Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Ruined toy shopping cart, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Here’s a tale from my last visit to the river which happened to be a wondrous and warm Thanksgiving morning at the Falls of the Ohio.  Before the family gatherings and the feasts that  followed, I jumped out of bed to put in a few hours of personal time.  As I recall, on this day last year it was 17 degrees and we had already experienced a snow fall.  Despite Turkey Day’s  balmy 70 degrees, I didn’t see many other folks out here with the exception of a few early rising fisherman who were casting for Sauger near the dam.  Nobody seemed to be having much luck catching fish. I decided that I needed to start off my holiday season by doing a little holiday shopping Falls style.  Meaning, no money is required…just come out here and sooner or later you will find something interesting that drifted in with the driftwood.  After all, everything out here has a story connected to it.  It’s finder’s keepers on the riverbank and you can cross off your gift list those particularly “hard to shop for” loved ones in practically no time at all!  First, you need a shopping cart and after searching around I found this…see above picture.  Despite its small size…I decided to pass on this find because the missing wheels would just get in the way.  I decided that one of my many collecting bags would have to suffice.  So, what kinds of things stood out on this day?

Osage orange, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I came across many fruits from the Osage-orange tree (Maclura pomifera).  I love their glowing color and weird surfaces that remind me of brains.  A squirrel  was eating one when I approached.  I have heard of people who put these fruits in their closets and trunks to keep insect pests away from their out of season clothes.  People do collect and sell these soft ball size fruits for this purpose.  Osage-orange trees have quite a few other nicknames including:  hedge apple, monkey ball, horse apple, mock orange, and yellow-wood.  Potentially this orb could be a stocking stuffer for an organically inclined friend or two?  Our next item was found waiting for me on the wet and slimy fossil beds.  The rocks were so slick, I had trouble remaining upright as I approached the mystery object.

Soggy fabric "Hulk" hand, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Here’s something else sporting an unusual shade of green.  As gentle river waves lapped the exposed limestone fossil beds…something that looked like a large fist presented itself lying next to driftwood logs.  As I suspected when I first spotted this item…it was a toy “Hulk” hand.  Essentially, this is an over-sized, comic book character, soft boxing glove that a child could insert their own hand within when their inner Bruce Bannon gets overwhelmed by their raging Hulk persona!  Smashing could then ensue.  I considered dropping this into the collecting bag, but it was so heavily saturated with river water.  Still, definitely a pop culture item that would be appreciated once the darned thing dried out.  I’ll come back to this later, unless someone who wants it more takes it home first!

Two large chunks of found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

After I did my rounds around the Willow Habitat, I headed for my outdoor studio under the trees.  I had stashed two large chunks of found Styrofoam at my site that had floated into the park earlier in the spring with this year’s flooding.  I had to wait months for the largest piece to thoroughly dry out before I could even attempt to lift it.  These larger chunks may originally have been parts of boat docks which do absorb water while retaining buoyancy.  As I was imagining what I could make with this material, a stranger approached me.  I was so rapt upon my polystyrene pair that I had let my usual guard down.

Giant Styro-Snow Shovel Man, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Face of Giant Styro Snow Shovel Man, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

“Excuse me…I don’t mean to disturb or startle you, but do you mind if I ask you a question?”  I’m sure I must have had that slack-jawed look of amazement on my face!  The absurd looking persona in front of me was much taller than myself.  I estimated he was at least 6 feet 5 inches or even slightly taller than that.  Dressed all in white, he had a large nose and two eyes that were different colors on an otherwise huge head.  Over one of his shoulders he was carrying a snow shovel that was missing half its snow blade.  I did my best to gather my wits and replied in a slightly cracked voice…”Sure, what’s your question?”  It’s not that unusual for people (especially children) who see me out here to wonder about what I’m doing?

Large absurd figure at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Giant absurd figure, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

“Can you hear that?” asked the giant.  I’m sure I looked puzzled and so he repeated the question.  I then stood still and listened and replied that all I heard were the local birds moving through the trees.  I had noticed earlier that the chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers and other seasonable birds had been especially active on this beautiful day.  My large “friend”, however, said that it wasn’t the birds he was hearing but rather something more abstract than that.  My response was to ask him what he was hearing that seemed beyond the threshold of my own hearing (which is no mean feat these days)?  The big guy gave a one word response to me and it was…”Winter”.

detail of the head from the Giant Styro Snow Shovel Man, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

The big guy had this wistful look upon his strange visage and he said, “Winter is coming my friend and that is what I hear.”  He then continued, “This year is nearly history now and all it’s good, bad, and indifferent moments will be covered up by a cold, white blanket of forgetfulness.”  I’m sure he was right about that, but it did seem odd considering it was 70 degrees outside today!

Large, absurd figure with half a snow shovel, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I asked my new acquaintance if he thought this was going to be a particularly tough winter since he seemed to be presenting himself as something of an authority on the subject?

He replied, “That’s difficult to say considering all the weather patterns and all the factors that generate the weather are in a state of flux.”  He continued, “It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen the planet be this confused.  I have been wandering the land gathering clues and I’m afraid, that I can’t give you an accurate forecast.  The only thing I’m sure of is that at some point winter will arrive and I will be out here to meet it.”

My own thoughts turned to an episode of Falls of the Ohio history.  This whole river valley was originally sculpted by one of the last glaciers at the close of the last Ice Age.  You can even find deposits of gravel here that date from that period thousands of years a go.

Styro Snow Shovel Man facing the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Styro Snow Shovel Man waiting for winter to arrive, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I had to ask this Styro-Snow Shovel Man if he believed the changes in the weather had something to do with our species’ activities?  “Well”, he said…”there are a lot of you on the planet now and as a group, you don’t seem very concerned about what’s happening in the big scheme of things.”  I reluctantly had to agree with him.  I have my own anecdotal information gleaned from this park to back up my own thoughts on the subject.  At the time of this writing, many of the world’s leaders are meeting in Paris to try to decide if any changes could be made that might help reduce the impact of our overall activities.  I remain open and hope a positive consensus can be reached.  Like the approach of winter…we shall see.  With Thanksgiving waiting for me…I said my good byes and left my new friend standing in the park.  Perhaps I will see him again…after the first snowflake falls?

Last photo of the standing Styro Snow Shovel Man, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015



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The record warm spring we experienced in the Kentuckiana area is being followed by the extreme record heat of this summer.  Twice I have ventured out to the Falls when the thermometer had passed 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 on the Celsius scale.  My youngest son told me (without prompting) that he  thought this heat was evidence of global warming.  The idea that we could alter the climate in some way has reached our children’s consciousness and changed their awareness of what kind of world they will inherit.  Kids get it…why don’t politicians and business leaders do the same?  This should be a global priority because the quality of our environment makes everything else possible.  I’m at the river today to continue this role I’ve created for myself as witness/participant in this historic place.  Here’s a brief record of what I found and made on a particularly brutal day.  I’ll start with more coal flakes that I made at the water’s edge.

Walking around the park at its eastern edge, I collected the river-polished coal I came across and with these black rocks created two designs.  Because of the heat, it doesn’t take long for my clothes to start sticking to my skin.  For relief, I splash water over my face and arms. At first, I left the interior of one of the flakes open, but later decided to change it.  I did scout around for the other coal projects I had left here previously, but they were either missing or deliberately destroyed.

Here is the second design with the interior filled on the first coal flake. Why some people find my “art” to be more offensive than the trash that is ordinarily found here is puzzling to me?  Why more people don’t find all the random trash to be an eyesore and do something about that is another mystery.  My best answer is that “art” has a way of focusing and concentrating energy that stands above the ordinary.  To be noticed is not always a good survival strategy.  My work gets hammered because it sticks out and there is something in the human condition that would rather break things than fix them.

It’s still morning and I see the resident Black vulture colony is also at the river’s edge looking for dead fish or fishing bait.  There’s nothing like coming across a partially opened pack of chicken livers that some fisherman brought for catfish bait.  The flies and the vultures say thank you.  I’ve come to think of these vultures as familiars and part of me likes to believe that they even recognize me and allow me to approach a little closer than usual.

A couple of hours later and the vultures have done what I’m about to do…namely seeking shade and relief under the willow trees.  I find a few vultures standing on the ground with their wings outspread trying to catch the slimmest of breezes, but there is none today.  Reaching my stash of Styrofoam I look around and everything appears as I left it.  It’s just been too hot for most folks to want to be out here.  Rummaging around the polystyrene, I chose a few pieces and construct a new figure.  This piece has remained nameless, but if you out there in the wide world want to name it…that’s fine with me.  It’s also been too hot to think of titles and names.  He is another in a long line of absurd figures I’ve created with the collaboration of nature.  Here’s the head made from Styrofoam, coal eyes, fishing float nose, some kind of plastic piece for the mouth, and wooden ears.

As you can see from the last image…I have lots more Styrofoam to use up before our next big flood.  I began my latest figure with the body.  I came across a piece that suggested a sitting pose and so that is what I made.  Upon completion, I moved my new “friend” to various locations and tried him out in various contexts.

In the end, I decided to pose my figure in the remains of a private  outdoor party that was held out here since my last visit.  This must have been no ordinary “celebration” based on all the spray painted graffiti now on the logs and stumps surrounding their camp fire.  Take a look.

I’m more accustomed to seeing graffiti in an urban setting where tagging trash dumpsters and buildings is common place.  I’m still sorting out how I feel about coming across a scene like this?  Has anything actually been harmed…it doesn’t appear so.  When lovers cut their initials into the bark of a living tree, those cuts are there for the life of the tree.  All this spray painted wood is dead.  Still, this hardly seems like a nature loving act especially since the “artists” left their large beer bottles behind.  I think they did it because they could.  Their handiwork to my eye also lacks an aesthetic dimension, but now I’m sounding like an old-fashioned art critic.  I guess here is as good a place to say that I’m taking a hiatus from visiting the park to recover from my impending knee surgery.  I’ve been stomping about out here with a bad left knee for over a year and it hasn’t gotten better on its own.  An MRI showed two tears in my lateral and medial meniscus.  With hope, I won’t be down long and I will continue the riverblog with other stuff probably from my various collections. I’ll end this post with a small piece of plastic I found on this hot, hot day.  Since I started this post with some perceptions from a child about the environment…perhaps it is even appropriate?  It may take something akin to divine intervention to improve the condition of the world.

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It’s official, this summer was our toastiest.  I looked at the lead article in the local newspaper and words like historic and unprecedented are being used.  We beat the old record that stood since 1936 by a degree and a half!  In meteorological terms that’s a lot.  This was determined by factoring the daily highs and lows and taking the average temp for the day. Louisville had more than 80 above average temperature days this summer which was more than any other city in the country.  No wonder working at the Falls felt so harsh.  We had a number of high pressure systems that just hung around the Ohio Valley making life difficult for everything including these vultures.  Of late, every year has had something climatically anomalous about it.  Too dry, too hot, too wet, too cool…missing are words like usual, normal, ordinary, and uneventful.

The variety of bird life at the Falls has been down this year too.  When you are a creature that is sensitive to the environment and have the advantage of great mobility…your instincts can tell you to go elsewhere.  I think this is what happened this year.  I will be really curious to see what comes by on the Fall leg of migration.  This year the Black vultures did well as did the Canada geese.  I could count on seeing those two species in good numbers most anytime I came out to the river.

From what I can see “anecdotally” the Canada Geese are on the rise here.  We have few predators to challenge them.  I have seen some very large flocks out on the water and they are keeping the grass clipped short along the riverbank too.  Friends told me that in the “old days”, you could find large stands of native river cane on the margins.  That’s something I don’t ever recall seeing out here.  One of the values I place upon this blog is to act as a record of the environment as I find it.  We have journals and first hand accounts of what this place looked like two hundred years a go and I believe that two hundred years from now…people will still be interested in the Falls of the Ohio and how it has been changed by civilization.

One of my favorite summer birds are American Goldfinches.  There is something cheerful and friendly about them.  The male with his bright yellow and black plumage is an unmistakable bird.  Many times I have watched the dipping and rolling courtship flight and listened for their call notes.  In the past, I have seen this species in mass, but not this year.

I’ve had conversations with people bragging about their fishing luck or skill, but none of them can hold a candle to a cormorant.  The Double-crested Cormorants in this picture are able to find and catch fish when nothing else can.  Of course, it helps to be able to swim and pursue prey underwater!  These birds are wary and very hard to approach.  In other places of the country, fishermen have persecuted this species because they compete very successfully against the rod and reel.

One of the few interesting and new birds to write about is the Azure-winged Mockingbird.  I have encountered them by my studio under the willow trees.  They are fearless and will drive away larger birds.  Among their notable features is the way they flash their wings against their bodies which makes them look more aggressive.  I have wondered as I make my Styrofoam sculptures, if these birds are drawn to the mosquitos and gnats that find me!  This is not a common bird and has been rarely recorded here.  I expect that in a few weeks, it will be winging its way to Central America.  I wonder if this year’s events in the Gulf of Mexico will compromise it and other birds in some way?  The forecast for this holiday weekend looks great and I’m anxious to spend a bit more time out here on my projects.  I’ll close with one more image of my mockingbird friend and a sculpture still around from several weeks past.

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Strolling Couple, 9/09

With summer drawing to a close and the weather being so moderate, our Styro-couple has decided to visit the fossil beds.  The water is low and there are always unusual and interesting things that have been left behind by the previous inhabitants of this land.  On occasion you can find some museum worthy artifacts.  Let’s take a look at what today has to offer.

Rusting Wheel, 9/09

Find # 1 didn’t take very long to come across.  With the river receding very tough and hard-weathering objects start to poke their “heads” above the water line.  This circular metal artifact must have taken great cunning to fashion.  It is now believed that these circular objects ( and they are made of different materials too) were associated with a religious cult and may reference the sun and moon or the changing of the seasons.  This area obviously held great significance for them.

Strolling Couple, 9/09

There is always life to be found near the water.  The Styro-couple moves closer to the beach.  Small flocks of shorebirds scatter before them.  Holes carved into the limestone by the rushing currents are good catch-alls for objects that have been washed out of the mud.  If we get lucky, maybe we will find something of interest?  The fun is in discovering the unexpected!

Muddy bottle, 9/09

It was about the fourth hole we poked our noses into when we came across this mud-washed object.  It’s made from a hard, brittle material and the beach is covered with hundreds of similar fragments.  When you hold some of these fragments up, light will pass through them in various colors.  It’s rare to find one of these objects intact!  So, you can imagine our excitement.  In the literature, it is believed these objects may be musical instruments because a scientist observed that when you direct a flow of air over the hole at just the correct angle…an audible tone is created.  By adding water inside the instrument, different tones can be produced.  The many fragments on the beach suggests these instruments may have been ritually destroyed after use.

Styro-couple, 9/09

Moving from the water’s edge towards a stand of trees near the eastern end of the site, we hope to find artifacts that have been long buried in the soil.  The periodic floods that can cover this area stir up the dirt and bring more fragile materials to the surface.  Earlier in this year, we experienced just such a flood.  It’s been a good day…are we greedy to expect more?

plastic jug and doll, 9/09

Rain-washed and sitting upon the rocks and driftwood are these two artifacts sitting side by side!  It’s every archaeologists dream to find an effigy figure like the one on the right.  Both objects are made from an unknown material whose exact chemistry is a mystery.  It has been observed that this is also a fragile material that breaks apart if exposed to the sun for very long periods of time.  The effigy, it is believed, is made in the likeness of the previous inhabitants.  Some are found complete with heads and limbs and others are not.  What exactly happened to this race is a matter of speculation.  The current theory is that some great climate changing event altered the world to a degree that doomed their civilization.  It will take many, many years of further research by our scientists before a consensus develops.  In the meantime, we will continue to collect their artifacts and be thankful that we were ready to inherit this beautiful world.

Styro-couple being made, 9/09

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