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Posts Tagged ‘the Earth’

Vine covered Danger sign, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

It’s the end of the year and I have a handful of posts and projects I intended to present here before the date on the calendar changes.  I will do my best to try to catch up.  I’ll start with this outing along the Ohio River that happened in November.

I have finally had a bit of a lull from my day job and so I want to start catching up on posting images and stories of my Falls of the Ohio adventures over the last few weeks.  It’s also a bit of a relief from the disappointing presidential election we have just endured.  Hanging out at the river is always a good tonic for the soul.  May it always be that for me and other “river rats” who are drawn to moving waters.  For this post, I will concentrate on an assemblage I made using found bottles, jugs, and other plastic containers that I have collected from the banks of the Ohio River in this small state park in southern Indiana.

Picking up a plastic jug at the Falls of the Ohio

The Falls of the Ohio State Park is not a very big place as parks go, but it is a very historic and dynamic environment.  I remember when I first started coming out here it really bothered me to see so much junk along the riverbank.  It still does and  I tried standard recycling before settling on making art from what others preferred not to see or acknowledge.  What this unique space lacks in size, it makes up for by being a very dynamic environment.

For most of the year, the river behaves itself and lets the Army Corps of Engineers pretend that it is in control of its flow.  Every once in a while, however, the river reminds us through flooding and by going around the barriers set in its way to control it.  It is during these high water moments that all the rubbish sins of the world come down the river from environs both local and from parts north in our watershed.  As this blog documents, I find “stuff” all the time and unfortunately discarded plastic is high on the list.

Found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, summer 2016

Here is found plastic that I brought back to my outdoor atelier under the willow trees.  I didn’t have to travel far to pick up all I wanted.  I realized as I drove to work this morning that my “outdoor atelier” is now under water.  A few days ago, we finally received enough rain to raise the level of the river.  It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have tried to do anything with plastic on this scale.  Only when I couldn’t deny the bright, unnatural colors any longer that it occurred to me to try to do something “artistic” with all this waste plastic.

Sorting the plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

After I have selected a site for a project.  I move my materials to the chosen location and when I’m ready, I start sorting objects according to color.  I like to reference the electromagnetic spectrum and rainbows because they are about light.  Plastic is made from petroleum which is sun energy that has been harnessed by prehistoric plants and stored in their tissues.  Over deep time, heat, pressure and the vagaries of geology either liquefies this ancient material into crude oil or compresses it into coal.  It is interesting to think about how much our contemporary world is dependent on using the energy from our sun that shone millions of years a go!

found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, October 2016

More found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

It will be a leap for some, but “light” in my mind is not only a part of the problem here, but also implies a solution.  We need to do a better job of using our innate creativity to capture the light of today’s sun.  Leave that “ancient energy” in the ground and we certainly don’t need anymore plastic.  Through a little trial and error, I found an arrangement that suits me.  If I am lucky and park visitors or the river decide not to erase what I’ve started then I expand and tinker with my outdoor composition.  If I’m correct, then this piece is already gone taken just today by the river. It lasted many weeks longer than I thought it would.  Thanks for tagging along with me!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Colorful found plastic assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

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Joe Arbor at the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Everybody has a different tipping point where enough is finally enough and action is called for.  This was the case with Joe Arbor.  For many years, Joe Arbor walked the river’s edge paying attention to what the Earth was telling him from the signals that washed ashore.  Yes, this is a nonverbal language, but the Earth is eloquent in this way.  On this particular day, Joe Arbor noticed that there was a lot of wood everywhere and while it was picturesque…it was also disturbing.  Joe Arbor realized that all the wood he was seeing represented trees in the past tense.

driftwood at the Falls, June 2013

Joe Arbor knew of other places where the Earth via the river had left a record of lost trees particularly at the Falls of the Ohio.  In the hot bleaching sun the various logs and limbs piled on top of one another reminded him of bones.  Joe Arbor would walk among these elephant’s graveyards of trees and felt ill at ease.  These trees represented a huge loss in terms of the free services they provided.  Here was food and shelter for a multitude of other life forms.  Here was the air we breathe and the cooling shade of summer and potential warmth in winter.  Here was lost inspiration!  Since Joe Arbor also made his home next to the river, he also knew that tree roots also held the riverbank in place.  Over the past several years it had not escaped Joe Arbor’s notice that at this location,  it rained more and harder and trees were being swept away.  Joe Arbor was no scientist or genius, but could recognize that life seemed out of balance and it worried him.  What could be done?  Joe Arbor went home and decided to sleep on the question.

Joe Arbor and Pip hatch up a plan, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Joe Arbor makes his home at the base of an old willow tree.  It took several nights of sleeping on the question before the beginnings of an answer started to form in his mind.  When the solution came to him, Joe Arbor decided that he needed some help or company and he called his good friend Pip.  Pip is short for Pipistrel which is a name given to several species of bats.  One fine morning, the pair got up early and gathered some tools and provisions together and ventured forth to the river’s edge.  If the Earth was losing her balance due to tree loss…it made sense to Joe Arbor that getting involved with planting and saving more trees could be a good thing to do.

eastern cottonwood tree leaves and capsules, June 2013

eastern cottonwood leaves and seeds, July 2013

Joe Arbor decided he wanted to try to do something to help the Eastern Cottonwoods that grew along the Falls of the Ohio.  These cottonwoods are magnificent, fast growing trees and reach great heights.  They produce unusual capsule-shaped fruits and when conditions are right, these capsules burst open releasing tiny, fluffy seeds that drift through the air like dry snow and move with the slightest breeze.  Joe Arbor also knew from experience that many more of these seeds germinate than reach maturity.  At the Falls, those seeds that sprout nearest the river eventually are destroyed by the river during flooding.  They simply get washed away or crushed by logs rolling in the waves.  Joe Arbor decided to perform an experiment to see if he could successfully transplant a cottonwood tree to a safer location?

selecting a cottonwood seedling, July 2013

First Joe Arbor and Pip selected a little cottonwood growing in the sand.  They next held hands and said a few kind words and explained to the tree what they were about to do and why.  In this way, they hoped to obtain the tree’s blessing.  Together, they carefully dug around the sand to uncover as much of the tree’s roots as they could.  Bagging up the little tree roots and all the paired moved on to a different location.

Canada geese at the Falls, July 2013

All the while Joe Arbor and Pip were working, a small flock of Canada Geese were standing nearby and acted as guards and witnesses.  Because the geese also live near the river they are also privy to the Earth’s nonverbal language and understood what was at stake here.  Their presence added a bit of solemnity to the event.

Joe Arbor and Pip with cottonwood tree, July 2013

Joe Arbor and Pip with cottonwood tree and tools, July 2013

With their valuable charge in a bag, the pair moved on to a pre-selected location they hoped would be favorable to the cottonwood tree.  Cottonwood trees do best when they are close (but not too close) to the water.  As they walked, Joe Arbor whistled an improvised melody partly out of nervousness and the excitement of the moment.  As is his norm…Pip remained quiet.

Young cottonwood in the ground, July 2013

A large enough hole was dug in the new location to accommodate all the young cottonwood’s roots.  Sand and soil were shoveled lovingly around the tree.

Joe Arbor and Pip plant the tree, July 2013

After the tree was safely in the hole, Joe Arbor said a few words while Pip watered the transplant.  It was hoped that the chosen location was the right distance from the river and that the young tree would grab a toe-hold here and prosper.  Time will tell.  The day still had one more nice surprise and it came from Pip.  Joe Arbor didn’t know why he didn’t pay attention to this before, but Pip was wearing a circular, black, plastic box on a cord hung around his neck.  This circular box was the container that smokeless tobacco is sold in.  Many of these boxes routinely wash up at the Falls of the Ohio.  Anyway, Pip opened up the container revealing its contents and this is what Joe Arbor saw.

snuff box with mulberries, July 2013

Wrapped in mulberry leaves were four ripening mulberries.  This is another tree that grows at the Falls of the Ohio and provides food for many birds and animals.  The berries are sweet and juicy when ripe and some people find them tasty too.  The leaves are interesting and come in different shapes with serrated edges.

Pip holding a mulberry, July 2013

Pip (who says very little) had his own tree planting experiment in mind and Joe Arbor got the idea.  Moving to a different location, a new hole was dug in the rich soil and a berry was placed in that hole.

Pip and Joe Arbor plant mulberries, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

The process was repeated until all the berries were planted.  Pip was curious to see if he could start a mulberry tree in this way or whether the seeds needed to travel through the gut of a bird or some other animal first?  Again, time will tell.  Satisfied that at least for today, the duo had done some good for the Earth, the pair picked up their gear and headed home together.

Pip and Joe Arbor go home, July 2013

This little story is dedicated to an artist friend of mine I have never met.  She has a vision of creating a tree art project around the world and if you are interested in learning more about it and perhaps participating…here is a link  to a post she wrote about it:  http://rooszwart.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/the-bridge-land-art-forest/

Pip and Joe Arbor after planting trees together, July 2013

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