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Posts Tagged ‘creative process’

Driftwood mound with partially exposed wooden boat dock, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

May was a quick month and this year is flying by.  I’m still exploring much of the flotsam that was left behind by early Spring flooding.  At several places in the park you can encounter large driftwood mounds and debris fields that are aggregates of the natural and artificial.  I was exploring a large mound near the railroad bridge and came across this large, wooden, manmade structure that was laying partially exposed.  I was curious about what this could be and so I picked a route over the driftwood to take a better look.

Destroyed boat dock on the driftwood pile, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Walking carefully to the other side, I discovered that this wooden structure is a fairly long boat dock that the river had claimed.  I was taken by the dock and its visual proximity to the railroad bridge.  The idea that this could make a nice location for another site specific work soon came to mind.  I have been having fun making images and assemblages of plastic bottles that washed into here and looking around…well, despite the overwhelming browness…there is also a lot of colorful plastic mixed into here.

Beginning of green bottle/dock piece, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

What I could see was a “wealth” of green plastic soft drink bottles that lemon/lime carbonated beverages come in.  So, I walked around the mound and boat dock and collected all the green bottles I could find.  In the interest of full disclosure…there are also a few green glass bottles in here, but 95% of them are plastic.  My idea was to activate this area by massing all the green bottles I could collect and store them “inside” the boat dock.  Here are several views of what this looked like after I was finished.

Green plastic bottles piece, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Green plastic bottles in ruined boat dock, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

The wooden dock echoes the structure of the bridge behind it.  I feel that this site specific piece successfully worked with its immediate environment.  The green of the bottles plays against the verdant green of the vegetation.  As of this posting, this artwork is still intact.  Many things I make out here are either destroyed by visitors or eventually fall apart on their own.  If you were looking at this dock from the other side…nothing would betray the surprise that exits on the flip side.  Here’s a few more views of my plastic green bottles piece.  I’m needing a good title for this one, but nothing has registered with me yet.

Green plastic bottles in ruined boat dock, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Altenate view of green bottle work, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

detail of green plastic bottles, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

While I was searching through the debris field, I was also looking for lost flip-flops.  I found a nice number of them consisting of all sizes and colors which I stored in my collecting bag.  After finishing the idea I had for the bottles…I looked around for another location to do a flip-flops site specific piece.  My search took me to the nearby fossil outcropping and rocks.  I emptied my bag upon the rocks and played around with several configurations until I hit upon something I found visually interesting.

Flip Flops and fossils, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Flip flop oval on the fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

I arranged the sandals from right foot to left and from largest to smallest.  The oval shape echoes some of the ancient coral forms present in the rocks which date back to the Devonian Age over 350 million years a go.  One of my all time favorite fossil discoveries was made in Laetoli, Tanzania by famed archaeologist Mary Leakey in 1978.  She found preserved in hardened volcanic ash, a set of bipedal hominid footprints of a possible family group that dates back 3.7 million years and at the time were the world’s oldest human-like footprints.  Flash forward to the present, these flip-flops are the descendants of those ancient tracks.  When I’m out on the rocks at the Falls of the Ohio…I often think about how deep time is and how far back the history of life goes.

Flip flops on the fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

June is already shaping up to be a rather interesting month at the Falls of the Ohio and I will be interacting with the park in some different ways than I usually do.  More about that as the month progresses.  For now, I will end with one more image of my flip-flops piece as I left it upon this ancient landscape.  See you later!

Colorful flip flop oval at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

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Driftwood pile, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

May has turned into a productive month for me.  If April was defined by rain and flooding…May has been on the dry side.  This break in the weather (along with the nice coolness of Spring) has me out at the river at every available chance.  Friends of mine already think that I live out here, but that’s far from the case.  I wish I could physically be out here more because I don’t tire of the park and I find enough stuff to keep me busy.  The reality is I’m lucky to make it out here on the weekends and holidays.  Over the years, I’ve established routines and I know the place so well that as I walk along, I’m strategizing on what can be done with the materials that I find at various locations.  The digital part is done from home.

Sand Rose, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

In the aftermath of our most recent flooding, a great amount of wood and manmade debris has settled into the park.  I find something interesting to me most everywhere I look.  Here’s another Sand Rose that I encountered, blooming among the driftwood.  This blossom has fabric-like petals and lacks the wonderful perfume that more conventional roses possess.

Plush Parrot Toy, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Covered in burrs and various plant seeds is this plush parrot that I found intertwined in the driftwood.  Lost toys are evocative and in this case, I’m also reminded that 2016 will mark the centennial of the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet which was this country’s only native member of the parrot family.  Both the Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet passed from existence within a couple of years of one another in the same small aviary that now stands as a memorial to them at the Cincinnati Zoo.

White-tail deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Walking through the driftwood I found this intact and antlered deer skull which is a first for me. I have found other white-tail deer skulls before, but they all were from does.  Over the years , I have found deer remains out here in the wake of flooding.  Perhaps the most memorable experience happened about twenty years a go.  While hiking with a friend, we came to an area where we could smell the sickly sweet odor from something decomposing, but searching the grounds we weren’t able to locate the unfortunate creature.  By chance, I happened to look up where the smell seemed the strongest and discovered a deer carcass that was lodged in a tree about 12 feet or so off the ground.  Of course, it found its way there when the river was high and became stranded when the river receded.  At the Falls of the Ohio State Park you are likely to find unexpected things snagged in the willows.

Red Compostion, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

"Red Composition" on site, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Over the last few weeks, I have been “playing around” more with the brightly colored plastic elements that wash into the park.  I find these site specific compositions rather fun and provoking to do.  Usually, all the plastic elements that the river delivers become somewhat unified and integrated within the matrix of mud, wood, and other detritus.  I believe this thorough mixing keeps people from seeing the true extent these artificial materials and objects are present in the free world.  By choosing to concentrate on a color, like red in this case, I hope to call attention to these materials in a novel way.  This piece started with the nailed together wood frame I found on the driftwood pile.  There are also lots of milled and used lumber elements in the mix too.  Building on previous pieces I did with other colors, I decided to see how much red was in this given area.   “Red Composition” was the result.  With red being such a popular color…I thought I would come across more red than I actually did.  What I did find seemed subject to bleaching in the sun and made me wonder if red plastic was in general use less because of the fugitive nature of the pigments?  Next time I’m at the grocery store I will test this theory more.  Among my red finds of the day include an old flashlight body that had filled with dirt and had a small willow tree growing out of it.  Here’s another example of a plastic composition I did on this particular day.

From the "Petroleum Rainbow Series", Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

From the Series "Petroleum Rainbows", Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

From the series, "Petroleum Rainbows", seen from behind, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

This is another in a series I have been calling “Petroleum Rainbows”.  I started with the wooden bench I found in the immediate area and set it up near the riverbank in the willow habitat.  I gathered all the brightly colored items I could find tangled in the driftwood and sitting on the sandy beach and of course most of them are made from plastic.  Testing my fugitive color theory, I did notice a prevalence for the colors green, black, blue, yellow, and white.  Red, orange, and purple were a little harder to come by.  I filled the top of the bench with my river finds and loosely organized it to resemble a color spectrum.  As one Facebook observer noted with a little ire, my colors don’t follow the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet scheme of a true rainbow.  I have done this intentionally as a further provoking element.  Beyond the surface attraction of this party-colored plastic, the brain does register that something is not quite right here which is the feeling I want to leave the observer with…hence, disquieting rainbow.  I made this piece a couple of weeks a go and it has remained relatively intact.  I have been busy at the Falls and have more to show, but will wait a bit before posting those projects. I hope everyone out there is having a nice Memorial Day holiday. See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Detail of objects, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

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debris field, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

April’s tale was of a high Ohio River and rain fall for the record books. Twice the river rose to flood stage before subsiding back into its muddy banks.  Left in its now drying wake are trash mounds and islands of wood and debris that were pushed and floated upon the water’s surface by wind and current.  In this mish mash of culture and nature I carefully pick my way over and through the debris fields at the Falls of the Ohio.  All along the riverbank, the dull and muddy colored wood contrasts with the reflected light from hundreds of plastic bottles and chunks of bright white Styrofoam.

Large blue plastic egg among other river debris, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I picked a great day to visit the river.  As soon as I arrived in the park, I could hear several newly arrived male Northern Orioles calling back and forth through the tall cottonwood trees.  I even found several eggs.  Here is a large blue plastic egg nestled in shredded tree bark and plastic bottles.  I also found a muddy, but real Canada goose egg now too cool to incubate. There was an adult goose hanging out near me and I suspect some early nesters had their clutch washed away by the second flood.  I decided with so much brightly colored plastic scattered all over this woody mound…I wondered if I could put any of it to use?

detail, yellow plastic trash, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

As you can see in this detail image…I decided to concentrate on the color yellow.  I stayed within a certain area and collected all the yellow objects on this driftwood mound.  It was tricky work because the footing was not good.  Several times I sank to my hip as my leg would go through the loosely tangled branches, dirt, and logs.

I call this piece “Yellow Concentrate”.  It consists of mostly plastic, quart-sized oil containers along with a few larger laundry detergent jugs.  There are a few odd items as well.  I found three rubber ducks on today’s adventure and used two of them here.  I used a bowl-like depression in the driftwood as my setting to assemble and sort through the junk.  I was glad to have the wooden platform in the foreground because it was also easy on the feet.

Landscape view with "Yellow Concentrate" facing railroad bridge, April 2015

 This site gave me potential for a few good views.  Here is “Yellow Concentrate” with the railroad bridge in the background.

"Yellow Concentrate" with the City of Louisville across the river. April 2015

Now here’s the same piece with the skyline of the City of Louisville on the southern shore.  All that massed yellow really pops you in the eye.  Individually, all these yellow plastic containers barely registered scattered across the debris field, but it’s a different story when you bring them together.  Feeling pretty good about yellow…I decided to next try a different color.

"Blue Extract", Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

As I was collecting all the yellow containers…I was also sorting out the blue ones and throwing them in the driftwood bowl.  On a nearby fallen, diagonally leaning tree trunk…I arranged my collection.  The big blue Easter egg is near the center.  As I worked on “Blue Extract”, the hole I was standing in kept getting wider and deeper.

"Blue Extract", Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Most of these containers are plastic oil and liquid detergent bottles, but I mixed a few aerosol cans in as well.  In this line are seven plastic and rubber balls.  One last project before calling it a day.  I stayed in the same area and pulled aside all the lost flip-flops I encountered.  I laid them all out on the white surface of a metal refrigerator that had floated in here with the last flood.  It looked like the Shoe Shaman had been this way too.

lost flip-flops on the side of a refridgerator, April 2015

Sandal Arc, found objects from the Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

The stark whiteness of the fallen refrigerator reminded me of the white pedestals that you would find in an official gallery.  I organized the lost foot wear from smallest to largest, left to right.  I soon left for home with a hefty collecting bag full of “river treasure” and a camera loaded with images.  Every thing else was left in place.  I will come back when the river level drops a little bit more and the fudge-like mud has had the chance to harden in the sun.  There is still so much more to explore in the park and can see myself keeping busy for the rest of the year.  Here’s one last look over the shoulder at today’s location at the Falls of the Ohio.  I realized after the fact, that the found milk crate I used to move materials around was so bright red that it holds its place among the yellow and blue.  Until next time!

Site of this day's activity, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

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Found Plastic Heart, Falls of the Ohio across from Louisville, Jan. 2015

Happy 2015 to all from the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  This is my first post of the new year which has started auspiciously for me.  I am happy to report that I found a new day job!  I am the new Coordinator of Public Programs and Engagement at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.  About this time last year I was showing my own river art at this organization.  It’s funny how things worked out…I had a feeling that my opportunities were leading me to the north bank of the Ohio River and that’s what happened.  I found this plastic heart in the mud of the Indiana riverbank about a week before I was offered the job.  I wonder if it has significance?

Carnegie Center for Art and History, New Albany, IN, Nov. 2012

My relationship with the Carnegie Center for Art and History goes back to the early 1990’s when as a staff member at the Louisville Visual Art Association I helped to install the Indiana version of the Children’s Free Art Classes on the Carnegie Center’s gallery walls.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have exhibited my own work here with the latest being the Potential in Everything show with Michael Wimmer that was up this time last year! There has to be a lot of serendipity in play here for all the stars to line up as they did and so I am feeling it was meant to be.  I will be creating new workshop opportunities and other programming to help the center with its community-minded mission.  It’s a new challenge for a new year!

plastic liquor bottle filled with quartz pebbles, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

With the new job and a recent cold spell I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the river until this three-day weekend.  I heard that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded across the globe.  Today our temps are in the low 50’s which is quite a change from the teens we just experienced.  I grabbed my walking stick and collecting bag and made a day at the river.  I have been doing various bottle projects and here is a new one.  I found a plastic liquor bottle that still had its cap on it.  It’s interesting to note that most bottles I find with screw-top bottle caps are discarded with their caps on.  By a deposit of Ice Age gravel, I was able to fill the bottle with river-tumbled white and pale yellow quartz pebbles.  Not sure how I will use this, but will probably factor into a new artwork soon.  Being outside on such a fine day is something else I wish I could bottle for future use when the cold, damp, and gray returns.  For now I place the bottle in my collecting bag and move on.  There are other things to find and discover.

jaw bone and aluminum can top, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Next to the flattened top of an aluminum can I found this small, partial jaw bone.  I think it’s from a skunk or some other small carnivore, but will need to check the dentition more carefully.  After taking this picture, I picked the mandible up and placed it into my bag.  This find will factor into something else I put together before day’s end.

Circular platform at my outdoor studio, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

The mud and melting ice made checking out the river’s edge problematical and so I headed up the riverbank and into the willow trees.  I visited my outdoor atelier and decided to do a little “house cleaning”.  I swept the leaves and dirt off of the circular metal platform that has been here for several years.  If I could have figured out how to get this object home, I probably would have done so by now.  As it is, I like using it as a work surface and place to sit.  My other stashed materials are nearby.  To me, the platform is still a “U.F.O.”…which stands for “Unknown Floating Object”.  I think it has something to do with mooring barges, but could be wrong about that.  I also like that it adds a stage-like presence and helps define one small area at the Falls.

Louisville and Indiana railroad cars, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Huge downed log near the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Standing on the platform and facing the river, if I look to my left I see the old railroad bridge.  There were several trains that went back and forth while I was occupied.  The railroad is part of the atmosphere of the place.  A large and partially burned log occupies the space between the platform and the bridge.  I straightened out my stick and root collection and sorted them on the platform.  I then rediscovered my Styrofoam collection.  Every time I walk the river, I find new river-polished pieces and add them to this assemblage.  There is simply more here than I can use at a time and so anyone is welcome to try making something from what has been gathered.

Styrofoam larder at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Detail, Styrofoam pieces, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I grab a few rounded pieces from the collection and decide to construct a figure from what I have here and in the bag.  I decide which shapes and forms would make good heads and bodies and set them aside.  Once in a great while, some other creative souls find my larder and make something of their own from this junk.  I like it when people see the opportunity here.

Outdoor studio view, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Materials for a figure, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I usually like starting with the head first.  It’s where the most information is focused and my Styro-figures share this with archaic works and folk art.  In the case of this figure, I decided on another shape for the head.  Collected bits of plastic and potential facial elements are placed into a found plastic bowl.  I will decide the features of today’s figure from what I’ve gathered today.  Here’s a sequence showing the progression of how the head evolved including what already looks like a found face in the bowl.

Plastic bowl with potential "facial features", Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

January Styro-figure head in progress, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Finished head, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

The found mandible has a new home on this piece.  I split the bottom from an aluminum can to make the ears which does give this figure a monkey-like quality to it.  The eyes are a white, plastic bottle cap and the green, plastic bead from a child’s toy.  I found two expressive sticks for arms and set the figure up as though it were sitting down with crossed legs.  Here are images of this piece finished on site.

First Man of January, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Figure at my outdoor art site, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I had the best time today.  There is still lots of winter before us, but this weekend’s respite helped connect me to the river for the first time this year. I will be curious to see if we even have one decent snow fall this season?  Whatever happens during 2015, I will take it all in stride. The year is already off to a positive start!  I think I will leave it at that and sign off until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Skyline of Louisville from the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

 

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sand sun sign, Feb. 2013

The sun is up and this is supposed to be the pick of the weekend.  So, a quick breakfast and cup of coffee and I’m out the door as soon as I can manage it.  I arrive at the Falls and there is still frost on the driftwood which vanishes except where the deep shadows shade the tiny ice crystals from the warmth of the light.  The Ohio River is noticeably down and I find a way to access the narrow sliver of land that is now high and dry…well nearly.  An occasional patch of sticky mud remains where a pool of water lingered longer than the rest of the river did.

Falls of the Ohio, post high water, Feb. 2013

I brought a large and empty collecting bag.  I’m anticipating finding some river treasures to fill it… which I do by day’s end.  As expected, the landscape is different, but the same.  Meaning there is lots of driftwood in a wide variety of sizes with plenty of other junk mixed in.  What is different is the exact context that had existed before is now rearranged.  Big logs have floated to new positions and have been added to by wood originating upstream from Louisville and southern Indiana.  I feel slightly guilty enjoying such a sunny day when I have friends on the east coast that are covered by the deep snow that fell yesterday.

frayed rope archway, Feb. 2013

During bouts of high water, stuff gets snagged in tree branches.  I do a little promenade through this frayed rope archway formed by the river.  It’s muddier under the railroad bridge, but the biggest tangle of catch-all driftwood is also here.  My site is just over this wooden mound and I wonder how it has fared?

female Downy Woodpecker, Feb. 2013

Along the way, I keep an eye out for birds like this female Downy Woodpecker investigating the furrows in tree bark.  I see a Belted Kingfisher, a Red-winged Blackbird, flocks of Canada Geese which are year round residents, Carolina Chickadees, and a Peregrine Falcon flying parallel with the river.  Usually, nature’s colors are subtle this time of year, but I also find this silly bird.  It’s bright non-naturalistic color is a quick tip-off that it is probably made from plastic.

pink rubber duck, Feb. 2013

I find lots of other plastic items particularly toys, but I will wait until later in the week to post those finds.  I did pick up this lucky duck to add to my expanding collection.  I like the two walnuts next to the duck.  How often have I used walnuts as a gauge for scale?

Figure with bear hat at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

We are nearly there…just under the willow trees.  Be careful of stepping on milled boards for they are the ones harboring bent and rusty nails.  The sun has climbed higher in the sky and I’m getting warmer.  This bear hat of mine is getting hotter, but I am glad I had it with me earlier in the day.

last year's Styrofoam, Feb. 2013

We have arrived…this is my old spot.  I guess I was partly right.  The river did reach my outdoor studio, but the water didn’t spread last year’s Styrofoam too widely.  The riverbank is slightly higher here and that makes a difference.  Walking carefully over the driftwood, I search over and under the wood.  Before too long, I am able to corral my wayward polystyrene.  I do a little “house keeping” and try to create a semblance of order under the willow trees.

Reassembled studio under the willows, Feb. 2013

I find not only much of last year’s Styrofoam, but some new pieces as well.  I empty out my collecting bag and add to the pile.  Interestingly, I did not find any really big sections and hopefully that bodes well for the river at large.  Some of the pieces I have here I have recycled many times before to make new figures.  I will try to embed these bright white shapes into my subconscious with the hope of creating new and interesting combinations with them.  I’m going to leave it here for now.  My next post will be a show and tell featuring some of the other items I picked up along the way and put into the old collecting bag.  See you then?

Figure with bear hat and driftwood, Feb. 2013

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I enjoy processes and since I had additional images relating to my last post…I thought I would throw them in for fun.  I also harbor this very idealistic idea that everyone is born creative…it’s just that most people don’t view themselves in this way which I believe is at the heart of our environmental dysfunction and a great shame.  Somehow we have replaced creating with consuming. The following images hopefully show that you can create magic out of nothing.  There isn’t anything technical happening here.  If you can do Mr. Potato Head than you have the basic idea behind creating this bird.  The materials are not manipulated greatly.  I like nature to form the shapes I use. The only carving involved is in cutting slots into the body to hold the wings.  I did shave away one wing to make it thinner. I did poke holes in the head for the eyes.  I shortened the willow roots for the legs and the beak is held in place with a wooden peg just as the head attaches with its own little stick which also helps the head to swivel. Now I know this sounds a bit flip, but the hard part is seeing the possibility behind something that’s intrinsically worthless and imagining what else this could be?  Looking at the following series of images at home, I’m struck by the altar quality of the log I have spread out my materials on at my temporary outdoor studio.  I do feel that being an artist is a reverential activity.  I like to think my “art” is somehow in the service of life.  I believe you will recognize most of the components of this bird, but they include Styrofoam, wood bark, dried willow rootlets, the plastic nose cone of a small bottle rocket, plastic and foam “gaskets”, and charcoal for the eyes.  All materials were found on site at the river.  I found the little bowl that morning and it’s great to hold the little pieces I use.  I’m not a great photographer in the classic sense in that I don’t concern myself greatly with exposures and settings.  My camera is set on automatic.  I do, however, try to create an interesting image or composition that “says” something to me about that day and this place.  Give it a try…it’s fun to do!

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I left the “Petro-totem” sculpture on a small island created by the tenacity of a willow’s roots.  Living this close to the river is an invitation to disaster.  Sooner or later the river will wash away this little refuge, but for now we are okay.  Or are we?

The first two images in this post were taken on a Saturday when everything seemed relatively well.  When I returned the following morning, severe thunderstorms had drenched our region.  The river level was noticeably higher.  The sounds of normal life were rudely interrupted by the sound of the dam’s siren letting more water under the gate.  A tremendously powerful torrent is created when so much water is let loose.  While I went about my scavenging, I made a mental note as the river crept closer and closer to my sculpture.  Here are pictures of what I mean.

The large decaying log was lifted off the shore and began to drift away.

Meanwhile, the surging river was getting my sculpture’s feet wet.

It didn’t take long before the large log started moving in rhythm with the waves and entered the periphery of the camera’s lens.  Although I didn’t hang out to witness the ceremonial washing away of the sculpture, I’m fairly sure it’s gone now.  It wasn’t an especially glad looking creation.

Before the river reclaimed this section of the shoreline, I did come across this pair of toy binoculars.  All around me, Rough-winged swallows were picking off small insects including the left-overs of the latest may fly hatch.

I was frustrated by trying to look through the faux field glasses.  When I peeked through the eyepieces, all I could see was the river water that had seeped through the plastic seams.  More river discoveries and Styrofoam sculptures in the next Falls of the Ohio adventure!

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