Archive for September, 2012

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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This was my Labor Day adventure which spanned two days of hanging out by the Ohio River.  The remnants of Hurricane Isaac came through and gave us some much-needed rain.  I was excited to return to my old studio spot and didn’t mind exploring and working through the drizzle.  My clothes got soaked and muddy, but as long as I was able to keep my camera dry…I felt okay and had fun.  It has been two months since I last laid eyes on my Styro-cache.  Most of these polystyrene chucks were collected in the spring.  I had heard that there were a few scheduled river clean-ups, but they obviously didn’t find my spot.  It wouldn’t have hurt my feelings in the least if all this white trash had disappeared.  The more public areas did look better, but I have a feeling that as long as people are around…there will be litter at the Falls of the Ohio.

Because I was dodging little rain showers, I quickly created a figure and moved him out into the river landscape.  A nice family who said they were familiar with some of my other Falls projects happened upon me.  Their daughters India and Esmay were interested in “Mr. Rednose”, so named because his nose is a burnt out light bulb from a string of Christmas lights.  I asked permission from the parents to take the girls’ picture before posting something.  Esmay seemed the most interested and kept sticking her finger into “Mr. Rednose’s” mouth.  It’s cool when people I meet out here get what I do and appreciate my small call for creativity.  I have a real concern for what kind of world our children will inherit.  My own sons are now 11 and 16 years old and I remember when they were much smaller and followed me to the river to make a few memories of our own.

“To exist or not to exist…that is a choice.”  Perhaps meeting little kids inspired me to play dress up with this figure.  But I also kept finding props I could do this with.  This blue blanket was just draped over a log and I wondered why someone would leave this here?  Over the years, I have come across small camps that homeless people would just leave their stuff behind as though they planned to return.  It was eerie when they didn’t.  By the river, I came across yet another potential prop.

A fisherman had left behind as trash this polystyrene minnow bucket and “Mr. Rednose”picked it up.  Since it was beginning to rain more regularly it seemed appropriate to try to use this bucket for a hat and here is what that looked like.

It was about this time that I decided to call it a day.  The rain was coming down more heavily and consistently.  I hid the figure in high, wet  grass where it was waiting for me the following morning.

My second day out here was more about discovering nature.  No sooner had I rescued my figure than I had one of my most thrilling bird sightings.  This time it was an actual bird and not something I created myself!  Walking through the wet grasses I unintentionally flushed a bird into flight that I recognized immediately.  It was a Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis).  It’s a small blackish bird with a short bill.  It has white speckles on its flanks and a very diagnostic rusty-colored nape.  Rails are the smallest member of a group of wading birds that include herons and egrets.  The literature says that they are very secretive and seldom encountered.  You are more likely to hear one at night along the eastern salt marshes, but there are a few that live in the Midwest.  There are over 260 bird species listed in the official Falls of the Ohio checklist, but the Black Rail is not one of them.  This is a second time I have spotted a bird not officially recorded in the park.  I tried to let the park and our local bird club know about my sighting and I hope somebody else was able to see it?   The flushed rail flew to a nearby willow tree and with camera in hand I tried to get a picture.  Unfortunately, I was not successful.  I will, however, look for it again in the same place the next time I come out here.  The Black Rail was not the only interesting creature out in the park today.  Newly minted butterflies were flitting about and I counted several species including the Viceroy which mimics the Monarch butterfly.

This Viceroy was taking advantage of the minerals present in a fairly large bird dropping!  Out of the fossil beds, Great Blue Herons were outnumbered by the slightly smaller and all-white Great Egrets.  Soon the egrets will be moving off to warmer climes, but the Great Blue Herons are year round residents.


Moving away from the river and back towards the willows, I stopped to admire several flowers including members of the Evening Primrose family.  “Mr. Rednose” enjoyed the slight fragrance emanating from this tall flower.


I finished this adventure where it began.  I moved my figure to the place he first took form and where he now stands guard over my Styro-larder.  He might still be there welcoming visitors…or not.  I look forward to returning the following weekend to experience all the surprises both great and small that this environment presents to me.


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