Archive for January, 2012

A gray day with the Ohio River rising and I’m exploring this huge driftwood mound created by last spring’s flooding.  Over the last few months this section has seen other minor floods and even a fire.  It’s interesting to me to see how the river has a leveling effect as it flows under and moves the driftwood pile. The shifting reveals new “treasures” that were formerly buried.  I’m out here to see what I can find and possibly reuse.  Soon I uncover a sign that tempts me.

Yes, I have a found sign collection as well and you can see it on my Pages section where I keep other collections of stuff I have stumbled across.  First, let me tell you why this particular sign caught my eye.  In this neck of the woods, we still remember the now mythic frontiersmen who explored and settled this great land.  Daniel Boone, Audubon, Lewis and Clark, and one Davy Crockett are among these pioneers.  Seeing this sign caused me to “flash forward” and I speculated what Crockett’s descendants were now doing after taming our great wilderness.  Did they as Joni Mitchell once sang “…paved paradise and put up a parking lot” and here was the sign to prove it?  As signs go, this one was interesting because it’s double-sided and the reverse message is different and says “Life Vest Required” in red stenciled letters.  Here is a detail that I like.

I was contemplating whether I wanted to drag this heavy and muddy sign with me when an unexpected thing occurred. Life happened! My activity flushed out a bird I didn’t recognize and it flew right over my head and landed in an area of bottom land just east of the railroad bridge.  I kept my eyes on it the whole time and I saw where it landed.  I forgot about the sign and grabbed my camera gingerly stepping over the driftwood.  I would hate to twist my ankle again as I anticipated my rendezvous with this rare bird.  After quietly searching the underbrush, I located it and excitedly snapped the following images.

I have the honor of announcing the first documented sighting of the Temperate Bird of Paradise ever seen at the Falls of the Ohio!  I found it at the water’s edge skulking among the litter and downed logs.  FYI, this is the only bird of paradise found in North America (hence temperate) from a family of birds that are almost exclusively tropical.  You are more likely to encounter a bird of paradise in New Guinea or the Aru Islands than here.  Interestingly, the first tropical examples to reach Europe were ethnographic specimens and the prepared bird skins were missing their feet and sometimes their wings.   This resulted in the early European naturalists assuming that the birds of paradise were forever on the wing kept aloft by their magnificent feathers.  (That’s a true story!)  Here are a few more pictures of this magical bird.

What this bird has in common with the other birds of paradise are very unusual feathers that the males use in courtship displays.  You can see the wiry, blue, flower-like feathers near the base of the tail.  In the wild, the males compete against each other for the affections of the females by wildly dancing and showing off their unusual plumage.  Once mating has occurred, the female builds a nest near the ground and the male takes off and plays no part in raising the young.  The particular bird I was observing was a juvenile male and lacked the small tuft of feathers found on the heads of the adults.

While I was taking these pictures and recording my observations, a train was passing overhead on the bridge.  I could tell it was making my visitor uneasy.

The diesel locomotives were noisy as they hauled their great loads over the span.  My bird of paradise began walking nervously back and forth and then flew away.  I was, however, able to snap one more image of it before it disappeared for good.  I returned to the area over several days, but it definitely left the area.  This is my final picture of the bird of paradise at the Falls.

Because this was a juvenile male, I’m hoping that this signals that the Temperate Bird of Paradise is on the increase and this young bird is seeking out new territories.  The bird initially became rare during the hey day when exotic bird plumes worn on fancy hats were all the rage.  Since then, habitat loss and the fact it is a ground nesting species makes it more vulnerable.  Excitedly, I rushed home to view my pictures on the computer!  I forgot all about the sign and I’m not sure it is still there anymore?  The rising Ohio River may have reclaimed it.  The next time I’m out there, I will look for it and the rare Temperate Bird of Paradise in case it returns.

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On a recent expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I came across a small section of the Ohio River within the park that surprised me because of all the coal I found.    Over this warmer than usual January, the Ohio River has fluctuated due to the rain and snow that have fallen upriver from us.  While it made for interesting photographs, the contrast between the muddy waters and the blackness of the shoreline was also disturbing.  It made me wonder if this would become part of the new normal conditions that I would keep encountering upon each visit to the park?  As I walked along with my camera and collecting bag in hand I kept wondering why all this coal was showing up here? I kept looking for witnesses that might provide clues and insights into this alarming situation at the river.

The first potential witness I came across was this toy reindeer who was staring up at the sky with eyes as black as coal.  I asked it if it knew what had happened…but the plush toy with matted fur said nothing and just looked at me.  I shrugged it off and continued down the riverbank looking for answers.  Soon I came to another toy and posed the same question to it.

I asked, “Do you know what happened here?”  The small plastic monkey just laughed and told me to keep walking.  What I was seeking was just ahead.  He then nonchalantly rolled over on his side with this bemused look on his face.  At least that was something to go on and I continued walking not knowing what to look for but trusted I would recognize it when I saw it.  Before long I came to another toy and thought it might know what had happened, but first I had to do a little bit of work.

Poking out of the driftwood was this doll head and at first I thought that this was all that was left of this unfortunate toy.  I began to walk away when the head spoke to me and said that if I would help it out…in thanks it would help me too.  It took a bit of doing, but I was able to move the branches and small logs that were covering it and soon the complete doll saw the light of day again.

The doll was water-logged and dirty and I noticed that one of its arms was broken.  After recovering for a moment, the doll said the reason the beach was black had to do with the hand of man.  If I kept walking east that this would become clearer.  I thanked the doll and left it where I found it and moved on.  Soon I would find other evidence that would support what the doll told me.

About ten minutes later I came upon this old rubber glove and figured I was getting nearer to the “hand of man”.  As I continued down the river’s edge  I began to find bits and pieces of discarded machinery along the way.  The first find was an old generator and this is how I found it in the sand.

Near it was another buried machine that was being washed over by the waves of the Ohio River.  I took this photograph and kept walking.

I figured I was getting nearer my quest when I saw this monstrous truck with immense tires  parked in the coal dust, wood chips, and mud.   Was this vehicle somehow involved with the coal?

The truck was still functional and I surmised that its operator was probably near by.  It didn’t take me long to locate him.  He was taking a break and having a meal in a section of the park that had experienced a fire a few months a go.  I decided to approach him to ask about the coal.

With one jaundiced eye, the truck driver looked me over and took another bite from whatever he was eating.  He asked me what I wanted and I posed my coal question to him.  The driver admitted that he indeed had played a hand in this environmental destruction, but wasn’t willing to take full responsibility.  He said it was part of the cost of keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer and that it provided much-needed jobs during these economic hard times.  He further added that if I truly was looking for someone to blame I didn’t need to go any farther than the person I saw staring back at me in a nearby pool of still water.  Of course, what I saw was my own reflection and I understood the truck driver’s point of view.  I left the driver to his meal and started for home.  I resolved then and there that I could at least do the little things to reduce my own demands for energy.  I would start by looking around my house for ways to save electricity.  Now where are those funny shaped light bulbs?

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The sun is shining and it’s a brand new year and because it’s also 60 degrees out today…you might not recognize that it is also supposed to be  winter here at the Falls of the Ohio!  I’m sure it will come, but for now we have followed our wettest year ever with a very warm beginning for 2012.  I’m walking the banks of the Ohio River on the Indiana side across from my home in Louisville, Kentucky.  This new year marks the ninth year I have been engaged by this project which has meandered as the river has.  I’m using the material culture that washes up in the park to make my odd form of public art.  I’m hoping to capture something about the spirit of the times in which we live within the context of this very special place which is important both to the history of life and my country’s history.

Last year ended with more high water which deposited even more debris into the park.  One would think that if you had experienced as much rain and flooding as we did that there would be little left to wash into the river.  You might assume that all the small streams and creeks and all the water ways that feed into the river would be flushed out and that the river would eventually flow cleanly…or as clean as it can after passing through our urban landscape.  Unfortunately, you would be wrong and I have the pictures to prove it.

I’m always on the look out for wildlife and birds in particular.  On this day, even the year round avian residents are hard to find.  Everything about this day was very still. The most noteworthy bird I came across was this rubber duck which is somewhat fitting since I ended last year with a collection of rubber duckies that I have found out here over the years. This holiday duck is just the latest to enter my collection.  Oddly, when I looked at this day’s images on my home computer, I discovered that many of my finds were also “yellow” in color hence the partial title of this post.  Here are a few of my other finds from this day.

How long do you think it will take before people won’t recognize what this is?  I came across this toy telephone handset among the wood chips. I guess you can view this as the original cordless telephone.  I think nature is calling.

This bright plastic train is missing its opposite half which washed away with the river.  It was sitting at the water’s edge on gravel deposited by the last ice age.

I even found SpongeBob out here, but what he’s doing looking like one of the queen’s guards, I haven’t the slightest idea?  I saluted back and dropped him into my collecting bag.

Although this isn’t some ancient ivory carving of a mammoth…I did pick this pachyderm up and he snuggled next to SpongeBob.

I’m not sure whether a child or the family dog chewed this plastic horse up, but it was missing part of its leg and had other teeth marks on it as well.  This is not the only horse I found out at the Falls today.  This following piece was much bigger.

It’s not yellow, but it’s a horse of some kind.  I imagine that this is a toy marketed to girls who would enjoy combing the artificial hair on its flowing mane and tail.  Frankly, it could use a good brushing because there were all kinds of burs and seeds tangled in it.  It might be interesting to find out what kinds of plants are ensnared here and I thought about planting the mane somewhere.  And now, another change of pace featuring horse power of a different sort.

I don’t pick up everything I come across otherwise I would need more than the single collecting bag that I bring out here.  Frequently, just taking a picture of a found object is good enough.  Here is a plastic Mustang car mixed in with the driftwood.  As I’m walking I’m also picking up Styrofoam, sticks, nuts, and whatever strikes my fancy.  And, as is my habit…I try to make something from what I’ve collected and photographed out here before I head for home.  Here is the first figure of the new year constructed from junk I found on this adventure.

I made this small figure in the western most section of the park.  The yellow earrings are actually fishing lures.  I came across these two lead jigs with the bright yellow feathers that were tied in tandem and fished on the same line.  The red-head gear is a fabric and Styrofoam flower that’s falling apart.  The necklace is a plastic heart-shaped locket.

While I was making this piece…I was discovered by three boys who live in the nearby town of Clarksville.  They were having an adventure of their own on this beautiful day.  The boys were curious about what I was doing and periodically they would come closer for a peek.  Apparently, what I was doing didn’t sit well for whatever reason with one of the boys who then started to call me names!  “Hey mister…your’e a freak!”  He called me a “freak” several times before running away.  Later, his two friends came by and apologized for him and we had a good conversation about calling people names.  I even reminded one of the boys of his social studies teacher and I’m guessing that’s somebody he has respect for?  Since the day was getting long, I decided it was time to head home.  I left my little figure with the feather earrings near the spot where I last saw the boys and perhaps they will find it.  Maybe it will give them the idea that it can be more fun to be creative than destructive.  That is always my hope.  Have a great year out there!

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