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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

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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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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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pollinating tree, April 2013

It’s Thunder Over Louisville weekend which means the largest fireworks extravaganza in North America will happen tonight.  This is the kickoff event for the Kentucky Derby Festival which culminates in the horse race itself on the first Saturday in May.  The festival is a two-week event and while fun for residents and visitors…can also be an obstacle course if you are trying to get around town.  I like using the bridge on 2nd Street to get to the Falls of the Ohio State Park, but it is shut down and being used for the fireworks display.  At its height, Thunder Over Louisville (which also includes an air show) has drawn 800,000 people to the banks of the Ohio River on a single day.  I’m hoping to access the river and the park tomorrow.  For the moment, I have images to post from my last visit.  Looking through the pictures, it occurred to me that I had captured moments in the lives of individual trees that I would like to share.  The area continues to green up and many trees are producing their pollen.  For allergy sufferers, this is an especially difficult time.  If I was affected by seasonal allergies…I doubt I could do this project.  There is something about being in the bottom of the Ohio Valley that seems to bring out the worst for those allergic to various molds and pollen.

driftwood at the creek, April 2013

driftwood at the creek, April 2013

driftwood lining the banks of the creek, April 2013

I started this adventure on the Woodland Loop Trial near the Interpretive Center.  The path eventually leads to a small creek that at the moment has a tremendous amount of driftwood lining the contours of its banks.  All this wood was deposited here by the Ohio River swollen from winter rain and snow melt all along the length and breath of the river valley.  More high water could eventually carry all this wood back out into the river for parts unknown.  Still, this represents a lot of trees.  I have this idea in my head that as a result of climate change, we have all this extra water and energy in our weather systems?  Where does the water from retreating glaciers and Arctic melting go?  I’m guessing that some of it is evaporated out of the oceans and into a warming atmosphere where it influences the global weather patterns?  This excess water eventually precipitates out causing more severe weather events including flooding.  This increases riverbank erosion and tree loss.  Is there a limit on how much water the atmosphere can absorb?    Of course development along the rivers takes its share of trees too.  The cumulative effect of many actions continues to shape the environment.

tree too close to the river, April 2013

tree roots and river mud, April 2013

These exposed tree roots are something that I’m noticing more of at the Falls of the Ohio.  I’m assuming that frequent high water causes this?  This isn’t necessarily fatal and these trees can survive as long as the riverbank stays in place.  In addition to more water…an increase in storm related wind velocity has also been noticeable over the years.  We have had a lot of trees simply blow over and be lost in this manner.  Continuing to walk westward in the park, I can see that my favorite cottonwood tree continues to be developed as a party hang-out.

cottonwood tree party hangout, Falls of the Ohio, April 2013

fire pit outside the tree fort, April 2013

distant view of downtown Louisville from inside tree fort, April 2013

I posted on this wonderful cottonwood tree not too long a go and remarked on how it was once again becoming a focal point for parties.  The fire pits are larger and there are more beer bottles and cans around this tree than before.  I’ll bet this place is especially magical illuminated by camp fires.  Plus, more found wood has been used to hide a large silvery sheet of corrugated plastic to impart a more naturalistic appearance.  From inside and under the tree, you can see in the distance part of the downtown skyline of Louisville which will be filled with fireworks tonight.  Over the years, this tree has been discovered by different generations of folks and continues to hang in there.  I hope this will always be the case.  The next big flood will eventually wash all the additions away as it has done before.

tree with snagged wooden pallet, April 2013

Here’s an image that demonstrates how high the river can rise.  This snagged pallet has been hanging out on this tree branch for a couple of years now.  Trees can demonstrate some resilience in the face of adversity.  I know of a couple of trees at the Falls that have made use of improvised “planters”.

Willow growing within a tire, April 2013

Cast off tires are a ubiquitous element of river-born trash.  Somehow this willow tree has found a sheltering toehold in this wheel.  I’m curious to learn whether this tree can continue to grow and survive in what is ultimately a restrictive space?  On this walk, I also came across this unusual juxtaposition and thought it might fit in this post too.

willow roots, plastic laundry basket, and clothing item, April 2013

This may be as near as I come to having a tree suggest that it could do laundry too!  The surface root of an old willow tree has caught this old jacket.  The last high water floated this plastic laundry basket into this area and it settled next to the root.  This is not your average still life.  The gravel in the photo was deposited here by the last of the retreating ice age glaciers.

Sauger Man, April 2013

 

To conclude this post…as I was walking along the loop side of the trail, I spotted  a piece of Styrofoam in a ditch.  Retrieving it I discovered one of my previous sculptures from several months a go.  I originally included him in a story that featured sauger fishermen.  Except for a missing nose, the sculpture was complete.  I was surprised that it survived intact going on several months now.  Looking through my collecting bag…I replaced the lost nose with another piece of found plastic and set him up to greet visitors along the trail.  Here’s a final picture showing him next to a tree that the wind blew down last year.  Thanks for hanging out with me for the past thousand words.  Have a great weekend!

Sauger Man, under a tree trunk, Falls of the Ohio, April 2013

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It is late autumn at the Falls of the Ohio and soon all the leaves will be gone having succumbed to the wind, rain, and frost.  For now, there is still color and it is during this transitory moment within the season that the memories of past loved ones comes to my mind and heart.  I was walking along the riverbank recently and thinking about my grandfather and so I created this story for him out of thanks, sticks, and river-worn Styrofoam!

Perhaps it’s the shimmer and play of light upon the water that helps those who have gone before to communicate with the living?  I can picture him now, very tall and very thin and neatly dressed with his fancy bow-tie.  Because he took an interest in me as a boy, I in return have never forgotten him.  My grandfather was not a particular eloquent man, but as the saying goes and there is truth in this…actions do speak louder than words. 

Grandpa or Opa as I sometimes called him loved to tend his small flower garden.  In the heart of the old city this was how he kept his connection to the soil.  And because his garden was tiny it was also precious and everything that happened in it took on added significance.  When a new flower bloomed …that was a cause for celebration as were the times when some new never before seen bird would alight in the yard even for the briefest of moments.  All these little events were full of meaning  to my grandfather and now I see that I inherited this ability too.  Finding wonder when life is at its most mundane is a true gift.

When I was a very small boy my Opa would put me upon his shoulders and give me a unique perspective on the world.  He moved along the city’s canals so easily and I was able to take in all that was going on around me.  I would describe him as being a patient person, but there were some things he found difficult to tolerate.

Perhaps at the top of his list was injustice.  He had lived during the hard times of a world war when his city was occupied.  He had witnessed and experienced how his fellow human beings could be callous and cruel to each other.  When the war ended and prosperity returned, it bothered Grandpa to see how the very land itself was treated with little regard.  He knew about the magic that could happen even in the smallest plot of dirt.  To treat the ground as a garbage can is an injustice to the earth.

Our walks together were always learning opportunities and this was fun for me.  Grandpa seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the living things around him.  He said that life was so interesting that he needed to know about it, but that he was alright too when there were no answers.  He also found contentment in the mystery of it all and that somehow it fit together and worked.  His true position in life was balanced between the twin poles of knowing and not knowing.  It was important to remain open to recognize and receive wisdom when it did come his way.

If my Grandfather could see what is happening with our treatment of the environment…I know it would upset him.  Before the war (which was bad enough) there was also a world-wide depression.  To get by and make ends meet, everything that could be reused and repurposed was.  People even knew how to fix and repair things because they had to if they were going to have anything extra at all.  Creativity and thrift were virtues because they were survival skills.  Nothing was thrown away without careful consideration.  Now economies are based on mass consumption and disposability and something else has been lost in the process.

Grandpa told me that if we didn’t take care of all our precious resources, then we were in danger of losing ourselves.  The more we change the land, the more it changes us and that our ultimate fate is intertwined with what happens in the real world.  Here on the banks of the Ohio River my Grandfather’s concerns have come back to me.  Now I am a father and someday I too may become a grandparent.  During my lifetime, I would like to feel that we can be reawakened to the needs of the planet so that we could build towards the most positive and healthy future possible.

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I never have a dull visit to the Falls of the Ohio.  Each time I come out here I can expect an adventure of one type or another.  On this day the river had noticeably receded and this large boulder of Styrofoam that I had been watching for days as it floated out here was finally on the shore.  I tried to move it, but it was so waterlogged and heavy that I gave up…for now.  All around it were Styro-bits that were ground off by abrading against logs and the sandy bottom.

Near my polystyrene giant was this section of the riverbank.  It’s the aftermath of a tug of war we are engaging in with the planet.  In this type of struggle there are no winners.  Recent images from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico come to mind which incredibly still flows unabated weeks later.  Since much of the garbage in this photo is derived from petrochemicals, I wonder if this also could qualify as an oil spill?  If I scooped up a handful of sand around here…I would see tiny bits of plastic and the ever-present polystyrene bead.  This stuff is likely to never go away.  But life does try to keep carrying on as it always has.  I also came across this interesting beetle and a smile returned to my face.

I have seen these out here before.  It’s an Eastern Eyed Click Beetle and I think I read somewhere that this is our largest click beetle.  If you placed this beetle on its back, it would flip right side up with an audible “click”.  Hence click beetle.  There are other species, but they are all smaller.  This one is just under two inches (about five centimeters).  It’s coloration is similar to a bird dropping, but it also has these dramatic eyes on its pronotum.  These guys do fly, but most of their lives are spent as larvae living in decayed wood.  I passed by the mulberry tree with its ripening berries and there are birds who just can’t resist this plentiful food source.

Among the bird species eating fruit from this tree included this Blue Jay…

…and this Catbird which does make odd sounds which sometimes sound like the mewing of a cat (hence catbird!).  They can be quite territorial to their own and other species too.

Not too far from this tree, I could hear some squabbling going on and I moved towards the sound.  You can imagine my surprise when I came upon this scene!  I stayed hidden behind a large willow and just observed.

There were these two little figures and one of them was tugging on a rope attached to a plastic gasoline container and his “friend” with the wierd hairdo was jumping up and down on one leg trying to get him to stop!

The figure with the rope eventually succeeded in knocking the container over while his friend continued hopping!  What he thought he was going to do with this gas can is a mystery?  He soon grew frustrated with his efforts and a shouting match between the two began.  That deteriorated into another contest where each tried to take the rope from the other.

All this effort must have been exhausting because after a little while they gave up and abandoned the rope and the gas can leaving them lying on the sand.  They reconciled and walked away from here hand in hand. 

Perhaps they realized the futility of their struggle and came to their senses?  Perhaps they recognized that it was better to conserve their energies for more constructive pursuits?  Who knows, but while I pondered these questions I came across another image of futility and I will leave you with that until next time.

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Earth Day sign, 2009

Around here Earth Day was observed a little early!  In the Louisville area our social calenders begin to reflect the influences of the Kentucky Derby Festival.  Next weekend is “Thunder Over Louisville”, which each year is usually the largest fireworks display in the country.  This is the second year in a row I have been invited to present my project and art at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center.osprey at Earth Day                                                                         

 

Seeing this Osprey so close to the center was a good sign for me.  You don’t usually see one perched on a branch so close to where people are.

Earth Day, 2009

Presenters set up both inside the center and outside on the grounds.  Artists, business people, and environmental advocates talked and handed out literature on how to make our area more sustainable and Earth friendly.  The center’s staff and volunteers were very helpful.

Earth Day, 2009

These folks are working on a peace-themed totem pole made from red cedar.  The symbols carved into the wood represent many cultures.

Log Man at Earth Day

I saved “Log Man” for this event and here he is posed next to one of the interpretive center’s displays.  The response to my work was very positive.  Most people were curious about the Styrofoam and asked many questions about my process and reasons for doing what I do.  By the end of the day, I was a bit hoarse from talking so much.  Usually, when I’m in the field I may talk to a couple brave souls curious about what I’m doing.  At this event, I get to converse with dozens.  I enjoy talking to kids because they understand what it is to be creative and that everyday should be Earth Day.

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