Posts Tagged ‘relational art’

Under the Big Tree, Nov. 2012

I have heard stories about this land and river that are supposed to be very old and have been handed down for generations.  Folks back then told each other stories and that’s how things became remembered.  Back then, it also wasn’t unusual to find a young one that knew their family’s history by heart and able to recite the names of all the known ancestors going back as far as people could  remember.  People in the old days must have been very smart and had better senses of memory than we do today.  Before writing and such, I wonder if people back in the old days held jobs as living books and sources of information? But I digress… which brings me to yesterday when I encountered the most unexpected sight at the Falls of the Ohio!  I first learned about this mystery as a little guy while listening to stories over a camp fire with my recent ancestors.  It’s about these special trees that are rumored to live around here that have the ability to uproot themselves and move around.  I didn’t believe it either and chalked it up as being another fun story like the Prince Madoc legend, but then I saw these rare trees with my own eyes!  And, because these days we have cameras…I took a few snapshots of them so that you can see them too.  Check this out.

Sycamore tree, roots and rocks, Nov. 2012

The old stories mention that the boundary between the earth and the water has always been a difficult place to live.  It’s an extreme back and forth existence living at the margins of too much or too little.  There’s not much nutrition coming out of these fabled rocks, but then again the limestone at least gives you something to hold on to.  Water has a way of insinuating itself around every nook and cranny and is always testing allegiances.  Around here, some of the trees have learned that they can improve their lot in life by pulling up roots and going elsewhere.  You see, some trees have long memories and they know when it’s time for that great once in a thousand years flood or some other cyclical disaster to come back around.  Or epic memories are shocked and encoded into the rock and soil and trees are just better at reading and interpreting what it could mean?I’m guessing that some of the trees around the Falls of the Ohio like to be prepared or are skittish or both and have begun the very gradual process of being somewhere else.

uprooting trees at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

I came across this small mobile grove not far away from the first tree I showed you.  This is an incredible response by these trees to the rise and fall of the river.    The river dissolves  the silt, sand, and mud away from the riverbank and exposes the tree’s rootlet toes which are always growing. Water currents and the rocking back and forth of the wind further helps loosen roots from soil.  These trees are vibrating and creeping along with most of their roots on the surface with just enough tendrils into the earth to hold on to dear life.  Good thing too or else one day you could find yourself swept away.  I have seen it happen before as in this recent example by the creek.  This tree fell into the water and will never right itself or hold the riverbank up as it formerly did and one day it will be swept away by the river to somewhere unintended.

Tree that recently fell off of the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

So much water is a mixed blessing.  Just enough and the trees can move a little more than usual.  Too much water and they run the risk of losing control. This mixed lot of trees seems to be moving westward.  Park officials have reported that there seems to be more of a sense of urgency on the trees’ part and they have picked up the pace over the last few years.  I wonder how they know when and where to stop and should I be worried?  Do the walking trees signify a bad omen for the future and is some environmental disaster looming ahead of us?

uprooted tree trio at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

Of course life travels at its own speed.  Our tree friends here cannot out run this year’s spent leaves gathering around their feet, but they have patience.  They don’t have the same concept of time as we do. An inch or centimeter or two here and there and progress will be made even if it takes many seasons.  Moving in ultra slow motion, they will either get to their intended destinations or not.  Come to think about it…trees don’t have the same concept of speed either!

Tall figure under the Great Tree, Nov. 2012

Trees have their own internal logic and physics that they respond to.  My tall friend here is a case in point.  He’s an old cottonwood tree and long a go he too was a walking tree.  You can tell from looking at these fantastic roots that buttress the tree from the river and elements.  For some reason known only to the tree…he decided to stay here and put down his roots.

Figure with big sheet of plastic, Nov. 2012

Over time the cottonwood thrived.  Its roots held the riverbank in place and kept it from sliding into the river.  With this particular tree, a small, sheltering space grew directly under the tree’s tall trunk.  Visitors would bring discarded boards and other river finds ( like this large sheet of corrugated and molded plastic) to make forts and tree houses.  This one site has seen plenty of play and fantasy over the many years and has always been recognized as a special tree.

Figure by large cottonwood tree, Nov. 2012

This just occurred to me.  What if the moving trees are just a matter of perception and they really are trying to stay in one place?  What if it’s the rest of the world that is moving so quickly and constantly like one big blur and the trees are holding life in place?  The walking trees have remained where they have germinated and everything else around them has quickly shifted. Because we are so near to it we don’t recognize the movement.  Could time also be as fluid as water seeking out the nooks and crannies and testing allegiances too?  All this head-scratching stuff is making me dizzy on such a fine day by the river.

Great Cottonwood tree at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

Unbeknownst to the brown-headed philosopher under the cottonwood, but changes to our area are forthcoming.  This year was the warmest year ever recorded.  The environmental chess board has been set and the game is on.  Pieces are moving and strategies are evolving and somewhere on the Ohio River another pawn is moving into place a little nearer to the cottonwood tree.

Tree with exposed roots, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

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View with Interpretive Center, 8/09

Now this feels more like summer.  The Ohio Valley heat and humidity just grabs your breath and makes it heavy.  After the flash flooding and torrential rains, I thought the park would look a lot different than it does.  You can see that the river did get high because piles of driftwood form a meandering line where the water stopped and receded.  I checked out the new arrangements, but the object that stands out as the find of the day was a plastic, crinkled, French fry!  Something new for the “Fake Food Collection”. dragonfly, 8/09


All manner of insect life is present today.  Various dragonfly species patrol the air space just above my head.  I watched a small thread-waisted wasp carry a caterpillar across the sand.  Ants follow their chemical trails through the driftwood.  Some of the willow trees are exuding a sap that’s attractive to dark-bodied flies and an occasional monarch butterfly floats by.  With all this buggy activity, I can feel the energy of life all around me.

Head of Starry-eyed figure, 8/09

The river stopped just short of my studio site.  As I was walking towards it with today’s finds I could hear the voices of children coming from that direction.  For the first time, I actually came across people standing in my spot.  I know I surprised “Grandma” and her two grand children, a boy and a girl.  She explained very quickly that she lives in Clarksville and wanted to take the kids to the river and get exposure to nature.  The girl was holding a small doll I had found months ago and her brother was carrying the wooden ax I had fashioned for my Prince Madoc figure.  Grandma said that they just came across my site and thought some old drunk had hauled all this trash to this spot!  No I explained, it’s just me…some other kind of eccentric with artistic inclinations.  Grandma, however, wasn’t interested in continuing the conversation and the boy laid down the faux weapon.  I said he could have it and his eyes lit up in the way boy’s eyes shine when they get to hold sticks and guns and there is a suggestion of danger.  I told him that if he struck anything with the ax that it would just fall apart.  Grandma said that if they ran into trouble that she wasn’t too worried.  She dug her hand into one of her short’s pockets and pulled out a wicked looking black folding knife!

Starry-eyed figure w/ Gold Ornament, 8/09

Standing proudly by the river is today’s figure!  It’s all stuff I came across between the parking lot and my studio spot.  The plastic star is either a child’s cookie cutter or a clay tool of some sort.  In the center of the star is an acorn.  The other eye combines an orange foam fishing bobber with the cap from a milk jug.  The nose is a fake, plastic tube of lipstick.  The ears are made from the bottom of an aluminum can.  Can you guess what the mouth is?  It’s a hair barrette.  On the end of some old fishing line, the figure holds a plastic, gold ornament of some kind.  I like the way it shines in the light.  I attached the sole of a child’s sandal to the body to create another area of interest.  The rest is Styrofoam and driftwood sticks.

Starry-eyed figure by river, 8/09

I had forgotten how uncomfortable the heat can make things.  My t-shirt and jeans were sticking to my skin.  On such a warm day, why don’t I wear shorts…surely that would be cooler?  Yes, but over the years I have torn my legs up on sharp-bladed grasses, endured insect bites and poison ivy, scratched myself climbing over driftwood and bruised my knees slipping on wet fossil rocks.  You get tired continually healing from something.  I can live with a little perspiration every now and then.

By the wier dam, 8/09

This image was taken under the railroad bridge and next to the eastern tainter gates.  The parking lot is just beyond and up on the hill.  It’s hard to imagine that the level of the river is just about to the top of the wall on the right.  You can’t get any lower in the valley than being at the bottom of the Ohio River, but here at the Falls you can get a feeling for that.  I noticed that the leaves are starting to turn yellow and so summer’s days are numbered.  I did pass a stand of broad-leaved arrowhead plants with their white flowers and thought this a good way to end this post.

Broad-leaved Arrowhead in bloom, 8/09

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Black Robe, 5/09

Had a few hours to play around and so I constructed this small figure fairly quickly.  It’s just a reminder that among the first Europeans to venture down the Ohio River were French missionaries who called these waters La Belle Riviere…..the Beautiful River.  This piece is constructed from Styrofoam, sticks, acorns, plastic, and what appears to be a rubber-like material (neoprene?)…that’s the material that makes up the robe.

mallard eggs, 5/09

I was walking by a hollow log and a female mallard duck burst out and scared the “heck” out of me!  I wondered what this duck was doing a few hunderd yards away from the water and when I poked my head inside I found her nest with eggs.  I took this quick photo and retreated.  I think we both gave each other a good fright!

beaver skull, 5/09

Even with the incissors gone, I identified this as a beaver skull.  It’s a fairly heavy and dense assemblage of bone.  The rest of the skeleton is nearby, but it still has some decomposing to do.  I photographed a beaver sitting on its tail during high waters last year.  I think of this animal as being one of my collaboraters because I love to use beaver-chewed willow sticks in my art.  As they nibble the bark off, their teeth leave marks in the wood that add a subtle pattern.  The beaver are making enough of a comeback here that in places they are considered a nuisance.

Beaver, Spring 2008

Here’s the beaver photo from last year.  He was drying his fur on the bank when he heard my camera and dashed for the water.  Sitting on its tail, it seems almost contemplative.  I like that the French word for river and reverie sound similar.  Here’s one last image of “Black Robe”. 

Black robe, 5/09

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