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Archive for December, 2014

river frosted bottle glass, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I hope all of you out in blogland are having a great holiday season.  My own family has enjoyed having the additional time to connect with folks we don’t see often enough.  Today is the last day of the year.  With no pressing commitments scheduled for today, I thought I would squeeze in one final post before the ball drops later tonight.  You may be wondering what an image of a hand holding river polished and frosted bottle glass has to do with anything?  Well, that’s the subject of this craftier than usual post.  Every year I enjoy sending out original holiday cards and other “stuff” I make and gift from river junk.  This year in addition to the cards (which featured the Christmas Bird of previous post fame), I created more of my “Ice Blossom Ornaments”.  Friends who were the recipients of these “river treasures” assured me they were blog worthy.  We shall see about that.

Styrofoam fishing floats and old Styrofoam Christmas ornament, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

To make an “Ice Blossom Ornament” you need a bit more than broken glass found at the river or beach…you also need a body or form to attach the shards to.  In this case, I like using the Styrofoam fishing floats I find and ironically polystyrene balls that are the remains of former Christmas tree ornaments that have washed into the park.  I have seen a few of these original ornaments in various states of decomposition and they are usually covered with a shiny fabric that is glued to the ball.  I prefer the balls that have lost their covering. When placement of the glass pieces has been decided, you cut into the ball form using a sharp Exacto knife.  The hole I create is traced around the glass shape that I will embed into the ball  A drop of glue holds the glass in place.   I love using this river-collected glass because all the sharp edges have been worn away and I like the “frosted” surface created from abrasion with the sand and water.  The same natural processes that tumble the Styrofoam and coal I use, also works its magic on glass.  Even with something as trifling as these ornaments, I like that nature had a “collaborative role” in their making.  The ornaments are finished off with the addition of found wire or waste fishing line and the occasional found piece of hardware.  Here are some finished examples.

Two Ice Blossom Ornaments , Dec. 2014

2014 Ice Blossom Ornaments made with Falls of the Ohio found materials

The next two pieces are a little larger and utilize bigger glass fragments.  Some of these larger ornaments reference seed pods and marine forms like urchins.

Ice Blossom Ornament with copper wire, Dec. 2014

This year I added polished coal to the list of materials used.  Coal is after all, stored energy from the sun and suits the “star” image.  Also, at the heart of every living star is a potential black hole and this ornament has that going for it as well.

Ice Blossom Star with Coal, Dec. 2014

The original ideas behind the “Ice Blossoms” comes from the 2009/10 holiday season.  It was an important element in a story I wrote about the very rare migration of the Arctic Hummingbird (Styrotrochildae polystyrenus).  When the conditions are just right, the very unusual Arctic Hummingbird times its appearance with the emergence of the Ice Blossom flower.  The hummers seek out the concentrated energy found in the Ice Blossom’s nectar.  I just happened to be lucky enough to be at the Falls of the Ohio when the Ice Blossoms were in bloom.  Here’s an image I captured showing the relationship between the bird and flower.

Arctic Hummingbird feeding, 1/2010

Later I created another series of ornaments that I used to decorate the trees and vines at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Some of these images were later incorporated into my Christmas cards.

Ice Blossom ornaments and briar vines

I liked the idea of ornaments in nature and still feel some of the trees in the park are just as worthy of decoration as the trees we set up for the holidays.  Regardless, the next time you find yourself around beach glass and Styrofoam…here’s an idea you can try to reuse both materials.  Happy New Year everybody…see you in 2015.

Ornaments in Nature, 12/09

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Christmas Bird at the Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

In the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park I came across a remarkable bird.  As far as I know, this is the first documented sighting of the so-called Christmas Bird (Xmasii noelensis) in our area.  The bird’s red crest, green collar, and azure-colored wings are diagnostic as is the bicolor beak.  I was down at the river on a rather foggy morning when I noticed the bird flashing its wings in mockingbird fashion which is a distant relative of this species.

The Christmas Bird, Louisville in the background, Dec. 2014

I was looking for interesting pieces of driftwood and odd items washed up by the Ohio River when I came across this bird.  This is a long distance migrant and one that hails from as far north as the Arctic Circle.  The Christmas Bird earns its name in a couple of ways.  Of course, its complimentary plumage is rather seasonably inspired and it does seem to migrate to the lower 48 states around the time of the holidays.  Where the bird will appear is rather unpredictable, however, it is a welcome sight in most any location.  Here I have photographed the bird “flashing” its wings against its body while perched upon a driftwood log.  The park is in Southern Indiana and the skyline of Louisville, Kentucky can be seen across the Ohio River.  After taking this shot, the bird flew off.

Display of the Christmas Bird, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I said to myself…”Well, that’s that”.  I fully did not expect to see this rare bird again, but I received a “gift” of a rather unexpected nature.  Underneath the old iron railroad bridge, not too far away from my initial sighting, I came across this “decorated” nest and recognized its significance.  This is a display from the Christmas Bird.  Using an abandoned mud-lined nest of an American Robin, (Turdus migratorius), the Christmas Bird has created an assemblage involving red berries and the remains of a string of old Christmas lights that washed into the park with the other river-bourn detritus.  From this evidence, I suspected the bird had “claimed” this area.  If I in turn displayed patience…I might get another opportunity to photograph this unusual species.

Christmas Bird with its display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I waited about an hour and the Christmas Bird did appear to my great joy!  It arrived at the nest with a red berry in its beak which it added to its growing collection.  It is believed that this bird is attracted to the color red.  Usually, berries from the holly tree are used, but in this instance I recognized them as the fruit of the Nandina plant.  The bird probably discovered them growing in a private garden in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana.  It is suspected by ornithologists that the southerly migration of the Christmas Bird, which brings it to warmer climates, may trigger this unusual nest-like and courting behavior.  The Christmas Bird is known for its ability to tolerate extreme cold and it takes a great drop in temperature to stimulate it to migrate.

Close up of the Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Christmas Bird with display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was able to observe this bird making about ten trips back and forth between the nest and its berry source.  If the bird was aware of my presence…it did not appear to be overly alarmed.  Once in a while, the bird with crest erected, would cock its head back and forth trying to differentiate my form among the willow branches.  I held my breath and tried to remain still and as unthreatening as possible.

The Christmas Bird with its seanonable display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The weather grew damp and cold and the sun looked like it was not going to appear from beneath its blanket of clouds.  I made the decision that I had enough images and it was time to leave this bird in peace and go home.  On the ride home, I felt I had been given this great gift, the gift of nature which remains priceless and timeless!  For me, nothing packaged in a box and wrapped with a bow can equal this living blessing.  To all who have followed my adventures by the river this year…I offer my sincerest good wishes during this season of holidays!  I hope that at least once in your lifetimes, you will be visited by the Christmas Bird bringing red berries for your nest.

Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

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piled up driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The following is my latest adventure from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s official now, the month of November was among our top ten coldest Novembers ever recorded.  This continues a see-saw trend where one month might set a record for heat (like October did) only to bounce back down to the other extreme.  It’s too early to tell about December, but on this recent visit it was cool and overcast.  We have since had several days of rain causing the river to swell.  Today’s story begins at the westernmost point on the Woodland Loop Trail.  This path is bordered by what folks around here refer to as a “creek”, but in actuality is a channel cut into the riverbank by storm water overflow released from the town of Clarksville.  I wish it were a creek and perhaps long ago, may have been one.  During periods of flooding and high water, driftwood and logs back up into this area and are stranded once the water level recedes.  The picture above is a recent illustration of this.

beaver tracks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was exploring this water-cut channel and noticed that there were lots of beaver signs present.  In addition to their tracks left in the mud, I found plenty of chewed willow branches.  I added some of the nicer sticks to my collecting bag.  It made me think about how much the appearance of the black willow trees around here are shaped by the beaver’s “pruning” methods.  I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before…perhaps it was just too obvious.  Actually, I think it has something to do with the beaver population rebounding over the last few years.  In certain local places, they have become “pests”.  Their damning of local drainage canals has necessitated their capture and removal to other more remote areas.

found deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Exploring a bend on the Woodland Loop Trail, I found this deer skull laying upside down on the fallen leaves.  It was kind of hard to see, but something in the old brain said to look more closely and I did.  After taking a few photographs, I laid it upon the trunk of a large fallen tree for others to discover.  Like the beaver, it appears the deer are becoming more numerous as well.  After years of finding just their tracks and the occasional bone, this season I was able to spot a doe and her fawn in the park during broad daylight.

storm sewer overflow peninsula, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I walked to the top of the riverbank to get a better look at the peninsula that has been created at the mouth of the “creek” from the storm sewer’s overflow.  Over the years, I have witnessed stringers of sauger and catfish being caught here by the local fishermen.  I like how the rising and falling of the river has terraced the mud into a series of graduated steps.  I was relaxed and zoning out on the view when I noticed something white that had surfaced and was entering the “creek”.  I quickly took a photo and here it is.

white dorsal fin in the Ohio River, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I scrambled down the riverbank to get a better view and got my clothes severely muddy in the process.  In my head I’m telling myself that for all the world this looks like a shark’s dorsal fin…but is this possible?  I remember hearing that there are a few shark species (notably bull sharks) that are capable of swimming up rivers and able to tolerate being in fresh water for extended periods of time.  Still, we are a long way from the ocean which also includes navigating a large section of the Mississippi River before entering into the Ohio River… just to reach this spot.  I observed the fin submerging as it disappeared from view.  Hustling, I reached the general location where I thought the fin was heading and was “blown away” by this sight!

The Shark Shepard emerges from the river, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Emerging from the muddy water was this white figure sporting an improbable headdress or mask?  The figure was carrying a staff and appeared to have fins on its body similar to a shark.  I let this fellow come fully out of the water before my curiosity overwhelmed me and I went in for a closer look.

Shark Shepard, side view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

This strange being did not seem to be afraid of me and regarded me through his dark eyes.  His face was framed by what looked like the jaws, teeth, and the head of a shark.  My attention kept returning to the fearsome mask it was wearing which I surmised might be a part of some breathing apparatus?  A yellow light on its chest would occasionally blink signaling some other unfamiliar technology was present.  The staff the figure was holding was terminated by a hand pointing a finger which reinforced the stranger’s mysterious presence.

The Shark Shepard on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Using its staff, I watched as the figure drew the outlines of several sharks in the soft mud and then pointed to one of his eyes.  He followed this by making a sweeping movement with his arm that seemed to encompass the river and its surrounding landscape.  It took me a moment, but I think it asked me if I had seen any sharks in the area?  Reflexively, I replied by shaking my head “no” which the figure seemed to understand by dropping his head and shoulders in a disconsolate manner?  That’s when I had this mental flash that this guy was a shepherd, a shark shepherd and he was looking for his lost flock?  From here on out, I will refer to him as the Shark Shepherd.  He next stuck his staff into the mud and walked away from it.  I decided to tag along to see if I could learn anything else about my new silent friend.

Shark Shepard by improvised tent, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd seemed to have a curiosity about our world.  I observed as he approached an improvised tent that someone had set up among the trees.  It’s owner(s), however, were not around, but it didn’t seem abandoned in my eyes.  Probably made by fishermen and there seemed to be several trying their luck along the riverbank on this windy day.  I too have a curiosity about the world and after my encounter with the Shark Shepherd ended…I rushed home to try to figure out what he was doing here so far from the sea?  Using the miracle of the internet, I learned a few alarming facts about shark disappearances worldwide.

The Shark Shepherd by fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

On average, between 20 million to 73 million sharks a year are taken out of marine ecosystems across the planet.  Most of the statistics mentioned the higher number…regardless, that’s too many sharks.  Sharks are “harvested” for their fins, cartilage, and teeth.  The boom in popularity for shark fin soup has led to an insidious practice where millions of sharks are harvested and often indiscriminately by using thousands of hooks set on miles of trailing “longlines”.  Sharks are a valuable bycatch.  The captured sharks (which are often caught alive) have their fins cut off and are frequently thrown back into the seas to die in agony.  It’s a lucrative business because this was once a delicacy and status symbol reserved for the wealthy back in the day when sharks were harder and more challenging to catch. Now it is within the reach of more people.  Through industrialized commercial fishing, millions of mostly Asian consumers can have a bowl of shark fin soup on special occasions.  Interestingly, the soup itself needs to be flavored with beef or chicken stock because the fins themselves are a textural element and contribute no flavor of their own.  Of course, a bowl of soup is not the only challenge sharks face.  Commercial sports fishing, pollution, reef destruction, and overfishing of the shark’s prey base play their part as well.

The Shark Shepherd at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

In the United States, large sharks have disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico.  I think this is the reason the Shark Shepherd was this far inland.  Along our Atlantic Coast, it has been reported that eleven of the largest shark species have essentially vanished.  This has important repercussions for the overall marine environment.  You can’t remove this many apex predators from an ecosystem and expect it to function normally.  There are cascading effects.  A recent study attributes the decline in our East Coast scallop industry is due to the loss of sharks that normally would keep cownosed rays and sting rays who eat scallops in check.

Shark Shepherd by the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Dec. 2014

I followed the Shark Shepherd as he explored the area around the newly closed Interpretive Center.  There were people around and they did exhibit interest in my friend, but were generally respectful for what was going on.  A few folks asked if they could take pictures of the Shark Shepherd and he obliged them.  During my internet research, I did find it fascinating that there are places like American Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, and the island nation of Palau where sharks are protected.  Interestingly, these are all places in the Pacific Ocean where people regard the shark as a culturally and spiritually significant animal.  These Polynesian cultures understand that their very identities are connected with sharks.  The same, however, can’t be said for the rest of the world who regard sharks as nuisances and or threats.  Better to view something with reverence than through fear.

The Shark Shepherd surveys the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd climbed the staircase to gain a better vantage point overlooking the river.  I watched him scan the waters, but only an occasional fishing boat presented itself.  If he was looking for sharks, well, there probably hasn’t been any here for about 400 million years when this area was a Devonian Age coral reef.  I could feel the poignancy of the Shark Shepherd’s search as it failed to bear fruit.  After a short while, we reversed our course and retraced our steps.  The Shark Shepherd gathered his staff and walked back into the creek where after acknowledging me with one last look back…disappeared into the Ohio River.  Although I realized that I would not see him again, I couldn’t help but hope that he and his sharks wouldn’t disappear forever from the oceans of the world.

The Shark Shepherd, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

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