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Archive for July, 2013

Muddy Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio

The Ohio River has remained high and muddy the last couple of weeks.  It’s summer, past mid July when we usually find the river retreated to its summer pool.  This approaches the time when the fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the river would be exposed.  The little bit of flooding that occurred has displaced more than random logs and debris.  I was investigating the riverbank under the railroad bridge and came across an interesting mix of ducks.

domestic and wild ducks at the Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Joining the wild, female Mallards with their iridescent blue-violet speculum on their wings was a small group of domesticated ducks.  More than likely the river overwhelmed a farm pond somewhere which was the opportunity the domesticated ducks needed to swim away and explore the larger world.

Domestic ducks, July 2013

They landed at the Falls of the Ohio and are sharing a vacation together.  White and piebald (a mix of black and white) are the colors of domestication.  These farm ducks are also much larger than their wilder cousins.

two resting female Mallard ducks, July 2013

female Mallard duck, July 2013

female Mallard duck grooming, July 2013, Falls of the Ohio

The Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) is our most common species of duck and can be found at the Falls throughout the year.  I once stumbled upon a Mallard nest that was built inside a hollow log.  When the mother-to-be flushed out of the log, the surprise took a few years off my lifespan!   They are members of the duck family known as “dabblers”.  Mallards hang out near the zone where water and land meet.  They have specialized bills for feeding in shallow water.  Mallards prefer small grass and sedge seeds for food, but will also strain the water and mud for small organisms.  I have come across other ducks at the Falls of the Ohio that are hybrids of Mallards and domesticated ducks.  Many duck species must be closely related to one another because other inter-species hybrids have been documented.

Blue-ringed dabbler, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Head of Blue-ringed dabbler, July 2013

I have also recently photographed an unusual duck for the Falls of the Ohio.  On a recent foray to the river I came across this Blue-ringed Dabbler ( Anas azurcephalos) plying its trade at the water’s edge.  This diminutive duck is native to the western part of North America and rarely strays east of the Mississippi River.  Perhaps it found its way here because of the recent storms that have tracked west to east across the country?  Domesticated ducks are not the only birds affected by severe weather.

Blue-ringed Dabbler at the Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

The Blue-ringed Dabbler is an unusual duck in that it nests in trees or more specifically, in the holes created and abandoned by larger woodpeckers.  This formerly rare duck is now on the increase because conservationists have taken advantage of this breeding preference by setting out nest boxes which the Blue-ringed Dabbler will accept.  A similar program helped the colorful Wood Duck to recoup its former population numbers.

Blue-ringed Dabbler, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

This is a female Blue-ringed Dabbler identified by its browner coloration and lack of iridescent color on the wings.  The dabbler regarded me for a while before swimming off to a deeper part of the river where I lost track of it.  I returned the next day to see if I could find this duck again, but it was gone.  I get a big kick out of recording bird species that are not a part of the official bird checklist distributed by the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I love bringing these rarities to the attention of hard-core birders who will only accept as evidence good photographic proof or multiple sightings recorded by multiple birders.  They can be a suspicious lot and highly competitive.  Often bird watchers present themselves as being more interested in what number a particular bird represents on a life list than in the bird itself which seems to me to miss the whole point of watching birds.

domestic ducks with dead catfish, July 2013

Although I never saw the Blue-ringed Dabbler again, I did however, locate a couple of the domesticated ducks I had seen the previous week.  They were investigating the waterline in a particularly muddy area.  I was shocked to discover the dead fish in the foreground upon downloading my images.  I certainly don’t remember seeing this when I snapped this picture.   I doubt these ducks will ever find their way to the farm again, but for now…they seem content.  I’ll end today’s post with one other image of the Blue-ringed Dabbler that I came across on the internet.  It shows a bird in the hand of a conservationist.  So long for now!

Blue-ringed Dabbler in hand, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

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Falls black styrofigure, July 2013

With the sun spotlighting this little patch of sand…my newest Styro-figure proudly stood upright.  He’s the first persona created in the reconfigured studio.  I found a rare piece of “black Styrofoam” on today’s walk.  It’s part of what passes for car bumpers these days.  This material has a rubberized compound mixed throughout the foam which makes it harder to cut or pierce.

Leaving home, July 2013

After making new friends it’s time to venture out into the world.  The leafy green complete with bird song is complimented by the creaky willows that sway with the occasional breeze.  There is another sound, however, that your feet are hearing and you walk in the direction of its source.

Black Styro-figure by the river, July 2013

The mighty Ohio River has been running muddy for more that a week now.  Although it’s hot and humid today, thus far, this summer has been wetter and cooler than average.  As a result of all the rain, the river has been higher than usual.  What I like about the Falls of the Ohio is that in such a relatively intimate space the park can take on all kinds of different looks depending on the weather and season.  Small waves break upon the heightened shoreline and there is a family nearby fishing and playing by the river.

Family fishing for catfish, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Seeing that they were having some luck catching fish, I gestured if it was all right to take their pictures.  The family didn’t speak English and I’m guessing that they are recent immigrants from Southeast Asia?  Regardless, both adults and children were having a ball in the river.  I wondered if they came from someplace like this since they seemed so comfortable and natural by the water? After receiving the okay signal I recorded these images of people interacting with the river.

little boy, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

This little guy was cute and really determined that I should take his picture in what I’m assuming is a martial arts pose?  I obliged him several times and this was my personal favorite snapshot of the group.  Looking through my riverblog…I’m struck by how often children appear and interact with my artistic process.  First, my own two sons would accompany me and now it’s the kids in the park on any given day.

Man with Flathead Catfish, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Flathead catfish, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

I watched this fish being landed and it’s a decent sized Flathead catfish, (Pylodictus olivaris).  This fish probably weighed in the ten to twelve pound range, but this catfish can get as large as a hundred pounds.  It is a fish of big rivers.  A very simple rig was used to catch this fish.  Four slipshot lead weights were clamped onto the line about eight inches away from the hook.  A single nightcrawler worm was used for bait which was cast about 25 yards from the riverbank.  The fishermen would wade in about knee-high to waist deep to increase casting length.  I was amazed that with the current and all the potential underwater obstructions that their lines didn’t get snagged more often than they did.

Catfish stringer, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

This was the stringer of catfish they were working on.  In addition to the Flatheads…another big river fish the Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) was also being caught.

catfish stringer, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

The Blue catfish is a slatey-gray color and has a forked tail.  The two fish on the lower right in the above image are blues.  The flatheads are more of a mottled olive color and have very different fins.  Both are omnivorous and will eat most anything that they can catch.

Man and catfish, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

All the fish on the stringer will be used to feed this family.  It is still not recommended that people eat the larger fish (especially bottom dwelling species) from the Ohio River. The river is much cleaner than it used to be, however, toxins do build up in the fat tissues of the fish that live the longest and grow to be big.  Every once in a while, making a meal of some of the smaller fish should be okay.  Because I was needed elsewhere today…I let my day at the river draw to an end.  Good thing too…because if you stand too long in the same spot at the water’s edge…you chance sinking down too far!  See you soon.

Styro-figure in black, waist deep in wet sand, July 2013

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soft drink waste, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

When last we visited the Falls of the Ohio the river was rising.  Several days of intense rainfall throughout the Ohio Valley are now flowing by and coloring the water a muddy ocher. My outdoor site where I make my polystyrene figures and store materials is being usurped by twin forces.  It’s difficult gauging the intentions of this visitor or visitors, however, I also continue finding their waste soft drink cups and bottles.  What’s with the blue drinks?  I guess the color blue is also your symbol for cool refreshment.  If I am to continuing working here, I will need to change the driftwood structure erected over my site.  I was  secretly hoping that the river would solve this dilemma for me.  If the water rose high enough, it would move the largest beached logs which would effect everything near them.  That didn’t happen.  The river fell short of my spot and a visible line demarcating brown wet wood from bleached, silver-gray wood marks the high waterline.

My site with evolving structure, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

The structure the visitors are building is enclosing the space.  As it is, it’s difficult now to stand on the center sand, especially since a growing pit is developing.  My collected river materials continue to be strewn about.  I initially liked that someone else was seeing the potential of this site and adding their distinctiveness to the mix.  Now I’m seeing less intent here and and I’m going to make the next move and see what happens?  First, I will need to find and repair the large Styro-figure I left here sitting on the roof.  He’s a participant/witness to all the proceeding events.

My mustachioed Styro-friend, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Again he looks like he was cast aside.  I find everything except his mouth and replace it with some other river plastic I picked up.  I reattach his arms and legs and he’s as good as new again.  Well almost, the excitement with the visitors and the unpredictable nature of the river have dinged his persona.  He never said much before and he says even less now.  How unfortunate.  I park him in a nearby try to keep him safe.

Figure in a tree, July 2013

I’ve seen this before and call it “Styro-shock” or “polystyrene demensia”.  Imagine willing your body into a stasis where you have no awareness at all and you will begin to know what it means to be Styrofoam.  He might come out of it on his own…who knows?  I turned my attention back to the wooden structure to see what I could do to affect the space in a positive way.  I’m not interested in getting into some escalating contest of wills with someone.  While I figured out what to do…my silent friend continued to sit tight.

Changing the wooden structure, July 2013

I stripped off the wood to expose the frame.  Next, I flipped a few of the cross braces over which opened the center of the space back up.  I created a small doorway by cutting away some excess wood with my saw on my Swiss Army knife.  That has come in handy more than once.

remodeled driftwood structure on site, July 2013

Using the wood already collected, I made a small lean-to for a shelter and a wall of upright sticks to enclose the space on one end and create more visual interest.  The maple tree on site separates one area from another.  There’s plenty more that can be done, but I decide to stop here and see if anything happens while I’m away.  The site now does a better job of corralling any wayward Styrofoam and has further called attention to the studio site as a performance space.  As the day progressed which was sunny and cooler than usual…the sun shone just right to highlight the interior of my studio under the willows and filled it with energy.

remodeled studio with sun shining in. July 2013

It was a long and busy day by the muddy river.  I have lots of other interesting pictures to show you, but they are worthy of separate posts which will happen soon.  For now, I’ll end with a backward glance of my studio under the willows as I walked towards home.

View departing the willow studio, July 2013

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Rising Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

High water at the Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

We have had (along with the eastern half of the country) a lot of rain recently.  When it has precipitated, it hasn’t been gentle rains, but rather torrential, monsoon-like downpours.  Consequently, everything is saturated and the Ohio River has quickly risen to engulf the riverbanks that are normally wide and clear this time of year.  I took a chance between rain showers to see if I could access my site for a few hours.  Maneuvering through the underbrush I was able to investigate the river’s edge that was slowly but surely creeping inland.  As a gauge to how high the river has risen, in the above photos…you should be able to walk out to those willow trees that are now in the middle of the river.  I watched columns of ants marching for higher ground.  The river’s edge attracts animals, particularly birds, that are hunting insects being driven by the advancing water.  I’m here doing a similar thing…except I’m looking for interesting junk that has floated in with the driftwood.  I always find something and here are a few recent images of this river treasure.

small, red plastic, bell pepper, July 2013

This is a plastic bell pepper to add to my ever growing collection of faux food.  This collection has grown considerably since I last photographed it in its entirety.  I’ve added several fast food items and I now can boast owning  several plastic hamburgers and hotdogs to accompany the fruits and vegetables.

green toy character head sticking out its tongue, July 2013

I don’t recognize this character’s head, but I responded to the tongue sticking out!  It was this discovery that caused me to go on a tangent.  I decided that in the relatively restricted area I was investigating that I was going to collect all the different green plastic items the river was delivering to me.  This is what I came up with.

green plastic junk, July 2013

I was amazed at the collection I was able to put together in less than an hour’s time.  Each item is unique…even the green plastic bottles which are different sizes, designs, and have different colored bottle caps.  Among my other finds include green discarded fishing line, a green “Lincoln log”, a lost lip balm cylinder, a hair curler, a circular green plastic “smokeless” tobacco “tin”, a flip flop, etc…

"Homage to Green", July 2013

I then took my 21 green artificial objects and arranged them in a line on an interesting wooden object I found that looked very alter-like.  This is a very different expression of what it is to be “green” and the plants behind these objects concur.  It was now time to visit my site and see if anything had happened there and perhaps to make something new.

expanded structure at my site, July 2013

I had that “oh no” feeling upon arriving.  There were several changes since my last visit.  Whomever is building this structure appears to be trying to construct a roof over my spot.  Most of the materials that I have gathered over the months were just thrown out and around the site.  There is no way for me to work here now in its present configuration.  I wonder if the rain prevented the “work” from being completed?  And then it dawned on me…where is the figure I left here?  I found him a short distance away.

big Styrofoam figure face down, July 2013

This is how I found him disarticulated and face down.  It appears that he was just lifted up and thrown aside.  I knew if I was to learn what had happened that I would need to reconstruct him.  It took me a bit of time to find his various parts, but I ultimately was successful and set him up on the “roof” in a sitting position.

Large Styro-figure head, July 2013

Large seated Styro-figure, July 2013

I said…”Dude, what happened here and to you?”  My friend was quite excitable in retelling the tale.  He said a couple of people came by a day or so after I was last here and just started ransacking the place.  The last thing he remembers was flying through the air and then blackness.  He at least confirmed my suspicions that more than one person was involved.  Here is the evidence I used to draw that conclusion.

giant polystyrene drink cups and bottle, July 2013

The last time I was here I noted a giant polystyrene cup lying in the sand just outside my space.  Upon returning, I picked up these additional cups and the blue bottle that were casually thrown on the ground and photographed them on a nearby log.   I’m deducing that these people live in the area since they sell these mega drinks at a nearby gas station.  Now as much as I’m torqued about being evicted from my spot…finding these added cups here makes me mad!  There is already enough junk in the river without bringing more and leaving it here!  It seems the height of disrespect and irresponsibility and my remade figure concurred.

Excited Styro-figure with arms spread wide, July 2013

My friend was growing excited with the thought of his recent tormentors returning to the scene of the crime.  He asked me what I was going to do about this and I have to admit it’s a dilemma for me.  Generally, I appreciate it when people interact with my art, however, there is little evidence that there are respectful spirits at play here.  I decided that if the river kept rising (and at this point it was about twenty meters away) that matters would become moot.  The water would rearrange the context here and I would simply begin again.  If, however, the river doesn’t reclaim this spot…I promised my figure that I would reassert my will.  I might do a little engineering of my own and see how I might modify the structure to suit my needs.  If you were me…what would you do?  I told my mustachioed figure to sit tight and that I would return the following weekend if the river would allow it.  To be continued…?

My figure at my site, July 2013

The rising Ohio River, July 2013

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Joe Arbor at the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Everybody has a different tipping point where enough is finally enough and action is called for.  This was the case with Joe Arbor.  For many years, Joe Arbor walked the river’s edge paying attention to what the Earth was telling him from the signals that washed ashore.  Yes, this is a nonverbal language, but the Earth is eloquent in this way.  On this particular day, Joe Arbor noticed that there was a lot of wood everywhere and while it was picturesque…it was also disturbing.  Joe Arbor realized that all the wood he was seeing represented trees in the past tense.

driftwood at the Falls, June 2013

Joe Arbor knew of other places where the Earth via the river had left a record of lost trees particularly at the Falls of the Ohio.  In the hot bleaching sun the various logs and limbs piled on top of one another reminded him of bones.  Joe Arbor would walk among these elephant’s graveyards of trees and felt ill at ease.  These trees represented a huge loss in terms of the free services they provided.  Here was food and shelter for a multitude of other life forms.  Here was the air we breathe and the cooling shade of summer and potential warmth in winter.  Here was lost inspiration!  Since Joe Arbor also made his home next to the river, he also knew that tree roots also held the riverbank in place.  Over the past several years it had not escaped Joe Arbor’s notice that at this location,  it rained more and harder and trees were being swept away.  Joe Arbor was no scientist or genius, but could recognize that life seemed out of balance and it worried him.  What could be done?  Joe Arbor went home and decided to sleep on the question.

Joe Arbor and Pip hatch up a plan, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Joe Arbor makes his home at the base of an old willow tree.  It took several nights of sleeping on the question before the beginnings of an answer started to form in his mind.  When the solution came to him, Joe Arbor decided that he needed some help or company and he called his good friend Pip.  Pip is short for Pipistrel which is a name given to several species of bats.  One fine morning, the pair got up early and gathered some tools and provisions together and ventured forth to the river’s edge.  If the Earth was losing her balance due to tree loss…it made sense to Joe Arbor that getting involved with planting and saving more trees could be a good thing to do.

eastern cottonwood tree leaves and capsules, June 2013

eastern cottonwood leaves and seeds, July 2013

Joe Arbor decided he wanted to try to do something to help the Eastern Cottonwoods that grew along the Falls of the Ohio.  These cottonwoods are magnificent, fast growing trees and reach great heights.  They produce unusual capsule-shaped fruits and when conditions are right, these capsules burst open releasing tiny, fluffy seeds that drift through the air like dry snow and move with the slightest breeze.  Joe Arbor also knew from experience that many more of these seeds germinate than reach maturity.  At the Falls, those seeds that sprout nearest the river eventually are destroyed by the river during flooding.  They simply get washed away or crushed by logs rolling in the waves.  Joe Arbor decided to perform an experiment to see if he could successfully transplant a cottonwood tree to a safer location?

selecting a cottonwood seedling, July 2013

First Joe Arbor and Pip selected a little cottonwood growing in the sand.  They next held hands and said a few kind words and explained to the tree what they were about to do and why.  In this way, they hoped to obtain the tree’s blessing.  Together, they carefully dug around the sand to uncover as much of the tree’s roots as they could.  Bagging up the little tree roots and all the paired moved on to a different location.

Canada geese at the Falls, July 2013

All the while Joe Arbor and Pip were working, a small flock of Canada Geese were standing nearby and acted as guards and witnesses.  Because the geese also live near the river they are also privy to the Earth’s nonverbal language and understood what was at stake here.  Their presence added a bit of solemnity to the event.

Joe Arbor and Pip with cottonwood tree, July 2013

Joe Arbor and Pip with cottonwood tree and tools, July 2013

With their valuable charge in a bag, the pair moved on to a pre-selected location they hoped would be favorable to the cottonwood tree.  Cottonwood trees do best when they are close (but not too close) to the water.  As they walked, Joe Arbor whistled an improvised melody partly out of nervousness and the excitement of the moment.  As is his norm…Pip remained quiet.

Young cottonwood in the ground, July 2013

A large enough hole was dug in the new location to accommodate all the young cottonwood’s roots.  Sand and soil were shoveled lovingly around the tree.

Joe Arbor and Pip plant the tree, July 2013

After the tree was safely in the hole, Joe Arbor said a few words while Pip watered the transplant.  It was hoped that the chosen location was the right distance from the river and that the young tree would grab a toe-hold here and prosper.  Time will tell.  The day still had one more nice surprise and it came from Pip.  Joe Arbor didn’t know why he didn’t pay attention to this before, but Pip was wearing a circular, black, plastic box on a cord hung around his neck.  This circular box was the container that smokeless tobacco is sold in.  Many of these boxes routinely wash up at the Falls of the Ohio.  Anyway, Pip opened up the container revealing its contents and this is what Joe Arbor saw.

snuff box with mulberries, July 2013

Wrapped in mulberry leaves were four ripening mulberries.  This is another tree that grows at the Falls of the Ohio and provides food for many birds and animals.  The berries are sweet and juicy when ripe and some people find them tasty too.  The leaves are interesting and come in different shapes with serrated edges.

Pip holding a mulberry, July 2013

Pip (who says very little) had his own tree planting experiment in mind and Joe Arbor got the idea.  Moving to a different location, a new hole was dug in the rich soil and a berry was placed in that hole.

Pip and Joe Arbor plant mulberries, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

The process was repeated until all the berries were planted.  Pip was curious to see if he could start a mulberry tree in this way or whether the seeds needed to travel through the gut of a bird or some other animal first?  Again, time will tell.  Satisfied that at least for today, the duo had done some good for the Earth, the pair picked up their gear and headed home together.

Pip and Joe Arbor go home, July 2013

This little story is dedicated to an artist friend of mine I have never met.  She has a vision of creating a tree art project around the world and if you are interested in learning more about it and perhaps participating…here is a link  to a post she wrote about it:  http://rooszwart.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/the-bridge-land-art-forest/

Pip and Joe Arbor after planting trees together, July 2013

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