It’s an unbelievably gorgeous morning at the Falls of the Ohio and I have the park to myself. The Ohio River has been running high although we haven’t had a lot of rain pass through our area. Most of this water is probably coming from snow melt and precipitation in the northern section of the Ohio River Valley. The river is receding and one of the first sights I see are logs that have been stranded on the dam as the water level drops. These logs will remain balanced here until the river shifts them around again. As I begin my walk, I see driftwood and trash everywhere I look.
Accessing the bank is tricky and muddy. I maneuver by walking on the backs of logs and balancing myself with my walking stick. In areas where the river has dropped back… plastic trash, Styrofoam, and driftwood remain where this detritus floated in. I like studying the patterns I see in the deposited wood and imagine the swirl of the river in these areas. Of course, I find other treasures and oddities too. Here are just a few objects that made it into the collecting bag.
My fake food collection keeps getting bigger and bigger. Here’s a plastic pickle I found. On this day, I also picked up a plastic chicken drumstick, a plastic plum and in the bag already from my last visit are a plastic onion and a plastic cheeseburger! I find all this plastic food to be an interesting indicator of the times we live in.
This is kind of cool. It’s a pirate skull with movable eye-patch. The river has really colored this object. Here’s something more humorous.
These silly frog sunglasses may be the only amphibian inspiration I receive all year. In all the years I’ve worked this project, I have come across one actual common toad and two small leopard frogs. Perhaps the river is just too big and wild here for the frogs?
I decide to walk west along the riverbank and reach areas that are more driftwood than trash. I always marvel at how the river lays the wood in fairly parallel rows. That bright reddish-orange object in the foreground is the remains of a life preserver…it is one of two that I find on this day.
Another tree with an intact root mass has been beached by the river. Notice how all the branches have been knocked off. This is fairly typical. The river keeps subdividing these trees into smaller and smaller parts. Up ahead I notice something that a muddy wave has just returned to the land. I walk over and check it out and see something I’ve never seen here before.
It’s a big fish, but I don’t recognize the species. It’s not too bloated and so I examine it more closely. I think it may be one of those Asiatic carp species that have become so invasive to our bigger rivers? Recently, in western Kentucky in the Land Between the Lakes area, there was the first ever commercial fishing tournament to try to harvest as many of these large carp as possible. Strong nets are needed to catch them since they grow big and rarely if ever take a baited hook. The idea behind the tournament was to educate people that these fish are good to eat and to try to help create a commercial demand for them.
Here I am holding the fish at arm’s length. Notice that it has a relatively small mouth. This fish feeds on microscopic plankton and other tiny food items which is why they are hard to hook by traditional means. This is a thick-bodied fish with a large head and powerful tail. I have known that these fish are in the Ohio River, but I haven’t had the chance to inspect one this closely before. I’ve attached a couple more views of this fish.
By now, you are probably used to my game! I made this fish from a hunk of Styrofoam I picked up on this day. The Styrofoam reminded me of a fish and so that’s the direction I took this sculpture. The other found elements include: fishing bobber eyes, red plastic gills, fins made from wood, shoe soles, and plastic junk. This is how it looked before I started.
I try to respect the basic shape the river gives me and feel that whatever results… is a collaboration between me and the river. I don’t cut too much into the polystyrene because I also try not to release many of those tiny white beads back into the environment. I try to work minimally and to clean up after myself. It’s not a perfect system, but is what has evolved after so many years of coming out here. I did find even more Styrofoam on my latest adventure and now just need the time to create something from it all. My parting shot is the latest image of my outdoor studio. See you next time from the banks of the Ohio River.