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Archive for June, 2012

The heat is on at the Falls of the Ohio.  It is looking like this will be a summer to remember.  In the Louisville area, we have already set all time record highs for the month of June.  Yesterday, it was 105 degrees here or around 40 degrees Celsius in the rest of the world.  Coupled with the heat is a lack of rain.  So, when it’s this miserable outside…who in their right mind would be walking around under this crazy sun?  That would be me!  I’m here at the river’s edge and imagining that I’m one of the dozens of herons I can see fishing from their spots by the fossil rocks.  I take my shoes off and cool my feet in the river.  This provides some respite.  It occurs to me that perhaps these herons aren’t fishing after all, but have discovered that they can beat the heat by wading in the water?

All the coal flake designs from the last post are gone.  In places, I can see how someone has dragged their foot deliberately across the patterns to erase them.  Why a person would feel compelled to do this is beyond me?  I’m nearly numb to the idea by now.  I am actually more surprised when any of my projects manages to survive for any time at all.  I have the images and that will have to do.  I do have this other coal project going out here.  It really isn’t any thing special.  Just coal defining the perimeter around a patch of grass I noticed growing next to a piece of driftwood.  I imagine that the wood provides some measure of protection from the wind or catches more dew and that is why this very small area of grass is growing.  The coal ring is meant to call attention to this.  So far, it has managed to survive being stepped upon, but if it doesn’t rain soon…I’m afraid my small patch of grass is a goner.

After cooking in the sun for a bit, I returned to my Styro-studio under the shade of the willow trees.  There is a trade-off.  Although I’m not under the direct scrutiny of the sun, I do however, become a tempting meal for mosquitoes and biting flies.  Looking around, I can see that I have had visitors because the Styro-figure I had stashed here has been destroyed and someone has attempted to create another figure from its remains.  An old pair of sun glasses I had previously found was just barely hanging on to the new figure’s eye-less head.  I do like it when people play along and imagine other possibilities.  I was looking through  my  larder of polystyrene chunks and wondering what to make next when I spotted some movement in the near distance.  Grabbing my camera I carefully stalked behind the trees and caught another member of the Falls’ distinctive fauna unawares.  Here is my informal portfolio of the River Cat.

Hiding behind a log I saw the River Cat hunting.  Among its habits…it is an ambush predator that conceals itself along the trails used by its prey which includes other small mammals and birds.

Once it was a common small predator found throughout the Midwest of the continent, but was persecuted and destroyed because it unfortunately developed a taste for chickens and other small livestock.  It was poisoned and trapped and extirpated from the majority of its former range.  Small remnant populations have clung on enjoying the protection they have found in state and national parks.

I watched this River Cat for several minutes before it discovered me!  It wasn’t  sure what I was and it jumped up onto a large log for a better look.  At this point, I wasn’t sure what it was going to do…but I kept on taking pictures.  Here is a close up of its head which illustrates one peculiarity about this beast.

River Cats have mismatched eyes.  There is an old pioneer wives’ tale that the secret to this cat’s hunting success lies in locking its gaze with that of its prey’s.  In effect, it momentarily hypnotizes its quarry before coming in to make the kill.  Whether or not there is any paralyzing effect at all has never been formally proven.

Once this unusual cat discovered that I was neither food nor threat it moved on.  I tagged behind at a respectful distance.  I followed it near the river before it gave me the slip.  Knowing that it was probably hungry, the thought crossed my mind that it might try to ambush one of the wading birds I saw earlier.  Picking up my collecting bag and walking stick I headed back down to the river.  Unfortunately, my luck didn’t hold out and I wasn’t treated to a real life moment where hunter meets prey.  I never saw the River Cat again, but I do have a few photos to prove it was here.

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I’m getting out here a little later than I was aiming for and now the summer heat is awake too.  I’ll take my precautions and take it easy under the shade of the willow trees.  There’s been another fire on the margins of this immense driftwood pile.  My guess is a hot cigarette butt flicked casually away landed on tinder and poof!  The wind probably did not encourage the flames this time.  It looks like it either went out on its own or firefighters were successful in quickly containing it.  This area under the railroad bridge still smells a little smokey.

In many ways this post is an extension of the last one…minus the ropes.  I guess I’m guilty of multitasking out here.  I often have more than one project going on at a time.  For example, I have a series of coal related investigations I have been doing that provide some relief from the Styrofoam.  Some of these  projects might make it into a coal-themed art show I’m participating in at the end of the year.  It will be interesting to see what the other artists come up with.  Last year we traveled together to see and talk with people whose lives were touched by their contact with coal.  Of course the issue of mountaintop removal was in the fore front.  Although I’m interested in the many controversies that cling to coal…I’ve also enjoyed working with it as a potential art material.  The coal that washes up at the Falls of the Ohio comes from the commercial barge traffic floating small mountains of crushed coal to the various hydroelectric plants along a channelized Ohio River.  Apparently, the river’s  current is strong enough to move these stones along and shape them.  And like Styrofoam, coal can be tumbled smooth and round in the process before it reaches me at the Falls of the Ohio.  I have found pieces as round as a chickens’ eggs and as flat as coins.

I’ve been collecting the coal I come across and looking for areas by the river that have more deposited on the sand.  First, I started with a few star shapes, but a remembered conversation I had with a friend created a different connection that I drew inspiration from.  My friend lived as a child in a small town in Pennsylvania associated with the steel industry.  He recalled that in winter, the whiteness of fresh snow would soon become gray and black due to air borne coal ash and particulates.  It was everywhere and got into everything.  That’s when I hit upon the idea of making snow flake-like designs from coal and photographing them.  Here are a few more from this series.

I’ve been placing these near well-worn paths that fishermen take to the water’s edge.  They call into attention and work with the small areas they occupy and provide visual interest.  I like that they have this public participatory aspect to them. Here are a few more sample images of the coal flakes before they “melted” back into the sand.

The white flecks in the sand are bits and pieces of ground-up mussel shells.  They mostly come from one foreign species that can out compete the local clams and deal with the present conditions.  Also mixed into this sandy matrix are pieces of river polished glass and small bits of plastic.  Here’s another project involving coal and Asiatic clam shells and a found coffee creamer jar.

I’ll conclude with two star images that were made along with the coal flakes.  The first one looks a bit like a starfish fossil…

…and this last is just simply a star!  It’s getting too hot to hang out and so I pack up and leave after a few hours fun.  That shower is going to feel good today. Have a great week everybody!

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Greetings from a very hot and humid Falls of the Ohio State Park.  The Ohio River is receding into its summer pool and more of the riverbank has been exposed.  Of late, I’ve been running into more rope fragments from commercial barge traffic (or it seems this way).  I don’t  rule out the possibility that my desire to work with these objects in this setting has brought them into my universe and attention.  See the recent post I did about “Play on Earth Day” which also features a rope project.  I’m enjoying what can be done with them to create images.  Here’s two rope investigations I did the other day.

As ropes go…this isn’t the thickest or heaviest rope I’ve found out here.  What is interesting is that most of this rope is still buried under the sand.  There is a point where it enters the ground and remains hidden and fixed to this position.  I started out just coiling the rope…I love working with spirals.  The exposed end of this cable is covered with duct tape.  Next, I pulled the rope straight to see how long it was and to see how it activated the area it was found in.

The terminal end of this rope is buried under the sand.  I used that point to move and pivot the rope to create these other images.  Here are two side views of the straight rope and the scene it underscores.

Next I tried creating a circle by joining the ends together.  The rope was stiff and not easy to shape.

This image makes it appear to be more of an ellipse, but I did my best to try to form as neat a circle as I could.  The area I’m working in is in the eastern section of the park right under the railroad bridge.  The last photo I made using this rope is more of a figure eight and loosely reminds me of a chromosome.

Now for the same rope shape involving the roots of a nearby willow tree.

I came across a second rope on this sweltering day.  My clothes were literally sticking to me.  It occurred to me that I left my water bottle in my car which on this day was not a good move.  I needed to take frequent breaks under the shade of the willow trees to keep from overheating.

This second rope fragment is much thicker than the previous example.  It also appears to be made of a natural material.  Someone else found this rope in some other part of the park and carried it to this location under the bridge where it was abandoned.  I returned a couple of days later and this rope was gone.  I wonder what other project it was destined for? Anyway, here are a few of the images I made with this interesting object.

Next I placed the unraveling end into the river to link it with the riverbank.

Last view with the unraveling end draped over a log.  This is the position I left the rope in before departing for home.  I very nearly took this rope home with me, but it was too big and heavy and the heat of the day took its toll on me.  At the time, I told myself that if this rope was still here the next time I returned that I would collect this object for later use.  Nebulously, I had this idea in my head for another installation project.  Just what I need…more junk!

After playing with this rope, my curiosity was satisfied for the day.  I’m sure I will find other ropes and cables out here as time goes by. I found myself being very envious of this trio of male Mallard ducks!  They seem to have the right idea and so I will end this post with them.  Stay cool everybody!

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The heat and the relentless light of the sun makes it official.  It’s summer at the Falls of the Ohio.  Now I need to plan my forays a bit more carefully if I want to get the most from each trip out here.  Earlier in the day is better.  You miss most of the heat, there are fewer people (except for the die-hard fishermen) and the chances are better you might see some wildlife…especially birds.  Luckily, if you don’t make it out here early enough…the trees are all in full leaf and the shade provides needed relief.  I wonder what kind of summer is boding for this year?  So far we have had the warmest spring ever being nearly a full seven degrees above normal temperatures.  Yikes!!  No doubt, summer will find a way to be memorable.  Anyway, when I’m out here I try to take some precautions in the form of drinking water and sun block.  Once my mind engages on something…I tend to forget my body.  This post is about another “personality” that I ran into on this day and the following is his story.

I came across this fellow several times during this day.  The usual protocol when encountering a stranger is maybe a quick nod of the head and each party then goes their own way.  I would have been happy to stick with this, but I kept bumping into this guy seemingly everywhere I walked.  One very curious thing about him (or her and how do you tell?) was that “he” was picking up old shoe soles and sticking them under his belt.  Here’s another view showing this.

Truthfully, I was at a loss to explain this to myself and the best I could come up with for this strange behavior was that this guy forgot his collecting bag and had some type of project that required shoe soles?  I’ve already noticed that a lot of wayward shoes wind up here courtesy of the Ohio River.  If you don’t believe me, check out my special collections area under “The Shoes You Lose” and you will doubt no more!  I haven’t added images to either collection in a while, nevertheless the lost shoes keep on coming.  Just for kicks, here are a couple additional shoes I saw on this trip that piqued my camera’s interest.

Here’s another shoe found near the previous one.  See what I mean?  I could go on and on about the shoes alone.

After my first encounter with this odd character I ran into him near a willow tree by the river’s edge and he was doing the same activity as before.

This time I abandoned my typical reserve and engaged the guy in conversation.  I think I said something like,…”Hey mister, I can’t help noticing that you are collecting shoes and shoe soles and although I know it is none of my business…what are you going to do with the footwear?”  I further added, ” I see you have tucked a few more soles into your belt since I saw you earlier.”   The Sole Man (my mental designation for him) smiled easily from his green mouth and put me at ease.  I had nothing to fear from him.  We walked together for a while and he told me what his angle is and why he does what he does.  Spotting another lost sole in the sand, my new friend bent over and lifted it up.

Upon picking the sole up, the “Sole Man” flung it over his shoulder and said follow me.

We didn’t need to walk far.  The Sole Man had a spot in mind where he told me he was going to deposit his shoes.  In the full light of the sun he selected an area marked by two shattered plastic drums, driftwood, plastic junk, and the tell-tale white beads from Styrofoam that had been deposited here by the Ohio River.

One by one my new acquaintance dropped his shoe soles in his selected spot.

He told me that he does this as a form of meditation.  Seeing all the junk from our material culture wash up here at the Falls of the Ohio has bothered him for years.  He couldn’t understand why anybody would do this to the Earth?  Fixating on all the debris was just making him madder and angrier which has  its own consequences.  He carried these shoe soles here because he wanted it to be visible so that others might see and reflect as he had.

He hit upon the idea that collecting and carrying these soles might provide him some peace of mind or insight into his fellow beings?  Each sole was a record of a lived life with their scuff marks and pressure points compressed into the very sole itself.  The sole was a record of an individual’s life experience and no two souls were bound to be alike. The old adage about not knowing a person until you walked in their shoes hit home like never before.  I asked him was it working…making him less angry?  He said that it did.  His negative feelings were replaced with something akin to empathy for he understood that he was not much different from the former owners of these shoes.  It made him feel less “high and mighty” and more of an equal stakeholder for the many conversations to come.  After a few more photographs, I bid my new friend good luck.  Leaving him, I placed one foot in front of the other and headed for home on this hot day.

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I enjoy processes and since I had additional images relating to my last post…I thought I would throw them in for fun.  I also harbor this very idealistic idea that everyone is born creative…it’s just that most people don’t view themselves in this way which I believe is at the heart of our environmental dysfunction and a great shame.  Somehow we have replaced creating with consuming. The following images hopefully show that you can create magic out of nothing.  There isn’t anything technical happening here.  If you can do Mr. Potato Head than you have the basic idea behind creating this bird.  The materials are not manipulated greatly.  I like nature to form the shapes I use. The only carving involved is in cutting slots into the body to hold the wings.  I did shave away one wing to make it thinner. I did poke holes in the head for the eyes.  I shortened the willow roots for the legs and the beak is held in place with a wooden peg just as the head attaches with its own little stick which also helps the head to swivel. Now I know this sounds a bit flip, but the hard part is seeing the possibility behind something that’s intrinsically worthless and imagining what else this could be?  Looking at the following series of images at home, I’m struck by the altar quality of the log I have spread out my materials on at my temporary outdoor studio.  I do feel that being an artist is a reverential activity.  I like to think my “art” is somehow in the service of life.  I believe you will recognize most of the components of this bird, but they include Styrofoam, wood bark, dried willow rootlets, the plastic nose cone of a small bottle rocket, plastic and foam “gaskets”, and charcoal for the eyes.  All materials were found on site at the river.  I found the little bowl that morning and it’s great to hold the little pieces I use.  I’m not a great photographer in the classic sense in that I don’t concern myself greatly with exposures and settings.  My camera is set on automatic.  I do, however, try to create an interesting image or composition that “says” something to me about that day and this place.  Give it a try…it’s fun to do!

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Since my last visit to the Falls of the Ohio State Park the willow fuzz has peaked.  Cottony drifts have gathered in places that offer some protection from even the slightest breeze.  The way the light shines on this gossamer surface is magical!  Before venturing into today’s avian adventure…a personal blogging milestone announcement as this is officially post number 300!  I hear the champagne corks popping already.  I had little in the way of expectations when I started this Riverblog, but I have been happy with this medium for describing my project.  In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if blogging would hold my interest, but it has.  I have also enjoyed the wide community that is out there and I thank everyone that has stopped by or left a comment.  As regular visitors know…I’m a big bird watching fan and I enjoy the many challenges that this hobby presents me.  A once in a lifetime experience can begin with a quick flash of the wings that may last just seconds.  It causes me to be acutely present in the moment.  Venturing down to the river I see the resident flock of Black Vultures has returned for another season.  I photographed this wary pair looking for dead fish or anything else edible.

The foreground in this image is willow fluff covering the sand.  I find the two vulture species that hang out at the Falls to be really interesting birds and I have posted on them many times before.  There are more furtive species out here as well and I had the good luck to stumble upon a small mixed flock of warbler species.  Among this group were several Magnolia Warblers and I have a few images of them.  I love their coloring with their black streaks on their bright yellow breasts.  Magnolia Warbler is a misnomer since they don’t seem to favor that tree in my experience.  I found these warblers to be very tolerant of my presence and I was able to follow them as they moved from one willow tree to another in their search for small insects.

Warblers are tiny always on the go creatures and their many species are a highlight of the spring migration.  Many of the warbler species I see are passing through our area to points mostly north of here.  I came across another seldom seen bird that I hope you will enjoy.  It’s called the Brown-winged Robin and it too is traveling through the heartland.  I have a series of this bird too beginning with a specimen I found wading through the willow fuzz.  Is this pre-nesting behavior?

Here are a few more shots of this rare bird in the environment at the Falls of the Ohio.  The brown wings are diagnostic as is the bright red beak.

There are many more bird species both real and imagined that I look forward to presenting in future posts!  I hope to continue to share with you the great variety of life that I find in this relatively small place as it reveals itself to me.  One other announcement for folks in my immediate area.  I will be presenting my project at the Pecha Kucha event at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky the evening of June 5.  This will be an outdoor event and coincides with the transit of Venus occurring on that night.  Essentially, this slide show presentation form I believe began in architectural circles and speakers have 20 slides at 20 seconds a piece to present a topic.  It goes by fast so you need to be pithy which can be a challenge! If you are interested in more information just click on my Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest link in my blogroll.  I hope to see some of you out there and thanks again to all who have checked out the Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog over the years!  Now for more willow fuzz!

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