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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.