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Landscape at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I have always felt that if you did the research, you must publish your results.  Here it is the tail-end of July and what?? not a single post this month from the Artist at Exit 0!  Of course I have been out to the river on a couple of occasions and had a wonderful time.  So far, it has been a relatively easy summer.  We haven’t had spells of daily high temperatures pushing a hundred degrees that have marked some previous summers.  Knock on wood.  Every year and every season is different and 2016 will no doubt climatically distinguish itself locally in some way before this annual orbit around the sun is history.

Trumpet Creeper Vine, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

According to the WordPress folks, this is Riverblog post #450!  They are much better at keeping count than I am and so I will trust them on that.  I mention this not in the way of a boast, but rather from personal amazement that I have found enough content out in the Falls of the Ohio State Park to help keep it going!  I have a good friend who is also an artist and he used to blog on WordPress.  He stopped writing right around his 500th post!  He became a little disappointed that it was so time-consuming and didn’t lead to more sales or artistic opportunities.  I guess he also got to a point where he had said everything he wanted to say?  This post will combine a couple of river adventures together and is set for the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s getting to be high summer.  I can tell by the heat and the blooming trumpet creeper vines growing on some of the cottonwood trees.  Have you ever noticed that many of these trumpet creeper flowers have large ants in them?

Purple loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Where moist conditions are prevalent out here, you will find great patches of Purple loosestrife plants growing under the cottonwoods and willows.  The loosestrife is by far more common in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio.  Despite being a very invasive species, they do add a beautiful pinkish-lavender color to the landscape and insects (particularly butterflies) seem to love their nectar.

Cabbage White butterfly on Purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

I am sure to visit this area several times while the loosestrife flowers continue to bloom.  Over the last several years, I have come across more butterfly species feeding off of these flowers including many swallowtail species (Tiger, Black Swallowtail, Spicebush, Pipevine, and Giant Swallowtail).  These flowers are also favored by several different skippers which occupy this strange position between being true butterflies and true moths.  It seems skippers possess qualities of both lepidoptera groups.  Here is a nice Silver-spotted Skipper ( Epargyreus clarus ) I came across also feeding on the odd blooms of a Cephalanthus buttonbush.

Silver-spotted skipper, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

There were other butterflies out on this sunny day, but I didn’t get good pictures of all of them.  I did see my first Red Admirals of the year.  I did manage this image of a Tawny Emperor ( Asterocampa clyton ) butterfly using the camera on my cell phone.  It takes a bit of stealth to get the phone near enough to take a good image without scaring your subject away.  Over the past two years, I’ve become accustomed to taking my cell phone with me on my trips to the river.  I love that the device is so small, lightweight, and fits in my pocket and gives me a few more options than the digital SLR that I have.  I have to imagine that these little digital cameras are just going to continue to get better and even more useful.

Summer time butterfly at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I am also on the alert for any bird movements or sounds in the area.  On this expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I scored big by sighting two new bird species for my life list and getting decent pictures of both to show to any of you unbelievers out there!  After walking in direct sunlight for over an hour, I decided to cool off by walking in the shade of the large cottonwood trees that grow along the edge of the river.  I especially like the way this cottonwood tree fills the whole photo frame.  When these trees release their fluffy, light seeds it can almost appear as though it is snowing in slow motion.  The cotton fluff builds up and forms wind aided drifts on the ground.

Large, Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I had directed my reverie up into the canopy of the trees when an unfamiliar bird flew just above my head.  This bird is fast and I got a quick sensation of colors…light blue, white, and green.  I was extremely lucky to get such good pictures of it in full flight.  Check out how the tail feathers help with lift and aerial maneuvering…perfect for high-speed flight between the tree trunks.

The Mosquito bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I was elated when I realized that what just went whizzing by my ear is a species I have not seen in the park before.  It has a couple of common names.  Some people refer to it as the Cumberland Mockingbird (Mimus appalachians ) and around here I’ve heard people call it a “Mosquito bird”.  This specimen was actively picking off in midair several small flies that I could detect in the sunshine flying over my sweaty head.  The thought occurred to me that this bird and the Zika mosquito have moved into our area at about the same time.

The Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Diving Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

The Cumberland Mockingbird seemed to be able to “read” the air and wind currents around structures like trees and high river banks.  I observed it daringly flying and diving very near objects in its pursuit of an insectivorous meal. I saw it chasing another Falls of the Ohio specialty, the Eastern-eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus ).  This is the largest member of the click beetle family and can get 2 1/2 inches long.  It is said that its cryptic coloring is meant to mimic bird droppings.  As it happened this beetle was able to escape becoming the Cumberland Mockingbird’s lunch by hiding under some loose tree bark.

Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

These click beetles always seem to be out at the Falls of the Ohio during the summer months.  They are harmless as adults.  Their larvae grows in decaying wood and are carnivorous.  Our area usually has an abundance of decomposing wood because of periodic flooding and the water-logged trunks that come with it.  I decided to move out of the shade because the mosquitoes were catching up with me and using me for snacks.  Not even an actively feeding Mosquito bird could turn these small flies away from their blood mission.

Dodo of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Dodo of the Ohio in courtship display, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Returning to the sunlight seemed to do the trick of chasing the noisome insects away.  I moved away from the shade of the trees and returned to the intermittent light by the fossil outcroppings nearer the riverbank.  All was right with the world.  A cormorant was swimming in the river as an osprey flew overhead with fish in talons.  I was happily engaged in my little world…when I heard the most unusual animal call of all.  I just had to find out what could make such a mournful noise!  I found a likely spot along a trail and just went quiet and motionless.  If the gods were with me then I had a good chance of seeing this mystery animal which was continuing its two-syllable call as it drew nearer to me.

Dodo of the Ohio with Passionflower and fruit, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

Dodo of the Ohio and Passionflower, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

There was a movement low to the ground and a parting of vegetation when a dingy white bird emerged onto the trail in front of me.  It puffed its body up and displayed its tail feathers in a showy fan.  A few wiry blue feathers on his head forms a crest that moves and down with the hopping dancing motion this species requires for courtship.  With a certain amount of fanfare, my first ever “Dodo of the Ohio” ( Pseudo dodo kentuckiana ) let itself be known that it was looking for companionship.  I had also found it in the context of a flowering and fruiting Passion flower vine ( Passiflora ) growing over the sand.  A pair of round, green fruits seemed to be the object of the dodo’s attention.  Our dodo is not at all related to the extinct species, but it is far from being a common bird.  Fortunately, it can fly, albeit weakly.  This at least keeps it off the ground while it sleeps at night.  I watched the dodo for several more minutes before it flew off.  The chance meeting of these two exotics was an amazing and unforgettable happening that helped make July an incredible month.  See you again sometime soon from the Falls of the Ohio.

Passionflower vine, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

 

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Maple seeds, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

April was a busy but mostly productive blur.  Lots of balancing went on encompassing family, work, loss, art, birthdays, and spring transitioning to summer.  We had an issue with our family computer that kept us quiet for a while, but hopefully that has been resolved.  At this point, I have thousands of photographic images scattered everywhere and if by chance I happen to lose something…well, chalk that one up to the will of the digital gods.  I had this strange realization about being a  survivor of a by gone analog era that my sons don’t understand or have much experience with.  These digital images I have been creating at the Falls of the Ohio can be as transient as the artworks they document.  Fortunately, for my sanity, I was able to get to the river on a couple of occasions in this month, breathe deeply, and relax with my art.  The last two visits I made to the park in April were gorgeous days and productive.  Here are images made from that day’s project.

That day;s gathered plastic bottles, April 2016

I have been having fun gathering up the different plastic bottles and containers that I have been coming across the last two years and making something with them.  The arrangement I made today was composed of black and white plastic junk I came across after a few hours of work.  All the black and white containers were found in the general area of where this piece eventually came together.  I moved around a center location and after fanning in and out found enough stuff to bring back to “base”.  I had previously picked out a place where I wanted to make something because I liked the view with the railroad bridge and the City of Louisville behind that.

Mostly white plastic bottles, April 2016, Falls of the Ohio

Mostly white plastic containers, but also a gray and two silver ones too.  Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

I found a couple of nice plastic buckets and a nice fairly straight wooden plank and set the arrangement up with its back shielded by a huge log.  There was an even larger log that had an end on it that had been scorched by fire, but it worked with the scene.  First, I arranged all the black bottles up and moved from left to right and kept the large containers on the bottom row.  I set the three “grayish” containers up next and that including the two silver jugs I came across.  At least they seemed to represent some value between black and white and I took several photos with them in the configuration.  Later in the day, I did return back to this spot and shot a few without the gray containers in the pictures…just the black and white ones which I liked too.

Beginning of Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Here’s an image with a train crossing the tracks.  Unfortunately, I did not get a shot before my piece was set up.  Now for a progression of other work in progress photos documenting the brief peak of the “Arrangement in Black and White Plastic”.

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic with Louisville in the Distance, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

View with Arrangement in Black and White  Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

View of Arrangement in Black and White Plastic (from the black end), Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

While I was working out in the driftwood, new friend and fellow artist Chiel Kuijl came out looking for a few choice pieces of wood for his rope installation.  Chiel has been the Artist at Residence at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest and is originally from the Netherlands.  We have crossed paths out here at the Falls of the Ohio as well as socially with mutual friends.  He has returned to Holland, but is due to return to Louisville this year to work on a recent commission.

Artist Chiel Kuijl at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, April 2016

Chiel later built a beautiful rope installation over water as well as distinctive “furniture” from ropes and driftwood.  Park of this busy April included visiting Chiel out in Clermont, KY to see what he accomplished during his residency.  I look forward to showing you a few images of his work in a later post.  First!…let’s get through this one.  I did remove the “gray” containers so it is just black and white butting up to one another.

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, version 2, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, version 2, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

I week after I made this piece, I returned to check on it and inspect my base studio.  Here is an “after” picture.  I already have plans in mind on how I can reuse this black and white plastic.  One other fun development…I am working towards my show at Bob Hill’s Hidden Hills Nursery in Utica, IN.  That will open on May 22 after some of the Kentucky Derby madness has subsided some.  I have three very large figures I have been working on and you will see those soon.  Have a wonderful Sunday…from the Falls of the Ohio and the Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog.

Arrangement in Black and Gray Plastic, a week later, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

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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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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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In the Willow Habitat, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

The Falls of the Ohio State Park has experienced its first light frost.  With the colder temperatures arriving, a maturing autumn anticipates the winter to come.  Although there are still some leaves left on the black willows and cottonwood trees…they won’t last much longer.  Already the curled up, shed leaves of the willows are gathering and forming brown islands around the parent trees and defining the spaces the willows occupy in this sandy area near the river.  As I walk through this habitat, cocklebur and various other seeds attach themselves to my jeans and shoe laces.  Picking and rubbing off the various prickly and sticky hitchhikers, it’s amuses me to think of myself as an agent of seed dispersal!

Found bird nest, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

A circular grass ball lying on the ground catches my eye.  Picking up the object I discover an intact bird nest.  Did it dislodge from some fork of a tree branch or is this from a ground nesting species?  I marvel at its construction and note its exterior is made from dried, interwoven grasses which contrasts with the well-defined interior composed of tiny twigs and rootlets that give structural strength to the bowl.  I wonder which species created it and were they successful in raising offspring?  The nest is now spent like the willow leaves and I place it on the ground to be reclaimed by nature.

mushrooms growing on driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Along my walk, I find various mushrooms and fungi growing on the decomposing driftwood.  I admire the variety of forms present.  Although the notion of decay hardly sounds optimistic…in this instance it is.  The fungi are great recyclers and return needed nutrients back into the environment.  These mushrooms are not lesser than, but rather co-equal to the many other interesting life forms that make this place their home.  I come across other signs of life along my hike.

Comma butterfly with wings folded, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

There are still a few butterflies around like this Comma.  Although nectar from flowers is absent, there are still what I call “butterfly licks” on a few of the willow trees.  These licks are sweet spots along the trunk or branches where the tree exudes a sticky sap that attracts insects.  With its wings folded upright, this Comma looks much like a dried leaf itself.  There is a good chance this butterfly will hibernate and overwinter here before “passing the torch” to the next generation of Comma butterflies in the spring.

beaver chewed willow wood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Along the riverbank, I find lots of evidence that beaver have been in the area.  They have been feeding off the willow trees growing nearest to the water.  Beaver are very wary and are probably active at night or very early in the morning.  In all my years walking throughout the park, I have only seen them on a couple of occasions.  The photo above shows a willow branch that has been gnawed away from the tree and its bark has been nibbled off for food.  Their teeth leave “tool marks” on the creamy, ivory-colored wood.  By the end of today’s hike, I have collected a nice bundle of beaver chewed sticks to use in my art.  And speaking of art…I walked by a couple of projects I worked on in my previous post.  The rock ring in the water is still holding up, however, the “Silver Star” made from overlaying driftwood lengths in the sand is a shadow of its former self.  Here are a few before and after images.

Detail of silver driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

remains of the "Silver Star" driftwood piece, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

It’s a big difference and doesn’t appear to be the result of natural wear and tear…unless we accept that there is a naturally destructive side to man’s nature?  Of course, this is just a pile of sticks arranged in the sand, but on a much larger, planetary level can we say that the wholesale changes we are making to the environment are natural and inevitable?  I’m in the “no” camp because another aspect of our complex natures is the ability to discern right from wrong.  Still I wonder when our instincts for self-preservation will start kicking in?  I was beginning to mull this over more when I heard what sounded like someone playing strange music from an unfamiliar instrument.  I was pretty sure my ears weren’t hearing things and so I walked around until I found its source.  You can imagine my deep surprise when I came upon this interesting character in the willow habitat.

The Giggle Master, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

He introduced himself as the “Giggle Master” and he said he heard me talking to myself about serious things and grew concerned.  His method of revealing himself was to play a tune of his own composition from this combination oboe/recorder that grew from the middle of his face!  By breathing in and out and working the finger holes on his instrument he could produce a variety of sounds some of which were quite unique and appealing.  When I had adjusted to the idea that a strange being about a foot or 20 or so centimeters tall was talking to me…I relaxed my guard and decided to see what would happen next?  The Giggle Master told me to follow him and that he had something to show me that he believed would lighten my mood up considerably.

The Giggle Master and his collection, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

I followed my new friend to his shelter under a willow tree and he introduced me to his “collection”.  Like me, the Giggle Master is a finder and collector of odd river-deposited items.  He said it gave him great joy to assemble various odd collections where the sum of the collection is greater and more interesting than the parts.  I understood this perfectly because I have many unusual collections of my own river junk.  Some of which have been presented in this blog like my Squirt Gun Collection or Collection of Fake Foods.  You can see other collections I’ve formed and appear in my Pages section..  I have to say that the collection my friend was presenting to me was indeed unusual.  I asked what he called it and would it be possible to photograph it and present it to the wider world?  He said that he had no objections and so without further ado…here is what my friend called “The Giggle Bowl”.

The Giggle Bowl, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

We moved to the fossil beds for our impromptu photo shoot.  The Giggle Master told me that he had been collecting these “smiley faces” for a few years and now had enough to fill a found plastic bowl.  He went on to say that although he recognized that this was mostly waste plastic with all the accompanying bad baggage…it was also important to be able to step back and just appreciate the absurdity of it all.  The Giggle Master told me that taking oneself too seriously has potential consequences of its own.  He also told me that maintaining a healthy sense of humor would balance out the dark moods and I began to see the wisdom in this.  The Giggle Master said that he was appearing to me now because through some sixth sense all his own he could tell my own thoughts and feelings were beginning to sink below the horizon line.  He believed every person’s well-being would benefit from having a good laugh.  I have to admit it worked on me!  Okay, let’s spill the bowl and take a closer look at this goofy collection.

Two Smiley Face balls, purpose unknown, found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park

Okay, I confess that I have no idea what or how these smiley faces were used?  In their mouths, they have what look to be squeakers, however, these balls are too hard to squeeze.  The one with the red cap has a small stone lodged in its mouth and was made in China.

Three smiley face antenna balls, found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park

I frequently am grateful when something I come across says what it is.  In this case, these are three lightweight foam “antenna balls”.  Yes, for a while, there was a fad where people decorated the ends of their cars’ radio antennas with these novelties.  I like the one sporting a jester’s cap.

Three hard plastic face balls found at the Falls of the Ohio.

I’m calling these simply “face balls” because they are obviously not the more traditional “smiley faces”.  They floated into the park via the Ohio River from parts unknown.

Two smiling face fishing floats from the Falls of the Ohio

The Giggle Master was slightly alarmed because he realized he is missing the third smiling face from this series of objects.  I recognized that these are fishing floats and the missing float is larger still.  It will turn up somewhere.

A trio of plastic smiley faces found at the Falls of the Ohio

Here’s a trio of smiling faces.  The yellow one in the center is a simple ball, but the top and bottom pieces belong to something else I don’t recognize…do you?  The top piece looks to be a tiny container and maybe once held candy or soap-bubble solution, but there is no other information about it including its country of origin.

The Giggle Master with his Giggle Bowl collection, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

After the photo session was over, we returned to the willow tree where I first met the Giggle Master.  He stored his collection in a hollow formed in the tree’s trunk.  Before departing from my new friend, I thanked him for the much-needed laugh and wished him happy hunting as he expanded his silly collection.  No doubt the river will continue to supply new items.  He replied with a few notes from his…”nose instrument’.  As I turned for home, I looked back one last time and could discern a slight smile on his tiny face.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

fallen black willow leaves, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

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Great Blue Heron tracks in the mud, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

What began overcast and dreary blossomed into a gorgeous, sun-filled autumn day.  The exposed fossil beds by the Upper Tainter Gates are now covered by water rushing at break neck speed.  The Ohio River has once again reclaimed its ancient limestone bed with man’s help.  The Falls of the Ohio are like Niagara Falls which can also be regulated with the flip of a switch.  There’s a good chance that I won’t be visiting that side of the park again until next summer’s heat returns.  Today I concentrated my attention and energy along the riverbank under the Conrail Railroad Bridge.  This is an area where I have had good luck finding materials to work with and many of my best bird sightings have also occurred here.  The autumnal migration is under way.  Many of the birds that had passed this way going north in the spring are now moving south towards wintering grounds in exotic locations in Central and South America.  I ducked under the Black willow trees whose leaves are turning bright yellow and was soon rewarded by a bird species new to me.

Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

This is the Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher and this is the first time this species has been recorded in the park.  I had the greatest luck hiding behind the trunk of this willow and was able to observe this bird at extremely close range.  If it spotted me…it demonstrated no concern at all and continued its search for small insects and spiders hiding among the furrows in the tree’s bark.

Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher is a diminutive bird.  I watched as it dutifully searched the tree for food.  It had no problems going down the tree head-first in nuthatch fashion.  In this species, both the male and the females are similarly marked.  This young bird (identified by its lack of a feathered crest on it head) was just an egg a couple of months a go and has flown here from northern Canada.

Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I was literally at arm’s length to this bird and it was a such a treat to observe something new and at close range.  I loved the coloration on this bird.  The tail feather’s blue fan is balanced by the bird’s bright blue beak.  Rusty-colored wings are set off by the arctic-white hues along the head and body.  Like many bird encounters, I was only able to observe this bird for a minute or two at the most, but it was an experience that will last a lifetime.  As it flew off…I wished the bird well on its long journey and I hoped I could count its kind again among the park’s willow trees.

fallen willow leave on mud, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I lingered in the moment for a while.  No sense in rushing things.  When I was confident that no other birds were in the area, I moved back to a spot where the Fixed Wier Dam joins the Lower Tainter Gates.  This would be the site for my next project.

stone and concrete ring by the dam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The dam at this location has curtains of water flowing through openings that are lower than the top of the wall and represents the true water level of the river.  This flow feeds a small channel that leads back to the river and is a favorite place for fishermen.  I had earlier noticed among the large broken sections of concrete and loose rock that some other creative soul(s) had started what looked like a stacked stone ring in the water.  There was the remnants of a foundation and I decided to build it back up for a look-see and to elaborate on it if possible.  I guess this in effect is a collaboration with an anonymous individual.  The image above was taken after I began reconstructing the ring.

Sun light reflecting with the stone ring, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

As I kept building up the ring, I would document my progress.  This is one of my favorite shots from the series.  Here I was able to center the sun’s reflection within the ring’s interior.  In my mind it became a portal to some other place far beyond the river.  The image of a passage way or tunnel is one that recurs in my Falls projects.

rock and concrete ring, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I would have added the rectangular rock in the foreground, but it proved heavy and sunk into the mud.  Interestingly, the water within the ring was much calmer and created a safe harbor which contrasted with the swiftly flowing water around it.

rock and concrete ring, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The ring’s slightly irregular shape was determined by its placement.  The ring is situated on the edge of where the water cascading off the dam’s wall has worn a deeper channel in the shallow bottom.  Since it was such a beautiful day I decided to spend more time at the Falls.  I made one other site-specific work where the center is a point of focus.

silver driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Detail of silver driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

 

What I love about the driftwood at the Falls of the Ohio is the way it changes color as it ages.  After a summer’s worth of sunlight, the wood here takes on a silvery-gray color.  I collected lengths of wood from the immediate area and laid them in the sand.  The silver driftwood radiates away from a central point.  While I was engaged with my “Silver Star” four very nice people stopped by and asked directions to the fossil beds.  These park visitors became interested in what I was doing.  I appreciated that they wanted to participate and play along in their own way.  Here are a few additional images.  I’m assuming they are two mothers with their daughters enjoying an outing to the river?  Here one person is photographing the cast shadow on my wood piece.

Visitors interacting with my art, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Park visitors interacting with my driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I think I may have inspired the daughters to attempt their own project?  Before too long they were picking up pieces of driftwood and making a make-shift shelter of their own design.

Girls making a driftwood shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Girls posed under their improvised shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The girls looked very happy under their driftwood shelter!  When my sons were younger, this was a favorite activity of theirs and this day brought back those good memories.  This park is such a great playground and allows one to exercise both your body and imagination.  I wonder if these ladies ever found the fossil beds?  It probably doesn’t matter since it looked like a good time was had by all.  Soon enough it was time to go home and I gathered up my collecting bag and walking stick and admired the late season flowers as I walked back to my vehicle.  Thanks for tagging along and I hope to see you next time from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

tiny composite flowers with bee, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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Micro Polo alone on the ocean, Aug. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

Of all the names from the distant past, few shine as brightly or are as well remembered as that of the legendary explorer, Micro Polo.  Rest assured, he must have been an actual person because too many stories and discoveries have been connected with his legacy.  A few rare, hand-copied journals have been preserved in some of the world’s most obscure libraries documenting his remarkable life.  An intrepid traveler and explorer, it is said his ambition was to take the measure of the world even if he fell off its flat edge in the process!  Few individuals in recorded history have had the thirst for knowledge or have traveled so far in the name of adventure.  By far, the most unusual story that has come down to us comes from Micro Polo’s last adventure.  Widely believed to be a fantasy, a recent manuscript discovered in an ancient clay pot and buried for a millennia in the desert ruins of a forgotten city has resurrected the tale and its supposed veracity.  This previously unknown manuscript offers the most detailed version of Micro Polo’s last voyage and is augmented by fantastical drawings scribbled onto the margins.  We offer this contemporary retelling of this ancient tale for your amusement.

Micro Polo alone on the wide ocean, Aug. 2014

On a moonless and cloudy night upon the open sea…tragedy struck!  Micro Polo’s sailing ship caught fire and sank on what would be his final voyage away from home.  There was barely time to escape and a life raft was quickly thrown overboard.  Only three scared and injured sailors including its captain, Micro Polo, climbed into this bobbing cork before the last of the fiery masts disappeared beneath the waves .  During the next week, one sailor perished from his burns and another went mad from thirst and flung himself into the waters never to be seen again.  This left Micro Polo alone in the raft as he drifted with the currents to points unknown.  He resolved to survive and thoughts of his family back home kept him alive.

Micro Polo and his raft, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo survived by catching unwary seabirds that landed on his craft and by collecting rainwater from passing showers.  It was during the second week of his ordeal that our hero noticed a fresh change in the surrounding air.  Around him floating in the water were bits and pieces of vegetation and he knew he was near land.  Spying terra firm and the entrance to a large river that flowed into the sea, Micro Polo furiously paddled and reached the shore of a completely unknown world.

Micro Polo finds land, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo's beached raft with paddle, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Upon setting his feet upon the solid ground and through parched lips, Micro Polo gave thanks to his gods and drank deeply from the fresh water of the river.  His spirits were uplifted!  He still had no idea whether or not he was standing on some previously uncharted island or land mass?  At this joyous moment, it did not matter where he was and Micro Polo was eager to leave the confines of the tiny raft and look for help and food.

Micro Polo and skeleton of a giant fish, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo had not travelled very far down the sandy beach before he realized that he had arrived at someplace extraordinary.  Before him laying on the coarse sand was the largest fish skeleton he had ever seen!  It was a monster and Micro Polo felt lucky not to have encountered him in the water.  The size of the creature’s mouth was large enough to have easily swallowed the explorer!  Judging from the scales and boney plates, Micro Polo thought this behemoth resembled the common carp of his home country.  Soon our hero would come upon many other large and unusual sights.

Micro Polo with large white flowers, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo next to giant Rose Mallow, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

The vegetation of this new land was outstanding!  It was verdant and outrageously populated with the largest blooms imaginable.  There were immensely long vines and grasses as tall as trees!  As he walked and explored this oversized garden, Micro Polo noticed that like the fish he found…many of the flowers of this new land resembled varieties that he was somewhat familiar with and had grown at home.  Over here were giant morning glories and could this be some new type of gigantic rose mallow?

Micro Polo and field of giant loosestrife flowers, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Wandering further afield, Micro Polo came upon a clearing populated by a large stand of loosestrife flowers. The purple color of the flowers was intoxicating and the explorer could not take his eyes off of the huge butterflies as large as eagles sipping nectar from the blossoms.  In addition to being a riot of color, the loosestrife flowers were alive with the buzzing sounds of hundreds of insects flying around.  Here Nature was undisturbed and at peace going about its business.

Viceroy butterfly on loosestrife flowers, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Cabbage white butterfly on loosestrife, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo recognized the Cabbage White butterfly from his homeland, but there were many new species here and all the more remarkable for their immense scale and beauty.  The insects (including some very large bumblebees) all left the traveler alone as they were preoccupied gathering nectar and pollen from the flowers.  As the sun was setting, Micro Polo began to get very weary and he sought out a place to spend the night.

Micro Polo among the roots of a giant tree, Aug. 2014

Of all the immense delights of that first day, nothing struck Micro Polo with more awe than the size of these trees.  The roots alone were thicker around than a man’s body.  The captain in him noted that a single one of these gigantic trees would provide enough lumber to build a single new ship.  For now, he would be happy to take shelter for the night under its huge and leafy canopy.  He found a nice safe space protected by interlocking roots and decided to settle down for the evening.

Micro Polo with a large yellow leaf, Aug. 2014

To pad the ground for sleeping purposes, Micro Polo gathered the immense yellow leaves that were lying around the tree.  There was an intoxicating spicy smell from sleeping upon a bed of leaves and our intrepid explorer barely registered the distant thunder storm that was approaching before falling asleep.  Micro Polo was so fatigued by the excitement of the day that the brief but intense rain showers were not acknowledged at that time.  The explorer later recalled that this was the most restful night of sleep he had ever had.

Micro Polo the following morning., Aug. 2014

The following morning was wet from dew and the previous night’s rain.  Micro Polo decided to get up at first light and further explore this unbelievable landscape.  He found some greens that were palatable and had breakfast.  Later he crossed over an area that was rocky and had large deposits of driftwood bleaching in the sun.  Thus far, he had seen nothing that made him think that he wasn’t the only person walking this land…but that was about to change.

Micro Polo and the giant sandal, Aug. 2014

Tangled up in the driftwood were certain outsized objects that looked like common household items that had been carelessly thrown aside.  Micro Polo came upon a large black sandal that was as long as his body!  There were other fragments whose purposes and materials he did not recognize.  Not far from this discovery, he came upon this find.

Micro Polo with large toothbrush. Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo recognized this an implement for cleaning one’s teeth, but on a gargantuan scale!  For the first time since arriving on these shores, the explorer began to fear and have doubts.  It was now clear that a race of giants also inhabited this land!

old firepit, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo decided to return back to the area where he first landed.  Along the way, he passed by what he previously thought were the possible ruins of some kind of stone fortification only to learn upon closer inspection that it was the remains of someone’s old camp fire.  There were immense charred logs within the stone ring.  Our explorer decided to hasten his step back to the raft.  He had no desire to see what type or kind of “man” could work on this scale!  Micro Polo was also determined not to become either this race of giants next pet or worse yet…a meal.  He had seen enough and was ready to take his chances upon the sea again.

Micro Polo with plucked morning glories, Aug. 2014

All manner of bizarre thoughts crossed over Micro Polo’s mind.  Had he in fact landed on some fantastic island or continent of giants?  Or, was it possible that by some unknown method or means that his very being had been shrunk down in size rendering him diminutive?  Could prolonged exposure to the elements while on the raft have this effect upon him?  Regardless, if he were to return home he would need proof of his latest and perhaps greatest discovery.  Thinking quickly, Micro Polo tore off a length of morning glory vine with blossoms and threw it across his shoulders.  He would take this plant specimen home with him or perish in the process.

Micro Polo looks for his raft, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

When the great explorer reached the spot where he thought he left his raft…it was nowhere to be seen!  The rain storm from last night had swelled the volume of the river and the raft, left unsecured, simply drifted off.  Micro Polo was in a panic and searched up and down the riverbank, but the black craft that bore him to safety once before had simply vanished.

Micro Polo and large white bowl, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo and his new "boat", Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

As the story continues, many hours and several miles or kilometers later…Micro Polo came upon an artifact partially buried in the sand that would save him.  It had been shaped by the giants and had probably served as a bowl or at least it looked like one.  Being a resourceful individual, Micro Polo had the great idea to use this bowl as his getaway vessel.  He gathered up some provisions for the journey, wrapped the now wilting morning glory vine around his body and launched himself back upon the waters.  He would trust that whatever mysterious forces brought him here would also return him home again.

Micro Polo homeward bound, Aug. 2014

Micro Polo was discovered adrift after several weeks by a passing merchant ship and he was taken back to his homeland.  The sailors that found him reported that he was speaking gibberish and hallucinating badly.  All his provisions were gone along with the morning glory vine which he had eaten when nothing else edible presented itself.  He kept telling anybody who would listen about this fantastic land of giants he had discovered, but nobody believed him.  Those with a kind heart and ear just let him go on with his crazy story.  Eventually, Micro Polo’s health returned to him with his family’s care, however, his days of great discoveries were over.  The famed explorer spent the rest of his life chronicling his adventures in his notebooks and navigating the known world through hand drawn maps and charts spread out upon his library’s wooden table.  In the many years that passed, nobody else came across Micro Polo’s land of giants…however, people had a devil of a time explaining where that odd bowl-like boat came from?

Rose Mallow, side view, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

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