Posts Tagged ‘children’s story’

Four trees with exposed roots, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Here’s a little story set at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana that will help carry us into the new year.  This tale is from a few weeks back, but I have been saving it.  I have, however, been using many of the images I created on this day for use with my Christmas cards.  Making ornaments, setting up holiday lights, and coming up with a new batch of cards to give away are my ways of getting into the spirit of the season.  I also enjoy attempting to put into words something about my Falls experiences and the following is this year’s gift from the river.  Today, we are in the western section of the park.  I know of four special trees with exposed roots (three sycamores and one cottonwood) that hang out together and have survived a very tough year and were due a visit from me.  With the daylight fading, this would be a good place to watch the sun set as the Ohio River turns left on its journey westward.

Styro-Snowman, full face view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015Getting into the right spirit of the season can be difficult for some folks.  Especially, when the weather is abnormally warm and you were hoping for snow to get winter kick started in the right direction.  The Falls of the Ohio, like much of the eastern portion of our country, is currently in the grips of El Nino.  Our area has set several all-time records for heat for this time of year.  What a contrast from last year’s polar vortex!  As luck would have it, the Styro-Snowman happened to be around when I was visiting the river.  I stuck around to see what would happen next.

The Snow Star arrives, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Although this snowman wore a fixed expression, his odd movements communicated befuddlement?  Something was missing or just not right.  I could see him looking around for something…perhaps a reminder of the season, but nothing appeared obvious?  After roaming the fossil cliffs for several minutes he stopped and looked towards the sky.  That’s when an amazing thing happened and if I didn’t have these pictures to prove it…I am sure you would not believe me.  As the sun, our star, was setting…another star much smaller and shaped like a snowflake descended from the sky.  I wondered if my friend here had willed it to him or did the star appear spontaneously?  As the star drifted by the Styro-being reached up and gently brought the star down to earth.  I could sense a feeling of joy coming over the snowman.

Styro-snowman gets a big idea, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Along with the snowflake star…a small white sack appeared on the ground.  Inside the sack were five, slightly beat up plastic tree ornaments like the kind you can sometimes find at the Falls after the flooding has subsided.  The snowman looked into the sack a pulled out a roughed up, but still functional, deep red ornament.  His expression widened and I almost felt like I was reading his mind.  The snowman walked over to one of the four trees with the great roots and began decorating its branches.


The first tree the snowman embellished had a more open arrangement with ornaments hung on several branches.  For whatever reason, the snowman didn’t find this to be satisfactory and he took his five ornaments off and moved to another nearby tree.

Hanging the ornaments with care, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Hung the ornaments on the branches of a sycamore, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

On a low hanging limb of another rugged sycamore, the snowman hung up his ornaments with care.  He saved his bright red bauble for last and placed it upon the branch which was accomplished precariously by standing on a large tree root.  The snowman looked content when he was finished and paused a moment or two to soak up his handiwork.

The Styro-snowman admiring his work, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Styro-snowman with baubles arranged all in a row, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Oddly, the snowman had hung up his ornaments in a straight line that ascended the tree branch.  Wordlessly, I could tell that he was moved by this alignment, but why?  The tree, after all, could have been decorated any number of ways.  Something about this configuration made me think of celestial models and how we rank planets based by size or their proximity to the sun.  The now extraordinary branch seemingly had this cosmic link going for it.  The snowman stood behind his decorations and peered up the line which seemed to be sighted to a particular spot in the night sky that seemed a little darker than the surrounding space.

Returning the star to its rightful place, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

Without saying a single word, the Styro-Snowman elevated the star that had come to him from high above.  He had borrowed some of its magic and now it was his time to pass it on.  It floated off until it reached that now dark spot in the firmament that it normally occupied.  A bright flash of light signaled that the snow star was back in position.  It is said that all life contains a little star power within it and I think I just witnessed that in action.  With his spirit lifted, the snowman looked over his shoulders at me and with his fixed acorn smile disappeared into the river.

I dedicate this little story to all who seek some personal connection to the spirit of the season or who simply are following magic stars of their own.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Season’s Greetings from the Falls of the Ohio.

Found Christmas star in the shape of a snowflake, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2015

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Note on wood piece, Aug. 2014

A hot and sunny August morning and over Louisville’s rooftops I could hear the river’s siren song calling my name.  “Al”…Al…where have you been?”  The call was getting louder and more irresistible by the moment.  What’s a fella to do but heed the call?  I slurped down the last of my cold coffee, gathered my collecting bag and walking stick and twenty minutes later I transported myself to the Falls of the Ohio.  The river was receding into its summer pool and most of the riverbank was now exposed.  Here and there fishermen were trying both their luck and patience.  If birds could laugh, the numerous herons were enjoying themselves for it looked to my eye like they were having more success than the other bipedal hunters holding long rods and bait buckets.  I did a quick look around the old railroad bridge, filled a found, empty, glass liquor bottle with coal pebbles and headed for my spot under the willows.  Among my stash of Styrofoam and driftwood I came across a piece of wood I had previously picked up…and found this simple message written in ink… ” Hi Al”.

My stash of found art materials, Aug. 2014

Whoever penned this simple note at my discovered spot remains a mystery.  In my mind, I associated it with any of my many artist friends who also find inspiration among the driftwood…but it could have been the river too.  This place has been utilized by artists for many years.  Each new generation seems to discover this place for themselves and I hope it always remains this way.  I lingered under the shade for a bit and watched a mix flock of chickadees, warblers, and gnatcatchers move through the tree canopy.  With the show over and satisfied that my haul of river junk with all of its latent potential remained in place…I headed back into the bright sunlight.  Other mysteries and visual delights would await me.

plush Tasmanian Devil toy, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

Imagine coming face to face with the Tasmanian Devil!  Well, I did and lived to tell the tale.  Actually, this plush toy (which I found face down) was quite small and easy to overlook upon the driftwood.  Seems I’m always finding cartoon characters out in this landscape.  I suspended him by his arms upon the exposed roots of an overturned tree stump.  Someone may find him and give him a new home…or he might just fall apart over time eventually finding his way back into the river?  Walking through the sunlit clearings between willow stands, I came across this interesting found composition.

Upright red straw and cup lid with willow stumps, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I must have stared at this for an indeterminate amount of time?  Perhaps it was the upright and very bright red plastic straw that caught my notice?  Or, it could have been the very careful placement and arrangement I was discerning?  I felt I was looking at a rather intimate and odd bit of public art.  I found myself thinking…why didn’t I think of this!?  In my heart and mind I saluted the anonymous person who created this scene and walked away appreciatively.  A little further down the riverbank I came across a similar example.

Plastic straw and cup lid wedged in rock crack, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Wedged in a limestone crack was another plastic straw and disposable cup lid “sculpture”.  This time the straw was white with red stripes running down its length and the lid was an opaque white color.  Like the previous straw sculpture, this one seemed to activate the space it occupied and caused me to notice what else was happening in this micro-location.  The remains of ancient horn corals that lived in a shallow sea millions of years ago were preserved on the surface of the stone.  The straw was strategically placed in a deep silt-filled fissure which was the only place that would allow it to stand upright on this hard rock.  Finding a second upright straw and lid piece confirmed that the first one was not just a happy accident.  There was someone moving through the area with a purpose.

Upright red plastic straw with clear cup lid, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I soon came upon a third straw and lid site specific piece and it was different from the others.  While it was also made from plastic, the lid was clear and in the strong sunlight cast the most wonderful shadow upon the sand.  It occurred to me that I was following a fresh trail because the slightest bit of wind could easily knock these ephemeral works over.  I kept walking and as luck would have it, I came upon the artist responsible for these creations.

artist with orange hand on his head, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

With a big blue smile a diminutive persona standing at the edge of a stand of willow trees greeted me with a friendly wave of his thin stick arm.  He sported an orange hand symbol on his head and had very dark eyes as I recall.  He had a blue-collar around his neck and a yellow belt around his waist.  Otherwise, he was wearing nothing at all!  I heard him say that he had watched me from a distance checking out his last piece and what did I think of it?  I told him that I loved the simplicity of his works and admired how his careful placement made me more aware of the locations where they were sited.  They were such simple gestures made with the most economical of means.  I went on to gush about how surprisingly sophisticated I thought they all were, but he just stood there smiling.  It was then my turn and I asked him how he came upon the idea?  He said it happened quite by accident.  Reflexively, he set the first one up without any thought and liked the result.  On a hot, sunny day…it reminded him of an umbrella set up on a beach which further reminded him of a family vacation he made as child the first time he saw the ocean.  The other straw and lid pieces became tops spinning in his mind and on and on, but most of all…he was doing this to have fun.

artist with straw and lid sculpture, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I asked if it would be all right to tag along for a short while with him and he said that it would be fine.  We passed by one of his earlier projects and I snapped this quick picture. He was looking to make another piece or two and there (unfortunately) didn’t seem to be any shortages of straws and lids to work with.  The artist recognized that these elements were not supposed to end up here.  Setting them upright was also a good way to get other people to notice these things and perhaps give a thought or two about the state of the environment.  We eventually worked our way back to the water.  Sure enough, my little friend found another straw and lid along a trail frequented by fishermen.

The artist and his materials, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Just as the artist was about to plant his new-found straw and lid into the moist ground…a nice group of people came over and greeted us.  There were two brothers and a sister and a family friend who was taking them to the river to hang out and enjoy themselves.  They had also been collecting river junk and specifically looking for small, intact, glass bottles.  They were curious about the little artist and we talked for a while about being creative.  The group expressed an appreciation for recycling and reusing the cast off stuff of the world.  They asked if it was all right if they could pose with the artist to take their own pictures.  Here are a couple of those images.

Posing for pictures with the artist, Aug. 2014

The artist posed with his new family, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014


The youngest of the group then asked if it was okay if the little Styrofoam artist went home with them?  There seemed to be no objections.  The little man with the orange hand on his head was open to anything.   I, however, did ask for a few things in return.  The first was that a nice piece of wood be found out here that would make a good base so that the figure could stand upright.   The second request was that a little bit of craft glue be used to hold all the loose parts together.  Doing these things would make the figure last a bit longer and remind the family for years to come of this time they spent together at the river.  I thought this was the perfect ending to a most entertaining day.  So long for now from the Falls of the Ohio.

Portrait of the straw and cup lid artist, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014


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It is late autumn at the Falls of the Ohio and soon all the leaves will be gone having succumbed to the wind, rain, and frost.  For now, there is still color and it is during this transitory moment within the season that the memories of past loved ones comes to my mind and heart.  I was walking along the riverbank recently and thinking about my grandfather and so I created this story for him out of thanks, sticks, and river-worn Styrofoam!

Perhaps it’s the shimmer and play of light upon the water that helps those who have gone before to communicate with the living?  I can picture him now, very tall and very thin and neatly dressed with his fancy bow-tie.  Because he took an interest in me as a boy, I in return have never forgotten him.  My grandfather was not a particular eloquent man, but as the saying goes and there is truth in this…actions do speak louder than words. 

Grandpa or Opa as I sometimes called him loved to tend his small flower garden.  In the heart of the old city this was how he kept his connection to the soil.  And because his garden was tiny it was also precious and everything that happened in it took on added significance.  When a new flower bloomed …that was a cause for celebration as were the times when some new never before seen bird would alight in the yard even for the briefest of moments.  All these little events were full of meaning  to my grandfather and now I see that I inherited this ability too.  Finding wonder when life is at its most mundane is a true gift.

When I was a very small boy my Opa would put me upon his shoulders and give me a unique perspective on the world.  He moved along the city’s canals so easily and I was able to take in all that was going on around me.  I would describe him as being a patient person, but there were some things he found difficult to tolerate.

Perhaps at the top of his list was injustice.  He had lived during the hard times of a world war when his city was occupied.  He had witnessed and experienced how his fellow human beings could be callous and cruel to each other.  When the war ended and prosperity returned, it bothered Grandpa to see how the very land itself was treated with little regard.  He knew about the magic that could happen even in the smallest plot of dirt.  To treat the ground as a garbage can is an injustice to the earth.

Our walks together were always learning opportunities and this was fun for me.  Grandpa seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the living things around him.  He said that life was so interesting that he needed to know about it, but that he was alright too when there were no answers.  He also found contentment in the mystery of it all and that somehow it fit together and worked.  His true position in life was balanced between the twin poles of knowing and not knowing.  It was important to remain open to recognize and receive wisdom when it did come his way.

If my Grandfather could see what is happening with our treatment of the environment…I know it would upset him.  Before the war (which was bad enough) there was also a world-wide depression.  To get by and make ends meet, everything that could be reused and repurposed was.  People even knew how to fix and repair things because they had to if they were going to have anything extra at all.  Creativity and thrift were virtues because they were survival skills.  Nothing was thrown away without careful consideration.  Now economies are based on mass consumption and disposability and something else has been lost in the process.

Grandpa told me that if we didn’t take care of all our precious resources, then we were in danger of losing ourselves.  The more we change the land, the more it changes us and that our ultimate fate is intertwined with what happens in the real world.  Here on the banks of the Ohio River my Grandfather’s concerns have come back to me.  Now I am a father and someday I too may become a grandparent.  During my lifetime, I would like to feel that we can be reawakened to the needs of the planet so that we could build towards the most positive and healthy future possible.

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The Sandman and Adam, 9/09

The day my son Adam made his dragon, this is what I came up with.  I call him the Sandman and I based him upon the nocturnal visitor familiar in children’s stories.  As Adam and I walked along the river, I found the blue plastic sand shovel and the idea for this piece fell into place.

Cicada, 9/09

While my son and I worked under the willow trees we were serenaded by the cicadas.  The rising and falling buzzing courtship song of the males is a familiar sound of summer.  This year I’ve noticed them more at the Falls than ever before.  Now I understand why the cicada killer wasps are also more common.  I wonder if the wasps detect their prey by sight or do they zero in on the cicada’s sound?

The Sandman, 9/09

This figure is made from the found materials that have become my vocabulary for my Falls works.   Polystyrene foam form the head and body.  Each piece of foam has traveled down the Ohio River from who knows where?  I only use materials that I find in the park and over the years I have been able to keep to this personal rule because so much stuff shows up here through periodic flooding.  The Styrofoam is shaped by natural processes and I add other natural and artificial materials as I see fit and come across them in the debris of the park.

The Sandman, 9/09

The Sandman comes to the Falls of the Ohio because of the quality of the sand.  He wanders along the river’s shore and carefully selects the right sand which he stores in a small bottle.  A little bit of sand goes a long way.  The bottle is worn close to the body with the help of a little waste fishing line which is unfortunately plentiful at the moment.  The Sandman may appear a bit ghostly, but he’s harmless.  His appearance has more to do with the unseen and unknown quality of the night.  So, when you rub the sleep from your eyes in the morning…you will know where the sand comes from.  It’s a gift from the Ohio River formed over deep time.  Sweet dreams.

The Sandman, 9/09

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