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Archive for February, 2016

Fresh plastic arriving at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Last Saturday was a nearly 70 degree day and the sun was shining.  I couldn’t wait to get to the Falls of the Ohio to do a little exploring and maybe make something.  I was totally surprised to find that the Ohio River was up again despite our area not receiving much in the way of rain during the week.  The warmer temperatures must be melting what snow is still on the ground in the upstream sections of the Ohio River Valley?  That’s my theory and for the moment I will stick with that.  As with the previous weekend, the areas in the park that I more routinely work in were all underwater.  So, like the previous weekend I hiked out to the western section of the park where the riverbank is higher.  Honestly, I didn’t expect to find much out here since I picked up a lot of waste plastic to make my last rainbow arrangement.  Boy was I wrong.  Waiting for me along the waterline was a “fresh” selection of polyvinyl chloride for the picking.  Perhaps because for the moment I have been fixated artistically with this material, but to my eye it seems our “plastic problem” is getting worse.

Collected plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

In quick order I was able to stuff the two collecting bags I brought with me to capacity as well as fill a found plastic toboggan with even more plastic.  That was just the start.

Found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

I could have kept going and going, but soon realized that I was also running out of light.  I chided myself under my breath for getting a late start on this day.  I had other home duties that needed my attention.  If I was going to do anything with this latest batch of plastic finds it had better be soon.  I had also intended to check out the project I had made the previous week, but it was further down the riverbank.  Once I got going on this assemblage, I forgot all about that earlier piece.  It was now a race against the quickly setting sun.

Sorting plastic into colors, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

I dragged all the plastic junk I  had collected to a place on the riverbank that I thought had pictorial possibilities.  I then sorted this mess into various color groups.  Using the two plastic milk crates I had found and a wooden plank I created a shelf-like surface that was fairly level where I could arrange my latest collection of finds.

Plastic arrangement process photo with shadow, Falls of the Ohio, Feb., 20, 2016

Here’s a process photo of my piece about half way through along with my shadow.  This plastic arrangement was situated in a space between the high riverbank and a large log that floated into position here last year.  And now for some “finished” views.

Riverbank Plastic Arrangement , Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Riverbank Plastic Arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

I finished laying the last piece of plastic down just in time for the “Golden Hour” when for a brief moment the light has this incredible color.  This time of day reminds me of some of Maxfield Parrish’s paintings who must have also been fond of this effect of light.  Here are a few details of the junk I used for my arrangement.

Blue and Green plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Yellow, Orange, and Red Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

In the green section you can see the Tug Boat that I found on my last trip.  This time I picked it up and carried it with me and incorporated it into this piece.  Other notable finds include a light orange, Winnie the Pooh, “Tigger” character head that was used for collecting candy on Halloween night.  That’s a little different from the usual jack-o-lantern head.  I also found a bright red plastic fish that is also a sand mold for child’s play.  The majority, however, are bottles for detergents and various petroleum products.

Plastic Arrangement under the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Soon, the light begins to fade.  In this shot you can get a better sense of why I selected this location.  My arrangement is protected by these wonderful tree roots that add a bit of animation to the scene.  What you can also see is that the tree to the left doesn’t have long to stand before the river and erosion will change this part of the riverbank and knock this tree down.

Arrangement on the Riverbank, found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Plastic arrangement on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

The sun was setting and I had a long walk ahead of me and after basking in a bit of color it was time to call it a day.  On the walk back to my vehicle, I wondered what I was getting out of this activity?  As an exercise in building an awareness of the plastic issue…well, by this point everybody who cares to know does.  And the folks that would prefer this to be out of sight and out of mind, well, there is that too and you wonder what it would take to convince anyone of the urgency of this problem?  I went through several rationales, but it wasn’t until I got home and downloaded my pictures to my computer that I decided there was something in the perverse beauty of man who stands in contrast to the rest of nature that I find compelling.  I will muse on this for a while, but for now…so long from the Falls of the Ohio.

Sundown at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

 

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Flooded trees at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Imagine my surprise to return to the same spot I had been working at last week…only to find it underwater!  Such was the case on my latest foray to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  In the week since I was last here, we did experience one day where it pretty much rained all day long.  Still, in my experience, the intensity of that storm would not account for all the high water I was seeing during this visit.  Flooding in February is commonplace, but also usually tied to snow melt in the upper Ohio River Valley.  Perhaps what I was seeing was a combination of heavy rains upriver from Louisville and snow melt?  Regardless, this required a change in plans in the field.  I decided to go where nature would allow me to go.  In this case, high, dry land was to be found in the western section of the park.  I had to walk widely around the edge of a rising river, but this interstitial zone between wet and dry is often a very interesting place to explore.

 

Found green plastic toy Tug Boat, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Found, green plastic tug boat toy, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Among today’s discoveries includes this green plastic, tug boat that floated in with the high water.  This, however, was not the only transportation related toy that I found on my walk.  Here is something else that I came across.

Found plastic doll car, Falls of the Ohio,  Feb. 7, 2016

It’s missing two wheels, but this plastic toy car may have given a Barbie-sized doll a ride once upon a time.  How long had this piece of plastic been floating in the river?  I like to go down to the river’s edge because this is such a dynamic place.  You never know what might be washing ashore while you are there!  Soon I reached an area that was crisscrossed by downed trees and logs that had floated in which forced me away from the water and higher up on the riverbank.  That’s when I made another significant discovery.

The emergence of the Red-eyed Tortoise from it's burrow, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Detail of head of the Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

As I was walking, I heard the distinctive sound of leaves rustling on the ground and I knew an animal was nearby.  I followed the sound to its source and came upon a very rare creature that appeared to be exiting an abandoned groundhog’s burrow.  I took a couple of quick photos and backed off.  This proved to be a good move since my actions did not necessitate a full-scale retreat back into the hole it was emerging from.  Hiding behind a tree, I let the tortoise take its sweet time as it fully came to the surface.  I was practically holding my breath the entire time and for good reason.  It’s not everyday that you get the opportunity to photograph and study one of the world’s rarest reptiles…the Red-eyed Tortoise (Gopherus helmeti).

Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The Red-eyed Tortoise was first discovered by naturalists early in the 19th century.  The Falls of the Ohio (and on the Indiana side of the Ohio River) is the southernmost point of this uncommon creature’s range.  Perhaps they were never plentiful to begin with?  Everything I was witnessing about this tortoise seemed to suggest that it is not only slow, but likes to take its time.  If this animal had a motto it would be something like, “Hey, what’s the big hurry”?

Red-eye Tortoise at the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

I watched as the tortoise very deliberately walked to the water’s edge.  What I knew from books about this reptile was that it is omnivorous, but if it is hungry for live food than positioning itself near a rising river driving small animals up the bank would increase the chances of successfully catching a meal.  Unfortunately, I did not witness anything so dramatic.  In fact, during my time in the presence of this tortoise…I did not see it eat or drink at all.

Red-eyed Tortoise and Cottonwood tree roots, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The tortoise lingered at the edge of the river for a while.  It very deliberately examined the driftwood.  Perhaps this was part of its hunting strategy?  There was something I was very curious about and it had to do with the temperature.  Most reptiles are cold-blooded and require the sun’s energy to warm them up.  Was this also true for this tortoise?  Although it was warmer today, it was still far from spring-like temperatures and so how was this reptile able to deal with the coolness?  The secret resides in its unique shell design and composition.  During the colder days, the tortoise’s carapace is made from a hard, foam-like material that not only protects it from blows, but also insulates and retains what heat this animal is able to generate.  In the warmer weather months, special vents in the carapace do the reverse and provide cooling ports that keep the tortoise from overheating.

Red-eyed Tortoise with found plastic bottles, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

I did catch one other puzzling behavior and it was in connection with a cache of river-born plastic bottles that had accumulated next to a large, downed log.  The tortoise appeared to initially be interested in them, but one sniff had our hard-shelled friend reacting adversely and it moved as quickly as it could away from that area.  I did not personally check out these plastic bottles, but I theorized that one of them was probably still carrying its toxic, noxious contents that the tortoise picked up on?  Regardless, it did beat a retreat away from the river and I followed from a respectful distance.

The Red-eyed Tortoise returning to its burrow, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The last view I had of the Red-eyed Tortoise had it going head-first back down into its winter burrow.  There was a brief “flurry” of legs as dirt and leaves were used by the tortoise to seal the hole back up.  I made a mental note of the area where this burrow is located, but also realized that with the advent of warmer weather…this whole section of woods would transform in practically unrecognizable ways.  Perhaps this is for the best because even with the purest of intentions, I would not want any undo harm to come to it by drawing unnecessary attention to it.  I would be very selective about who I would tell about this tortoise’s existence and even more careful about who would see the images I made of it.  Of course, I hope I will get the chance to see it again, but I’m also prepared to have this be the one and only time I had this direct experience with it.  With the tortoise secure again, I collected my belongings and with the sun setting on my back…started on the long hike back home.  It had been a very special day and one that I would savor for some time to come.

Sun down at a flooded Falls of the Ohio State Park, Feb. 7, 2016

 

 

 

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Plastic Thumb Moth, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Beyond the Woodland Loop Trail in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio is where today’s river adventure finds me.  It has been many months since I last visited this side of the park.  I have been looking forward to walking on the driftwood that accumulates on this riverbank.  As always, I’ve got my trusty walking stick and collecting bag with me.  It’s time to find what there is to find and make something from that.  Right away, I found this plastic butterfly or moth (fireworks perhaps?) and enjoyed taking several images of it juxtaposed with the riverbank landscape.  Just a quick look around and I can see lots of plastic and polystyrene to potentially use.  I will also keep my eyes open for a good site to do one of my plastic arrangements that I have been having fun with of late.

Brown Bagging it, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I was fairly confident that I would find as much plastic debris on this shoreline as I had found in the eastern section of the park.  That would prove to be correct and I brought an extra collecting bag along to help with the gathering process.  I have been enjoying organizing the colorful plastic bottles and containers that I find into mostly chromatic and rainbow-inspired arrangements.  The driftwood and sand out here is unified in coloring presenting a monochromatic landscape where bright, colorful plastic notes sing out among all these lost trees.  You soon realize as you sort out the plastic from the driftwood, how much of our material culture is intermixed into everything else.

Found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan 30, 2016

Colorful, found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

After walking the high water line for a couple of hours, I dumped all the colorful plastic I had collected onto the sand.  I thought I had picked a good location that was between the water and the riverbank.   I picked up a nice plastic milk crate along the way to assist with the gathering.  I notice that I usually pick up intact items preferring them over plastic bits and pieces…although, I will use fragments too especially if they are a hard to come by color.  Most all of the plastic bottles and containers I find have had their labels washed off by the river.  I put a lot of trust in the cleaning power of millions of gallons of water.

Sorting plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Using the patterns and intervals of driftwood that the river had previously laid down here as a supporting structure where today’s found plastic is sorted by color and staged.  Here is where you might find out that you picked up more green bottles than yellow or that purple was that day’s hard to find color.

Found plastic on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Here’s a view looking eastward with a bit of the skyline of Louisville suggested through the distant trees.  From my experience, fewer people visit this section of the park and many who do often prove to be residents of Clarksville which is just over the flood wall.  Let’s show a few more images of how this piece rounded into shape.

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I like the big wooden beam lying parallel to the plastic.  Not all the driftwood out here is of the wild variety.  I find lumber cut-offs and planed planks of all kinds and have used them in my art as well.  These shots were taken on a beautiful end of the month day where we had a respite from the cold and grayness.

Western park plastic arrangement, Jan. 30, 2016

There was one large blue plastic drum that was buried in the sand and had water in it as well.  I didn’t like how it intruded into these pictures and so tried to take it away.  Well, it was much too heavy for one person to life out of the sand.  Fortunately, among the few people I did see on this day were old river rat friends who gave me a hand with this.  The blue drum nearly folded in half takes its position at the end of the line.

Variation on an image, Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30,2016

detail of Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I hung around and admired all the bright colors as they revealed themselves in a setting sun.  I think this is the most complex plastic assemblage (as far as variety and number of individual pieces used goes) that I have made thus far.  I will go ahead and tell you that this work no longer exists except as digital images.  Over the past week, we had strong rain storms that went through the Ohio Valley resulting in a high river.  Although the rains didn’t affect us directly, all the water that was dropped into the watershed caused it to inundate many of the familiar places on the riverbank that I like to work.  The river has been unpredictable of late and I have had at least three new projects washed away.  As I walked home, I did find an interesting bottle that I walked over before.  I’m fairly sure this is Fred Flintstone based on the diamond pattern on his “garment”.  A quick inquiry over the internet yielded some results.  This find was originally part of a four plastic baby bottle set that featured Fred, Barney, and their kids Pebbles and BamBam.  This vintage baby product was more than likely manufactured between 1977 and 1984!  I wonder if its possible for my find to be that old?  Judging from the wear and tear and severe fading…that’s a distinct possibility.  Happy with my new find…I dropped it into my collecting bag.  I think it is the unusual items I come across that make this such a fun way to spend time at the river.  With the sun going down, the temperatures are getting cooler…time to go home.  Until next time from an ever-changing Falls of the Ohio.

Very faded Fred Flintstone character plastic baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Fred Flintstone baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

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