Archive for February, 2013

figure in light by willow roots, Feb. 2013

What a beautiful day and I stayed out for many hours by the river.  It’s been a bit of roller coaster with the weather the past few weeks.  We have fluctuated between below freezing temperatures you can feel in your bones and highs in the 50 to 60 degree range.  Folks around here have been blaming our worse than usual cold and flu season with the variability of the weather.  I don’t know if this is true, but for me…going outside to breathe fresh air is restorative to my physical and spiritual health.  Since I last set foot here the river has again risen and receded.  The large raft of driftwood under the railroad bridge has been dispersed by the high water and actually made it a little less of an obstacle course to maneuver around.  The air over the river is also once again alive with Ring-billed Gulls searching for food.  I’m also hearing both the Northern Cardinal and Song Sparrow practicing their songs in anticipation of Spring.  Their songs make me want to sing one of my own.

sunken tires, Feb. 2013

More evidence of a high river comes in the form of man-made junk that has floated into the park.  I have found tires in all their forms to be good indicators of the entropy in this system.  What once took great amounts of energy and heat to form and use is literally sinking into the sand.  The wheel is one of mankind’s great inventions and here it is just another piece of garbage we have discarded.  I’m out here today not because I’m looking for things to get me down, but rather the opposite!  I’m looking for signs and symbols of the renewal to come.

Styro-figure with foot print, Feb. 2013

Today, I’m looking for a member of the genus Lepus which includes hares and rabbits.  For some reason…intuition I think, has brought me here on this particular quest.  I have heard that members of the rabbit family start behaving oddly during Spring in anticipation of the breeding season.  The expression “mad as a March hare” is an old English expression used to describe this moment.  Of course, rabbits and hares have older associations as well.  The ancient Greeks equated rabbits with the goddess Aphrodite and rabbits have long been symbols of fertility. Logic tells me that if I can locate a hare that Spring will be here in no time at all. I guess I’m putting more trust in the hare than I am the groundhog! The month of February is nearly over and I’m hoping to find signs that hares are in the area.  So far, I’m not having much luck…just the tracks of people who came before me.  I’m not giving up yet though and the day is young.

Styro-figure and frayed cable, Feb. 2013

I’m operating with my “hare brain” switched in the “on” position as I walk around my familiar haunts.  I look in areas that seem likely to me to hide rabbits and hares like this willow tree with an old barge cable wrapped around it.  I’m not sure why this tree is “talking” to me, but I’m going with my intuition.  There are no hares here, and maybe this spot is too close to the river anyway?

Styro-figure by wooden cable spool, Feb. 2013

I walk by a wooden spool for holding large cables.  This is also new and wasn’t here the last time I passed by.  I see there is an opening large enough for a small mammal to hide in and so I go to investigate.  Carefully I approach the spool, but there is nothing here either.  I’m beginning to feel that there aren’t many other places I can look, when I remember there is a section of the park I almost never visit and so letting intuition be my guide…I go there.

East of the railroad bridge, Louisville across the Ohio River, Feb. 2013

The area I trek to is just east of the railroad bridge and dam that catches most of the driftwood that has been pushed from upriver.  This barrier is no obstacle at all when the river is at flood stage.  It is all this driftwood and pent-up junk that flows into the park when the Ohio River gets high.  It’s a tricky, shifty area and frequently muddy too.  All these conditions were present on this day.  It’s not an area the public is encouraged to visit and most people have enough sense to stay away.

colorful plastic garbage, Feb. 2013

As you can see…this area also gets lots of trash too.  This is what I eventually can look forward to receiving, perhaps in the next flood?  This plastic separates so completely with the rest of the environment that I’m surprised it doesn’t compel people to pick it up like it does at the grocery and department stores?

Alien head and plastic trash, Feb. 2013

Naturally, I find weird things here.  It’s not everyday that you come across an alien’s head, but here it is next to other junk.  I find three dolls in various poses tangled in mud and driftwood and other toy bits that floated down with the currents.  I find a little bit of this and that, but no March hares or rabbits.

train on bridge, Falls, Feb.2013_1_1

The soles of my shoes are caked with mud and so I find a suitable stick to scrape away the sticky earth.  I sit on a broad log to do this and take a rest at the same time.  While I work away at my shoes, a train crosses the bridge and I watch it as it crosses.  My mind wanders freely and I remember the unusual art of Joseph Beuys which became a favorite of mine during graduate school.  His work is frequently perplexing and takes getting used to.  I like his art, but found I was more attracted by his ideas and writings.  The value he placed on art as a potential agent to further our own evolution away from the strictly materialistic way we treat ourselves and the planet we depend on inspired me.  His ideas about an expanded notion of art seemed to give art more of a sense of purpose which I also found to be smart and optimistic.

Railroad bridge with bunny, Feb. 2013

Bueys often referenced animals in his art and believed that they were more aware and in tune with the world than we are.  The hare in particular was an important symbol to Bueys because it mediates between the earthly and spiritual realms.  Hares are burrowing animals and line their nests with their wool.  The insulating properties of felt became another material that Bueys incorporated in his art.  While I was sitting still and reflecting on the work of a favorite artist…the hare appeared!

The March Hare in late February 2013

It must have just emerged from its burrow under the logs and debris and was still covered with mud.  It looked in my direction with ears pricked up and our gaze locked upon one another.  Holding still for just a split second, I was able to capture this image before it disappeared back into the earth.  I exhaled in the knowledge that Spring was one day closer to arriving.  I savored the moment, gathered my things, took one last look across the river and headed for the skyline of Louisville over the Second Street Bridge.

The City of Louisville across the Ohio River. Feb. 2013

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Figure with Bear Hat, Feb. 2013

As promised here is the second part of the previous post.  I did fill an empty cloth bag with river finds and here are some of today’s choice tidbits.  Once I straightened up my outdoor studio, I dumped the bag out onto the sand and started the sorting process.  I guess I also do a similar thing with my camera except it’s a memory card that gets filled and downloaded into the home computer.  Let’s begin with a few pictures of my newly discovered river treasures in situ.

blue plastic watch, Feb. 2013

I like all kinds of references to time.  I have a few other toy clocks and watches I’ve found courtesy of the river through the years.  Interestingly, I haven’t owned a watch personally in over thirty years and don’t want one now.  It seems I can find the time most anywhere I go and at the Falls of the Ohio…I pass by one of the largest clocks in the world.  Let’s see if I have a picture of that I can pull up for you.

former Colgate Clock, 2012

Although this is a bit off topic, I thought you might enjoy seeing this mechanical wonder.  This is less than a mile away from my river spot.  It was once a part of a toothpaste factory that moved away a couple of years a go.  The building is a former prison…which is another way to mark time.  My reluctance to wear a watch has more to do with not liking to wear much in the way of jewelry.  Besides who needs the constant reminder?  Meanwhile, back at the river.

white plastic astronaut, Feb. 2013

Houston…we have a problem.  I’m a plastic astronaut and it looks like the family dog has chewed one foot off!  Having some issues with my helmet too…don’t think I can last long in this alien environment.  This is an American astronaut so designated by the flag patch on his left arm.

very small plastic doll head and walnut, Feb. 2013

I believe this is the smallest doll’s head I’ve ever found.  Here having a potential brain the size of a walnut could be a good thing!  I think I have found enough doll heads over the years to make a totem pole several feet tall and they would graduate from largest to smallest with no two alike.  This guy could be the cherry on top of it all.


Toy wheels found today. Feb. 9, 2013

As regular readers know…I have a thing for wheels too.  These are just the toy wheels I came across today.  I’m surprised by how many of these I have found in just the past two years.  I like them as a collection, but I may use them all in a single artwork.  I watched a depressing documentary today that included such nuggets of information like the average automotive tire takes seven gallons of oil to make.  And you may be thinking that all this petroleum is needed for gasoline?    I see too many real tires in the river as well.

3 plastic toy hammers found on 2/9/13

Now how odd is this?  I found three toy hammers within a few hours of each other.  This is the most common toy tool that I find…not screwdrivers or pliers, etc…  At the river, it’s always hammer time, well the one on the far right is technically more of a mallet.  I’m not sure what the blue wheel on the far left hammer is supposed to do?

more found plastic toys, Feb. 2013

This is an interesting grouping of character toys.  It includes three dogs, two bones, a Weeble, and a Teletubby(?).  There’s a dog friend from Clifford the Big Red Dog and quick draw Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoon.  The dog sitting on the block has a nice oily river patina that takes years to develop.  The yellow character on the right is still full of mud.

four fishing lures, Feb. 2013

Not everything I find is a toy.  Here are four fishing lures.  These get tangled up in the rocks or snagged on old fishing line.  Notice only the top left lure still has its treble hooks.  In the others, the hooks rusted or dissolved away.  I found a fifth lure after taking this photo.  I need to rephotograph my fishing lure collection because it has become seriously larger over the past couple of years.  You can see an older image in my Pages section.

colorful, disposable cigarette lighters, Feb. 2013

I picked up all these disposable cigarette lighters today.  I have more at my studio at the church and intend to put them to use one day as well.  This was more of a photo opportunity.  I wanted to see some of the color range this particular make of lighter comes in.  No doubt the color is not light fast and over time would all probably come to resemble each other until the plastic broke down into ever smaller bits.  I also picked up other items such as interesting rootlets and sticks and heavier still…nice potential bases for the sculptures I decide to hang onto.  Well, this wraps up my finds from one particular adventure.  There is always stuff to pick up after the river rises and recedes again.  I wonder what I’ll come across next?

My outdoor studio, Feb. 2013

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sand sun sign, Feb. 2013

The sun is up and this is supposed to be the pick of the weekend.  So, a quick breakfast and cup of coffee and I’m out the door as soon as I can manage it.  I arrive at the Falls and there is still frost on the driftwood which vanishes except where the deep shadows shade the tiny ice crystals from the warmth of the light.  The Ohio River is noticeably down and I find a way to access the narrow sliver of land that is now high and dry…well nearly.  An occasional patch of sticky mud remains where a pool of water lingered longer than the rest of the river did.

Falls of the Ohio, post high water, Feb. 2013

I brought a large and empty collecting bag.  I’m anticipating finding some river treasures to fill it… which I do by day’s end.  As expected, the landscape is different, but the same.  Meaning there is lots of driftwood in a wide variety of sizes with plenty of other junk mixed in.  What is different is the exact context that had existed before is now rearranged.  Big logs have floated to new positions and have been added to by wood originating upstream from Louisville and southern Indiana.  I feel slightly guilty enjoying such a sunny day when I have friends on the east coast that are covered by the deep snow that fell yesterday.

frayed rope archway, Feb. 2013

During bouts of high water, stuff gets snagged in tree branches.  I do a little promenade through this frayed rope archway formed by the river.  It’s muddier under the railroad bridge, but the biggest tangle of catch-all driftwood is also here.  My site is just over this wooden mound and I wonder how it has fared?

female Downy Woodpecker, Feb. 2013

Along the way, I keep an eye out for birds like this female Downy Woodpecker investigating the furrows in tree bark.  I see a Belted Kingfisher, a Red-winged Blackbird, flocks of Canada Geese which are year round residents, Carolina Chickadees, and a Peregrine Falcon flying parallel with the river.  Usually, nature’s colors are subtle this time of year, but I also find this silly bird.  It’s bright non-naturalistic color is a quick tip-off that it is probably made from plastic.

pink rubber duck, Feb. 2013

I find lots of other plastic items particularly toys, but I will wait until later in the week to post those finds.  I did pick up this lucky duck to add to my expanding collection.  I like the two walnuts next to the duck.  How often have I used walnuts as a gauge for scale?

Figure with bear hat at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

We are nearly there…just under the willow trees.  Be careful of stepping on milled boards for they are the ones harboring bent and rusty nails.  The sun has climbed higher in the sky and I’m getting warmer.  This bear hat of mine is getting hotter, but I am glad I had it with me earlier in the day.

last year's Styrofoam, Feb. 2013

We have arrived…this is my old spot.  I guess I was partly right.  The river did reach my outdoor studio, but the water didn’t spread last year’s Styrofoam too widely.  The riverbank is slightly higher here and that makes a difference.  Walking carefully over the driftwood, I search over and under the wood.  Before too long, I am able to corral my wayward polystyrene.  I do a little “house keeping” and try to create a semblance of order under the willow trees.

Reassembled studio under the willows, Feb. 2013

I find not only much of last year’s Styrofoam, but some new pieces as well.  I empty out my collecting bag and add to the pile.  Interestingly, I did not find any really big sections and hopefully that bodes well for the river at large.  Some of the pieces I have here I have recycled many times before to make new figures.  I will try to embed these bright white shapes into my subconscious with the hope of creating new and interesting combinations with them.  I’m going to leave it here for now.  My next post will be a show and tell featuring some of the other items I picked up along the way and put into the old collecting bag.  See you then?

Figure with bear hat and driftwood, Feb. 2013

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high Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb., 3, 2013

The Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio is even higher now since my last visit with the fishermen.  We have had some wild weather in the interim.  First it gets unseasonably warm and then a cold front collides with a wet weather system originating in the Gulf of Mexico.  The results of this can be very dangerous as this is the perfect recipe for a tornado outbreak which did occur south of here.  My family was awakened to the sound of tornado warning sirens at 4:30ish in the morning.  We began that day in the basement of our house which was a rude awakening even for the family dog.  Luckily, we didn’t experience any damage although it rained hard and was very windy.  And after the cold front blasted through it became extremely cold and was followed by snow.  I think we have seen the gamut of winter weather and I was glad to hear the “groundhog” did not see its shadow in Pennsylvania meaning that winter would come to a normal end this year.  That is if you believe animals can predict the weather?

floating trash in the river, Feb. 2013

I am certain this time that my outdoor studio under the willows is history by now.  The Ohio River has claimed the spot and my cache of art materials.  Unfortunately, there is a ready re-supply floating in the water.  It seems I begin many a post with what amounts to a weather report, but please bear with me.  My blog concerns itself with the local conditions which are the context that my adventures and stories are set in.  I’m also amazed and concerned that I can detect variations in our weather patterns having lived in this area for so long.  Much of the time I feel I’m bearing witness to events of importance to us all.  What is happening here is also occurring in other places in the world.  As I was walking through the woods on this day, I was surprised by the bird life I was encountering when I expected to see nearly nothing.  My Eastern Bluebird friends were still hanging around and they had company.  I saw White-breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Brown Tree Creepers and many more especially near the river’s expanding edge.  I also saw and photographed another amazing bird which makes up the bulk of this post.

Snow Cock at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

Fellow bird watchers had put the alert out that an unusual visitor was seen hanging out at the Falls.  A young, male Snow Cock was seen near the Woodland Loop Trail which is a bird not seen in these parts since the late 19th century.  As you can imagine this is a northern bird used to the cold and snow…in fact it depends upon these conditions for its survival.  The Snow Cock (like some ptarmigan species) turns nearly white in winter.  The rest of the year it sports plumage that is more like leaf camouflage.  Regardless of the season, the Snow Cock is a cryptic animal and is shy and retiring.  Except of course when it’s time to choose a mate when the males make it a point to be as noticeable to their own kind as possible.  I was hoping the bad weather would cause this wayward Snow Cock to linger and I was rewarded by its presence.  I took as many photographs as possible.  I have a feeling that I won’t ever see this exact species out here again.

detail of Snow Cock head, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock in natural habitat, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock, back view showing tail fan, Feb. 2013

The Snow Cock is also called the “Snow Turkey” and “Styro-grouse” because of the large fan of tail feathers it uses for courtship displays.  That’s how I found this particular bird which wasn’t all that wary.  The young male was rehearsing his dance and song and establishing a lek or territory where he would fight other males for the attention of the females.  Although this bird wasn’t going to hang out at the Falls forever, it was nevertheless, practicing this important survival skill.  Other interesting field marks included a head crest, an unusual beard growing from his chest, and a long bill for seeds and insects.

Snow Cock at the water's edge, Feb. 2013

falls 030_1_2

I watched the Snow Cock look for just the right spot to strut its stuff.  It was frequently hopping from one vantage point (usually a tall stump) to the ground and back.  The call of the Snow Cock as you might guess is very chicken-like and not particularly beautiful in its own right.  To my eye, it seemed very interested in the water which was noticeably spreading over the land.  This might be the first flood it has ever experienced?

Snow Cock sipping water, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock by large Osage Orange tree, Feb. 2013

I kept my distance from the bird and quietly followed it through the woods.  I observed it drinking from melting ice and I left it be hanging out near a large Osage Orange tree along the trail’s path.  The wind was beginning to pick up again and more flakes were in the air.  Despite wearing good gloves, my finger tips were cold and painful.  I decided that now was a good time to go home and I did.  I hope the next time I’m out here that the conditions will be more favorable for an extended visit.  I had one other small surprise waiting for me along the Woodland Loop Trail.  I passed the spot by the creek where I watched the fishermen catch sauger and was amazed and amused that the figure I had made from river junk that day was still there!  He was missing his nose, but otherwise he was intact.  I guess the fishermen appreciated him as I do you for tagging along on another adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-figure along the loop trail, Feb. 2013

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