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It’s Spring and I’m walking the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park looking for birds.  I have done this religiously for years and have seen most of the species that have been recorded in this park.  I love birds because they are such beautiful expressions of life.  I envy their extreme mobility with so many species able to call greater parts of the globe home than I will ever experience.  This is the time of year when many different types of birds that have been wintering in South and Central America undergo remarkable journeys.  Some will pass through this area on their way to locations as far north as the Arctic Circle. This is my chance to see them… if I’m lucky. The Falls of the Ohio also has another significant bird connection through the life and work of John James Audubon.  He essentially started his life’s work that would eventually become The Birds of America, one of the great achievements in publishing and the most expensive book in the world, by first drawing many of the birds he encountered at the Falls of the Ohio.  Audubon’s example and his journal descriptions of the world he inhabited are frequent touchstones for me and this project.  Two hundred years later…very little remains of the original landscape he was familiar with.  That process and transformation of the landscape is continuing and unfortunately not always in a positive direction.  Birds are such great indicators of the quality of the environment because they are sensitive to changes…the canary in the coal mine was a real thing.  To enjoy birds and birding is an activity that takes you out of yourself for a little while and causes you to engage life on its own terms.  On this day (which also happened to be April Fool’s Day)  I did experience many of the usual year round resident bird species, but did not see any of the neotropical migrants that make the Spring migration so special.  So, when this happens, I’m not above creating my own bird species.  This post is devoted to a new bird I discovered out here and I’ve named it the Variegated Oriole.

The Variegated Oriole receives its name for being multicolored. I first encountered this bird as various bits of detritus that I came across walking the shoreline of the Ohio River.  For the head, I used a small piece of river-polished Styrofoam.  Its brightly colored beak is part of a plastic and polystyrene fishing float that I cut with my pocket knife.  The eyes are small bits of coal.  I used a green foam gasket or washer to act as a transitional element between the head and the body.  It’s a trademark of mine that I seem to do with almost every piece I make out here. For the body, I found a blue piece of river-polished high density foam? that I cut a few slits into the sides to hold the wings which are made from pine bark.  I took one piece of bark that the river peeled off of a tree and I split that in half to form matching wings.  The tail is a piece of yellow plastic I found that reminded me of a bird tail!  I cut another groove into the blue body to insert and hold the tail in place.  The feet, are just rootlets that I sharpened and pegged into the body.  That’s it in terms of materials which I tried to alter as little as possible as not to trump what nature and the river had already shaped.  It’s important to me that this be a true collaboration.  If “we” are successful, then something of the spirit of a bird will take hold and inhabit this small sculpture.

After finishing the bird…I seek out environments that will help put this avian creation into some kind of context.  Everything matters and I hope my pictures convey something of the time of day, the season, the quality of light, the condition of the environment, etc…all those elements help create a sense of place.  I move through the willow trees posing the bird on various stumps and branches.  I usually take a lot of pictures.

Sometimes, I will imagine what kind of habits my new birds might possess.  In the case of the Variegated Oriole…it is not too different from the Northern or Baltimore Orioles that live and nest in the park.  They are among the migrants I look for. I heard one the other day calling, but didn’t see it.  The real orioles that live here are adapting to local conditions by using artificial materials (fishing line and barge cable fibers) in the construction of their hanging basket nests.  I’ve posted on this before in this blog a few years a go.  I think Audubon would have been interested in this.  Anyway, I left my bird sitting on a branch for anyone to discover.  It might still be there and I will find out today when I once again venture out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Perhaps new birds will present themselves to me? I will let you know what I find…next time.

One week later…I returned to the spot where I left my faux-feathered friend and he was no longer perched upon the branch where I left him.  I was able to locate most of him scattered on the sand except for one wing.  My guess was that he was felled by a well-aimed and thrown rock.  The head was shattered and will need to be replaced provided  I recyle these pieces back into a bird again.

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Hard to believe a week has passed since this exhibition opened and summer has made room for autumn as well.  Such is the passing of time.  As promised here are a few views of the show my work is in which opened at Bellarmine University’s McGrath Gallery on September 16.  The exhibit is entitled “Outcasts and Artifacts, artwork from a disposable world”, “Al Gorman and Scott Scarboro”.  I snapped a few installation views before people arrived for the opening.  Thanks to friends and family as well as a well-timed snippet in the local paper… a good mix of folks came out to see our work.

I have a lot of stuff I’ve gathered and made to select from over the years and I decided now was a good time to see my sign collection hanging on a wall.  I found that I still enjoy looking at these artifacts.  I like hand painted signs and one of my very first jobs was working in a sign shop.  I have this idea about history being interpreted from examining the existing fragments and this collection fits.  I also like finding the occasional sign where the universe is seemingly “speaking” to you by providing enigmatic clues.

My “Fake Food Collection” was another one of my various collections I put on display.  I have shown this before, however, it seems each time I go to the river I find another piece or two for it.  As a result, this collection keeps getting bigger and bigger and no longer  fits in the Styrofoam box I use to store it.  I found every piece at the Falls of the Ohio courtesy of the Ohio River beginning eight years a go.  These are the pieces I did find and I often wonder about the ones that got away!  To me, all the predominantly plastic representations of food are another signal of our disconnect from nature.  The smell of the plastic is really noticeable.  I think this collection presents initially as something humorous until the reality of it sets in.  This seems to be a part of my art’s modus operandi.

Among the sculptures I displayed are a couple of early pieces that I have never exhibited before.  Such is the case with “Fang” on the right and my version of the meeting of the explorers “Lewis and Clark”.  “Fang” still has its original dirt on it.  Also in this shot are my “Squirt Gun Collection” and a small predatory animal I called the “River Ghost” which I featured in a blog post last year.  Most of these Styrofoam sculptures I consider to be “relics” of a larger process I engage in and weren’t originally intended to be stand alone objects.  Although I have saved many works over time, the vast majority of them were left behind to await their fates in the park.

Scott Scarboro is an interesting artist who lives in New Albany, Indiana that also works with found objects and materials.  His stuff is more “urban” than mine and he makes use of old toys and yard sale and flea market finds.  He likes to tinker with the mechanical and electrical workings in these toys so they neither move nor sound as originally intended.  Of late, Scott has been exploring the uses of sound in sculpture in public art settings.  The paintings began life as wall paper remnants that then became drop cloths that Scott worked back into. Scott and I have been friends for many years and our artistic paths seem to intersect frequently.

Another view from the gallery.  Scott made the robot painting as well as the lamp.  The two of us spoke to an evening art appreciation class at the university that went really well.  We were able to engage the class with our art and ideas and I believe most of the students were not art majors? As a result of our talk many of these students came out for the opening reception.

Two “devilish” works by me and Scott.  The Styrofoam sculpture I entitled “Faun or Blue-tongued Devil” and the wall piece  Scott made using a toy jet fighter plane.  One idea that both of us like working with is “repurposing”  existing objects and making new statements from them.  The world is after all already filled with a multitude of objects that can be reinterpreted without using freshly extracted resources from nature.

Also in the show were two Styro-turtles I’ve made.  The white one was featured in one of my recent posts as the “Cottonwood Turtle”.  I was pleased by how that story and images turned out.  Both turtles include old bicycle helmets in their making.  The black one’s body under the helmet is actually a foam wig stand in the shape of a human head.  For many of the works I presented, I also included laminated hard copies from my blog posts that showcase the sculpture on exhibit.  I have to say that I still prefer seeing my works in the contexts of where they were created and as a result I probably don’t pursue the exhibition opportunities available to me.  In closing, here is one final shot featuring three of my pieces and a shameless sign I painted to get gallery visitors to also visit my riverblog!  I still feel that this is the best place to get a fuller sense of what I’m doing at the Falls of the Ohio.  All the rest is fragmentary and tells a smaller part of the story.  My thanks go out to Bellarmine University and Caren Cunningham for the invitation to exhibit and Laura Hartford for all her hard work in preparing for this show.

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Another year’s worth of fresh water has passed under our bridges.  It’s been an eventful year in many ways and to recap things sounds like more energy than I currently have to expend on something at this moment. I guess I can’t party like I used to!  So, here I am limping my way across the finish line with Post number 223.

I love the way ice changes the riverscape at the Falls.  Over the years, I have been a lucky witness to some interesting ice formations.  On this last trip, however, the ice present seemed to cover surfaces in a glassy coating.  I decided to take a walk along the river side of the Woodland Trail.  It was cold, but the wind was calm which helped things a lot.  I made this figure that I named “Acorn Eyes” from stuff out of my collecting bag and objects that I found along the way.  The snow and ice formed a lighter background that actually helped objects to stand out more clearly.

Here’s a colorful shoe followed by a child’s playground ball I came across. 

One natural object that caught my eye was this ice-covered milkweed pod.  This plant is very important in the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly.

By the sycamore trees I found a spot I like that has these wonderful exposed roots.  You could still see the mottled greens and whites of the tree bark through the thin coating of ice that covered them.  I decided to take a few pictures here with my newest Styrofoam figure.

With as much pressure as is regularly put upon this landscape, I marvel that there are any trees here at all.  The river is a powerful force washing away most everything that stands before it.  Subtler still, but also very effective is the role ice plays in breaking apart the fossil rock.  Water seeps into the smallest cracks and as the temperature drops below freezing, the water expands into ice, further wedging apart the gaps.  In this way rock is split and broken down. 

Walking along the trees that border the river, you can see the remains of logs that were washed into here during previous floods and eventually became stranded.  As they decay, they release their nutrients back into the environment.  I like looking for the patterns formed by the various layers deposited. 

I am also looking forward to whatever the new year brings.  May it be a positive and peaceful one for all.  I know the river will keep life interesting for me…and I hope I can do likewise for you through this blog.  See you next year!

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We awoke to a white Christmas in Louisville.  Just enough snow to cover the lawns and trees.  By now all my Falls of the Ohio holiday cards have been sent out.  Usually, I have several designs going at once.  This year, I made cards featuring snowmen, a dog I made from river delivered Styrofoam, as well as one featuring a Styrofoam polar bear with one leg I found out here amazingly enough!  Sometimes the cards are funny and sometimes they riff on some aspect of the holidays we could live without.

Both of the snowmen I made were created using parts of old Christmas ornaments I have found out here.  Usually, the perfectly round Styrofoam balls I find were originally fabric covered baubles meant for the tree.  This first snowman also features a bottle cap hat which gives you some sense for its scale.  The nose on this one is actually a miniature carrot I also discovered in the sand and kept for just such a purpose as this!  I waited for the snow to arrive which it did this year just in time.

The little dog came from a previous post that most everybody missed and so I don’t feel as badly about recycling one of my former projects.  In this case, I thought the dog came out particularly well and deserved another chance to shine.  It’s made from Styrofoam and sticks, plastic, and tiny bits of coal thrown in to create eyes and a nose!  He’s so light that he doesn’t leave tracks in the snow!

I featured another image of this dog in my last post on the spoor of a particularly large bird which was a fun juxtaposition to work with.  In this overall group of photos, the object’s shadow plays a role as a design element.  As I recall, this was a very cold day with wind which caused some issues with the camera’s batteries.  I had little time to snap these before the camera turned itself off.  Among the other bits of polystyrene I was carrying on me was a “bear effigy” that I found out here this year.  I posed it in a few places along the way and here are some of the images.

Emerging from its hibernation, the one-legged Styro-Polar Bear encounters a rapidly changing landscape.  What was historically all ice and snow is now a melting landfill.

I mounted the Styro-bear on a small piece of wood I found out here so it could stand up.  I found it in damaged condition missing one of its legs.  I have no idea what this was originally intended to represent, but it reads bear-like to me.  The bear is such a resonant image going back to the beginnings of art and ironically I find one that says something about the here and now and our relationship with nature.  Much has changed.

 One final snowman before closing and this one wears a blue hat!  I made this guy as a window decoration for a display at work, but couldn’t resist adding his portrait to the winter series.  Although he was made with Falls materials…he’s strictly a visitor.

Happy Holidays, Winter Solstice, etc… to everyone out there.  My best to all in the coming year!

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Because the work a day world had me preoccupied, it’s nice to be able to return to the river.  This interaction with the Falls occurred about a week a go, but it also takes me back to the early days of this project.  To stir the imagination I would challenge myself to only use materials found within the circle of a chosen tree.  The results were often incongruous, but it was fun to do.  The following polystyrene figure was made in a similar way where I allowed myself only materials available in a small area.

I found just enough Styrofoam for a head and body.  Splitting a nut in half became the solution for the eyes.  Bits and pieces of brightly colored plastic further called attention to the head.

The first heavy frost is near now.  The flowers have bloomed and the seeds are going on their own journey.  Migrating sandhill cranes have crossed overhead. I’m by this small “creek” that’s more of storm sewer overflow for the nearby village. 

There’s always water flowing …even when it’s not raining at all.  People like to fish here especially when the river is high and catfish are close to shore.  When we do get high water, this spot catches many of the logs that drift in here and become stranded.  I like to walk on top of this bridge when I’m crossing over from one section of the park to the other.

I moved the small figure I had made to the creek and snapped this portrait.  On the riverbank I can find recently chewed willow saplings and I know there is a beaver currently around.  Evidence of past beaver encounters mark some of the dead trees near the creek’s mouth.

Also in this vicinity are some of my favorite trees.  There are particular sycamore and willow trees that have exposed root systems.  These trees appear to be uprooting themselves and moving on which they do very slowly and deliberately!

The river has retreated from here for now.  This is also a favored place for fishermen.  The nearby fossil cliffs make a convenient place to cast a line or build a fire.  The underlying limestone sends currents flowing in multiple and treacherous directions.  The water here is usually well oxygenated and so it attracts fish.

I left this figure by the side of the path and walked to my vehicle.  This day began sunny but quickly turned overcast and gray as it wore on.  To close, here is another view of a tree with a great platform of roots showing by the nearby fossil cliffs.

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I was looking around the driftwood for whatever there was to find and having a good time.  I found this toy giraffe head with the puffy cheeks.  I also had the good fortune to watch from a distance a beaver that was cruising close to the riverbank.  It’s only the second one I’ve seen out here that was alive.  I kept trying to get closer to take a better picture, but soon the beaver spotted me and dove underwater.  I never saw where he eventually resurfaced…but I know they are out here.  Their chewed willow sticks are among my favorite materials to use for my art.

It was shortly after the encounter with the beaver that I met Marlin for the first time…in fact he tried to scare me away!!  He took me by surprise and I don’t know how someone or “thing” so large was able to approach me without my knowing it?  Soon I learned that Marlin can move quietly when he wants to.  Here are my first camera images of him that I shot reflexively as he attempted to frighten me away.

When I clearly was not going to flee, his face actually took on a more fearful expression as though he was more afraid of me to begin with. 

I did my best to reassure him that I was out here at the Falls to be respectful and appreciative of being out in nature and this seemed to reassure him some.  I found out during the ensuing conversation that his name comes from the fish image on his bling necklace he wears.  It was also found out here among the driftwood and so we had some common ground right away.  We are both beachcombers of a sort.  Here’s a better look at that fancy necklace that I thought was a kid’s canteen at first, but now I have no idea what this really is except it’s a toy of some sort.

Getting to know Marlin a little, I learned he was a bit of a philosopher and observer of life.  Human beings in particular have been a favorite object of study.  Marlin mentioned how impressed he was with our ability to create something out of nothing, but was mystified why we couldn’t see the bigger picture and ramifications of our actions?  We took a walk together along the river talking about this topic.

Marlin said he saw many people out here and some even brought their children along.  He said he enjoyed this notion of one generation following in the footsteps of the one that came before, but was worried that the wrong lessons were being transmitted about how to treat nature.  He walked a few feet from me and bent down to pick something up he found lying in the dried mud and sand.

It was a plastic sack full of trash left behind probably by fishermen.  Marlin found it confusing that a person could bundle their refuse so carefully and then forget to pack it out.  It was left to rot on the riverbank.  When other people see that this kind of behavior is tolerated…it just encourages them to do the same.  Marlin wondered if it was part of humans’ natures to be so contradictory and if so…how did that help our kind rise to the top of the food chain?  He also wondered why someone else who saw this bag of trash didn’t take it with them…even if it wasn’t theirs?  I’m afraid, I wasn’t able to provide much in answers to his questions since I struggle as a human too with this issue.

Marlin moved closer to the water and said that if this bag were left unattended that it and whatever the contents were would surely find their way into the river.  I couldn’t dispute that.  Marlin also said that people like coming to the river to recreate and that ultimately their very drinking water comes from this source…why would you foul it?  Other life forms like fish, birds, and even that beaver I watched earlier all depend on this water to be as clean as possible.  Why would we be so careless as to poison it with all our various waste products?

Water is the lifeblood of the planet and we can’t even imagine life without water.  It is a precious resource!  I listened to Marlin preach a little more and then told him I had to go home.  As I said my goodbyes, I took that bag of trash Marlin found with me and deposited it in the nearest trash can I could find.  I promised Marlin that I would try to do my part by also spreading the word about keeping our shared planet as clean as possible.  This is how Marlin looked…as he parted company with me.

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I was walking through the woods on a sun-dappled day looking for migratory birds when I came across a new friend.  We talked for a little while before introducing ourselves.  Both of us remarked on the dry weather we have been having and I said that it’s official now.  September was the driest ever in the commonwealth of Kentucky since records have been kept dating back to 1871.  We have had a spits-worth of rain… that’s it.  Overall, this has been our third driest month ever, beaten only by two Octobers over the course of the past century.  We both wondered if this was an omen for this October?  We certainly hope not.  Having created some common ground, I introduced myself and she said to call her Minnie, Minnie Buckethead.

As it turned out, Minnie is an interesting old lady with a fascination for everything in the woods.  I asked if she had seen any migrating warblers and she had.  American Redstarts, Black and White Warblers, were moving with small groups of other birds including Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice.  I had seen nothing.  I definitely need to get up earlier in the day to catch the bird show.  Perhaps Minnie was taking pity on me and she said that there were a few other things happening in the woods and would I like to see them?  How could I turn down such a nice offer from an old lady?

We walked over to a large willow tree and I saw Minnie crane her neck and squint her eyes from the sun and she scanned the willow bark.  “Here” she said and I checked out what she was pointing at.

At first I thought it was a bee, but it was larger and more robust and not as big as a bumble bee.  There were others.  Walking around to the shady side I could determine that they are hornets of some kind.  The hornets and other insects were licking whatever was exuding from the willow tree.

“Don’t worry, they won’t get you”, she said.  The hornets were so preoccupied with the sap that they were quite tame.  Walking around the tree gave us this sight.  Three different species of butterflies also taking advantage of the willow bark.  The one in the foreground is the Red Admiral.  Although I hadn’t seen the hornets doing this before, I did say to Minnie that I had observed many butterflies on these willows and wasn’t it nice that so many living creatures could set aside their differences to take advantage of this common resource.  She just smiled.

I was appreciative of Minnie showing me the tree and so I tried to impart a little knowledge to her about the local cicadas.  I had come across a dead female in the sand,(identified by the hypodermic needle of an ovipositor she uses to lay her eggs under the thin bark of a tree).  I asked Minnie if she knew anything else about their life cycle and she said she didn’t and so I went on.  I told her that after the egg hatches under the bark, the nymphs drop down and burrow under the ground and attach themselves to the tree’s roots.  With this species, after a couple of years of sucking tree juices, they emerge from the ground and become adults which for cicadas, is a brief moment in time.  They mate, lay eggs, and then die after a glorious two weeks or so.  You find their split skins where they transform as juveniles into adults near where they emerged from the ground.  Here’s a pictures of the dead cicada, the split cicada skin, and a fresh adult.

With any life cycle it’s hard to know exactly where to begin and I suppose that’s the classic which came first question… the egg or the cicada? I’ll leave that to brighter minds than my own for now. 

Minnie listened attentively and then asked me to follow her.  She had something else to show me before we parted company.  We walked away from the willow tree to an area where several large logs were decomposing.  She pointed a thin finger at a yellow patch on one log’s side and I could see it was some type of fungus.  It seemed to be spreading outward as it broke down the tissues inside the tree. 

It was both fascinating and oddly repellent. On another nearby log was yet another fungi which I could identify as a fresh bracket or shelf  fungus.  The bright colors also seemed on the lurid side to me.

Minnie talked to me about what a wonderful system that nature has created to break things down after death.  Like these fungi were doing to what were once living trees.  She talked about how life depended on materials being able to decompose in order to release the nutrients that are needed for life to move forward.  This is what it means to live naturally and that we should look at the systems that the planet has in place and to learn from them.  With that, I took my leave and waved good-by to the old lady in the woods.

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The heat and humidity remain unabated.  I think this is the hottest summer I have spent at the Falls of the Ohio.  Yes, there were always super hot days in the past, but this year we have had many more of them.  I was excited about this weekend because I have three days off, few family obligations, and I planned to go out to the river to see and make what I could.  I have collected some large pieces of Styrofoam and it’s time to use it before the river eventually rises and carries it all away again.

On this day, I have made one of my tallest figures ever.  This one is a head taller than I am and when you add the extra long arm…it is even more so.  I can’t say that I worked up a story to go with this one…yet.  If, however, he hangs out long enough, I’m sure I will think of a narrative.  For now, this is what I made and in the process I drank all the water I brought with me and soaked through my shirt.  A mixture of sweat and sun block kept running into my eyes which led to a few choice words said by me.  Fortunately, there wasn’t anybody around to hear them!

After I made this figure, it seemed to me that it had some affinities with the Wallace and Gromit characters.  I think it’s because of the close-set eyes and large nose?  I like that this guy has a sense of humor which can’t be said about some of the figures I have made before.  He’s probably amused that anyone would choose to spend their day off engaged in this activity!

What prompted this sculpture was the long stick I eventually used for one of his arms.  The body is somewhat elongated and the extra long arm brings this out even more.  Perhaps the arm is an evolutionary adaptation for picking fruit from the higher branches of the tree?  In this way, it works similarly to a giraffe’s neck with its ability to reach the topmost leaves.

The brutal sun kept me close to the shade of the willows, but even this had its issues.  There are mosquitos in the shadows and the humidity is trapped by the vegetation and foliage.  Being uncomfortable made me less patient with myself.  Every once in a while I would get distracted by the song of a wren or the myriad insect life around me.  There are still many butterflies and wasps visiting the flowers and willow trees.

I had a few technical problems to work out. The main one being how will this sculpture stand upright?  Even though the sand and mud are soft, this figure is clumsy and comes down to a point.  My solution was to rest the figure on a tripod of sticks.  Two of them can be seen, the third “leg” lends support from behind the figure.  Once it cools down, I would like to move this sculpture around the different vignettes that the Falls offers and see if I can improve upon the photographs.  For the moment, I consider these evidence that I made something on a fairly uncompromising day cut short by the heat.  I decided to leave early and left this figure resting against the trunk of a tree.  I can’t wait for it to cool down a little.  I can tell Autumn is around the corner.  I detect a hint of yellow in the leaves around me that were a bright green not too long a go.

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Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the year.  Walking out my front door this morning I’m surprised by how warm and humid it is already.  When I reached the Falls, I decided to take cover from the direct sun by walking along the Woodland Trail.  All the combined vegetation produces a spicy fragrance.  Vines are in their glory and in areas of good sunlight they have grown over some of the trees.  Birds are hunting for insects among the leaves.  They listen for the locations of singing cicadas.

And, once in a while they catch a cicada as this male Northern cardinal has done.  He’s not the only bird moving through the canopy. 

Grackles are stalking along the tree limbs.  They always seem to be just out of reach of my camera.  I had a bit of better luck coming across two Downy Woodpeckers chasing each other in the interest of courtship. So, they didn’t focus on me.  The male held still long enough for me to capture this image.  He’s waiting for the female to make a counter move and then it will be his turn again.  They flew between tree trunks for several minutes.

I’m heading out to the western section of the park.  As suspected there are fewer people in this area.  After crossing the creek, I was looking for the trail leading to the river when I came across this unexpected floral surprise.  I do remember seeing escaped hibiscus blooming among the driftwood collected along the eastern dam.  Perhaps these are the same plants that were transplanted here during the last flooding incident?

I will admit to not knowing my plants as well as I do the animals.  And so, if I’m wrong on the identification of this plant, please let me know.  In the interim, I will keep looking at my guides for other possibilities.  What made this encounter even more interesting…another blossum was less than ten feet away.  I wonder if this plant came from the same source up river?

These large blooms along with the heat and sticky humidity added an extra jungle-like quality to the walk thus far.  Although it’s hot, I’m grateful I have my long pants on instead the cooler shorts.  There are stinging nettles, poison ivy, and sharp-edge grasses around to irritate your skin.  It’s a big relief today to walk out from under the trees and into the light.

I haven’t yet reached today’s destination, but I’m back at the water’s edge.  I accidently frightened away a pair of Great Blue Herons from the rocks they were hunting from.  I’m going to continue this adventure in my next post.  I have many more nice pictures and I eventually made a piece.  On this day, however, it was mostly about the walk.  Before closing, here’s another bird picture.  It’s a Black-crowned Night -Heron fishing in the shallow, but swift moving river.  He would hold his left foot off to the side while in the water.  I wondered if he did this so that fish bumping into the leg would alert him?  Maybe this helps in water with poor visibility?  That’s it for now…I look forward to sharing this outing the next time around.

Postscript:  My friend Don Lawler turned me in the right direction by suggesting the hibiscus I saw and photographed are in the mallow family.  The white flowers have been identified as being examples of the Crimson-Eyed Rose-Mallow.  The pink flower is from the Swamp Rose-Mallow.  Interestingly, both flowers are considered to be conspecific, meaning they are the same species!  That would explain their proximity to one another at this location.  Their scientific name is Hibiscus palustris.  You learn something everyday!

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Reading the old journals from the exploration period…you can hear the authors’ amazement in trying to describe the overwhelming abundance that once existed here.  If you came across a flock of passenger pigeons numbering in the billions and as you watched them cross the sky like rolling smoke until they collectively blotted out the sun’s light how would you record the event?  But it wasn’t just flocks, there were also forests of trees, immense herds of bison and schools of cod and salmon.  In some cases, this was here less than two hundred years a go.  Now this seems remote and out of our living memories.  You don’t miss what you never knew.  Forgetfulness is another type of erosion.

Over the sounds of the river smacking the shoreline, I could discern a few grunts among a high almost “metallic” bugling/whistling in the air.  Or so I imagined as I introduce my latest Styrofoam creation.  In the old days, (which according to my youngest son is anything over nine years a go) the American elk or Wapiti was plentiful in Kentucky and through out the United States.  Several sub-species existed and were classified by geographic region and habitat.  The bulls of this large deer with their immense antlered racks are an impressive sight and are symbolic of nature’s majesty.  Well, mine is not nearly as good…but for the purposes of this post…will do fine!

We are lucky they are still with us today!  As loss of habitat occurred as well as hunting pressures…our elk were driven westward until they were gone east of the Mississippi River.  Eventually, the elk were allowed some federal protections and our herds are rebounding.  Kentucky has led the way in elk conservation by experimentally transplanting a herd to the eastern section of the state where they have thrived!  Their reintroduction has been so successful that a limited hunting season on them has been established.

During the Lewis and Clark trek across the country, elk meat made up a large percentage of the meat consumed.  It remained the meat of choice until the native Americans introduced the explorers to dogs and then that was preferred!  As the country was “settled”, elk continued to disappear from all kinds of pressures.  There was even a brief fad where elk teeth were used for watch fobs!

The elk is a member of the megafauna that was once was a large part of the North American ecosystem.  While I’m taking pictures of my sculpture, a smaller member of this ecosystem came hopping by.  To be honest, I don’t see many frogs out here and I’m surprised this Leopard frog isn’t in a more boggy area.  I think many people by now are aware that amphibians aren’t doing as well as they use to for a variety of reasons that range from climate change to exotic fungi.  If a Great Blue Heron spots this guy, then our frog friend will become bird food.  It’s as if life weren’t already difficult enough without adding to it.

The frog is a reminder that even the most humble of species plays its part in the bigger scheme of things.  So often it seems that the smallest players have the out-sized roles that make the biggest differences to the smooth operation of life at large.  My stag is bellowing and issuing a protest and challenge to protect the environment that sustains us all!  There is far too much in the river that doesn’t belong there especially items dependent on crude oil.

Take this stag for instance, it is dependent on crude oil for its existence.  The body, head, and parts of the leg are made from polystyrene.  In this case it is all river-polished Styrofoam.  The lower jaw is the sole of a shoe and also made from petrochemicals.  The eyes and plastic collar are plastic and derived from petroleum extracts.  Only parts of the nose, legs, antlers, and tail are biodegradable.  The Styro-stag is an animal we can afford to lose and it will be interesting watching the river for signs that the exotic materials that comprise it are on the wane.

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