Posts Tagged ‘cottonwood tree’

Ginger Lifevest, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

We have had a stretch of gorgeous days along the Ohio River!  Lately, it has been more fun to be outdoors than indoors and consequently, documenting and posting about those adventures has taken a back seat to exploring.  With rain in today’s forecast, it seems a good day to play catch up.  Allow me, “Insert Name Here”, to be your host on what was a very productive day spent along the western shoreline at the Falls of the Ohio State Park a couple weekends a go.  This was the first time I had ventured on this side of the park since our seasonal bout of flooding.  In the past, this has also been a good place to find driftwood and plastic bottles.  For today, I decided to walk along the riverbank utilizing the materials I came across and see how far that would carry me.  Here’s today’s results in order of completion.

Shelf with Colorful Objects, found objects, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015Bottle/Shelf in situ, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

This year, I have a new series that I have enjoyed exploring in this driftwood and petrochemical playground.  In part, it is a response due to the abundance of plastic bottle’s in this year’s flotsam and jetsam. It’s a challenge to try to use these materials in ways that will cause others to notice them afresh.  We have become accustomed to having so much plastic around us and despite the often brilliant color of these objects, are relegated to the background like so many other things we have used or don’t care to acknowledge or know what to do about because so many other things are competing for our attention.  To try to regain some element of focus, I have been clustering and combining mostly plastic containers in site specific areas along the trail.  It’s an all organic study.  Some of them present as shrines and are a reminder that we are all pilgrims on the river’s journey.

Arrangement in Blue Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Arrangement in Blue Plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

This piece which I’m calling “Arrangement in Blue Plastic” was assembled not too far away from the previous work.  All the blue plastic elements were found in the surrounding area and deposited by high water.  Among the found blue oddities includes a plastic boom-a-rang, the spade from a broken plastic shovel, and a beat up, formerly plush, blue plastic puppy.  The arrangement is backed up by found, joined lumber.

Bemoaning Figure, detail of the head, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

This is a detail of the head from “Bemoaning Figure”.  He’s a large Styrofoam sculpture about 6 feet tall.  The area where I left him was very muddy…which in this case also aided in standing him up.

Bemoaning Figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

The polystyrene floated into the park along with the plastic bottles.  I try to respect the shapes the river gives me with this foam. I thought the head was a particularly nice form.  I was additionally lucky because both the head and body were found near one another and I didn’t need to carry so much stuff back and forth.

Bemoaning Figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

I left “Bemoaning Man” mired in the mud which was more than five inches or so of thick sticky fudge.  I stepped right out of one of my shoes setting this figure up in the landscape!  I had to find and pull my shoe out of the mud while balancing on one leg.

Black and White Plastic Arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

On the way from my trip…I stopped and reused a shelf I had set up earlier.  I have become so much better at strategizing and planning as I go along.  This is resulting in more pieces being photographed at the river.

Family Circle, found flip-flops, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Family Circle, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

As I walked along, I was picking up lost flip-flops and putting them into my collecting bag.  At the end of day, I try to make an image with whatever I happened to find.  So far, I’m calling this piece “Family Circle”.  I left the wayward footwear right in this spot and moved on.  All that’s left to look at before calling it a productive day are a couple of pictures of me (for scale) taken earlier in the morning.

Tall Figure, "Ginger Lifevest", Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Here I am posed next to one of my favorite trees in the park.  It’s a large cottonwood tree that has been featured on this blog many times before.  I have taken refuge underneath its roots during thunder storms and people like to camp out around it.  It is one of the best features in the western section of the park.  The day has been a long, but productive one with several river art projects realized.  Thanks for tagging along…here’s one last look back at the full height of that cottonwood tree.

Large cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

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Stacked wood, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Nov. 2013

Moving past the Woodland Trail Loop, I’m in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s been more than a month since I last visited this area.  One of my favorite trees is here and although I’ve already missed the prime leaf color moment…I’m hoping some autumn splendor remains.  Along my walk I come across a driftwood structure that has been stacked teepee-style by other park visitors.  I see this kind of expression regularly and there must be a kinship between this activity and piling and stacking rock upon rock.  It’s satisfying to do and when you step back from your work…it’s obvious you left an impermanent mark in the landscape that says you were there.  The tree I seek is just a short walk away and in no time at all I arrive on the scene.

Cottonwood tree, late autumn, Nov. 2013

Under the Cottonwood tree, Nov. 2013

This old Cottonwood tree with its raised roots looms large in my imagination and is my personal favorite tree out here.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way because there is usually plenty of evidence laying around in the form of empty beer bottles, spent camp fires, and yes…the odd bits of furniture people drag to furnish the room that exists underneath the tree.  I’ll wager for some…this is known as the party tree.  I was elated to see that most of the junk (old tarps and a red couch) have been removed by some other purists.  The Cottonwood tree had already dropped most of its leaves, but there were still a few hanging on.  After resting a moment under the tree and admiring the distant view of Louisville across the Ohio River…I decide to turn for home.  I was in the process of walking away when I noticed something moving along the fossil rocks.  I froze to see if I could get a better look at the creature that was walking towards me.  Naturally, my camera is at the ready!

Golden Hour Ground Beetle, detail of head, Nov. 2013

detail of head from Golden Hour Ground Beetle, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2013

Regular visitors to the Riverblog know that the Falls of the Ohio State Park is home to several out-sized insect species that have uniquely evolved here.  All the different species are critically endangered and not to be harmed in any way.  I was quick to identify this as the Golden Hour Ground Beetle.  It was so named because it usually makes it first appearance of the day when the sun is about to set.  Otherwise, it is nocturnal in its habits.

Golden Hour Ground Beetle, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2013

Golden Hour Ground Beetle, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2013

The Golden Hour Ground Beetle does not fly.  It relies upon stealth and six strong legs to scramble across any surface.  In form, it is not unlike the much smaller tiger beetles that also make the park their home.  Unlike the smaller beetles, the Golden Hour Ground Beetle is a scavenger and not a hunter.  I suspect this specimen was at the Cottonwood tree because it has learned to find scraps of discarded camping food here.  This beetle has fairly large eyes that can gather the most meager light in the darkest of settings.  It’s abdomen is banded with a coarse hair that insulates this insect during cold nights.  As long as I didn’t make any rash movements, this giant bug was tolerating my presence.

Golden Hour Ground Beetle drinking water?, Nov. 2013

I observed my new “friend” moving to the water’s edge to obtain a drink.  I wondered if it had the ability to swim in its survival tool kit?  I watched the insect as it searched all around the fossil rock shelves that were created by the river dissolving the old limestone away.

Golden Hour Ground Beetle exploring a hollow log, Nov. 2013

View of the beetle through the hollow log, Nov. 2013

I came across a second giant beetle almost immediately after crossing the small creek that separates the western and eastern sections of the park.  Male and females are virtually identical.  There are gaps in our knowledge about their life cycle.  This specimen was in the process of checking out a short, hollow log.  I’m presuming that it was either seeking food or shelter?  I think poking my camera through the end of the log spooked this one a little.  It ran away, but didn’t go far.  I kept my movements to a minimum and after a while it seemed to relax again.

Golden Hour Ground Beetle relaxing on Sycamore tree roots, Nov. 2013

Beetle laying flat on a sycamore root, Nov. 2013

I observed this 14 inch or 35.5 centimeter beetle relaxing on the exposed roots of a Sycamore tree.  As the golden hour approached, the beetle stopped seemingly acknowledging this magic moment when everything is bathed in a warm golden light.  I did the same watching the sun set before finding my vehicle in the parking lot of the Interpretive Center.  To everybody in the wider world…have a great week.

The Golden Hour at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Nov. 2013

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Joe Arbor at the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Everybody has a different tipping point where enough is finally enough and action is called for.  This was the case with Joe Arbor.  For many years, Joe Arbor walked the river’s edge paying attention to what the Earth was telling him from the signals that washed ashore.  Yes, this is a nonverbal language, but the Earth is eloquent in this way.  On this particular day, Joe Arbor noticed that there was a lot of wood everywhere and while it was picturesque…it was also disturbing.  Joe Arbor realized that all the wood he was seeing represented trees in the past tense.

driftwood at the Falls, June 2013

Joe Arbor knew of other places where the Earth via the river had left a record of lost trees particularly at the Falls of the Ohio.  In the hot bleaching sun the various logs and limbs piled on top of one another reminded him of bones.  Joe Arbor would walk among these elephant’s graveyards of trees and felt ill at ease.  These trees represented a huge loss in terms of the free services they provided.  Here was food and shelter for a multitude of other life forms.  Here was the air we breathe and the cooling shade of summer and potential warmth in winter.  Here was lost inspiration!  Since Joe Arbor also made his home next to the river, he also knew that tree roots also held the riverbank in place.  Over the past several years it had not escaped Joe Arbor’s notice that at this location,  it rained more and harder and trees were being swept away.  Joe Arbor was no scientist or genius, but could recognize that life seemed out of balance and it worried him.  What could be done?  Joe Arbor went home and decided to sleep on the question.

Joe Arbor and Pip hatch up a plan, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Joe Arbor makes his home at the base of an old willow tree.  It took several nights of sleeping on the question before the beginnings of an answer started to form in his mind.  When the solution came to him, Joe Arbor decided that he needed some help or company and he called his good friend Pip.  Pip is short for Pipistrel which is a name given to several species of bats.  One fine morning, the pair got up early and gathered some tools and provisions together and ventured forth to the river’s edge.  If the Earth was losing her balance due to tree loss…it made sense to Joe Arbor that getting involved with planting and saving more trees could be a good thing to do.

eastern cottonwood tree leaves and capsules, June 2013

eastern cottonwood leaves and seeds, July 2013

Joe Arbor decided he wanted to try to do something to help the Eastern Cottonwoods that grew along the Falls of the Ohio.  These cottonwoods are magnificent, fast growing trees and reach great heights.  They produce unusual capsule-shaped fruits and when conditions are right, these capsules burst open releasing tiny, fluffy seeds that drift through the air like dry snow and move with the slightest breeze.  Joe Arbor also knew from experience that many more of these seeds germinate than reach maturity.  At the Falls, those seeds that sprout nearest the river eventually are destroyed by the river during flooding.  They simply get washed away or crushed by logs rolling in the waves.  Joe Arbor decided to perform an experiment to see if he could successfully transplant a cottonwood tree to a safer location?

selecting a cottonwood seedling, July 2013

First Joe Arbor and Pip selected a little cottonwood growing in the sand.  They next held hands and said a few kind words and explained to the tree what they were about to do and why.  In this way, they hoped to obtain the tree’s blessing.  Together, they carefully dug around the sand to uncover as much of the tree’s roots as they could.  Bagging up the little tree roots and all the paired moved on to a different location.

Canada geese at the Falls, July 2013

All the while Joe Arbor and Pip were working, a small flock of Canada Geese were standing nearby and acted as guards and witnesses.  Because the geese also live near the river they are also privy to the Earth’s nonverbal language and understood what was at stake here.  Their presence added a bit of solemnity to the event.

Joe Arbor and Pip with cottonwood tree, July 2013

Joe Arbor and Pip with cottonwood tree and tools, July 2013

With their valuable charge in a bag, the pair moved on to a pre-selected location they hoped would be favorable to the cottonwood tree.  Cottonwood trees do best when they are close (but not too close) to the water.  As they walked, Joe Arbor whistled an improvised melody partly out of nervousness and the excitement of the moment.  As is his norm…Pip remained quiet.

Young cottonwood in the ground, July 2013

A large enough hole was dug in the new location to accommodate all the young cottonwood’s roots.  Sand and soil were shoveled lovingly around the tree.

Joe Arbor and Pip plant the tree, July 2013

After the tree was safely in the hole, Joe Arbor said a few words while Pip watered the transplant.  It was hoped that the chosen location was the right distance from the river and that the young tree would grab a toe-hold here and prosper.  Time will tell.  The day still had one more nice surprise and it came from Pip.  Joe Arbor didn’t know why he didn’t pay attention to this before, but Pip was wearing a circular, black, plastic box on a cord hung around his neck.  This circular box was the container that smokeless tobacco is sold in.  Many of these boxes routinely wash up at the Falls of the Ohio.  Anyway, Pip opened up the container revealing its contents and this is what Joe Arbor saw.

snuff box with mulberries, July 2013

Wrapped in mulberry leaves were four ripening mulberries.  This is another tree that grows at the Falls of the Ohio and provides food for many birds and animals.  The berries are sweet and juicy when ripe and some people find them tasty too.  The leaves are interesting and come in different shapes with serrated edges.

Pip holding a mulberry, July 2013

Pip (who says very little) had his own tree planting experiment in mind and Joe Arbor got the idea.  Moving to a different location, a new hole was dug in the rich soil and a berry was placed in that hole.

Pip and Joe Arbor plant mulberries, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

The process was repeated until all the berries were planted.  Pip was curious to see if he could start a mulberry tree in this way or whether the seeds needed to travel through the gut of a bird or some other animal first?  Again, time will tell.  Satisfied that at least for today, the duo had done some good for the Earth, the pair picked up their gear and headed home together.

Pip and Joe Arbor go home, July 2013

This little story is dedicated to an artist friend of mine I have never met.  She has a vision of creating a tree art project around the world and if you are interested in learning more about it and perhaps participating…here is a link  to a post she wrote about it:  http://rooszwart.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/the-bridge-land-art-forest/

Pip and Joe Arbor after planting trees together, July 2013

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First, I would like to thank all the people who checked out my last post on the box turtles.  The response has been pretty overwhelming and I’ve enjoyed everybody’s comments.  The Eastern Box Turtle isn’t the only turtle to be found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park and this post is about that other mysterious and rare reptile. It’s called the Cottonwood Turtle (Terrapene populus) and its habitat overlaps that of the box turtle.  On a warm and humid morning I was exploring the eastern section of the park around the debris line formed by a retreating Ohio River.  Plastic bottles and containers and the ever-present polystyrene chunks helped define the high-water mark.  We have had so much rain here and it’s officially Kentuckiana’s wettest spring on record!  I was mesmerized watching and listening to the Cedar Waxwings pursuing each other from mulberry tree to mulberry tree and whose fruits are just now beginning to ripen to a glossy black.  The air was filled with the fine downy fluff produced by the catkins of our giant cottonwood trees and seemed like so much snow falling in ultra slow motion.  The chances of inhaling this fluff are real and white airy drifts were forming on the ground where the air currents pushed this gossamer material with its tiny secret of seeds within.  With so much going on, I was surprised to catch a slight bit of movement inside a nearby hollow log.  I remained still and this is what I saw.

Emerging into the light of a new day was this very ancient looking turtle.  Of course I recognized what it is and determined to follow it and make a record of my observations.  I kept a discreet distance away and tried not to make any sudden movements or loud noises so the turtle would act as naturally as possible.  I kept up with it for a several hours and then I had to pull myself away for home.

The Cottonwood Turtle is characterized by a high-domed carapace that the original inhabitants of the Ohio Valley used for war and ceremonial helmets.  Unlike the box turtles which it shares some affinities with…the Cottonwood Turtle cannot retract its head and limbs fully into its shell.  This makes it vulnerable to predators.  I watched my turtle crawling over the plastic and Styrofoam debris left by the last flood.  It seemed to be going somewhere with a purpose and I followed discreetly behind it.

The previous night we had another tremendous rain storm with high winds.  Mud, broken branches and leaf litter evidence can be found everywhere.  I followed my turtle to a large cottonwood branch and saw it engaging in the activity that gives this remarkable reptile its name.

Over the course of about an hour, I watched the turtle carrying mouthfuls of the Cottonwood fluff to a hole that it had previously prepared.  It made about a half a dozen trips back and forth from the downed branch to what looked to my eye to be an abandoned groundhog hole that the turtle retrofitted for its own purpose.  The fluff was carried  into the hole where a special chamber was being prepared for this turtle’s eggs!

Here is the Cottonwood Turtle about to finish laying her eggs.  I observed about five ping pong ball-sized eggs being deposited upon their bed of cottonwood fiber.  I suppose the fluff cushions the eggs and perhaps as this material decays provides some modicum of warmth to assist in the incubation?  From what I have read, new turtles should be emerging from their subterranean nursery after sixty days.  After the turtle covered her nest with her back legs she moved on.  From this moment, the eggs and baby turtles to be are on their own.  I gently uncovered some of the soil and photographed this single egg.  Afterwards, I placed the egg back into the nest, re-covered it and went on my way happy to have witnessed this ancient rite of life.

It occurred to me on my walk back through the tangle of bottomland, that this turtle might be benefitting the tree as well?  I haven’t heard or read anything concerning a link, but what if?  The fluff contains minute seeds and the act of burying them might aid in propagating this tree.  The turtle places these seeds a little deeper than usual which might encourage stronger and deeper root growth.  Since this area is frequently altered by the river, it would make sense for the tree to have a deeper hold on the soil?  I came across another downed cottonwood branch and admired all the fluff it was producing.  It all looked so beautiful and magical in broad daylight.

Overhead the orioles were collecting their own materials to build their amazing hanging basket nests.  And the Cedar Waxwings were fueling up on the mulberries in preparation for their long migration up into the north country.  One last image of one of these waxwings.  Such an interesting and beautiful bird so uniquely marked.

Although I may have fooled some people out there (wink, wink)…the Cottonwood Turtle doesn’t actually exist!  I made it from junk I found here in this very real environment at the Falls of the Ohio.  The shell or carapace is the cushioning from inside an old bicycle or motorcycle helmet and I have found several of these helmets after the last flood.

I used three pieces of Styrofoam…the shell, head, and one piece under a chunk of fiberglass-like material to fill the space inside the helmet.  Limbs are pieces of found wood attached to the lightweight fiberglass.  Everything is joined and pegged together with wood skewers.  I did use some found plastic for the actual neck and mouth of the turtle.  The eyes are round lead fishing weights and the nostrils are pieces of coal.  Thanks for tagging along!

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I knew we received a lot of rain…I can tell by how much makes it into the basement of our home.  I once thought it was the river’s way of trying to claim its own since I store many of my river finds there.  I have this mental image of Styrofoam and driftwood floating into my back yard from the bowels of my basement.  As much precipitation as we experienced, there must have been a heck of a lot more just northeast of us.  The river has been rising for days and will continue to do so for a few more.  Since yesterday, the river has essentially gone over the dam and large masses of driftwood and debris are flowing over.  Once the water recedes, I expect to find a completely different park.  I’ve put together a few images to give you a sense of the river rising over the last two days.  Let’s start with some larger views.

The rise can be seen from the height of the water on this Cottonwood tree.  Usually this tree is not touching the river.

This is the time of year when the Cottonwood trees release their fluff.  Wind catches this fuzz which harbors tiny seeds and disperses it everywhere.  In places cottony drifts are created.  Here is the broken tip of a branch showing how the Cottonwood tree earned its name. 

There are several places to access the riverbank at the park and one popular way is to use this set of wooden stairs.  The river, however, has covered the bottom two boards.  While I was there, I watched the surreal sight of a plastic castle go floating by!

Okay, here is the castle I mentioned…

…maybe I’ll find this thing later on as well as this huge Styrofoam chunk I saw yesterday!  Most of the pieces I find have been shaped by rubbing against driftwood in the water.  The abrasion creates these interesting biomorphic shapes I like to use in my sculpture.

Once the river crests, it will be a few days before I can get back down to the riverbank.  I heard it’s supposed to rain again this weekend.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the exhibit at the Oldham County Historical Center in LaGrange.  There’s a small reception Thursday night and I heard my pieces have been dispersed among the regular collection.  I’ll post from there next and try to give you a few views of the display.  Finally, here’s one more high water image I came across late today.

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Louisville cityscape from the Falls, 6/08

Since I was feeling a little nostalgic about lost trees, I checked into my archive and pulled up these images from late June of last year.  In the above photo, the tree in the right foreground fell during the last few months.  This view with a glimpse of the skyline of Louisville on the opposite shore was made from the park’s western boundry.

Black Jack, 6/08

I called this figure “Black Jack” when I made it.  It didn’t last long in this configuration.  Although this section of the park is more remote…”Black Jack” was found and assaulted by someone who needed to break something.  I wonder sometimes if there might be a balance between the amount of energy it takes to create and the effort required to destroy?  It would be some type of karmic equation.  Yes, this wasn’t the best piece I ever made, but it did have some points of interest.  I believe this was the only time I ever came across black polystyrene and in this case I believe it was once part of a car’s bumper.  I also found the little stearing wheel and the broken baseball batter’s helmet along the same stretch of beach.  Tires can be found everywhere and in this piece, made a nice base.  The head is a battered Styrofoam form for styling wigs.

Black Jack in situ, 6/08

I left this sculpture parked by this wonderful cottonwood tree that has incredible roots.  Over the years, the elements have eroded the bank exposing the roots without killing the tree.  In this case, you can literally sit under the tree in this unique space and stay dry during the heaviest rainstorm.  From the fire pits around this area it is obviously a favorite place for campers, fishermen, and lovers.  The candy cane hanging on the tree is something else I found that day.  It is a hand-painted Christmas decoration on wood and I added it to my growing collection of river junk I hauled home.  This styro-sculpture had a buoy-like quality to it that appealed to me and nicely marked the day. 

Herons at the Falls, 6/08

Across from where I sited my sculpture is an area of exposed fossil rock that touches the water.  It is a favorite place for herons to do their fishing and a nice image taken the same day to end this post.

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