Archive for August, 2009

View facing east, fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, 8/09

At last I made it over to the fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the park.  As previously mentioned, this hasn’t been an easy year to forecast storms or the amount of water to be found locally at any given time.  We have experienced the extremes.  For now, I can get off the Indiana bank and explore a very special landscape.  This side of the park is so interesting that it’s difficult to pack it into one post.  I’m going to attempt it in three.  I did make several Styrofoam sculptures and a few sand drawings.  I took about eight hours to walk the park from east to west and back to the lot again.  If you like to hike vicariously you may enjoy this trip over the fossil beds.  The rocks date to 375 million years ago and the fossils preserved here help form a picture of life as it existed during the Devonian Age.

Vulture tree, 8/09

I began my trip in the cool morning.  I rolled my pants legs up just below the knee and walked into the flowing water.  The wet rocks are as slippery as ice and it’s tricky to keep my balance.  The worn out sneakers I’m wearing are fine for walking in mud, but the lack of any tread turns this phase of the walk into a skating event.  The dry rocks pose obstacles as well.  The fossil beds are an undulating surface of river worn rock and it’s easy to twist an ankle or knee here.  You need to find or bring a good walking stick for additional stability.  I’m carrying my collecting bag and my camera and going to see what there is to see today.

vultures chasing possum, 8/09

The first feature I walk towards is this stranded tree that has become a bird magnet.  Black vultures are using it as a roost and ducks and herons circulate around this new hub.  The Black vultures are having a good year and seem to be increasing in numbers.  Last week I counted a flock of sixty birds flying along the dam’s wall.  The vultures have been dining on dead fish either caught by fisherman or marooned in small ever-drying pools. There are fish bones, scales, and skeletons all over the fossil beds.  I did witness something  I hadn’t seen before.  Off in the distance I could see the vultures pursuing something alive!  I did capture this one image of vultures chasing an opossum. You can’t play possum with vultures!   There were a few birds that managed to get a few pecks in, but the possum never stopped running and was able to get off the wall into some cover.  It’s a regular Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom moment at the Falls of the Ohio.

Fixed Wier Dam, 8/09

Here’s a view of the Fixed Wier Dam with the vultures flying along.  This wall was built in the 1920’s to create a stable pool of water for Ohio River commerce and to generate electricity at the Lower Tainter Gates.  I’m guessing that it’s about fifteen feet to the top of the dam.  When you are walking on the fossil beds below it’s an odd feeling knowing that the surface of the river is way over your head.  Slots formed on the top of the dam create pathways that feed water to the Little Slough and  Whiskey Chute channels.  A small marsh near Goose Island receives this water too.

artificial waterfall, 8/09

Our stopping point in today’s post is just up ahead.  A small amphitheater of terraced limestone provides a glimpse of the cascades that originally flowed here.  It’s also a good place to sit and relax or watch birds.

The "Falls" at the Falls of the Ohio, 8/09

I made a figure from found materials and photographed it at this location.  From here the scene shifts towards the western limits of the park.  Some of the best views of the city’s skyline are also up ahead.  Until then, here is another water feature to enjoy!

At the "Falls", facing east, 8/09

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Falls of the Ohio landscape, 8/09

I had the itch to make a larger figure today, but only had a few hours to do it in.  I reached my outdoor studio and was elated to find that someone had left me a couple presents.  Two very abstract sculptures made with the materials I had left behind.  Here are what they looked like:

anonymous abstract sculpture, 8/09

anonymous tree ornament, 8/09

Not exactly my style, but I appreciate the effort.  In the six years I’ve been working out here only a half dozen or so anonymous works have been made with the materials I’ve salvaged off the river’s edge and left on site.    Here’s the piece I quickly put together and photographed.

Mr. Blue FuManchu, 8/09

With walnut and bingo dauber eyes this guy rode out the short rain shower with me.  We have been having some uncharacteristically cool and sunny days that have been picture perfect.  Unfortunately for me, they don’t seem to be occurring when I’m actually at the Falls.  I did a bit of slipping and sliding on the mud surface as I posed this piece along the riverbank.  There is this site that has all these abandoned car and truck tires and I wanted to see if I could make  an interesting image on location.

Mr. Blue FuManchu with Tires, 8/09

Back view of Mr. Blue FuManchu, 8/09

As I was moving this piece around and photographing it, I was approached by two local guys.  “Delante” on the left and his friend “Mikey” asked me if I could take their picture standing next to the figure.  At least it will give a better idea of scale.  They were moving down the shoreline looking for stuff to get into.  I later ran into them again with some of their friends and they were complaining of being “bored”.  That’s something I’ve heard my own sons say before and they know it always gets a rise out of me.  Life is too short to get bored!  You could always make Styrofoam figures like me for instance!  Now there’s an antidote for boredom.  One last image…this one is of two friends fishing and walking on water. 

Delante, Bearded Man, and Mikey, 8/09


Two guys fishing in the middle of the river. 8/09

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gasoline container at the Falls

I have just posted a new collection of images that can be found in my Pages section.  This selection is of gasoline containers found in context at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  All theses containers reached here by floating down or with the Ohio River.  I find there is a certain level of irony represented in these images since they underscore how important fossil fuels are to us and that a container used to specifically hold this precious liquid should happen to wash up at a site that is famous for its fossils.  Civilizations rise and fall with their ability to harness energy and we have decided to hang our star on fossil fuels.  For now, I’ll leave it at that and let it join my other eccentric collections that are gifts and lessons from the river.

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western park scene, Falls of the Ohio, 8/09

For a change of pace, I decided to explore the park’s western section.  It’s a little more of a walk, but you will see more wildlife and less people.  I was priviledged to observe a pair of ospreys gliding in high circles on very long wings.  Usually, there is less Styrofoam to be found in the western end, but I was able to locate a couple pieces along with assorted sticks and plastic bits to make a figure.  This is what I came up with today.

Figure on Green Seat, 8/09

The green plastic seat more than likely came off a child’s riding toy and was the right size for the figure I constructed.  As I was working on this piece, I was treated to the sight of a beautifully marked Eastern box turtle that came walking out of the tall grass.  I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures!

Eastern box turtle, 8/09

head of box turtle, 8/09

I love the golden- yellow markings on its bony- shell and how it shows signs of wear and polish by moving through its environment over many years.  I carefully picked it up and the turtle’s head and front legs pulled within the shell while it’s trap door closed shut.  I set the turtle down and made my art work and slowly the turtle revealed its head, legs, and tail and sneaked back into the grass from where it came.  I heard that box turtles aren’t as common as they used to be.  And, that they prefer to stay in relatively small territories and don’t transplant to new areas very successfully.

Head of figure on green seat, 8/09

This sculpture is made from Styrofoam (polystyrene), driftwood sticks and roots, with various bits of found plastic.  There are several areas in the park that have gravel deposited from the last glacier of the Ice Age.  That’s the kind of rock that this figure’s ears are made from.  At this front row seat were several varieties of blooming plants that were animated with insect life.  Bumble bees and many species of butterflies were taking advantage of the nectar.  All along I have been photographing (when possible ) the different types of butterflies I come across.  Here is an image of the Comma with its well worn angle-wings.  This species is quite common here.

Comma, 8/09

Usually, the lower, hind wings are darker, but this individual has managed to lose a lot of it’s scales.  The edges of its wings are a little more raggedy than normal.  This species has a pugnacious quality to it and I have seen it chase its own kind, other butterflies, and once in awhile…birds!  It has a strong survival instinct…as do these two Monarch butterflies.  This is the image I will leave you with to end this post.  I watched this joined-pair still flying (rather poorly) feeding from flower to flower while mating.  Now that’s multi-tasking for you!

mating Monarch butterflies, 8/09

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View with Interpretive Center, 8/09

Now this feels more like summer.  The Ohio Valley heat and humidity just grabs your breath and makes it heavy.  After the flash flooding and torrential rains, I thought the park would look a lot different than it does.  You can see that the river did get high because piles of driftwood form a meandering line where the water stopped and receded.  I checked out the new arrangements, but the object that stands out as the find of the day was a plastic, crinkled, French fry!  Something new for the “Fake Food Collection”. dragonfly, 8/09


All manner of insect life is present today.  Various dragonfly species patrol the air space just above my head.  I watched a small thread-waisted wasp carry a caterpillar across the sand.  Ants follow their chemical trails through the driftwood.  Some of the willow trees are exuding a sap that’s attractive to dark-bodied flies and an occasional monarch butterfly floats by.  With all this buggy activity, I can feel the energy of life all around me.

Head of Starry-eyed figure, 8/09

The river stopped just short of my studio site.  As I was walking towards it with today’s finds I could hear the voices of children coming from that direction.  For the first time, I actually came across people standing in my spot.  I know I surprised “Grandma” and her two grand children, a boy and a girl.  She explained very quickly that she lives in Clarksville and wanted to take the kids to the river and get exposure to nature.  The girl was holding a small doll I had found months ago and her brother was carrying the wooden ax I had fashioned for my Prince Madoc figure.  Grandma said that they just came across my site and thought some old drunk had hauled all this trash to this spot!  No I explained, it’s just me…some other kind of eccentric with artistic inclinations.  Grandma, however, wasn’t interested in continuing the conversation and the boy laid down the faux weapon.  I said he could have it and his eyes lit up in the way boy’s eyes shine when they get to hold sticks and guns and there is a suggestion of danger.  I told him that if he struck anything with the ax that it would just fall apart.  Grandma said that if they ran into trouble that she wasn’t too worried.  She dug her hand into one of her short’s pockets and pulled out a wicked looking black folding knife!

Starry-eyed figure w/ Gold Ornament, 8/09

Standing proudly by the river is today’s figure!  It’s all stuff I came across between the parking lot and my studio spot.  The plastic star is either a child’s cookie cutter or a clay tool of some sort.  In the center of the star is an acorn.  The other eye combines an orange foam fishing bobber with the cap from a milk jug.  The nose is a fake, plastic tube of lipstick.  The ears are made from the bottom of an aluminum can.  Can you guess what the mouth is?  It’s a hair barrette.  On the end of some old fishing line, the figure holds a plastic, gold ornament of some kind.  I like the way it shines in the light.  I attached the sole of a child’s sandal to the body to create another area of interest.  The rest is Styrofoam and driftwood sticks.

Starry-eyed figure by river, 8/09

I had forgotten how uncomfortable the heat can make things.  My t-shirt and jeans were sticking to my skin.  On such a warm day, why don’t I wear shorts…surely that would be cooler?  Yes, but over the years I have torn my legs up on sharp-bladed grasses, endured insect bites and poison ivy, scratched myself climbing over driftwood and bruised my knees slipping on wet fossil rocks.  You get tired continually healing from something.  I can live with a little perspiration every now and then.

By the wier dam, 8/09

This image was taken under the railroad bridge and next to the eastern tainter gates.  The parking lot is just beyond and up on the hill.  It’s hard to imagine that the level of the river is just about to the top of the wall on the right.  You can’t get any lower in the valley than being at the bottom of the Ohio River, but here at the Falls you can get a feeling for that.  I noticed that the leaves are starting to turn yellow and so summer’s days are numbered.  I did pass a stand of broad-leaved arrowhead plants with their white flowers and thought this a good way to end this post.

Broad-leaved Arrowhead in bloom, 8/09

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Styro-turtle head with fossils

I just read that the most primitive reptiles still around are the turtles.  The oldest turtle fossils extend back nearly 230 million years.  It wouldn’t come as a shock to see that pushed further back in time as new discoveries are made.  The fossils at the Falls of the Ohio predate the turtles and represent life during the Devonian Period about 370 million years ago.

Styro-turtle in shallow pool

Normally during this time of year the fossil beds would be exposed and you can walk very far out upon them.  This, however, hasn’t been a normal year!  I’ve dipped into the archives to show you a turtle sculpture I made a couple years ago that remains a favorite creation.  In this image, the Styro-turtle is crawling out of a shallow pool of water that it was using to stay cool.  It can get very hot out on these rocks during the summer.  The remains of ancient corals can be clearly seen in the limestone.

Styro-turtle on fossil rocks

When I make this work I’m really more interested in the images that result.  For me, it’s about seeing the trash I rearrange and reconfigure in the context where these objects were found.  This turtle needs to be seen in this particular environment which has played a large role in shaping the materials I use.  This is meant to be “a collaboration with nature”.  Andy Goldsworthy has used this phrase to describe his work and friends have  compared my work to his.  There are similarities in that we both like working out in the elements, using what is on hand, and taking a photographic image that is the visual record of that day and place in time.  There are also differences.  My work here is figurative while Goldsworthy’s is more abstract.  He prefers working strictly with natural materials while I use artificial ones too.  The state of moving from the natural to the artificial I feel describes our current condition well.  Goldsworthy travels to some of the beautiful places on the planet to make his art, while I decided to interpret this one place near where I live.  I feel we are collectively like the turtle in the above image…on the brink.  Will we turn back or go over the edge?  By using the garbage I find here I believe I’m not only illustrating part of the problem, but also suggesting an alternative.  It’s by encouraging and using our universal creativity that we have the best chance to reconnect with the environment that sustains us.

Styro-turtle, out of context

This piece turned out nicely and so I kept it.  Later it found a good home with my gallery representative…who prefers the sculptural models over the images!  To each his own.  With real turtles, one of the distinctions that shows up even in the earliest animals is the presence of the shell or carapace.  In my polystyrene version, the shell is special too.  It is the remains of an old bicycle helmet.  Other materials used include:  coal for the nostrils and mouth, plastic aerosol nozzle tips for the eyes, a plastic bleach bottle mouth forms the collar where the turtle’s neck joins the body, driftwood legs, tail, and neck, the rest is Styrofoam.  All found on site.Underside of Styro-turtle


The head pivots around where it meets the body and there is one other special feature of this piece.  It can only be seen by turning the turtle over.  The body is a Styrofoam human head used by wig stylists!  For me, it adds another layer of meaning.  This is one of two such Styrofoam heads I have found at the Falls of the years and worked well with the foam helmet.  A pocket knife was the only tool I used to make this found object sculpture.

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Perhaps you heard that we had an unusual flash flooding incident in Louisville on Tuesday, August 4?  It made the national news.  It’s not everyday that parts of the city receive 6 1/2 inches of rain in an hour!  This storm just hung over the city and wouldn’t budge.  The dark clouds poured it on and we experienced serious flooding damage.  I haven’t been to the Falls this week, but I’m really curious to see what’s different.  Is my studio under the willows still there?  Are there new materials washed up?  I had water come into my house via the basement and roof and so I have been busy with that.  My problems have been minor compared to some and so for that I’m thankful.  It’s just another meteorological moment in what continues to be the oddest of years.  For now,  I’m treading water ” blog-ilogically” and rather than offer you a brief interlude of pre-recorded music will submit these images instead.  I always have more photos than I can post.  This occasion gives me the chance to show the ever changing landscape around the Falls of the Ohio.  These are images from July 2009.

The Falls looking east, 7/09

Looking east, I like the way the railing on this handicap accessible ramp echos the hard lines in the bridge beyond.  A visitor contemplates the exposed fossil beds below the Interpretive Center.

Activity on the fossil rocks, 7/09

Activity on the Fossil beds, 7/09

People on fossil beds, 7/09

Looking at this trio of images reminds me of the 19Th century painter Georges Seurat.  Perhaps it’s the frieze-like quality of the trees and the people absorbed in their own forms of river recreation?  So far this year, this was the most extensive exposure of the fossil beds.  I heard the other day that we have had a ridiculous 20 inches of rain over the past couple of months.  I wonder if our annual precipitation record is at risk this year?

Logs, view west, 7/09

These logs have been rolled against other downed trees in the water.  It’s the grinding action of water and wave that peels the bark and knocks off the branches.  In this way, trees are reduced to being straight logs.  I’ll end with another view of the Ohio River flowing westward.  Several hundred miles to go before entering the Mississippi River.

River flowing westward, 7/09

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The Woodsman, 8/09

For generations, folks around the Falls (or the Wickets as they are known among the locals) have been gathering the driftwood.  Some use it to decorative effect.  I met a man who told me he gets $25.00 per arrangement for attaching plastic flowers artfully onto small, but nice pieces of driftwood.  I have also seen where people prefer their wood plain and display it along with their other yard art.  And then there are those who prefer to burn what they collect during the cold months.  Whatever your preference…there’s no shortage of wood around here.

Woodsman on the rocks, 8/09

The river has been up and the wood has been gathering at the high water points.  Once the river goes back down, there will be these neat lines of wood to remind you how far up the bank the river has traveled.  Insect life is abundant now.  I’ve seen many butterflies and other pollinating insects.  What caught my eye this time were the large wasps better known as Cicada Killers.  They are aptly named.  The female wasps are huge and are among our largest wasps.  Hunting the cicadas exclusively, the female wasp will paralyze it’s prey with a sting and drag it back to the hole it has dug in the earth.  In the burrow she will lay her egg on the still living but immobile cicada.  Soon the egg hatches and the larval wasp will feed upon the cicada and another generation will play out.  Here is a picture of a male Cicada Killer who has confused a dried willow leaf for a female and is attempting to mate with it.  Males are two-thirds the size of the females.

Cicada Killer, male, 8/09

There are all kinds of other giants around here.  Check out the tracks left in the wet sand by various creatures also drawn to the river.  It’s fun trying to identify the various animals that call the Falls home by their spoor.

Woodsman with tracks, 8/09

Now is also a good time to see lizards basking on the logs.  Here’s two pictures of a Five-lined Skink.  They like to burrow under the driftwood and hunt insects in the tangles.  Their young are the small familiar lizards with the blue tails.  This one allowed me to get close before darting away.

Five-lined Skink, 8/09

Five-lined Skink, detail, 8/09

One last image and thought before I turn for home.  I have been looking at old camp fire sites and feeling the ritualized antiquity in them.  It’s time now to take this wood I’ve gathered to my place.  I will build my fire tonight and connect with those who came before me in the hypnotic dance of the flames.Woodsman and camp site, 8/09

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high Ohio River, 8/09

As a child, I can remember the moment when it occurred to me that recorded history doesn’t always measure up to the truth.  It happened in the third grade when we were reading about the discovery of North America by Christopher Columbus.  The teacher brought up the subject of Leif Ericson and his documented voyage to Vineland.  I remember thinking that if the Vikings were first…why were we making such a big deal out of Columbus?  Unfortunately at the time, the proprietary rights of the indigenous Americans didn’t figure into the discussion.  Later I learned that history is indeed fickle and subjective and usually supports the point of view of the victor or whomever was doing the recording.  That turned out to be a valuable lesson in life, although I didn’t know it at the time.

Prince Madoc, detail, 8/09

Among the many things I love about the Falls of the Ohio is the story of Prince Madoc and the Blond-haired, Blue-eyed Indians.  When Lewis and Clark began their exploration of the continent, President Jefferson asked Lewis to confirm their existence.  These people would be the descendants of a colony of Welsh travelers  that accompanied a Prince Madoc back around the year 1170 A.D.!  An even earlier date, five hundred years earlier, has been suggested as the time of the actual voyage and is connected with the descendants of King Arthur!  The most persistent stories, however, go back to the 12th century.

Prince Madoc, 8/09

After arriving in what is believed to be Alabama’s Gulf Coast…Madoc and his people eventually filtered into the heartland by traveling along the rivers.  In their wake, they left little evidence, however, a series of stone fortifications built by unknown hands is attributed to them.  According to a native American oral tradition, these blond-haired, fair-skinned people existed and were routed in battle near the Falls of the Ohio.  The survivors kept moving where they may have merged with the Mandans in the Dakotas.  Lewis and Clark did encounter the Mandans and found them different from the other Indians.  The artist George Catlin did the most extensive study of this tribe before they were all but destroyed by smallpox.  Those survivors later integrated with other native American groups. 

Prince Madoc at the Falls, 8/09

The physical evidence isn’t great.  There are the stone works… walls, fortifications, altered caves, a limestone slab from Kentucky with what appears to be runic writing in ancient Welsh on it.  A few unusual burials have been documented in our area, but nothing definitive has made the case.  Strangely though, there have been documented discoveries of Roman coins. One cache was turned up in the 1960’s during the construction of a bridge crossing the Ohio River at Louisville.  The coins’ discoverer gave two of them to a friend and kept the rest for himself and these were lost again?  The two surviving coins were eventually given to the Interpretive Center at the Falls where they were put on display with facsimiles to simulate the discovered horde.  Other coins have been found in other locations.  Usually, these finds are poo-pooed away as outright forgeries or instances where modern people just happened to lose Roman era coins!

Prince Madoc, in progress, 8/09

I’m sure that history must be full of forgotten stories and the discovery of this continent is among them.  This place has probably been “discovered” and “lost”  on a number of occasions.  With Madoc, whether his story proves to be fact is not as important as the tale itself.  What we remember frequently trumps the truth anyway and seems all the more compelling because there is a persistent mystery surrounding it.  In my own way, I enjoy working in this gray area between fact and fiction as I interpret life at the Falls of the Ohio.  If anyone is interested in the Prince Madoc legend…the links provided for the Falls of the Ohio State Park and the Falls archaeological society can be found in my web log to the right.

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half moon facing river, 7/09half moon with bridge, 7/09

Finding this tire upright and buried in the now drying mud… provided these three views from the Falls of the Ohio.  Since we had so much recent rain, I doubt this tire is still standing.  I will find out this weekend.  I guess it’s official now about July being the coolest on record for Kentucky.  Not one day hit the 90 degree mark!  That follows on the heels of June…which was the wettest June ever recorded around here.  We are well above normal rainfall.  It’s not exactly been your average summer!

Half Moon, view from under the tire, 7/09

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