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Archive for December, 2015

Four trees with exposed roots, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Here’s a little story set at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana that will help carry us into the new year.  This tale is from a few weeks back, but I have been saving it.  I have, however, been using many of the images I created on this day for use with my Christmas cards.  Making ornaments, setting up holiday lights, and coming up with a new batch of cards to give away are my ways of getting into the spirit of the season.  I also enjoy attempting to put into words something about my Falls experiences and the following is this year’s gift from the river.  Today, we are in the western section of the park.  I know of four special trees with exposed roots (three sycamores and one cottonwood) that hang out together and have survived a very tough year and were due a visit from me.  With the daylight fading, this would be a good place to watch the sun set as the Ohio River turns left on its journey westward.

Styro-Snowman, full face view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015Getting into the right spirit of the season can be difficult for some folks.  Especially, when the weather is abnormally warm and you were hoping for snow to get winter kick started in the right direction.  The Falls of the Ohio, like much of the eastern portion of our country, is currently in the grips of El Nino.  Our area has set several all-time records for heat for this time of year.  What a contrast from last year’s polar vortex!  As luck would have it, the Styro-Snowman happened to be around when I was visiting the river.  I stuck around to see what would happen next.

The Snow Star arrives, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Although this snowman wore a fixed expression, his odd movements communicated befuddlement?  Something was missing or just not right.  I could see him looking around for something…perhaps a reminder of the season, but nothing appeared obvious?  After roaming the fossil cliffs for several minutes he stopped and looked towards the sky.  That’s when an amazing thing happened and if I didn’t have these pictures to prove it…I am sure you would not believe me.  As the sun, our star, was setting…another star much smaller and shaped like a snowflake descended from the sky.  I wondered if my friend here had willed it to him or did the star appear spontaneously?  As the star drifted by the Styro-being reached up and gently brought the star down to earth.  I could sense a feeling of joy coming over the snowman.

Styro-snowman gets a big idea, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Along with the snowflake star…a small white sack appeared on the ground.  Inside the sack were five, slightly beat up plastic tree ornaments like the kind you can sometimes find at the Falls after the flooding has subsided.  The snowman looked into the sack a pulled out a roughed up, but still functional, deep red ornament.  His expression widened and I almost felt like I was reading his mind.  The snowman walked over to one of the four trees with the great roots and began decorating its branches.

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The first tree the snowman embellished had a more open arrangement with ornaments hung on several branches.  For whatever reason, the snowman didn’t find this to be satisfactory and he took his five ornaments off and moved to another nearby tree.

Hanging the ornaments with care, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Hung the ornaments on the branches of a sycamore, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

On a low hanging limb of another rugged sycamore, the snowman hung up his ornaments with care.  He saved his bright red bauble for last and placed it upon the branch which was accomplished precariously by standing on a large tree root.  The snowman looked content when he was finished and paused a moment or two to soak up his handiwork.

The Styro-snowman admiring his work, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Styro-snowman with baubles arranged all in a row, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Oddly, the snowman had hung up his ornaments in a straight line that ascended the tree branch.  Wordlessly, I could tell that he was moved by this alignment, but why?  The tree, after all, could have been decorated any number of ways.  Something about this configuration made me think of celestial models and how we rank planets based by size or their proximity to the sun.  The now extraordinary branch seemingly had this cosmic link going for it.  The snowman stood behind his decorations and peered up the line which seemed to be sighted to a particular spot in the night sky that seemed a little darker than the surrounding space.

Returning the star to its rightful place, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Without saying a single word, the Styro-Snowman elevated the star that had come to him from high above.  He had borrowed some of its magic and now it was his time to pass it on.  It floated off until it reached that now dark spot in the firmament that it normally occupied.  A bright flash of light signaled that the snow star was back in position.  It is said that all life contains a little star power within it and I think I just witnessed that in action.  With his spirit lifted, the snowman looked over his shoulders at me and with his fixed acorn smile disappeared into the river.

I dedicate this little story to all who seek some personal connection to the spirit of the season or who simply are following magic stars of their own.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Season’s Greetings from the Falls of the Ohio.

Found Christmas star in the shape of a snowflake, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

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Ruined toy shopping cart, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Here’s a tale from my last visit to the river which happened to be a wondrous and warm Thanksgiving morning at the Falls of the Ohio.  Before the family gatherings and the feasts that  followed, I jumped out of bed to put in a few hours of personal time.  As I recall, on this day last year it was 17 degrees and we had already experienced a snow fall.  Despite Turkey Day’s  balmy 70 degrees, I didn’t see many other folks out here with the exception of a few early rising fisherman who were casting for Sauger near the dam.  Nobody seemed to be having much luck catching fish. I decided that I needed to start off my holiday season by doing a little holiday shopping Falls style.  Meaning, no money is required…just come out here and sooner or later you will find something interesting that drifted in with the driftwood.  After all, everything out here has a story connected to it.  It’s finder’s keepers on the riverbank and you can cross off your gift list those particularly “hard to shop for” loved ones in practically no time at all!  First, you need a shopping cart and after searching around I found this…see above picture.  Despite its small size…I decided to pass on this find because the missing wheels would just get in the way.  I decided that one of my many collecting bags would have to suffice.  So, what kinds of things stood out on this day?

Osage orange, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I came across many fruits from the Osage-orange tree (Maclura pomifera).  I love their glowing color and weird surfaces that remind me of brains.  A squirrel  was eating one when I approached.  I have heard of people who put these fruits in their closets and trunks to keep insect pests away from their out of season clothes.  People do collect and sell these soft ball size fruits for this purpose.  Osage-orange trees have quite a few other nicknames including:  hedge apple, monkey ball, horse apple, mock orange, and yellow-wood.  Potentially this orb could be a stocking stuffer for an organically inclined friend or two?  Our next item was found waiting for me on the wet and slimy fossil beds.  The rocks were so slick, I had trouble remaining upright as I approached the mystery object.

Soggy fabric "Hulk" hand, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Here’s something else sporting an unusual shade of green.  As gentle river waves lapped the exposed limestone fossil beds…something that looked like a large fist presented itself lying next to driftwood logs.  As I suspected when I first spotted this item…it was a toy “Hulk” hand.  Essentially, this is an over-sized, comic book character, soft boxing glove that a child could insert their own hand within when their inner Bruce Bannon gets overwhelmed by their raging Hulk persona!  Smashing could then ensue.  I considered dropping this into the collecting bag, but it was so heavily saturated with river water.  Still, definitely a pop culture item that would be appreciated once the darned thing dried out.  I’ll come back to this later, unless someone who wants it more takes it home first!

Two large chunks of found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

After I did my rounds around the Willow Habitat, I headed for my outdoor studio under the trees.  I had stashed two large chunks of found Styrofoam at my site that had floated into the park earlier in the spring with this year’s flooding.  I had to wait months for the largest piece to thoroughly dry out before I could even attempt to lift it.  These larger chunks may originally have been parts of boat docks which do absorb water while retaining buoyancy.  As I was imagining what I could make with this material, a stranger approached me.  I was so rapt upon my polystyrene pair that I had let my usual guard down.

Giant Styro-Snow Shovel Man, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Face of Giant Styro Snow Shovel Man, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

“Excuse me…I don’t mean to disturb or startle you, but do you mind if I ask you a question?”  I’m sure I must have had that slack-jawed look of amazement on my face!  The absurd looking persona in front of me was much taller than myself.  I estimated he was at least 6 feet 5 inches or even slightly taller than that.  Dressed all in white, he had a large nose and two eyes that were different colors on an otherwise huge head.  Over one of his shoulders he was carrying a snow shovel that was missing half its snow blade.  I did my best to gather my wits and replied in a slightly cracked voice…”Sure, what’s your question?”  It’s not that unusual for people (especially children) who see me out here to wonder about what I’m doing?

Large absurd figure at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Giant absurd figure, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

“Can you hear that?” asked the giant.  I’m sure I looked puzzled and so he repeated the question.  I then stood still and listened and replied that all I heard were the local birds moving through the trees.  I had noticed earlier that the chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers and other seasonable birds had been especially active on this beautiful day.  My large “friend”, however, said that it wasn’t the birds he was hearing but rather something more abstract than that.  My response was to ask him what he was hearing that seemed beyond the threshold of my own hearing (which is no mean feat these days)?  The big guy gave a one word response to me and it was…”Winter”.

detail of the head from the Giant Styro Snow Shovel Man, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

The big guy had this wistful look upon his strange visage and he said, “Winter is coming my friend and that is what I hear.”  He then continued, “This year is nearly history now and all it’s good, bad, and indifferent moments will be covered up by a cold, white blanket of forgetfulness.”  I’m sure he was right about that, but it did seem odd considering it was 70 degrees outside today!

Large, absurd figure with half a snow shovel, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I asked my new acquaintance if he thought this was going to be a particularly tough winter since he seemed to be presenting himself as something of an authority on the subject?

He replied, “That’s difficult to say considering all the weather patterns and all the factors that generate the weather are in a state of flux.”  He continued, “It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen the planet be this confused.  I have been wandering the land gathering clues and I’m afraid, that I can’t give you an accurate forecast.  The only thing I’m sure of is that at some point winter will arrive and I will be out here to meet it.”

My own thoughts turned to an episode of Falls of the Ohio history.  This whole river valley was originally sculpted by one of the last glaciers at the close of the last Ice Age.  You can even find deposits of gravel here that date from that period thousands of years a go.

Styro Snow Shovel Man facing the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Styro Snow Shovel Man waiting for winter to arrive, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I had to ask this Styro-Snow Shovel Man if he believed the changes in the weather had something to do with our species’ activities?  “Well”, he said…”there are a lot of you on the planet now and as a group, you don’t seem very concerned about what’s happening in the big scheme of things.”  I reluctantly had to agree with him.  I have my own anecdotal information gleaned from this park to back up my own thoughts on the subject.  At the time of this writing, many of the world’s leaders are meeting in Paris to try to decide if any changes could be made that might help reduce the impact of our overall activities.  I remain open and hope a positive consensus can be reached.  Like the approach of winter…we shall see.  With Thanksgiving waiting for me…I said my good byes and left my new friend standing in the park.  Perhaps I will see him again…after the first snowflake falls?

Last photo of the standing Styro Snow Shovel Man, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

 

 

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