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Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

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The Falls of the Ohio State Park is a place of discovery.  So many new lifeforms have been described by science in the Devonian limestone fossil beds alone.  And of course, the Lewis and Clark Expedition which both began and ended at the Falls of the Ohio did much to help illuminate the breath of this country.  Magic keeps occurring in this amazing place and the following post is about one such recent and personal find…meet the aptly named “Smiling Tortoise”.

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The Smiling Tortoise or Clemmys helmeti  is a very rare terrestrial turtle now found in just one location in the world which is the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It was once presumed extinct.  Since being designated an Indiana state park…this elusive reptile has been seen more often in the last ten years than in the previous hundred years before the park came into existence.  Perhaps the added protective status has emboldened it to show itself more?  Park visitors have supplied a steady, if still infrequent sightings of it to the staff at the Interpretive Center.  Over the years, I have learned the best way to find something is to not look for it.  That was certainly true in the case of the Smiling Tortoise.  Although I have always wanted to see a living example, it took 14 years of patience before I came across one last November.

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We have experienced the warmest and driest Fall season I have ever lived through in the Kentuckiana area.  On such a warm November day, I happened upon a specimen that was gorging on bracket fungi growing on a decayed log.  In my enthusiasm, I took plenty of images and perhaps got a little too close by picking this one up to examine it.  I wanted to check out its shell on its belly or plastron to see if this individual had been tagged by the park naturalists when I carelessly picked one up.  Despite its benign appearance, it possesses a strong bite from a large mouth and its neck can move whip-like as it turns to defend itself from a threat.  I count myself lucky not to have lost a digit, still it bit me!

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I cut myself with my trusty Swiss Army knife or get poked by something else sharp out here every once in a while and so I have a small supply of bandages that I always keep with me.  Forewarned, but not undaunted, I carefully held the turtle by the top of its domed carapace and held it so it couldn’t reach me.  Above, it is all white, but underneath, there is a little color.  I didn’t have my measuring tape with me, but it’s roughly the size of your head.  Here’s what the ventral side of the Smiling Tortoise looks like.

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This marvelous creature sports a yellow tail which is stained by the turtle’s own urine and by a particularly musky gland found at the tail’s base.  The plastron has this unusual design and its concavity told me it was a male.  The reason for the slight indentation is to give a bit more of a “foot hold” when attempting to mate with the female of the species which of course, also possesses a domed shell.  This specimen exhibited healed wounds on its feet perhaps when a predator decided to try to eat it?  The fact that this one was still around testifies to the ability of this turtle to take care of itself.  When I showed the park naturalists my images, they were pleasantly surprised to see that this specimen did not have an identification tag on it.  So, this turtle was new even to them!

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After carefully releasing the turtle, I moved away to a discreet distance to see what would happened next?  I followed it as it moved through the woods investigating every groundhog hole and space around the trees and rocks, but what was it searching for?

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Since this is still a cold-blooded animal, the unseasonably warm weather perhaps roused it from its winter hibernation or perhaps it was still looking for that perfect den or burrow in which to over winter?  Not finding anything suitable, the Smiling Tortoise left the riverbank and headed back into the woods.

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Along the way, I was able to observe a few additional behaviors.  For the longest time, this tortoise regarded a hunk of river-polished Styrofoam.  I saw it poke the waste polystyrene both with its head and front feet.  When it didn’t respond, the Smiling Tortoise moved on.  This next image is going to be a little harder to explain…take a look.

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Well, your guess is as good as mine on this one!  Even the park naturalists were at a loss.  Something about this discarded large bottle of sports drink that floated into here from who knows where stimulated this behavior.  The turtle unable to mate with this bottle left the area in obvious disgust as it hissed its disapproval.  This was the only sound I heard it make.

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With the day drawing to a close, I decided to say good-bye and good luck to my scaly acquaintance.  I picked up my hiking gear and collecting bags and turned around and headed toward the Interpretive Center.  I was feeling stoked by the experience!  I hope the turtle eventually found an acceptable burrow and is fast asleep as a gentle snow now falls in Louisville.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

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The Falls of the Ohio offers a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year.  Whether you prefer light tackle action in the shallows or the pull from a fifty pound catfish while sitting on a boat…you can find that on the Ohio River flowing by Louisville.  I always check out what’s happening on the riverbank when I come out here.  I am especially interested in seeing what species are being caught and what’s being used to catch them.  On this warm December day the action was happening in the shallows.  Fisherman were using soft-bodied jigs to catch Sauger (a smaller relative of the Walleye) and this nice White Bass.

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The White Bass, (Roccus chrysops) was first described by the eccentric naturalist Constantine Rafinesque who was familiar with the fish life at the Falls of the Ohio.  The White Bass is a big river fish that is also found in impoundments.  This fish can get to be 15 to 18 inches long and a maximum of around five pounds.  We also have a smaller relative, the Yellow Bass that is also found in the Ohio River.  Both species are related to marine sea basses and scatter their eggs without further care of their young.

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Since there is a lot of fishing activity on the river, I also find a lot of lost fishing gear. Broken poles, snagged line, and lots of plastic fishing lures like this recent example. It’s very easy to snag and lose a lure in the rocky bottom out here. Usually, when I find a lure, it is minus its hooks which either have broken off or have dissolved away.  I also pick up lost fishing floats and have been amazed by how much design variety that fishing tackle can encompass.  On the negative side, I also have a fairly full sandwich bag of lead fishing weights that I have accumulated over the years.  When the river is down during the height of summer, I will check out the dried holes in the rocky bottom that catch and tumble lead and other metals.

If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered by me for the quality of the fishing.  I was able to catch three species new to me to add to a growing list of species I have documented at the Falls of the Ohio.  Check out the next couple of images of a rare Ohio River Bowfin (Amia ohioensis) I angled from under the railroad bridge.

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The Ohio River Bowfin is only marginally related to the better known Bowfin, (Amia calva).  The Ohio River Bowfin has adapted its life to living in shallow rocky streams where it ambushes other fish, frogs, crayfish, and other river invertebrates.  Uniquely, its anal and caudal fins have fused into one large fin that comes in handy for scraping out nests in the gravel bottoms it prefers to breed on.  After the male entices the gravid female into his nest and with a little luck and persuasion, a clutch of about fifty eggs is deposited and fertilized.  The male assumes all parenting duties.  Can also be distinguished by it long slender body and bright orange-colored eyes.  After a few pictures and measurements the fish was released unharmed back into the river.

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On another river expedition in November, I visited a different Falls of the Ohio location near the Interpretive Center to sample the fish life there.  Within a minute or two of my first cast I caught this near world record Copperbelly Suckermouth, (Catostomidae cupricana).  I was using a hook baited with clam meat which is the principle food of this Ohio River oddity.  The boats anchored in the river are probably going after large catfish.  This view gives you a good indication of the body type that evolved with some fish that inhabit swift flowing water.  Drag has been minimized and the pectoral fins are strong enough to anchor the fish in place as it hovers over the clam beds it prefers.

Here’s a symbiotic side note…several fresh water clam species use the Copperbelly Suckermouth as an intermediate host during part of their life cycles.  The nearly microscopic clam larvae attach themselves to the fish’s gills where for a short time, the larvae suck blood and grow before dropping off the fish to complete their life cycles in the gravely bottom. The host fish are left unharmed during the process.

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A sneak peek on why this species is called the Copperbelly Suckermouth.  It’s undersides are a deep, rich, red to orange ochre color that is particularly intense during the Spring breeding period.  The strong sucker mouth is located on the fish’s ventral side and is flanked by barbels that help it locate food in the river’s bottom.  This was also strictly catch and release as was the case with my next fishy find.  As with most bottom dwelling fish at the Falls, one should limit how big a meal you make from your catch.  Toxins are more prevalent in the lower reaches which then are ingested and stored in the fish’s fatty tissues.  This particular species, however, has minimal food value.

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Another day and location at the Falls of the Ohio and another unexpected catch!  Using a grasshopper I caught on the bank and a beaver-chewed willow pole I found nearby, I fashioned a rig with an old line and a hook and caught this Kentucky Killifish, (Cyprinodontidae gargantua) by jigging the grasshopper around the shadows cast by the fossil-loaded limestone.  I dropped the grasshopper into just the right dark hole and pulled out this beauty.

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This is a giant among the killifishes as most are under a few inches in length.  Its blue eyes are distinctive.  Small invertebrates in the form of insect larvae are its main food item, but experience has shown it will go for whatever it thinks it can swallow using its relatively tiny mouth.  This fish has no food or sport value what so ever.  During the summer breeding period, the males of this species can get very colorful in an attempt to impress.  Still, a very nice way to cap the year with a new fish to add to the life list!

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Fishing on Mars or the Falls of the Ohio?  The setting sun has colored the dried riverbank a lovely Martian red.  Here explorers are doing what we do…searching for life in the most promising place we know which happens to be by the water.  I hope 2017 manages a way to be kind to our rivers and freshwater everywhere.  I’ll end my fishing story with a look inside the box where I keep my found fishing lures.  See you next year…from the Falls of the Ohio.

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

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

Micro Polo alone on the wide ocean, Aug. 2014

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

Micro Polo and his raft, Aug. 2014

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

Micro Polo finds land, Aug. 2014

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

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

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

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

Micro Polo with large white flowers, Aug. 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Cabbage white butterfly on loosestrife, Aug. 2014

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

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

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

Micro Polo with a large yellow leaf, Aug. 2014

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

Micro Polo the following morning., Aug. 2014

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

Micro Polo and the giant sandal, Aug. 2014

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

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

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

old firepit, Aug. 2014

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

Micro Polo with plucked morning glories, Aug. 2014

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

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

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

Micro Polo and large white bowl, Aug. 2014

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

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

Micro Polo homeward bound, Aug. 2014

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

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

 

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Fog at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2013

Fog is actually common on the Ohio River, but looking through my images, I’m surprised by how few fog pictures I have taken here.  On my last foray to the Falls, the day began extremely foggy like moving within a cloud.  Visibility was limited.  The railroad bridge was completely obscured, but as the sun rose and the temperature became warmer the fog dissipated quickly.  It was another magical moment of transformation as the receding water-cloud revealed the driftwood bones of the park.

Electric Motors Only sign at the Falls, April 2013

Walking to my outdoor atelier, I passed by this unusual sight.  At first, I thought the large tree stump was a part of this sign, but upon inspection, saw that a single rusty nail attached this sign to the wood.  There is no way this sign could survive the river secured so loosely.  Someone before me found this sign and stuck it on the stump up for grabs in true river junk fashion.  Since I collect signs from the river…this was perfect and I welcomed the new addition to my collection!  After removing the sign from the stump I understood why its original discoverer left it behind.  The sign was on a heavy, thick board that had been routed and painted green with yellow letters.  I stashed the sign under some debris and picked it back up on my way home.  As you can imagine, my wife was thrilled to see it like she is with all the other junk I haul out of here.  I liked the sign’s message which is ecological in its own way.  I wonder where it came from and what kind of electric motors is it referring to…perhaps electric golf carts?  Navigating through the dense driftwood, I made my way to the river’s edge.  Waves were lapping the shoreline and there were other surprises to come.

Blue-lipped figure with life preserver on, April 2013

Blue-lipped figure with flotation device, April 2013

This is the moment I met the first of the Flood Brothers.  I had heard of them before and I was pleased to finally get to meet one.  They are called the Flood Brothers because in their own “Chicken Little” way instead of the sky falling…they are rumored to believe the world is in imminent danger of being inundated.  For this reason they wear life jackets and flotation devices everywhere they venture particularly along the river.  They are living legends in this part of the world.

Portrait of F.B. 1, April 2013

This is a close-up portrait of Flood Brother #1…henceforth identified as F.B.1.  He has blue lips like he has been out in the cold too long.  His eyes have this jaundiced quality to them and they are slightly asymmetrical as well.  The ears stick out some and he has spiked hair.  Aside from looking goofy…he is a friendly enough guy and hailed me upon sighting me.  I told him it was a pleasure to meet him and was his brother around too?  As it turns out…Flood Brother #2 was not far away and after walking a short distance along the shoreline, we ran into him as well.

Flood Brother # 2, April 2013

Portrait of Flood Brother #2, April 2013

Flood Brother #2 or F.B.2 is the larger and older of the two.  Like his smaller brother he wears a flotation device every where he travels along the river.  You can tell they are brothers because they share some physical characteristics such as large ears and mismatched eyes which are more pronounced in the older brother.  As it turns out, he is also the more nervous of the pair.

The Flood Brothers at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2013

The Flood Brothers, April 2013

I asked them if it was true that they believe the world would be destroyed in a great cataclysmic flood?  For argument’s sake F.B.2 qualified things by saying that more unusual events had happened during the Earth’s long history.  As it turned out, they were more concerned about the quality and quantity of fresh water.  Climate change is rewriting things and there is just so much more “free” water in the system that formerly was locked up as ice.  That energy is changing the weather patterns and redistributing water across the globe.  Some places were now getting too much and other places not enough.  And yes the potential to redraw the world’s coastlines also existed.  Whether all this would happen overnight or over the course of many years seemed irrelevant to the pair.  The life jackets were just a necessary precaution to them because they were conducting their research along the river in all its many moods and it just seemed a logical safety thing to do.  The pair was visiting the Falls of the Ohio and inspecting the park for water-born plastic of which there was plenty to see. As the brothers told me…this plastic has a very good chance of making it into the oceans where it has effects of its own.  I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they were already preaching to the converted.  Instead, I invited them to my studio under the willow trees to rest and talk further and they accepted my invitation.  My site was just a short distance away.

The Flood Brothers at my outdoor studio, April 2013

The Flood Brothers at my outdoor studio, April 2013

Looking around the Flood Brothers could see that I was interested in many of the same concerns that they had and wasn’t it all so absurd after all?  I told them my story and that all the stuff they saw in my little area came from the immediate river.  I mentioned that I try to find creative ways to use this junk and to tell the story about a place I find to be very special.  They asked me if I happened to see along the way a nice sign they had attached to a stump?  I confessed that I had and wanted to repurpose it as part of my sign collection.  The Flood Brothers just smiled and said I could have it.  After visiting for a while, it was time for me to go home.  I told the brothers they were welcome to hang out in my site and perhaps I will see them here again?  I liked them as characters.  With one last look back I saw F.B. 1 waving good-bye to me.  I always have an interesting day at the Falls of the Ohio.

F.B.1 at my studio, April 2013

This story marks my four-year anniversary on WordPress .  Hard to believe the time has flown by so quickly.  Thanks for tagging along!!

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Summer has transitioned to fall.  Everyone has noticed that the days don’t seem to be as long as they were a mere month ago.  This is all the more reason to get out into nature.  Perhaps you have felt that subconscious pull tugging you out the door? The sun is not as insanely hot and the light is intense and clean.  There is just the barest yellowing along the margins of the river’s cottonwood leaves.  More colors will follow.  Right now there is an urgent purposefulness to the world as life prepares to overwinter.  The flowering grasses are alive with flying insects gathering pollen and nectar.  Spider predators are behind every leaf.  After absorbing some of this energy…I headed up to my spot under the willow trees and wondered about making something interesting from my river cache.  I was so happy and absorbed to be back at my outdoor studio that for a moment I lost track of the fact that something was now moving on the left side of my peripheral vision.  Thinking it might be an animal, I carefully brought my camera up to take some quick pictures and this was what I captured.

In quick succession, I had two images in my camera before I realized what I was photographing!  Appearing out of a myth was a member of the Pang tribe!  The Pang live in the most remote places in the world’s woods and consider themselves the first people.  It’s not advisable to try to find them because they don’t want to be found and it may in fact be dangerous to do so.  They only appear when they want to be seen.  The land they call home is full of poisonous serpents, insects, and diseases plus the rainy season is relentless.  There are no overland roads and very few trails.  Getting around means braving an unpredictable river.  Oh, and then there is the reputation the Pang have for being headhunters.  The little guy in front of me was reminding me of that by showing me the trophy he carries on a belt everywhere he goes.  I think my camera’s flash startled him!  By holding the captured head aloft, this tribesman was telling me he was experienced in this field!  His nose ring meant that he feared no pain.

The stainless steel fork he brandishes likely means he has had contact with our culture before.  The Pang, otherwise do not work metals.  What is known is that they are a hunting and gathering culture and nature supplies everything they need. The posturing and elaborate facial gestures on display before me continued until he seemed satisfied that I was harmless and perhaps even a bit slow on the uptake?  The Pang have developed a language where one can gauge how a person feels by looking and reading their facial expressions.  Most of the time, an open mouth with prominent tongue exposed is a sign for disgust or disapproval although there are exceptions for most rules.  Using the time-honored hand signal for follow me my new friend beckoned and I walked behind him anticipating adventure and mystery.

Along our walk the tribesman would point out where my culture had  dumped garbage into the Pang’s territory.  From the look on his face,  I could again register disapproval.  I tried to learn his name and give him mine, but we had trouble communicating by words. Aside from the occasional bit of plastic and paper, the forest walk was also full of beautiful birds and butterflies and late season wildflowers.  Eventually, we entered a small clearing and there set up for our relaxation and respite was an intimate canopy tended by another member of the first people.

A sheet of recycled plastic foam packaging and a couple of wooden posts made up this shelter.  I saw that the Pang were trying to reuse some of the trash they found. Sitting down, food and water is shared and I’m amazed at my new friends ability to live off the land.  A kicked over decaying log full of large, succulent beetle larvae provides the main course.  I, however, developed a taste for bracket fungi and my new hostess showed me what to look for.  I can’t help noticing that she is wearing a small skull object around her neck.  Later I learned that the Pang don’t remove heads from just anybody or without cause.  Head collection is the highest form of respect accorded to friend and foe alike.  I, however, was never in any danger simply because I hadn’t earned any respectability yet in the estimation of the Pang.  Or so another friend told me later.

After a short rest, my hosts were in a mood for a walk and I tagged along.  I could tell that there were things they wanted me to see.  Of course, they showed me just about every piece of litter we came across on the trail.  It seemed important to them that I not miss this.

Fortunately, I was shown a lot more that was good than not.  I could see why the Pang were so attached to their land.  It provides them everything including much of what makes up their identity.  We visited an immense hollow log that the river dropped off during some old flood and I took this portrait of the odd couple.

We walked back out into the bright sunlight and hiked near the river.  After having been in a mostly leafy environment, it felt nice to have fresh air against my face.  You could tell by the expressions on the Pang people’s faces how much they enjoyed being free and in a natural state.

Before long we came to a place where driftwood had collected on the beach.  It was nearer to the forest and another trail.  After a protracted goodbye, my friends went their separate ways.  I could tell that our adventure together was coming to an end.

I got the sense that something else needed to happen to make the day complete.  I turned with the man with a fork back down to the riverbank.  As we walked he slowly started chanting and stopped every once in a while by some landmark for added emphasis.  He did this when we came to a bright, marshy area.  My friend’s arms rose into the air along with his song.

After the marsh, my companion climbed a long log that had washed up on the shore during a flood many years before.  He climbed as far up the root mass as he could and lifted his voice and fork to the heavens.  I wish I knew what he was saying…but whatever comprised his song I could tell it was reverential.

Since this culture doesn’t show itself without some purpose in mind.  I hoped that  I hadn’t missed it.  Looking back upon the day, I enjoyed the camaraderie of my new friends, we relaxed together and shared a meal.  Later we went for a walk where I was showed both what the Pang liked and disliked in the landscape.  Now the day was ending in a prayerful song.  Seemingly to underscore another point, my headhunting friend drew a line in the mud.  In essence, he communicated that my side of the line was mine and if I couldn’t respect his side of the line…we would be unwelcome.  He quickly grimaced with his tongue sticking out on that last point.  Staying on my side of the line, I wished him well in my tongue and with a short wave  watched him melt into the forest where he belonged.

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