Posts Tagged ‘found art’

Exposed fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Once a year, usually in mid to late summer, the dam is closed and the water retreats off of and exposes the ancient Devonian fossil beds.  It is an other worldly landscape of blonde-colored rocks that preserves in limestone the proof that life existed over 400 million years ago.  This exact place during that time too ancient to imagine was in the latitude of the present day Bahama Islands.  Then it is was a marine reef supporting early salt water animals, most especially a large variety of corals. Today, this is a fresh water environment defined by the Ohio River. My goal is to cross over to the Kentucky side (where the majority of the fossil beds are located) by wading through the shallower areas near the tainter gates.  Unfortunately, and unforseen by me, all the recent high water has made the riverbank a slippery muddy mess and the current that is allowed to flow through a channel by the dam is still too strong to wade through.  I got almost half way across and found the footing treacherous.  I didn’t fear for my personal safety, but I didn’t want to risk dunking my camera and phone in the water.  Thwarted today, I will need to make better provisions for that the next time I attempt this.

Black vulture on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

So, I did the next best thing which was to explore the riverbank and nearby Willow Habitat.  The resident colony of Black Vultures was hanging out under what shade some of these willow trees could provide.  The bird in the above image is a sentry maintaining its post outside of where the main group of birds were resting under the nearby trees.  The vulture flock doesn’t seem as large as it has been in the recent past.  Perhaps the prolonged conditions of having a high river forced some of these large birds of prey to seek greener pastures?  The vultures would allow me to only get so close before jumping into the air in search of thermals to lift them even higher.  I continued my modified trip by walking towards the fossil cliffs below the Interpretive Center.

cracked, drying mud at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

It was a very hot day and in places you would come across areas that were once very wet and had dried revealing a wonderful network of cracks.

Artist at Exit 0 re-hydrating, Falls of the Ohio, mid Aug. 2015

I’m proud of myself.  In addition to wearing a cap…I made sure to bring along plenty of drinking water on this very hot and humid day.  Here my bottle is wrapped in a heavy mil plastic bagel bag.  I used this to keep the other items in my pack dry just in case this bottle leaked.  I continued my hike to the fossil cliffs when I could see something snow-white in color moving along the ground.  At first I thought this was a piece of paper disturbed by the breeze, but soon noticed it was moving in bird-like fashion.  I continued approaching very carefully yet deliberately and had my cameras at the ready.  Here is my first image of what would soon be many.

The Yellow-collared Sandpiper at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Switching over to higher magnification, I could see my new bird was a species I had never encountered out here before.  In the comfort of my own home I was able to identify this little guy as the Yellow-collared Sandpiper (Caladris fascinati).  This is a tiny shorebird more at home in the Pacific Northwest and has rarely been recorded east of the Mississippi River.  This is the first recorded instance of this bird at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  So, what was it doing here so far away from home?

Yellow-collared Sandpiper, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Yellow-collared Sandpiper, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

It is not unusual for this park to record rarities during the migration seasons in early spring and autumn.  To see this bird here outside the normal times shorebirds would be migrating through our area makes me think this bird is here by accident.  Perhaps one of the monster storms we have experienced this year blew this little one way off course?  Looking at my reference guides, I identified this as being a juvenile of the species.  You can tell that by the pink bill.  Once fully mature, the bill turns dark, nearly black in color.  I have recorded other juvenile shorebirds migrating through the park on other Falls of the Ohio adventures.  In particular, I remember seeing juvenile Golden Plovers and once…even saw a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher.  What makes these sightings all the more incredible for me is knowing that a few short weeks ago…these birds were beginning life as eggs in shallow nests located in the high Arctic tundra.  Normally, the Yellow-collared Sandpiper migrates down the Pacific coastline of the United States, crosses into Mexico, and winters in Central America.  This is a journey of several thousand miles.

Yellow-collared Sandpiper at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, mid August 2015

I observed this bird for about a half hour or so.  I watched it feeding around the margins of small pools of water that had puddled on the fossil beds.  It used its pink bill to probe the soft mud in search of the tiny invertebrates that make up the bulk of its diet.  The bird seemed not to be concerned about me and I took many photographs to document its presence in the park.

Yellow-billed Sandpiper on the fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

The mouse-like bird moved like a wind-up toy on the fossil rocks.  When it moved, its tiny legs seemed to be going as quickly as they could.  The sandpiper had a curiosity for the world and checked out every clump of vegetation and crack upon the limestone surface as potential sources for food.  Perhaps it was the hawk that flew high over our heads casting a fast shadow upon these ancient reefs that scared it away or perhaps it just grew tired of my company…regardless, the Yellow-collared Sandpiper flew away in a blur of brown wings.  I thought I could detect a high “peep” call note as it went skyward.  Heading back to my vehicle, I had one more pleasant surprise in store for me.  While this is not on par for rarity, seeing the beginning of the Monarch butterfly migration going through our small piece of the planet is still an awesome occasion.  Like the Yellow-collared Sandpiper, the Monarch butterfly has a very impressive migration of its own as it moves from Canada to Mexico and back again.  On my way home, I said a little prayer asking for the continued safety of all the small things moving through the world.  I guess that’s it for this time at the Falls of the Ohio.

Monarch butterfly feeding at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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August has been the toughest month and I have two measly posts to show for it.  The ankle is better and thanks for all the well wishes I received.  I guess my other newsworthy item is that my trusty camera broke while on expedition to the Falls of the Ohio.  I received the dreaded “lens error restart the camera” message and of course everything I tried after reading whatever I could about fixing it…didn’t work.  Now, I will need to have the pros look at it.  Although I have  never dropped my camera, I am, however, guilty of working in a dusty and sandy environment.  I’ll bet a well placed grain of sand is all it takes to render the most precise instrument useless.  If my camera proves to be a lost cause…then this was its last adventure.

A couple of weeks a go I was approached by a person who was looking for a friend that was last seen at the Falls of the Ohio.  The missing individual had made a phone call to his friend stating where he was and that he would remain at the Falls for a while, but had not been heard from since then.  I was being asked to guide the concerned friend to the places mentioned in their phone conversation.  Perhaps the missing individual would still be there or some clues as to what happened to him?  Our journey took us to the western section of the park over the sweltering fossil beds.  Like I mentioned earlier, August has been a bear.

We walked by large areas of purple loosestrife flowers that were growing in the moist soil and sands near the edge of the river.  For a few moments, we lingered over the flowers and watched all the insects drawn to them.  There was a profusion of butterflies and more than a few exotic wasps and bees.  Each year it seems the loosestrife flowers are spreading and their nectar should make the insects very happy.  The place we were walking to was just a head of us.  I featured it in a recent post called the “Mahalo Tree House”.  It’s a wonderful old cottonwood tree that recently was turned into a “club house” by kids I think?  Here are two recent views as we approached the tree.

My guest became excited to see this unique tree house and mentioned to me that it was exactly as described in his friend’s conversation.  We walked over a couple old fire pits that proved this site had been occupied recently.  I made a few mental notes of other changes I observed since my last visit, but kept those to myself.

My companion grew excited when he spotted the plastic rabbit in his clay niche.  This was one of the details mentioned by the missing friend. There was another clue as well.

The garbage bag that had been left behind during my last visit was now full.  Who was going to carry it up the bank to dispose of in a responsible manner?  There were other signs that started to make me feel uneasy.  What do you make of this?

Do you think it is respectful to the tree to spray paint it?  I think not.  There were other ill omens all around us.  Someone or some group had been decorating the place with found bones.  Several clusters of bones were hanging on the end of strings attached to the tree.  Here’s an example of this.

The oddest bone creation, however, was the weird face we found.  It was made from a pelvis and vertebrae that I think originally belonged to a small deer.  Some man-made elements in the form of fishing float eyes and a fake flower were also added.  It took me a moment to register where the eyes might have originally came from.  Black magic marker was used to draw additional designs on the bone.  The head’s eyes had a way of following you around the interior of the tree house.  The bone additions definitely made the place seem primitive.

My guest and I were feeling uneasy when we made the discovery.  We found the missing friend or what was left of him behind the main trunk of the cottonwood tree.

It was too difficult to tell if the friend had succumbed to natural causes or had help of some kind?  All that was left were the bones and fortunately none of them was used to decorate the tree.  One part of the mystery had been solved…the friend had been found.  It was decided to leave the remains were they lay so that law enforcement could conduct their investigation.

All that was left now was to say good-bye and retrace our steps along the river.  My companion was quiet for the most part.  The one time he broke his silence was when we passed two barefoot boys playing next to the water.  The surviving friend said it reminded him of his own childhood when he and his late sidekick would skip rocks off the surface of the Ohio River.  Here’s hoping September will be a kinder month.

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The fishing had been good and attracted both experienced and novice fisherman.  People were catching some of the smaller striped bass and the occasional catfish.  Summer has descended full-bore with its twins…heat and humidity and so a visit to the river is a welcome diversion for many.  The parking lots around the park are full.  To me, this is a mixed blessing.  You want those who can appreciate nature and the surrounding area to enjoy themselves, however, there is always that element present that can’t resist despoiling for their own selfish reasons.  Sometimes it seems that visitors leave as much trash here as the river does in its wildest moods.  Please pack your garbage out.  After checking out the fishermen, I head up the bank to locate my last project with its polystyrene figure.

I’m not shocked at all to come across Joe Coalman’s eyeless skull resting in the hot sand.  To be honest, I would be more amazed to find him still intact.  My postmortem revealed that he had the stuffing knocked out of him.  I found his body about thirty yards from his head.  I take some photographs and gather the remains.  I’ll probably recycle him into another project in the future.  As for the tire with the coal in it…

…well, it too has been altered.  I can see how a standing Styrofoam figure would make a tempting target, but what about a tire filled with coal?  It must have provoked someone because the coal had been knocked out.  The black rocks were scattered all around.  I regathered them, but I could not find all the coal that was originally in the tire.  Curiously, if you look at the rim of the tire you will see something I had not originally placed there.  It’s a tiny white clam shell left perhaps by another visitor?  I appreciated this simple gesture and moved on.  Soon I reached my outdoor atelier with its latest cache of Styrofoam.  I laid Joe Coalman, skull and all back into the pile and wondered what to do next?

While sitting on the enormous wooden beam that defines one side of my outdoor studio, I spied something interesting on an equally impressive log.  Growing along the margins of an old bird dropping was this wonderful fungus.  At the Falls of the Ohio, there are many different types of fungi that help break down the organic bonanza that washes into here.  I wish I knew more about them, but realize that this is another entire field of study.  Nevertheless, fungi are of immense importance and help recycle nutrients among the many other useful services they perform.  With this particular fungus, it looked like it was on the downward cycle having already released its spores from the fruiting bodies that were now arranged like some organic version of Stonehenge.  After studying this curiosity for a few minutes, I settled into the familiar activity of creating a figure that would be the benchmark for the day.  Before revealing it to you…here are a couple of other things that I want to show you that I happened across during my walk.

I’m always looking at the evidence and trying to figure out what occurred at a particular place?  Here a fisherman on his way back to the rest of his life has dumped out his bait bucket and left the four tiny bluegills in the sand.  Perhaps they were dead already since fish in a bucket die of oxygen loss without an aerator to cycle air back into the water?  I wondered if the use of these bluegills broke any laws since using other sport fish for bait is generally frowned upon?  I could imagine the size of the bucket from the wet area in the sand.  The silver circular object is the bottom of an aluminum can.  Near this scene, I also came across this discovery.

Less than a stone’s throw from the dead fish I found this arrangement in the sand.  I love it when people opt to leave their mark on the land in this fashion.  Present were two complete circles in the sand defined by upright sticks with mounded sand in their centers.  In my mind, I imagined two gears or cogs moving in response to each other.  The movement of the sun provided some of the energy needed to activate this metaphorical machine.  I decided that this place was a good site to unveil my latest figure which implies movement too.  I let it dance throughout this arrangement in the sand.

Maybe this was originally made by a child while his family fished?  It doesn’t matter because it gave me something positive to react with and made my day.  Feeling satisfied, I started back to my own vehicle, but there would be one more surprise on this day.  Perhaps this was also made by the same folks who did the circles in the sand?  Again, sticks were employed albeit much longer in length.  See for yourselves.

Logs and long branches were leaned against a willow tree and the effect implied shelter to me.  Other long sticks were placed upright into the sand and helped define the area.  A wooden palette was dragged to this location and left to provide seating.  Because the materials used are all local, it would be very easy to walk by this if you weren’t paying attention.  That’s one of the things my Styrofoam figures have working against them…their stark whiteness usually gives them away even at some distance.  But then again, for me that’s part of what I do which is to call attention to the stuff that doesn’t belong out here and through a little creativity, show what can be done.  I appreciate the stick pieces because they only use the natural materials that are out here.  I wish I could do this more often myself, but this isn’t the reality I usually discover out here.  Leaving the area, I came by this wonderful flower and in its center…was this tiny bee carrying on as her kind has for as long as there have been flowers in need of pollination.  Until next time.

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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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Fish Sand Drawing, 8/09

With the power plant behind us, I retrace my steps in the sand along Goose Island.  At the moment, there is shade.  Once we venture back onto the fossil beds we may get momentary cover from a passing cloud.   I stopped along the sand bank and made one more Styrofoam figure from materials found along the way.  He’s a simple guy with one very apparent attribute.  He has a bright yellow belly button.

Figure with Big Nose, 8/09

He’s made from found Styrofoam, sticks, various plastics, bark, and nuts.  I decide to take him with me and work him into other images.  I briefly watched a cormorant swimming near my position.  One moment his head was up in the air and then the next he was in underwater pursuit of some fish.  Continuing my walk, I’m heading towards the fossil beds and the remains of a 19thcentury dike.  I like some of the views of the skyline of Louisville from here.  With the water being so low, the exposed rocks create an other worldly sight.  Walking on the rocks it’s easy to imagine you are walking on an alien and ancient surface because it is!

Louisville skyline from dike at the Falls of the Ohio, 8/09

Figure on the Dike, 8/09

Here are two views from the Goose Island Dike.  You can see how this barrier divides the fossil beds from the Prairie Grass Habitat on the right.  This is where I left this figure…with his legs wedged in the crack of a broken rock.  I left him for someone else to find and enjoy.

Louisville skyline as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, 8/09

Moving down from the dike and onto to the fossil beds, I’m going to follow the river’s edge.  A small and noisey flock of Killdeer plovers scatters in front of me.  From here you can see how the water has sculpted this limestone into a pock marked wave.  It’s not the easiest surface to walk on and it’s very slippery when wet.  I have always liked this view and feel it’s worth the trek.  It’s like looking at a cross section of the history of life.  It’s ancient rocks represent a moment long ago when life was tropical and the water tasted salty.  Now, we are at a different latitude and the environment has shifted over deep time.  Fresh water now governs this landscape and we cling to it down to its very edge.  The tourist in me is saying my camera’s memory card is full for today and so this marks the end of this particular trip over the fossil beds.  I hope to return soon.  Perhaps the early fall when the sycamore and willow tree leaves start to turn yellow and ducks are in the air.

View of Louisville from the Falls of the Ohio, 8/09

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