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Posts Tagged ‘recycled art’

river frosted bottle glass, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I hope all of you out in blogland are having a great holiday season.  My own family has enjoyed having the additional time to connect with folks we don’t see often enough.  Today is the last day of the year.  With no pressing commitments scheduled for today, I thought I would squeeze in one final post before the ball drops later tonight.  You may be wondering what an image of a hand holding river polished and frosted bottle glass has to do with anything?  Well, that’s the subject of this craftier than usual post.  Every year I enjoy sending out original holiday cards and other “stuff” I make and gift from river junk.  This year in addition to the cards (which featured the Christmas Bird of previous post fame), I created more of my “Ice Blossom Ornaments”.  Friends who were the recipients of these “river treasures” assured me they were blog worthy.  We shall see about that.

Styrofoam fishing floats and old Styrofoam Christmas ornament, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

To make an “Ice Blossom Ornament” you need a bit more than broken glass found at the river or beach…you also need a body or form to attach the shards to.  In this case, I like using the Styrofoam fishing floats I find and ironically polystyrene balls that are the remains of former Christmas tree ornaments that have washed into the park.  I have seen a few of these original ornaments in various states of decomposition and they are usually covered with a shiny fabric that is glued to the ball.  I prefer the balls that have lost their covering. When placement of the glass pieces has been decided, you cut into the ball form using a sharp Exacto knife.  The hole I create is traced around the glass shape that I will embed into the ball  A drop of glue holds the glass in place.   I love using this river-collected glass because all the sharp edges have been worn away and I like the “frosted” surface created from abrasion with the sand and water.  The same natural processes that tumble the Styrofoam and coal I use, also works its magic on glass.  Even with something as trifling as these ornaments, I like that nature had a “collaborative role” in their making.  The ornaments are finished off with the addition of found wire or waste fishing line and the occasional found piece of hardware.  Here are some finished examples.

Two Ice Blossom Ornaments , Dec. 2014

2014 Ice Blossom Ornaments made with Falls of the Ohio found materials

The next two pieces are a little larger and utilize bigger glass fragments.  Some of these larger ornaments reference seed pods and marine forms like urchins.

Ice Blossom Ornament with copper wire, Dec. 2014

This year I added polished coal to the list of materials used.  Coal is after all, stored energy from the sun and suits the “star” image.  Also, at the heart of every living star is a potential black hole and this ornament has that going for it as well.

Ice Blossom Star with Coal, Dec. 2014

The original ideas behind the “Ice Blossoms” comes from the 2009/10 holiday season.  It was an important element in a story I wrote about the very rare migration of the Arctic Hummingbird (Styrotrochildae polystyrenus).  When the conditions are just right, the very unusual Arctic Hummingbird times its appearance with the emergence of the Ice Blossom flower.  The hummers seek out the concentrated energy found in the Ice Blossom’s nectar.  I just happened to be lucky enough to be at the Falls of the Ohio when the Ice Blossoms were in bloom.  Here’s an image I captured showing the relationship between the bird and flower.

Arctic Hummingbird feeding, 1/2010

Later I created another series of ornaments that I used to decorate the trees and vines at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Some of these images were later incorporated into my Christmas cards.

Ice Blossom ornaments and briar vines

I liked the idea of ornaments in nature and still feel some of the trees in the park are just as worthy of decoration as the trees we set up for the holidays.  Regardless, the next time you find yourself around beach glass and Styrofoam…here’s an idea you can try to reuse both materials.  Happy New Year everybody…see you in 2015.

Ornaments in Nature, 12/09

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Falls of the Ohio State Park Interpretive Center

On November 24 the Falls of the Ohio’s Interpretive Center closed for renovations.  This is the first large-scale overhaul of the permanent exhibits since the center opened in 1994.  Since that time, the state of the art in terms of exhibit display has progressed by leaps and bounds.  According to an article appearing in the Courier-Journal, the Falls of the Ohio Foundation has raised six million dollars to pay for the new updates which are expected to be completed sometime in the fall of 2015.  Louisville’s respected museum design company, Solid Light Inc. will handle the redesign and installation.  The Interpretive Center will be employing the latest interactive technologies and refining its focus to better educate visitors about the significance of the Falls of the Ohio area.  Four new themed exhibits will take the place of the old static displays and are named “The Devonian Sea”, “A Changing Land”, “Converging Cultures” and “The Falls Today”.

Grand Hall of the Interpretive Center, 3/2010

I am looking forward to checking out the new exhibits once they open.  But if I may for a moment, pause and reflect upon the demise of the original beloved centerpiece that was once on display in the Interpretive Center’s main hall.  In style, it does harken back to a tradition when collections of natural history specimens and objects that provoked wonder were kept in Wunderkammers and cabinets of curiosity.  This eclectic display has never failed to fire up my imagination.  Yes, it is a mishmash of objects (both real and artificial) and it jumps all over the timeline.  This is actually one of the reasons I find this display so appealing.  My experience of the Falls is one where all this history and information exits simultaneously in the present and I felt that from this art-like installation.

old display at the Falls of the Ohio, birds above the mammoth skeleton

old fish display at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center

 

I love the scale of the mammoth skeleton and the taxidermed fish and birds lifting to and flowing from the ceiling.  With this display it was easy to adjust for scale and you received a truer sense for just how big the Devonian sharks were and how truly huge an Ice Age elephant was.  I’m not sure that a projection or video could convey this as much as something you could make a true physical comparison with that is sharing the same space with you?  A walk around the centerpiece revealed beautifully fabricated and delicate Devonian Age sea creatures inhabiting a coral reef.  The displays under glass contained specimens and relics that were a tip of the hat to many of the great 19th century naturalists that helped put the Falls of the Ohio on the map.  In essence, a lot of the information you needed to know about the Falls was contained in this single display.

Prince Madoc figure in the old display at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center

Of all the elements in this centerpiece, perhaps the most controversial was the inclusion of a life-size figure of Prince Madoc.  He was one of three figures presented which also included a representation of a Native American and a pioneer figure that might have also been a portrait of John James Audubon?  In case you have never heard of Prince Madoc…he potentially was a 12th century Welsh explorer and he and a band of his people may have been early European visitors to North America.  There is a persistent legend about a group of blonde hair blue-eyed Indians that may be descendants of Prince Madoc.  An old Native American story has this band being routed in battle near the Falls of the Ohio and is the connection to our area.  When President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark west to explore the continent…he asked that they keep an eye out for evidence of this story.  I have a good friend who couldn’t bear to look at the Prince Madoc figure and not because it wasn’t done well.  To him, it was a travesty to include this in a tableau that included factual elements.  To date, there is no convincing evidence, no archeological proof that Prince Madoc ever came to this continent.  I guess the veracity of the story never bothered me and I just liked the tale because of its association with the Falls.  To me, this is what history is about…some parts fact and some parts myth.  The Prince Madoc figure was there to add an extra dimension of imagination I could appreciate.

underneath the mammoth's ribcage

Prince Madoc may have been banished from future displays, but the mammoth skeleton was kept.  It was taken down and repositioned so that you have to pass between its legs and under its ribcage to enter into an auditorium.  I’m sure the new displays will be incredible, but I do hope they will also inspire visitors to use their own imaginations to some degree.

My collection of found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Having touched base with the Interpretive Center, I decided to connect with my own peculiar low-tech universe.  On this day it was sunny and windy and I made my way under the willow trees which provided some shelter from the breezes.  My larder of river-polished polystyrene chunks as white as the recent snowfall was there waiting for me.  I got an idea to make a particular figure from other items I found that day, but the piece I started crumbled to pieces.  A rare but not unheard of temporary setback.  I will return to it when I find the right form for this figure’s body.  On to improvised plan #2.  I looked around my pile and selected two new pieces and joined them together as head and body.  The addition of beaver-chewed willow stick limbs and some stones for eyes and plastic for the mouth and you have the basics of a figure.

Benchmark figure in the Falls landscape, Nov. 2014

This is the second piece I made and he is decidedly less complex than the sculpture that fell apart.  I kind of like this guy as an abstracted representation of a figure out in the landscape.  I walked him through the land and stopping here and there for different photo opportunities.  Here are a few more pics from this day.

Benchmark figure posed near river trash, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

To me, this figure has a sort of benchmark quality to it.  Here it’s posed next to some typical river trash.  There are places out here that “bleed” red from some oxides that originate beneath the sand.  I did keep the plastic wheel I found and added it to my ever-growing collection of toy wheels.  I have several hundred of them now and hope to create a grand piece with them.

Figure in a hole on the fossil cliffs, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Up on the fossil cliffs that overlook the river, I found a nice hole for my figure to stand in.  I tried to set the figure up by positioning the legs in a naturally occurring crack in the stone, but the wind was just too strong to allow this to happen.  A single fisherman shares the scene with my latest creation.

Styro-figure posed next to a nice piece of driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

For this image, I simply liked the piece of driftwood my Styro-figure is posed next to because of its worn and polished sculptural qualities.

Styro-figure posed next to anonymous improvised driftwood shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Here, I’ve set up the figure under an anonymous driftwood construction.  I liked the way the propped up driftwood defined and framed a space for my figure to exist in.  On this particular day, there wasn’t a made up story that came to mind.  For most of my Falls forays…this is the typical way the day goes.  It’s about being outside and reacting to the elements and conditions I come into contact with on the river’s edge.  This is how I interpret what is happening at the Falls of the Ohio.  I am already looking forward to my next visit and sharing it with you.

The Interpretive Center as seen from the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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On the dry Indiana bank, Falls of the Ohio, Oct 2014

After my all day excursion to the Kentucky side of the fossil beds…my next visit to the park was a relatively short one.  I had a few hours to work with and decided to check out the riverbank on the Indiana side.  It has been very dry of late and I heard on the radio that farmers have begun revising their optimism about this year’s corn crop.  Once again, we have had a season that seems atypical in a few respects.  Most notably, our summer has been a cool one.  No temperatures in the high 90 or 100 degree range…that would be about 35 to 38 degrees on the Celsius scale.  Climatologists point to the cold Arctic air that came sweeping down from Canada during July as the reason our summer was not as hot.  People around here aren’t complaining about that, but after last year’s polar vortex winter… folks are wondering if that bodes well for this year’s fall and winter?

Cracked, drying mud, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

In addition to the coolness, it’s also been dry of late.  Seems that we haven’t had a significant rain storm to speak of in weeks and the river continues to recede.  New pools are formed stranding fish in them and many creatures take advantage of this bounty.  Walking along the cracked riverbank I find evidence of this.

Dead Longnose gar and decaying Bull gill, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I soon came across dead fish left behind in the wake of weekend fishermen.  In this picture, an armored and toothy Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) lies side by side with an equally interesting fish that is rarely found here.  With its thick body, white caudil fins, and unique pectoral fins…I identify this smaller fish.  It’s more commonly called a Bull Gill, but science also recognizes it as (Taurus opercula).  I wonder if there are any other specimens hiding in the deeper pools around here?  To find out, I gather waste monofilament line found all along the riverbank along with a found lead-headed jig and before too long I have improvised a hand line for fishing.

Bull Gill on a hand line, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Bull Gill on the line, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

After some trial and error, I succeeded in catching a Bull Gill by bumping my jig along the bottom of a wide, but shallow pool.  The fish was well hooked and after a short struggle I was able to bring him up for a better look.

Bull Gill in hand, Falls of the Ohio, October 2014

Captured Bull Gill facing left, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I hurriedly take as many photographs as I can.  My intention is to release this fish back into the water after I document its presence here at the Falls of the Ohio.  As you can see, this fish contrasts greatly with the dead gar we saw earlier.  The gar is in fact a more ancient and primitive fish that relies on its hard armor for protection.  The gar is mostly a surface fish mimicking a floating piece of wood while it stealthily seeks out smaller fish to ambush.  The gar’s strategy has been so successful that it has changed little after millions of years.  The Bull Gill evolved much later and lacks prominent scales on its more compact body.  It too, however has evolved a unique method of feeding.

Bull Gill seen head on, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Bull Gill supporting itself on its pectoral fins, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The Bull Gill gets its name from its powerfully muscled head.  Just below and behind its gill covers, the unique pectoral fins have evolved so that this fish can support itself on the bottom of a swiftly moving stream or river.  I was able to demonstrate this with my specimen.  I placed my fish upon the rocks by the riverbank and it was able to support its body off the rocky surface using its strong and rigid fins.  In the water, the Bull Gill secures itself on the rocky bottom with its stiff pectoral fins and with its head facing upriver.  The Bull Gill is a predatory bottom feeder.  As prey fish swim by, the Bull Gill with a quick burst is able to capture its food and swallows them head first before returning to its spot on the river bottom.  I had this fish out of water for just a couple of minutes before releasing it safely back into the Ohio River.  I had to say that I enjoyed encountering a creature you don’t see every day.  It’s presence here is a good sign since the Bull Gill needs good quality water to thrive.   I gathered up my collecting bag and walking stick and decided to check out my stash of Styrofoam under the willows.

Up the riverbank and under the willows, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The willow trees are up the riverbank and the leaves are beginning to yellow more noticeably.  Along the way you pass by a couple of courses of deposited driftwood.  I love the silvery color of this wood which is due to exposure to the sun and elements.  I had a great surprise in store for me once I ducked under the cover of the trees.  For many years I have known that White-tail Deer are present in the park because their tracks are all over the place.  These ghost deer are fairly close to a populated area and extremely wary of people.  They must move around the park in the middle of the night or really early in the morning to avoid detection.

The deers' resting place, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

deer tracks in the sand, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

As I moved near my spot, I spooked a doe and her late season fawn.  I could still make out the spotted pattern on the fawn.  They were bedded down near a large log that floated into the park last year.  I first saw the doe which rose and ran off upon sighting me.  The fawn then stood up and followed after its mom.  I was unable to take a photograph because this sequence happened in just seconds.  I then followed to see if a second glimpse was possible and I even doubled back to this spot should the deer attempt the same maneuver.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get another look at them, but since they are near my outdoor studio, I will be sure to check for them next time.

My stash of Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

It had been many weeks since I last visited my larder of river-gleaned materials.  I could tell that people had been through here, but there is obviously nothing of value.  I mean what could one do with water-tumbled polystyrene and sticks?  If the river doesn’t rise anytime soon, I will come back and make something from this odd deposit.  My next post, however, will come from the Kentucky side of the fossil beds.  After this adventure, I returned with my river-polished coal and explored a few more areas around Goose Island and the hydroelectric plant.  I think I made some compelling images that speak of a sense for place and I look forward to sharing them with you.

Fall color at the Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

 

 

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Distant view of Louisville skyline as seen from Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

It’s a fresh month at the Falls of the Ohio.  Today has opened up on the cloudy side and there is a slight chance for rain…but I’m going to risk it anyway.  The lure of the river is too strong and I’m looking forward to exploring the western fringes of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Stray migrating Monarch butterflies pass by me and the loosestrife flowers are still in bloom.  I can tell the inevitable changing of the seasons is near.  Already I can detect a slight yellowing occurring in the canopies of the willow and cottonwood trees.  In a few weeks, all these leaves will be on the ground and ready to become recycled by and for life.

Old man as seen from the back, Sept. 2014

I’m walking along the shoreline which is a mix of limestone rocks and sandy/muddy beaches.   Mostly I’m being engaged by my own thoughts which change quickly like the reflections on the water.  I was so preoccupied by my own surrender to nature that I did not immediately notice the elderly gentleman sitting on a nearby log.  With a motion of his arm, the figure said to me in a clear voice, “It’s alright my man, I saw you coming down the beach.  Wonderful day to be alive isn’t it?”  I replied something affirmative and instinctively walked towards him.

Old Man drinking tea, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

Old Man holding a Thermos cup, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

“Now that I’m retired…I like to come out here and sit by the river.  Can’t think of a better place to have my morning tea and breathe deeply,” said the old man.  I admit to being intrigued by him and I’ll bet he’s a real character too.  I also sensed a kindred spirit since he was doing essentially the same thing as me, namely hanging out by the river.  I asked where he was from and with a nod over his shoulder, he said:

“My friends call me Jimmy D. on account of my bulbous nose. I don’t expect someone as young as you would remember the entertainer Jimmy Durante?”  I told him I had heard the name before, but it really was before my time.  Jimmy D. then said, “I’m a life-long resident of Clarksville, Indiana.  You know, that little town beyond the giant berm behind us?  I was just a boy in 1937 when the whole town disappeared under twelve feet of Ohio River flooding. My family and I spent about a month with kin in Indianapolis before we could move back and start over.  They had to rebuild the whole place because it’s just too historically important…you know, we date back to 1783 and we’re the oldest settlement in the Northwest Territory?”

I agreed that is indeed a great distinction and one I noticed being touted on several signs in the local parks.  I then gave Jimmy D. my particulars which included my name, being an artist, and living across the river in Louisville.  I then said, “Jimmy, I guess that makes us Metro neighbors.”

Jimmy D. drinking tea, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

I decided that I had a few minutes to get to know Jimmy better.  When I make my excursions to the river…I try (not always successfully) to not rush things and be in a hurry.  I will confess, thinking about time and the nature of time has become a preoccupation with me of late.  I see so many people rushing around and I wonder what’s so important about being in two places at once?

Jimmy D., facing forward, Sept. 2014

I broached this subject with Jimmy D. and here’s where I can get a little preachy.

I told Jimmy, “It seems to me that one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the planet is to slow down to the speed of life and find a good log to sit on.”  I further added, “Nature has evolved processes that have been hard-won over millions and billions of years.  What is it about our kind that wants to accelerate and consume the experience of living as quickly as we can?  Sometimes it can come as a big relief to stay put and appreciate the good around everyone which is all too easy to take for granted.”

Jimmy D. puts his cup down, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Jimmy D. put his cup down on the river-polished log he was sitting on.  I could tell he was weighing my words through his own sensibilities.  Before too long he turned back to me and said, “Fella, you just might have something there.”  He then began to explain a little more of his own life’s experience.

“When I was a young man I couldn’t wait to leave this little town and experience the wider world.  I thought my chance would come during World War II.  I could both do my duty and get out of here at the same time.  All my friends who were of age (and even a few who looked older than they actually were) were joining the armed services.  I decided that this would be my ticket out too and I tried to enlist.  As it turns out, I couldn’t pass the physical on account of having one foot larger than the other!  I tried not to get discouraged and wanted to do my part.  So, I walked next door (bum foot and all) to Jeffersonville and joined up with Jeffboat.  I learned how to weld, which became my profession.   I helped build the LSTs (Landing Ship-Tanks) that made the invasion of Europe a success for the allies and the free world.  I realized that even from the comforts of my home, I could help shape events in far away places.  After the war, my wanderlust had diminished considerably and love found me. After that there was a family of my own to take care of.  I stayed on at Jeffboat and helped make them the largest inland ship builder in the country.  I can’t recollect how many towboats and barges I helped construct.  And when it was my time…I retired and that is why you are finding me sitting on this log.  I can honestly say I have no regrets for how my life turned out.”

Jimmy D. lights his pipe, Sept. 2014

My new friend then pulled out a blue-colored pipe with a long stem and lit it.  A puff of white smoke was quickly dissipated by a light, passing breeze.  Jimmy D’s pipe kept going out and so I offered to help.

Me helping to light Jimmy D.,s pipe, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

My new friend thanked me and asked to hear something about my own story.  I obliged him although as a rule I’m not all that crazy about talking about myself.  I said that like him, the military factors into my life.  My dad was a career soldier and our family shuttled back and forth between the United States and Europe.  It was great being exposed to so much history and culture, but as a kid I wondered what it would be like to have a deeper relationship with my extended family?  My mother is Dutch.  I was born in Amsterdam.  My dad’s family hails from the New York City area and we have relatives in southern New Jersey.  Seems that we only saw our relatives when we were in transition from one place to another.  I grew up without having life-long friends.  After art school, I settled in Louisville, Kentucky and have been here going on thirty years now.  My two sons have had the nice experience of getting to know my wife’s family and so have had the reverse experience I had.  Much about the art I make revolves around a sense for place and seeing the value in materials that are considered worthless.  A lot of what I do is about being in the moment which is why encounters at the river are so valuable to me.  Jimmy D. just nodded and took another drag off of his pipe.

Profile of Jimmy D., Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

It’s funny how often I have been willing to reveal some detail about myself to a complete stranger…especially if we are traveling together and there is little chance of running into one another again.  I have had some great conversations with persons unknown to me while sharing rides on European trains.  I suppose after conversations that might be of an intimate nature, can you truly say you are still strangers to one another?  Jimmy D. and I alternated our conversation with just staring at the river going by.  The Ohio River may not be a train, nevertheless, it is moving on a journey of its own.  You can tell when two guys are comfortable with one another if time goes by and neither feels like they need to break the silence by saying something forced and stupid.  When the tobacco was spent from the pipe, Jimmy D. knocked the ashes against the log.  Among the last words I recall from our meeting at the river came from Jimmy D.  “I’m an old man now and my time is coming.  I hope my ashes will get the chance to mingle with the river.” I completely understood and wish for something similar for myself.  I like the idea of merging with nature with the chance to become part of something else.  I left Jimmy D. where I found him waiting for that train that will take him to the ocean and the wide, wide world beyond Clarksville.

Jimmy D. by the river, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

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Note on wood piece, Aug. 2014

A hot and sunny August morning and over Louisville’s rooftops I could hear the river’s siren song calling my name.  “Al”…Al…where have you been?”  The call was getting louder and more irresistible by the moment.  What’s a fella to do but heed the call?  I slurped down the last of my cold coffee, gathered my collecting bag and walking stick and twenty minutes later I transported myself to the Falls of the Ohio.  The river was receding into its summer pool and most of the riverbank was now exposed.  Here and there fishermen were trying both their luck and patience.  If birds could laugh, the numerous herons were enjoying themselves for it looked to my eye like they were having more success than the other bipedal hunters holding long rods and bait buckets.  I did a quick look around the old railroad bridge, filled a found, empty, glass liquor bottle with coal pebbles and headed for my spot under the willows.  Among my stash of Styrofoam and driftwood I came across a piece of wood I had previously picked up…and found this simple message written in ink… ” Hi Al”.

My stash of found art materials, Aug. 2014

Whoever penned this simple note at my discovered spot remains a mystery.  In my mind, I associated it with any of my many artist friends who also find inspiration among the driftwood…but it could have been the river too.  This place has been utilized by artists for many years.  Each new generation seems to discover this place for themselves and I hope it always remains this way.  I lingered under the shade for a bit and watched a mix flock of chickadees, warblers, and gnatcatchers move through the tree canopy.  With the show over and satisfied that my haul of river junk with all of its latent potential remained in place…I headed back into the bright sunlight.  Other mysteries and visual delights would await me.

plush Tasmanian Devil toy, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

Imagine coming face to face with the Tasmanian Devil!  Well, I did and lived to tell the tale.  Actually, this plush toy (which I found face down) was quite small and easy to overlook upon the driftwood.  Seems I’m always finding cartoon characters out in this landscape.  I suspended him by his arms upon the exposed roots of an overturned tree stump.  Someone may find him and give him a new home…or he might just fall apart over time eventually finding his way back into the river?  Walking through the sunlit clearings between willow stands, I came across this interesting found composition.

Upright red straw and cup lid with willow stumps, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I must have stared at this for an indeterminate amount of time?  Perhaps it was the upright and very bright red plastic straw that caught my notice?  Or, it could have been the very careful placement and arrangement I was discerning?  I felt I was looking at a rather intimate and odd bit of public art.  I found myself thinking…why didn’t I think of this!?  In my heart and mind I saluted the anonymous person who created this scene and walked away appreciatively.  A little further down the riverbank I came across a similar example.

Plastic straw and cup lid wedged in rock crack, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Wedged in a limestone crack was another plastic straw and disposable cup lid “sculpture”.  This time the straw was white with red stripes running down its length and the lid was an opaque white color.  Like the previous straw sculpture, this one seemed to activate the space it occupied and caused me to notice what else was happening in this micro-location.  The remains of ancient horn corals that lived in a shallow sea millions of years ago were preserved on the surface of the stone.  The straw was strategically placed in a deep silt-filled fissure which was the only place that would allow it to stand upright on this hard rock.  Finding a second upright straw and lid piece confirmed that the first one was not just a happy accident.  There was someone moving through the area with a purpose.

Upright red plastic straw with clear cup lid, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I soon came upon a third straw and lid site specific piece and it was different from the others.  While it was also made from plastic, the lid was clear and in the strong sunlight cast the most wonderful shadow upon the sand.  It occurred to me that I was following a fresh trail because the slightest bit of wind could easily knock these ephemeral works over.  I kept walking and as luck would have it, I came upon the artist responsible for these creations.

artist with orange hand on his head, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

With a big blue smile a diminutive persona standing at the edge of a stand of willow trees greeted me with a friendly wave of his thin stick arm.  He sported an orange hand symbol on his head and had very dark eyes as I recall.  He had a blue-collar around his neck and a yellow belt around his waist.  Otherwise, he was wearing nothing at all!  I heard him say that he had watched me from a distance checking out his last piece and what did I think of it?  I told him that I loved the simplicity of his works and admired how his careful placement made me more aware of the locations where they were sited.  They were such simple gestures made with the most economical of means.  I went on to gush about how surprisingly sophisticated I thought they all were, but he just stood there smiling.  It was then my turn and I asked him how he came upon the idea?  He said it happened quite by accident.  Reflexively, he set the first one up without any thought and liked the result.  On a hot, sunny day…it reminded him of an umbrella set up on a beach which further reminded him of a family vacation he made as child the first time he saw the ocean.  The other straw and lid pieces became tops spinning in his mind and on and on, but most of all…he was doing this to have fun.

artist with straw and lid sculpture, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I asked if it would be all right to tag along for a short while with him and he said that it would be fine.  We passed by one of his earlier projects and I snapped this quick picture. He was looking to make another piece or two and there (unfortunately) didn’t seem to be any shortages of straws and lids to work with.  The artist recognized that these elements were not supposed to end up here.  Setting them upright was also a good way to get other people to notice these things and perhaps give a thought or two about the state of the environment.  We eventually worked our way back to the water.  Sure enough, my little friend found another straw and lid along a trail frequented by fishermen.

The artist and his materials, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Just as the artist was about to plant his new-found straw and lid into the moist ground…a nice group of people came over and greeted us.  There were two brothers and a sister and a family friend who was taking them to the river to hang out and enjoy themselves.  They had also been collecting river junk and specifically looking for small, intact, glass bottles.  They were curious about the little artist and we talked for a while about being creative.  The group expressed an appreciation for recycling and reusing the cast off stuff of the world.  They asked if it was all right if they could pose with the artist to take their own pictures.  Here are a couple of those images.

Posing for pictures with the artist, Aug. 2014

The artist posed with his new family, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

The youngest of the group then asked if it was okay if the little Styrofoam artist went home with them?  There seemed to be no objections.  The little man with the orange hand on his head was open to anything.   I, however, did ask for a few things in return.  The first was that a nice piece of wood be found out here that would make a good base so that the figure could stand upright.   The second request was that a little bit of craft glue be used to hold all the loose parts together.  Doing these things would make the figure last a bit longer and remind the family for years to come of this time they spent together at the river.  I thought this was the perfect ending to a most entertaining day.  So long for now from the Falls of the Ohio.

Portrait of the straw and cup lid artist, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

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