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Archive for July, 2015

bent over willow tree, July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Last weekend I visited an old friend and was shocked by the state that I found it in.  In this case, my friend is a favorite Black Willow tree (Salix nigra) that grows within the Willow Habitat in the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  We have just come out of a particularly wet June and July that saw the area this tree grows in being mostly underwater.  Record amounts of rainfall have kept me on the very fringes of an encroaching Ohio River.  Of course, I rushed back into the park when opportunity presented itself and things looked like they were returning to “normal”.  Usually, lots of water is something that willow trees can appreciate.  In this case, however, the willow trees near the old railroad bridge were submerged twice this year  by the flood waters.  In addition, floating and semi-submerged logs batter the stationary trees when strong currents push against them.  Spreading willow roots do their best to maintain their hold upon the land.  To add injury to insult, receding river levels often strand their floating driftwood loads in what’s left of the branches and crowns of these willow trees.  The weight of this wood is a big burden which then further shapes the living willows.  This is what happened to my friend.  I found the formerly nice arc of its main branches and trunk now growing nearly horizontally with the ground.  I decided to put together this post of images of this particular tree to see if I could detect other changes over the years.

Black Willow, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2010

Looking through thousands of images, I found this shot from November of 2010.  Looks to be a cold morning.  I’m not certain when this particular tree caught my attention, but it must have been around this time.  I’m sure, however, that the processes that shape these trees were already at work.  I can imagine this willow growing straight and tall if circumstances were different.

Willow Tree, Falls of the Ohio, June 2011

The next image dates to early June of 2011.  This is the same tree with its long, narrow, and slightly saw-toothed edged leaves out in full.  Already you can see an impressive and exposed root mass anchoring this tree in position.

Willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, March 2012

Here’s an image from March of 2012 showing water encroaching upon our willow tree.  I wonder how large the root mass actually is that keeps this tree alive in what seems an unpromising place?

Willow tree at the Falls, 2012

A month later, April 2012, and the waters have returned to their seasonable pool and the tree is beginning to leaf out.  From the way the three main trunks of the tree are all leaning west…I suspect that the weight of deposited driftwood? helped “train” the tree to grow in this position.

Willow Tree, September 2012, Falls of the Ohio

September 2012 and the leaves are beginning to show hints of autumn yellow.  Soon the willow will drop all of its leaves which will eventually gather around the base of this tree.

Two shots of one of my favorite Falls projects.  For over ten years I had been collecting the hard, yellow foam cores of contemporary soft balls that wash into the park minus their leather coverings.  I decided to make a large necklace from my special river pearls that I named “La Belle Riviere” or The Beautiful River which was the name the French missionaries gave the Ohio River very early during its exploration.  I posed my “necklace” and photographed it in many different places and positions.  The images I made while it graced this willow tree were among the best.

Black Willow, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

The following images are from 2014.  This one was taken in June.  And, the following two are from August of the same year.

Willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Willow root ball, Falls of the Ohio, August 2014

Now for some winter images.  These more stark pictures were taken during February of 2015.  We had some decent snow falls this year.  I like getting a good variety of images showing the park during all the seasons.

Old willow in winter, Feb. 2015

willow tree in winter, Feb. 2015

That leads us to my most recent photographs.  For parts of June and a lot of July, this tree was submerged from view.  I never did get a good look at it with the driftwood that rafted onto it.

Willow tree leaning over badly, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

Bent over willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

The willow tree has bent completely over and is “resting” on some of its branches.  The tree is still in leaf, but turning more yellow, (perhaps due to all the stress it has endured?)  So far, this tree has been a survivor and I hope that it can somehow “bounce back” from this turn of events.  We shall see.  I will make a special attempt to record what happens to this tree from here on out.  I will close this post and the month of July with one last image of this remarkable willow tree.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Black Willow root mass, July 2015, Falls of the Ohio.

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High water with Louisville in the distance, July 18, 2015

I’ve been to the river three times this month, but this is my first post for July!  Where to begin?  It’s been eventful in so many ways.  First, the hard drive of my computer crashed which put me out of business for a few weeks.  All the while this was being dealt with…the river has been high due to what seems like at times, monsoon-intensity rains.  Not light, gentle rains, but strong storms that dump inches of rain at one time and are often accompanied by high winds.  I suspect that this year’s June and July will be among the wettest combos recorded around here.  There has been tragedy too.  Five people lost their lives in a boating accident while watching the 4th of July fireworks display in front of downtown Louisville.  The river was especially high and fast flowing when their pontoon boat struck a parked barge sending people into the water.  It took several days to recover the bodies.  We may think that we can manage the river through levies and dams, but nature often has other ideas.  Where is all this water coming from and can be this be further evidence of the planet’s changing climate?  When I see before and after pictures of what were former glaciers or images of huge ice shelves breaking off of Antarctica…that fresh water goes somewhere right?  Seems there is a lot of moisture being drawn up into the atmosphere which then precipitates out over the land.  Too bad it doesn’t seem to be going where it is needed the most.

Muddy flood waters below the Falls Interpretive Center, July 2015

For the moment, all my usual haunts at the Falls of the Ohio are under water.  Usually during this time of year, the fossil beds are at their most extensively exposed.  I love being able to walk over the fossil beds which makes me feel like I’m on another planet.  Once the water recedes, there will be a newly rearranged landscape to explore along with its attendant material culture that gets left behind.  This is how I obtain my art supplies.

High water by the Upper Tainter Gates, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This is a view along the Fixed Wier Dam and Upper Tainter Gates in the eastern section of the park.  The water level had been higher and is in the process of going down a bit.  I noticed fish activity and was surprised to see Asian carp congregating in the swirling, muddy water.

High Ohio River with jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

About midway down you can see a carp that is doing its own impression of a salmon going upstream.  Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

Here are a few more details of fish jumping.  I was surprised that my cellphone camera was able to catch this action.  Some of the fish I observed were very large.  I would estimate the largest ones I saw were plus 50 pounds.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

And here is one more image catching a fish in mid air.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

There are a couple of species of Asian carp and they are all highly invasive and non-native.  To see these fish jumping to overcome obstacles on their way upriver shows how determined they can be.  These fish feed on algae and other tiny water organisms.  They out compete native species and are highly prolific.  Extensive campaigns have been launched to control or eradicate these fish with limited results.  The big fear is that they will make their way into the Great Lakes were they pose a huge issue for that fishery.  In Western Kentucky, at Land Between the Lakes, a commercial fishery has been created to harvest these carp by netting them.  Because they eat tiny micro organisms, they can not be taken by rod and reel unless you happen to snag one by accident.  The goal is to create a commercial demand for its flesh and apparently they are a coveted food item in China.  Although a demand for these carp may be created…they are also in our waters for good now.  The fish I photographed are on their way to Cincinnati and points northward along the Ohio River and all its tributaries and streams that feed this great river.  Carp were not the only creatures around on this day.  Check out this guy!

Large Common Snapping Turtle, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

Walking along the edge of the flooding, I came across this large, Common Snapping Turtle that was bulldozing its way to the river.  It emerged from underneath some high weeds and was unaware of me at first.  As I came closer, it started to pull its head underneath its shell as much as it could while raising up on its legs to appear even more menacing and large.  This big turtle did hiss and lunge for me a few times and after a couple snapshots…I left it alone.  This turtle was large enough to remove a finger if that unfortunate person should offer it.  Although it moved slowly for the most part, it did have the ability to strike quickly and its neck could reach out further than you may have anticipated!  I have found dead snappers at the Falls before that were washed into here by flooding or were caught and killed by fisherman.  This is the first live one I have seen here and it was a beauty!  Being confined to the margins of the swollen river did have some benefits.  I came across two remarkable flowers that I would like to present.  Here is the first one I discovered on the Fourth of July.

Giant Mud Flower from the genus Siltana, Falls of the Ohio, early July 2015

detail of Giant Mud Flower, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This is the first of two Giant Mud Flowers (from the genus Siltana) that I have discovered at the Falls of the Ohio.  They are large perennials that appear only when the conditions are just right.  Apparently, all the flooding we have experienced along the river has proven ideal for this rare bloom.  This flower sports large, fleshy “petals” that are organized around a central core that emerges first from the soil.  No leaves are visible and much is unknown about this rare plant.  It is believed that after blooming, the Mud Flower puts its remaining energies into producing a single, round seed about the size of a golf ball.  Attempts to grow this plant under controlled conditions have thus far proven to be unsuccessful.  Here is a different flower which may or may not be a related species?

Second Giant Mud Flower from the genus Siltana, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

Giant Mud Flower detail, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This specimen was found during mid month in a different section of the park.  On the surface, it compares well with the preceding example.  Noticeably, the thick petals are of different colors and the central core is a different structure.  Botanists may eventually determine that these two Giant Mud Flowers are related, but different species too.  Much is needing to unlock the key to how this species survives and whether there are any pollinating agents involved at all?  I am going to end today’s trip with one more flower photograph.  This was taken in front of the still renovating Interpretive Center.  There is a wonderful day lily garden here with many different varieties.  The center is hoping to be back open to the public come this fall.  I want to thank park director, Kelley Morgan for inviting me to talk during their volunteer appreciation dinner.  I loved being in a room full of left brained people who must have thought where did this “odd duck” came from?  Everyone was very nice and interested in what I do which admittedly, deviates from the norm!  What I like is that however we view and use the park…we all have a passion for this very special place.  Here’s hoping my next post will occur under dryer circumstances!

From the Day Lily Garden at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, July 18, 2015

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