’t linger here long and I watched its rising and dipping flight pattern as it crossed over the Ohio River into Kentucky.  I wonder if I will ever see another of its kind here again?  That’s the funny thing. There are birds that are considered common and regularly recorded here that I have yet to see.  I’ve seen them elsewhere, but not here at the Falls of the Ohio.  That’s the thing about birds…their extreme mobility can make them unpredictable!

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For many years I’ve been beach combing at the Falls of the Ohio and I bet I’ve looked at thousands of bottles and never found one with a note in it…until now!  I was going through a bag at home where I’ve stored bottles I’ve collected in the park when I noticed one that had something rolled up inside of it.  I don’t know how long I’ve had this tiny bottle, but the enclosed note didn’t register at the time of discovery.

The bottle itself is somewhat unusual because it is so small.  It’s the size I remember being served on airline flights when people purchased mixed drinks.  The bottle is plastic and originally contained cherry flavored vodka which doesn’t sound too appetizing to me, but what the heck.  I fished out the note which is made of waxy paper with silver foil on one side.  The note itself is written with what looks to be orange color pencil and was a bit hard to read.  I got a little lump in my throat when I read it and it says…”I miss you Mom & Dad, New Albany, IN”.  New Albany is found down river from the Falls, across from Louisville,  and couldn’t have floated here from there.  So, I surmise the note was written in the park and then thrown into the Ohio River which then  washed back on the beach.  Today is my Mom’s birthday and now I’m going to call her to see if she had a good one?  So long for now.

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I’m at the Falls of the Ohio again because the Ohio River has been priming my subconscious all week with the sound of running water.  I am also very close to finishing the piece I’m making for an invitational art exhibit I’m participating in which revolves around the issue of coal and mountain top removal.  This is a topic of some importance in Kentucky.  We have a love/hate relationship with coal.  On the one hand it is an energy resource we have in some abundance and it does provide much-needed jobs and revenue, however, the toll it takes on everything it touches is also well documented. Over the last few posts you have seen some of the process I’ve been involved with the coal the Ohio River has deposited at the Falls.  Today I’m gathering the last of the coal I need for my art.

The spring floods of 2011 washed a lot of coal into the park.  My “usual” Falls of the Ohio project touches upon another important issue which is the quality of our number one vanishing resource… fresh, clean water.  As is the case with most aspects of the environment, few issues stand in isolation from all the other problems out there.  Considerable overlapping is the norm which makes all these problems that much more complex and challenging.

The piece I’m making for this invitational exhibit isn’t intended to be a didactic one.  I’m not sure that screaming at people ultimately does much good when it comes to something as complicated as the coal issue.  I also don’t pretend to have the answers.  I’m hoping that the artwork I’m making with this coal will operate effectively just under the surface of people’s imaginations where it might linger long enough to resonate.  We will see.  In the meantime, I’ve “enjoyed” working with this material.  I have decided that it does have an odd beauty of its own especially when the river tumbles away its rough edges.  I have found simply creating small mounds of coal whether in old car tires or just by itself to be a reflective act.

After playing with the coal for a few hours, I decided it was time to do something else.  It has been a while since I last baited a hook and went fishing.  I got the idea when I came across a long willow branch that a beaver had gnawed all the bark off for food.  Looking around the riverbank, I also found a hook, lead sinkers, and enough waste fishing line to outfit my found pole.  Fishing floats are something I find in abundance and always have a few in my collecting bag. I also pick up the lead weights that other fishermen lose because this metal doesn’t need to be out here either.  Looking under rocks, I scrounged up enough insect larvae to use for bait.  Now I was ready to throw my line in the water…and wait.

I guess about twenty minutes passed before I got my first nibble.  I lost my bait several times before I was successful in hooking a fish.  The sight of my float going completely under the water was a thrilling one!

This fish didn’t give me much of a fight.  After a few runs in different directions I could feel it tire and lifted it out of the water. To be honest, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what species this was, but I know that I have never seen anything quite like it here before.  It’s coloration was unusual with its light blue body and bright red tail.

It’s eyes are large and I surmised that it usually lives in the depths of the river where light rarely reaches it.  I thought it had some similarities to the sauger which is a walleye relative and also found here, but it lacked the sharp teeth that the sauger has.  It’s gill covers or operculums were metallic and reminded me of the bottoms of aluminum cans that the river washes into the park.

I quickly took a few more photographs and then released this fish safely back into the river.  When I got home I tried to look up some information about my catch, but couldn’t find much about it.  Apparently, Rafinesque and LeSueur, two early naturalists who described many of the fish found in the Ohio River and Falls of the Ohio, were mum on this subject which was disappointing.  Until I can locate better reference material I decided to just call it something descriptive like the Red-tailed Goggle-eye.  Of course, any information that any of you out there might have would be welcomed! Seeing this fish I also had another more disturbing thought.  What if this is evolution in action and the continued degradation of the environment is shaping new species from older ones that can deal with the new reality?  Evolve or die. This brought the question of man as an agent of evolutionary change to mind since we are culpable for many of the changes going on in the larger world.  Well for now, I’ll just sleep on it and see what turns up tomorrow.  See you by the water!

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After the briefest cold period, we have had a glorious week of perfect weather.  It’s been good to get back to the river after having the focus of the project shift away from the park and into a gallery.  Looking around, you can begin to detect those subtle shifts in color beginning to happen in the tree leaves.  Actually, there is quite a bit of color all around when you begin paying attention to it.  For instance, check out this morning-glory vine.

This purple flower is practically glowing.  And the Viceroy butterfly is all in burnt orange as it mimics the Monarchs that currently are migrating on their way south.  That large black vein crossing this butterfly’s hind wing is found only on the Viceroy.

Now blooming at the Falls are several species of the Composite flower family that look so close to one another that you need to have a few on hand for direct comparisons.   Many are yellow in color like these twin blossoms.

When I wasn’t noticing the local color, I was poking around for old booze bottles.  I found a few more to add to another piece I’m making at home.  I also came across the remains of another bowling ball and I added this one to my collection.  This is how I found it.

At first I thought I was going to dig this ball out of the dirt, but I didn’t need to.  What you see is essentially all there is!  It’s just a chip of the ball that happens to include a couple of finger holes, the ball’s brand name, and the name of its former owner…Gladys Coons inscribed on the surface.  I dropped the fragment into the water to clean it off and the metallic colors begin to shine.

With the Styrofoam I also found out here I fashioned yet another figure and posed it next to an old tire that I had placed river found coal into.  First here’s the tire nearly overgrown with plants since my last visit.

Now for a more eccentric view with my Styro-figure posed above it followed by a shot that places things in better perspective.

It’s been a few years since I worked with coal as intensively as I have this year.  Our spring floods did a lot to redeposit this mineral in the form of rounded coal pebbles and gravel.

I reposed this simple figure several times mostly in the area that had the most coal deposits.  Much of the time I was filling empty bottles with coal for that other project I mentioned.  In places you can find “beaches” of coal gravel several inches deep.  Intermixed with the coal are white mussel shell fragments and a bit of brown tree bark.  I will post images of my bottle sculpture once it is finished.  For now, I will leave with a picture of where I left this particular figure in the park.  I found a different arm and placed this piece in the context of these beautiful flowers.

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