Posts Tagged ‘river story’

Distant view of Louisville skyline as seen from Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

It’s a fresh month at the Falls of the Ohio.  Today has opened up on the cloudy side and there is a slight chance for rain…but I’m going to risk it anyway.  The lure of the river is too strong and I’m looking forward to exploring the western fringes of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Stray migrating Monarch butterflies pass by me and the loosestrife flowers are still in bloom.  I can tell the inevitable changing of the seasons is near.  Already I can detect a slight yellowing occurring in the canopies of the willow and cottonwood trees.  In a few weeks, all these leaves will be on the ground and ready to become recycled by and for life.

Old man as seen from the back, Sept. 2014

I’m walking along the shoreline which is a mix of limestone rocks and sandy/muddy beaches.   Mostly I’m being engaged by my own thoughts which change quickly like the reflections on the water.  I was so preoccupied by my own surrender to nature that I did not immediately notice the elderly gentleman sitting on a nearby log.  With a motion of his arm, the figure said to me in a clear voice, “It’s alright my man, I saw you coming down the beach.  Wonderful day to be alive isn’t it?”  I replied something affirmative and instinctively walked towards him.

Old Man drinking tea, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

Old Man holding a Thermos cup, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

“Now that I’m retired…I like to come out here and sit by the river.  Can’t think of a better place to have my morning tea and breathe deeply,” said the old man.  I admit to being intrigued by him and I’ll bet he’s a real character too.  I also sensed a kindred spirit since he was doing essentially the same thing as me, namely hanging out by the river.  I asked where he was from and with a nod over his shoulder, he said:

“My friends call me Jimmy D. on account of my bulbous nose. I don’t expect someone as young as you would remember the entertainer Jimmy Durante?”  I told him I had heard the name before, but it really was before my time.  Jimmy D. then said, “I’m a life-long resident of Clarksville, Indiana.  You know, that little town beyond the giant berm behind us?  I was just a boy in 1937 when the whole town disappeared under twelve feet of Ohio River flooding. My family and I spent about a month with kin in Indianapolis before we could move back and start over.  They had to rebuild the whole place because it’s just too historically important…you know, we date back to 1783 and we’re the oldest settlement in the Northwest Territory?”

I agreed that is indeed a great distinction and one I noticed being touted on several signs in the local parks.  I then gave Jimmy D. my particulars which included my name, being an artist, and living across the river in Louisville.  I then said, “Jimmy, I guess that makes us Metro neighbors.”

Jimmy D. drinking tea, Sept. 2014, Falls of the Ohio

I decided that I had a few minutes to get to know Jimmy better.  When I make my excursions to the river…I try (not always successfully) to not rush things and be in a hurry.  I will confess, thinking about time and the nature of time has become a preoccupation with me of late.  I see so many people rushing around and I wonder what’s so important about being in two places at once?

Jimmy D., facing forward, Sept. 2014

I broached this subject with Jimmy D. and here’s where I can get a little preachy.

I told Jimmy, “It seems to me that one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the planet is to slow down to the speed of life and find a good log to sit on.”  I further added, “Nature has evolved processes that have been hard-won over millions and billions of years.  What is it about our kind that wants to accelerate and consume the experience of living as quickly as we can?  Sometimes it can come as a big relief to stay put and appreciate the good around everyone which is all too easy to take for granted.”

Jimmy D. puts his cup down, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Jimmy D. put his cup down on the river-polished log he was sitting on.  I could tell he was weighing my words through his own sensibilities.  Before too long he turned back to me and said, “Fella, you just might have something there.”  He then began to explain a little more of his own life’s experience.

“When I was a young man I couldn’t wait to leave this little town and experience the wider world.  I thought my chance would come during World War II.  I could both do my duty and get out of here at the same time.  All my friends who were of age (and even a few who looked older than they actually were) were joining the armed services.  I decided that this would be my ticket out too and I tried to enlist.  As it turns out, I couldn’t pass the physical on account of having one foot larger than the other!  I tried not to get discouraged and wanted to do my part.  So, I walked next door (bum foot and all) to Jeffersonville and joined up with Jeffboat.  I learned how to weld, which became my profession.   I helped build the LSTs (Landing Ship-Tanks) that made the invasion of Europe a success for the allies and the free world.  I realized that even from the comforts of my home, I could help shape events in far away places.  After the war, my wanderlust had diminished considerably and love found me. After that there was a family of my own to take care of.  I stayed on at Jeffboat and helped make them the largest inland ship builder in the country.  I can’t recollect how many towboats and barges I helped construct.  And when it was my time…I retired and that is why you are finding me sitting on this log.  I can honestly say I have no regrets for how my life turned out.”

Jimmy D. lights his pipe, Sept. 2014

My new friend then pulled out a blue-colored pipe with a long stem and lit it.  A puff of white smoke was quickly dissipated by a light, passing breeze.  Jimmy D’s pipe kept going out and so I offered to help.

Me helping to light Jimmy D.,s pipe, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

My new friend thanked me and asked to hear something about my own story.  I obliged him although as a rule I’m not all that crazy about talking about myself.  I said that like him, the military factors into my life.  My dad was a career soldier and our family shuttled back and forth between the United States and Europe.  It was great being exposed to so much history and culture, but as a kid I wondered what it would be like to have a deeper relationship with my extended family?  My mother is Dutch.  I was born in Amsterdam.  My dad’s family hails from the New York City area and we have relatives in southern New Jersey.  Seems that we only saw our relatives when we were in transition from one place to another.  I grew up without having life-long friends.  After art school, I settled in Louisville, Kentucky and have been here going on thirty years now.  My two sons have had the nice experience of getting to know my wife’s family and so have had the reverse experience I had.  Much about the art I make revolves around a sense for place and seeing the value in materials that are considered worthless.  A lot of what I do is about being in the moment which is why encounters at the river are so valuable to me.  Jimmy D. just nodded and took another drag off of his pipe.

Profile of Jimmy D., Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

It’s funny how often I have been willing to reveal some detail about myself to a complete stranger…especially if we are traveling together and there is little chance of running into one another again.  I have had some great conversations with persons unknown to me while sharing rides on European trains.  I suppose after conversations that might be of an intimate nature, can you truly say you are still strangers to one another?  Jimmy D. and I alternated our conversation with just staring at the river going by.  The Ohio River may not be a train, nevertheless, it is moving on a journey of its own.  You can tell when two guys are comfortable with one another if time goes by and neither feels like they need to break the silence by saying something forced and stupid.  When the tobacco was spent from the pipe, Jimmy D. knocked the ashes against the log.  Among the last words I recall from our meeting at the river came from Jimmy D.  “I’m an old man now and my time is coming.  I hope my ashes will get the chance to mingle with the river.” I completely understood and wish for something similar for myself.  I like the idea of merging with nature with the chance to become part of something else.  I left Jimmy D. where I found him waiting for that train that will take him to the ocean and the wide, wide world beyond Clarksville.

Jimmy D. by the river, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

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The Sand Rover, May 2014, Falls of the Ohio


A gorgeous morning at the Falls of the Ohio and the urge to explore is strong.  Our current spring pattern is holding.  We will have a few days of steady rain resulting in localized flooding which is then followed by the river rising as all that water seeks the lowest level and here we are after all at the bottom of the Ohio River Valley!  The latest reports on the potential effects of climate change for our area have been predicting this.  In the years to come, we can expect more fierce storms with heavier than usual rainfall causing periodic flooding.  Actually, that’s just one prediction among many.  There is also the specter of hotter summers and invasive, non-native species among other scenarios.  We will each do what we feel compelled to do to cope with it all.  For now the sky is mostly clear and the river has retreated and it’s time to break out the old sand rover and see what there is to see and find what there is to find on the banks of the Ohio River.

Sand Rover, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

We don’t need to travel very far to stumble upon unusual objects and startling sights.  The flotsam and jetsam that can’t evade the stronger currents and navigate that hard left turn westward towards the Mississippi River get deposited in the park.  Something flesh-colored has been spotted lying on the surface of the sand and our intrepid driver moves in closer for a better look.

Headless Barbie knock off doll, May 2014

Upon inspection it turns out to be a headless, knock-off copy of a Barbie-style doll.  It’s made from cheap, hollow plastic instead of the more rubberized material that the better Barbies are made from. Thus far, this has been a good year for finding dolls at the Falls of the Ohio.  I seem to find one or two new ones each time I come out here.  Of the common objects that I routinely find…all these dolls still strike me as being especially odd and sad.  Taking a picture, it’s back aboard the sand rover and on to our next stop.

Detail of Sand Rover driver, May 2014

We don’t need to travel very far for our next discovery.  With the sun up, there is a strong glare emanating from something shiny half buried in the sand.  Pulling up to the object, our driver is  startled and bemused to find a glass jar of spaghetti sauce!

Partially buried jar of spaghetti sauce, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Would you believe me if I told you this is not the first jar of pasta sauce found out here?  Because it is relatively easy to prepare…I’m assuming that spaghetti is among the more popular dishes among folks who like to recreate around the river?  Over the years, I have also found jars of pickles, condiments, soup, and one very large, memorable jar of bologna.

sand rover, May 2014, Falls of the Ohio

The sand rover crosses over the sand easily, but it’s a different story near the edge of the river where sticky, thick mud cakes the ground.  As the sun dries the water out of the fine silty mud, deep cracks appear and widen with the heat.

Sand Rover and mud, May 2014, Falls of the Ohio

The driver decides that caution is the proper way to navigate around this mud.  This surface can be deceptive and it’s easy to step ankle to shin deep in this sticky quagmire.  You could lose a shoe in this stuff and I’m speaking from experience!  Once your shoes are coated with this mud…it’s hard to get them clean again.  You can tell where I live by my front porch…it’s the house with the muddy shoes lined up in a row.

Sand Rover at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Carefully maneuvering around the pitfalls, the sand rover is once again safely on the shifting, but surprisingly secure sand.  There are other river treasures within view worthy of investigation.

baseball losing its cover, May 2014

A water destroyed baseball lies nearby.  This is more of an old-style ball because its core is still made with string wrapped tightly around a hard rubber core.  The covers, however, are not leather and so this isn’t an official baseball of any sort.  Just a little further down the beach is another toy that was immersed in the former liquid sand and now lies trapped in a fine granular matrix.

toy truck half buried in sand, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Once upon a time, this may have been a remotely controlled vehicle?  The style of this truck looks like military vehicles I have seen.  Having explored the sand, it’s time to cruise by the driftwood.

sand rover, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Having initially spotted something lying on the driftwood, the driver decided that he would check out the mystery object more thoroughly upon his trip home.  The closer the driver approached the stranger the object became.  In fact, he felt it was looking right back at him.  Parking the sand rover nearby, the driver climbed upon the driftwood to get a better look and this is what he found.

partial, artificial deer head, May 2014

It was heavily weathered, but there was enough present to suggest that this was the hard foam head of a deer.  The driver thought that this was perhaps part of a taxidermy trophy or maybe the head of a figurative archery target?  The object’s single dark eye was piercing and made the driver uncomfortable.  Satisfied for now, the driver climbed back aboard the sand rover and headed towards home.

head of the sand rover driver, May 2014

Well, there you have it, another interesting day at the river.  The driver was glad he came since each excursion promised new sights and mysteries to solve.  Already the next trip was being anticipated and all that was now required was for nature to cooperate.  It’s still spring and we shall see how it goes at the Falls of the Ohio this year.

Arching willow at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

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high water Falls of the Ohio landscape, just downriver from the railroad bridge, Dec. 2013

Today is officially the first day of winter.  At the Falls of the Ohio, the Ohio River is up due to the heavy rain producing thunderstorms that went through our region a couple of days a go.  The high water has me walking the edge of the river with anticipation for signs of anything new.  Today I find a story to share with you.  While the winter solstice has passed, it also that Christmas/Holiday Season time  again that seems to be getting longer and weirder with each passing year.  As proof, I offer this variation of the beloved Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, classic Christmas television special that so many of us have enjoyed since childhood.  This tale from a slightly different reality is set at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana and photographed on site using objects found within the park.  Our tale begins at the water’s edge.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Zombie, Dec. 2013

At this moment, Rudolph has no idea what has happened to him.  He has no recollection of his near escape from the Abominable Snowman.  He was lucky to find a piece of wood big enough to support his weight as he launched himself into the river.  It is widely known that the Abominable Snowman is deathly afraid of water.  While Rudolph was now safe from the snowman he had a river to negotiate and had no basic idea where he was going?  Sometime in the middle of the night it stormed very badly and Rudolf was tossed helplessly into the water.  Many weeks later and with the color washed out of his eyes…Rudolph was coming back to life.

Rudolph heading home, Dec. 2013

Little Rudolph stood up again and propelled by instinct and memory headed down the driftwood line in search of a way home.  Although he couldn’t explain it, there was some hard-wired, deep need to get back to where he originated like a salmon finding just the right stream.  Along the way, a little bit more of what had happened to him crept into his consciousness.  Images of cold white snow and a bearded man in a red suit began to drift across Rudolph’s mind with regularity.  Rudolph still had no idea where he was and every once in a while he would come across something he could identify as being a toy in similar circumstances and he and would investigate it.

muddy toy truck from the Falls of the Ohio

Rudolph with plastic figure, Dec. 2013

Most of the toys Rudolph encountered where too far gone to converse with and he left them behind.  Every once in a while, however, Rudolph would come across other toys like himself who had a very strong need to exist.  They used creative strategies to reinvent themselves.  The first of these hybrid toys that Rudolph encountered were named Pigskin Pete and his pal Handy.

Pigskin Pete and Handy playing catch, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2013

Rudolph talks with Pigskin Pete and Handy, Dec. 2013

They were throwing a football back and forth on the sand.  Rudolph approached them and the trio struck up a conversation.  That is how Rudolph found out that they were in the Park of Misfit Toys.  A fabled land purported to be a paradise for toys.  Pigskin Pete and Handy both had fuzzy memories of distant lives that made them wonder if they in fact belonged here now?  That’s when Rudolph made them the offer that if he could get out of this park…he would come back to get them.  The little deer with the zombie eyes continued walking east along the river’s edge.  After a journey of many hours, Rudolf met the Primate Twins for the first time.

Rudolph meets the Primate Twins, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2013

Rudolph with Primate Twins, Dec. 2013

The Primate Twins were a sight to behold!  The will to exist among shampoo bottles is strong and through millions of gallons of waters these twin caps found their nearest relatives to form this plastic simian union.  Rudolph told them of others that he has met along the journey and offered the twins the same offer he was offering everybody that if they could help him get out of the park that he would return to rescue them in return.  The twins seemed intrigued and what were the chances of this happening anyway in the first place?  Rudolph sallied forth to the limit of the park and met one last new friend.

RoboBoy and Rudolph, Dec. 2013

Rudolph and RoboBoy at the Falls, Dec. 2013

RoboBoy lived at the land’s margin and knew the river’s ways too.  He offered Rudolph a wooden plank to attempt the dangerous and potentially foolhardy journey back to the North Pole.  If the river didn’t get him there was still the specter of the Abominable Snowman lurking out in the frozen wastes.  Without hesitation and for the second time…Rudolph hurled himself into the cold river and took his chances.  This time…luck would be kinder.

Rudolph the Hex-bolt Nosed Reindeer on the snow, Dec. 2013

The trip across the waters was uneventful and gave Rudolph time to reflect.  By now, he understood that his visions of a bearded man were of Santa Claus himself and Rudolph knew were to find him.   Rudolph’s families were a part of the reindeer elite that pulled Santa’s sleigh.  Those jobs flying across the sky had long been inherited positions and Rudolph…if he wanted it…was next in the long line of Prancers and Dancers.

found plastic Santa Claus on snow, Dec. 2013

Santa didn’t seem surprised to see Rudolph with his red plastic nose again.  In fact, he said that he had been expecting him because the pull of Christmas is a mysterious force in the universe.  Santa agreed to talk to Rudolph and around a small pine tree they huddled together to talk about what constituted the holiday spirit and other philosophical matters.  While they spoke, a heavy snowfall fell upon the land.

Heavy snow covers Rudolph and Santa, Dec. 2013

By morning the snow had finished and Santa agreed to stop by the Park of Misfit toys and offer its inhabitants the chance of being gifted to different owners.  Santa also told Rudolph to be prepared that toys often change their minds and that he might not get quite the answers as he did before.

the meeting of Santa and the MisFit Toys, Dec. 2013

Snow had fallen at the Park of Misfit Toys since Rudolph’s previous visit.  A shadowy snowman figure agreed to escort Santa to the assembled Misfit Toys.

Santa talks to Rudolph about the Park of Misfit Toys, Dec. 2013

On the shores of the Park of Misfit toys Santa declared in full disclosure that he was glad to take anyone away from the park if that were their wish.  He had made Rudolph a promise to help him keep his promise if possible and Santa Claus was going to honor that.  But he also asked if anyone had considered how they had personally arrived at the Park of Misfit Toys?  The prevailing myth is that all you toys were miss manufactured and dropped off here to lead your lives in semi-useful exile ever wanting the love of the other.  The truth Santa declared…is that you were all discarded as trash…not even given the dignity of recycling…you somehow found your way into the river and then here.  You are mass produced and marketed consumer goods that have served your useful lives and more than likely there will be no new owners waiting to embrace you on the other side of this park.  He was speaking from personal experience which made his words all the more convincing.

The Misfit Toys talk over Santa's offer, Dec. 2013

Santa’s words had struck a chord with the Misfit Toys.  They hadn’t even considered that they might not be wanted by somebody across the river.    It was the Primate Twins who piped up that life wasn’t so bad here.  At least they had their own culture as a community of survivors and free thinkers.  Those that still had the desire to exist carried on until the sun finally broke the bonds of their plastic polymers and set them free.  In the end, all the Misfit Toys decided to stay at the park and lead out their existences here and leave their layer in the record of the land.

RoboBoy and Pigskin Pete in snow at the Park of Misfit Toys, Dec. 2013

Rudolph decided to return with Santa and the shadowy snowman to the North Pole.  In the years to come, Santa and Rudolph the Zombie, Red, Plastic, Hex-bolt Nosed Reindeer were involved many Christmas season adventures.  In fact, they went down in history.  Happy Holidays from the Falls of the Ohio!

rudolph, santa, and snowman in the snow, 2013_1_1

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