Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2012

The stars were in alignment and I got to spend a nice Earth Day at the Falls of the Ohio.  It was a little cold and windy…nothing layering in sweat shirts couldn’t handle!  I found so many interesting objects and spaces that I filled up my camera’s memory card.  I now find myself with a richness of images I couldn’t post in one go…and so I will try to keep it focused in some way.  As proof that everyday should be Earth Day…the official celebration in the park has been moved to May after the Kentucky Derby.  Supplanted by a horse race!  Last night was Thunder Over Louisville which year after year is usually the largest fireworks display in North America and kicks off the two weeks long Kentucky Derby Festival.  Thousands of people were out here partying on both banks of the Ohio River.  They left their trash after the event, but fortunately it looks like the clean up crews are doing a good job and keeping this stuff out of the park.  After all, it already has enough detritus of its own.  Of late, I’ve been really fascinated by how these big barge cables and ropes that wash into here weather over time. They are made of tough stuff, but the river wins in the end.  Sometimes they unravel and drift beautifully from willow root to branch like mutant Spanish moss.  Some of their colors can even be shocking compared to the neutral earth tones of their surroundings.  Here’s one such scene I’ve been trying to describe.  This is one of my Earth Day photographs.

I later came across a nice length of barge cable stretched out across the sand. For fun, I started coiling it and taking pictures of the different configurations I came up with.  Here’s the way it looked stretched out.

When I look at my pictures at home, many of these cable fragments reference fossils.  I get a strong feeling of ancient sea lily crinoids and nautilus-like ammonites preserved in the rock that was silt millions of years a go.  I also played with the spiral form and activated an intimate space with its spring-like energy.

Creating a tighter spiral evoked ammonite shells and wavy tentacles.  Ammonites were coiled cephalopods with some resemblances to our squids and octopi. The ammonites were so successful for so long.  Beginning somewhere in the Devonian they prospered and radiated out to fill all the world’s oceans until the Cretaceous Period crashed.  Their run lasted more than 330 million years and now they are all gone.  We have a way to go to match that record.

In most of the places I walked today I could hear the Northern Orioles singing.  I tried imitating their call notes and once in a while I could get a bird to reply.  I saw various warblers, vireos, woodpeckers, wrens, and more…however, the most memorable bird event happened at my feet.  I stepped too near the nest of a Song Sparrow and flushed the bird that was hiding with its clutch of eggs.  Here’s a photo of the scene.  Can you find the bird’s nest?  Look closely at the dark spot on the left side of the young willow greenery.

And now…lets look a little deeper and closer at this spot.

Inside were four tiny eggs tinged in green and speckled with brown spots.  I’ve read that the Song Sparrow is heavily parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird which opportunistically lays an egg of its own among the sparrow’s clutch.  The unsuspecting parents raise the cowbird as their own.  As far as I could tell, this nest was in good shape.  Perhaps having a really obscure nest site has so far protected it from the cowbirds which are common in our area?  Walking further, I came to another nesting site of a different kind near my outdoor studio.  Like the Song Sparrow…this spot was also well hidden.

The tire swing helps give it away otherwise it easily blends into the natural driftwood environment.  I imagine a family coming to play here because there is evidence of children… including a misplaced fuzzy duck toy.  The kids keep raiding my Styrofoam cache, but haven’t made anything back at their fort!  Walking around the structure, I find the door is closed.

I even crawled up on the “roof”  for a look.  The builders have taken a natural space created by interlocking logs and enclosed and defined the space by leaning and propping up other found wood.  It all blends in perfectly.

I moved a few planks and logs aside and could see the interior.  I set the duck back up and snapped this shot.

Because my driftwood structure neighbors like to borrow the Styrofoam I’ve collected…I decided to leave them a present using the biggest polystyrene chunk they dragged over here.  First, I need to improvise a head.

After finding some appropriate limbs…I set the figure up in the corner of the log fort.  I thought it looked pretty good against the new green leaves of the willows.  In my head I heard this little bit of imagined dialogue…”Wait, wait…it’s not yet Earth Day!  That’s been postponed until May 12.  Come back then and bring the family.”…as he waved all wild-eyed and everything.

I’m not sure how long this guy will last?  It would be nice to think that the kids who play here could see this figure as a part of their creative environment.

The root mass from this great log makes up one “wall” of the driftwood fort.  Here’s another view looking back before I moved on to the rest of my day.

I’m going to bring this post to a close with two photos of a willow tree I saw the other day.  These trees are buffeted by the elements and begin to take on character and personality as their will to survive kicks in.  With their branches reaching for the sun…their incredible roots hang on to the mud and are sculpted by the Ohio River.  It’s good to think of trees during Earth Day.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

In the beginning he was so unclear about what had happened.  There was this vague image in his mind of some kind of presence he felt that may have created him?  Even that “fact”  was up for debate.  All he remembers with any kind of certainty was that he couldn’t remember anything at all until the breath of life was blown into him.

What he remembers next is feeling the warmth of the sun on his face.  He tried looking at the sun, but his eyes couldn’t stand the gaze.  Averting his face, he saw a shape on the ground and was surprised when it echoed his own movements like a dance partner.  It was in this moment that he felt his body and became fully aware that he was physical and could move around in space.   He took a minute or two, three, four…to survey his birthplace.

What he saw astonished him!  Positioned in the sand were lots of pieces that looked like the same material he was made from.  It was a bit creepy and confusing for him and his next impulse was to escape.  This decision set him upon the path that would be his life’s adventure.  He walked and walked and everything he saw was new, confusing, and miraculous to him.  There were trees and plants and other life forms that occupied the same space and were delightful to behold. It took a while to absorb and understand some of the things he was encountering.  After a half day’s journey or so, the traveler came to a place different from where he began and after surveying this field…he had an epiphany.

It was a debris field full of all kinds of materials…some of which resembled the pieces he saw before and which constituted his very physical being.  He realized that he was made of the stuff of the world and felt the kinship.  He further intuited that these materials were themselves extracted from what had lived and came before.  Life is built upon life…dust to dust…ashes to ashes…plastic to plastic.  The Traveler moved on.

The Traveler was gaining experience of the world which then led to knowledge of it.  He encountered many other objects and filed them away in his being for future reference.  One such object was this immense cable or rope and our hero recognized that all the individual strands of this rope gave it great strength and unity when they were woven and twisted together.  The sun was at its high point and the day was getting hot.  The Traveler decided to move into the shade of the trees to cool off and discover what he could learn there.  After an hour’s walk or two or three…he came to a large black tunnel leading into the ground and it beckoned to him.

Reflexively, the Traveler overcame any misgivings and entered the tunnel.  It felt cool which he liked and there was blackness which he feared. In the next heartbeat there was an incredible burst of light and he found himself on the other side of the tunnel.  What he saw next was the most perplexing sight of this new and memorable day!

Impaled upon three sticks were three heads that were regarding him with interest.  The Traveler was a confusion of feelings that ranged from horror to outright fascination!  One head was blue and looked like an elephant minus its  ears.   The other two heads were childlike and misshapen.  Within his own mind, the Traveler heard the largest childlike head speak to him and it said, ” Welcome Traveler…we are the Oracle of the Sands of Time.  Together we are the past, present, and future.  All that you were before…you will be again…and more.

The Oracle then spoke in unison and told the Traveler that the Past, Present, and Future simultaneously coexist.  They were appearing to him now to act as a guide to the life that had been given to him.  Naturally, the Traveler was a bit  confused since he was new to paradoxes!  Then the larger head placed an image into the Traveler’s mind and said, “Do you remember that rope you saw today?…imagine a slightly different one more colorful and expanded. Now imagine it’s a model of the universe and everything in it.”

The Traveler then tried to grasp the idea that the universe is made of vibrating strings that phase in and out of time.   Because there are differences in spacetime and your point of view changes depending on how you focus on a moment…the possibility of multiple “you’s” can exist in different dimensions in space and time.  What you were before…you can be again…or not.  Yes, it’s all rather confusing and the Traveler moved away from the Oracle and tried contemplating what he was just told.

What was he supposed to do with this knowledge?  He then remembered the last thing the Oracle told him and it somewhat made sense.  As long as he was fully present and open in each moment of his life…he would be fine.  If he was having a bad day…somewhere in the universe those other “you’s” could be having better or worse days.  In the big scheme of things…it just doesn’t matter.  As the sun was setting in the west, the Traveler was able to face the sun with his shadow confidently following behind him.  He decided that he would keep walking towards the light and treat each day like it was brand new.

Read Full Post »

It’s Spring and I’m walking the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park looking for birds.  I have done this religiously for years and have seen most of the species that have been recorded in this park.  I love birds because they are such beautiful expressions of life.  I envy their extreme mobility with so many species able to call greater parts of the globe home than I will ever experience.  This is the time of year when many different types of birds that have been wintering in South and Central America undergo remarkable journeys.  Some will pass through this area on their way to locations as far north as the Arctic Circle. This is my chance to see them… if I’m lucky. The Falls of the Ohio also has another significant bird connection through the life and work of John James Audubon.  He essentially started his life’s work that would eventually become The Birds of America, one of the great achievements in publishing and the most expensive book in the world, by first drawing many of the birds he encountered at the Falls of the Ohio.  Audubon’s example and his journal descriptions of the world he inhabited are frequent touchstones for me and this project.  Two hundred years later…very little remains of the original landscape he was familiar with.  That process and transformation of the landscape is continuing and unfortunately not always in a positive direction.  Birds are such great indicators of the quality of the environment because they are sensitive to changes…the canary in the coal mine was a real thing.  To enjoy birds and birding is an activity that takes you out of yourself for a little while and causes you to engage life on its own terms.  On this day (which also happened to be April Fool’s Day)  I did experience many of the usual year round resident bird species, but did not see any of the neotropical migrants that make the Spring migration so special.  So, when this happens, I’m not above creating my own bird species.  This post is devoted to a new bird I discovered out here and I’ve named it the Variegated Oriole.

The Variegated Oriole receives its name for being multicolored. I first encountered this bird as various bits of detritus that I came across walking the shoreline of the Ohio River.  For the head, I used a small piece of river-polished Styrofoam.  Its brightly colored beak is part of a plastic and polystyrene fishing float that I cut with my pocket knife.  The eyes are small bits of coal.  I used a green foam gasket or washer to act as a transitional element between the head and the body.  It’s a trademark of mine that I seem to do with almost every piece I make out here. For the body, I found a blue piece of river-polished high density foam? that I cut a few slits into the sides to hold the wings which are made from pine bark.  I took one piece of bark that the river peeled off of a tree and I split that in half to form matching wings.  The tail is a piece of yellow plastic I found that reminded me of a bird tail!  I cut another groove into the blue body to insert and hold the tail in place.  The feet, are just rootlets that I sharpened and pegged into the body.  That’s it in terms of materials which I tried to alter as little as possible as not to trump what nature and the river had already shaped.  It’s important to me that this be a true collaboration.  If “we” are successful, then something of the spirit of a bird will take hold and inhabit this small sculpture.

After finishing the bird…I seek out environments that will help put this avian creation into some kind of context.  Everything matters and I hope my pictures convey something of the time of day, the season, the quality of light, the condition of the environment, etc…all those elements help create a sense of place.  I move through the willow trees posing the bird on various stumps and branches.  I usually take a lot of pictures.

Sometimes, I will imagine what kind of habits my new birds might possess.  In the case of the Variegated Oriole…it is not too different from the Northern or Baltimore Orioles that live and nest in the park.  They are among the migrants I look for. I heard one the other day calling, but didn’t see it.  The real orioles that live here are adapting to local conditions by using artificial materials (fishing line and barge cable fibers) in the construction of their hanging basket nests.  I’ve posted on this before in this blog a few years a go.  I think Audubon would have been interested in this.  Anyway, I left my bird sitting on a branch for anyone to discover.  It might still be there and I will find out today when I once again venture out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Perhaps new birds will present themselves to me? I will let you know what I find…next time.

One week later…I returned to the spot where I left my faux-feathered friend and he was no longer perched upon the branch where I left him.  I was able to locate most of him scattered on the sand except for one wing.  My guess was that he was felled by a well-aimed and thrown rock.  The head was shattered and will need to be replaced provided  I recyle these pieces back into a bird again.

Read Full Post »

The ritual must have worked because when I returned to the Falls of the Ohio a week later the greening of the world was underway.  Small leaves were sprouting from the willow branches and many of the area’s trees were flowering.  There was a palpable sense of pollen being everywhere and my airways felt irritated as if coated by dry inhaled dust.  This is a dreaded time of year for people who suffer seasonal allergies.  I was glad not to count myself as a member of that unfortunate club.  As I walked along there were other marvels to behold.  I came across a rare Sand Lotus blooming along the shoreline and wondered how long its seed had remained dormant until the absolute right conditions presented itself?  Seeing this flower was worth the trip alone!

I returned to my outdoor studio and saw that the bottle tree had indeed dropped its leaves.

This, however, was not the only change that had occurred since my last visit.  My outdoor studio had been discovered and some person or persons had constructed a crude figure from the Styrofoam I had collected here.  A broken fishing rod stuck out from their creation’s body.

As is my habit, I began the day beach combing along the river’s edge and dumped some of my finds onto the sand.  I would try to make something from the objects I had come across.  Here is an earlier image of what would later become the figure I named “Phillip C. Nelson” after the words written upon a piece of blue insulating foam I found.

Before showing you how this figure turned out…I want to meander a bit like the Ohio River does. During the month of March, I’ve found three objects that at least have some references to where they may have originated.  Because the river is so powerful…glued on labels usually fall off by the time they reach the Falls of the Ohio.  Knowing where something came from can give you a sense of the journey it took to reach “here”.  Well, let’s just see where this takes us and I’ll begin with the object I discovered that traveled the furthest down river.

First, I was amused to find this piece of plastic with a stylized finger image on it!  It says its a thumb saver and I guess it functions something like a crowbar for stubborn thumb tacks so you don’t need to risk breaking a fingernail?  I have heard of Beaver Falls before because it’s the Pennsylvania hometown of one of my boyhood heroes…Joe Willie Namath who is an American football Hall of Fame quarterback for the New York Jets.  He brashly and correctly predicted that the Jets would win it all in 1969.  Beaver Falls is in the so-called “Rust Belt” because this was once steel making country before economic hard times caught up with it.  Beaver Falls has a population of approximately 8,900 people and is 31 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania placing it near the origins of the Ohio River.  Beaver Falls is actually located on the Beaver River which flows for six miles in a southerly direction before its confluence with the Ohio River.  As for the savings and loan association…I’m not sure exist anymore because I couldn’t find more contemporary references to it.  The fact it is giving away a customer premium that involves thumb tacks seems somewhat old-fashioned to me!  Potentially, this object has traveled a great distance (approximately 560 miles) through time and space to reach me.  And now for found object number two.

Buried in the wood chips, I recognized this as the delivery box for a newspaper.  In this case, the paper is the Steubenville Herald Star which is still in business today.  Steubenville is also in the Upper Ohio Valley and downriver from Beaver Falls.  This town of approximately 19,000 souls is situated on the Ohio River which forms a border with the state of West Virginia.  Steubenville’s claims to fame include being called the City of Murals for the 25 murals it boasts in its downtown area.  It is also called Ohio’s Cookie Capital…I’m sure there is more of a story there.  And it is the hometown of crooner Dean Martin who was also Jerry Lewis’ comedy partner.  I estimated that this newspaper box traveled a bit more than 500 miles to reach here.  Interestingly, Steubenville like Louisville is situated within a Jefferson County. Okay, on to the next item which hails from Camp Nelson RV Park and forms the body of my figure.

The blue insulating foam that forms the body of my figure came from Camp Nelson RV Park located in Lancaster, Kentucky.  I have heard of Camp Nelson before because of its Civil War history.  Back in the mid 1860’s it was a recruiting and training camp for African-American soldiers.  Later it served as a refugee camp for freed slaves with some tragic consequences.  Earlier in Kentucky’s history it was known as Boone’s Landing because it was a favorable river fording spot for Daniel Boone.  It has been a recreational vehicle park since 1966.  This piece of foam with its black marker info has traveled the most interesting and surprising route to reach the Falls of the Ohio.  Camp Nelson RV Park is located on the Kentucky River.  It has floated down the most torturous and convoluted stretch of water that makes estimating distance traveled nearly impossible.  Eventually, it did float past our state capital in Frankfort and joined with the Ohio River somewhere between Prestonville and Carrollton, Kentucky.  That’s a bit more than fifty miles upriver from us.   Kentucky is rich in waterways and outside  the state of Alaska…has more miles of flowing water than any other state.  The little foam dinosaur is a child’s ink pad stamp and in my mind is a good symbol for the whole recreational vehicle industry especially since gasoline is over four dollars a gallon.  Well, other than show you a few images of Phillip C. Nelson exploring his new home…it’s been instructive for me to learn where some of the junk I find may have originated.  Every place and object has a story to tell.

Phillip C. Nelson seemed to enjoy exploring the driftwood field.  And in case you were wondering what I did with some of those old cigarette lighters…this last view will show you.  Thanks for tagging along on this extended journey with me!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: