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Archive for August, 2014

Micro Polo alone on the ocean, Aug. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

Of all the names from the distant past, few shine as brightly or are as well remembered as that of the legendary explorer, Micro Polo.  Rest assured, he must have been an actual person because too many stories and discoveries have been connected with his legacy.  A few rare, hand-copied journals have been preserved in some of the world’s most obscure libraries documenting his remarkable life.  An intrepid traveler and explorer, it is said his ambition was to take the measure of the world even if he fell off its flat edge in the process!  Few individuals in recorded history have had the thirst for knowledge or have traveled so far in the name of adventure.  By far, the most unusual story that has come down to us comes from Micro Polo’s last adventure.  Widely believed to be a fantasy, a recent manuscript discovered in an ancient clay pot and buried for a millennia in the desert ruins of a forgotten city has resurrected the tale and its supposed veracity.  This previously unknown manuscript offers the most detailed version of Micro Polo’s last voyage and is augmented by fantastical drawings scribbled onto the margins.  We offer this contemporary retelling of this ancient tale for your amusement.

Micro Polo alone on the wide ocean, Aug. 2014

On a moonless and cloudy night upon the open sea…tragedy struck!  Micro Polo’s sailing ship caught fire and sank on what would be his final voyage away from home.  There was barely time to escape and a life raft was quickly thrown overboard.  Only three scared and injured sailors including its captain, Micro Polo, climbed into this bobbing cork before the last of the fiery masts disappeared beneath the waves .  During the next week, one sailor perished from his burns and another went mad from thirst and flung himself into the waters never to be seen again.  This left Micro Polo alone in the raft as he drifted with the currents to points unknown.  He resolved to survive and thoughts of his family back home kept him alive.

Micro Polo and his raft, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo survived by catching unwary seabirds that landed on his craft and by collecting rainwater from passing showers.  It was during the second week of his ordeal that our hero noticed a fresh change in the surrounding air.  Around him floating in the water were bits and pieces of vegetation and he knew he was near land.  Spying terra firm and the entrance to a large river that flowed into the sea, Micro Polo furiously paddled and reached the shore of a completely unknown world.

Micro Polo finds land, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo's beached raft with paddle, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Upon setting his feet upon the solid ground and through parched lips, Micro Polo gave thanks to his gods and drank deeply from the fresh water of the river.  His spirits were uplifted!  He still had no idea whether or not he was standing on some previously uncharted island or land mass?  At this joyous moment, it did not matter where he was and Micro Polo was eager to leave the confines of the tiny raft and look for help and food.

Micro Polo and skeleton of a giant fish, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo had not travelled very far down the sandy beach before he realized that he had arrived at someplace extraordinary.  Before him laying on the coarse sand was the largest fish skeleton he had ever seen!  It was a monster and Micro Polo felt lucky not to have encountered him in the water.  The size of the creature’s mouth was large enough to have easily swallowed the explorer!  Judging from the scales and boney plates, Micro Polo thought this behemoth resembled the common carp of his home country.  Soon our hero would come upon many other large and unusual sights.

Micro Polo with large white flowers, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo next to giant Rose Mallow, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

The vegetation of this new land was outstanding!  It was verdant and outrageously populated with the largest blooms imaginable.  There were immensely long vines and grasses as tall as trees!  As he walked and explored this oversized garden, Micro Polo noticed that like the fish he found…many of the flowers of this new land resembled varieties that he was somewhat familiar with and had grown at home.  Over here were giant morning glories and could this be some new type of gigantic rose mallow?

Micro Polo and field of giant loosestrife flowers, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Wandering further afield, Micro Polo came upon a clearing populated by a large stand of loosestrife flowers. The purple color of the flowers was intoxicating and the explorer could not take his eyes off of the huge butterflies as large as eagles sipping nectar from the blossoms.  In addition to being a riot of color, the loosestrife flowers were alive with the buzzing sounds of hundreds of insects flying around.  Here Nature was undisturbed and at peace going about its business.

Viceroy butterfly on loosestrife flowers, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Cabbage white butterfly on loosestrife, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo recognized the Cabbage White butterfly from his homeland, but there were many new species here and all the more remarkable for their immense scale and beauty.  The insects (including some very large bumblebees) all left the traveler alone as they were preoccupied gathering nectar and pollen from the flowers.  As the sun was setting, Micro Polo began to get very weary and he sought out a place to spend the night.

Micro Polo among the roots of a giant tree, Aug. 2014

Of all the immense delights of that first day, nothing struck Micro Polo with more awe than the size of these trees.  The roots alone were thicker around than a man’s body.  The captain in him noted that a single one of these gigantic trees would provide enough lumber to build a single new ship.  For now, he would be happy to take shelter for the night under its huge and leafy canopy.  He found a nice safe space protected by interlocking roots and decided to settle down for the evening.

Micro Polo with a large yellow leaf, Aug. 2014

To pad the ground for sleeping purposes, Micro Polo gathered the immense yellow leaves that were lying around the tree.  There was an intoxicating spicy smell from sleeping upon a bed of leaves and our intrepid explorer barely registered the distant thunder storm that was approaching before falling asleep.  Micro Polo was so fatigued by the excitement of the day that the brief but intense rain showers were not acknowledged at that time.  The explorer later recalled that this was the most restful night of sleep he had ever had.

Micro Polo the following morning., Aug. 2014

The following morning was wet from dew and the previous night’s rain.  Micro Polo decided to get up at first light and further explore this unbelievable landscape.  He found some greens that were palatable and had breakfast.  Later he crossed over an area that was rocky and had large deposits of driftwood bleaching in the sun.  Thus far, he had seen nothing that made him think that he wasn’t the only person walking this land…but that was about to change.

Micro Polo and the giant sandal, Aug. 2014

Tangled up in the driftwood were certain outsized objects that looked like common household items that had been carelessly thrown aside.  Micro Polo came upon a large black sandal that was as long as his body!  There were other fragments whose purposes and materials he did not recognize.  Not far from this discovery, he came upon this find.

Micro Polo with large toothbrush. Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo recognized this an implement for cleaning one’s teeth, but on a gargantuan scale!  For the first time since arriving on these shores, the explorer began to fear and have doubts.  It was now clear that a race of giants also inhabited this land!

old firepit, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo decided to return back to the area where he first landed.  Along the way, he passed by what he previously thought were the possible ruins of some kind of stone fortification only to learn upon closer inspection that it was the remains of someone’s old camp fire.  There were immense charred logs within the stone ring.  Our explorer decided to hasten his step back to the raft.  He had no desire to see what type or kind of “man” could work on this scale!  Micro Polo was also determined not to become either this race of giants next pet or worse yet…a meal.  He had seen enough and was ready to take his chances upon the sea again.

Micro Polo with plucked morning glories, Aug. 2014

All manner of bizarre thoughts crossed over Micro Polo’s mind.  Had he in fact landed on some fantastic island or continent of giants?  Or, was it possible that by some unknown method or means that his very being had been shrunk down in size rendering him diminutive?  Could prolonged exposure to the elements while on the raft have this effect upon him?  Regardless, if he were to return home he would need proof of his latest and perhaps greatest discovery.  Thinking quickly, Micro Polo tore off a length of morning glory vine with blossoms and threw it across his shoulders.  He would take this plant specimen home with him or perish in the process.

Micro Polo looks for his raft, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

When the great explorer reached the spot where he thought he left his raft…it was nowhere to be seen!  The rain storm from last night had swelled the volume of the river and the raft, left unsecured, simply drifted off.  Micro Polo was in a panic and searched up and down the riverbank, but the black craft that bore him to safety once before had simply vanished.

Micro Polo and large white bowl, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo and his new "boat", Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

As the story continues, many hours and several miles or kilometers later…Micro Polo came upon an artifact partially buried in the sand that would save him.  It had been shaped by the giants and had probably served as a bowl or at least it looked like one.  Being a resourceful individual, Micro Polo had the great idea to use this bowl as his getaway vessel.  He gathered up some provisions for the journey, wrapped the now wilting morning glory vine around his body and launched himself back upon the waters.  He would trust that whatever mysterious forces brought him here would also return him home again.

Micro Polo homeward bound, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo was discovered adrift after several weeks by a passing merchant ship and he was taken back to his homeland.  The sailors that found him reported that he was speaking gibberish and hallucinating badly.  All his provisions were gone along with the morning glory vine which he had eaten when nothing else edible presented itself.  He kept telling anybody who would listen about this fantastic land of giants he had discovered, but nobody believed him.  Those with a kind heart and ear just let him go on with his crazy story.  Eventually, Micro Polo’s health returned to him with his family’s care, however, his days of great discoveries were over.  The famed explorer spent the rest of his life chronicling his adventures in his notebooks and navigating the known world through hand drawn maps and charts spread out upon his library’s wooden table.  In the many years that passed, nobody else came across Micro Polo’s land of giants…however, people had a devil of a time explaining where that odd bowl-like boat came from?

Rose Mallow, side view, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

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Head in Hand, Aug. 2014

Each trip I take to the Falls of the Ohio results in lots of other images recorded on site.  Although I may think all of my photographs are interesting in some way, for brevity’s sake…they can’t all make it into a post.  If a storyline develops while I’m at the river, I will try to prioritize that and hope that at some other time in the future some of these other photographs will fit in somewhere?  This post is an attempt to include some of the other pictures that were taken during my last excursion to the river.  Although that visit resulted in my last published post about this tiny artist persona with a penchant for creating micro installations with plastic cup lids and straws…there were a few other sights at the river that caught my eye on this day.

Wild Potato Vine bloom, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

The Wild Potato Vine is a common flowering summer plant at the Falls.  The flowers are large and its leaves are heart-shaped and grow on very long vines.  This plant is named for the large tuber it produces.  I’ve noticed that out here, these large blooms attract large bumble bees.  This is a genuine and indigenous wild flower which contrasts with my next discovery.

Yellow-flowering Mud Nymphea, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

In a pool of stagnant water I came across this other interesting bloom.  Don’t bother looking it up in a field guide to flowers because you won’ find it.  I discovered it and so I take credit for naming it.  I call this the “Yellow-flowering Mud Nymphea” and it “mimics” members of the lotus family.  This plant has a single leaf that floats on the surface of still water or upon particularly juicy mud.  Rising from that leaf is a large blossom (about the size of a child’s hand) that is a dingy yellow color and the petals have a cloth-like texture.  Most fascinating of all…there are fake droplets of water that “bead up” on the individual petals.  Imagine if you took hot glue and applied small drops to the petals…well, it would look a lot like what is happening on this plant.  Knowing how this plant functions out here will require additional study.  The Falls of the Ohio is a highly disturbed place and oddities are springing up all over.  This just happens to be the latest mutant plant to add to a growing list.

Grass growing from small hole in a plastic, toy wheel, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Another topic I have explored in a past post see “Life in a Bucket” are real plants that grow in less than promising circumstances.  Like many people, I have marveled at how plants can grow in narrow cracks in the sidewalks. The next trio of images are related to that phenomena.  On my last adventure, I found three examples to share with you that demonstrate how opportunistic life can be.  The image above shows a couple of sprigs of grass that are growing out of a small hole in a plastic, toy wheel.  The wheel was probably originally part of a child’s tricycle.  Over time, the detached hollow wheel filled with dirt and silt and retained enough moisture to allow grass seeds to germinate.  Next is another wheel/plant combination that I see more commonly in the park.

Tire garden, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

This is a tire garden.  Because old, ruined automotive tires are frequently thrown in the river (out of sight, out of mind) they frequently wash up here.  Over time, they sink into the sand and mud and are very difficult to move.  Opportunistic seeds colonize the central space where wood, silt, and other nutrients collect and before long you have a mini ecosystem growing out of a circular island in the sand.  My next image is an amazing willow tree that I have posted images of before.  Let’s look at how it is doing this year?

Willow tree growing out of a tire, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Amazingly, this willow is growing through the metal holes of the wheel.  Previously, I had speculated on whether or not this tree would lift the tire into the air as it grew or be choked to death as the holes became too small?  This year’s seasonal flooding has tipped the wheel up on one edge and exposed the roots of the tree.  So far, it appears to be okay.  I will be keeping tabs on this tree to see how it fares in the future.  How the natural and artificial come together in the wider environment is an area of great interest for me.  Our next example is a good illustration of this.

Willow roots and strands of frayed barge cable, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

willow roots and barge cable merge, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

I walked passed this willow tree and noticed that a frayed, root-like, barge cable was intertwined with the living tree’s root system.  Perhaps it’s the cable’s bright colors contrasting against the natural tones of the willow roots and earth that give it an aggressive appearance to me?  The actions of the river help unravel these large nylon ropes used to moor and secure very large barges.  Interestingly, I have seen various bird species hasten this process by picking apart the fibers for use as nesting material.  The Baltimore Oriole is especially good at this and uses the colorful fibers in the construction of their hanging basket nests.  The Ohio River, per tonnage moved, is one of the busiest waterways in the world for commercial navigation.  I find the remnants of old barge cables frequently washed up upon the shore and buried in the sand and on occasion have integrated them into different projects.

Soft drink can in the water, Aug. 2014

Sometimes it’s just the incongruity or coincidence that I feel just finding the trash in this context.  The photo above finds a partially crushed “Sunkist” brand soft drink resting upon a piece of rusty-colored concrete in the water on a sun-kissed day.  I later noticed at home, the small damselfly that is also resting on the concrete.  Do you see it?  Or, how about the next one?

squished plastic "Real" lemon juice container, Aug. 2014

Washed ashore upon the fossil rocks was this smashed plastic lemon.  It once contained “real” lemon juice.  Over the years, I have found many of these lemon-shaped bottles.  What I find interesting here is the presented combination of image and substance…a plastic lemon that once held genuine lemon juice.  It doesn’t take much to pique my interest!  I never know what I will find on any given day at the Falls of the Ohio.  The river washes in “fresh” material on a regular basis.  The river is like our subconscious and who knows what lies below its depths or floats upon the surface to be discovered by someone walking its shoreline?

people fishing at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

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Note on wood piece, Aug. 2014

A hot and sunny August morning and over Louisville’s rooftops I could hear the river’s siren song calling my name.  “Al”…Al…where have you been?”  The call was getting louder and more irresistible by the moment.  What’s a fella to do but heed the call?  I slurped down the last of my cold coffee, gathered my collecting bag and walking stick and twenty minutes later I transported myself to the Falls of the Ohio.  The river was receding into its summer pool and most of the riverbank was now exposed.  Here and there fishermen were trying both their luck and patience.  If birds could laugh, the numerous herons were enjoying themselves for it looked to my eye like they were having more success than the other bipedal hunters holding long rods and bait buckets.  I did a quick look around the old railroad bridge, filled a found, empty, glass liquor bottle with coal pebbles and headed for my spot under the willows.  Among my stash of Styrofoam and driftwood I came across a piece of wood I had previously picked up…and found this simple message written in ink… ” Hi Al”.

My stash of found art materials, Aug. 2014

Whoever penned this simple note at my discovered spot remains a mystery.  In my mind, I associated it with any of my many artist friends who also find inspiration among the driftwood…but it could have been the river too.  This place has been utilized by artists for many years.  Each new generation seems to discover this place for themselves and I hope it always remains this way.  I lingered under the shade for a bit and watched a mix flock of chickadees, warblers, and gnatcatchers move through the tree canopy.  With the show over and satisfied that my haul of river junk with all of its latent potential remained in place…I headed back into the bright sunlight.  Other mysteries and visual delights would await me.

plush Tasmanian Devil toy, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

Imagine coming face to face with the Tasmanian Devil!  Well, I did and lived to tell the tale.  Actually, this plush toy (which I found face down) was quite small and easy to overlook upon the driftwood.  Seems I’m always finding cartoon characters out in this landscape.  I suspended him by his arms upon the exposed roots of an overturned tree stump.  Someone may find him and give him a new home…or he might just fall apart over time eventually finding his way back into the river?  Walking through the sunlit clearings between willow stands, I came across this interesting found composition.

Upright red straw and cup lid with willow stumps, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I must have stared at this for an indeterminate amount of time?  Perhaps it was the upright and very bright red plastic straw that caught my notice?  Or, it could have been the very careful placement and arrangement I was discerning?  I felt I was looking at a rather intimate and odd bit of public art.  I found myself thinking…why didn’t I think of this!?  In my heart and mind I saluted the anonymous person who created this scene and walked away appreciatively.  A little further down the riverbank I came across a similar example.

Plastic straw and cup lid wedged in rock crack, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Wedged in a limestone crack was another plastic straw and disposable cup lid “sculpture”.  This time the straw was white with red stripes running down its length and the lid was an opaque white color.  Like the previous straw sculpture, this one seemed to activate the space it occupied and caused me to notice what else was happening in this micro-location.  The remains of ancient horn corals that lived in a shallow sea millions of years ago were preserved on the surface of the stone.  The straw was strategically placed in a deep silt-filled fissure which was the only place that would allow it to stand upright on this hard rock.  Finding a second upright straw and lid piece confirmed that the first one was not just a happy accident.  There was someone moving through the area with a purpose.

Upright red plastic straw with clear cup lid, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I soon came upon a third straw and lid site specific piece and it was different from the others.  While it was also made from plastic, the lid was clear and in the strong sunlight cast the most wonderful shadow upon the sand.  It occurred to me that I was following a fresh trail because the slightest bit of wind could easily knock these ephemeral works over.  I kept walking and as luck would have it, I came upon the artist responsible for these creations.

artist with orange hand on his head, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

With a big blue smile a diminutive persona standing at the edge of a stand of willow trees greeted me with a friendly wave of his thin stick arm.  He sported an orange hand symbol on his head and had very dark eyes as I recall.  He had a blue-collar around his neck and a yellow belt around his waist.  Otherwise, he was wearing nothing at all!  I heard him say that he had watched me from a distance checking out his last piece and what did I think of it?  I told him that I loved the simplicity of his works and admired how his careful placement made me more aware of the locations where they were sited.  They were such simple gestures made with the most economical of means.  I went on to gush about how surprisingly sophisticated I thought they all were, but he just stood there smiling.  It was then my turn and I asked him how he came upon the idea?  He said it happened quite by accident.  Reflexively, he set the first one up without any thought and liked the result.  On a hot, sunny day…it reminded him of an umbrella set up on a beach which further reminded him of a family vacation he made as child the first time he saw the ocean.  The other straw and lid pieces became tops spinning in his mind and on and on, but most of all…he was doing this to have fun.

artist with straw and lid sculpture, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I asked if it would be all right to tag along for a short while with him and he said that it would be fine.  We passed by one of his earlier projects and I snapped this quick picture. He was looking to make another piece or two and there (unfortunately) didn’t seem to be any shortages of straws and lids to work with.  The artist recognized that these elements were not supposed to end up here.  Setting them upright was also a good way to get other people to notice these things and perhaps give a thought or two about the state of the environment.  We eventually worked our way back to the water.  Sure enough, my little friend found another straw and lid along a trail frequented by fishermen.

The artist and his materials, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Just as the artist was about to plant his new-found straw and lid into the moist ground…a nice group of people came over and greeted us.  There were two brothers and a sister and a family friend who was taking them to the river to hang out and enjoy themselves.  They had also been collecting river junk and specifically looking for small, intact, glass bottles.  They were curious about the little artist and we talked for a while about being creative.  The group expressed an appreciation for recycling and reusing the cast off stuff of the world.  They asked if it was all right if they could pose with the artist to take their own pictures.  Here are a couple of those images.

Posing for pictures with the artist, Aug. 2014

The artist posed with his new family, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

The youngest of the group then asked if it was okay if the little Styrofoam artist went home with them?  There seemed to be no objections.  The little man with the orange hand on his head was open to anything.   I, however, did ask for a few things in return.  The first was that a nice piece of wood be found out here that would make a good base so that the figure could stand upright.   The second request was that a little bit of craft glue be used to hold all the loose parts together.  Doing these things would make the figure last a bit longer and remind the family for years to come of this time they spent together at the river.  I thought this was the perfect ending to a most entertaining day.  So long for now from the Falls of the Ohio.

Portrait of the straw and cup lid artist, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

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