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The Crying Indian, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

I touched on this briefly with my last post, but it has taken a couple of weeks to return to the story of “The Crying Indian”.  This post is both about the figure I created from found Styrofoam and the true story about one of the most successful Public Service Announcements of all time.  A few months back, I accepted the invitation of Bob Hill to show some of my river creations at his Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, Indiana which is just across the river from my home in Louisville, KY.  After the high water we had in late winter and early spring, I had the opportunity and collected several large pieces of Styrofoam off of the riverbank with the intentions of making a few large figures that I could use for the Hidden Hill show.  I was successful in accomplishing this goal and the first figure I made was to become the piece I call “The Crying Indian”.

Basement studio view with the Crying Indian in progress, May 2016

I really don’t have a proper studio.  Just a basement at home that I hoard all the materials that I bring home from the river and the few finished works that I keep.  I really do prefer working outdoors at the Falls of the Ohio where I can work relatively quickly.  On occasion, I have a need to create work that is a little more formal or ambitious and requires more time to put together.  With a deadline approaching for a May 21 opening and weather unpredictable…I set about creating what I could in this cramped space.  There are some advantages like being able to listen to music or moving the laundry along and snacks are just a short staircase away.  Sitting at the foot of those basement steps, I weighed my options and introduced elements that may or may not become a part of the finished work.  The large chunks of Styrofoam that I had brought home from this year’s flooding were outside leaning against my house.  I selected the third largest piece and brought it into the basement.  It was time to go to work.

In progress image of the head of the Crying Indian, Louisville, KY, May 2016

Going into this sculpture, I knew that I wanted to keep it fairly “classical” meaning that most of the elements I used were white in color in “imitation” of marble statuary. I chose a river-polished hunk of Styrofoam for a potential head that felt somewhat in proportion to the figure I envisioned.  I sifted through bags and boxes of river collections and chose two hollow, plastic, and crushed fake golf balls for eyes.  The nose is a piece of polystyrene that is cone-shaped.  The mouth is a plastic and foam element from an old football helmet and the ears are pieces of Styrofoam.  The element that would become “the feather” in the Indian’s headdress was a broken plastic kayak? paddle that I had recently found and thought would look great in this context.  I would later use glacier and river worn quartz pebbles for the tears, but this was one of the last elements I introduced into this piece.  The rest of the work would be Falls of the Ohio driftwood and plastic elements collected in the park.

The Crying Indian in progress, Louisville, KY, May 2016

As I’m working on this, I’m also having an internal conversation with myself.  Talking to my materials I silently ask, “What do you want to be?”  I’ll pose questions and trust my subconscious to help me out by providing a few clues that become ideas that can be elaborated upon.  In this case, I was remembering that great Public Service Announcement from 1971 that is known as “The Crying Indian”.  I was wondering why there weren’t similar ads on television now decrying pollution and litter and extolling the public to do what they can do to help which is also the right thing to do?  What seems to rule the air waves now in the way of public service has more to do with finding cures for cancer and other maladies that afflict us…and that is important too.  Another little voice within me also feels that many of these physiological problems we endure will find their root causes in an increasingly degraded and contaminated environment.  For old times sake I looked up that original Crying Indian ad that was sponsored from the Keep America Beautiful folks and found it as effective as I had remembered it.  During my search, I clicked on a few other stories related to the Crying Indian and that’s when my jaw dropped in amazement.

Back view of the Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Detail, Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio holding plastic jugs, May 2016

The first big surprise is a story full of ironies beginning with the actor playing the”Crying Indian”…he  was not a Native American in the first place.  “Iron Eyes Cody”, America’s favorite movie and television Indian was born Espera Oscar de Corti in Gueydon, Louisiana in 1904.  He was actually a second generation Italian American.  He had a rough upbringing and when he was a child he left with his father for the American West.  It was out there that he first experienced indigenous cultures as well as the entertainment industry where he was to find life-long employment.  His first role, playing a Native American child happened in 1919 in a silent film entitled “Back to God’s Country”.  Iron Eyes Cody’s film and television career ultimately spanned the 1930’s to the 1980’s.  He claimed to be of Cherokee and Cree descent, but he needed his braided wig to become at least the image of an Indian.  Apparently, he never quite confessed to his deception and even lived to the ripe old age of 94.  Although Iron Eyes Cody was not a real Native American, he seems to have lived his life otherwise respecting the indigenous cultures.  He married a Native American woman and they adopted two Native children…one of whom became one of the best Native American musicians.  Perhaps it was the times, but I have to believe that if this ad were to be remade today that the public would insist that the Indian be at least genuine.

The Crying Indian and the Skyline of Louisville

The Crying Indian with Jugs

I didn’t feel that this figure was complete without photographing it in the context of the Falls of the Ohio where I originally found the materials that comprise it.  The addition of the white jugs became important not only because I have recently been doing a lot of outdoor assemblages using plastic containers, but returning to the fascinating story of “The Crying Indian”.  As was mentioned, this PSA was sponsored by Keep American Beautiful and the Advertising Council did the ad for free as a way of stimulating business interests in our country.  The Ad Council also created Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, this is your brain on drugs with the egg frying in the pan, buckle up for safety which was an early seat belt public service announcement and many more.  As for the Keep America Beautiful folks….well, they actually represented an organization consisting of  companies that produced bottles and containers of all kinds which make up a huge part of the litter you see everywhere but in the PSA crafted for them.  The Crying Indian ad is now considered a classic case of green-washing.  What occurred with this PSA was to put the responsibility for litter square on the backs of consumers and deflected any blame away from the manufacturers that produce these containers in the first place.  Once upon a time, containers were returned to their point of origin to be cleaned and reused, but there was a lot less trouble and more money to be made in convincing the public that single use containers were the way to go.  We are still in that place forty years later.  You can never underestimate the power of ad agencies to understand human behavior and psychology and use it against us to further the goals of their clients.  A good part of the shame people felt upon seeing trash being thrown at the feet of Iron Eyes Cody had to do with the subtle guilt that many people feel for displacing and persecuting the original inhabitants of this land.  That added ingredient helped make this one of the most successful public service announcements ever made.

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden, May 2016

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Here are a few images of the finished piece in place at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  It looks great where it’s at and I will do another story soon that will include the other sculptures I made for this occasion.  Some of them turned out very well, although they don’t quite have the back story that the figure does.  Hidden Hill is a special and beautiful place and I look forward to sharing more pictures with you.

I used Ginger Brand’s great article entitled, “The Crying Indian” that originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Orion Magazine for much of the information included in this post.  Brand really goes much farther than I could go here and I highly recommend this read.  Here is a link to that story…https://orionmagazine.org/the-crying-indian/  Another good source of information came from Priceonomics and the link to that story is http://priceonomics.com/the-true-story-of-the-crying-indian/  And, if you want to see the original one minute long public service announcement, it is available on YouTube and at the end of this post. Until next time…

Head of The Crying Indian, May 2016

 

 

 

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Early morning view on the Ohio River, mid March 2016

Went out to the river, but to tell you the truth…I thought it would be too high.  Just a couple of days earlier, the Ohio River was once again over its normal banks.  Every year is different and this year the tail end of our winter was marked by warmth and high water.  Although the riverbank was muddy, I was happy to be able to walk around.  I’m having a show at a friend’s place in May and I was on the lookout for more washed up materials.  As it played out, this first official day of Spring would be a more memorable one than I had first anticipated.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf or Hammerhead, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf in view of Louisville, KY, March 20, 2016

One of the reasons that this can be an interesting time of the year at the Falls of the Ohio is the annual Spring migration of neotropical birds.  I have been known to set my collecting bag aside and just hit the woods on the look out for migrating birds.  The first time you see a male Scarlet Tanager or a Rose-breasted Grosbeak will make a bird watcher out of a lot of people.  This past weekend, which is still a bit early for the usual migrants…I came across something totally unexpected that I couldn’t identify at first.  I didn’t get many pictures, but what I have is here.  If you have never seen (or much less heard of) Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf, (Aviana indeterminus)…you wouldn’t be alone.  Hammerkopf translated into English is hammerhead and that description seems to fit.  Heisenberg’s bird is about the size of an American Robin.  Among the features that stand out the most are its massive red bill and the petal-like feathers found at the base of its neck.  The wings can be brown or white and it has been known to have a crest, but some individuals have been seen that don’t have this feature.  There is no consensus as to its overall population, but a few individuals seem to make the news each year.  This bird is an enigma and it seems to prefer things that way.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

The individual I came across is a second year male.  Looking at the info there is on this species did say that the unusual ruff of feathers around its neck could turn bright red as the bird matured and was ready for the breeding season.  What little there is in the scientific literature suggests that this is a highly variable species that can be found anywhere at any time.  With this bird, you really can’t pin down where it originates and it doesn’t seem to have a “normal range”.  It seems to be a very uncommon bird with a world-wide distribution.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf at the river's edge, March 20, 2016

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf investigating goose tracks, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

This individual kept surprising me.  I almost felt that it “changed” the more I observed it.  By that I mean at first I found it by the mud and then it changed habitat by going into the trees.  I lost track of it for a short while, but rediscovered it at the water’s edge.  From there, it moved back under the willow trees where I eventually lost it for good.  I saw it use its large bill to delicately probe the mud and hammer through a driftwood log and in both cases wasn’t sure of what it was eating if indeed it found anything to begin with?  I just saw enough of this bird to pique my interest, but I have had bird sightings that have lasted mere seconds that were satisfying enough to last a lifetime.

Chiel collecting driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

While I was out exploring the Falls environment, I did come across another individual who can vouch for me that this strange bird was indeed out here.  I struck up a conversation with him and as it turns out he is also an artist.  His name is Chiel Kuijl and he is from the Netherlands.  He has a residency at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky where he is working on a unique outdoor rope environment.  He was looking for select, interesting pieces of wood that he could incorporate into his art project and the Falls of the Ohio are a perfect place to do this.  Talking with Chiel, one of the things he is enjoying most are the new and unfamiliar birds he is encountering in this country.  I asked if he had ever seen a Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf before and he said that he hadn’t and it was really unlike what he was accustomed to back home.  I am sure I will see Chiel again, but what of the hammerkopf?

Final view of Heisenberg's Hammerkopf at the Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

I don’t often make an appeal to the larger blogging world, but if anyone should happen to see this bird or something similar to it…I hope that you will post pictures of it.  It might make an interesting research project to see where in the world this species will turn up and what it might have to say about those particular places where it is found.  For now, I will leave it here and hope you will follow along the next time I am hiking at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Goose tracks in the mud, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

 

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Falls of the Ohio article, Courier-Journal Magazine cover, Feb. 13, 1966

On the occasion of my 400th riverblog post I thought I would try something a little different.  I’m thinking that reaching a personal blogging milestone is worthy of some observance .  It took me a little more than five years, 399 posts of original content, over 4000 published images, nearly 2500 comments, and deleting more than 30,000 blocked spam requests, etc… before I filled all the free space on my original WordPress blog.  I finally had to lay down some coin in order to purchase additional storage space to continue.  For me, this has been more than a great bargain.  When I originally began posting about my trips to the Falls of the Ohio, I had no idea of how much it would shape me as an artist, but without a doubt, it has.  I now view this blog as being more than just a vehicle for publishing the things I’ve made and experienced and has become a medium in its own right.  To everybody who has participated either at the river or by visiting and commenting…the Artist at Exit 0 thanks you!!  And now, from the intersection of nature and culture…on with the show.

Aerial view of the Falls of the Ohio, Courier-Journal magazine article 1966

One of my best friends gifted me this extensive article about the Falls of the Ohio dating back to 1966 that originally appeared in The Courier-Journal’s Sunday Magazine.  The C-J is published in Louisville and for a time was one of the best newspapers in the country winning many Pulitzer Prizes for its original reporting.  Like many fine newspapers across the land it is no longer locally owned and is a shadow of its former self.  Still, it survives and dutifully arrives at the doorstep of its subscribers seven days a week minus the Sunday magazine feature.  I was really fascinated by this article because it predates the Falls of the Ohio as an Indiana state park by many years.  I was surprised to see an area on the lower right of the aerial view labeled “Fossil Trees”.  This was the first reference to this I had come across.  Supposedly, this area is composed of slate containing the fossilized remains of Carboniferous trees.  It occurred to me that there was a lot about the northern bank I did not know about and decided to go exploring outside my usual confines.

Improvised shelter at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

I walked past the Woodland Loop Trail and heading west by hugging the riverbank.  Along the way, I came across this  makeshift and abandoned shelter created from found plastic and a quilted mover’s blanket.  The remains of a small campfire marked where someone sought temporary refuge here.  On more than one occasion I have come across folks in the park that are down on their luck and camp out here during the better weather months.

Photo from 1966 Courier-Journal article

As the magazine article from 1966 shows…people have been camping out and utilizing the abundant driftwood resources for a long time.  I have to admit, in all my years of coming out here, I haven’t seen anyone enjoying a fish fry like this.  That was 48 years a go, but seems more remote to me than that.  Among the many changes here, it is recommended that you limit your consumption of the local fish.

meandering length of driftwood, Nov. 2014Such a beautiful sun-shiny day and unseasonably warm too.  As I write this our first snowfall of the year lies on the ground.  Another article in last week’s paper caught my attention.  Apparently, this past October was the warmest October in the last fifty years and the fourth warmest ever recorded.  As I meander back and forth along the riverbank, it’s odd bits of trivia that come to mind.  I remember that I was living in Ft. Knox in 1966 and having a great time in Mrs. Songster’s third grade class at Van Vorris Elementary School.  Back then, my nature experiences were shaped by stalking the woods and creeks on this extensive military reservation.

Falls of the Ohio, Louisville in the distance, Nov 2014

As I kept walking westward, I would come across sections of the riverbank enlivened by the bright yellow fruit from the horse nettle plant.  These cherry tomato sized marbles look tempting, but they are highly poisonous.  I came across places on my hike where there were thousands of these fruits ripening.  I have always liked this view with the skyline of Louisville hanging on the horizon.  The city with its tall buildings looks diminutive and fragile balancing on the edge between the sky and water.

Falls of the Ohio, Tainter Gates in the background, Nov. 2014

The blackened root mass from a downed willow tree has an almost menacing presence on the riverbank.  A few turtles slide off logs into the water.  Goose Island and the Lower Tainter Gates are across the way.  I realize that this is the furthest west I have ever walked on this side of the river.  Previously, I have always limited my activities to the park proper.  Although I don’t see any signage demarcating boundaries, I am assuming that I’m now on private property?

Large house on the Indiana side of the Ohio River, Nov. 2014

I come across some wonderful homes that must command spectacular views of the river.   A couple of these dwellings sport their own boat ramps.  I stay nearest to the water and respectively move my way through.  Nobody challenges me and I keep moving forward.  I know there is an area up ahead that is administered by the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  After all these many years, it feels good to have other places associated with this special place to explore.

boat ramp near George Rogers Clark cabin site, Nov. 2014

After a leisurely walk lasting several hours I reach the boat launch area by the George Rogers Clark home site.  The famous hero of the Revolutionary War and founder of Louisville and Clarksville, retired to a small cabin that overlooked the river.  This boat ramp is right across the river from the Lower Tainter Gates and Hydroelectric Plant and gets lots of traffic from fishermen.  I decide that the areas I want to explore are still a long walk away and I modify my plans.  If I want to reach the spot where the fossilized tree remains are found, I probably should park my car near the ramp and walk westward from here.  For the time being I feel satisfied and retrace my steps back to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

riverbank view by the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Nov. 2014

The walk back is gorgeous.  On the return trip I collect lots of beaver-chewed willow sticks and a nice length of barge cable.  I will use these materials to make something.  Happily, I can report that I did not find nearly as much trash along this walk.  I did, however, make one small project from found materials and here it is.

clear bottle glass assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

detail, clear bottle glass assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

I found all this clear bottle glass lying in close proximity and created this small assemblage on the mud.  I made this to enjoy the play of light through the glass as well as appreciate the highlights on the water.  This piece consisted mostly of bottlenecks and bottle bottoms which are the strongest parts of a glass bottle.  I wondered what if some archeologist in the future found this assemblage…would they think it had any aesthetic reason for being or could this be part of some unknown ritual?  This area along the Ohio River has been in constant habitation for thousands of years and the bottle pieces are now a part of that record.  My concept of art has greatly expanded since my student days.  On the back page of this 1966 magazine I find an amusing advertisement that reminds me of how far I’ve traveled from the traditional practice!  I guess being your own art teacher involves nude women?  If only my art education had cost a mere $6.00 dollars a month.  For better or for worse, who knows where I would be now?

Back page ad, Courier-Journal Magazine, Feb. 13, 1966

 

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Skyliner, Falls, late Feb. 2014

We are all getting antsy for spring to arrive…winter has been hanging on and on for dear life.  It’s been hard to access the river because the water level has been high.  Most of the places I visit at the Falls of the Ohio State Park are currently under muddy water.  We have had just a handful of nicer, warmer days, but that has accelerated the melting of the snow and ice throughout the more than 800 hundred mile long Ohio River Valley.  I don’t mind the cold so much, but it’s harder to do what I like to do on a swollen waterway.  Here’s how one of my spots under the railroad bridge looked during my last visit.

muddy, high water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2014

Not a pretty picture seeing a river as brown as gravy.  Lots of logs and wood floating on top and when you look more closely…there is also plenty of plastic and polystyrene in the mix too.  Another view this time with me standing on the wall that separates one side of the river from the other.

high river at the Falls, Feb. 2014

All those white spots are pieces of Styrofoam.  With my usual haunts inaccessible I moved further east…just outside the park’s entrance.  There has been a lot of activity in this area that has caught my notice.

Skyliner on the riverbank, Feb. 2014

There has been a campaign on the Indiana side to make the river more accessible particularly in areas that afford a good view of Louisville’s skyline.  To do this the vegetation has been bulldozed away.  I came across an elderly person walking her dog and she said to me quite unsolicited..”Bout time they did something to clean up this mess!” as she pointed a thin finger in the general direction of the river.  In this case, one person’s mess is another creature’s habitat.  The true “mess” comes from all the plastic bottles and chunks of man-made junk that make it into the water.  No amount of removing trees and creating views will help with this and it seems what we prefer looking at is a very selective process.  I brought my collecting bag along.  I’m hoping to pick up materials to use in an upcoming art workshop at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, but I find a few other interesting items as well and photograph them upon discovery.

Taco Bell cat toy, Feb. 2014

I came across this smiling yellow cat toy that I think came from a fast food establishment.

plastic containers for paint, Feb. 2014

Finding these paint containers made me realize how hungry I’ve become for color.  I’m looking forward to the world turning green again with color notes supplied by wild flowers.

bright orange plastic paratrooper, Feb. 2014

This plastic man with his bright, radioactive orange color was hard to miss.  He was a skydiver or paratrooper in a former life and probably fell to earth using a plastic parachute.

Skyliner with the City of Louisville behind him, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2014

There were other signs from life that the season’s are about to change over.  I’m ever alert to what the birds are doing.  I spotted my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year and they are among the first migratory species to arrive.  Male Northern Cardinals are singing their courtship songs and scouting out the best spots to build a nest.  On the river, however, I spied what I consider a bird sign of winter.  A nice sized flock of Lesser Scaup ducks were mostly sleeping and relaxing on the surface of the water.  In this area, it seems we see more duck varieties in late fall and early winter. Here’s a peek at the scaups.

White-winged Scoters, Falls of the Ohio, Late Feb. 2014

Before I move away from the ducks…I found one other to add to my growing collection.  This is a Mallard decoy made from plastic.  Not too long a go, I found another plastic decoy representing the Pintail Duck.

found plastic Mallard duck decoy, Falls, Feb. 2014

One other bird note…I heard them before I could see them, but I knew what they were instantly.  The familiar calls of migrating Sandhill Cranes winging their way back north.  Like geese, they fly in V-shaped formations to avoid the air turbulence created by other cranes flapping their wings.  These birds are high flyers and this was the best I could do in taking their picture with the camera I have.

high flying Sandhill Cranes, Feb. 2014

As February becomes March…the forecast for the Kentuckiana area is calling for freezing rain and snow.  It appears that Old Man Winter will be hanging out for another week.  Spring will eventually get here and already you can tell that it stays light outside longer with each passing day.   I am, however, really eager to see how the river has rearranged this familiar landscape.

Skyliner on the Ohio River's edge, Feb. 2014

Once the Ohio River recedes there will be a new landscape to explore and who knows what I will find?  I like that each year is different from the last.  Well this post is drawing to a close.  Thanks for visiting and see you soon…from the skyline of Louisville and the Falls of the Ohio.

Looking toward the skyline of Louisville, Late Feb. 2014

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The record warm spring we experienced in the Kentuckiana area is being followed by the extreme record heat of this summer.  Twice I have ventured out to the Falls when the thermometer had passed 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 on the Celsius scale.  My youngest son told me (without prompting) that he  thought this heat was evidence of global warming.  The idea that we could alter the climate in some way has reached our children’s consciousness and changed their awareness of what kind of world they will inherit.  Kids get it…why don’t politicians and business leaders do the same?  This should be a global priority because the quality of our environment makes everything else possible.  I’m at the river today to continue this role I’ve created for myself as witness/participant in this historic place.  Here’s a brief record of what I found and made on a particularly brutal day.  I’ll start with more coal flakes that I made at the water’s edge.

Walking around the park at its eastern edge, I collected the river-polished coal I came across and with these black rocks created two designs.  Because of the heat, it doesn’t take long for my clothes to start sticking to my skin.  For relief, I splash water over my face and arms. At first, I left the interior of one of the flakes open, but later decided to change it.  I did scout around for the other coal projects I had left here previously, but they were either missing or deliberately destroyed.

Here is the second design with the interior filled on the first coal flake. Why some people find my “art” to be more offensive than the trash that is ordinarily found here is puzzling to me?  Why more people don’t find all the random trash to be an eyesore and do something about that is another mystery.  My best answer is that “art” has a way of focusing and concentrating energy that stands above the ordinary.  To be noticed is not always a good survival strategy.  My work gets hammered because it sticks out and there is something in the human condition that would rather break things than fix them.

It’s still morning and I see the resident Black vulture colony is also at the river’s edge looking for dead fish or fishing bait.  There’s nothing like coming across a partially opened pack of chicken livers that some fisherman brought for catfish bait.  The flies and the vultures say thank you.  I’ve come to think of these vultures as familiars and part of me likes to believe that they even recognize me and allow me to approach a little closer than usual.

A couple of hours later and the vultures have done what I’m about to do…namely seeking shade and relief under the willow trees.  I find a few vultures standing on the ground with their wings outspread trying to catch the slimmest of breezes, but there is none today.  Reaching my stash of Styrofoam I look around and everything appears as I left it.  It’s just been too hot for most folks to want to be out here.  Rummaging around the polystyrene, I chose a few pieces and construct a new figure.  This piece has remained nameless, but if you out there in the wide world want to name it…that’s fine with me.  It’s also been too hot to think of titles and names.  He is another in a long line of absurd figures I’ve created with the collaboration of nature.  Here’s the head made from Styrofoam, coal eyes, fishing float nose, some kind of plastic piece for the mouth, and wooden ears.

As you can see from the last image…I have lots more Styrofoam to use up before our next big flood.  I began my latest figure with the body.  I came across a piece that suggested a sitting pose and so that is what I made.  Upon completion, I moved my new “friend” to various locations and tried him out in various contexts.

In the end, I decided to pose my figure in the remains of a private  outdoor party that was held out here since my last visit.  This must have been no ordinary “celebration” based on all the spray painted graffiti now on the logs and stumps surrounding their camp fire.  Take a look.

I’m more accustomed to seeing graffiti in an urban setting where tagging trash dumpsters and buildings is common place.  I’m still sorting out how I feel about coming across a scene like this?  Has anything actually been harmed…it doesn’t appear so.  When lovers cut their initials into the bark of a living tree, those cuts are there for the life of the tree.  All this spray painted wood is dead.  Still, this hardly seems like a nature loving act especially since the “artists” left their large beer bottles behind.  I think they did it because they could.  Their handiwork to my eye also lacks an aesthetic dimension, but now I’m sounding like an old-fashioned art critic.  I guess here is as good a place to say that I’m taking a hiatus from visiting the park to recover from my impending knee surgery.  I’ve been stomping about out here with a bad left knee for over a year and it hasn’t gotten better on its own.  An MRI showed two tears in my lateral and medial meniscus.  With hope, I won’t be down long and I will continue the riverblog with other stuff probably from my various collections. I’ll end this post with a small piece of plastic I found on this hot, hot day.  Since I started this post with some perceptions from a child about the environment…perhaps it is even appropriate?  It may take something akin to divine intervention to improve the condition of the world.

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Frequent visitors to the old Riverblog may have noticed my penchant for posting images of wheels and tires that I find at the Falls of the Ohio.  Far too many automotive tires find their way into the river and many of them wash up here where they comprise omnipresent elements on the shoreline.  In addition to being more physical junk…they have also insinuated themselves into my imagination much as Styrofoam has.

When I see a wheel…I see an abstract portrait of our kind.  Through the cleverness of our minds we have invented such a simple device for first harnessing the power of nature to eventually “mastering” it.  It doesn’t surprise me to read that many experts consider the wheel to be our most important mechanical invention.  If you dispute this think beyond the ox cart and potter’s wheels…try imagining our world without gears, cogs, time pieces, jet engines, and the hard drive of your computer and more.

From what I’ve been able to find out, the wheel has been around for about five thousand years.  The oldest depictions come from Mesopotamia, but other cultures seem to have “simultaneously” invented the wheel too.  A lot depended upon domesticating draft animals to provide the power necessary to move a load.  In the New World…the ancient Olmecs knew of the wheel and used it on pull toys, but since they lacked draft animals their use of this invention was limited.  In more recent times, Industrialization and the harnessing of other energy sources has greatly and forever expanded the role that wheels play in our lives.  We have come a long way since the Neolithic.

Apart from objects, wheels also have other rich associations.  In many cultural contexts…wheels are also potent spiritual metaphors.  The Yin and Yang symbol can be thought of as a wheel.  The flag of India features a wheel which represents Dharma or the law.

The cyclical nature of things has me thinking about the changing of the seasons.  Spring is giving way to summer and it looks like our Memorial Day weekend is shaping up to be a beastly hot one.  Time is flying by.  Although I’m not a fan of auto racing, the annual tradition of the Indianapolis 500 is also set for this weekend.  I couldn’t help noticing that one of the symbols associated with this race track is a tire with wings!

When I go to the river, I bring a canvas collecting bag to store my finds.  I have more than one bag which I usually store on the front porch of my house to await later sorting.  As I have mentioned before…I have a very patient wife who with usual good humor, puts up with my obsessions!  It is this cycle of sorting through the junk that is the inspiration for this post and I had three full bags that had among other objects, toy wheels that have caught my eye.  I knew I had been picking them up of late, but hadn’t realized the collection I had formed until I laid them out.  With the exception of the odd skateboard wheel…my collection comes from toy trucks and vehicles where the heaviest load they have borne has come from the imaginations of children.  I like how they look visually and apart from that…I’m not sure what I will eventually do with them all!  Perhaps I will make some other metaphorical vehicle some day?

 

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The stars were in alignment and I got to spend a nice Earth Day at the Falls of the Ohio.  It was a little cold and windy…nothing layering in sweat shirts couldn’t handle!  I found so many interesting objects and spaces that I filled up my camera’s memory card.  I now find myself with a richness of images I couldn’t post in one go…and so I will try to keep it focused in some way.  As proof that everyday should be Earth Day…the official celebration in the park has been moved to May after the Kentucky Derby.  Supplanted by a horse race!  Last night was Thunder Over Louisville which year after year is usually the largest fireworks display in North America and kicks off the two weeks long Kentucky Derby Festival.  Thousands of people were out here partying on both banks of the Ohio River.  They left their trash after the event, but fortunately it looks like the clean up crews are doing a good job and keeping this stuff out of the park.  After all, it already has enough detritus of its own.  Of late, I’ve been really fascinated by how these big barge cables and ropes that wash into here weather over time. They are made of tough stuff, but the river wins in the end.  Sometimes they unravel and drift beautifully from willow root to branch like mutant Spanish moss.  Some of their colors can even be shocking compared to the neutral earth tones of their surroundings.  Here’s one such scene I’ve been trying to describe.  This is one of my Earth Day photographs.

I later came across a nice length of barge cable stretched out across the sand. For fun, I started coiling it and taking pictures of the different configurations I came up with.  Here’s the way it looked stretched out.

When I look at my pictures at home, many of these cable fragments reference fossils.  I get a strong feeling of ancient sea lily crinoids and nautilus-like ammonites preserved in the rock that was silt millions of years a go.  I also played with the spiral form and activated an intimate space with its spring-like energy.

Creating a tighter spiral evoked ammonite shells and wavy tentacles.  Ammonites were coiled cephalopods with some resemblances to our squids and octopi. The ammonites were so successful for so long.  Beginning somewhere in the Devonian they prospered and radiated out to fill all the world’s oceans until the Cretaceous Period crashed.  Their run lasted more than 330 million years and now they are all gone.  We have a way to go to match that record.

In most of the places I walked today I could hear the Northern Orioles singing.  I tried imitating their call notes and once in a while I could get a bird to reply.  I saw various warblers, vireos, woodpeckers, wrens, and more…however, the most memorable bird event happened at my feet.  I stepped too near the nest of a Song Sparrow and flushed the bird that was hiding with its clutch of eggs.  Here’s a photo of the scene.  Can you find the bird’s nest?  Look closely at the dark spot on the left side of the young willow greenery.

And now…lets look a little deeper and closer at this spot.

Inside were four tiny eggs tinged in green and speckled with brown spots.  I’ve read that the Song Sparrow is heavily parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird which opportunistically lays an egg of its own among the sparrow’s clutch.  The unsuspecting parents raise the cowbird as their own.  As far as I could tell, this nest was in good shape.  Perhaps having a really obscure nest site has so far protected it from the cowbirds which are common in our area?  Walking further, I came to another nesting site of a different kind near my outdoor studio.  Like the Song Sparrow…this spot was also well hidden.

The tire swing helps give it away otherwise it easily blends into the natural driftwood environment.  I imagine a family coming to play here because there is evidence of children… including a misplaced fuzzy duck toy.  The kids keep raiding my Styrofoam cache, but haven’t made anything back at their fort!  Walking around the structure, I find the door is closed.

I even crawled up on the “roof”  for a look.  The builders have taken a natural space created by interlocking logs and enclosed and defined the space by leaning and propping up other found wood.  It all blends in perfectly.

I moved a few planks and logs aside and could see the interior.  I set the duck back up and snapped this shot.

Because my driftwood structure neighbors like to borrow the Styrofoam I’ve collected…I decided to leave them a present using the biggest polystyrene chunk they dragged over here.  First, I need to improvise a head.

After finding some appropriate limbs…I set the figure up in the corner of the log fort.  I thought it looked pretty good against the new green leaves of the willows.  In my head I heard this little bit of imagined dialogue…”Wait, wait…it’s not yet Earth Day!  That’s been postponed until May 12.  Come back then and bring the family.”…as he waved all wild-eyed and everything.

I’m not sure how long this guy will last?  It would be nice to think that the kids who play here could see this figure as a part of their creative environment.

The root mass from this great log makes up one “wall” of the driftwood fort.  Here’s another view looking back before I moved on to the rest of my day.

I’m going to bring this post to a close with two photos of a willow tree I saw the other day.  These trees are buffeted by the elements and begin to take on character and personality as their will to survive kicks in.  With their branches reaching for the sun…their incredible roots hang on to the mud and are sculpted by the Ohio River.  It’s good to think of trees during Earth Day.

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