Posts Tagged ‘Absurd’

Driftwood pile, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

May has turned into a productive month for me.  If April was defined by rain and flooding…May has been on the dry side.  This break in the weather (along with the nice coolness of Spring) has me out at the river at every available chance.  Friends of mine already think that I live out here, but that’s far from the case.  I wish I could physically be out here more because I don’t tire of the park and I find enough stuff to keep me busy.  The reality is I’m lucky to make it out here on the weekends and holidays.  Over the years, I’ve established routines and I know the place so well that as I walk along, I’m strategizing on what can be done with the materials that I find at various locations.  The digital part is done from home.

Sand Rose, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

In the aftermath of our most recent flooding, a great amount of wood and manmade debris has settled into the park.  I find something interesting to me most everywhere I look.  Here’s another Sand Rose that I encountered, blooming among the driftwood.  This blossom has fabric-like petals and lacks the wonderful perfume that more conventional roses possess.

Plush Parrot Toy, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Covered in burrs and various plant seeds is this plush parrot that I found intertwined in the driftwood.  Lost toys are evocative and in this case, I’m also reminded that 2016 will mark the centennial of the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet which was this country’s only native member of the parrot family.  Both the Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet passed from existence within a couple of years of one another in the same small aviary that now stands as a memorial to them at the Cincinnati Zoo.

White-tail deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Walking through the driftwood I found this intact and antlered deer skull which is a first for me. I have found other white-tail deer skulls before, but they all were from does.  Over the years , I have found deer remains out here in the wake of flooding.  Perhaps the most memorable experience happened about twenty years a go.  While hiking with a friend, we came to an area where we could smell the sickly sweet odor from something decomposing, but searching the grounds we weren’t able to locate the unfortunate creature.  By chance, I happened to look up where the smell seemed the strongest and discovered a deer carcass that was lodged in a tree about 12 feet or so off the ground.  Of course, it found its way there when the river was high and became stranded when the river receded.  At the Falls of the Ohio State Park you are likely to find unexpected things snagged in the willows.

Red Compostion, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

"Red Composition" on site, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Over the last few weeks, I have been “playing around” more with the brightly colored plastic elements that wash into the park.  I find these site specific compositions rather fun and provoking to do.  Usually, all the plastic elements that the river delivers become somewhat unified and integrated within the matrix of mud, wood, and other detritus.  I believe this thorough mixing keeps people from seeing the true extent these artificial materials and objects are present in the free world.  By choosing to concentrate on a color, like red in this case, I hope to call attention to these materials in a novel way.  This piece started with the nailed together wood frame I found on the driftwood pile.  There are also lots of milled and used lumber elements in the mix too.  Building on previous pieces I did with other colors, I decided to see how much red was in this given area.   “Red Composition” was the result.  With red being such a popular color…I thought I would come across more red than I actually did.  What I did find seemed subject to bleaching in the sun and made me wonder if red plastic was in general use less because of the fugitive nature of the pigments?  Next time I’m at the grocery store I will test this theory more.  Among my red finds of the day include an old flashlight body that had filled with dirt and had a small willow tree growing out of it.  Here’s another example of a plastic composition I did on this particular day.

From the "Petroleum Rainbow Series", Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

From the Series "Petroleum Rainbows", Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

From the series, "Petroleum Rainbows", seen from behind, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

This is another in a series I have been calling “Petroleum Rainbows”.  I started with the wooden bench I found in the immediate area and set it up near the riverbank in the willow habitat.  I gathered all the brightly colored items I could find tangled in the driftwood and sitting on the sandy beach and of course most of them are made from plastic.  Testing my fugitive color theory, I did notice a prevalence for the colors green, black, blue, yellow, and white.  Red, orange, and purple were a little harder to come by.  I filled the top of the bench with my river finds and loosely organized it to resemble a color spectrum.  As one Facebook observer noted with a little ire, my colors don’t follow the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet scheme of a true rainbow.  I have done this intentionally as a further provoking element.  Beyond the surface attraction of this party-colored plastic, the brain does register that something is not quite right here which is the feeling I want to leave the observer with…hence, disquieting rainbow.  I made this piece a couple of weeks a go and it has remained relatively intact.  I have been busy at the Falls and have more to show, but will wait a bit before posting those projects. I hope everyone out there is having a nice Memorial Day holiday. See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Detail of objects, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

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debris field, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

April’s tale was of a high Ohio River and rain fall for the record books. Twice the river rose to flood stage before subsiding back into its muddy banks.  Left in its now drying wake are trash mounds and islands of wood and debris that were pushed and floated upon the water’s surface by wind and current.  In this mish mash of culture and nature I carefully pick my way over and through the debris fields at the Falls of the Ohio.  All along the riverbank, the dull and muddy colored wood contrasts with the reflected light from hundreds of plastic bottles and chunks of bright white Styrofoam.

Large blue plastic egg among other river debris, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I picked a great day to visit the river.  As soon as I arrived in the park, I could hear several newly arrived male Northern Orioles calling back and forth through the tall cottonwood trees.  I even found several eggs.  Here is a large blue plastic egg nestled in shredded tree bark and plastic bottles.  I also found a muddy, but real Canada goose egg now too cool to incubate. There was an adult goose hanging out near me and I suspect some early nesters had their clutch washed away by the second flood.  I decided with so much brightly colored plastic scattered all over this woody mound…I wondered if I could put any of it to use?

detail, yellow plastic trash, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

As you can see in this detail image…I decided to concentrate on the color yellow.  I stayed within a certain area and collected all the yellow objects on this driftwood mound.  It was tricky work because the footing was not good.  Several times I sank to my hip as my leg would go through the loosely tangled branches, dirt, and logs.

I call this piece “Yellow Concentrate”.  It consists of mostly plastic, quart-sized oil containers along with a few larger laundry detergent jugs.  There are a few odd items as well.  I found three rubber ducks on today’s adventure and used two of them here.  I used a bowl-like depression in the driftwood as my setting to assemble and sort through the junk.  I was glad to have the wooden platform in the foreground because it was also easy on the feet.

Landscape view with "Yellow Concentrate" facing railroad bridge, April 2015

 This site gave me potential for a few good views.  Here is “Yellow Concentrate” with the railroad bridge in the background.

"Yellow Concentrate" with the City of Louisville across the river. April 2015

Now here’s the same piece with the skyline of the City of Louisville on the southern shore.  All that massed yellow really pops you in the eye.  Individually, all these yellow plastic containers barely registered scattered across the debris field, but it’s a different story when you bring them together.  Feeling pretty good about yellow…I decided to next try a different color.

"Blue Extract", Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

As I was collecting all the yellow containers…I was also sorting out the blue ones and throwing them in the driftwood bowl.  On a nearby fallen, diagonally leaning tree trunk…I arranged my collection.  The big blue Easter egg is near the center.  As I worked on “Blue Extract”, the hole I was standing in kept getting wider and deeper.

"Blue Extract", Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Most of these containers are plastic oil and liquid detergent bottles, but I mixed a few aerosol cans in as well.  In this line are seven plastic and rubber balls.  One last project before calling it a day.  I stayed in the same area and pulled aside all the lost flip-flops I encountered.  I laid them all out on the white surface of a metal refrigerator that had floated in here with the last flood.  It looked like the Shoe Shaman had been this way too.

lost flip-flops on the side of a refridgerator, April 2015

Sandal Arc, found objects from the Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

The stark whiteness of the fallen refrigerator reminded me of the white pedestals that you would find in an official gallery.  I organized the lost foot wear from smallest to largest, left to right.  I soon left for home with a hefty collecting bag full of “river treasure” and a camera loaded with images.  Every thing else was left in place.  I will come back when the river level drops a little bit more and the fudge-like mud has had the chance to harden in the sun.  There is still so much more to explore in the park and can see myself keeping busy for the rest of the year.  Here’s one last look over the shoulder at today’s location at the Falls of the Ohio.  I realized after the fact, that the found milk crate I used to move materials around was so bright red that it holds its place among the yellow and blue.  Until next time!

Site of this day's activity, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

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Plastic Pegasus/Unicorn toy, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

It’s the last week of April, which means the first Saturday in May is a few days away.  In Louisville, that signals the world’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby, will be run. This edition is the 141st Kentucky Derby, which culminates in two weeks worth of Derby Festival parties and celebrations.  Over the years, I have had occasion to find, photograph, and sometimes keep the horse related toys that I come across in the aftermath of flooding at the Falls of the Ohio.  Following is a small album of river rejects.  I start with this image and though it is not a Pegasus (The Pegasus Parade is the oldest Derby Festival event) it is somewhat horse-like.  It appears to be a flying unicorn and has a mane and tail you could probably comb at one time.

Blue plastic fragment of a horse riding toy, Falls of the Ohio

I found this fragment in the western section of the park partially buried in the sand.  At one time this was a riding toy that had a wooden handle going through the head and was kid powered.

Pink Plastic  Horse with flowing tail and mane, Falls of the Ohio

I found this pink beauty tangled in the driftwood.  These ponies that have hair that can be brushed must be popular…

Pale Pink horse toy with brushable hair, Falls of the Ohio

…or not,…because here’s another one pulled out of the debris field!  I believe this unfortunate pony also had cockle burrs tangled up in its mane.

Small yellow plastic horse with chewed off leg, Falls of the Ohio

This small yellow plastic horse was probably put out to “pasture” because it can’t run anymore.  It looks like either some one or some thing chewed off its right hind leg.

Small, white plastic horse, Falls of the Ohio

This tiny horse was found upside down.  It’s missing the green plastic base it once stood on.  Fine droplets of rain begin to wet the sand on the day I came across this find.  My friend, Bernie from Vermont, gave me the idea for this post.  He needed a horse image for a story he had written and asked if I had any in my river archive.  This was one of the ones I sent him.  I have one last horse to show and it is a piece I photographed in place last weekend.  I hope everyone out there has a great Kentucky Derby and may your horse win, place, or show…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Brown plastic horse, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

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Mid April High Water, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

It’s mid April and the television meteorologists have said it all.  If the Kentuckiana area receives one more drop of rain…we will set an all time local record for precipitation during any April since records have been kept.  With half a month to go and more rain in the forecast for this week…that record is a goner.  As I write this…the river is still rising.  I mentally contrast this to what is happening in California with their severe drought.  I wonder if there are any billionaires out there that would like to invest in a pipeline that would send all this extra water to where it’s needed most?  After all, isn’t water a much more precious commodity than crude oil?  We don’t send exploratory satellites and space craft into the vast distances of the universe looking for petroleum.  It’s water we seek because in a fundamental way we realize that water is the key to life.

The high Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

The following adventure happened last weekend which was warm and beautiful, but with an ever-rising river.  The large driftwood mound under the railroad bridge I documented in my last post has broken apart and floated away along with my absurd March Madness figure.  Perhaps when the river returns to its usual water levels, I may run into him once again?  For now, I am exploring a section of the Ohio River Greenway which is near the Interpretive Center’s entrance and has a nice view of Louisville’s skyline.  The riverbank does not lack for junk and before long I’ve photographed and collected a full bag of possibilities for future use.  It was while I was absorbed in my own head space that I bumped into a most unusual character that was engaged in what looked to be some type of ritual at the water’s edge.

Shoe Shaman of the Big Blue Nation, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

What I first thought was singing turned out to be chanting and it was coming from this exotic guy.  I’m sure I must have had the strangest expression on my face!  Despite my presence, this blue-helmeted figure with some kind of mandala on his chest was practically knee-deep in muddy water and lining up found flip-flops on a beached log.  A perfectly normal activity don’t you agree?  I’m assuming he gathered these sandals from all the other flotsam and jetsam that has washed into here?  That part I can understand because I have an ongoing collection of the same footwear that I hope to make into something grand and profound some day.

Detail of the Shoe Shaman, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Shoe Shaman of the Big Blue Nation and altar, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I remained quiet, stayed observant, and took these photographs.  I saw the blue helmeted man face west and chant.  He later did the same thing looking towards all the cardinal directions.  On occasion, he would carefully pick up a sandal and whisper to it before placing it back upon the water-logged trunk of a limb-less tree.  For emphasis, he would also do this little hop dance step in the muddy water.  I waited for him to finish before interrupting him with a few questions of my own.

Head of the Shoe Shaman, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Shoe Shaman with his altar, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Finally, I had my chance to speak and the mysterious figure looked my way.  I was surprised that I could understand what he was saying.  First, he thanked me for respecting his custom by not interrupting his ceremony.  He also said that it is very important that the flow of energy continue unabated if the ritual was to take hold.  Filled with questions, I asked his name and what was he doing?  Patiently, he explained that he was the Shoe Shaman of the Big Blue Nation, a holy man and offered as proof the ill-fitting helmet on his head which was the official crest of his high office.  I didn’t say anything, but thought the Shoe Shaman’s head-gear bore an uncanny resemblance to a Smurf’s head.  I wondered if that was in fact the Big Blue Nation he was referring to?  If that indeed was the case…well, it did make some sense in a surreal sort of way.  There are many cultures that have legends about “little people”.  I asked what he was doing with the sandals and he said that working with footwear was his specialty.  Each shoe, in this case, each lost sandal…has a direct connection to the soul of its former owner and is holy to them.  The weight of each person is impressed into the sole’s foam and is as individual as a fingerprint.  In his culture, they have a saying that you can’t fully understand someone until you stand in their shoes.  I said we have a similar saying.  The Shoe Shaman said that his goal is to affect the river’s empathy and not to further enrage it for taking the water and environment for granted. My new friend was attempting to appease the flood waters by asking the river to forgive our carelessness and to accept the sacrifice that had been prepared for it on this altar of wood.  The shaman assured me that only in this way would the river agree to return to its normal banks and not seek out our kind that had been hurtful towards it.

Shoe Shaman of the Big Blue Nation with the skyline of Louisville across the river, April 2015

At the water's edge, the Shoe Shaman, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I’ll admit that the idea of a revenge seeking river stunned me some, however, history is full of epic floods.  In our arrogance, we forget how at Nature’s mercies we really are.  My curiosity sated…it was time to move on.  I left the shaman at that interstitial zone between water and land.  Slogging through the mud, I paused briefly sitting on a dry log and thought about what I had witnessed as I also picked the mud off the bottom of my shoes.  I am hoping that he was successful in intervening on our behalf and only time will tell.  For my part, I will never forget the scene and will pledge to do my part to be respectful towards creation by celebrating it and in doing so…hope to save myself and those dearest to me.  I don’t ever want one of our soles to go missing and find itself on a log floating somewhere along the Ohio River.  Until the river retreats…

The Sandal, Wood Altar, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

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Found Plastic Heart, Falls of the Ohio across from Louisville, Jan. 2015

Happy 2015 to all from the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  This is my first post of the new year which has started auspiciously for me.  I am happy to report that I found a new day job!  I am the new Coordinator of Public Programs and Engagement at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.  About this time last year I was showing my own river art at this organization.  It’s funny how things worked out…I had a feeling that my opportunities were leading me to the north bank of the Ohio River and that’s what happened.  I found this plastic heart in the mud of the Indiana riverbank about a week before I was offered the job.  I wonder if it has significance?

Carnegie Center for Art and History, New Albany, IN, Nov. 2012

My relationship with the Carnegie Center for Art and History goes back to the early 1990’s when as a staff member at the Louisville Visual Art Association I helped to install the Indiana version of the Children’s Free Art Classes on the Carnegie Center’s gallery walls.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have exhibited my own work here with the latest being the Potential in Everything show with Michael Wimmer that was up this time last year! There has to be a lot of serendipity in play here for all the stars to line up as they did and so I am feeling it was meant to be.  I will be creating new workshop opportunities and other programming to help the center with its community-minded mission.  It’s a new challenge for a new year!

plastic liquor bottle filled with quartz pebbles, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

With the new job and a recent cold spell I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the river until this three-day weekend.  I heard that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded across the globe.  Today our temps are in the low 50’s which is quite a change from the teens we just experienced.  I grabbed my walking stick and collecting bag and made a day at the river.  I have been doing various bottle projects and here is a new one.  I found a plastic liquor bottle that still had its cap on it.  It’s interesting to note that most bottles I find with screw-top bottle caps are discarded with their caps on.  By a deposit of Ice Age gravel, I was able to fill the bottle with river-tumbled white and pale yellow quartz pebbles.  Not sure how I will use this, but will probably factor into a new artwork soon.  Being outside on such a fine day is something else I wish I could bottle for future use when the cold, damp, and gray returns.  For now I place the bottle in my collecting bag and move on.  There are other things to find and discover.

jaw bone and aluminum can top, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Next to the flattened top of an aluminum can I found this small, partial jaw bone.  I think it’s from a skunk or some other small carnivore, but will need to check the dentition more carefully.  After taking this picture, I picked the mandible up and placed it into my bag.  This find will factor into something else I put together before day’s end.

Circular platform at my outdoor studio, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

The mud and melting ice made checking out the river’s edge problematical and so I headed up the riverbank and into the willow trees.  I visited my outdoor atelier and decided to do a little “house cleaning”.  I swept the leaves and dirt off of the circular metal platform that has been here for several years.  If I could have figured out how to get this object home, I probably would have done so by now.  As it is, I like using it as a work surface and place to sit.  My other stashed materials are nearby.  To me, the platform is still a “U.F.O.”…which stands for “Unknown Floating Object”.  I think it has something to do with mooring barges, but could be wrong about that.  I also like that it adds a stage-like presence and helps define one small area at the Falls.

Louisville and Indiana railroad cars, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Huge downed log near the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Standing on the platform and facing the river, if I look to my left I see the old railroad bridge.  There were several trains that went back and forth while I was occupied.  The railroad is part of the atmosphere of the place.  A large and partially burned log occupies the space between the platform and the bridge.  I straightened out my stick and root collection and sorted them on the platform.  I then rediscovered my Styrofoam collection.  Every time I walk the river, I find new river-polished pieces and add them to this assemblage.  There is simply more here than I can use at a time and so anyone is welcome to try making something from what has been gathered.

Styrofoam larder at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Detail, Styrofoam pieces, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I grab a few rounded pieces from the collection and decide to construct a figure from what I have here and in the bag.  I decide which shapes and forms would make good heads and bodies and set them aside.  Once in a great while, some other creative souls find my larder and make something of their own from this junk.  I like it when people see the opportunity here.

Outdoor studio view, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Materials for a figure, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I usually like starting with the head first.  It’s where the most information is focused and my Styro-figures share this with archaic works and folk art.  In the case of this figure, I decided on another shape for the head.  Collected bits of plastic and potential facial elements are placed into a found plastic bowl.  I will decide the features of today’s figure from what I’ve gathered today.  Here’s a sequence showing the progression of how the head evolved including what already looks like a found face in the bowl.

Plastic bowl with potential "facial features", Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

January Styro-figure head in progress, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Finished head, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

The found mandible has a new home on this piece.  I split the bottom from an aluminum can to make the ears which does give this figure a monkey-like quality to it.  The eyes are a white, plastic bottle cap and the green, plastic bead from a child’s toy.  I found two expressive sticks for arms and set the figure up as though it were sitting down with crossed legs.  Here are images of this piece finished on site.

First Man of January, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Figure at my outdoor art site, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I had the best time today.  There is still lots of winter before us, but this weekend’s respite helped connect me to the river for the first time this year. I will be curious to see if we even have one decent snow fall this season?  Whatever happens during 2015, I will take it all in stride. The year is already off to a positive start!  I think I will leave it at that and sign off until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Skyline of Louisville from the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015


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high water Falls of the Ohio landscape, just downriver from the railroad bridge, Dec. 2013

Today is officially the first day of winter.  At the Falls of the Ohio, the Ohio River is up due to the heavy rain producing thunderstorms that went through our region a couple of days a go.  The high water has me walking the edge of the river with anticipation for signs of anything new.  Today I find a story to share with you.  While the winter solstice has passed, it also that Christmas/Holiday Season time  again that seems to be getting longer and weirder with each passing year.  As proof, I offer this variation of the beloved Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, classic Christmas television special that so many of us have enjoyed since childhood.  This tale from a slightly different reality is set at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana and photographed on site using objects found within the park.  Our tale begins at the water’s edge.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Zombie, Dec. 2013

At this moment, Rudolph has no idea what has happened to him.  He has no recollection of his near escape from the Abominable Snowman.  He was lucky to find a piece of wood big enough to support his weight as he launched himself into the river.  It is widely known that the Abominable Snowman is deathly afraid of water.  While Rudolph was now safe from the snowman he had a river to negotiate and had no basic idea where he was going?  Sometime in the middle of the night it stormed very badly and Rudolf was tossed helplessly into the water.  Many weeks later and with the color washed out of his eyes…Rudolph was coming back to life.

Rudolph heading home, Dec. 2013

Little Rudolph stood up again and propelled by instinct and memory headed down the driftwood line in search of a way home.  Although he couldn’t explain it, there was some hard-wired, deep need to get back to where he originated like a salmon finding just the right stream.  Along the way, a little bit more of what had happened to him crept into his consciousness.  Images of cold white snow and a bearded man in a red suit began to drift across Rudolph’s mind with regularity.  Rudolph still had no idea where he was and every once in a while he would come across something he could identify as being a toy in similar circumstances and he and would investigate it.

muddy toy truck from the Falls of the Ohio

Rudolph with plastic figure, Dec. 2013

Most of the toys Rudolph encountered where too far gone to converse with and he left them behind.  Every once in a while, however, Rudolph would come across other toys like himself who had a very strong need to exist.  They used creative strategies to reinvent themselves.  The first of these hybrid toys that Rudolph encountered were named Pigskin Pete and his pal Handy.

Pigskin Pete and Handy playing catch, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2013

Rudolph talks with Pigskin Pete and Handy, Dec. 2013

They were throwing a football back and forth on the sand.  Rudolph approached them and the trio struck up a conversation.  That is how Rudolph found out that they were in the Park of Misfit Toys.  A fabled land purported to be a paradise for toys.  Pigskin Pete and Handy both had fuzzy memories of distant lives that made them wonder if they in fact belonged here now?  That’s when Rudolph made them the offer that if he could get out of this park…he would come back to get them.  The little deer with the zombie eyes continued walking east along the river’s edge.  After a journey of many hours, Rudolf met the Primate Twins for the first time.

Rudolph meets the Primate Twins, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2013

Rudolph with Primate Twins, Dec. 2013

The Primate Twins were a sight to behold!  The will to exist among shampoo bottles is strong and through millions of gallons of waters these twin caps found their nearest relatives to form this plastic simian union.  Rudolph told them of others that he has met along the journey and offered the twins the same offer he was offering everybody that if they could help him get out of the park that he would return to rescue them in return.  The twins seemed intrigued and what were the chances of this happening anyway in the first place?  Rudolph sallied forth to the limit of the park and met one last new friend.

RoboBoy and Rudolph, Dec. 2013

Rudolph and RoboBoy at the Falls, Dec. 2013

RoboBoy lived at the land’s margin and knew the river’s ways too.  He offered Rudolph a wooden plank to attempt the dangerous and potentially foolhardy journey back to the North Pole.  If the river didn’t get him there was still the specter of the Abominable Snowman lurking out in the frozen wastes.  Without hesitation and for the second time…Rudolph hurled himself into the cold river and took his chances.  This time…luck would be kinder.

Rudolph the Hex-bolt Nosed Reindeer on the snow, Dec. 2013

The trip across the waters was uneventful and gave Rudolph time to reflect.  By now, he understood that his visions of a bearded man were of Santa Claus himself and Rudolph knew were to find him.   Rudolph’s families were a part of the reindeer elite that pulled Santa’s sleigh.  Those jobs flying across the sky had long been inherited positions and Rudolph…if he wanted it…was next in the long line of Prancers and Dancers.

found plastic Santa Claus on snow, Dec. 2013

Santa didn’t seem surprised to see Rudolph with his red plastic nose again.  In fact, he said that he had been expecting him because the pull of Christmas is a mysterious force in the universe.  Santa agreed to talk to Rudolph and around a small pine tree they huddled together to talk about what constituted the holiday spirit and other philosophical matters.  While they spoke, a heavy snowfall fell upon the land.

Heavy snow covers Rudolph and Santa, Dec. 2013

By morning the snow had finished and Santa agreed to stop by the Park of Misfit toys and offer its inhabitants the chance of being gifted to different owners.  Santa also told Rudolph to be prepared that toys often change their minds and that he might not get quite the answers as he did before.

the meeting of Santa and the MisFit Toys, Dec. 2013

Snow had fallen at the Park of Misfit Toys since Rudolph’s previous visit.  A shadowy snowman figure agreed to escort Santa to the assembled Misfit Toys.

Santa talks to Rudolph about the Park of Misfit Toys, Dec. 2013

On the shores of the Park of Misfit toys Santa declared in full disclosure that he was glad to take anyone away from the park if that were their wish.  He had made Rudolph a promise to help him keep his promise if possible and Santa Claus was going to honor that.  But he also asked if anyone had considered how they had personally arrived at the Park of Misfit Toys?  The prevailing myth is that all you toys were miss manufactured and dropped off here to lead your lives in semi-useful exile ever wanting the love of the other.  The truth Santa declared…is that you were all discarded as trash…not even given the dignity of recycling…you somehow found your way into the river and then here.  You are mass produced and marketed consumer goods that have served your useful lives and more than likely there will be no new owners waiting to embrace you on the other side of this park.  He was speaking from personal experience which made his words all the more convincing.

The Misfit Toys talk over Santa's offer, Dec. 2013

Santa’s words had struck a chord with the Misfit Toys.  They hadn’t even considered that they might not be wanted by somebody across the river.    It was the Primate Twins who piped up that life wasn’t so bad here.  At least they had their own culture as a community of survivors and free thinkers.  Those that still had the desire to exist carried on until the sun finally broke the bonds of their plastic polymers and set them free.  In the end, all the Misfit Toys decided to stay at the park and lead out their existences here and leave their layer in the record of the land.

RoboBoy and Pigskin Pete in snow at the Park of Misfit Toys, Dec. 2013

Rudolph decided to return with Santa and the shadowy snowman to the North Pole.  In the years to come, Santa and Rudolph the Zombie, Red, Plastic, Hex-bolt Nosed Reindeer were involved many Christmas season adventures.  In fact, they went down in history.  Happy Holidays from the Falls of the Ohio!

rudolph, santa, and snowman in the snow, 2013_1_1

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Jeff and I have been great friends for over thirty years now.  It’s a strange feeling when you realize that much time has flown by.  We met at Murray State University in far western Kentucky and attended art school together and have kept in touch ever since.  Now we both live with our families in Louisville.  I’m proud to say that we still self identify as being artists.  This has not been an easy thing to do.  I’ve read that most people who attend art school eventually stop thinking of themselves as artists once the work-a-day world takes its toll after graduation.  Jeff and I have been lucky and can say that most of our professional lives have not strayed too far from art making or being in the art world.  We have never shaken our need to make ideas and materials connect.  These days, Jeff enjoys making some very involved and often witty ceramic sculptures and through this blog you know something about me.  This is not the first time Jeff has accompanied me on one of my “epic adventures” to the Falls of the Ohio and I always enjoy his company and conversation.  Today is a beautiful late September day and we are hiking in the western section of the park and enjoying the sunshine.

This is a less traveled path, but often worthwhile.  Today there are many late summer/early fall wildflowers to see.  We stopped by one of my favorite trees in the park.  It’s an old cottonwood tree whose roots have continued to grow with the tree even while the riverbank has eroded and exposed these roots to the elements.  This has not kept this tree from thriving.  Over time, a space beneath the tree large enough for a person to stand has been created.  This image of Jeff under the tree will give you a better idea of what I mean.  I have used this space on many occasions to wait out rain showers or take a break from my walks.

Over the past two years this tree has attracted a lot of attention and unfortunately for any other visitors…you can see evidence of their “footprints” all around this cottonwood. There is more litter around and several fire pits contain partially burned trash.  The tree trunk itself has become a target for graffiti as people with pen knives and spray cans have left their marks.

The sun was shining full-bore and warmed the day up nicely.  While I spotted some birds I wanted to check out…Jeff decided to hang out by the tree and take a nap.

When I returned from bird watching, Jeff was waiting for me and recalled an odd fragment from a dream he just had.  Even in his resting state he felt as though something was checking him out.  First he heard the sound of movement in the dried leaves and then caught sight of an odd small figure in brown with long ears skulking about the shadows.

Jeff remembers trying to wake himself up, but the dream continued.  The small brown figure then called out and was soon joined by a second figure that was larger and all in white.

This newest figure was even more bizarre than the first and more frightening for sure.  It sported a large misshapen head, wild eyes, and a mouth trimmed in blue.  Within his dream, Jeff heard a narrator saying that these figures were called “tree spirits” and all trees have them.  These characters may have been up to no good.  It’s hard to say, but fortunately they are easily frightened away.  Jeff thinks they may have belonged to the cottonwood tree and were paying a visit in case we were thinking of doing some damage to this beloved tree.  There were two spirits because there were two of us.  Anyway, Jeff doesn’t know how or if it all played out because he woke up.

It had already been a full day and we decided to head for home.  Although Jeff was partially refreshed from his nap, I was beginning to feel tired.  The car was about an hour’s walk away and we still needed to cross over the small creek that divides the western section of the park from the Woodland Loop Trail.  We gingerly walked over the logs left over from the last flood balancing ourselves with our walking sticks.  We were in no hurry here.

It was great having another adventure with an old friend!  I’m sure that we will do this again. Jeff found an extra walking stick to take home and that became his souvenir of the day.  For me, I walked out of the park with my images and this story I’m about to post.  Thanks for stopping by…until next time from the Falls of the Ohio!

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As expected we set a new yearly rain total record and we still have time left in 2011.  At the moment, we have had 66 inches of rain breaking the old mark by two inches.  I waited for the river to go down a bit before returning to the Falls of the Ohio.  The water was still high which restricted how far I could go.  One very noticeable difference from my last visit was this lost boat.  The high water we did receive loosened it from its mooring up river and it showed up here.  I wonder if someone will attempt to salvage it?

I am always hopeful that I will find lots of cool stuff and this is what I came up with on this trip.  I’ve started collecting the plastic toy wheels that come off toy trucks and cars.  I don’t know what I will eventually do with them, but then again that’s part of the fun!  Here’s a closer image of the blue plastic parachutist in the spot where he landed.

This other figure in the blue coat is my friend Steve the Arrowhead Man.  I’ve nicknamed him this because he likes to knap or chip projectile points from the local rock as the Indigenous people once did.  For him it is a primeval aesthetic.  Steve was the only person I saw on this very cold, but sunny day.  Steve was hunting for rock, but was having no luck because the river was still too high.  I asked how life was treating him and he said that things were a little better for him.  He now has permission to be in the park to practice his craft.  Steve did tell me he once received a ticket for “littering” because someone found a small pile of rock chips he made during the creation of an arrowhead.  We both had a good laugh about that considering his “waste” rock is far less offensive than the daily barrage of plastic bottles and Styrofoam cups that other visitors have strewn about the park.  The new administration at the park has actually embraced people like Steve and potentially me too.  The two of us are living interpreters of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For so long, it felt like the only interesting events occurred in this place two hundred or more years a go.  The Falls, however, is a living site and should be treated as such.  This blog is a sampling of the reality that exits in the park at the present moment.  No doubt two hundred years from now people will find a completely different set of circumstances and folks might be curious about us…or not?

This is the figure I made with found materials on this day.  I walked as far east as I could in the park before the river and deposited driftwood blocked the way.  Along my walk, I came across a discarded life vest and I appropriated it for this figure.  I also found the Styrofoam here and there and carried it under my arms. The distinctive black eyes are old nuts from the buckeye tree. The nose is the spray nozzle from a plastic bottle.  A friend told me the other day that he prefers the animal sculptures I make over the “human presences” I create from these poor materials.  I had to agree, but told him that my figures do contain a certain amount of realism to them because they reflect so well the absurdity of the human condition and our relationship to the planet.

With his thin smile I left this figure waving goodbye and turned around for home.  It was time because I was feeling cold and my left knee was aching.  One of the parting remarks that Steve said to me was that he was considering trying to save the aluminum boat we saw earlier.  I wonder if he tried?  I’ll ask him next time I see him.

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The Ohio River continues to rise and as this year draws to a close…it will go down as either our wettest ever or close to the top.  At the time of this writing,  we are more than twenty inches above normal rainfall.  During a usual year, we can expect a bit more than forty inches of precipitation and we are past the sixty inches mark with a forecast calling for even more heavy downpours.  I believe we set the old mark in 2004 for most rain in our Kentuckiana area.  Okay, so all this is a bit boring I admit, however, it sets the stage for the day and this adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

Because the river was rising, the normal shoreline at the Falls was underwater which in turn forced me to higher ground.  That means today’s adventure took place on the large pile of driftwood that formed during last spring’s flooding.  The large wooden mound is interlaced with all kinds of debris that floated in with the bloated river which acts as an attraction for scavengers such as myself and an acquaintance I came across today who goes by the nickname “Pig Boy”.  Yes, he bears some resemblance to a pig, but as he told me…he came by this unflattering handle because he enjoys getting dirty especially by the river.  “Piggie” and I have this in common and so we get along famously.  It had been a while since I saw him last and I asked if anything was new?  That’s when he related to me a recent nightmare he experienced and as he spoke the following images came to my mind and through the miracle of digital means I present to it to you for your perusal. I began to hear bits of the old “Twilight Zone” theme in my brain.

As the dream begins, Pig Boy found himself on the very driftwood mountain we were standing upon.  He was there because over the months this mound shifts and falls under its own weight and decomposition revealing new “treasures” originally captured by the river.  As Pig Boy explained it…he was just in his own head space checking out the variety of packaging that was intermixed with all the wood.  That’s when the most curious thing happened when he looked up.

All kinds of plastic bottles and containers were emerging from the driftwood pile and moving towards him as if he were a plastic magnet.  Pig Boy was transfixed and unable to move as this plastic wave began to close in on him.

More and more plastic kept coming towards him and before long it started to build up around his body which made moving or running away even harder.

Soon the bottles reached his waist and were piling up even more!  Not all of these bottles were empty and some of them contained river water and the backwash of old soft drinks and who knows what else? By this time in Piggie’s dream he was truly getting alarmed and he remembers this voice telling him that he needed to get out of there!

Before all these plastic bottles could completely overwhelm him… Pig Boy remembers letting out a scream because he was just so frightened.  The feeling  of helplessness was upon him and he forced himself to wake up which he did in a cold sweat.  He recalls the immense feeling of relief when he realized that this had all been a bad dream.  I could feel the claustrophobic sense of being engulfed by all this plastic as my friend relayed his story to me and I became scared as well.

And so I asked my friend after such a bad dream…what was he doing back here?  He replied that he didn’t have a good answer and that he is compelled to come out here for the thrill of discovery or something like that.  Pig Boy can’t help himself.  Every once in a while, you can actually find something useful out here that can be recycled in some way and besides it’s nice to be out in nature.  After a few more minutes and various pleasantries…we parted wishing the other well and happy hunting.  I stood there on the driftwood by myself and looked up at the river which to my imagination seemed higher in the short amount of time I had been out there.  My mind then turned to something I had read about how our oceans are now becoming increasingly filled with plastic garbage that coagulates into large masses and probably will never go away.  That thought was in turn interrupted by a drop of rain that fell on my cheek and I decided it was time to go home too.  I’ll bet we establish that new rainfall record before the end of the year.  Stay dry everybody.

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I thought I would post some better views of the sculpture I made and  featured in my last Falls of the Ohio story.  I’m calling this guy “Apple Heart” based on the sand toy I embedded in his chest!  When I make these things I frequently refer to them as being absurd…but what does that mean?  Looking through an old American Heritage Dictionary, meaning #1, “Ridiculously incongruous or unreasonable.”, probably comes nearest to what I mean by using this term.

 There is a comic or humorous element, but mostly it has to do with discovering these works in this particular context and made from materials that clearly don’t belong in this environment.  Other definitions touch upon existing in an irrational or meaningless universe, but I don’t think of the absurd in this way.  I think the universe may be indifferent, but not meaningless.  In fact, it is the act of taking these found materials and putting them together in the way I do and in this context that helps generate meaning for me. 

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