Posts Tagged ‘river’

My outdoor studio at the Falls, May 2013

After watching the goldfinches in the willows and collecting the latest the river had to offer…I headed to my outdoor studio.  I have the day off from my day job and it is also Kentucky Derby weekend.  The weatherman is telling me that today will be the day to be outdoors because a cold, wet front is coming through the Ohio Valley.  It has been a few weeks since I last visited as life has taken me in other directions.  When I was last at this spot,  I stashed the surviving and repaired “Flood Brother” next to a tree.  In the interim, other people have come across my spot and looked through the junk I’ve assembled here.  As for my Styro-figure…I found what was left of him nearby.  Here’s a look at the remains.

Styro-body of destroyed Flood Brother, May 2013

I found his body first resting upon the older driftwood.  He was missing his head and arms.  Scouting around, I was able to find bits and pieces including his head staring at the world through his remaining cyclops eye.

Flood Brother head, May 2013

Rather than reconstruct him for a third time, I decided to recycle him.  I gathered the pieces and parts and hauled it back to my studio.  For now, I will let these chunks of polystyrene rest.

Outdoor studio in disarray, May 2013

found art materials, May 2013

The first step in creating some sense of order is to straighten out the mess my previous visitors have left me.  I sort through my sticks that I will use for potential arms and legs.  I gather up the smaller pieces of Styrofoam and put them in the river-chewed milk crate.  I rummage through my collecting bag and select the elements that will make up the face of a new character.  I take a few moments to watch robins chasing a young Cooper’s Hawk through the willow trees.  Near me, I hear the first notes from a Northern or Baltimore Oriole.  It’s reassuring to know that they have returned.  Also, there is a noticeable increase in insect life and I’ve observed bumble bees, hornets, and small butterflies going about their business.  The sound of running water is always in the background.  Picking up a head-shaped piece of Styrofoam I begin to form a new figure.

Head of a new figure in my hands, May 2013

So far, it’s a smiling figure with a segment of pliable found plastic for a mouth.  The ears and nose are also plastic toy pieces.  The eyes are river-tumbled pebbles of coal.  I use my pocket knife to do this work. The next step is to add a body.

In process Styro-figure, May 2013

I chose a hunk of Styrofoam from my larder that seemed torso-like.  Feeling that it required additional detail, I added two walnuts to reinforce the chest idea.  I further added a third piece of Styrofoam that simulates a pelvis and gives the figure added length.  Some internal sense for proportion told me I needed to do this even though the entire idea and the resulting figure strikes me as being absurd and who else would notice or even care about this?  Beaver-gnawed willow rods connect the head and hips to the torso. Over the years, my working methods have evolved and I definitely have material and form preferences where none existed at the start of this project in 2003.  Through trial and error I selected wooden driftwood arms and legs to give my static figure some life, energy, and a suggestion of movement.  Here is the first photograph of this spring figure made in the place it was created.  Later, the two of us would go out to explore the landscape around the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Spring Styro-figure with yellow ears, Falls of the Ohio, May 2013

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walking goose drawing in sand, March 2013

I come to the river because I like the sound of the water.  It does more than act upon the sand and driftwood here.  After hanging out at the Falls of the Ohio I feel relaxed because the rhythm of the water is also the rhythm of nature.  The waves that move back and forth slow my own internal sense of timing and puts me in sync with the universe.  The work-a-day life begins to lift away and a calm seeps in.  I don’t even need to be aware of the sound.  I know it is there and I trust it.  This restorative quality of water is not to be underestimated in this fast-paced, multitasking world and it is free if you are open to accepting its magic.

river erasing sand drawing, March 2013

partly erased sand drawing, March 2013

Spring is late in arriving this year.  It’s been an up and down cycle of mostly cool to cold temperatures.  Also, it seems that the river has been a little higher for a bit longer than I remember over the past several years.  2012 was positively balmy compared to this one.  It’s amazing how much difference a year can make .  Today is nice and the sun is shining and I get an early start on the day.

detail of driftwood, March 2013

Currently, there is plenty of driftwood lining the riverbank.  By studying how the driftwood was deposited, I get a sense for the water and how high it rose over the land.  Since this is Spring…I’m also on the lookout for seldom seen birds that are traveling through our area.  On my last outing, I was walking over the lines of driftwood when I spotted an unusual shorebird.  I managed a few images of it and I would like to share those with you now.  It was right in the middle of the driftwood and if it hadn’t moved…I might have gone in a different direction and missed it.  I live for these moments.

Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

head of Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

This is the increasingly rare Great Lakes Oystercatcher, (Haematopus polystyrenus) as seen at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It has a large red bill like the two other oystercatcher species that live along our country’s marine coastlines.  Unlike them, this bird is strictly Midwestern and prefers fresh water wetlands, creeks, streams, and rivers.  The large bill is used to pry open the shells of fresh water clams and mollusks…although it is known to take crustaceans and other invertebrates upon opportunity.

Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

The reason this bird is becoming scarce has everything to do with it losing its main food source.  The Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys are the world’s epicenter for fresh water mollusk diversity which is a little known fact.  Unfortunately, because of the many changes that have occurred with our rivers, these clams have become our most endangered animals with many species having become extinct already.  These clams are fascinating in their own right and have complex life cycles.  Wherever you find them is usually a good indicator of the quality of the water.  The Great Lakes Oystercatcher won’t find much in the way of its preferred food at the Falls.  The original clam diversity is missing and these days you are more likely to encounter Zebra Mussels or Asiatic Clams and both are well-established, invasive, nonnative species.

Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

Great Lakes Oystercatcher looking over its shoulder, March 2013

I was delighted by this almost comical bird which is rarely observed in this park.  It went about its business examining the driftwood and probing the sand for morsels of food.  I also watched it fly to the water’s edge and it was intent on checking out what the river was washing ashore.  The whole encounter lasted about 20 minutes before the bird flew off for parts unknown.  Satisfied with the day, I gathered my collecting bag and headed home.

The city of Louisville as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, March 2013

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Styro-swift, 7/09Styro-swift, closer view, 7/09

When I’m out by the river I’m also thinking about what birds I might see.  That’s especially true during the Spring Migration when there’s a good chance I will run across a species I’ve never seen before.  In the advent that nothing new comes along…I’m not adverse to making a bird myself!  Above is a quickie that I made recently.  I call it a “Styro-swift”.  The materials are essentially the same as before, polystyrene, wood, plastic, and coal for the eyes.  The bill is made with the broken teeth of an old comb.  With more time, I think I could have photographed this better.

Indigo Bunting, male, 7/09

Here are three recent and very real birds.  The first is a male Indigo Bunting and he’s puffing his feathers out displaying to the unseen female in the bush above him.  Perhaps it is a trick of memory, but the Indigo Buntings I remember in western Kentucky were darker and more iridescently blue.  The Falls birds seem much lighter in color.

Bathing male American Goldfinch, 7/09

I can always count on seeing American Goldfinches.  This male is obviously taking a bath, but this area on the beach seems special to them. Perhaps there is something in the water and grit here that benefits them?  It’s a kind of goldfinch lick.  I love watching their singing, rolling courtship flights.

young Bluejay, 7/09

This young Blue jay was so focused on the beetle he was trying to eat that he almost got run over by a truck.  I had to shoo him away from the danger on the road.  When I’m walking through the woods, I try to avoid jays and the alarm they can ring out to every other living thing in the area.  I have other bird images, but will wait to post them at a later date.

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Fixed wier dam, 6/09

After several days that featured heavy thunder showers, Saturday morning opened clear and bright.  I had a feeling that this would be a special day and it didn’t take very long to be proven right.  In less than five minutes I had my first memorable encounter of the day below the fixed wier dam.

Mink, 6/09

Running along the shoreline,  investigating every nook and cranny was this mink!  Please excuse the exclamation mark, but this was the first one I had ever seen at the Falls. It’s been over twenty years since I first visited this place.  There have been times I thought I came across their tracks, but I’m no expert in this area.  This mink kept moving which made it difficult to photograph.  It ran right up the sloping concrete wall of the dam and I lost it in the underbrush! 

Black-crowned Night Heron, 6/09

Bird life was plentiful today.  I was scolded by wrens and laughed at by chickadees as I sat in my outdoor studio surrounded by the materials I have gathered to make my sculptures.  I watched orioles and blue jays, catbirds and grackles, and a pair of eastern kingbirds courting and chasing away every other bird to enter their territory.  I also watched the herons and decided to try to make one from my poor materials.  The bird above is the Black-crowned Night Heron and there were many out fishing today.

Foaming Brain's head, 6/09

When I reached my “studio’, I could see that the site had been visited.  Most of the sculptures that I had made over the previous weeks had been damaged or destroyed.  As I have mentioned before, this is an experiment in human nature…albeit one without a hypothesis.  For the most part, I want to believe that people are good…until I’m proven wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt.  One of the many services my art seems to perform is as an outlet for unfocused aggression.  Naturally, I would have liked it better if instead of destroying these figures, new ones were created by other hands than mine.  I leave all the materials I’ve gathered on site for others to use if they feel so inclined. I’m also alright with the idea that if someone liked a piece…they can take it home with them.  Whatever is left behind nature eventually claims anyway.  I remind myself that it’s also okay to let this stuff go…it’s liberating and besides, I’ll just make more.

Styro-heron, 6/09

Styro-heron, 6/09

Since today’s action was happening near the wier dam, I photographed the Styro-heron I made near this area.  This bird is primarily polystyrene foam, driftwood, plastic and that’s it.  I have no idea what the object serving as tail feathers is, but it’s made from Styrofoam too.  The eyes on my bird are tiny, plastic fishing bobbers.  The blue herons around the Falls are very difficult to approach, but they do love it here.  Through spotting scopes, I’ve seen as many as fifteen birds fishing together from the fossil rocks on the Kentucky side.  World wide, this is a very successful species.

Styro-heron, 6/09

An alternate shot and one that shows the other side of the sculpture.  I’ll end with an image of a real Great Blue Heron taken at the Falls a few weeks ago during a time of high water.

Great Blue Heron, 5/09

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River Neptune, 6/08

Recently, I started a new job and so my trips to the river are extra special.  I do, however, have  years of digital images to draw from and so these works can live again.  Many of these were originally seen by few if any people.  This is the Ohio River Neptune from this time last year.  He’s holding what’s left of a toy trident…probably from a Halloween devil costume.  The head is Styrofoam with some waxy residue coating it.

Canada Geese with young

While making the Neptune figure I recall seeing Canada Geese parading their goslings around the creek mouth that feeds into the Ohio River.

Ohio River Neptune

Here’s where I left Neptune standing on an old railroad tie.  His body was a nice portly chunk of Styrofoam.  This was sited in the park’s western side near a favorite stand of cottonwood trees.  This little grove has amazing exposed roots that support these trees and form overhanging canopies that you can sit under.  Fewer people venture out this far from the parking lot.

Groundhog Head

This post promised a groundhog’s head…and here it is.  I snapped this image of a young whistle pig poking its anterior out of its burrow.  Around here, you do need to pay attention to where you walk because it’s very easy to twist an ankle or break a foot stepping into one of their holes.

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Floating tire

What would a river clean-up be without discarded automotive tires?  They seem as ubiquitous as the driftwood in the water.  You get so used to seeing them that in effect…you don’t see them anymore. 

Tire and driftwood

That’s where having a camera can be of assistance…it breaks that circuit that prevents us from remembering that these objects should never find a home here. 

Circle in the water

Finding a floating circle in the water always grabs my attention.  It’s no longer just a tire, but the pattern of perfection, the symbol of civilization.

Beached tire

How did we become so indifferent towards them?  Isn’t the wheel the same great device it was when it was first invented?  It was once a big deal…is it no less marvelous and worthy of being disposed of properly?

Discarded tire

One of the nice things about being a parent of young children is that you can remember some of the wonder of the world through their experiences.

Sinking tire

I guess that’s also what makes photography so effective a medium…it gives the viewer an opportunity in a split second, to experience vicariously, what the photographer saw.

Sunken tire in the sand

I worry as a parent that we won’t leave this place in as good a shape as we found it.  It’s become a vicious cycle that needs fixing.

Tire Drawing

I don’t know if “art” can be the tool to make the repair?  But if we can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, which art can do, we might just recapture some of the lost wonder in the world.

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superimposed toy boat

Well, I think I just made up a new word…although I don’t believe the Oxford Dictionary will be calling me up any time soon.  I just couldn’t think of the right thing to call these three images that seemed to fit them.  The idea is simple enough.  I overlay a found object ( like these toys) and take a picture that includes a backdrop of  the landscape they were found in.  Maybe, some wordmeister out there can hit the nail on the head.  This was a late summer image from 2008.

toy boat superimposed, 5/09

Another toy boat on the water from a couple weeks ago.  Photographed with the tainter gates as a backdrop.

toy helicopter superimposed, 5/09

Found this broken toy helicopter and thought it looked good against the blue sky.  Isn’t this what kids do…hold toys up and imagine they are somewhere else and real?  I don’t recall if I was making engine noises too!

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white styro-birdFrom a previous post…you know I’m into birds and since this is migration season, I’m at the Falls of the Ohio as often as I can get a few hours to get away.  I do keep a list of what I see in this park based on their official checklist that includes 268 recorded species.  I’m almost half way there!  I suppose I would have to live at the park year round to not miss any opportunities as long as the birds were willing to cooperate.  The birds, however, have their own time-honored agendas and I try to be present in their moments.  This season is shaping up to be a late one and I haven’t seen nearly the number of species I saw last year, but there is still time.  The last two days have brought some surprises which I was able to get a few snapshots to share with you.  Here are two new species for me at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

White-eyed Vireo, 5/09

The White-eyed Vireo is listed as being uncommon for this park.  You are more likely to hear this bird ( and it can put up quite a volume of sound for a little bird) than to see it.  It is a master of hiding in dense underbrush.  I was less than ten feet away from this bird while it was singing and I couldn’t visually locate it.  I saw one once in central Texas.   

Summer Tanager, male, 5/09

Here’s today’s prize!  While looking for Scarlet Tanagers, I came across this male Summer Tanager.  This is the first one I’ve ever seen and had to do a double-take.  No black wings…pale colored bill and a slightly different call note.  I was able to watch this bird for about five minutes and got close enough to record this image.  Although I have seen several Scarlet Tanagers, I haven’t been able to make a photo decent enough to share.  The Scarlet Tanagers so far, are staying in the tops of the trees where all the little cut-worms are feasting on young leaves.  This is what is drawing migratory birds to this park.  This Summer Tanager is about at the northern limit of its normal range.  Seeing birds like this makes me want to go out everyday!  It’s a nice break from working with Styrofoam!!

Wood-winged Styro-bird, 5/08

The first and last images are bird sculptures I’ve made and photographed at the park.  Found objects I have used include various polystyrene foam pieces, plastic, wood, and bits of coal for the eyes.  The “Blue-tailed Styrobird” I later mounted on a nice branch and sold in a gallery.  The “Wood-winged Styrobird” I left for other people to discover and it later flew off.

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Log Man, detail

Working on this project has brought home to me how absurd our world really is.  For example, take this recent sculpture from early March of this year.  While walking on and over large driftwood logs, I found a smaller one made of plastic!  I’m assuming it’s part of some toy?   I gathered some nearby Styrofoam and other plastic elements and created this figure.  I think it registers feelings of surprise and alarm.  Below is another view of this figure on site.  I did save this piece for potential later display.  Other objects used include acorns, walnuts, and the sole of a shoe.  Of course, the chief absurdity is that none of these artificial elements has any business being in the watershed!

Log Man

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