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The Falls of the Ohio offers a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year.  Whether you prefer light tackle action in the shallows or the pull from a fifty pound catfish while sitting on a boat…you can find that on the Ohio River flowing by Louisville.  I always check out what’s happening on the riverbank when I come out here.  I am especially interested in seeing what species are being caught and what’s being used to catch them.  On this warm December day the action was happening in the shallows.  Fisherman were using soft-bodied jigs to catch Sauger (a smaller relative of the Walleye) and this nice White Bass.

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The White Bass, (Roccus chrysops) was first described by the eccentric naturalist Constantine Rafinesque who was familiar with the fish life at the Falls of the Ohio.  The White Bass is a big river fish that is also found in impoundments.  This fish can get to be 15 to 18 inches long and a maximum of around five pounds.  We also have a smaller relative, the Yellow Bass that is also found in the Ohio River.  Both species are related to marine sea basses and scatter their eggs without further care of their young.

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Since there is a lot of fishing activity on the river, I also find a lot of lost fishing gear. Broken poles, snagged line, and lots of plastic fishing lures like this recent example. It’s very easy to snag and lose a lure in the rocky bottom out here. Usually, when I find a lure, it is minus its hooks which either have broken off or have dissolved away.  I also pick up lost fishing floats and have been amazed by how much design variety that fishing tackle can encompass.  On the negative side, I also have a fairly full sandwich bag of lead fishing weights that I have accumulated over the years.  When the river is down during the height of summer, I will check out the dried holes in the rocky bottom that catch and tumble lead and other metals.

If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered by me for the quality of the fishing.  I was able to catch three species new to me to add to a growing list of species I have documented at the Falls of the Ohio.  Check out the next couple of images of a rare Ohio River Bowfin (Amia ohioensis) I angled from under the railroad bridge.

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The Ohio River Bowfin is only marginally related to the better known Bowfin, (Amia calva).  The Ohio River Bowfin has adapted its life to living in shallow rocky streams where it ambushes other fish, frogs, crayfish, and other river invertebrates.  Uniquely, its anal and caudal fins have fused into one large fin that comes in handy for scraping out nests in the gravel bottoms it prefers to breed on.  After the male entices the gravid female into his nest and with a little luck and persuasion, a clutch of about fifty eggs is deposited and fertilized.  The male assumes all parenting duties.  Can also be distinguished by it long slender body and bright orange-colored eyes.  After a few pictures and measurements the fish was released unharmed back into the river.

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On another river expedition in November, I visited a different Falls of the Ohio location near the Interpretive Center to sample the fish life there.  Within a minute or two of my first cast I caught this near world record Copperbelly Suckermouth, (Catostomidae cupricana).  I was using a hook baited with clam meat which is the principle food of this Ohio River oddity.  The boats anchored in the river are probably going after large catfish.  This view gives you a good indication of the body type that evolved with some fish that inhabit swift flowing water.  Drag has been minimized and the pectoral fins are strong enough to anchor the fish in place as it hovers over the clam beds it prefers.

Here’s a symbiotic side note…several fresh water clam species use the Copperbelly Suckermouth as an intermediate host during part of their life cycles.  The nearly microscopic clam larvae attach themselves to the fish’s gills where for a short time, the larvae suck blood and grow before dropping off the fish to complete their life cycles in the gravely bottom. The host fish are left unharmed during the process.

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A sneak peek on why this species is called the Copperbelly Suckermouth.  It’s undersides are a deep, rich, red to orange ochre color that is particularly intense during the Spring breeding period.  The strong sucker mouth is located on the fish’s ventral side and is flanked by barbels that help it locate food in the river’s bottom.  This was also strictly catch and release as was the case with my next fishy find.  As with most bottom dwelling fish at the Falls, one should limit how big a meal you make from your catch.  Toxins are more prevalent in the lower reaches which then are ingested and stored in the fish’s fatty tissues.  This particular species, however, has minimal food value.

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Another day and location at the Falls of the Ohio and another unexpected catch!  Using a grasshopper I caught on the bank and a beaver-chewed willow pole I found nearby, I fashioned a rig with an old line and a hook and caught this Kentucky Killifish, (Cyprinodontidae gargantua) by jigging the grasshopper around the shadows cast by the fossil-loaded limestone.  I dropped the grasshopper into just the right dark hole and pulled out this beauty.

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This is a giant among the killifishes as most are under a few inches in length.  Its blue eyes are distinctive.  Small invertebrates in the form of insect larvae are its main food item, but experience has shown it will go for whatever it thinks it can swallow using its relatively tiny mouth.  This fish has no food or sport value what so ever.  During the summer breeding period, the males of this species can get very colorful in an attempt to impress.  Still, a very nice way to cap the year with a new fish to add to the life list!

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Fishing on Mars or the Falls of the Ohio?  The setting sun has colored the dried riverbank a lovely Martian red.  Here explorers are doing what we do…searching for life in the most promising place we know which happens to be by the water.  I hope 2017 manages a way to be kind to our rivers and freshwater everywhere.  I’ll end my fishing story with a look inside the box where I keep my found fishing lures.  See you next year…from the Falls of the Ohio.

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Chemical Rose, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

Following is a unique portfolio of never before published images of the latest Unnatural Flowers that have bloomed at the Falls of the Ohio.  This follows a previous article on this riverblog (see…”Unusual Flora at the Falls of the Ohio”, Jan. 13, 2013) that first exposed the bizarre flora that have adapted to this highly disturbed site on the Ohio River.  It is speculated that these new organisms are able to metabolize  decaying plastic in novel and sometimes disturbing ways.  Characteristic of these faux flowers is a lack of photosynthetic leaves.  It is believed that the energy utilized by these plants is created from breaking plastic polymer bonds and forming new compounds or by elaborate parasitism.  Examples of both will be highlighted.  Key also are the various petrochemical connections which rhyme historically to a more ancient world illustrated beautifully by the site’s Devonian Era fossils and our culture’s reliance upon oil and coal to power and pollute everything.  It is my belief that these unique forms appearing here are no coincidence.  Let us first acquaint ourselves with various members of the “Chemical Rose” family.  An example of which leads off this post.  Here are more recently found roses.

Chemical Rose variety with rootlets, 2013

This variety appears to have rootlets growing between the plastic-hard rose petals.  As with all “Chemical Roses”…there is no sweet perfume to inhale.

Chemical Rose on thorny stem, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

This “Chemical Rose” example is growing out of the mud on a leafless, thorny stem.  No telling what chemical compositions are co-mingling in this ooze?

Red Chemical Rose of the sand variety, 2013

This ” Red Chemical Rose” has adapted to growing on sand.  While the next example has synthetic, fabric-like petals.  It does add a beautiful yet bittersweet presence to the landscape.

Petrochemical Petunia, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

This “Petrochemical Petunia” is a late Spring oddity and prefers moist, iridescent sand and full sunlight.  It presents as a completely synthetic, hybrid blossom.  It is not clear at this time if some pollinating agent is necessary for its propagation.

Little White Polymer Phlox, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

Imagine my surprise upon discovering this “Little White Polymer Phlox” growing from the ruined wood on this stump.  This specimen was found very close to the water and in an area that  floods frequently.  The phlox needs just the right temperature and water content to break down this former tree’s cellulose matrix to make the nutrients it needs to grow.

Chemical Chrysanthemum, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

Also growing in poor wet soil is this florid “Chemical Chrysanthemum”.  Among its requirements are a warm, CO2 rich atmosphere and coal which washes up within the Falls of the Ohio State Park from the frequent barge traffic that moves up and down the Ohio River.

The Driftwood Tulip, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

Growing between the beached and bleaching logs is this aptly named “Driftwood Tulip”.  It can appear at any time and shows itself briefly upon its woody stem before sinking back into the riverbank from whence it came.

Epiphytic Mimic, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

For a lack of a better description…this plant had temporarily been named the “Epiphytic Mimic” because it presents like some of our true orchids.  This specimen may have flowered recently.   Its green leaves do not perform photosynthesis.  It hangs out and receives moisture and nutrients through a complex system of fine polymer rootlets.  And now…for something a little different.  The following unnatural flowers appear to be parasitic, but patient study may find them to be more complex and perhaps even symbiotic by nature?

Yellow Fabric Pansy on Primrose, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

The “Yellow Fabric Pansy” in this photo appears to be hitching a free ride on a primrose flower.  The same relationship can be found on this “Pink Blossoming Indigo Bush”.

Bling's Indigo Bush in flower, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

The pink flower with the rhinestone-like center is unlike the rest of this flowering and indigenous shrub.  Next we come to the “Augmented Moth Mullein”.

Augmented Moth Mullein, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

The prevailing thinking about how some these strange flowers acquire their petrochemicals is through ultraviolet decomposition of man-made plastics. On the microscopic if not molecular level…these tiny compounds recombine with the existing plants’ DNA.  Here’s another fine example.

Yellow-flowering Pokeweed, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

Like the previous plant, the “Yellow-flowering Pokeweed” is a recombined hybrid and favors appearing in the early summer.  Traditional pokeweed plants produce weak looking white flowers that will transform into dark, pigment intense berries in the Fall.  It is not certain how this plant will respond, but I have my eyes on it.  In closing, I would like to present one more image that illustrates the tremendous crossover potential of plastic polymers and living tissue.  Thus far, this is the only example of a “Mushroom Flower” that I have come across and the only unnatural fungus that I have discovered at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  No doubt other species are out there just waiting for a trained botanist to reveal to all.  As the environment warms and the normal weather patterns change, the natural rhythm of life will be altered, however, life may prove to be the most plastic and resilient of all.

The Mushroom Flower, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

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Falls of the Ohio, late May 2013

Another great day at the Falls of the Ohio.  Although it’s late May, we haven’t immediately jumped from a cool spring into a sweltering summer heat.  We still have time for that.  I’m following the deposited driftwood which forms these nice clearings punctuated here and there by small stands of willow trees.  There’s a method to my walks.  I carefully and as quietly as I can listen and look for any bird life in each new area I move into.  If I don’t find any birds than I move around the driftwood looking for interesting pieces and any other water born junk of note.  If an object captures my eye, I usually take a photograph of it in the context of the environment surrounding it.  If it is something really unusual, portable,  and potentially useful…then I may drop it into my collecting bag.  I also try to pay attention to any new flowers or insects that are out since my last visit. I don’t collect anything living since with the exception of fish…it’s against the park’s rules.

Falls of the Ohio, late May 2013

I will also walk the river bank doing much the same thing before heading back into the trees and my studio under the willows.  It’s here at my outdoor “atelier” that I check out my latest finds and with the materials I’ve previously collected…attempt to make art from them.  I was taking a break sitting on a bench I made and letting my mind “go blank” and just listening.  In the trees I could hear Northern orioles, Blue jays, and Catbirds all making their distinctive sounds.  With birds, you don’t need to see them to know they are present.  Small, noisy flocks of Cedar waxwings were flying from mulberry tree to mulberry tree seeking out ripe fruit.  I also kept hearing a “clicking or clacking”  sound originating behind where I was sitting which I mistakenly took for a squirrel moving among the branches.  I would look over my shoulder every now and then, but I didn’t see anything at first.  I didn’t see anything at all…until it moved!

Giant spider on web, late May 2013

Between its cryptic coloration and the dappled light effects of sunlight filtering through the tree tops…I had completely missed seeing the biggest spider in the world!  I know I had to walk by this marvel, but it didn’t register at all until this moment.  The spider wasn’t making any threatening gestures yet…perhaps it was remaining still “thinking” that I hadn’t located it.  The spider on its web was perhaps a dozen feet away from where I was sitting.  Meanwhile the hairs on the back of my neck were on end and I had an acute case of goosebumps all over my body!  Instinctively, I reached for my camera and started taking pictures.

Giant spider, May 2013

Carefully walking around the spider and its web, I snapped off as many images as my nerves would dare.  I still had no idea what it was capable of doing especially in protection of its nest?  I had my stout walking stick at the ready.  Nestled in a depression in the wood at the web’s base was a silk-lined “pocket” that held three white cocoons.  I wasn’t sure if these were egg cases or the wrapped up remains of former meals?

giant spider egg cases?, Falls of the Ohio, May 2013

In trying to describe this spider to you…I utilized my walking stick not only for protection, but to gauge its size as well.  Later in the comfort of my home, I estimated that the length of its body from the head to the tip of its abdomen to be approximately 30 inches or 76 centimeters long.  It’s moving legs made the spider seem much larger, but they were harder to measure.  The legs were perfectly camouflaged resembling the driftwood all around us.  The spider’s abdomen is covered with coarse hair arranged in bands of orange, white, and a bluish-black colors.  Otherwise, the spider is as white as the large river-polished chunks of Styrofoam that wash up on these fabled shores all the time.

Head of Giant Driftwood Spider, May 2013

lower jaws of Giant Driftwood Spider, May 2013

The head of what I’m now going to call the “Giant Driftwood Spider” is very unusual for a spider.  The fact it is nearly distinct (as in insects) and not simply continuous with the thorax makes it different.  The head was not, however, capable of movement.  This spider features four eyes.  It has two, larger dominant eyes and a vestigial pair located between them.  The fangs were purple in color and supported by black jaws used for gripping prey.  The clicking sound I had heard earlier were its fangs rubbing together.  Like all spiders…I assumed that this species is carnivorous as well.? Consistent with true spiders, this giant species also has eight legs, although the Giant Driftwood Spider’s are not uniform.  After watching this great arachnid for several minutes, it surprised me by leaving its web and walking towards the river.  I naturally, followed behind it at a discreet distance.

Giant Driftwood Spider, May 2013

Giant Driftwood Spider on a stump. May 2013

Giant Driftwood Spider on tree roots, May 2013

The giant spider moved deliberately through the driftwood field pausing once in a while for whatever reason.  Thoughts about what this spider did for food crossed my mind.  Was it an ambush predator secretly lying next to a log waiting for a meal to walk by?  Did it rush and overwhelm its prey with a lethal bite to the body?  I thought this likely since its web by my outdoor studio didn’t seem big enough to capture anything larger than birds or rodents.  I got the sense that this spider was able to go a long time between feedings.  I continued to follow the spider when it stopped at another silk construction it had previously created.

Great Driftwood Spider in yellow silk lair, May 2013

The spider stopped by what I’m guessing to be another silk trap?  The spider may have been trying to hide its form with the silk?  Perhaps it uses a method similar to trapdoor spiders in catching its food?  I will confess that I do get “creeped out” by having spider webs go across my face.  I have always had an aversion to this feeling, although generally speaking…I’m okay with the spiders themselves.  In this particular area, it felt like I was constantly wiping my face which made me very ill at ease.

Giant Driftwood Spider in its lair, May 2013

Giant Driftwood Spider attack!, May 2013

I circled back around to get a better look and when I did the spider lunged for me! With fangs clacking together and its legs gesturing wildly, the spider held its ground, but did not advance towards me.  With stick at the ready and in deep fear, I was prepared to swing down as hard as I could on the spider if I had to.  That’s when it occurred to me how wrong that would be?  Who was doing most of the provoking anyway?  Perhaps the spider was reacting in self-defense?  As with most living things, this spider had as much if not more reason to fear humans.  Even though this was the biggest spider I had ever seen…I was still bigger than it.  With that realization I backed off and took my leave of the Giant Driftwood Spider.  Reaching my home, I couldn’t wait to see the pictures and to tell the story of this remarkable animal encounter.  The world is full of natural marvels and the Falls of the Ohio…has many of them.

willow tree and roots at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2013

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washed up plastic tricycle, Falls of the Ohio, May 2013

I was at the Falls of the Ohio last week when I spotted this plastic toy tricycle just sitting by itself near the river’s edge.  Although I didn’t see anyone around, I just assumed its owner must be nearby.  I took this picture and walked away.  After a time spent looking for driftwood and anything else, I was heading back to my studio under the trees when I was approached by this character I’ve come to know as the ” Off Road Triker”.  He was quickly peddling that tricycle I had seen earlier.

Off Road Triker, May 2013

With his trademark orange goggles, the Triker likes to explore the world from the seat of his three-wheeler.  I recognized him as the  subject of a few human interest stories in the newspaper, but this was a first spotting him on the shores of the Ohio River.  I have heard that he used to own a car, but now he just peddles everywhere he wants to go.  As a side benefit, he’s in the best shape of his life.  His legs alone must be as hard as wood.  The Triker’s ride came to a smooth stop in the sand in front of where I was standing.

the head of the Triker, goggles off, May 2013

Removing his goggles from his eyes the Triker greeted me pleasantly on a picture perfect day.  We introduced ourselves and talked about our observations and connections to this landscape.  The Triker remarked that he had seen a lot of rubbish along the water’s edge and I nodded in agreement.  He wondered why nobody did anything about this, but I had to tell him that the Falls does see several clean-up attempts a year, but with each new flood or high water the new “largess” in the river just washes up again.  It’s like rolling that proverbial rock up the hill only to have it roll back again and again.

Off Road Triker in motion, May 2013

The Triker said that there was a place where several old automotive tires were laying half buried in the sand and that I should check it out.  He put his goggles back on and I walked beside him as he peddled to the spot.  I didn’t tell him this, but I was already familiar with these tires and have photographed this feature many times.  I found the Triker to be amusing and so I just played along to get a sense of who he is and what he might do next.  The reason all these tires are in this particular location is that once upon a time a river clean-up had occurred and these loose tires were gathered here for future disposal.  Ironically, the future never came which left these tires mired in the present.  Now these tires are so full of mud, sand, and water that it would take a herculean effort to dig some of them out of the riverbank.

The Triker begins his run, May 2013

The Triker thought these tires would make an appropriate obstacle course to maneuver through and he asked me to photograph him while he made his run.    Everything started off well enough, but that was not to last.

The Triker runs the obstacle course, May 2013

The Triker swings wide, May 2013

The Trike over corrects, May 2013

The Triker clips the tire, May 2013

It’s at this point that the Triker hits a snag or rather a tire.  The slalom at the course’s start went fine, but midway through the Triker swung wide and he had to over correct to get around the next obstacle.  Here are some different close up views of the action.

View of Triker hitting the tire, May 2013

The Triker up on two wheels, May 2013

The Triker nearly falls off, May 2013

As you can see…hitting the tire caused the tricycle to go up on two wheels.  The speed and forward momentum nearly caused the Triker to completely lose his balance!

The Triker recovers his balance, May 2013

Fortunately as an experienced rider…the Triker held it together and was able to regain his composure and balance to complete this impromptu course.  He pulled off to the side near some willow trees and exhaled deeply.

The Triker recovers his breath, May 2013

“That was a close one my friend.  I thought for a micro second I was going to eat sand and rubber in a hard way!”  I praised him for his skill on the tricycle and told him I would post the images on the internet which seemed to please the Triker.  Recovering his breath, the Triker said he enjoyed his visit to the Falls of the Ohio, but it was now time to return to the city.  With his goggles back on, my last view of the Triker was of his back as he peddled his wobbly ride with a newly bent axle towards the skyline of the nearby city.

The Off Road Triker departs, May 2013

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foot wear for the right foot, May 2013

Every now and then it’s good to purge stuff that has been building up over time.  With my river project, I do this by emptying out my collecting bag(s) to make way for new finds and by deleting images stored on my camera’s memory card.  I have gotten into the habit of using the memory card as another form of digital storage just in case something bad happens to all the other places I store data.  In this post, I will feature favorite images of plastic flotsam and jetsam I have gathered at the river’s edge the past two months.  I will start with the image with the flip-flops and Croc-like shoes.  These are tiny to small kids’ sizes.  A few weeks a go, I picked up eight of them along a favorite walk and realized once I reached my outdoor studio that they were all meant for the right foot!  I have since added a few extras, but the initial shock of realizing there were no left shoes remains.  I wonder if subconsciously I selected for right-footedness?  Anyway, here is a still life photo portfolio of other plastic river junk toys.

unknown plastic character head, May 2013

"Scully" head from "Monsters Inc", May 2013

"Ken?" doll head and walnut, May 2013

plastic character head with fabric hair, May 2013

hollow plastic rabbit head novelty, May 2013

plastic squirrel bottle?, April 2013

green plastic alligator bottle, May 2013

old plastic dressed kitten toy, April 2013

plastic animal lidded box,  April 2013

two dog toys, May 2013

plastic dart gun, May 2013

ray gun-style water pistol, May 2013

broken plastic claw hammer, May 2013

hollow plastic toy telephone handset, May 2013

One last item and while it is not made of plastic…is nevertheless memorable.

tiny aerosol can of fart spray, April 2013

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Into the light, May 2013

Styrofigure in early May, 2013

Stepping away from the place where it was constructed revealed a whole new world for the Polystyrene Person to explore.  The sun was shining and birds were singing and the Falls of the Ohio were once again turning green with emerging tree leaves.  Driftwood was everywhere along the river and there were plenty of micro-environments to experience.

Polystyrene Person dancing in inner tube, May 2013

Being made of trash caused the Polystyrene Person to be less judgmental of the discarded man-made items it came across.  An old inner tube became a tiny arena perfect for dancing.

figure with plastic cable in the trees, May 2013

alternate view of figure with plastic cable in the trees, May 2013

A tough plastic cable captured by the willow branches during the last bit of flooding became another object of interest.  The Polystyrene Person admired the graceful  arcs and how the cable defined this bit of space.  The white figure played with the cable by walking around and stepping through the loops.  There was still more stuff snagged in other trees.

barge cable and figure, May 2013

Discovering a fraying barge cable tangled in the willow branches and dragging on the ground gave the new figure an odd mental image.  What if this was how the sky was tethered to the earth?  What would happen if this cable broke?  Would the blue sky with its flimsy clouds just drift off into space?  Remembering that this was simply a rope caught in a tree brought the smile back to the figure’s face.

Polystyrene Person among willow roots, May 2013

Standing among the roots of a fantastic willow tree, the Polystyrene Person marveled at how the tree maintained its grip on the earth.  Beneath the larger roots was a dense mat of very fine rootlets that held the soil together.

Polystyrene figure standing in water, May 2013

figure among water and willow roots, May 2013

The figure moved to the river’s edge and couldn’t wait to experience water.  It was such an entirely different sensation than standing on solid ground.  Cold water splashed up onto the Polystyrene Person’s face and being wet wasn’t the most pleasant feeling.  The literal tug of the river caused the figure to scramble up on the roots of a nearby willow to keep from being drawn further into the liquid.  Instinctively, the figure realized that it would be lost if the river was allowed to have too tight a grip.  Pulling the Polystyrene Person  back upon the shore, I explained it was time for me to go home.  I offered two choices to my creation.  It could stay at the river and face an uncertain but potentially exciting future where it more than likely would be destroyed by either nature or the hand of man.  Or, it could go home with me and see a different part of the world.  Perhaps because the river was a little scary, the Polystyrene Person opted to go home with me.

The Polystyrene Person opening my car door, May 2013

Because my hands were full…the figure opened my car door for me.  It’s really a very polite and innocent being.  During the short ride from the river to my house…I asked the Polystyrene Person what it would like to do?  The figure replied that it would like to continue to be out in nature and so I found the perfect place in my yard for it.  Happily, my latest creation takes pride in watching over my spring plants as they reveal themselves during the new season.

Polystyrene Person among the Hostas, May 2013

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My outdoor studio at the Falls, May 2013

After watching the goldfinches in the willows and collecting the latest the river had to offer…I headed to my outdoor studio.  I have the day off from my day job and it is also Kentucky Derby weekend.  The weatherman is telling me that today will be the day to be outdoors because a cold, wet front is coming through the Ohio Valley.  It has been a few weeks since I last visited as life has taken me in other directions.  When I was last at this spot,  I stashed the surviving and repaired “Flood Brother” next to a tree.  In the interim, other people have come across my spot and looked through the junk I’ve assembled here.  As for my Styro-figure…I found what was left of him nearby.  Here’s a look at the remains.

Styro-body of destroyed Flood Brother, May 2013

I found his body first resting upon the older driftwood.  He was missing his head and arms.  Scouting around, I was able to find bits and pieces including his head staring at the world through his remaining cyclops eye.

Flood Brother head, May 2013

Rather than reconstruct him for a third time, I decided to recycle him.  I gathered the pieces and parts and hauled it back to my studio.  For now, I will let these chunks of polystyrene rest.

Outdoor studio in disarray, May 2013

found art materials, May 2013

The first step in creating some sense of order is to straighten out the mess my previous visitors have left me.  I sort through my sticks that I will use for potential arms and legs.  I gather up the smaller pieces of Styrofoam and put them in the river-chewed milk crate.  I rummage through my collecting bag and select the elements that will make up the face of a new character.  I take a few moments to watch robins chasing a young Cooper’s Hawk through the willow trees.  Near me, I hear the first notes from a Northern or Baltimore Oriole.  It’s reassuring to know that they have returned.  Also, there is a noticeable increase in insect life and I’ve observed bumble bees, hornets, and small butterflies going about their business.  The sound of running water is always in the background.  Picking up a head-shaped piece of Styrofoam I begin to form a new figure.

Head of a new figure in my hands, May 2013

So far, it’s a smiling figure with a segment of pliable found plastic for a mouth.  The ears and nose are also plastic toy pieces.  The eyes are river-tumbled pebbles of coal.  I use my pocket knife to do this work. The next step is to add a body.

In process Styro-figure, May 2013

I chose a hunk of Styrofoam from my larder that seemed torso-like.  Feeling that it required additional detail, I added two walnuts to reinforce the chest idea.  I further added a third piece of Styrofoam that simulates a pelvis and gives the figure added length.  Some internal sense for proportion told me I needed to do this even though the entire idea and the resulting figure strikes me as being absurd and who else would notice or even care about this?  Beaver-gnawed willow rods connect the head and hips to the torso. Over the years, my working methods have evolved and I definitely have material and form preferences where none existed at the start of this project in 2003.  Through trial and error I selected wooden driftwood arms and legs to give my static figure some life, energy, and a suggestion of movement.  Here is the first photograph of this spring figure made in the place it was created.  Later, the two of us would go out to explore the landscape around the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Spring Styro-figure with yellow ears, Falls of the Ohio, May 2013

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