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

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

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

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

Two Ice Blossom Ornaments , Dec. 2014

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

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

Ice Blossom Ornament with copper wire, Dec. 2014

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

Ice Blossom Star with Coal, Dec. 2014

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

Arctic Hummingbird feeding, 1/2010

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

Ice Blossom ornaments and briar vines

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

Ornaments in Nature, 12/09

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

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

beaver tracks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Distant view of Louisville skyline as seen from Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

It’s a fresh month at the Falls of the Ohio.  Today has opened up on the cloudy side and there is a slight chance for rain…but I’m going to risk it anyway.  The lure of the river is too strong and I’m looking forward to exploring the western fringes of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Stray migrating Monarch butterflies pass by me and the loosestrife flowers are still in bloom.  I can tell the inevitable changing of the seasons is near.  Already I can detect a slight yellowing occurring in the canopies of the willow and cottonwood trees.  In a few weeks, all these leaves will be on the ground and ready to become recycled by and for life.

Old man as seen from the back, Sept. 2014

I’m walking along the shoreline which is a mix of limestone rocks and sandy/muddy beaches.   Mostly I’m being engaged by my own thoughts which change quickly like the reflections on the water.  I was so preoccupied by my own surrender to nature that I did not immediately notice the elderly gentleman sitting on a nearby log.  With a motion of his arm, the figure said to me in a clear voice, “It’s alright my man, I saw you coming down the beach.  Wonderful day to be alive isn’t it?”  I replied something affirmative and instinctively walked towards him.

Old Man drinking tea, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

Old Man holding a Thermos cup, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

“Now that I’m retired…I like to come out here and sit by the river.  Can’t think of a better place to have my morning tea and breathe deeply,” said the old man.  I admit to being intrigued by him and I’ll bet he’s a real character too.  I also sensed a kindred spirit since he was doing essentially the same thing as me, namely hanging out by the river.  I asked where he was from and with a nod over his shoulder, he said:

“My friends call me Jimmy D. on account of my bulbous nose. I don’t expect someone as young as you would remember the entertainer Jimmy Durante?”  I told him I had heard the name before, but it really was before my time.  Jimmy D. then said, “I’m a life-long resident of Clarksville, Indiana.  You know, that little town beyond the giant berm behind us?  I was just a boy in 1937 when the whole town disappeared under twelve feet of Ohio River flooding. My family and I spent about a month with kin in Indianapolis before we could move back and start over.  They had to rebuild the whole place because it’s just too historically important…you know, we date back to 1783 and we’re the oldest settlement in the Northwest Territory?”

I agreed that is indeed a great distinction and one I noticed being touted on several signs in the local parks.  I then gave Jimmy D. my particulars which included my name, being an artist, and living across the river in Louisville.  I then said, “Jimmy, I guess that makes us Metro neighbors.”

Jimmy D. drinking tea, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

I decided that I had a few minutes to get to know Jimmy better.  When I make my excursions to the river…I try (not always successfully) to not rush things and be in a hurry.  I will confess, thinking about time and the nature of time has become a preoccupation with me of late.  I see so many people rushing around and I wonder what’s so important about being in two places at once?

Jimmy D., facing forward, Sept. 2014

I broached this subject with Jimmy D. and here’s where I can get a little preachy.

I told Jimmy, “It seems to me that one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the planet is to slow down to the speed of life and find a good log to sit on.”  I further added, “Nature has evolved processes that have been hard-won over millions and billions of years.  What is it about our kind that wants to accelerate and consume the experience of living as quickly as we can?  Sometimes it can come as a big relief to stay put and appreciate the good around everyone which is all too easy to take for granted.”

Jimmy D. puts his cup down, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Jimmy D. put his cup down on the river-polished log he was sitting on.  I could tell he was weighing my words through his own sensibilities.  Before too long he turned back to me and said, “Fella, you just might have something there.”  He then began to explain a little more of his own life’s experience.

“When I was a young man I couldn’t wait to leave this little town and experience the wider world.  I thought my chance would come during World War II.  I could both do my duty and get out of here at the same time.  All my friends who were of age (and even a few who looked older than they actually were) were joining the armed services.  I decided that this would be my ticket out too and I tried to enlist.  As it turns out, I couldn’t pass the physical on account of having one foot larger than the other!  I tried not to get discouraged and wanted to do my part.  So, I walked next door (bum foot and all) to Jeffersonville and joined up with Jeffboat.  I learned how to weld, which became my profession.   I helped build the LSTs (Landing Ship-Tanks) that made the invasion of Europe a success for the allies and the free world.  I realized that even from the comforts of my home, I could help shape events in far away places.  After the war, my wanderlust had diminished considerably and love found me. After that there was a family of my own to take care of.  I stayed on at Jeffboat and helped make them the largest inland ship builder in the country.  I can’t recollect how many towboats and barges I helped construct.  And when it was my time…I retired and that is why you are finding me sitting on this log.  I can honestly say I have no regrets for how my life turned out.”

Jimmy D. lights his pipe, Sept. 2014

My new friend then pulled out a blue-colored pipe with a long stem and lit it.  A puff of white smoke was quickly dissipated by a light, passing breeze.  Jimmy D’s pipe kept going out and so I offered to help.

Me helping to light Jimmy D.,s pipe, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

My new friend thanked me and asked to hear something about my own story.  I obliged him although as a rule I’m not all that crazy about talking about myself.  I said that like him, the military factors into my life.  My dad was a career soldier and our family shuttled back and forth between the United States and Europe.  It was great being exposed to so much history and culture, but as a kid I wondered what it would be like to have a deeper relationship with my extended family?  My mother is Dutch.  I was born in Amsterdam.  My dad’s family hails from the New York City area and we have relatives in southern New Jersey.  Seems that we only saw our relatives when we were in transition from one place to another.  I grew up without having life-long friends.  After art school, I settled in Louisville, Kentucky and have been here going on thirty years now.  My two sons have had the nice experience of getting to know my wife’s family and so have had the reverse experience I had.  Much about the art I make revolves around a sense for place and seeing the value in materials that are considered worthless.  A lot of what I do is about being in the moment which is why encounters at the river are so valuable to me.  Jimmy D. just nodded and took another drag off of his pipe.

Profile of Jimmy D., Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

It’s funny how often I have been willing to reveal some detail about myself to a complete stranger…especially if we are traveling together and there is little chance of running into one another again.  I have had some great conversations with persons unknown to me while sharing rides on European trains.  I suppose after conversations that might be of an intimate nature, can you truly say you are still strangers to one another?  Jimmy D. and I alternated our conversation with just staring at the river going by.  The Ohio River may not be a train, nevertheless, it is moving on a journey of its own.  You can tell when two guys are comfortable with one another if time goes by and neither feels like they need to break the silence by saying something forced and stupid.  When the tobacco was spent from the pipe, Jimmy D. knocked the ashes against the log.  Among the last words I recall from our meeting at the river came from Jimmy D.  “I’m an old man now and my time is coming.  I hope my ashes will get the chance to mingle with the river.” I completely understood and wish for something similar for myself.  I like the idea of merging with nature with the chance to become part of something else.  I left Jimmy D. where I found him waiting for that train that will take him to the ocean and the wide, wide world beyond Clarksville.

Jimmy D. by the river, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

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Tussock moth caterpillar, Oct. 2013   Red-faced and bizarrely hairy, the unique caterpillar of the Tussock moth was munching its way through a maple leaf.  Everything about its appearance says I’m not tasty and leave me alone.  It’s now October and it won’t be much longer before the first frost and freezes arrive and with it the colder temperatures which will quiet insect life at the Falls of the Ohio until next year.  The caterpillar inspired me to post a few other entomological images taken in the park.  I confess that I have always liked insects as examples of how diverse life can be.  I’m amazed at the incredible variety and forms that our six-legged friends can assume. Here’s another really weird caterpillar that I found at the Falls that I just haven’t been able to identify through any of my field guides.  Does anybody out there in blog land recognize this?

strange caterpillar from the Falls, late June 2013

This fluorescent green caterpillar has dramatic eye spots on its posterior that would incite a predator to strike there first.  Its anterior is located on the opposite end and I would have fallen for this trick too, but noticed that it was walking backwards.  I wondered once it completed its metamorphosis…would the adult be a moth or butterfly?  Maybe some day I will stumble upon and collect a large cocoon I don’t recognize and I’ll take it home and watch a miracle as it emerges from its silken home.

hornets and flies on willow bark, 9/2010

During this time of year, certain willow trees at the Falls are exuding sap which draws a variety of insect life including various flies, hornets, and butterflies to these sweet “licks”.  Whether the flowing sap is due to disease or injury is unknown to me? The large bullet-like hornets are so preoccupied with sipping the sap that they ignore me.  To test this, I’ve carefully touched them with my finger while they were feeding and they remained docile.  I was walking through the tall grass when I noticed a large flying insect land on the bush next to me.  Despite its wonderful camouflage I was able to locate our next insect after a short search.

Chinese Mantid, Falls of the Ohio, late Sept. 2013

This is the Chinese Mantid which I read was introduced into this country in 1896.  It is the largest praying mantis you are likely to come across in the United States and this specimen was about four inches or ten centimeters long.  I’ve seen them grow larger, but not in this park.  In fact, this is only the second mantid I’ve seen out here.  There are several native species, but they are smaller and more obscure.   And now, it’s time to reveal my most spectacular discovery which is a near but harmless relative of the praying mantis.  Here is a picture of its head.

detail, head of the Falls Phasmid Stick Insect, October 2013

And now, for the rest of its body which is about two feet long or roughly sixty centimeters.  I came upon this unique life form casually walking across the driftwood on its way to somewhere else.

full view of Falls Phasmid, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2013

Although as insects go this is a giant…it is also an extremely fragile creature.  It is a member of the walking stick family.  It relies on slow movements and its cryptic forms to merge with its surroundings.  The Falls Phasmid is strictly a vegetarian and eats the foliage from a variety of different trees.

aerial view of Falls Phasmid, Oct. 2013

I came across this specimen in broad daylight.  I had always heard that they were nocturnal and chose to restrict their movements during the day to avoid detection.  Walking stick insects are among the largest insects we have.  This species is additionally strange in that its head, thorax, and abdomen are so clearly differentiated.  Some scientists have gone so far as to suggest a bit of mimicry at work here.  On the surface it does seem to possess a superficial resemblance to a giant ant which might be enough to dissuade predators from attacking it.

Falls Phasmid hanging in a tree, Oct. 2013

I did observe this particular Phasmid making return trips to a particular willow tree where it clung to a nest-like structure that was hanging down from a branch.  The meaning of this structure was not immediately apparent.  Perhaps the Falls Phasmid uses this form to help it overwinter?  Keeping a respectful distance away, I did see the stick insect walking slowly over the riverbank, but I couldn’t tell if it was searching for something in particular and I did not witness it feeding.

Falls Phasmid Stick Insect, Oct. 2013, facing left

Falls Phasmid in the wetlands area, Oct. 2013

Originally, the Falls Phasmid may have had the ability to fly.  Other walking stick insects from around the world have vestigial wings that suggest a different past.  Our specimen lacks even the most superficial suggestion of wings which hints at an ancient lineage.  Perhaps all stick insects evolved here first and spread around the world much later?

Falls of the Ohio Phasmid Stick Insect, October 2013

I watched the Falls Phasmid for a while and took a bunch of photographs of it before leaving the park.  I’m curious about that tree that it likes to hang out on and so will check it the next time I’m here.  On my way out of the park, I also came around this wonderful Viceroy butterfly and thought that this would make a fitting image to end this post.  When I think of the butterflies that inhabit the park…this is the species that comes to mind first for me.

Viceroy butterfly, Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

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glass bottleneck against coal gravel, 2013

I wish I could remember the exact written passage where the image of a bottleneck captured my imagination.  Back tracking through my books has not revealed the exact source, however, I do remember that the context came from biology and more specifically the history of life.  Of the five great extinction cycles, the one that closed out the Permian period (roughly 245 million years a go) was the most brutal and efficient.  All those trilobites that had been so successful for so long hit the wall.  At this time the super continent Pangaea existed.  Millions of years of continental drift and the resulting global climate change are the leading hypothetical causes for this extinction.  Regardless, the effect was that the majority of life’s diversity as it existed then and which filled up that particular metaphoric bottle…did not make it through the bottleneck.  Fortunately, some life did survive, but it would take subsequent millions of years for life to evolve and radiate out to regain its former glory.

green glass bottleneck with cap against sand and water, 2013

We like to think that we stand atop life as its ultimate achievement.  We frequently miss the bigger picture of which we are small part and are even oblivious to the effects we have on everything else around us.  The bottleneck effect has been adapted by other systems to illustrate that which is a hindrance or impediment to progress.  The basic idea, however, remains the same.  Whatever is in the bottle is going to get squeezed on its way out that is if the contents do in fact make it out.  In my own blog, I don’t mention U.S. politics much, but lately it is in the news and it’s troublesome. Our seeming inability to govern ourselves…to in effect allow small selfish groups to manufacture bottlenecks strikes me as self-defeating and doesn’t bode well for the future.

two glass bottlenecks on sand, 2013

At the Falls of the Ohio State Park, I literally find bottlenecks all the time.  Unlike their plastic counterpoint, the glass ones don’t break down as much.  There must be something about the material strength of glass that is increased when it is forced into a tube that makes it extra resilient.  Over time, their sharp edges do get worn down and their surfaces become frosted through tumbling in the sand.  Personally, I find glass to be a far more attractive material than plastic.  I’ve come to look at our artifacts in much the same way I might regard a fossil as examples of objects that have been touched by and affected by life.

four different glass bottlenecks, 2013

There’s something about the process of “finding” that is compelling if not compulsive for me.  I try to stay watchful for opportunities, particularly if I come across an image or material that I can apply through my art.  The process of collecting, examining, and comparing is also personally meditative and relaxing.  I started photographing bottlenecks years a go with no goal in mind.  Just more documented stuff among all the other stuff along the riverbank that I come across each time I visit the park.  Looking over my photographs, forgotten images of bottlenecks would catch my eye again.

beer bottleneck with cap on stick, 2013

bottleneck with red cap on stick, 2013

Other than take contextual images, I guess the next thing I did with bottlenecks was to stick them on the ends of branches and sticks.  This allows the light to play through the glass revealing its jewel-like attractiveness.  It might also cause someone else to notice that there is a lot of smashed glass in the park.  Granted, the river floats a lot of bottles in here from upriver, but there is also a lot of drinking that goes on here via the local folks.  Why pack your empties out when you can just throw them on the ground?  One bottleneck on a branch led to more…in fact the whole arc of these now bottleneck projects has trended in the “more” direction.

glass bottlenecks on a willow branch, 2013

glass bottlenecks on driftwood tied to a branch, 2013

I guess this last image is a bottleneck candelabra?  I find many of the bottlenecks I’ve used near stands of willow trees by the water’s edge.  I suppose bottles that float in are snagged in the tree’s exposed root system eventually breaking through contact with floating logs and leaving the shards in place?  People also throw bottles against the trees which has the same effect.  Rarely, do I need to walk very far to find enough glass to create a small project and image.

glass bottlenecks stuck in the mud, 2013

Here’s one project made from bottlenecks collected around one particular willow tree.  I liked the way they looked collectively stuck in the mud and their tubular arrangement reminded me of fossil corals which also references the Falls of the Ohio.  Here’s a few other similar site specific groupings of bottlenecks.

upright glass bottlenecks in dirt with shadows, 2013

glass bottlenecks stuck in the mud at the water's edge, 2013

diverse collection of glass bottlenecks, 2013

detail of arrangement of various glass bottlenecks, 2013

The next couple of images are from my last bottleneck piece.  In addition to lots of waste glass…I also find discarded fishing line, often in the same places.  I brought these two materials together for this ephemeral work.  Recently, I was talking with a good friend of mine and we were remarking about how much of our lives seem mediated by and require reading various kinds of screens.  This last glass project may have something to do with that because the bottlenecks are arranged in a flat, parallel screen hanging from a horizontally growing willow branch.  I wonder if anyone else ever saw this and what they may have thought about it?

various glass bottlenecks suspended on fishing line, 2013

detail, various glass bottlenecks suspended by waste fishing line, 2013

Well there you have it!  I suppose these bottleneck projects will now crop up on occasion like my found coal pieces do as intimate site specific expressions.  For now, it’s enough to present them as images without trying too hard to extract every bit of meaning from them.  Bottlenecks in the broader sense are challenges.  May we always remain open to meeting them.  So long from the Falls of the Ohio.

bottleneck on a stick at sundown, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

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riverblog on computer monitor, The Seven Borders, KMAC, Aug. 2013 As promised, here is a post about the “The 7 Borders, Mapping Kentucky’s Regional Identity” exhibition at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville.  My “Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog” has been a part of this show which opened on June 29 and runs through September 1.  I’m honored to have been asked by KMAC and curator Joey Yates to participate especially since this is the first time my blogging activities have appeared in an art context.  My display in the museum included a few small Styrofoam artifacts, a computer monitor on a table with chairs, a box for handwritten comments, and a label on the wall.  Not quite your typical art offering.  If, however, you think of the computer as a keyhole that you can peer through to a different reality…then you get transported to the world of the Artist at Exit 0 at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  At your fingertips are over 360 posts and more than 3500 images and my own peculiar blend of fact and fiction.  Many of you who follow this blog have been nice enough to leave recent comments and I wonder if you realized that you were participating in this exhibition too?  At the end of this post, I will add the comments that visitors left for me in the little box so that they can be a part of this exhibition record as well.  For now, I would like to share some other images of the works that are (were) a part of this exhibition. The 7 Borders, installation view, Aug. 2013 Eighteen artists are participating in this exhibition.  A few of the artists either currently live in Kentucky or are originally from here.  The majority of the artists, however, live in the seven contiguous states that border the commonwealth, hence “The 7 Borders”.  In the above image, works by Rashid Johnson are on the wall, while Brian McCutcheon’s whimsically modified cooking grill entitled “Trailer Queen II” rests on the floor. The 7 Borders, gallery view, Aug. 2013 The exhibition is a survey of contemporary works produced in a geographical area that is often hard to define.  At various times, Kentucky has been considered by Americans to be the frontier west, the Midwest, or the most northern of the southern states.  The fact this region has been historically hard to place is attractive to me.  For a professional artist, one downside is that the nearest art market of any size is in Chicago.  Many of the artworks in “The 7 Borders” reference issues born of local conditions and landscapes and gain a certain power by not being made for strictly commercial reasons.  The exhibit’s curator wrote: “Each of the artists represented is witness to varying views of the region focusing on personal history and collective experience.”  In the gallery shot above are paintings by Claire Sherman, a photo series by Guy Mendes, and a unique chest of drawers that looks like a stacked firewood entitled “Facecord” by Mark Moskovitz. "The River" by Andrew Douglas Underwood, The 7 Borders, KMAC, Aug. 2013 This mixed media work is entitled “The River” and the artist is Andrew Douglas Underwood who originally is from Louisville.  Personally, I relate to Underwood’s piece because it weaves together metaphors and history relating to people’s long association with the Ohio River.  This work effectively combines photography, embroidery, and found objects. "Pre-Fab(ulous) Environments", Leticia Bajuyo, at KMAC Leticia Bajuyo’s “Pre-Fab(ulous) Environments” is an installation piece located on the museum’s second floor.  Her multimedia piece with its blue Styrofoam installation house and suburban floor map complete with Happy Meal-styled folding cardboard houses reference contemporary suburban neighborhoods. "Roan Mountain Matrix", Denise Burge, The 7 Borders, KMAC This is an image of “Roan Mountain Matrix” by Denise Burge who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Her large fabric and thread works quote traditional Appalachian quilting while alluding to changes occurring to the land and its people through contemporary processes like mountain top coal removal. "Bog Taan", Joel McDonald, at KMAC, Aug. 2013 Joel McDonald’s “Bog Taan” is a tour-de-force mixed media drawing on 26 sheets of watercolor paper.  This is a large, obsessively detailed work that touches upon the artist’s social views as told through the context of his Germantown neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky.  McDonald has a deep understanding and appreciation for 20th Century illustration.  You could look at this artwork for a long time and keep finding images within it.

To conclude this post, I would like to include the comments left by gallery visitors upon engaging my blog in the gallery.  Some of the comments are by children who participated in summer camp programs organized by the museum.

BLOG COMMENTS

“Love this – so fun!

I once saw a duck taking a nap on a submerged & upside down shopping cart on the L-ville side of the OR (Ohio River)”

“The Joe Arbor set was sweet. Poignant. – you should do stop action animation.”

“Love the triker! and the deer-Styrobuck! and the spider-and Pip and the fish-”

“It’s beautiful, I love it! – famous artist”

“Looks like garbage to me!”

“Be cooler if it was metal”

“Some really remarkable & moving works!  Really enjoyed 7 borders.”                       Lou Knowles…Forest Hills, New York

“I like it!  Keep up the good work!”

“So Playful!  What a blast.  Thank you.”

“I like it!”

“Very interesting, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Love the blue nose man”

“dirty + whimsical like crawling through a broken greenhouse in the backyard + making toys as a child”  Lilly Ettinger

“Love it!” “???” “Fabulous: fun, imaginative & thought provoking…Thank you”                                     Mary from Wisconsin

“Quirky & original.  Brought a smile to my face”  K. Woodard (art teacher UK)

“I like the very last peice.  I think personally it looks like here is a passage in between the trunk and the roots”

” I agree we did not make enough “to do” about the beginning of manned flight.  I wouldn’t be here enjoying our work without a flight by plane.  Also like your reminder to “follow your dreams”  Kay Gorman (Maryland)

“Love them!  Priddy Cool!”

“This is very suspicious and cool to see what people throw in the river”

“Ummmm!”

“Love the birds…they are alive.”  Adrian (New Zealand)

“It looks like two snowman”

“I think this was awsome”

“Love the recycling, cute and clever.  Loved to take the time to see the whole-plus the blog.- Just a passer-by, Aug. ’13”

“Fab Al – Love where you went with this – Always happy too see your dementia”  Paul and Sandy Sasso………..these folks are old college friends of mine

“They look like Big, Dirty, Marshmallows”

“You are awesome”

THIS WAS THE LAST OF THE COMMENTS LEFT AT THE EXHIBITION.  NEXT TIME…SEE YOU FROM THE RIVER!

 

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