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Posts Tagged ‘story telling’

High water with Louisville in the distance, July 18, 2015

I’ve been to the river three times this month, but this is my first post for July!  Where to begin?  It’s been eventful in so many ways.  First, the hard drive of my computer crashed which put me out of business for a few weeks.  All the while this was being dealt with…the river has been high due to what seems like at times, monsoon-intensity rains.  Not light, gentle rains, but strong storms that dump inches of rain at one time and are often accompanied by high winds.  I suspect that this year’s June and July will be among the wettest combos recorded around here.  There has been tragedy too.  Five people lost their lives in a boating accident while watching the 4th of July fireworks display in front of downtown Louisville.  The river was especially high and fast flowing when their pontoon boat struck a parked barge sending people into the water.  It took several days to recover the bodies.  We may think that we can manage the river through levies and dams, but nature often has other ideas.  Where is all this water coming from and can be this be further evidence of the planet’s changing climate?  When I see before and after pictures of what were former glaciers or images of huge ice shelves breaking off of Antarctica…that fresh water goes somewhere right?  Seems there is a lot of moisture being drawn up into the atmosphere which then precipitates out over the land.  Too bad it doesn’t seem to be going where it is needed the most.

Muddy flood waters below the Falls Interpretive Center, July 2015

For the moment, all my usual haunts at the Falls of the Ohio are under water.  Usually during this time of year, the fossil beds are at their most extensively exposed.  I love being able to walk over the fossil beds which makes me feel like I’m on another planet.  Once the water recedes, there will be a newly rearranged landscape to explore along with its attendant material culture that gets left behind.  This is how I obtain my art supplies.

High water by the Upper Tainter Gates, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This is a view along the Fixed Wier Dam and Upper Tainter Gates in the eastern section of the park.  The water level had been higher and is in the process of going down a bit.  I noticed fish activity and was surprised to see Asian carp congregating in the swirling, muddy water.

High Ohio River with jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

About midway down you can see a carp that is doing its own impression of a salmon going upstream.  Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

Here are a few more details of fish jumping.  I was surprised that my cellphone camera was able to catch this action.  Some of the fish I observed were very large.  I would estimate the largest ones I saw were plus 50 pounds.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

And here is one more image catching a fish in mid air.

Jumping Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

There are a couple of species of Asian carp and they are all highly invasive and non-native.  To see these fish jumping to overcome obstacles on their way upriver shows how determined they can be.  These fish feed on algae and other tiny water organisms.  They out compete native species and are highly prolific.  Extensive campaigns have been launched to control or eradicate these fish with limited results.  The big fear is that they will make their way into the Great Lakes were they pose a huge issue for that fishery.  In Western Kentucky, at Land Between the Lakes, a commercial fishery has been created to harvest these carp by netting them.  Because they eat tiny micro organisms, they can not be taken by rod and reel unless you happen to snag one by accident.  The goal is to create a commercial demand for its flesh and apparently they are a coveted food item in China.  Although a demand for these carp may be created…they are also in our waters for good now.  The fish I photographed are on their way to Cincinnati and points northward along the Ohio River and all its tributaries and streams that feed this great river.  Carp were not the only creatures around on this day.  Check out this guy!

Large Common Snapping Turtle, Falls of the Ohio, July 18, 2015

Walking along the edge of the flooding, I came across this large, Common Snapping Turtle that was bulldozing its way to the river.  It emerged from underneath some high weeds and was unaware of me at first.  As I came closer, it started to pull its head underneath its shell as much as it could while raising up on its legs to appear even more menacing and large.  This big turtle did hiss and lunge for me a few times and after a couple snapshots…I left it alone.  This turtle was large enough to remove a finger if that unfortunate person should offer it.  Although it moved slowly for the most part, it did have the ability to strike quickly and its neck could reach out further than you may have anticipated!  I have found dead snappers at the Falls before that were washed into here by flooding or were caught and killed by fisherman.  This is the first live one I have seen here and it was a beauty!  Being confined to the margins of the swollen river did have some benefits.  I came across two remarkable flowers that I would like to present.  Here is the first one I discovered on the Fourth of July.

Giant Mud Flower from the genus Siltana, Falls of the Ohio, early July 2015

detail of Giant Mud Flower, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This is the first of two Giant Mud Flowers (from the genus Siltana) that I have discovered at the Falls of the Ohio.  They are large perennials that appear only when the conditions are just right.  Apparently, all the flooding we have experienced along the river has proven ideal for this rare bloom.  This flower sports large, fleshy “petals” that are organized around a central core that emerges first from the soil.  No leaves are visible and much is unknown about this rare plant.  It is believed that after blooming, the Mud Flower puts its remaining energies into producing a single, round seed about the size of a golf ball.  Attempts to grow this plant under controlled conditions have thus far proven to be unsuccessful.  Here is a different flower which may or may not be a related species?

Second Giant Mud Flower from the genus Siltana, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

Giant Mud Flower detail, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

This specimen was found during mid month in a different section of the park.  On the surface, it compares well with the preceding example.  Noticeably, the thick petals are of different colors and the central core is a different structure.  Botanists may eventually determine that these two Giant Mud Flowers are related, but different species too.  Much is needing to unlock the key to how this species survives and whether there are any pollinating agents involved at all?  I am going to end today’s trip with one more flower photograph.  This was taken in front of the still renovating Interpretive Center.  There is a wonderful day lily garden here with many different varieties.  The center is hoping to be back open to the public come this fall.  I want to thank park director, Kelley Morgan for inviting me to talk during their volunteer appreciation dinner.  I loved being in a room full of left brained people who must have thought where did this “odd duck” came from?  Everyone was very nice and interested in what I do which admittedly, deviates from the norm!  What I like is that however we view and use the park…we all have a passion for this very special place.  Here’s hoping my next post will occur under dryer circumstances!

From the Day Lily Garden at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, July 18, 2015

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piled up driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The following is my latest adventure from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s official now, the month of November was among our top ten coldest Novembers ever recorded.  This continues a see-saw trend where one month might set a record for heat (like October did) only to bounce back down to the other extreme.  It’s too early to tell about December, but on this recent visit it was cool and overcast.  We have since had several days of rain causing the river to swell.  Today’s story begins at the westernmost point on the Woodland Loop Trail.  This path is bordered by what folks around here refer to as a “creek”, but in actuality is a channel cut into the riverbank by storm water overflow released from the town of Clarksville.  I wish it were a creek and perhaps long ago, may have been one.  During periods of flooding and high water, driftwood and logs back up into this area and are stranded once the water level recedes.  The picture above is a recent illustration of this.

beaver tracks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was exploring this water-cut channel and noticed that there were lots of beaver signs present.  In addition to their tracks left in the mud, I found plenty of chewed willow branches.  I added some of the nicer sticks to my collecting bag.  It made me think about how much the appearance of the black willow trees around here are shaped by the beaver’s “pruning” methods.  I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before…perhaps it was just too obvious.  Actually, I think it has something to do with the beaver population rebounding over the last few years.  In certain local places, they have become “pests”.  Their damning of local drainage canals has necessitated their capture and removal to other more remote areas.

found deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Exploring a bend on the Woodland Loop Trail, I found this deer skull laying upside down on the fallen leaves.  It was kind of hard to see, but something in the old brain said to look more closely and I did.  After taking a few photographs, I laid it upon the trunk of a large fallen tree for others to discover.  Like the beaver, it appears the deer are becoming more numerous as well.  After years of finding just their tracks and the occasional bone, this season I was able to spot a doe and her fawn in the park during broad daylight.

storm sewer overflow peninsula, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I walked to the top of the riverbank to get a better look at the peninsula that has been created at the mouth of the “creek” from the storm sewer’s overflow.  Over the years, I have witnessed stringers of sauger and catfish being caught here by the local fishermen.  I like how the rising and falling of the river has terraced the mud into a series of graduated steps.  I was relaxed and zoning out on the view when I noticed something white that had surfaced and was entering the “creek”.  I quickly took a photo and here it is.

white dorsal fin in the Ohio River, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I scrambled down the riverbank to get a better view and got my clothes severely muddy in the process.  In my head I’m telling myself that for all the world this looks like a shark’s dorsal fin…but is this possible?  I remember hearing that there are a few shark species (notably bull sharks) that are capable of swimming up rivers and able to tolerate being in fresh water for extended periods of time.  Still, we are a long way from the ocean which also includes navigating a large section of the Mississippi River before entering into the Ohio River… just to reach this spot.  I observed the fin submerging as it disappeared from view.  Hustling, I reached the general location where I thought the fin was heading and was “blown away” by this sight!

The Shark Shepard emerges from the river, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Emerging from the muddy water was this white figure sporting an improbable headdress or mask?  The figure was carrying a staff and appeared to have fins on its body similar to a shark.  I let this fellow come fully out of the water before my curiosity overwhelmed me and I went in for a closer look.

Shark Shepard, side view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

This strange being did not seem to be afraid of me and regarded me through his dark eyes.  His face was framed by what looked like the jaws, teeth, and the head of a shark.  My attention kept returning to the fearsome mask it was wearing which I surmised might be a part of some breathing apparatus?  A yellow light on its chest would occasionally blink signaling some other unfamiliar technology was present.  The staff the figure was holding was terminated by a hand pointing a finger which reinforced the stranger’s mysterious presence.

The Shark Shepard on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Using its staff, I watched as the figure drew the outlines of several sharks in the soft mud and then pointed to one of his eyes.  He followed this by making a sweeping movement with his arm that seemed to encompass the river and its surrounding landscape.  It took me a moment, but I think it asked me if I had seen any sharks in the area?  Reflexively, I replied by shaking my head “no” which the figure seemed to understand by dropping his head and shoulders in a disconsolate manner?  That’s when I had this mental flash that this guy was a shepherd, a shark shepherd and he was looking for his lost flock?  From here on out, I will refer to him as the Shark Shepherd.  He next stuck his staff into the mud and walked away from it.  I decided to tag along to see if I could learn anything else about my new silent friend.

Shark Shepard by improvised tent, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd seemed to have a curiosity about our world.  I observed as he approached an improvised tent that someone had set up among the trees.  It’s owner(s), however, were not around, but it didn’t seem abandoned in my eyes.  Probably made by fishermen and there seemed to be several trying their luck along the riverbank on this windy day.  I too have a curiosity about the world and after my encounter with the Shark Shepherd ended…I rushed home to try to figure out what he was doing here so far from the sea?  Using the miracle of the internet, I learned a few alarming facts about shark disappearances worldwide.

The Shark Shepherd by fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

On average, between 20 million to 73 million sharks a year are taken out of marine ecosystems across the planet.  Most of the statistics mentioned the higher number…regardless, that’s too many sharks.  Sharks are “harvested” for their fins, cartilage, and teeth.  The boom in popularity for shark fin soup has led to an insidious practice where millions of sharks are harvested and often indiscriminately by using thousands of hooks set on miles of trailing “longlines”.  Sharks are a valuable bycatch.  The captured sharks (which are often caught alive) have their fins cut off and are frequently thrown back into the seas to die in agony.  It’s a lucrative business because this was once a delicacy and status symbol reserved for the wealthy back in the day when sharks were harder and more challenging to catch. Now it is within the reach of more people.  Through industrialized commercial fishing, millions of mostly Asian consumers can have a bowl of shark fin soup on special occasions.  Interestingly, the soup itself needs to be flavored with beef or chicken stock because the fins themselves are a textural element and contribute no flavor of their own.  Of course, a bowl of soup is not the only challenge sharks face.  Commercial sports fishing, pollution, reef destruction, and overfishing of the shark’s prey base play their part as well.

The Shark Shepherd at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

In the United States, large sharks have disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico.  I think this is the reason the Shark Shepherd was this far inland.  Along our Atlantic Coast, it has been reported that eleven of the largest shark species have essentially vanished.  This has important repercussions for the overall marine environment.  You can’t remove this many apex predators from an ecosystem and expect it to function normally.  There are cascading effects.  A recent study attributes the decline in our East Coast scallop industry is due to the loss of sharks that normally would keep cownosed rays and sting rays who eat scallops in check.

Shark Shepherd by the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Dec. 2014

I followed the Shark Shepherd as he explored the area around the newly closed Interpretive Center.  There were people around and they did exhibit interest in my friend, but were generally respectful for what was going on.  A few folks asked if they could take pictures of the Shark Shepherd and he obliged them.  During my internet research, I did find it fascinating that there are places like American Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, and the island nation of Palau where sharks are protected.  Interestingly, these are all places in the Pacific Ocean where people regard the shark as a culturally and spiritually significant animal.  These Polynesian cultures understand that their very identities are connected with sharks.  The same, however, can’t be said for the rest of the world who regard sharks as nuisances and or threats.  Better to view something with reverence than through fear.

The Shark Shepherd surveys the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd climbed the staircase to gain a better vantage point overlooking the river.  I watched him scan the waters, but only an occasional fishing boat presented itself.  If he was looking for sharks, well, there probably hasn’t been any here for about 400 million years when this area was a Devonian Age coral reef.  I could feel the poignancy of the Shark Shepherd’s search as it failed to bear fruit.  After a short while, we reversed our course and retraced our steps.  The Shark Shepherd gathered his staff and walked back into the creek where after acknowledging me with one last look back…disappeared into the Ohio River.  Although I realized that I would not see him again, I couldn’t help but hope that he and his sharks wouldn’t disappear forever from the oceans of the world.

The Shark Shepherd, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 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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Map detail of the Falls of the Ohio State Park

Most of the work that I have created at the Falls of the Ohio State Park was made between the two “P’s” on the above map detail.  I lifted this image from a recent brochure about the Ohio River Greenway.  I’m just noticing that the word “park” has an “e” at the end…what’s with that?  Is this a variation of Ye Old Park(e) or a simple misspelling?  Anyway, the green line that separates the dark blue river from the blonde fossil beds is the area I walk.  Most of my river finds and the pieces I make from them occur in this area.  The thicker black line is the old iron railroad bridge that I have  featured so often throughout this blog.  It’s been a while since I posted anything new here.  In fact, since I started the old riverblog, this is the longest I have gone without posting something.  I have had a series of misfortunes that have dented my mojo with the biggest being losing my day job.  I’m not one that easily compartmentalizes my life and occasionally things spill over and affect other areas.  Among the other changes included having to purchase a new computer.  It’s taken a while to get used to doing things in a different way.  I’m still in the process of transferring images and data from the old machine to the new one.  I have too many images that need parking in a “cloud” somewhere.  I debate with myself whether or not I absolutely need all of these pictures?  I do harbor the ambition to produce a book or two about my stories and collections, but I’m sure I have enough material already.  This blog after all, has over 3,ooo images that I have already published.  What it doesn’t have are the first five years or so of this project that are recorded on 4″ x 6″ color prints that were developed at the local drugstore.

At the water's edge, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

Although I haven’t posted much recently, I am still going to the river.  It’s been an unusual year out here and for much of this spring the river has been high.  Summer is now upon us and with that comes the high heat and humidity.  This adventure happened in early June after the willow trees had fully leafed out.  I believe this is also my first post using just images recorded with my cell phone.  I now have a new Nikon my brother gave me as a birthday present.  He is an avid nature photographer living in Florida and had a spare digital SLR he could part with.  I can’t wait to try out the new camera at the river and I hope to do this soon.

Old willow tree at the Falls of the Ohio, 2014

willow tree detail, 2014

I have really fallen in love with this old willow tree.  Last year, I photographed my “La Belle Riviere” piece using this tree as my model.  This tree is a survivor.  It’s managed to go through many floods and while it is severely bent over and its roots are exposed…it keeps on living and adding character to this landscape.  I have noticed that the center of its trunk is starting to hollow out a bit.  I wonder how long this willow has held this ground?  I was musing about these things when I noticed movement in a nearby stand of mixed maple and willow trees.  I picked up my collecting bag and walking stick and quietly moved over to investigate.  I was quite unprepared for what I was about to discover!  Here are a few of the first images I made of my new find.

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

It was another giant spider!  I recalled that it was about this time last year that I encountered the Giant Driftwood Spider which is a completely different animal from the spider I was looking at now.  It’s body was a bit over two feet long and a mottled white in color.  This seems to be another example of what I have come to coin as the “Falls of the Ohio Godzilla Effect”.  Over the years, this particular park has regularly produced freaks of nature.  The most striking of which are the giant insects (and now spiders) that pop up on occasion.  My theory as to why this happens here has everything to do with contemporary pollution and a degraded environment.  For some reason, arthropods in particular are sensitive to these ecological changes which can result in gigantism in these organisms.

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

Great Wolf Spider on a stump, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

I decided to call this the Great Wolf Spider, (Lycosa styreni).  Looking around, I could find no trace of a web and decided that this was a ground hunting species like other members of the family of wolf spiders, Lycosidae.  I imagined that this impressive spider subsisted upon the small mammals that it could capture within the confines of this park.  That would include many rodents including squirrels, rats, groundhogs, and perhaps the occasional beaver.  I also imagine that stray cats and dogs would be on the menu too.  This spider has large pink-colored fangs that gave it a somewhat bucktoothed appearance.  As long I kept my distance and did not make any threatening moves…the spider tolerated me.  I also noticed that this amazing creature also has unusual eyes.

Detail of Great Wolf Spider eyes, June 2014

From what I could discern…this spider sported four eyes total and all in a row.  It had two large and rather mismatched eyes.  One eye possessed a large red iris that leant a diabolical aspect to it.  On either side of these “great eyes” were two smaller, black vestigial eyes.  I wonder if the smaller eyes are used to detect peripheral motion?  It was disconcerting in the least to be the object of attention from these unblinking eyes.  I approached this spider with caution.  Although I was fearful once the spider moved…I, however, was never in any actual danger since the spider never took any aggressive actions toward me.  I was of course satisfied to keep my distance just in case!

Great Wolf Spider waiting in ambush, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

The Great Wolf Spider seen from behind, June 2014

My last images of this impressive arachnid show it blending into its surrounding environment.  The sun light filtering through the tree canopy produced a dappled light and dark pattern that helped camouflage the spider as it lay in wait of its next meal.  The only bit of movement that could betray it was the slight, subtle twitching produced by its driftwood-like legs.  It was at this moment that I decided to back off and head home.  I don’t know if this spider is a one of a kind creature or whether there are other examples of this species that could populate this park?  I’m inclined to believe that I was observing a single individual.  The question is…how long will it be before our continued abuse of the environment produces monsters we may regret?  Until the next adventure…

At the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

 

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Young groundhog, March 15, 2014

Here’s an adventure from March 15 which was a beautiful Saturday in the Kentuckiana area with temperatures in the low 70’s!  I spent so much time at the Falls of the Ohio on this day that I even managed a very slight sunburn.  Like much of the country (particularly east of the Mississippi River) we are so ready for winter to be over.  This particular day turned out to be a tease, because less than 24 hours later, temperatures plummeted and we had an accumulation of snow!  Most of the people I know are tired of their winter wardrobes, which also means triple the laundry load.  We are ready for the greening and warming of the earth.  On this particular foray to the river, I was on the look out for any signs of spring.  I came across this young groundhog basking in the sun near his hole.  He turned out not to be very social.

young groundhog at the Falls of the Ohio, March 15, 2014

He need not worry about me.  I wasn’t going to blame him for the extra long winter.  Here’s the back story.  February 2 is Groundhog’s Day and the myth goes if the “official” groundhog that resides in the small town of Punxsutawney,  Pennsylvania sees his shadow on this particular day…winter will be extended another six weeks.  Well this year, that captive groundhog which was yanked from his burrow by human hands did see his shadow and surprise…spring was predicted to be late in coming.  I did a little back checking on the Groundhog’s Day tradition and here’s what I found from the official website.  The idea is based on the Candlemas Day observance that Pennsylvania’s early German settlers brought with them in the 19th century.  This passage was quoted as the rationale for Groundhog’s Day…”For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May.”  I’m not sure what the source for this quote is…but snow in May?  What is this some kind of ice age legacy handed over through deep time and what’s with the groundhog? The official Groundhog’s Day observance was established in 1887 and groundhogs and woodchucks the country over have been stigmatized by it.  This particular groundhog was having nothing to do with people and retreated down his burrow.

Cottonwood tree at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

The "Hobo Hut", March 2014

On this trip to the Falls…I visited the far western section of the park and wanted to see if I could find any signs of spring there.  I did find lots of river-carried junk, but will save some of that for another time.  I did stop by my favorite cottonwood tree that has been for many years, a popular place to hang out.  I saw a sign saying that it is now being called the “Hobo Hut”.  I came across a nice group of young people with theater and writing backgrounds who were going to party there.  This seemed to me to be as good a sign of spring as anything that can be learned from a large rodent.  After exchanging pleasantries for a few minutes I moved on.  Before long, I ran into this character and he educated me about spring.

The Harbinger, Falls of the Ohio, March 22, 2014

This is the Harbinger of Spring and I chanced to come across him on my walk.  He told me he had “heard” my thoughts and musing about spring and decided to introduce himself to me.  It was a warm day and once again I was out here without drinking water and if this were indeed a hallucination…at least it was a friendly and pleasant one.  He had a reassuring smile on his face to go along with the glowing yellow flower on his chest and shock of leaves sprouting from his head.  I decided to just go with whatever would happen next and here is that story.

The Harbinger of Spring arrives at the Falls, March 22, 2014

Contrary to popular belief, the official arrival of spring has nothing to do with groundhogs or even the vernal equinox.  Spring arrived by boat to the Falls of the Ohio and I just happened to stumble across him as he prepared to do his work.  The Harbinger allowed me to tag along to see the preparations and ground work needed for winter to transition to spring.

The Harbinger's shadow, March 2014

According to the Harbinger, the first thing that needs to happen is an increase in the intensity and duration of sun light.  While I stood quietly nearby, the Harbinger willed the sun into the correct position in the sky.  This was manifested by my magic friend’s ever lengthening shadow and the warmth I felt on the back of my neck.  Not much can occur if the sun doesn’t cooperate.

The Harbinger wills algae to life, March 2014

The Harbinger wills algae to life, March 2014

The next step is to awaken the plants and begin the “greening” process.  I watched the Harbinger sit on a dormant clump of loosestrife and open his arms.  I heard a barely audible melody that I could not identify and heard it more through my mind than my ears.  According to the Harbinger, the “greening” begins by warming up the simplest plants that are connected to the water.  In this case, mats of algae were turning bright green before my eyes.

The Harbinger with a clump of grass, March 2014

The land plants came next.  I observed the Harbinger walking over to a clump of grass and green blades began to grow out of the gravel.  This process would continue through all the flowers, shrubs, bushes, and would culminate with the appearance of the first tree leaves.  The familiar animals would then return.  My friend told me that this process took great effort and patience and could not be accomplished in a single day.  For now…he was through, but over the next week or so he promised dramatic results.  I parted with the Harbinger as he settled into a cavity formed in a living tree.  For now, the sun tiring of its efforts was setting and evening was fast approaching. The Harbinger would spend the night here and resume his work when he felt the conditions were right to do so.  I had one more surprise coming.  As I turned and walked away…a red flower appeared at the Harbinger’s hole and the sun began to sink in the west.  See you next time from a greening Falls of the Ohio.

The Harbinger waves good by, March 2014

The Harbinger by his tree, March 2014

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The Falls of the Ohio beneath the railroad bridge, March 5, 2014

The Ohio River water level has been bouncing up and down these last few weeks.  On this excursion, I caught up with it while the river was receding.  The shoreline that I am accustomed to seeing is still underwater, however, if you walk carefully between the wet and the dry, there are areas you can explore.  I brought a fairly empty canvas collecting bag along in anticipation of river treasure.  After a couple of hours, I took a break and dumped the bag out and here is what caught my eye.

Collecting bag contents, early March 2014

Literally, a mixed bag of junk including many familiar items that I have long-standing collections formed.  The Styrofoam is for a small sculpture I have in mind.  The flip-flop sandals, well…I have been collecting them for a while and I have a vague notion of an artwork that I want to make with them.  I have ideas, but I’m waiting for the river muse to send me more signals.  The same holds true for the small, plastic wheels.  I have about two hundred of them stacked in a pile on my basement floor.  I thought I could finish the wheel piece for the exhibition at the Carnegie, but it remains unresolved.  I have also gathered several found combs and the variety of forms a simple object can take always interests me.  Recently, I gave my comb collection to my friend Jeff for his birthday.  He is probably one of the few people I know who would like receiving such a gift.  Jeff was once a middle school art teacher and he keeps a cigar box filled with the smallest pencils in the world.  Each pencil had been sharpened to within an inch of its existence by his former students.  Here’s an example of an interesting comb followed by other images of objects found on this day.

comb from a vacuum cleaner, March 2014

Later, it was determined that this combination comb and brush is from some kind of vacuum cleaner.  Now whenever I go out the river, my friend asks me if I have any other combs for his collection.

plastic corn on the cob, March 2014

My Fake Food Collection keeps expanding.  I found several new pieces on this excursion with this one being the most memorable.  Plastic corn on the cob with a little pat of butter melting into the kernels.  In the background, you can see how much junk is intermixed with the wood debris.

hand-formed duct tape ball, March 2014

Here’s the latest addition to my hand-formed ball collection.  This one is made from duct tape.

pink plastic octopus sand mold, March 2014

I’m starting to develop a large collection of sand toys of all kinds.  Here’s a pink plastic octopus sand mold.  I think I will photograph this collection soon.

two found plastic dinosaur toys, March 2014

I found two plastic dinosaur toys on this trip.  I believe these are intended to be the same species…Dimetrodon which was an early reptile with mammal-like characteristics.  Dimetrodon hails from North America and the early Permian period.  When the Falls of the Ohio was an active marine ecosystem (about 370 million years a go)…Dimetrodon would still be about another 200 million years into the future.  The vast stretches of time and the ebb and flow of life forms is mind-boggling.  I am in the here and now and what I have noticed on this trip to the river is how few other life forms I’ve seen.  The spring migration of neotropical birds is not too far off and I always have my eyes open for early arrivals.  Today…I get lucky.

detail, head of the River Roller, March 15, 2014

The River Roller, March 2014

I was poking around the shifting shoreline when I spotted this heavy bodied bird in a willow tree.  With its blue head, yellow ocher body, and light green tail…I knew I was looking at my first River Roller.  Rollers are a family of old world birds and this is the only representative on this continent.  This species has a rather large and heavy bill that serves it well when it feeds on the nuts of hardwood trees.  At the Falls of the Ohio, you can always find walnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns.  I believe that this was what this bird was doing…looking for food.

River Roller at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I think this is a female roller because the colors are not as bright as the pictures I’ve seen of the males.  In size, this bird is comparable to the American Robin.  I observed this bird checking out the holes and hollows in the willow trees which is pre-nesting behavior.  The females are the ones that choose which sites are suitable to raise their chicks.  This bird will eventually move on to the northern portions of the Ohio River Valley.  The River Roller has never been documented nesting in this park.

River Roller among the willow rootlets, March 2014

River Roller investigating willow roots, March 2014

The River Roller hung around for about five minutes before flying off for parts unknown.  During the time I watched it, the roller demonstrated a strong curiosity for the environment at the river’s edge.  It seemed especially interested in the willow trees themselves.

The River Roller at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I wish this bird well and hope it reaches its intended destination.  I feel this way about every bird that migrates through this area.  After seeing this once in a life-time rarity I felt that my day like my collecting bag was full and it was time to go home.  That wraps it up for another river adventure.  See you next time.

View at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

 

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Sweet Gum in early Spring, March 2013

Perhaps it was the fine quality of this pre-Spring day that caused renewed stirrings within the old Styro-Samurai Warrior?  It had been many years worth of seasons since the Emperor had granted him this land to protect and bequeath to his descendants  in gratitude for the loyalty of his service.  He came to the realization that his advancing age was rendering him mortal and that if he wanted to walk his vast estate one last time…he had better do it sooner than later.  The Styro-Samurai attached his heirloom katana to his back and ventured alone away from his home.  The journey could take him many weeks to complete.  This sunny day began with much promise.  The trees were starting to produce buds and yes, there were early season wildflowers too.  The birds were returning.  A favorite Yellow-bellied Sapsucker the Warrior had seen for the past five years was once again in his favorite Sweet Gum tree.  Geese were everywhere and an Osprey flew overhead with a fish in its talons.  Life seemed to be moving in the timeless rhythm that it always had.  The Warrior decided to venture closer to the river for a better look.

Styro-Samurai by the river, March 2013

The first thing the Warrior observed were trees submerged by the river that normally stood high and dry.  In all his years, he had not seen this happen very often and he stood transfixed by the sight.  Rousing himself, the Warrior continued his walk to a favorite creek.  In his mind he recalled the agitated call of the Belted Kingfisher on the wing and its wildness made him smile.  Upon reaching the creek…this is what the Warrior saw.

driftwood lining the creek banks, March 2013

Hundreds of logs representing hundreds of once living trees lined both sides of the creek.  What is happening here!?  These were trees from the pure land and their wood is a treasure, their roots hold the soil together, and their leaves provide cooling shade in Summer among all the other blessings they bestow.  These trees represent so many potential fulfilled wishes.  So much wasted wood and where did it come from?  The Warrior surmised that this was further evidence of flooding.  These trees probably washed away from their respective banks from distant fiefdoms and were carried here by the spirit of the river?

Styro-Warrior and exposed tree roots, March 2013

Walking the shoreline he came upon more evidence that the river was claiming the trees that dared to grow nearest to it.  For the Styro-Samurai, it was an alarming sight, but nothing had yet suggested that this way anything other than Nature being moody.  His view was about to change as he rounded the bend of the river.

Styro-Samurai and plastic trash, March 2013

The Warrior entered a field that was strewn with discarded plastic and Styrofoam.  This was an outrage and the Samurai drew his katana! Who dares to be this disrespectful to the land!

Styro-Samurai with drawn katana, March 2013

At last, someone to blame for this clearly was the by-product of men. The Warrior was seeing red and looked for someone or something to strike back at…but there was no one else present except for the gulls flying over the river and they were making no sounds.

Styro-Samurai with drawn katana, March 2013

Marching with his sword drawn, the Warrior advanced down the riverbank.  There was a quality in his rage that was tempered by battle and had made him a legendary and feared adversary in the prime of his youth.  But that was then and this is now and as he neared one of his favorite trees…he sheathed his katana again.  Up ahead was a treasured spot where a large and special Cottonwood tree grew.  The Styro-Samurai’s pace quickened in anticipation.

Cottonwood tree hangout at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2013

Styro-Samurai approaching Cottonwood hangout, March 2013

This great and revered Cottonwood tree that in the Warrior’s time was the setting for many tea ceremonies was now covered in plastic tarps and a sign warning to “keep out” was posted.  Again, here is the hand of man at work!  Who has the impudence do this in the Styro-Samurai’s land?  By what right would these interlopers claim this tree as their own and defile it with their junk?  Full of righteous indignation, the Warrior entered the space under the trunk of the tree.

camp under the Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, March 2013

It was empty…no one was there at all.  Although the smell of wood smoke was present…the ashes were cold.  Improvised seating was arranged around the fire pit.  Growing depressed, the Styro-Samurai sought the warmth of the sunshine and sat down to ponder what he had observed thus far.  Indeed, the world had changed much since he last walked it far from the comforts and isolation of his fortified castle.  The old soldier had a revelation that mindfulness had been usurped by consumption based upon all the trash he saw everywhere.  The world was moving away from him.

Steve, the Arrowhead Man, March 2013

While the Styro-Samurai was engaged by his thoughts…he was approached by a common man who gestured that he wished to speak and so began a conversation.  The man also remembered a different time and place where respect was accorded to both man and beast alike.  There was an understanding that nature worked in certain ways and that it was wise to stay within the sustainable limits.  The man confirmed to the Warrior that the changes he was seeing in his own land were in fact simultaneously occurring everywhere else too.  The common man then asked for forgiveness for what he was about to say which the Warrior granted.  He reminded the old soldier that in their day…there was a common and accepted code that shaped the behavior of all.  It began with the Emperor and then passed through the Samurai down to everybody else.  It seemed to the man, that the flow of wisdom had been interrupted by a changing and challenging time and needed something like a new code to help bring it all back into balance.  With those words the common man took his leave.

plastic sand rake, March 2013

The Styro-Samurai had seen enough and walked back to his castle.  He mulled over the words the mysterious common man had left him with and acknowledged to himself that they seemed to ring true.  A different day was indeed at hand and perhaps the time of the warlords was ending.  The idea that a different code was needed, but what can one do to achieve enlightenment in an impure land? When the Warrior reached his home he cleansed himself and before the assembled public, removed his sacred katana from its scabbard and replaced it with an ordinary garden rake.

Styro-Samurai working his rock garden, March 2013

For several weeks the old Warrior meditated by creating a rock and sand garden.  Working the earth helped create a different connection to the land that he didn’t have before and was now cultivating.  The Styro-Samurai invited his courtesans and the other people in the castle to assist him.  To his surprise, most everyone found this activity relaxing and beneficial.  It no longer became his garden and became our garden which brought with it a sense of shared responsibility and value.   He wondered if this idea would work for a land the size of a country ?  Soon he would try talking to the Emperor about this and hope for the best.

water-rolled wood, sand, gravel, and rock, Falls of the Ohio, March 2013

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