Posts Tagged ‘environmental story’

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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Eric and his contraption, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

When I received the call from my friend Eric, I was already heading to the Falls of the Ohio.  A simply gorgeous autumn day was upon us and the smell of freshly dropped leaves perfumed the air near the river.  Soon we would experience our first full frost that would truly signal an end to the warm days and the coming cold, grayness ahead of us.  For now, everything seemed perfect and both man and animals reveled in being outside.  Like so many of my friends, Eric is a bit of an eccentric.  He’s highly creative, full of surprises, but has difficulty at times channeling his enthusiasms into something positive and useful.  I can somewhat relate to that and perhaps this forms the basis of our friendship?  The plan was to meet at my outdoor atelier under the willow trees so he could show me his latest invention and sure enough…I found Eric standing next to what looked like some kind of unusual machine.  Eric was fiddling with the various gizmos, dials, and buttons when I greeted him.

Eric preps his machine, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

My friend was excited to see me and rushed to shake my hand.  He spoke to me in out of breath fashion until I told him to relax and slow down.  Of course, I was curious to learn what he was up to.  Eric told me that he thought he had the answer to all the world’s energy problems and it took the form of this contraption that clearly looked like it was cobbled together from secondhand junk.  Eric called me because he wanted a witness to observe a demonstration of his device’s capabilities.  If all went well, Eric intended to send the plans for his latest invention  to the patent office and from there who knew?  Filled with curiosity, I asked Eric what was the function of his machine and how exactly did it work?

Eric "feeds" the hopper, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

To back track a bit, here is a fuller description of the look of this device.  The main body of the machine was boxy and covered with a white insulating material.  All sides of the box were embellished with tubes, light bulbs, vials of mysterious fluids, gears, pulleys, dials, levers, and what appeared to be radiator panels for keeping the machine cool while it operated.  A large yellow hose protruded from the back of the machine.  In the front where the operator did his “thing” was a “hopper” where material could be fed into the machine.  A large, clear, horizontally mounted bottle introduced water into the process.  The whole contraption was mounted on four wheels which made it a mobile power plant that could be moved to any location that was required.  Now, I’m not a scientist and so a lot of what Eric told me I frankly did not understand, but in short, here is what the machine did along with its practical applications.  The purpose of the machine as Eric explained it to me was to produce “UBF” or Universal Bio Fuel which my friend believed would not only make us energy self-sufficient, but would also solve the world’s hunger problems as well!  Anything organic could be fed into the “hopper” and as a way of demonstration…Eric picked up a large arm load of dried leaves and stuck them into the cup and fired up his machine.  One of the beautiful things about his invention was that it operated on the fuel that it produced. The next stage occurred within the bowels of this odd mechanism.  I could hear sounds of the leaves being broken down, ground up and masticated into mush.  Water, various enzymes, acids, and yes…bacterial cultures were introduced into this leaf mash.  As this bolus moved through various internal chambers, the mash would ferment and in quick order convert into “UBF”.  The desired product has a waxy consistency when cool.  Eric’s machine not only could produce “UBF” to be utilized for industrial needs, but also had a soft-serve function where it could be doled out like some nutritious, but hardly tasty ice cream.  Flavoring could come later.  According to Eric, apart from a cheese-like odor,  very little waste would result…so complete were the reactions that created the “UBF”.

Eric's machine overflows, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

"UBF" overflowing the bowl, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

As I watch, I’m thinking the machine is working as intended, but soon notice that Eric is frantically operating the buttons and dials and a small puff of white smoke emanates from his machine.  He quickly runs to the yellow hose where a small bowl for receiving the “UBF” has turned over on its side.  Too much of the precious bio fuel is being produced and is spilling forth and coagulating on the ground.  I ask is there anything I can do, but Eric doesn’t hear me and for some unknown reason takes the following rash action.

Eric sucks the hose, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Eric grabs the end of the hose and sticks it into his mouth!  I hear a guzzling sound as he swallows a massive amount of the surplus “UBF”.  He then runs to the front of the machine and hits the button that stops all the reactions.  Why Eric did not do this first is due to the fact that he panicked.  He told me that in his mind, he heard his inner voice saying that this fuel is precious and should not be wasted.  Eric had a dazed look upon his face and then the oddest thing happened…all the hairs on his head stood straight up and they remained that way!

Eric's hair standing on end, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Exhausted and over-wrought, Eric decides to call it a day.  He leaves his bio fuel extracting machine where it stands and with assistance from me…we head for home.  Eric is a persistent fellow and with his mission to solve the planet’s energy needs… I know this latest setback will not keep him down for long.

Eric waste deep in water, Nov. 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Eric in the water by his machine, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Sure enough, about a week later, I run into my mad scientist friend back at the Falls of the Ohio on another beautiful day.  As it turned out…this hair-raising experience was permanent.  The “UBF” is such a rich mixture and the full physiological effects of eating such a large dose are unknown.  Certainly, he had eaten more than a minimum, recommended serving which according to plan was to be determined later.  Just a little bio fuel goes a long way.  Luckily for Eric, there were no other scary after effects.  Undaunted, Eric is willing to try his machine again soon, but first he had to clean it out and replenish his water supply.  On this day, I find him waste deep in a stagnant pool of water.  He has adjusted his hose by placing one end into the water and the other end delivers liquid into the hopper.  This is required to flush all the enzymes and other residues out of his bio fuel plant.

Eric by his machine, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

Eric next to his bio fuel machine, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

As he tinkers with his contraption we converse.  Eric told me that he has a lot more to learn about which organic materials produce the most energy.  I ask him if by organic, would that also include plastic and a lot of other waste products and detritus that our current technologies produce?  He’s intrigued by the question and thinks plastic by-products could work to create energy although he doesn’t think they would have much food value.  I nod my head in agreement.

Eric adjusts the settings on his machine, Nov. 15, Falls of the Ohio

Eric's bio diesel machine, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015

I don’t know if Eric was ultimately successful in earning his hoped for patent.  I didn’t hear what happened the other times he tested his machine.  I know he places a lot of faith in technology and believes that it will save us in the long run.  Of course, reality is more complicated than that.  Part of me fears that if he was successful in his quest…some large corporation would just buy him out and warehouse the solution until they could profit from it.  What I appreciate about Eric is that he never talked about money or getting rich.  There simply are great problems out there in the wider world and he finds fulfillment in trying to resolve them.  Working on his machine has given Eric a renewed sense of purpose.  As I contemplate the prismatic colors on the surface of the water…I hope Eric finds an answer.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

iridescent colors on the water, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2015




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On the dry Indiana bank, Falls of the Ohio, Oct 2014

After my all day excursion to the Kentucky side of the fossil beds…my next visit to the park was a relatively short one.  I had a few hours to work with and decided to check out the riverbank on the Indiana side.  It has been very dry of late and I heard on the radio that farmers have begun revising their optimism about this year’s corn crop.  Once again, we have had a season that seems atypical in a few respects.  Most notably, our summer has been a cool one.  No temperatures in the high 90 or 100 degree range…that would be about 35 to 38 degrees on the Celsius scale.  Climatologists point to the cold Arctic air that came sweeping down from Canada during July as the reason our summer was not as hot.  People around here aren’t complaining about that, but after last year’s polar vortex winter… folks are wondering if that bodes well for this year’s fall and winter?

Cracked, drying mud, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

In addition to the coolness, it’s also been dry of late.  Seems that we haven’t had a significant rain storm to speak of in weeks and the river continues to recede.  New pools are formed stranding fish in them and many creatures take advantage of this bounty.  Walking along the cracked riverbank I find evidence of this.

Dead Longnose gar and decaying Bull gill, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I soon came across dead fish left behind in the wake of weekend fishermen.  In this picture, an armored and toothy Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) lies side by side with an equally interesting fish that is rarely found here.  With its thick body, white caudil fins, and unique pectoral fins…I identify this smaller fish.  It’s more commonly called a Bull Gill, but science also recognizes it as (Taurus opercula).  I wonder if there are any other specimens hiding in the deeper pools around here?  To find out, I gather waste monofilament line found all along the riverbank along with a found lead-headed jig and before too long I have improvised a hand line for fishing.

Bull Gill on a hand line, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Bull Gill on the line, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

After some trial and error, I succeeded in catching a Bull Gill by bumping my jig along the bottom of a wide, but shallow pool.  The fish was well hooked and after a short struggle I was able to bring him up for a better look.

Bull Gill in hand, Falls of the Ohio, October 2014

Captured Bull Gill facing left, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I hurriedly take as many photographs as I can.  My intention is to release this fish back into the water after I document its presence here at the Falls of the Ohio.  As you can see, this fish contrasts greatly with the dead gar we saw earlier.  The gar is in fact a more ancient and primitive fish that relies on its hard armor for protection.  The gar is mostly a surface fish mimicking a floating piece of wood while it stealthily seeks out smaller fish to ambush.  The gar’s strategy has been so successful that it has changed little after millions of years.  The Bull Gill evolved much later and lacks prominent scales on its more compact body.  It too, however has evolved a unique method of feeding.

Bull Gill seen head on, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Bull Gill supporting itself on its pectoral fins, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The Bull Gill gets its name from its powerfully muscled head.  Just below and behind its gill covers, the unique pectoral fins have evolved so that this fish can support itself on the bottom of a swiftly moving stream or river.  I was able to demonstrate this with my specimen.  I placed my fish upon the rocks by the riverbank and it was able to support its body off the rocky surface using its strong and rigid fins.  In the water, the Bull Gill secures itself on the rocky bottom with its stiff pectoral fins and with its head facing upriver.  The Bull Gill is a predatory bottom feeder.  As prey fish swim by, the Bull Gill with a quick burst is able to capture its food and swallows them head first before returning to its spot on the river bottom.  I had this fish out of water for just a couple of minutes before releasing it safely back into the Ohio River.  I had to say that I enjoyed encountering a creature you don’t see every day.  It’s presence here is a good sign since the Bull Gill needs good quality water to thrive.   I gathered up my collecting bag and walking stick and decided to check out my stash of Styrofoam under the willows.

Up the riverbank and under the willows, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The willow trees are up the riverbank and the leaves are beginning to yellow more noticeably.  Along the way you pass by a couple of courses of deposited driftwood.  I love the silvery color of this wood which is due to exposure to the sun and elements.  I had a great surprise in store for me once I ducked under the cover of the trees.  For many years I have known that White-tail Deer are present in the park because their tracks are all over the place.  These ghost deer are fairly close to a populated area and extremely wary of people.  They must move around the park in the middle of the night or really early in the morning to avoid detection.

The deers' resting place, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

deer tracks in the sand, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

As I moved near my spot, I spooked a doe and her late season fawn.  I could still make out the spotted pattern on the fawn.  They were bedded down near a large log that floated into the park last year.  I first saw the doe which rose and ran off upon sighting me.  The fawn then stood up and followed after its mom.  I was unable to take a photograph because this sequence happened in just seconds.  I then followed to see if a second glimpse was possible and I even doubled back to this spot should the deer attempt the same maneuver.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get another look at them, but since they are near my outdoor studio, I will be sure to check for them next time.

My stash of Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

It had been many weeks since I last visited my larder of river-gleaned materials.  I could tell that people had been through here, but there is obviously nothing of value.  I mean what could one do with water-tumbled polystyrene and sticks?  If the river doesn’t rise anytime soon, I will come back and make something from this odd deposit.  My next post, however, will come from the Kentucky side of the fossil beds.  After this adventure, I returned with my river-polished coal and explored a few more areas around Goose Island and the hydroelectric plant.  I think I made some compelling images that speak of a sense for place and I look forward to sharing them with you.

Fall color at the Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014



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plastic pine growing out of a stump, Sept. 2013I consider this a great honor that fellow blogger Isaac Yuen focused one of his posts around my art projects from the past year and the tales I’ve created around them. For several years now, I have enjoyed Isaac’s award winning blog Ecostories. He has made me a believer in the power of the spoken and written word to convey universal truths particularly when they speak about our evolving relationship with nature. Stories are important and everyone has a story to tell. Isaac has a great way of taking on complex narratives and making them understandable. I encourage you to check out his thoughtful, positive, and beautifully written blog.

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nature's template, Falls of the Ohio

It’s been raining off and on for the past three days and so I’ve decided to give the actual Falls of the Ohio a pass this weekend.  That, however, does not mean that my heart and thoughts are ever far from the park.  Looking through my Falls image archive, I have put together a post on a topic that has been concerning me of late.  Increasingly, we feel we can manipulate nature and bend it to our desires without consequences.  Man has this vision that we can force nature into our template and that “she” will obey in predictable, obedient ways.  Ever see a square tomato grown in a cube?  Nature, however, is much more dynamic than we give her credit for and frequently presents ideas of her own.  As regular followers of the riverblog may have noticed new fauna often show up here and the consensus is that their appearance is a result of our altering the environment in myriad ways.  Over the last few years, I have also noticed some previously unknown plants.  Allow me to present a photo-bouquet of highly questionable, potentially toxic, exotic flora.

The Chemical Rose, Falls of the Ohio, 2012

Meet the Chemical Rose which is a new species I discovered at the Falls last year.  It was found growing by an area where an unknown iridescent sheen was percolating up through the sand.  It has no leaves and aside from its thorny stem, has no photosynthetic ability.  This is a fairly consistent trait of these new plants.  They may be parasitic or fungal-like, but I’m sure there is considerable variation on how they live.  The petals on the Chemical Rose are hard and seem very much like plastic.  More on this later.

The Sand Lotus, 2012

It’s beautiful in its own way, but what is it?  For lack of a better name, I call this a Sand Lotus.  It shares some characteristics with the Chemical Rose.  Notice no leaves…doesn’t need them.  It’s roots go down deep in the sand.  Like the previous rose, its petals are hard to withstand the rigors of the river.

Petrochemical Coleus

I bet I walked by this strange plant many times before something told me to look again.  I call this one the Petrochemical Coleus.  Although it has green leaves, it does not possess chlorophyll.  This specimen was growing up through the driftwood.  It’s small size also makes this one hard to see and find.

Flame Nut with seeds

Here’s the Flame Nut so-named because what passes for its foliage turns bright red when its seeds mature.  Its leaves feel very much like coarse fabric and it seems to prefer sandy environments as well.

False Pink Bell in bloom

This interesting and dare I say “lovely” flower is the Faux Pink Bell.  It combines characteristics of several of the mutant plants I’ve uncovered.  It possesses hard plastic parts as well as the softer, synthetic petals that are fabric-like.  It grows in highly disturbed, contaminated soils.  Which brings me to a theory I’ve been formulating ever since I first discovered these strange plants.  Although I’ve not done a chemical analysis on them, their resemblance to plastic can not be coincidental?  Plastic is after all organic by definition.  Plastic is derived from petroleum which is an extract from ancient life and I think there is something in the long memory of life that is presenting itself here?  We know that our traditional plastics keep breaking down to the micro level.  These really small particles are absorbed by living tissues.  Is it possible that this plastic pollution is altering life in reaction to the many changes brought about through man’s activities?  Can the long polymer chains connect with DNA?  In effect, Nature is demonstrating that it is even more plastic by molding and forming new species to harmonize with the changed environment.

Polymer Posey

I came across the Polymer Posy growing in the mud.  I believe this is as much fungus as anything else or a new theory has been presented.  Perhaps this is a carnivorous plant that traps and eats insects?  Upon inspection, there are small entry ways along its base that invite small insects like ants to go inside.

Yellow Bittercup

Growing out of the wood chips is this botanical novelty I’ve designated the Yellow Bittercup.  Again, no leaves required.  This flower can appear anytime of the year.  I came across this one last summer.

Orange Forget-me-not

The Orange Forget-me-not is indeed memorable.  It is encountered among the driftwood and may in effect break down cellulose to create its own plastic structure.  The holes in the flower trap, strain, and direct moisture and nutrients to its shallow root system.  And now for something really spectacular in a twisted way.

Polyvinyl Palm, 2012

I did a massive double take upon encountering the Polyvinyl Palm growing from the poor rocky soil in the western section of the park.  This is easily the largest of the new plants I’ve stumbled upon in my wanderings.  I had hoped to study it more, but another visitor to the park collected it.  We have discovered that it is possible to change the chemical composition of the atmosphere through our combined activities.  I believe we are simultaneously altering through chemistry the very organisms that inhabit this world with us with unintended consequences.  How long will it take before we change ourselves into something different as well?plastic tulip image

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snow covered driftwood, Dec.29, 2012

The last month of the year which began so warmly has finally delivered some cold and snow to the Falls of the Ohio.  The newspaper says that somewhere between two to four inches fell overnight.  I’m sitting in the comfort and security of my home and all is well except for that small voice in my head telling me I need to go check out the river.  The voice is persistent and annoying and makes little sense on such a bitterly cold day.  Naturally, I caved in simply because snow events are uncommon here of late and as a chronicler of the Falls, I have a self-appointed mission to document what happens.  I also know from past experiences that these snow and ice events can be beautiful and have a way of revealing a different side of this environment.  Who knows, maybe I will come across something I’ve not seen before?

Blanche in the snow, Dec. 2012

Upon arriving I discovered that my way of accessing the riverbank was gone!  The trusty wooden staircase that led from the parking lot to the river is completely missing and I think that some of the maintainance issues it had finally caught up with it?  To compound events further I discovered that my right boot has a hole in the sole and the cold water I just stepped in has made my sock and foot a soggy, frozen distraction.  I’m about ready to get back in my car when I hear that familiar voice again.

Blanche's face, detail, Dec. 2012

This time that voice wasn’t coming from within me, but rather just a short distance a head of me.  The voice reassured me I wasn’t suffering a relapse of the flu I recently overcame!  Seemingly materializing in thin air was this small, but classic version of a snowman who asked to be called “Blanche”.  I suppose that makes her a snowwoman or snowperson and it’s weird the things you think about in certain moments.  I would guess that the figure was about two feet tall or so.  She had a fishing float for a nose, coal eyes, and bits of red plastic around her neck and mouth.  Attached to her head was a rather interesting hair comb.  Blanche thanked me for showing up and apologized for “getting into my head”.  It was she who had called me to the river to tell me something important.  As she spoke, I forgot all about the hole in my boot.

Blanche rolls a snowball, Dec. 2012

Blanche rolls several snow balls, Dec. 2013

I hope I’m getting all this right because several things were happening at once.  While Blanche spoke to me she was also rolling snow into three balls of graduating sizes.  What she in essence told me was that while life did originate in the water…the relationship was deeper and richer than that.  Water was in fact “life” and the medium where its collective unconscious resides.  It is water existing from the North Pole to South Pole in all its forms like snow, rain, ice, salty, fresh, steamy, cubed, etc…that holds the memory, wisdom, and promise of life.  As it turns out water also unifies life.

As I was trying to absorb what was being told to me…I snapped a few photos and hoped that the cold wouldn’t affect my digital camera.  Blanche took the three balls she created and stacked them one on top of the other.

Blanche creates a friend, Dec. 2012

As I watched, Blanche added a gold plastic hat she found as well as an orange golf tee for a nose.  As she worked Blanche hummed a song and I watched in astonishment as a second snowperson appeared before me!  Blanche said his name is “Frio”.

Blanche and Frio, Dec. 2012

Frio and Blanche, alternate view, Dec. 2012

It was the most incredible display I had ever seen!  Right before my eyes the seemingly inert snow took on another form that came to life and reinforced some of Blanche’s message to me.  There would be more.  Frio then asked me to continue to tell the water’s story through my blog because the fate of water and life was more important than ever.  It was vital that water remained as pure and clean as possible or the normal rhythm of the planet would be disturbed. He told me that the internet was something similar to the collective unconscious and the best way to send out a message to the billions of people now living on the planet.  Water and life need all the friends that can be mustered to act on its behalf.

Blanche and Frio singing, Dec. 2012

My encounter with the Snow Folk ended in song.  Before Blanche and Frio headed out they sang a song to the Falls celebrating how this is a unique place on the planet where time and space intersect in interesting ways.  There was a verse dedicated to me and the continued success of my project now entering its tenth year.

Blanche and Frio depart, Dec. 2012

I was completely charmed and captivated and thanked the Snow Folk for the song.  I watched them turn and walk into the river where they completely disappeared.  I’m still trying to digest this experience.  It’s not everyday that water speaks to you in your own language.  Thankfully, I have these photographs to show you and to add weight to Blanche and Frio’s message to us.  After a while, I felt the cold again and decided this time that a mug of hot chocolate or coffee would help me feel my fingers and toes again.  Happy New Year to you all from the Falls of the Ohio.  See you in 2013.

skyline of Louisville, KY at year's end, Dec. 2012

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Dear readers…I have so much to post and have fallen a couple of weeks behind.  The work a day world has been extra busy (and rewarding) of late.  Still, I have made time to go to the river and “do my thing” to maintain my peace of mind.  It’s time now to post my images and tell a story.  The following post occurred two weeks a go when the river was high and I decided to spend the day in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  At this point, I was fairly certain that the materials I found and cached at my outdoor studio in the eastern section were either gone or the river was about to take them.  I ventured forward-looking for “fresh” materials and opportunities.

My walk took me past the marvelous tree that the local kids (among others) like to use as a hang out.  I can imagine many potential childhood memories centered around this tree for the folks who grew up with it.  On this day everything was quiet and in fact I didn’t see anybody out here at all.  That bodes really well if you want to see wildlife.  It has been so unseasonably warm…that I wonder how that will affect how spring unfolds this year?  Later we would set several records for high temps in the lower 80’s for early March!!! Technically, it’s still winter here…very odd indeed.  I had heard that a pair of bald eagles were attempting to set up a nest in the far western section of the park and I was hoping to see at least signs of the birds.  I wasn’t lucky on this day with the eagles, but I did come across a few other interesting wildlife objects courtesy of the Ohio River.  For example, here’s the first goldfish I’ve found out here.

This fish stood out against the river pebbles like a red beacon.  I could have found it with one eye closed! We have other invasive carp species out in the river now, but this was a new one.  An actual goldfish probably wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the river’s natural predators.  The non-native carp that have entered the river system eat constantly and grow really fast and large.  It will be a great challenge to rid the river of them. I picked up the neon goldfish and dropped it into my collecting bag.  Here’s what I came across next in the way of wildlife.

Swimming at the river’s edge I stumbled upon this golden sea turtle.  It was playing among the bubbles and rootlets.  Again, here was an image that was unnaturally beautiful…like the current weather.  The pattern we have been experiencing is that the river will rise and then fall in quick succession as the Army Corps of Engineers regulates the water level for commerce and flood control.  Walking even further west I came across this “elephant’s graveyard” of plastic and my heart sank.  You can pick this stuff up all day long and it seems the next day gives you a fresh supply. Sometimes it feels like you are rolling that proverbial rock uphill only to have it roll back down.  What’s happening up river from us?

As you can see…it’s not a pretty picture.  Mostly plastic containers like old milk jugs and laundry detergent packaging.  As this plastic weathers and breaks down from UV light, the pieces keep getting smaller and smaller without ever completely disappearing.  The next stop could be the Gulf of Mexico. I found one other notable object and set it up among the still bare branches awaiting the new leaves of the year.  This is also the first time I have come across one of these things.

It’s either an artificial palm or banana tree?  As the day continued to warm I wondered to myself about how plants might be reacting to climate change?  Are the warmer weather plants moving northwards and what else will this change? While I was musing on this I received an answer in a most unlikely form.  My “banana palm” was visited by an unusual bird.

Here’s another first! Leave it to the only Banana Palm Mockingbird to find the only banana tree around here.  I watched transfixed as the bird explored the tree and the surrounding area.  A bird of this species is more likely to be seen in Central America than mid America.  I don’t know much more about it.  I saw it investigate the river’s edge for food and here are a couple more images to prove it was here.

Here’s the mockingbird with Louisville’s skyline visible on the opposite shore.

The mockingbird didn’t hang out for very long and soon it was time for me to head back.  I’m going to be off for the next couple of days and will attempt to post more of my adventures…if the call of the river doesn’t get me first!  Have a great weekend everybody!




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On a recent expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I came across a small section of the Ohio River within the park that surprised me because of all the coal I found.    Over this warmer than usual January, the Ohio River has fluctuated due to the rain and snow that have fallen upriver from us.  While it made for interesting photographs, the contrast between the muddy waters and the blackness of the shoreline was also disturbing.  It made me wonder if this would become part of the new normal conditions that I would keep encountering upon each visit to the park?  As I walked along with my camera and collecting bag in hand I kept wondering why all this coal was showing up here? I kept looking for witnesses that might provide clues and insights into this alarming situation at the river.

The first potential witness I came across was this toy reindeer who was staring up at the sky with eyes as black as coal.  I asked it if it knew what had happened…but the plush toy with matted fur said nothing and just looked at me.  I shrugged it off and continued down the riverbank looking for answers.  Soon I came to another toy and posed the same question to it.

I asked, “Do you know what happened here?”  The small plastic monkey just laughed and told me to keep walking.  What I was seeking was just ahead.  He then nonchalantly rolled over on his side with this bemused look on his face.  At least that was something to go on and I continued walking not knowing what to look for but trusted I would recognize it when I saw it.  Before long I came to another toy and thought it might know what had happened, but first I had to do a little bit of work.

Poking out of the driftwood was this doll head and at first I thought that this was all that was left of this unfortunate toy.  I began to walk away when the head spoke to me and said that if I would help it out…in thanks it would help me too.  It took a bit of doing, but I was able to move the branches and small logs that were covering it and soon the complete doll saw the light of day again.

The doll was water-logged and dirty and I noticed that one of its arms was broken.  After recovering for a moment, the doll said the reason the beach was black had to do with the hand of man.  If I kept walking east that this would become clearer.  I thanked the doll and left it where I found it and moved on.  Soon I would find other evidence that would support what the doll told me.

About ten minutes later I came upon this old rubber glove and figured I was getting nearer to the “hand of man”.  As I continued down the river’s edge  I began to find bits and pieces of discarded machinery along the way.  The first find was an old generator and this is how I found it in the sand.

Near it was another buried machine that was being washed over by the waves of the Ohio River.  I took this photograph and kept walking.

I figured I was getting nearer my quest when I saw this monstrous truck with immense tires  parked in the coal dust, wood chips, and mud.   Was this vehicle somehow involved with the coal?

The truck was still functional and I surmised that its operator was probably near by.  It didn’t take me long to locate him.  He was taking a break and having a meal in a section of the park that had experienced a fire a few months a go.  I decided to approach him to ask about the coal.

With one jaundiced eye, the truck driver looked me over and took another bite from whatever he was eating.  He asked me what I wanted and I posed my coal question to him.  The driver admitted that he indeed had played a hand in this environmental destruction, but wasn’t willing to take full responsibility.  He said it was part of the cost of keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer and that it provided much-needed jobs during these economic hard times.  He further added that if I truly was looking for someone to blame I didn’t need to go any farther than the person I saw staring back at me in a nearby pool of still water.  Of course, what I saw was my own reflection and I understood the truck driver’s point of view.  I left the driver to his meal and started for home.  I resolved then and there that I could at least do the little things to reduce my own demands for energy.  I would start by looking around my house for ways to save electricity.  Now where are those funny shaped light bulbs?

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