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Posts Tagged ‘Ohio River’

Louisville as seen from Indiana, March 6, 2016

The river has finally given us a reprieve from the high waters of the past month.  I  got an early start from my home in Louisville and crossed the Second Street Bridge on my way to the Falls of the Ohio.  Today, I decided to do something a little different and wandered the eastern bank of the Ohio River on the Indiana side which technically is not in the Falls of the Ohio State Park proper.  I just kept walking and walking and had no trouble filling my collecting bags with potential art materials.  Overall, it would turn out to be a good day and I managed a couple of modest projects which are the subject of this post.

View of Louisville from the Indiana bank, March 6, 2016

I walked as far east as I could without feeling like I was wandering onto private property.  I figured if someone were to challenge me, they probably wouldn’t object to me picking up the plastic and river-polished Styrofoam that soon filled up my bags.  As it turned out, I didn’t encounter a person all day long.  It could be that hiking along a muddy riverbank isn’t most people’s cup of tea, but that’s just speculation on my part!  I did come to one spot that afforded a nice view of Louisville’s skyline.  To take these pictures, I stood in what was once a creek that originally fed into the river.  That must have been some time ago, however, because the view behind me is somewhat industrial.  Now it’s a spot where the water backs up when the river is high.  Everywhere I wandered I found lots of junk mixed into a driftwood and ground up tree bark matrix.  Here are a few of the items I found that were a bit more interesting.

Plastic river corn, March 6, 2016

Here is a picture of miniature plastic river corn poking out among the woody debris.  There’s something about finding plastic plants out here that still provokes me.  I picked this corny cluster up and into the collecting bag it went to ultimately join the other fake food items that I have assembled over the years.

Plastic D.J. toy, March 6, 2016

And now for a toy figure that probably represents a disk jockey character complete with over sized jewelry and a microphone.  I don’t recognize this character and it occurs to me that I’m now hopelessly out of synch with cartoon popular culture.  My sense is that programs come and go so quickly now that the plastic crap these shows spawn far exceeds the actual life of the shows themselves.

Found plastic toy lion, March 6, 2016

Moving closer to the railroad bridge that I like to work around…I found this realistic toy lion.  I think this is an example of how you can develop “a six sense” for finding stuff, because this lion was the same color as the wood chips and debris it was mixed into.  Stuff that is neon colored like many plastic items are makes them relatively hard to miss.  Let me show you what I mean.

Plastic color spectrum arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

Here’s my latest color spectrum arrangement made from found plastic.  I gathered these components up along my walk on the riverbank just east of the park.  I found a place that was relatively sheltered by the wind that had just picked up after my arrival.  Today, I found a bit more purple than I usually come across.

Plastic color spectrum, March 6, 2016

Detail of plastic color spectrum, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

Most of  the plastic items in this assemblage are bottles of various sorts.  This time, I did add a few “humorous” toy finds like the plastic frog and rubber duck wearing sun glasses.  Since I still had a few hours to devote to today’s walk…I decided to venture further west and into the park to see what changes the river had made and to make one other piece I had in mind.

Flip flop flower arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

Flower made from found flip flops, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

After filling my bag up with plastic bottles, I then switched to collecting lost flip-flops.  In a relatively short amount of time I had picked up enough of these cheap sandals of varying sizes, colors, and designs to make something with.  Since this is spring and we certainly have had our share of rain…it stands to reason that flowers would soon follow.  I began my arrangement by taking the larger flip-flops and using them as the base.  Gradually, I worked towards the center overlaying and stacking the smaller sandals that a child would wear.  The result was something that I called a “Chrysanthemum” in my plastic-addled brain.

"Chrysanthemum", found flip flops at the Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

I did enjoy having a little bit more of the riverbank to explore than I have had this past month.  We still have lots of potential for rain and high water.  I think on my next trip out here I will explore what the high river has deposited in the western section of the park.  I wonder if my ball collection is still around or did that eventually get reclaimed by the river?  I guess I will need to wait until next weekend to find out.  For now, here is one last image from this trip out at the Falls of the Ohio.

Train on the bridge, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 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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Large, plastic Jack-o-lantern decoration, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

My images have been chosen and I’m writing quickly to create this Halloween-themed post before the big day arrives in our country.  Meaning I have until tomorrow to post this if I want this story to be relevant to the day at all!  2015 was a very good year for finding Halloween related junk at the Falls of the Ohio.  Some of this stuff I’ve saved into a small collection and the rest of my discoveries are preserved digitally.  I have long since moved from the position that I need to save every physical object that I come across.  Most of the time, having the picture is good enough.

Upside down, plastic jack-o-lantern, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

The two bouts of flooding that we had during the Spring washed all manner of goodies into the park.  It was an especially good year for plastic jack-o-lanterns.  These common objects are essentially a plastic bowl for receiving and holding trick or treat candy.  Naturally, real jack-o-lanterns are carved and hollowed out pumpkins that are illuminated from within often using candle power.  I’m always surprised by the variety of plastic jack-o-lanterns that I have come across.  This example was photographed as I encountered it…upside down and laying on top of the sand.

Destroyed plastic jack-o-lantern at the Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Here’s one that was crushed by the flood and some passerby hooked it onto a branched log.  Here’s another plastic jack-o-lantern deposited by the river, but this one is much smaller.

Small, plastic jack-o-lantern bottle laying in the driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Over the years, I have found many Halloween novelties including other containers for holding the precious bounty of candy.  The jack-o-lantern form, however, is overwhelmingly the most popular.  This year, I did find two different forms.  Here is one that is the head from an unlucky black cat!

Plastic black cat head candy carrier, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Now for a black plastic witch’s cooking pot that I nearly overlooked resting in the driftwood.  The witch is dancing in silhouette next to her fire.

Black plastic witch's cauldron candy carrier, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

I even came across the remains of a mask.  Costumes are a big part of Halloween and I don’t find many of them at the Falls.  This one was pretty muddy, but after cleaning it up a bit…I saw that it was a devil’s mask made from a soft foam.

Foam devil mask, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Okay, let’s look at a couple of shots of assembled river finds.  This one has a variety of different character references.

Various plastic toy novelties, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

This shot has a little bit of everything including vampire teeth, Shrek, Frankenstein’s head, a skull, a witch’s head, and a couple of scarecrows that also have a Halloween connotation.

Three different plastic owl bottles, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Owls also are iconic to Halloween.  Here I offer three found plastic bottles in the shape of owls.  The big red one was found in 2015 and the other two are earlier.

Falls of the Ohio Jack-o-lantern Collection, 2015

Most of these are associated with candy novelties, but not all.  I put this collection together at home when I noticed I had so many jack-o-lanterns in my various collecting bags.

Halloween-themed chap stick?, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Can’t say until now that there is actually a Halloween-themed chap stick that you can purchase.  I am not likely to run across many of these along the riverbank.

Expressive face, plastic jack-o-lantern, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

I threw this guy into here because I like how expressive his face is.  Some of that is due to the dark river patina it has acquired being in the water for a while.  No doubt, I will keep running into this stuff at the Falls of the Ohio and I will try to document and or collect as I go along.  One last image from this year…earlier I was doing site specific assemblages using found colorful plastic elements.  Here is a detail of one piece I made and look who is taking pride of place?  Happy Halloween everybody…be safe and have fun.  See you in November!

Orange plastic jack-o-lantern with other river found objects, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

 

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End of the Woodland Loop Trail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Balancing on the spine of a water-soaked log, I crossed over to the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  A gorgeous day with the river high from torrential hurricane remnant thunder storms the valley experienced a couple of days a go.  It has been a few weeks since I was last in this section of the park.  Everything is green and growing and pressing upon the life around it.  This was another productive excursion to the river and I made several site specific works with the plastic I found.  I’ve decided to break those posts up into several stories because many of the pictures came out well.

The days found plastic, mid  June 2015, Falls of the Ohio

For this piece, I selected an area that I knew would have lots of plastic washed ashore.  With the river currently high, the searchable area is constricted by the encroaching water and high-walled riverbank and by dense vegetation.  When I unloaded my collecting bags and the contents of a milk crate I pressed into service…this is what I picked up.  Interestingly, this collection also includes plastic palettes from rival cola companies.  The rest of the best includes plastic containers for petroleum and laundry products.  As you can see, most of the labels have come off of the bottles due to river immersion.  I picked a place with lots of growing grape vines and set up my latest bottle piece.  Here is a quick sequence showing the progress…starting with building a three-tiered structure using local wood and logs I found in place.

Wood structure for Triple-tiered Petroleum RainbowTriple-tiered Petroleum Rainbow in progress, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015Completed

There are always surprises in what colors are available in a given area.  In this section of the park, black, green, and purple colored plastic was harder to come by.  I used five boards, three small logs, and a large log (hidden in the grape vines) to build this three layer structure to hold my found bottles.  I worked on this piece and another one I will show later moving back and forth between the hot sunlight of this assemblage and the piece I was making in the cooling shade.  Here are a couple more bottle details which I like to show off the color.

Detail of Triple-tiered Petroleum Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

Plastic bottle detail from

Everything about these containers is so highly artificial that they contrast with all the greenery around it.  So much thought and effort went into the design of these bottles to make their intended contents as desirable as possible.  That part worked because these plastic bottles were consumed in large numbers and many of them found their way carelessly into the Ohio River.

Triple-tiered Petroleum Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

The reality that this was made from discards is balanced by the good cheer I feel from the rainbow-inspired colors arranged on the weathered wood.  If I had not put them into this form, they would be nearly invisible plastic units scattered over the land.  These bottles are ubiquitous in our lives and even without the labels…we recognize what many of the products were.

Triple-tiered Petroleum Rainbow at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

This is where I left the latest of the Petroleum Rainbow series…pressed by verdant grapevines and an ever encroaching river.  Since I made this piece last week…our area has been buffeted by torrential rains and high winds.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see that water now laps at this assemblage’s “feet”.  It has been a remarkable week in other ways with the upholding of the Affordable Heath Care Act and making marriage a right for all throughout the land.  I hope that these great quality of life decisions we make will keep the state of the environment a high priority too.  One last picture before leaving…also taken in the western section of the park….so long from the Falls of the Ohio.

downed tree with log resting against it, Falls of the Ohio, June 2015

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Winter view at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Feb. 2015

And just when we thought we were winter-proof…the cold descended.  Literally, one day it was near 60 degrees and a few days later came the snow, ice, and record-breaking cold.  Although it has been a mostly mild winter in the Kentuckiana area…it has also seemed like a longer than necessary season.  Everyone I know is winter weary.  Cabin fever has me out venturing among the frozen willow trees at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  From winter’s past, I know that when conditions are just right, I can expect to see some interesting ice formations near the river.

The Artist at Exit 0 in winter time, Feb. 2015

The right conditions are also cold conditions and you need to dress appropriately.  I find I’m in good shape wearing my vintage pair of Wind-Dodger goggles to keep my eyes from getting all watery.  An old treasured scarf across my face and an all wool, German, military surplus, submariner sweater add to the many layers I have on.  I bring along my trusty walking stick which I use frequently to test the thickness of the ice over frigid water-filled puddles.  Outfitted in my best polar garb I feel confident as I venture forth over a hibernating landscape covered in snow and ice.

Ice formations on the dam's wall, Feb. 2015

In the eastern section of the park, ice has formed on the dam’s wall.  This wall is all that separates the full force of the Ohio River from impacting the lower levels of the park that I am familiar with.  The true height of the river is many feet above my head.  The more swiftly flowing water keeps from freezing.  Debris of all description and the trunks of washed away trees build up on the upriver side of the dam.  More than likely, all the pent-up driftwood will find release when the spring floods come and even the walls of this dam can’t keep the river from rearranging this area once more.  It is a dynamic environment ruled by the river.  If I were to contrast the scene before me with the way this spot will look like in six month’s time…you would think you were on a different planet altogether.  I try to appreciate the variety before me which also has a way of keeping out the cold.

geese tracks in the snow, Feb. 2015

I find there is a surprising amount of life out here.  Although I’m the only person around, I have already spotted several species of birds that don’t seem to mind these conditions.  Geese have left there meandering tracks in the snow.  In the air, I watched both a Peregrine falcon and a nice flock of Ring-billed gulls engage in aerobatics over the river.  I come across other tracks in the cold mud that has me momentarily frozen in place.  I sort of recognize them, but there is also something not quite right here that I can’t put my finger on?

beaver tracks in the mud

To my eye, they appear to be beaver tracks, but they are too small.  I run all the possible candidates through my mind’s mammal filter, but I’m drawing a blank.  I chalk it up to my inexperience.  Try as you might, you can’t learn everything from books and there’s no substitute for doing the fieldwork.  I left the tracks and headed towards the spot on the river where I’ve seen good ice formations before.  Along the way, I find many chewed up willow branches and cuttings near a stand of willow trees.  Something has been dining fairly regularly in this area and with luck I may find other evidence identifying my mystery animal.  As you may have already guessed…luck was with me!

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

If it hadn’t moved, I doubt that I would have seen it and I would have missed the first recorded occurrence of the Polar Beaver (Castor arcticus) at the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  In size, this remarkable rodent is about the size of the common house cat.  I stood transfixed as this all-white animal concentrated its intentions on the ice-covered willow trees near the river’s edge.

Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I wondered if the Polar Beaver could appreciate the varieties of shapes and forms that frozen water can take?  In the background, the Ohio River seemingly “smoked” as the surrounding air is much colder than the water.  This vapor or steam gradually coats the structures nearest the river.  As the condensation freezes it creates the many shapes that I like to describe as ribbons, sausages, and candles in this beautiful wonderland.  During these special moments, one can appreciate water as it exists in three different states of matter…gaseous vapor, flowing liquid, and rock solid.

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Historically speaking, the Polar Beaver is a fairly new animal to be described by science.  Although its beautiful snow-white pelt has been a valuable and prized trade item by the northern indigenous people…it was thought these rare white furs were taken from albino morphs of the common beaver.  Ironically, crypto-zoologists looking for the legendary Sasquatch, instead brought to light the existence of this very rare rodent.  DNA testing confirmed that the Polar Beaver is a truly unique species.  Some of the first observations about this animal documented that this beaver’s coat turns white as autumn transitions to winter.  This is a trait it shares with other polar animals like the Arctic hare and Stoat.

Polar Beaver with willow branch, Feb. 2015

During this time at the Falls,  I was able to observe the Polar Beaver feeding.  Deftly, the beaver chose just the right willow twig and with a quick bite, severs it from the parent tree.  Holding the stick with its front paws, the beaver than carefully chews away the surrounding bark revealing the ivory warmth of the wood.  “Tool marks” left behind by the beaver’s teeth are recorded in the wood.  Willow makes up a significant part of this animals diet, but it is now known that other tree species and plants are eaten “in season” as well.

Polar Beaver feeding in its ice shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Polar Beaver feeding on willow branch, Feb. 2015

If the Polar Beaver noticed me at all…I couldn’t tell because it seemed so intent upon feeding.  I watched this animal carry a willow branch to a small “ice shelter” where it focused on the task on hand.  The muddy Ohio River gently lapped the shoreline.  When the beaver finished its meal, it continued to explore the immediate environs with its many ice formations.

Polar Beaver at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I noticed the beaver sampling willow it had already chewed upon as it moved down along the river’s edge.  I stood transfixed by this nearly mythical animal.  I finally lost sight of the beaver when it went behind an ice formation and unseen by me…slipped back into the water and disappeared.  I searched around for a couple of hours hoping to have another glimpse of this Polar Beaver or any others that might have been around, but ultimately was unsuccessful.  I returned during the next two days, but this beaver apparently moved on for good.  I was lucky to have seen it, but can you blame me for being greedy and wanting more time with this magical animal?  Wouldn’t you wish for the same if you were me?  When my reverie lifted, I realized that I could no longer feel my toes and my digital camera was also feeling the cold and not operating properly.  It was time to go home and I will leave you with one final image from this trip.  Here is a view of a favorite old willow tree as it appears during the heart of winter.  Spring will soon be around the corner and I will see you again at the Falls of the Ohio.

Old willow tree in winter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

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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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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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