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Posts Tagged ‘Falls of the Ohio State Park’

Each year has a different character to it and for what I do at the Falls of the Ohio, a lot depends upon what I find.  Last year, there was an abundance of plastic bottles in a full spectrum of colors that stood out among the natural driftwood.  This year, we have had a mostly high river due to locally intense rains throughout the Ohio River Valley.  There have been successive waves of wood and plastic that have had me wandering the wrack lines filling my collecting bags and stuffing my computer with images.  The Falls are not a big area, but the dynamic changes that rearrange the riverbank keep it interesting.  This year I have concentrated mostly on formal arrangements on site using flip-flop sandals, plastic soft drink bottles with colored backwash in them, and I have also been astounded by the number of cigarette lighters I have been finding.  Following are a few of the many compositions I have already made this year.Chromatic arrangement in Flip-flops, Falls of the Ohio, Feb, 2017

Made this one on a sunny day in February.  I found all these flip-flops on a single walk along the riverbank which is how I still like to work out here.  I get ideas for projects based on what that day’s walk presents.  Kind of like going to the grocery store and seeing what’s ripe and in season.

Flip-flop arrangement on the sand, Falls of the Ohio, March 2017

Why flip-flops?  First, they are a ubiquitous part of human life around the river and they float and travel great distances to reach the park.  I also like the idea that these sandals are unique to the people who wore them and have their “soul or spirit” imprinted on them.  They come in a variety of colors and sizes and can be as variable as people.  There is also that saying about not understanding others until you can stand in their shoes.

Flip-flop ring, Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

A work from April of this year made with flip-flops.  Some colors seem to be harder to find than others particularly a true red or yellow.  Once in a while, I will also pick up and use the sole of some other kind of foot ware if I think it will come in “handy”.

Cottonwood Tree Composition, late May 2017, Falls of the Ohio

My latest flip-flop composition from late May.  Sited in the western section of the park, this piece is situated by a favorite cottonwood tree that I have shown in posts many times before.  It uniquely has a space under the roots that you can stand under.  It is a favorite place for locals to party.  Now for the next part of this post…”Mystery Fluids”.

Found soft drink and sport drink bottles with partial contents, Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

Usually found floating in rivers and other bodies of water are these partially consumed sport and soft drinks capped and in their bottles.  At the Falls of the Ohio I find them intermixed with the driftwood and everything else too.  Often, it is the bottom of the bottle that is sticking up from the wood.  I think being starved for color is why I gravitated towards this common element of our waste stream.  When the light hits these bottles just right…the colors can be very jewel-like and attractive.  Here are a few of the projects and images I made with them this year.

Found bottles and contents with the skyline of Louisville, Feb. 2017

Found bottles and contents, western section of the Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

Found bottle composition with contents, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

I have photographed these bottles in a variety of contexts and combinations over the year.  Their contents are amazingly well-preserved and I have never found one that had mold growing in it.  It could be that conditions have rendered these bottles sterile?  Did they get too hot, too cold, not enough oxygen?  Certainly, there is plenty of sugar, electrolytes, and preservatives in them.  On site, I usually have arranged them on the back of stranded logs or boards that have floated in here and then I take my pictures and walk away.  At my main outdoor studio…I have now been caching some of these bottles and flip-flops too for later in the year when the water level is low.  Now for the final category….found cigarette lighters.

Found cigarette lighters by various manufacturers, Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

Took this photograph a few days a go and represents my record for found cigarette lighters in one day out at the Falls of the Ohio.  I think there are 103 lighters here all gleaned from the driftwood.  I have always known that cigarette lighters are out here, but not until now have I concentrated on them.  When you begin looking for them, they can be everywhere up and down the riverbank and intermixed with the driftwood.  Once upon a time, the ability to create fire was a special and important skill.  It’s more than the climate that is changing.  Before I show you what I made with a hundred lighters, here are some earlier attempts.

BIC lighter color line, found cigarette lighters from the Falls of the Ohio, 2017

This found lighter composition is unique in that only “Bic” brand lighters were used.  The are arranged on the back of a log.  I still like referencing light through color.  The irony of our dependence on fossil fuels to make things like plastic and energy is that it comes from sequestered carbon created from sunlight by plants living millions of years a go.  Now we need to just look up in the sky to see that same source of energy in the here and now.

88 Cigarette Lighter Oval, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

I think from April?, but definitely the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Created this oval from 88 found lighters.  The river was still very high and this arrangement is up against the riverbank.

Found Lighter Circle, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

68 Found Lighter Circle, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

Lighter circle made with 68 found cigarette lighters.   You can see the marks my fingers made in the sand adjusting the lighters to expand the circle.

Nearly forgot about this one!  “Stump Star” composed of 48 found lighters, a yellow reflector, and of course…a stump.  Made under the willow trees, the light playing through the tree canopy made this piece hard to photograph.  It just occurred to me that I have no idea where butane comes from?  All of these once stored compressed butane.  As these physical objects age and are exposed to the elements, their metal components are the first to corrode and rust away.

Another day and visit to the river.  I try to maximize each opportunity out here by making as many site specific pieces from the various materials I encounter.  Here’s a quick piece with my the toes of my shoes poking in for good measure.  I call this one “Keep Calm” because there’s one lighter that says that…or “From Clear to Blue” because if you look closely you can see between the white and blue lighters is one clear one.  So far, that’s the only one like that I’ve seen out here.  Okay, one more to end with and it’s the one with over a hundred lighters.  I made another composition with these lighters, but decided to try a more open design and it turned out better than the first.Double-spiral Cigarette Lighter Composition, Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

When given the chance to go to the river or write about past experiences…I will opt for the river, unless the weather is bad and it has already rained hard today.  I’m staying busy and engaged with art all around me which has had a calming effect on me considering all the political decisions people are making regarding the health of the environment and everything else too.  If you are interested in some of what’s in the Ohio River and other rivers in this country…then I’m your blog.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Double Spiral found cigarette lighter composition at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

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Louisville as seen for the Indiana shoreline. March 26, 2016

Today is Easter and close enough to month’s end to post an article of little things that weren’t quite strong enough to be posts unto themselves.  Since almost all of our holidays have a significant material culture connection to them…it’s “natural” that I would find some of the remains here at the Falls of the Ohio.  Just looking at recent images, here are a few such holiday related objects and images to ponder.

Plastic rabbit image, Falls of the Ohio, March 26, 2016

Found plastic objects in context at the Falls of the Ohio, March 26, 2016

Crushed and mix among all the other debris is the remains of what was probably a child’s Easter basket.  Although a novel item, I can remember in “my day”, the colorful wooden baskets worked just as well as the plastic ones, but without the long-term ramifications.  Interestingly, this plastic basket “mimics” the texture of an actual wooden basket.  Here are a couple of “egg-related” images to enjoy.

Giant, blue plastic egg, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I certainly would be very afraid of the giant American Robin that laid this large blue egg!  This is how it appeared when I first encountered it on the driftwood pile.  This picture is from last year and I eventually used it for an all-blue colored assemblage.  This egg does not come apart and was made to be purely decorative.  One more egg picture to go and here it is.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf with Sponge Bob egg, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf (facing left) with Sponge Bob egg, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

Two views of the extremely rare and transient bird, Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf, interacting with a found plastic egg.  I photographed this bird investigating/playing? with this bright yellow plastic egg with a Sponge Bob Squarepants design on it.  I’m certain the egg once contained Easter candy in it, but now that it’s empty it becomes a candidate for the worldwide junk pile.  To see more Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf images please see my previous post.  People ask me all the time…”Al, have you ever found anything of real value?”  Usually, I reply that I’m waiting for that solid gold ingot to wash up here…but I’m not holding my breath on that one!  Recently, however, I did come across something that had great value for someone and here it is.

Stolen purse with wallet inside, March 2016, Found at the Falls of the Ohio

Walking along the riverbank in the eastern section of the park…I spied a soggy and muddy purse at the water’s edge.  Investigating further, I could see that there was a wallet and checkbook inside and so I opened up the wallet to see if the owner’s name could be found.  As it turns out, this person’s credit cards, insurance cards, driver’s license, etc…were all still there.  I took the muddy purse home and called the person whom it belongs to and she was thrilled that her purse had turned up somewhere.  She had given it up for lost after someone had broken into her home a week before and took the purse along with a few other electronic items.  The thief who broke into and entered her home only took the seven dollars in cash she had and then threw the purse into the river.  The elderly woman whose purse this is was most anxious to get back the family photos she kept in her wallet.  Included among them were precious black and white photos of her own parents that could not be replaced.  Since the owner lived in Southern Indiana we met the following day at my place of work in New Albany and I gave her property back to her.  That certainly was my good deed for that day.  Here’s another lost and found item I’m posting just for fun.  First, here’s how this object appeared as I came across it.

Synthetic fur patch buried into the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, March 26, 2016

On first blush…I recoiled slightly because I associated the brown fur with a dead animal.  I have found several dead deer out here this year and if this was that…I wanted nothing to do with it.  Looking more closely and since few animals are this uniformly brown I could make out that it was synthetic fur and not the real thing.  So, I reached down and lifted the mystery object from its sand, mud, and wood chip debris matrix to reveal…

Tasmanian Devil character plush toy, Falls of the Ohio, March 26, 2016

…this good size plush toy of the Tasmanian Devil (aka “Taz”).  I guess he was waiting to ambush any unsuspecting prey like me that came across its path.  Years a go, I found a much smaller Tasmanian Devil and posted about that one too, but this one was truly “trophy size”.  And now, to introduce someone who actually knows something about the history of Tasmania.

Dutch artist Chiel Kuijl at the Falls of the Ohio, March 26, 2016

This is Chiel Kuijl who is visiting from the Netherlands and is at the time of this writing the current Artist at Residence at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky.  I ran into him the day the Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf was spotted out at the Falls.  Chiel is creating a site specific work at Bernheim using rope to create an elevated space that people can explore.  He needed some interesting pieces of wood for his installation and the Falls of the Ohio State Park is a great place for that.  I have had the chance to interact a little bit more with Chiel so far and look forward to his finished project and hanging out with him more.  Oh, Tasmania was visited early on by Dutch sailors who help put it onto the world’s map.  Holland has a great seafaring tradition and I wouldn’t doubt that some of Chiel’s skill with ropes and knots is a part of that heritage.  One more artist to talk about before closing…"Artist at Exit 0" issue of Southern Indiana LIving, March-April 2016 issue

The current issue of Southern Indiana Living features an article about me…the Artist at Exit 0 written by good friend and retired Courier-Journal columnist Bob Hill.  Bob now in his “retirement” also runs Hidden Hills nursery where unusual and rare plants and trees are offered for sale.  Every once in a while, Bob will invite artists to place projects at Hidden Hills which is what I will do in late May.  The day we went out to see something about the world I like to explore it is was about twenty degrees or so and an earlier attempt at a photo shoot was thwarted by snow and extreme cold.  Here is the link for the article should anyone care to check that out…Artist at Exit 0 magazine article.  This issue is good for one more month and I have had a lot of fun with this and have been gratified by the response from friends and family through Facebook.  The actual article begins on page 22 and the link allows you to turn the pages of the magazine which is cool too.  Well, there you have it…my odds and ends post to conclude March 2016.  Spring is starting out warm and promising and I look forward to many more new adventures on the Indiana side of the Ohio River.  See you then!

detail of the face on a Tasmanian Devil plush toy

 

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High water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

It was Leap Day, February 29 when I went back out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For the third consecutive week the Ohio River has been high and all my usual spots are underwater.  This post is being written a week later and the river is still covering most of my spots along the riverbank.  For the past month, I have been active mainly in the western section of the park.

Fallen Tree and high water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

In the western area of the Falls,  the riverbank rises to greet a sliver of woods.  Standing on the top most level along the bank, this latest high water we are experiencing is about 8 to 12 feet below your feet, but in most places the river directly butts up to the bank and so there are few “beaches” to stand on and explore.  It is during these moments that you can most directly see and feel how a high river can upset and erode the riverbank.  I imagine that over time, the river will keep getting wider as the trees are undermined by the waters.  As I was searching for new sites and materials to work with…I decided to walk a bit more in the woods than I usually do.  Right now is a good time to do this before the vines and mosquitoes make it more difficult and unpleasant.

Found whitetail deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

As I was walking along the muddy paths I couldn’t help noticing how heavy the deer traffic was in this area.  Their tracks were everywhere and almost on cue, I came across five antler-less whitetail deer that were moving away from me near the tree line.  I liked this little area mostly because I came across small stands of bamboo-like river cane.  The old timers say that river cane used to be more plentiful and once helped to define the area more than it does now.  Walking along, I saw something white laying on its side and it turned out to be a deer skull from a small doe.  In the early days of my Artist at Exit 0 project, it was uncommon to come across deer tracks and years passed before I actually saw one out here.  All that has changed now.  This is the third deer skull I have found in the park in the last two years.  Their presence throughout the Falls of the Ohio has visibly increased which is probably not a good thing for such a small park as this one.

Deer skull mounted on a tree, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

I decided to leave the skull behind for someone else to discover.  Finding a suitable tree along the path, I mounted the skull on the knobby remains of a branch to mark this area as being particularly deer favored.  It was just a short hike from here to reach the river’s high edge again.

Wood debris in the water, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Eventually, I did find a hundred yard or so stretch of muddy bank that I could access and walk around.  It was located in a sheltered area where this was a slight bend in the river.  The prevailing currents and wind had pushed a large amount of debris against the bank and most of it consisted of wood and bark bits with the now expected plastic garbage mixed in for good measure.  I immediately began to find “stuff” and here are a few pictures of my “prized” finds.

Plastic drumstick, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Here is something for my Fake Food Collection…a small, plastic drumstick.  Over the years, I have found a few of this exact plastic poultry leg and so this is not exactly a unique find.  Note the teeth marks probably from the family dog?

Found green plastic frog toy, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Although the spring peepers are starting to be heard in our area…this one will never make a sound.

Found plastic toy hammer, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

I now have an impressive collection of found toy hammers and mallets and they are all made of plastic.  I need to take a photo of that collection and post it which is another in a line of weirdly specific things I have found out here.

Found Smiley Faces, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Here are two more “Smiley Faces” that are the latest ones I have found out here.  The larger is a volleyball and I’m not sure what the smaller one was intended for?  I haven’t looked at it again since I dropped it into the old collecting bag.  As I was exploring, what I couldn’t help but notice along this particular stretch of riverbank was how common toy balls of all sizes and sports that I was finding.  I decided to pick up all the ones I could access and make a collection of them all.  Here is that image.

A pile of various found balls, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Detail of found balls, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

So, what is your sport?  In this motley collection of forty plus river-found balls we have American footballs, soccer balls, basketballs (of course since this is major basketball country), golf balls, tennis balls, playground balls, Styrofoam balls, softballs, a plastic bowling ball, a volleyball, several ball pit balls, and couple of novelty balls, etc…  Of course, balls are the perfect floating object since they are round and roll easily and since they are usually inflated with air they are buoyant as well.  As the day was starting to get late and I had found all the balls in the area that I could reach…it was time to start for home.  I’m looking forward to the river dropping down and the temperatures to begin to rise.  Soon the spring bird migration will be passing through and I’m hopeful of seeing a few Rose-breasted grosbeaks and maybe a Scarlet Tanager or two.  One more image of my made on the spot ball collection looking back on an interesting day at the Falls of the Ohio.

Improvised Ball Collection, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

 

 

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Flooded trees at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Imagine my surprise to return to the same spot I had been working at last week…only to find it underwater!  Such was the case on my latest foray to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  In the week since I was last here, we did experience one day where it pretty much rained all day long.  Still, in my experience, the intensity of that storm would not account for all the high water I was seeing during this visit.  Flooding in February is commonplace, but also usually tied to snow melt in the upper Ohio River Valley.  Perhaps what I was seeing was a combination of heavy rains upriver from Louisville and snow melt?  Regardless, this required a change in plans in the field.  I decided to go where nature would allow me to go.  In this case, high, dry land was to be found in the western section of the park.  I had to walk widely around the edge of a rising river, but this interstitial zone between wet and dry is often a very interesting place to explore.

 

Found green plastic toy Tug Boat, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Found, green plastic tug boat toy, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Among today’s discoveries includes this green plastic, tug boat that floated in with the high water.  This, however, was not the only transportation related toy that I found on my walk.  Here is something else that I came across.

Found plastic doll car, Falls of the Ohio,  Feb. 7, 2016

It’s missing two wheels, but this plastic toy car may have given a Barbie-sized doll a ride once upon a time.  How long had this piece of plastic been floating in the river?  I like to go down to the river’s edge because this is such a dynamic place.  You never know what might be washing ashore while you are there!  Soon I reached an area that was crisscrossed by downed trees and logs that had floated in which forced me away from the water and higher up on the riverbank.  That’s when I made another significant discovery.

The emergence of the Red-eyed Tortoise from it's burrow, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Detail of head of the Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

As I was walking, I heard the distinctive sound of leaves rustling on the ground and I knew an animal was nearby.  I followed the sound to its source and came upon a very rare creature that appeared to be exiting an abandoned groundhog’s burrow.  I took a couple of quick photos and backed off.  This proved to be a good move since my actions did not necessitate a full-scale retreat back into the hole it was emerging from.  Hiding behind a tree, I let the tortoise take its sweet time as it fully came to the surface.  I was practically holding my breath the entire time and for good reason.  It’s not everyday that you get the opportunity to photograph and study one of the world’s rarest reptiles…the Red-eyed Tortoise (Gopherus helmeti).

Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The Red-eyed Tortoise was first discovered by naturalists early in the 19th century.  The Falls of the Ohio (and on the Indiana side of the Ohio River) is the southernmost point of this uncommon creature’s range.  Perhaps they were never plentiful to begin with?  Everything I was witnessing about this tortoise seemed to suggest that it is not only slow, but likes to take its time.  If this animal had a motto it would be something like, “Hey, what’s the big hurry”?

Red-eye Tortoise at the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

I watched as the tortoise very deliberately walked to the water’s edge.  What I knew from books about this reptile was that it is omnivorous, but if it is hungry for live food than positioning itself near a rising river driving small animals up the bank would increase the chances of successfully catching a meal.  Unfortunately, I did not witness anything so dramatic.  In fact, during my time in the presence of this tortoise…I did not see it eat or drink at all.

Red-eyed Tortoise and Cottonwood tree roots, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The tortoise lingered at the edge of the river for a while.  It very deliberately examined the driftwood.  Perhaps this was part of its hunting strategy?  There was something I was very curious about and it had to do with the temperature.  Most reptiles are cold-blooded and require the sun’s energy to warm them up.  Was this also true for this tortoise?  Although it was warmer today, it was still far from spring-like temperatures and so how was this reptile able to deal with the coolness?  The secret resides in its unique shell design and composition.  During the colder days, the tortoise’s carapace is made from a hard, foam-like material that not only protects it from blows, but also insulates and retains what heat this animal is able to generate.  In the warmer weather months, special vents in the carapace do the reverse and provide cooling ports that keep the tortoise from overheating.

Red-eyed Tortoise with found plastic bottles, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

I did catch one other puzzling behavior and it was in connection with a cache of river-born plastic bottles that had accumulated next to a large, downed log.  The tortoise appeared to initially be interested in them, but one sniff had our hard-shelled friend reacting adversely and it moved as quickly as it could away from that area.  I did not personally check out these plastic bottles, but I theorized that one of them was probably still carrying its toxic, noxious contents that the tortoise picked up on?  Regardless, it did beat a retreat away from the river and I followed from a respectful distance.

The Red-eyed Tortoise returning to its burrow, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The last view I had of the Red-eyed Tortoise had it going head-first back down into its winter burrow.  There was a brief “flurry” of legs as dirt and leaves were used by the tortoise to seal the hole back up.  I made a mental note of the area where this burrow is located, but also realized that with the advent of warmer weather…this whole section of woods would transform in practically unrecognizable ways.  Perhaps this is for the best because even with the purest of intentions, I would not want any undo harm to come to it by drawing unnecessary attention to it.  I would be very selective about who I would tell about this tortoise’s existence and even more careful about who would see the images I made of it.  Of course, I hope I will get the chance to see it again, but I’m also prepared to have this be the one and only time I had this direct experience with it.  With the tortoise secure again, I collected my belongings and with the sun setting on my back…started on the long hike back home.  It had been a very special day and one that I would savor for some time to come.

Sun down at a flooded Falls of the Ohio State Park, Feb. 7, 2016

 

 

 

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Ribbon cutting ceremony, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 8, 2016

On January 8 of this new year, the exhibits at the renovated  Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center opened to the public with a grand ribbon cutting ceremony.  The interior of the Interpretive Center had been closed for 13 months.  About 6 million dollars had to be raised to upgrade the 22-year-old permanent educational displays.  After a national search, Louisville-based exhibit design company, Solid Light, Inc. won this high-profile contract and solidified their growing reputation within the exhibit design field.  Judging from the enthusiastic response of the people attending the reopening it was worth the wait.  I played a very small part with a commission to create an assemblage from objects I found in the park and I was eager to see how Solid Light used it.

From "An Ancient Sea", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

video projection of the Devonian Sea, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2015

The displays are divided into four themes or sections beginning with “An Ancient Sea” that highlights early marine life during the Devonian Period.  The extensive fossil beds in the park date roughly to 400 million years ago and are the remains of an early coral reef ecosystem populated with many species of coral, brachiopods, and early fish which make their first appearance during the Devonian Period.  I was glad to see some of the older models that made up the original display were re-purposed into the new display.  The exhibit is interactive and there are hands on elements that children will enjoy.  Large, wall-sized videos help set the scene through many of the sections and in “An Ancient Sea” an animation depicting a shallow marine environment includes fish swimming through sun-dappled waters as trilobites search for food among the corals.

Reconstructed Native American house, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Signage about the Shawnee language, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

The second theme is entitled “A Changing Land” and covers all the geologic changes from the Ice Age to the appearance of the first Americans.  For me, the highlight of this area is the inclusion of the Shawnee language which can be heard spoken inside a reconstructed shelter.  It’s wonderful that the contemporary descendants of these ancient people were involved in the design of this display and acknowledges their presence at the Falls of the Ohio.

Archaic tool display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Prehistoric tools on display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan 8, 2016

Previously, the remains of prehistoric man’s material culture (primarily represented through flint tools) were a focal point in the old center’s displays.  For those worried that examples of the “real thing” would be replaced with virtual images and copies will be pleased that you can still explore original material through some inspired casework.  Be sure to peek inside many of the drawers in the different themed areas to see fine examples of specimens and artifacts.

From " Converging Cultures", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Frontier-themed video image, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Blacksmith video image, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 8, 2016

The third theme “Converging Cultures” recounts the history of the Falls area with the arrival of the Europeans.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition is a key moment not only in the history of the United States, but of the Falls of the Ohio as well.  Many of the men that comprised the “Corps of Discovery” were originally from Kentucky and Southern Indiana.  Wall-sized videos in the Lewis and Clark Theater recount the biographies of many of the men who made this epic transcontinental journey.  The story of John James Audubon is also noted and forms a transition into the last themed area of the new displays.

Display within the "The Falls Today", Jan. 8, 2016

Virtual aquarium image from the "The Falls Today", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

This last section is called “The Falls Today” and focuses upon the Falls of the Ohio as a rich contemporary ecosystem.  Some of the old taxidermy mounts have been reused to highlight some of the many species that live within the park.  Another large video display, this time a virtual aquarium, speaks to the richness of life in the river, particularly the species of game fish that are of interest to fisherman.  There is also a call to responsible and sustainable living and the need to keep pollution at bay.  This is where I come in.  I was commissioned by Solid Light to create an assemblage of found objects that is representative of what can be found in the Ohio River.  Here is the finished result that was placed within its own case with graphic elements added.

River Object Assemblage by Al Gorman, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2018

The panel within the case is 8 feet by 4 feet large.  I posted about the panel as I was creating it and showed many details of the more than 100 different objects that comprise it.  Of course, everything I’ve attached here was found within the context of the park.  The early reaction is that children in particular love looking at all the odd elements especially the found toys.  My panel is among the last things you see as you leave the exhibits area to exit the building.  I’m glad that there has been a greater emphasis in this new interpretation to include the current state of the world.  One could argue that as interesting as the past is…it is the present that is of the greatest concern. Further reinforcing this idea are the results of the minor flooding we experienced the previous week.  As the river has subsided, another massive new inventory of junk has washed into the park.  As I was leaving the ribbon cutting ceremony and walking to my vehicle, I could clearly see how much more work needs to be done.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Detritus on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Jan. 8, 2016

 

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Four trees with exposed roots, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Here’s a little story set at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana that will help carry us into the new year.  This tale is from a few weeks back, but I have been saving it.  I have, however, been using many of the images I created on this day for use with my Christmas cards.  Making ornaments, setting up holiday lights, and coming up with a new batch of cards to give away are my ways of getting into the spirit of the season.  I also enjoy attempting to put into words something about my Falls experiences and the following is this year’s gift from the river.  Today, we are in the western section of the park.  I know of four special trees with exposed roots (three sycamores and one cottonwood) that hang out together and have survived a very tough year and were due a visit from me.  With the daylight fading, this would be a good place to watch the sun set as the Ohio River turns left on its journey westward.

Styro-Snowman, full face view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015Getting into the right spirit of the season can be difficult for some folks.  Especially, when the weather is abnormally warm and you were hoping for snow to get winter kick started in the right direction.  The Falls of the Ohio, like much of the eastern portion of our country, is currently in the grips of El Nino.  Our area has set several all-time records for heat for this time of year.  What a contrast from last year’s polar vortex!  As luck would have it, the Styro-Snowman happened to be around when I was visiting the river.  I stuck around to see what would happen next.

The Snow Star arrives, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Although this snowman wore a fixed expression, his odd movements communicated befuddlement?  Something was missing or just not right.  I could see him looking around for something…perhaps a reminder of the season, but nothing appeared obvious?  After roaming the fossil cliffs for several minutes he stopped and looked towards the sky.  That’s when an amazing thing happened and if I didn’t have these pictures to prove it…I am sure you would not believe me.  As the sun, our star, was setting…another star much smaller and shaped like a snowflake descended from the sky.  I wondered if my friend here had willed it to him or did the star appear spontaneously?  As the star drifted by the Styro-being reached up and gently brought the star down to earth.  I could sense a feeling of joy coming over the snowman.

Styro-snowman gets a big idea, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Along with the snowflake star…a small white sack appeared on the ground.  Inside the sack were five, slightly beat up plastic tree ornaments like the kind you can sometimes find at the Falls after the flooding has subsided.  The snowman looked into the sack a pulled out a roughed up, but still functional, deep red ornament.  His expression widened and I almost felt like I was reading his mind.  The snowman walked over to one of the four trees with the great roots and began decorating its branches.

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The first tree the snowman embellished had a more open arrangement with ornaments hung on several branches.  For whatever reason, the snowman didn’t find this to be satisfactory and he took his five ornaments off and moved to another nearby tree.

Hanging the ornaments with care, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Hung the ornaments on the branches of a sycamore, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

On a low hanging limb of another rugged sycamore, the snowman hung up his ornaments with care.  He saved his bright red bauble for last and placed it upon the branch which was accomplished precariously by standing on a large tree root.  The snowman looked content when he was finished and paused a moment or two to soak up his handiwork.

The Styro-snowman admiring his work, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Styro-snowman with baubles arranged all in a row, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Oddly, the snowman had hung up his ornaments in a straight line that ascended the tree branch.  Wordlessly, I could tell that he was moved by this alignment, but why?  The tree, after all, could have been decorated any number of ways.  Something about this configuration made me think of celestial models and how we rank planets based by size or their proximity to the sun.  The now extraordinary branch seemingly had this cosmic link going for it.  The snowman stood behind his decorations and peered up the line which seemed to be sighted to a particular spot in the night sky that seemed a little darker than the surrounding space.

Returning the star to its rightful place, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Without saying a single word, the Styro-Snowman elevated the star that had come to him from high above.  He had borrowed some of its magic and now it was his time to pass it on.  It floated off until it reached that now dark spot in the firmament that it normally occupied.  A bright flash of light signaled that the snow star was back in position.  It is said that all life contains a little star power within it and I think I just witnessed that in action.  With his spirit lifted, the snowman looked over his shoulders at me and with his fixed acorn smile disappeared into the river.

I dedicate this little story to all who seek some personal connection to the spirit of the season or who simply are following magic stars of their own.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Season’s Greetings from the Falls of the Ohio.

Found Christmas star in the shape of a snowflake, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

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Ruined toy shopping cart, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Here’s a tale from my last visit to the river which happened to be a wondrous and warm Thanksgiving morning at the Falls of the Ohio.  Before the family gatherings and the feasts that  followed, I jumped out of bed to put in a few hours of personal time.  As I recall, on this day last year it was 17 degrees and we had already experienced a snow fall.  Despite Turkey Day’s  balmy 70 degrees, I didn’t see many other folks out here with the exception of a few early rising fisherman who were casting for Sauger near the dam.  Nobody seemed to be having much luck catching fish. I decided that I needed to start off my holiday season by doing a little holiday shopping Falls style.  Meaning, no money is required…just come out here and sooner or later you will find something interesting that drifted in with the driftwood.  After all, everything out here has a story connected to it.  It’s finder’s keepers on the riverbank and you can cross off your gift list those particularly “hard to shop for” loved ones in practically no time at all!  First, you need a shopping cart and after searching around I found this…see above picture.  Despite its small size…I decided to pass on this find because the missing wheels would just get in the way.  I decided that one of my many collecting bags would have to suffice.  So, what kinds of things stood out on this day?

Osage orange, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I came across many fruits from the Osage-orange tree (Maclura pomifera).  I love their glowing color and weird surfaces that remind me of brains.  A squirrel  was eating one when I approached.  I have heard of people who put these fruits in their closets and trunks to keep insect pests away from their out of season clothes.  People do collect and sell these soft ball size fruits for this purpose.  Osage-orange trees have quite a few other nicknames including:  hedge apple, monkey ball, horse apple, mock orange, and yellow-wood.  Potentially this orb could be a stocking stuffer for an organically inclined friend or two?  Our next item was found waiting for me on the wet and slimy fossil beds.  The rocks were so slick, I had trouble remaining upright as I approached the mystery object.

Soggy fabric "Hulk" hand, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Here’s something else sporting an unusual shade of green.  As gentle river waves lapped the exposed limestone fossil beds…something that looked like a large fist presented itself lying next to driftwood logs.  As I suspected when I first spotted this item…it was a toy “Hulk” hand.  Essentially, this is an over-sized, comic book character, soft boxing glove that a child could insert their own hand within when their inner Bruce Bannon gets overwhelmed by their raging Hulk persona!  Smashing could then ensue.  I considered dropping this into the collecting bag, but it was so heavily saturated with river water.  Still, definitely a pop culture item that would be appreciated once the darned thing dried out.  I’ll come back to this later, unless someone who wants it more takes it home first!

Two large chunks of found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

After I did my rounds around the Willow Habitat, I headed for my outdoor studio under the trees.  I had stashed two large chunks of found Styrofoam at my site that had floated into the park earlier in the spring with this year’s flooding.  I had to wait months for the largest piece to thoroughly dry out before I could even attempt to lift it.  These larger chunks may originally have been parts of boat docks which do absorb water while retaining buoyancy.  As I was imagining what I could make with this material, a stranger approached me.  I was so rapt upon my polystyrene pair that I had let my usual guard down.

Giant Styro-Snow Shovel Man, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Face of Giant Styro Snow Shovel Man, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

“Excuse me…I don’t mean to disturb or startle you, but do you mind if I ask you a question?”  I’m sure I must have had that slack-jawed look of amazement on my face!  The absurd looking persona in front of me was much taller than myself.  I estimated he was at least 6 feet 5 inches or even slightly taller than that.  Dressed all in white, he had a large nose and two eyes that were different colors on an otherwise huge head.  Over one of his shoulders he was carrying a snow shovel that was missing half its snow blade.  I did my best to gather my wits and replied in a slightly cracked voice…”Sure, what’s your question?”  It’s not that unusual for people (especially children) who see me out here to wonder about what I’m doing?

Large absurd figure at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Giant absurd figure, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

“Can you hear that?” asked the giant.  I’m sure I looked puzzled and so he repeated the question.  I then stood still and listened and replied that all I heard were the local birds moving through the trees.  I had noticed earlier that the chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers and other seasonable birds had been especially active on this beautiful day.  My large “friend”, however, said that it wasn’t the birds he was hearing but rather something more abstract than that.  My response was to ask him what he was hearing that seemed beyond the threshold of my own hearing (which is no mean feat these days)?  The big guy gave a one word response to me and it was…”Winter”.

detail of the head from the Giant Styro Snow Shovel Man, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

The big guy had this wistful look upon his strange visage and he said, “Winter is coming my friend and that is what I hear.”  He then continued, “This year is nearly history now and all it’s good, bad, and indifferent moments will be covered up by a cold, white blanket of forgetfulness.”  I’m sure he was right about that, but it did seem odd considering it was 70 degrees outside today!

Large, absurd figure with half a snow shovel, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I asked my new acquaintance if he thought this was going to be a particularly tough winter since he seemed to be presenting himself as something of an authority on the subject?

He replied, “That’s difficult to say considering all the weather patterns and all the factors that generate the weather are in a state of flux.”  He continued, “It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen the planet be this confused.  I have been wandering the land gathering clues and I’m afraid, that I can’t give you an accurate forecast.  The only thing I’m sure of is that at some point winter will arrive and I will be out here to meet it.”

My own thoughts turned to an episode of Falls of the Ohio history.  This whole river valley was originally sculpted by one of the last glaciers at the close of the last Ice Age.  You can even find deposits of gravel here that date from that period thousands of years a go.

Styro Snow Shovel Man facing the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Styro Snow Shovel Man waiting for winter to arrive, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I had to ask this Styro-Snow Shovel Man if he believed the changes in the weather had something to do with our species’ activities?  “Well”, he said…”there are a lot of you on the planet now and as a group, you don’t seem very concerned about what’s happening in the big scheme of things.”  I reluctantly had to agree with him.  I have my own anecdotal information gleaned from this park to back up my own thoughts on the subject.  At the time of this writing, many of the world’s leaders are meeting in Paris to try to decide if any changes could be made that might help reduce the impact of our overall activities.  I remain open and hope a positive consensus can be reached.  Like the approach of winter…we shall see.  With Thanksgiving waiting for me…I said my good byes and left my new friend standing in the park.  Perhaps I will see him again…after the first snowflake falls?

Last photo of the standing Styro Snow Shovel Man, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

 

 

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