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Rose Mallow at the Falls of the Ohio

We have had some stellar days of late with the air so crystalline and fresh that it has been an added bonus to be outside.  The temps have been manageable as well.  I began this post more than a week ago, but put it on the back burner until now.  I am no doubt busier now than I ever have been (particularly at work), but I’m still finding the time to be involved with my own art.  And I must confess…if I have to prioritize whether to stay home and work on a blog article or go to the river and participate in life at that level…well, I think you know what my answer will be!  I have enjoyed blogging, but must admit to myself that what I do will never be most people’s’ idea of a good read, especially since there are now literally millions of blogs out there!  I do still hope, however, to occasionally connect with folks who are creative and just plain interested in nature.

Rose Mallow, red coloring variant, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Recently, I went to the river to find a wealth of Rose Mallows in bloom.  That is not always the case and there have been years when I did not see any.  They have become among my favorite flowers that I can find at the Falls of the Ohio.  Their blooms are huge and there is some variation in our native hibiscus.  In a relatively small area, I found a patch of Rose Mallows showing off those colors which can range from a solid hot pink, to a snow-white blossom.  Usually, most of the mallows will sport some combination of white or pink with a deep scarlet throat.  I couldn’t help collecting a few seed pods and scattering their seeds in other locations I frequent at the Falls.  I don’t think this is technically legal since there is a park rule against collecting wildflowers, but since none of their seeds went home with me…I’m hoping I’ll be okay to do this?

Red Admiral butterfly, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Late summer is also a good time to see which butterflies are around.  The Falls of the Ohio certainly has its regular species who inhabit its various ecological niches.  Here is one of the park’s Red Admirals and it is visiting a “willow lick” to drink up the sugary exudence seeping from a wound in this tree’s bark.  These wounds occur in various ways, but the most common one is with collisions with large floating logs that crash battering ram-style into these willows during flooding.  This happens mostly in late winter or early spring and it is not out of the ordinary to have these willow trees be completely submerged by the Ohio River.  These willow licks attract a variety of insects ranging from butterflies, ants, hornets, and many different types of flies.

butterflies on purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Of course, every year is different from the last one and so far I have to say I think this has been just an average year for butterflies.  Usually, one species will be found more commonly than the other species.  For example, I can remember certain years where the Viceroy was the most common butterfly.  I have also seen it when the small Pearly Crescent or the larger Buckeye Butterfly were the most plentiful individual species.  This year I can’t tell that one species is more numerous than another.  I like visiting the Purple Loosestrife stands particularly in the western section of the park during the height of their blooming period.  I know this plant is highly invasive, but it also attracts a large amount of insects and butterflies in particular.  Multiple species gravitate towards the nectar these plants produce.  It’s interesting to watch different species feeding on the same plant like in the above photo.   A skipper species (on top) and fritillary species (on the bottom) are coexisting on this flower because this resource is plentiful and the butterflies are focused.  What these loosestrife stands also attract are predators.  It’s common to come across large orb weaving spiders and praying mantises waiting to ambush a meal.  I have come to think of these loosestrife stands as being important feeding areas for the Monarch butterflies that migrate through our area and this has mitigated my feelings towards this invasive plant.

Installation view of show at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN....Aug. 2016

Gallery shot at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

View inside my exhibit at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

Another reason to be feel grateful is that I have another solo art exhibition and it is currently up at the Artists’ Own Gallery in Lafayette, Indiana.  It’s a co-op space and the duties of running the gallery fall upon the member artists.  I was invited by one of the members to show at their downtown, Main Street location.  The exhibit which is entitled “At the Intersection of Culture and Nature” features a selection of my Styrofoam sculptures along with a few more dye sublimation prints on aluminum I had made of site specific projects that are now gone.  It is all stuff I have found and experienced at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  On the morning the show opened, I gave an artist’s talk and had a nice group present to hear more about how this work came to be.  I even sold a few pieces to help offset the costs of printing my photos and renting a van to haul it all around!  I really liked having the opportunity to show off my “Crying Indian” sculpture once again and it looked completely different in a gallery context as compared to where it was first shown outdoors earlier this year at Hidden Hills Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  All the Artists’ Own artists I met were welcoming and I appreciated their hospitality!  The exhibit will remain up until mid September and so if you find yourself in the area…please stop by and enjoy all the great art on display throughout this beautiful gallery.  Meanwhile, back at the Falls of the Ohio…

Styrofoam stash at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Figure idea, head and body, found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

On my first visit back to the river after my show opened, I had this general feeling of well-being.  I went over to my stash of Styrofoam that I had collected this year and starting putting shapes together.  I soon came up with the requisite head and body for a new and large figurative sculpture I wanted to make.  The large chunk of polystyrene that I used for the figure’s body had been collected months ago, however, it was still a bit waterlogged and heavy to move.

Head of the Grateful Man, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Head and shoulders of the Grateful Man, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Without doing any direct carving, I just accepted the forms that the river had provided for me and went with that.  I did make a few small holes to insert the found objects that would serve as this figure’s features.  The mouth is a piece of wood that looked like a “mouth” when I found it.  The eyes are part of the hull of a Black Walnut that I split in half and inserted into the head.  The nose is a bright orange, Styrofoam fishing float found that morning.  For the ears, I used parts of the sole of an old shoe and then I added a small plastic ring to separate the head from the body which has become my custom over the many years of doing this activity.  The rest is just driftwood picked up on site.Large Figure in Ecstasy, found materials from the Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

The resulting figure is much bigger than me and after I assembled it…I went scouting for a good location to make my pictures.  As you may remember, the large piece of Styrofoam that is the figure’s body was water-logged and so I set it up relatively close to my outdoor atelier.  Although the figure looks to be praying, what I was going for was a trance-like state of ecstasy?  I know I have felt this sensation of being outside one’s self where you feel a part of or kinship with the other living things around you.  Behind the figure is a large log with intact root mass that washed into here during the last good flood.  In this photo, a small flock of Canada Geese does a respectful flyover of their own.

A Canada Goose flyover, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Large Figure in Ecstasy near downed tree, Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

I seem to have started a personal blogging trend where my posts are getting on the long side!  So, this looks like as good a place to wrap this up as any.  By now, my ecstatic figure is probably history and martyred like so many other figures I have left in the park before.  I tell each piece I make and leave behind that this will likely be its fate unless some kind soul takes pity and takes it home with them.  These figures seem to understand.  It’s all about being present in the moment when we are at our most alive.  I have more stories to tell and art to share, but will hold of for now.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Three Clouds with Figure in Ecstasy, Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

 

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Small creek leading into the Ohio River, Falls of the Ohio,  late March 2016

It’s the end of March and Spring is in full swing at the Falls of the Ohio.  Today, I have a bigger block of time and so I’m going back to the western section of the park to see how flooding has affected this area.  I am expecting to find lots of plastic and who know’s what else…and this trip did not disappoint.  Just about everywhere I looked, I found plastic and other trash.  I will begin with a few images of stuff I came across.

Found plastic panda or other bear, late March 2016

Quite unexpectedly, I found myself immersed in a bear theme.  I found this little blue plastic bear intermixed with the driftwood.  It may actually represent a panda, but I think the latest thinking on this unique animal is that it is indeed more closely related to bears than to raccoons.  Looks like it’s sucking its thumb.  And now for bear number 2.

Plastic bear teething ring, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Here’s a piece that was originally intended for a little person.  I’m going to venture that this is a teething ring.  From the wear on the surface of the plastic, it looks like this object has spent some time in the river.  If this is not a teething ring…I have no idea what it was originally intended to be?  Okay, here is bear number 3 and it is a lot larger that these first two examples.

Large, plush Teddy Bear sinking into the gravel, late March 2016 at the Falls of the Ohio.

This piece is spectacularly integrated into the surrounding gravel!  About half of it is visible and the rest is hidden by gravel deposited here during the last Ice Age glacier.  I posted this image on my Facebook account and it resonated with a lot of my friends.  I could go on and on with the junk I’ve found out here, but I think I can also do that by showing you my latest artwork which is of course, composed of found junk.  On this beautiful day, I decided to continue my explorations using colorful found plastic and made a new variation on this theme that I think turned out pretty well.  I’ll start with a few in process shots.

Found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

This is some of the found plastic I came across on this day.  I brought two collecting bags and filled them both up.  I then scouted around and found a large blue plastic tub that I pressed into service before incorporating it into my finished arrangement.  The yellow object on the left is a water cooler minus the lid.  I had to do a bit of navigating around an obstacle course of downed trees and built up driftwood.  I’m usually still stiff and tired the day after I do one of these because I guess I’m not used to getting that much exercise anymore!  My two sons are quick to tell me that I’m not a young man anymore and yes I do get goaded by their trash talking into trying stuff that on occasion is more physical than I need to attempt.

Dividing the found plastic into colors, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

After selecting a site to build my latest arrangement.  I separate out all this gathered up plastic into their various color groups.  On this day, orange and purple items were in short supply, but I worked around that.  I set up this piece next to a log that looks to me like it was split in half.  The side you can see that is rough and beautiful and takes the setting sun well.  From the opposite side of this log…you wouldn’t be able to see any of the plastic.  It is intended as a surprise for those who come across it on this side of the park.

Finished plastic arrangement in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

I will begin with a view that incorporates more of the local scenery.  This piece is located next to an old cottonwood tree that has a severe lean to it.  I can imagine that at some time in the not too distant future that this tree will eventually fall over.  Even from this far away, you can see the color introduced by these plastic containers and such.  Let’s get closer.

Plastic arrangement set up next to leaning tree, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Now you can get more of a sense for the degree in which this tree is leaning towards the river.

Petrochemical color arrangement in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Petrochemical color arrangement in plastic, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

There are essentially two layers stacked up here.  The big blue plastic tub has a found board that finds its partner consisting of the yellow water cooler sitting on a plastic yellow child’s chair.  The span is pretty level.  The rest is a matter of picking and choosing color hues that you think will work best together.  These plastic elements are not fixed in some way.  Everything is free-standing or leaning against what is next to it.  I have by accident…set off chain reactions where the whole arrangement collapses down like dominoes.  That is where a little patience comes into play by beginning again and hopefully learning from each individual situation.

Red and yellow plastic, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Yellow into Green found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Blue plastic with a touch of Purple, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

I can see elements in these three details that I know I have used before in other projects and were later scattered across the park when the river floods.  Perhaps you might recognize the green plastic Tug Boat or the “Hulk Hand” also found in the green section?  They have appeared in other posts in my riverblog.

Petrochemical arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Plastic color arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

I hung out by this piece and the river for many hours.  A few people came by, but nobody said anything.  Perhaps this comes across as being an example of “unusual or eccentric behavior” to some people?  Best to provide a wide berth around this one!  Who knows…couldn’t be any stranger than the people who make all this plastic and set it free into the world.  At the end of the day, I could not make up my mind which I thought provided the definitive view of this project?  I think some of the more successful arrangements look good in their contexts, but also provide some information on what individual elements have been brought together to create this “whole” experience.  After I felt I had enough pictures and the thought of a shower was sounding good.  I picked up my stuff and headed home.

Late sun filtering through the cottonwoods, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

The trees are just budding out and this past week took a significant turn towards the green.  I’m still on the lookout for migrating birds that come into our area.  I often wonder about the Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf I had the distinct pleasure of observing and photographing out here a few weeks a go.  I wonder where in the world it flew off to?  I was just alerted by WordPress that this week is my seventh anniversary of blogging with them!  For all the people who have dropped by and sampled something from the Falls of the Ohio State Park through this riverblog…I give my heartfelt thanks!  I hope to continue out here for a bit longer still.  This is the Artist at Exit 0 signing off for now.

unraveling barge rope, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

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City of Louisville as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2016

Happy New Year to everyone out in the blogosphere!  Before closing the book on 2015, I want to thank everybody who checked out the old riverblog over the course of the year.  According to the WordPress stats wizards, I had people living in 107 different countries stop by to see what I was up to!  For an artist whose activities are as localized as mine are…publishing what I do on the world-wide web through this blog is an important part of my artistic activities.  It’s been great connecting with other creative minds and people trying to make a difference in their home locations.

The Ohio River elevated at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2016

As far as 2015 went…I haven’t heard the final statistics on this yet, but we either had our third or fourth wettest year on record.  We ended the year with the river at flood stage due to the great volume of rain that went through the Ohio Valley (although thankfully, we aren’t experiencing what’s going on at the moment on the Mississippi River).  We have also had an anomalous month of December that had several record-breaking temperatures with highs in the 70 degree range!  So much for a White Christmas.  These images were made on the first day of the new year and reflect the river actually going down after cresting on December 31.  We had two significant bouts of high water early in 2015 and we ended the year at the Falls of the Ohio underwater.  The four wettest years on record for our area have all happened since 1996.

Louisville as seen from the riverbank in Southern Indiana, Jan. 1, 2015

With holiday and work obligations temporarily out-of-the-way, I went out to the river on the first day of this new year.  The weather was seasonable, meaning it was actually chilly and I needed my gloves, hat, and heavy coat to stay warm.  The river level had dropped a little and side stepping the muddy areas I went to see if anything of interest had been stranded at the high water mark.  Most all of the areas at the Falls of the Ohio where I usually cache materials and make my art were underwater.  Here are a few of the things that I found.

Today's finds include three plastic ball pit balls, Jan.1, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

In addition to the usual Styrofoam and plastic containers…I found these three colorful plastic balls.  I found them at different places on the riverbank.  All three are hollow plastic balls that bear the ENOR stamp.  Looking up this company, they are a large toy manufacturer based on the East Coast that specializes in blown plastic toys.  In particular, they make the balls for ball pits.  Wal-Mart is a big distributor of their toys.  Ultimately, I don’t know what I’ll do with them?  I suppose they will enter the bags of other found balls that I’m currently storing in my basement awaiting inspiration.  The other really interesting item I encountered on this day is 100% natural and here are some images of this find.

Box turtle by a discarded tire, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Near the Interpretive Center I came across other junk that had washed up with the river.  In the shadow of a discarded tire I spotted the distinctive pattern on the shell of an Eastern Box Turtle.  I assumed that this turtle was dead and washed into this area with the other river-born stuff and I picked it up to get a better look.

Found Eastern Box Turtle, Jan. 1, 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Side view, Eastern Box Turtle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Because of the cold, I was not certain whether or not this turtle was either dead or in a winter torpor?  It’s possible that the river washed it here, but then I would assume it would have drowned?  Another explanation I thought possible was that this turtle was still active due to the unseasonable warmth we had experienced and when the cold suddenly appeared and being cold-blooded it became trapped in this spot?  Normally, box turtles will dig and bury themselves under dirt and leaf debris to overwinter.  This guy probably didn’t get the chance to do this when the cold hit.  Regardless, I could not decide if this old turtle was still with us?  As a precaution, I brought it to the Interpretive Center and presented it to the park’s naturalist who said he would look after it.

Eastern Box Turtle carapace, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Eastern Box Turtle plastron, Jan. 1, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

I have heard that counting the growth rings on the turtle’s shell is a good gauge of determining its age.  This turtle’s shell is worn in places and the rings were difficult to count.  One estimate I came up with had it being about 35 years old or so.  You can fairly and reliably determine the turtle sex by looking at the plastron which is the shell that protects its belly.  If there is a concave area like this turtle has…it’s more than likely a male.  The simple explanation here is that to make mating easier…the concave area conforms to the female’s carapace and keeps the male from falling off.  Several years ago during another period of flooding, I came across eight different individual box turtles and photographed them.  Looking through my old images, I wondered if this was a turtle I had seen before and it was not.  I hope that this turtle is indeed alive and can be returned to the park.  I would think this would be a great sign for the new year.

As for what else I plan to do this year…well, much depends upon what the river gives me.  When the water subsides I will come out and take a look.  On January 8, the newly revamped Interpretive Center will open and I will get my first look at the installed 8 foot by 4 foot panel of assembled river found items I was commissioned to create.  I hope it all looks great and we shall see.  I also have two other opportunities to show my work in the new year and I will give you more details about those shows as they develop.  I haven’t ever been aggressive about seeking exhibition opportunities, but rarely turn down an invitation once it presents itself.  In closing, I was reminded of this plaque that is fixed to one of the outdoor walls at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center.  In so many words, it gives as good an explanation as to why I use this place to site my art.  Here’s hoping we all have a memorable and wonderful 2016.  See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Plaque at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 1, 2016

 

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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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Life in a Bucket II, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Life in a bucket.  I’ve seen this before and written about it in an older blog post.  Regardless, whenever I encounter something like this I remain amazed at life’s ability to thrive in less than optimum circumstances.  A little river mud in an old broken plastic bucket gets colonized by a few windblown grass seeds, add a little rainfall and sunshine and life does the rest. Well, some life can do this and some can’t.  The future will be determined by the life that can adapt and be resilient in the face of adversity.  Walking on the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio I wonder about our chances for success living on a planet that we have diminished to suit our own ends.  I have no doubt that whatever the future holds, life will find a way.  Whether or not that includes us remains to be seen.

Freshly gathered plastic jugs, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

On that jolly note I introduce my latest two projects!  I got up fairly early in the morning and got a head start on the heat.  By the early afternoon, I was whipped, exhausted, and wet from the humidity trapped in the local vegetation.  Summer is officially upon us.  It’s interesting how many conversations I’ve had this year with people similar in age to me who have remarked that as the years pass by their tolerance for the heat and humidity decreases.  This was one of those days I could commiserate with them!  As I was walking along the Falls landscape, I noticed an area that seemed to have a good supply of plastic containers and decided on the spot to do another petroleum rainbow piece.  This is how I started out, literally beating the bushes for containers of different sizes, colors, and shapes.  The material lying on the driftwood was easy to access, but in other places the vines were beginning to cover and camouflage what was under their urgent greenness.

Colorful castoff plastic containers, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

I started out collecting various plastic jugs that originally held contents of one gallon or greater…hence “big jug”.  I soon expanded that as the need for particular shades of colors became a priority.  I would have liked to use more “orange”, but couldn’t find enough plastic containers in this area that day that were that color.  Still, I managed a small sliver of “orange” to mark the transition from “red” to “yellow”.

"Big Jug Rainbow", detail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

"Big Jug Rainbow", Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

“Big Jug Rainbow” is situated under a stressed willow tree that is bent over from the weight of lots of driftwood that was deposited in its canopy by flood waters.  A nice verdant cave was formed and it felt like a good framing element for this piece.  Here is what it looked like from the other side of the tree.

Back view of "Big Jug Rainbow", Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

The willow trees in this habitat are twisted up and have lots of character.  They remind me of the forms you find in bonsai trees, except their size is obviously much larger.  In a past post, I’ve mentioned how this area’s beavers like to prune off small branches and eat the bark.  This helps shape the trees.  This year, I can see in dramatic fashion another element that contributes to the trees’ overall forms.  The weight of the deposited wood bends the branches down and the willow continues to grow under this burden.  The driftwood will remain in the tree until the river rises or the wind knocks the deposited logs down.

"Big Jug Rainbow" on location at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Bleaching, exposed driftwood atop a willow tree with my “Big Jug Rainbow” under its influence.  Happy with this piece, I collected my bag and walking stick and headed further under the trees seeking shade and relief from the sun.  Along the way, I was delighted to run into one of my favorite insects found at the Falls of the Ohio.

Eastern Eyed Click Beetle, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

This is the Eastern Eyed Click Beetle or Big Eyed Click Beetle, (Alaus oculatus).  This is one of the larger beetles you will find in our area and this is the largest of our click beetles.  The biggest specimens are nearly two inches long or roughly 45mm in length.  They have this wonderful, cryptic bird-dropping coloring.  The eyespots on the pronatum or thorax are dramatic and large.  The females lay their eggs in or near rotting wood (in abundance here) and I’m sure to come across these slow flyers at least a couple of times per season.  Last year, I was startled when one landed on the back of my head and got tangled in my hair.  It gave me a momentary fright to have some then unknown large insect crawling on my head.  Fortunately, they don’t bite.  The larvae on the other hand will eat other insects they encounter.

"Stump Flower", Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

As has been my recent custom, as I walk along I collect any lost flip-flops that I find.  At day’s end, I find a place to make something with the day’s finds.  I came across this table-like tree stump that seemed like an invitation to do something with.  I emptied the contents of my collecting bag and created “Stump Flower”.

"Stump Flower", found flip flops, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

"Stump Flower", detail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

The circular form in the center I believe is a sand toy?  I found it laying nearby and thought it helped suggest a flower head.  I think as I return to many of the places where I’ve made these flip-flop projects…I will re-gather them and perhaps recycle them into a more complex form.  At day’s end, the walk back to my vehicle took a lot of effort.  I did go by my “Big Jug Rainbow” piece and took one last image of it from some distance.  You can barely see it through all the leafage, but it is there in all its artificial glory.  That bottle of warm water I had stashed under the car seat sure tasted good!  Thanks to everybody for stopping by…until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

"Big Jug Rainbow" as seen from a distance, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

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Winter view at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Feb. 2015

And just when we thought we were winter-proof…the cold descended.  Literally, one day it was near 60 degrees and a few days later came the snow, ice, and record-breaking cold.  Although it has been a mostly mild winter in the Kentuckiana area…it has also seemed like a longer than necessary season.  Everyone I know is winter weary.  Cabin fever has me out venturing among the frozen willow trees at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  From winter’s past, I know that when conditions are just right, I can expect to see some interesting ice formations near the river.

The Artist at Exit 0 in winter time, Feb. 2015

The right conditions are also cold conditions and you need to dress appropriately.  I find I’m in good shape wearing my vintage pair of Wind-Dodger goggles to keep my eyes from getting all watery.  An old treasured scarf across my face and an all wool, German, military surplus, submariner sweater add to the many layers I have on.  I bring along my trusty walking stick which I use frequently to test the thickness of the ice over frigid water-filled puddles.  Outfitted in my best polar garb I feel confident as I venture forth over a hibernating landscape covered in snow and ice.

Ice formations on the dam's wall, Feb. 2015

In the eastern section of the park, ice has formed on the dam’s wall.  This wall is all that separates the full force of the Ohio River from impacting the lower levels of the park that I am familiar with.  The true height of the river is many feet above my head.  The more swiftly flowing water keeps from freezing.  Debris of all description and the trunks of washed away trees build up on the upriver side of the dam.  More than likely, all the pent-up driftwood will find release when the spring floods come and even the walls of this dam can’t keep the river from rearranging this area once more.  It is a dynamic environment ruled by the river.  If I were to contrast the scene before me with the way this spot will look like in six month’s time…you would think you were on a different planet altogether.  I try to appreciate the variety before me which also has a way of keeping out the cold.

geese tracks in the snow, Feb. 2015

I find there is a surprising amount of life out here.  Although I’m the only person around, I have already spotted several species of birds that don’t seem to mind these conditions.  Geese have left there meandering tracks in the snow.  In the air, I watched both a Peregrine falcon and a nice flock of Ring-billed gulls engage in aerobatics over the river.  I come across other tracks in the cold mud that has me momentarily frozen in place.  I sort of recognize them, but there is also something not quite right here that I can’t put my finger on?

beaver tracks in the mud

To my eye, they appear to be beaver tracks, but they are too small.  I run all the possible candidates through my mind’s mammal filter, but I’m drawing a blank.  I chalk it up to my inexperience.  Try as you might, you can’t learn everything from books and there’s no substitute for doing the fieldwork.  I left the tracks and headed towards the spot on the river where I’ve seen good ice formations before.  Along the way, I find many chewed up willow branches and cuttings near a stand of willow trees.  Something has been dining fairly regularly in this area and with luck I may find other evidence identifying my mystery animal.  As you may have already guessed…luck was with me!

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

If it hadn’t moved, I doubt that I would have seen it and I would have missed the first recorded occurrence of the Polar Beaver (Castor arcticus) at the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  In size, this remarkable rodent is about the size of the common house cat.  I stood transfixed as this all-white animal concentrated its intentions on the ice-covered willow trees near the river’s edge.

Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I wondered if the Polar Beaver could appreciate the varieties of shapes and forms that frozen water can take?  In the background, the Ohio River seemingly “smoked” as the surrounding air is much colder than the water.  This vapor or steam gradually coats the structures nearest the river.  As the condensation freezes it creates the many shapes that I like to describe as ribbons, sausages, and candles in this beautiful wonderland.  During these special moments, one can appreciate water as it exists in three different states of matter…gaseous vapor, flowing liquid, and rock solid.

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Historically speaking, the Polar Beaver is a fairly new animal to be described by science.  Although its beautiful snow-white pelt has been a valuable and prized trade item by the northern indigenous people…it was thought these rare white furs were taken from albino morphs of the common beaver.  Ironically, crypto-zoologists looking for the legendary Sasquatch, instead brought to light the existence of this very rare rodent.  DNA testing confirmed that the Polar Beaver is a truly unique species.  Some of the first observations about this animal documented that this beaver’s coat turns white as autumn transitions to winter.  This is a trait it shares with other polar animals like the Arctic hare and Stoat.

Polar Beaver with willow branch, Feb. 2015

During this time at the Falls,  I was able to observe the Polar Beaver feeding.  Deftly, the beaver chose just the right willow twig and with a quick bite, severs it from the parent tree.  Holding the stick with its front paws, the beaver than carefully chews away the surrounding bark revealing the ivory warmth of the wood.  “Tool marks” left behind by the beaver’s teeth are recorded in the wood.  Willow makes up a significant part of this animals diet, but it is now known that other tree species and plants are eaten “in season” as well.

Polar Beaver feeding in its ice shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Polar Beaver feeding on willow branch, Feb. 2015

If the Polar Beaver noticed me at all…I couldn’t tell because it seemed so intent upon feeding.  I watched this animal carry a willow branch to a small “ice shelter” where it focused on the task on hand.  The muddy Ohio River gently lapped the shoreline.  When the beaver finished its meal, it continued to explore the immediate environs with its many ice formations.

Polar Beaver at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I noticed the beaver sampling willow it had already chewed upon as it moved down along the river’s edge.  I stood transfixed by this nearly mythical animal.  I finally lost sight of the beaver when it went behind an ice formation and unseen by me…slipped back into the water and disappeared.  I searched around for a couple of hours hoping to have another glimpse of this Polar Beaver or any others that might have been around, but ultimately was unsuccessful.  I returned during the next two days, but this beaver apparently moved on for good.  I was lucky to have seen it, but can you blame me for being greedy and wanting more time with this magical animal?  Wouldn’t you wish for the same if you were me?  When my reverie lifted, I realized that I could no longer feel my toes and my digital camera was also feeling the cold and not operating properly.  It was time to go home and I will leave you with one final image from this trip.  Here is a view of a favorite old willow tree as it appears during the heart of winter.  Spring will soon be around the corner and I will see you again at the Falls of the Ohio.

Old willow tree in winter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

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Our dog Cory, Feb. 2015

Many thanks to all who have wished me well in my new position at the Carnegie Center for Art and History.  The people I work with are wonderful and the “old dog” that is me is enjoying learning new things.  I noticed on the internet, Facebook in particular, how much people love posting about their pets.  I’ve decided to take a page from the animal lovers of the world and try to post something both dog and Falls of the Ohio related and here goes!  I start with a picture of our family’s dog.  This is Cory and she will soon be eight years old.  She is named after the town of Corydon, Indiana where she is from.  Her mom was a pedigreed beagle and her father was…a one-eyed, black and white spotted Chihuahua/farm dog who took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself.  Such is life!  Regardless, the puppies were beautiful and Cory seems to have inherited the good qualities of both breeds.  My youngest son, Adam, did the choosing and I recall she was the only female in the litter.  In appearance, she looks like a miniature beagle and I love her coloring which is black and tan with little white feet.  Cory has warm, brown eyes.  She is smart, alert, playful, and devoted to our family to the point of being rather possessive.  When I come home from work or the river, she is by far, the most excited to see me!  Over the years her greeting me at the front door continues to be something I look forward to with deep fondness.

Dog-inspired, found character collection, Jan. 2015

I decided one cold winter’s day to sort through some of the items I’ve found at the Falls of the Ohio over the years and classify them into more coherent collections.  Out of my large and ever-growing toy collection, I determined that I had enough dog-related pieces to form a stand alone collection.  I gathered the items up and here they are reassembled on the riverbank for this “class photo” of dog characters.  This is just the stuff I decided to pick up and put into the collecting bag and does not count all the pet bowls, balls, and chew toys I’ve encountered.  I might have picked up all these other items as well, but there is a certain threshold of plastic fatigue that is reached that is hard to move past.  There is just so much needless stuff in the world and a lot of it seems to find its way into the Ohio River.  The sheer over-abundance of our material culture has certainly shaped my personal direction as an artist.

Detail of Dog Character Collection, Jan. 2015

While this is all just kitsch, some of this is fun and has endearing qualities that recall good moments from childhood.  It’s amazing how much a tiny piece of crap plastic can have these other associations attached to it.  I do recognize some of the characters portrayed, but not all.  It’s actually become part of the challenge to try to identify what some of this stuff refers to?  In this photo I recognize good old “Snoopy” from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip.  There looks to be a pair of “Weeble” dogs and a couple of others (including a Dalmatian with a fire hat) that are from children’s play sets.

Two "Clifford the Big Red Dog" plastic items, Jan. 2015

Here are two items from the “Clifford, the Big Red Dog” series.  There is “Clifford” in the form of a juice bottle cap with a black patina from being in the river for a long period of time.  I believe the other character is “T-bone”.  Originally, when you pulled the bone on the string it would cause the dog’s body to vibrate.

Sad-eyed puppy plastic keychain, Jan. 2015

I don’t recognize this guy?  He’s kind of cute in a bug-eyed way.  I’m sure there was a lot of time and effort that went into the myriad decisions to produce this item from beginning concept to finished product.  That also includes extracting the petroleum from the earth and other ingredients that went into this exact plastic recipe.

Bowtie dog with paw raised, Jan. 2015

This cutie seems old.  I tried looking on a few toy sites, but could not identify this specific piece.  I wonder if in fact it is made of rubber that has become rigid over time?

found, earless, plastic dog head, Jan. 2015

This earless, body-less, squashed, brown, plastic dog head was probably once part of a child’s pull-toy.  That’s my best guess here.

"Huckleberry Hound" as found on Goose Island

This photo is from a few years back and shows a plastic “Huckleberry Hound” toy as I found it on Goose Island.  I remember this character from my childhood and was shown along with “Quick Draw McGraw” cartoons.  I later used the blue dog for a story I posted.  Here’s an image from that story entitled “Lost and Found Hound”.

Huckleberry Hound as the lost dog.

I wrote this story in 2010 and was inspired by the lost and stray dogs I sometimes encounter in the park.  Sadly, plastic is not the only thing that gets disposed of out here.  I did have one adventure at the Falls where I was menaced by a feral dog, but usually, they are very wary and difficult to approach.  In my story, there is a happy ending and owner and dog are reunited.  I guess it was kind of touching or at least as much as putting Styrofoam, plastic, and sticks together can be.  I’ve never taken Cory to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For one, dogs are supposed to be on a leash…not that everyone adheres to that.  I guess I fear I would lose her if I let her run loose.  Her nose would soon be overcome with “scent joy” and that would get the best of her.  There are so many intriguing smells out here that make up a vast language that we have forgotten about that dogs still remember.  Although she usually comes to me when I call her…out here, she could be gone in a blink of an eye and it’s not worth that.  We will just stick to our neighborhood’s park.  I have a couple other “dog” related projects I’ve made over the years.

Styro-dog playing with a Ball

Here’s an early project I created when I was less interested in stories and more interested in images and objects.  You can’t tell from this picture, but I also made an “old woman” figure to accompany the dog.  This piece is made from Styrofoam pinned together with little wooden pegs.  It also incorporates plastic, driftwood, and nuts in its fabrication.  The yellow ball is the core from a contemporary softball which gives you a hint for scale.  I think the working title I had for this piece was “A Game of Fetch”.  I enjoy the challenge of creating some sense of motion using such static materials.

Tiny dog sculpture with walnut

Despite looking large in this image…this dog is actually very small.  You can tell by the walnut I’ve added for scale.  It’s “playing” in the shed, dried leaves of a willow tree.  I think in this one, the eyes are bits of found coal.  I used this same figure for an image that became one of my Christmas cards.

Tiny dog with tracks

The dog is on the trail of a very large bird.  In this case, the tracks were made by a Great Blue Heron and partially frozen in the sand.  Well, there you have my tribute to dogs and the Falls of the Ohio.  I dedicate this post to our beloved dog Cory.  On a daily basis she teaches us that we are more fully human when we give our hearts to members of another species.  See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Cory, the Wonder Dog, Feb. 2015

 

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