Posts Tagged ‘Styrofoam art’

Artist at Exit 0 site the day after Christmas 2017

It’s the day after Christmas at the Falls of the Ohio on an admittedly nippy day.  I stopped by my trusty site under the now bare willow trees to see how this latest group of sculptures and artworks are faring? Each time I come out here, I’m just as likely to find things knocked down and destroyed.  A couple of posts back, I documented my site and the figures that were created there beginning in May of this year.  I initially called the Styro-figures “The Assembled” and after they were vandalized they became “The Re-Assembled”.  Well, even this group is now history after every standing figure was decapitated and speared!  Here are some before and after images.  I used this final image of “The Re-Assembled” with the peace sign on my Christmas cards this year.

Final View of "The Re-Assembled" with Flip-Flop Peace Sign, at the Falls of the Ohio, early Dec. 2017

"The Re-Assembled" decapitated and impaled, Dec. 2017

Every head was destroyed and that is where much of the personality of each figure resides.  I gathered what remained of the heads and bodies and added them to the pile.  I picked up what loose fishing floats that I had adapted for eyes and other plastic parts I used that were still in the area and placed them in my collecting bag.  The found flip-flop peace sign was obliterated.  It wasn’t up a week yet!  Interestingly, the colorful plastic container arrangement I have on site has survived three attacks!  It has essentially remained intact with me adding to it every once in a while.

Scrambled found flip-flop peace sign at the Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2017

Of course we can’t leave things there!  I visited my site in early December with Jason Moore, an art student at Murray State University who came to my presentation there last October.  He was in town on winter break and asked to tag along. Together, we started the process of straightening things up and beginning some new pieces.  I put him in charge of the flip-flop pit which was a very new medium for him.  The only guidance I gave him was that he needed to use every sandal on site!  He had one false attempt before arranging the flip-flops in this design.

Jason Moore, first attempt at a flip-flop design at the Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2017

Jason Moore with his found flip-flop design at the Falls of the Ohio.  Dec. 2017

As Jason tries his hand at this site specific piece, I set to work on creating what turned out to be an imposing figure that towers over you on site.  After pairing a new head with a new body I began creating this figure’s features.  As I’m doing this…I’m also aware that I am now re-re-reusing many of these materials.  Some of this stuff has played a part in multiple figures.

A new head begins, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2017

This is where a new work begins.  I searched through my collecting bag looking for the found components to make up the eyes, mouth, nose, and ears.  I then find a stick to attach the head to the body and then look for driftwood, tree roots, etc…to make the limbs.  Here is how the head eventually presented.

Detail of my new figure's head, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2017

I thought the toe thong “thingie” from an old flip-flop made a decent mustache!  Let’s pull back a little to take a wider look at things.  This image shows the new figure dramatically illuminated as the sun sets.

New Styro-figures just before the Winter Solstice, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2017

Jason created the small figure with the plastic squirrel and I added the round-headed, portly figure.  Another week later I would add a fourth this time blue-bodied figure to bring us to the present.

Styro-skulls on the polystyrene pile, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2017

It has been a very interesting year and as it ends it’s good to reflect a bit.  Perhaps creatively… this has been one of my better years.  I think the work overall has taken on a more formal look as I continue to work with different materials.  I’m out here as often as I can get away.  A big change is in using other social media platforms to “publish” what I’m doing which was something I once reserved exclusively for this blog.  I’m on Facebook and Instagram regularly which has been a fun way to share pictures.  I’ve had a couple of exhibition opportunities this year which was great and unexpected.   I’m even ending the year and this post…with some very positive press which also serendipitously came my way.

Here is a link to a lot of content that the News and Tribune, a southern Indiana newspaper, put together about my Falls of the Ohio Project.  Albertus Gorman News and Tribune Article  This link has a video shot at the Falls of the Ohio as I demonstrate what I do.

I will leave it here for this year and hope that everyone out in the wider world has a very Happy New Year.  See you at the river during 2018.




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Katinka waving, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I had an unexpected rendezvous at the Falls of the Ohio recently.  I caught up with my friend Katinka as she was taking a walk along the riverbank.  I have always loved the way she looks when the sun strikes her face at just the right angle and creates this wonderful glow about her.  We are meeting by chance which is often the best way to go.   The two of us decide to walk together for a while.  She had an earlier start today than I did so I asked if she had seen anything on this beautiful morning that struck her as being memorable in some way?  Immediately Katinka answered that there was a tree near the water that impressed her as being particularly heroic.  Together we sought out the spot where it was rooted.

Portrait of Katinka, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

We don’t have to go far and as it turns out and I’m already familiar with this tree.  It’s a Black Willow and it is growing through the metal holes of an old discarded car wheel.  I noticed this one…and another similar tree growing through a tire in the western end of the park a couple of years a go.  I can understand why Katinka thinks this tree is “heroic” as it tries to thrive while wearing a metal and rubber yoke.  I keep wondering what will happen next as this tree moves through time?  Will the limbs growing through the holes eventually get pinched off?  Will the willow send out roots all around this wheel eventually elevating it off the ground?  How is this tree going to accommodate this wheel?

Katinka with the willow growing out of a tire, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Katinka with willow and tire, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I have documented this tree through a few seasons and so this was a good time to take a few early summer shots.  The tree seemed healthy and was certainly taller than before.  I noticed that after this year’s high water subsided, that the tree had shifted a bit as the tire settled into the earth.  Linking the tire with the tree is an unusual union of the natural and artificial and Katinka agreed.  She said that she couldn’t help but feel that the tree got the worst end of this bargain…but we shall see.

Katinka at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Katinka said she detected a theme developing and that she had witnessed other “unusual pairings”.  She asked me to hold out my hand and on my palm, Katinka placed the soft, hollow, plastic body of a toy animal that was missing its head.  She found this on the riverbank too.  Interestingly, nature seems to find a way to express life and in this case, a small seed landed in the dirt that had filled the toy’s hollow body and had sprouted!  This qualifies as a very small niche indeed.

Seedling growing from a plastic animal, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I placed the plant/toy on the sand and then I wished it well.  Simple as that.  I followed Katinka to our next spot.  She had seen something earlier and wanted to look at it again in case it was something that could fit the evolving theme of her tour of the Falls of the Ohio.  After a little searching around the vegetation around the willows, we found what we were looking for laying on the surface of the sand.

Hair band? with sprouts, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Once upon a time, this was an object that required hook fasteners to adjust.  In this found instance, the hooks from the cockle burr and other hardy plants have hitched a ride and their seedlings are using the man-made fabric for a substrate to germinate upon.  Perhaps as the plant continues to thrive and grow, it can jump off its host by spreading its roots far and wide?  I mentioned to Katinka that I knew a place that demonstrated a similar kind of union occurring between something artificial and natural and would she like to see that?  It was just a short distance along the water line and the sound of the river filled up any need for conversation.  The river can be satisfying in that way.

Snagged and disintegrating barge cable, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Reaching the spot, we could see a golden-yellow, tangled mess that was once a part of a large, tight, barge cable.  At some point, the cable was cut and floated down the river and was now stuck joining two separate willow trees together.  The yellow arc was swaying in the slight breeze.  Subsequent floods and even birds picking on this large rope for nesting material have continued the process of fraying it.  I thought there was something very art-like in the way this cable called attention to itself and the space around it.  In places at the Falls of the Ohio you can find other trees that have snagged lengths of this synthetic barge cable in their exposed root systems and limbs.  Here is another example of this as a river wave plays jump rope.

Barge rope snagged between two trees, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Both Katinka and I agreed that the snagged barge ropes offered us vivid examples of how the stuff we make interacts with the rest of the world.  While we were looking at the ropes, a new protagonist arrived via a muddy Ohio River wave.  A large plastic gasoline container became the latest piece of junk to become beached at the Falls of the Ohio.

Katinka next to a gas container, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Katinka with fuel can, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

So far, Katinka and I had spent the morning together looking at examples of how nature was dealing with us through our surrogates…the trash we create and discard.  We both agreed that perhaps we should spend the rest of our time together just looking at the beauty that is nature.  Although the Falls of the Ohio State Park is a rather small and some would add a rather limited place…I can usually find something that seems extraordinary and perfect in its own way.

unknown, immature fungus, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Moving to the nearest decaying log I found a small and completely unfamiliar fungus seemingly bubbling up from the wood itself.  All fungi have an important role to play and gives rise to the idea that nature’s creations are rarely superfluous like our own tend to be.  I qualify that with a “rarely” since it seems to Katinka and I that what seems troubling about man is that out of synch quality with nature that we now seem to embody and in fact embrace.  What was nature thinking about when it gave rise to us?  The fungi have a purpose…what is ours, perhaps to usher in the next great period in the history of life?

freshly hatched baby turtle, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

One more small and seemingly miraculous discovery before calling it quits for the day.  I spotted something moving over the shallow, water-covered fossil beds and a quick flash of the hand produced this freshly hatched terrapin.  Katinka checked it out before releasing back to the same spot where I had found it.  I hope it doesn’t run into any herons or raccoons that would make short work of it.  This was a nice way to end the day!  As my friend and I parted I watched Katinka as she immersed herself in a bed of violet flowering vines.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Katinka in the vetch, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016


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piled up driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The following is my latest adventure from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s official now, the month of November was among our top ten coldest Novembers ever recorded.  This continues a see-saw trend where one month might set a record for heat (like October did) only to bounce back down to the other extreme.  It’s too early to tell about December, but on this recent visit it was cool and overcast.  We have since had several days of rain causing the river to swell.  Today’s story begins at the westernmost point on the Woodland Loop Trail.  This path is bordered by what folks around here refer to as a “creek”, but in actuality is a channel cut into the riverbank by storm water overflow released from the town of Clarksville.  I wish it were a creek and perhaps long ago, may have been one.  During periods of flooding and high water, driftwood and logs back up into this area and are stranded once the water level recedes.  The picture above is a recent illustration of this.

beaver tracks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was exploring this water-cut channel and noticed that there were lots of beaver signs present.  In addition to their tracks left in the mud, I found plenty of chewed willow branches.  I added some of the nicer sticks to my collecting bag.  It made me think about how much the appearance of the black willow trees around here are shaped by the beaver’s “pruning” methods.  I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before…perhaps it was just too obvious.  Actually, I think it has something to do with the beaver population rebounding over the last few years.  In certain local places, they have become “pests”.  Their damning of local drainage canals has necessitated their capture and removal to other more remote areas.

found deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Exploring a bend on the Woodland Loop Trail, I found this deer skull laying upside down on the fallen leaves.  It was kind of hard to see, but something in the old brain said to look more closely and I did.  After taking a few photographs, I laid it upon the trunk of a large fallen tree for others to discover.  Like the beaver, it appears the deer are becoming more numerous as well.  After years of finding just their tracks and the occasional bone, this season I was able to spot a doe and her fawn in the park during broad daylight.

storm sewer overflow peninsula, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I walked to the top of the riverbank to get a better look at the peninsula that has been created at the mouth of the “creek” from the storm sewer’s overflow.  Over the years, I have witnessed stringers of sauger and catfish being caught here by the local fishermen.  I like how the rising and falling of the river has terraced the mud into a series of graduated steps.  I was relaxed and zoning out on the view when I noticed something white that had surfaced and was entering the “creek”.  I quickly took a photo and here it is.

white dorsal fin in the Ohio River, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I scrambled down the riverbank to get a better view and got my clothes severely muddy in the process.  In my head I’m telling myself that for all the world this looks like a shark’s dorsal fin…but is this possible?  I remember hearing that there are a few shark species (notably bull sharks) that are capable of swimming up rivers and able to tolerate being in fresh water for extended periods of time.  Still, we are a long way from the ocean which also includes navigating a large section of the Mississippi River before entering into the Ohio River… just to reach this spot.  I observed the fin submerging as it disappeared from view.  Hustling, I reached the general location where I thought the fin was heading and was “blown away” by this sight!

The Shark Shepard emerges from the river, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Emerging from the muddy water was this white figure sporting an improbable headdress or mask?  The figure was carrying a staff and appeared to have fins on its body similar to a shark.  I let this fellow come fully out of the water before my curiosity overwhelmed me and I went in for a closer look.

Shark Shepard, side view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

This strange being did not seem to be afraid of me and regarded me through his dark eyes.  His face was framed by what looked like the jaws, teeth, and the head of a shark.  My attention kept returning to the fearsome mask it was wearing which I surmised might be a part of some breathing apparatus?  A yellow light on its chest would occasionally blink signaling some other unfamiliar technology was present.  The staff the figure was holding was terminated by a hand pointing a finger which reinforced the stranger’s mysterious presence.

The Shark Shepard on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Using its staff, I watched as the figure drew the outlines of several sharks in the soft mud and then pointed to one of his eyes.  He followed this by making a sweeping movement with his arm that seemed to encompass the river and its surrounding landscape.  It took me a moment, but I think it asked me if I had seen any sharks in the area?  Reflexively, I replied by shaking my head “no” which the figure seemed to understand by dropping his head and shoulders in a disconsolate manner?  That’s when I had this mental flash that this guy was a shepherd, a shark shepherd and he was looking for his lost flock?  From here on out, I will refer to him as the Shark Shepherd.  He next stuck his staff into the mud and walked away from it.  I decided to tag along to see if I could learn anything else about my new silent friend.

Shark Shepard by improvised tent, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd seemed to have a curiosity about our world.  I observed as he approached an improvised tent that someone had set up among the trees.  It’s owner(s), however, were not around, but it didn’t seem abandoned in my eyes.  Probably made by fishermen and there seemed to be several trying their luck along the riverbank on this windy day.  I too have a curiosity about the world and after my encounter with the Shark Shepherd ended…I rushed home to try to figure out what he was doing here so far from the sea?  Using the miracle of the internet, I learned a few alarming facts about shark disappearances worldwide.

The Shark Shepherd by fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

On average, between 20 million to 73 million sharks a year are taken out of marine ecosystems across the planet.  Most of the statistics mentioned the higher number…regardless, that’s too many sharks.  Sharks are “harvested” for their fins, cartilage, and teeth.  The boom in popularity for shark fin soup has led to an insidious practice where millions of sharks are harvested and often indiscriminately by using thousands of hooks set on miles of trailing “longlines”.  Sharks are a valuable bycatch.  The captured sharks (which are often caught alive) have their fins cut off and are frequently thrown back into the seas to die in agony.  It’s a lucrative business because this was once a delicacy and status symbol reserved for the wealthy back in the day when sharks were harder and more challenging to catch. Now it is within the reach of more people.  Through industrialized commercial fishing, millions of mostly Asian consumers can have a bowl of shark fin soup on special occasions.  Interestingly, the soup itself needs to be flavored with beef or chicken stock because the fins themselves are a textural element and contribute no flavor of their own.  Of course, a bowl of soup is not the only challenge sharks face.  Commercial sports fishing, pollution, reef destruction, and overfishing of the shark’s prey base play their part as well.

The Shark Shepherd at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

In the United States, large sharks have disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico.  I think this is the reason the Shark Shepherd was this far inland.  Along our Atlantic Coast, it has been reported that eleven of the largest shark species have essentially vanished.  This has important repercussions for the overall marine environment.  You can’t remove this many apex predators from an ecosystem and expect it to function normally.  There are cascading effects.  A recent study attributes the decline in our East Coast scallop industry is due to the loss of sharks that normally would keep cownosed rays and sting rays who eat scallops in check.

Shark Shepherd by the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Dec. 2014

I followed the Shark Shepherd as he explored the area around the newly closed Interpretive Center.  There were people around and they did exhibit interest in my friend, but were generally respectful for what was going on.  A few folks asked if they could take pictures of the Shark Shepherd and he obliged them.  During my internet research, I did find it fascinating that there are places like American Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, and the island nation of Palau where sharks are protected.  Interestingly, these are all places in the Pacific Ocean where people regard the shark as a culturally and spiritually significant animal.  These Polynesian cultures understand that their very identities are connected with sharks.  The same, however, can’t be said for the rest of the world who regard sharks as nuisances and or threats.  Better to view something with reverence than through fear.

The Shark Shepherd surveys the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd climbed the staircase to gain a better vantage point overlooking the river.  I watched him scan the waters, but only an occasional fishing boat presented itself.  If he was looking for sharks, well, there probably hasn’t been any here for about 400 million years when this area was a Devonian Age coral reef.  I could feel the poignancy of the Shark Shepherd’s search as it failed to bear fruit.  After a short while, we reversed our course and retraced our steps.  The Shark Shepherd gathered his staff and walked back into the creek where after acknowledging me with one last look back…disappeared into the Ohio River.  Although I realized that I would not see him again, I couldn’t help but hope that he and his sharks wouldn’t disappear forever from the oceans of the world.

The Shark Shepherd, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

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In the Willow Habitat, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

The Falls of the Ohio State Park has experienced its first light frost.  With the colder temperatures arriving, a maturing autumn anticipates the winter to come.  Although there are still some leaves left on the black willows and cottonwood trees…they won’t last much longer.  Already the curled up, shed leaves of the willows are gathering and forming brown islands around the parent trees and defining the spaces the willows occupy in this sandy area near the river.  As I walk through this habitat, cocklebur and various other seeds attach themselves to my jeans and shoe laces.  Picking and rubbing off the various prickly and sticky hitchhikers, it’s amuses me to think of myself as an agent of seed dispersal!

Found bird nest, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

A circular grass ball lying on the ground catches my eye.  Picking up the object I discover an intact bird nest.  Did it dislodge from some fork of a tree branch or is this from a ground nesting species?  I marvel at its construction and note its exterior is made from dried, interwoven grasses which contrasts with the well-defined interior composed of tiny twigs and rootlets that give structural strength to the bowl.  I wonder which species created it and were they successful in raising offspring?  The nest is now spent like the willow leaves and I place it on the ground to be reclaimed by nature.

mushrooms growing on driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Along my walk, I find various mushrooms and fungi growing on the decomposing driftwood.  I admire the variety of forms present.  Although the notion of decay hardly sounds optimistic…in this instance it is.  The fungi are great recyclers and return needed nutrients back into the environment.  These mushrooms are not lesser than, but rather co-equal to the many other interesting life forms that make this place their home.  I come across other signs of life along my hike.

Comma butterfly with wings folded, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

There are still a few butterflies around like this Comma.  Although nectar from flowers is absent, there are still what I call “butterfly licks” on a few of the willow trees.  These licks are sweet spots along the trunk or branches where the tree exudes a sticky sap that attracts insects.  With its wings folded upright, this Comma looks much like a dried leaf itself.  There is a good chance this butterfly will hibernate and overwinter here before “passing the torch” to the next generation of Comma butterflies in the spring.

beaver chewed willow wood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Along the riverbank, I find lots of evidence that beaver have been in the area.  They have been feeding off the willow trees growing nearest to the water.  Beaver are very wary and are probably active at night or very early in the morning.  In all my years walking throughout the park, I have only seen them on a couple of occasions.  The photo above shows a willow branch that has been gnawed away from the tree and its bark has been nibbled off for food.  Their teeth leave “tool marks” on the creamy, ivory-colored wood.  By the end of today’s hike, I have collected a nice bundle of beaver chewed sticks to use in my art.  And speaking of art…I walked by a couple of projects I worked on in my previous post.  The rock ring in the water is still holding up, however, the “Silver Star” made from overlaying driftwood lengths in the sand is a shadow of its former self.  Here are a few before and after images.

Detail of silver driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

remains of the "Silver Star" driftwood piece, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

It’s a big difference and doesn’t appear to be the result of natural wear and tear…unless we accept that there is a naturally destructive side to man’s nature?  Of course, this is just a pile of sticks arranged in the sand, but on a much larger, planetary level can we say that the wholesale changes we are making to the environment are natural and inevitable?  I’m in the “no” camp because another aspect of our complex natures is the ability to discern right from wrong.  Still I wonder when our instincts for self-preservation will start kicking in?  I was beginning to mull this over more when I heard what sounded like someone playing strange music from an unfamiliar instrument.  I was pretty sure my ears weren’t hearing things and so I walked around until I found its source.  You can imagine my deep surprise when I came upon this interesting character in the willow habitat.

The Giggle Master, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

He introduced himself as the “Giggle Master” and he said he heard me talking to myself about serious things and grew concerned.  His method of revealing himself was to play a tune of his own composition from this combination oboe/recorder that grew from the middle of his face!  By breathing in and out and working the finger holes on his instrument he could produce a variety of sounds some of which were quite unique and appealing.  When I had adjusted to the idea that a strange being about a foot or 20 or so centimeters tall was talking to me…I relaxed my guard and decided to see what would happen next?  The Giggle Master told me to follow him and that he had something to show me that he believed would lighten my mood up considerably.

The Giggle Master and his collection, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

I followed my new friend to his shelter under a willow tree and he introduced me to his “collection”.  Like me, the Giggle Master is a finder and collector of odd river-deposited items.  He said it gave him great joy to assemble various odd collections where the sum of the collection is greater and more interesting than the parts.  I understood this perfectly because I have many unusual collections of my own river junk.  Some of which have been presented in this blog like my Squirt Gun Collection or Collection of Fake Foods.  You can see other collections I’ve formed and appear in my Pages section..  I have to say that the collection my friend was presenting to me was indeed unusual.  I asked what he called it and would it be possible to photograph it and present it to the wider world?  He said that he had no objections and so without further ado…here is what my friend called “The Giggle Bowl”.

The Giggle Bowl, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

We moved to the fossil beds for our impromptu photo shoot.  The Giggle Master told me that he had been collecting these “smiley faces” for a few years and now had enough to fill a found plastic bowl.  He went on to say that although he recognized that this was mostly waste plastic with all the accompanying bad baggage…it was also important to be able to step back and just appreciate the absurdity of it all.  The Giggle Master told me that taking oneself too seriously has potential consequences of its own.  He also told me that maintaining a healthy sense of humor would balance out the dark moods and I began to see the wisdom in this.  The Giggle Master said that he was appearing to me now because through some sixth sense all his own he could tell my own thoughts and feelings were beginning to sink below the horizon line.  He believed every person’s well-being would benefit from having a good laugh.  I have to admit it worked on me!  Okay, let’s spill the bowl and take a closer look at this goofy collection.

Two Smiley Face balls, purpose unknown, found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park

Okay, I confess that I have no idea what or how these smiley faces were used?  In their mouths, they have what look to be squeakers, however, these balls are too hard to squeeze.  The one with the red cap has a small stone lodged in its mouth and was made in China.

Three smiley face antenna balls, found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park

I frequently am grateful when something I come across says what it is.  In this case, these are three lightweight foam “antenna balls”.  Yes, for a while, there was a fad where people decorated the ends of their cars’ radio antennas with these novelties.  I like the one sporting a jester’s cap.

Three hard plastic face balls found at the Falls of the Ohio.

I’m calling these simply “face balls” because they are obviously not the more traditional “smiley faces”.  They floated into the park via the Ohio River from parts unknown.

Two smiling face fishing floats from the Falls of the Ohio

The Giggle Master was slightly alarmed because he realized he is missing the third smiling face from this series of objects.  I recognized that these are fishing floats and the missing float is larger still.  It will turn up somewhere.

A trio of plastic smiley faces found at the Falls of the Ohio

Here’s a trio of smiling faces.  The yellow one in the center is a simple ball, but the top and bottom pieces belong to something else I don’t recognize…do you?  The top piece looks to be a tiny container and maybe once held candy or soap-bubble solution, but there is no other information about it including its country of origin.

The Giggle Master with his Giggle Bowl collection, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

After the photo session was over, we returned to the willow tree where I first met the Giggle Master.  He stored his collection in a hollow formed in the tree’s trunk.  Before departing from my new friend, I thanked him for the much-needed laugh and wished him happy hunting as he expanded his silly collection.  No doubt the river will continue to supply new items.  He replied with a few notes from his…”nose instrument’.  As I turned for home, I looked back one last time and could discern a slight smile on his tiny face.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

fallen black willow leaves, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

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willow trees and ice, Jan. 2014

Polar vortex…that’s the new buzz words for us this winter.  The Kentuckiana area has tasted this Arctic gift twice so far and we haven’t had a winter this cold in many years.  It manifests with the temperature bottoming out around 0 degrees Fahrenheit…colder still with the wind chill.  Snow and ice also accompany this blast of icy weather.  Once under the spell of the polar vortex…all one can do is ride it out.  It’s going to be bone-chilling cold for several days in a row.  Even if you know it’s going to happen, you really don’t feel prepared for it.  People tape plastic over their windows to trap heat and foil wind.  Shoppers rush out to purchase bread and milk.  Folks let the faucets drip throughout the day and night to prevent freezing and bursting water pipes.  Still, the plumbers are busy.  Extra layers of clothes are needed however,  you still feel cold around the edges.  If there is a weakness in a machine…the extreme cold will find it and this happened to my trusty rivermobile.  School may be out, but otherwise it’s pretty much business as usual.

ice formations, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Jan. 2014

The part about “business as usual” also strikes me as being a bit sad.  I am of the opinion that the reason the Earth has winter is to slow everything down and that’s vitally necessary.  It’s meant to be reflective and allows a moment for a deep breath before moving on again.  We all have more than enough pushing us to accomplish tasks at increasing breakneck speed.  The polar vortex challenges us to slow down if we can.

Ice formations, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

Ice formations on willow trees, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

In an effort to foster personal wonder for the world, I made it out to the Falls of the Ohio on a day that wouldn’t risk frost bite.  Over the years, I have prized coming out here on cold winter days especially if it meant seeing different ice formations.   There are ice ribbons, sausage-shaped icicles, frozen homemade candles, and just plain ice blobs on display.  I love the variety of forms and the play of light through the magic of solid water.  The most interesting ice formations are near the water’s edge where the willow trees catch the rising steam off of the river.  The water is warmer than the surrounding air temperatures and this “fog” helps coat the roots and branches with glassy layers of ice.  I thought I had the place all to myself when I was joined in this frigid landscape by a new friend.

The Ice Tourist, Falls, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist following my tracks, Jan. 2014

He described himself as being a fellow “ice tourist” and so that’s how I remember him.  He said he was curious about the ice, but also wary of stepping through thin ice and feeling the burn of extremely cold water.  I’ve had this experience before and so I could relate.  The Ice Tourist told me he had followed my tracks into the ice field and so far I had kept him out of danger.  We spent about an hour together before parting.  Here are some more pictures of him posed next to the ice formations we encountered.

The Ice Tourist, Falls, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist among icy willow, Jan. 2014

Ice Tourist and ice formation, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist had to check out everything as closely as possible.  He would climb upon the willow branches and roots to get the best view.  As it turns out, he was a local guy who like me, likes to hang out near the river whenever he can.  He was wearing a very thin and worn out t-shirt that said something about the town of Jeffersonville on it.  That’s the next town over from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I mentioned something about the poor condition of his garment and how it didn’t look substantial enough to keep him warm.  His response was that feeling warm was as much a mental state of mind and he was far too engaged by this novel environment to feel the cold.

The Ice Tourist, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

The sun was rising.  The day was warming and the ice was beginning to drip and lose its strength.  Today’s show was at an end.  The image of a hot cup of coffee or cocoa was starting to have great appeal to me and so I said my farewell to the Ice Tourist.  Perhaps we will run into one another again at the river…we shall see?  Leaving my new friend behind, I walked the riverbank  and could see that the Ring-billed gulls that had been absent during the polar vortex were once again in residence in the park.  I wonder if the groundhogs will see their shadows tomorrow?

Ring-bill gulls and mallard ducks, Jan. 2014

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spider's web in the morning light, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013The Falls of the Ohio is a special place in the history of life.  From the ancient marine creatures whose remains are preserved in limestone dating back more than 370 million years a go to the contemporary creatures that inhabit the park today…it is my goal to celebrate life here in all its diversity.  I’m going to use this post to present images of recent finds.  I was exploring the western side of this state park recently and saw this spider’s web high off the ground catching the early morning light.  I’m sure its architect would prefer a buggy meal over the photons it has snared instead!  Looking at this web image, I’m struck by how similar this  looks to the cross-section of a tree.  Can you see that too with the outermost silk rings resembling a tree’s growth rings?  In the Purple Loosestrife stands, butterflies were having a nectar feast and I presented many images of them in a previous post.  Here’s one more to add to that portfolio.  I have seen this butterfly species wind up on the spider’s menu before.

Dog Face Butterfly on Purple Loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, late Aug. 2013

This is the Dog Face Butterfly (Colias cestonia ).  It is often difficult to photograph this butterfly in the wild with its wings open because this species prefers to feed with its wings held together.  Through the strong light passing through the forewings, you can get the suggestion of a dog’s head in profile.  Imagine the black rimmed spot as the “dog’s eye” with its muzzle pointing down.  When open, the dark interior margins of the wings are a warm black color.  I was exploring the interstitial sandy zone between the river and the willow woods…when I came across this interesting amphibian.

The American Toad at the Falls of the Ohio, August 2013

American Toad, dorsal view, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

If this American Toad ( Bufo americanus ) had not moved…I doubt I would have seen it.  It’s coloration is wonderfully cryptic easily blending into the sand.  The toad was busy hunting among the debris and driftwood for any insects and invertebrates it could find.  I don’t encounter many amphibians out here…so finding a common toad is a noteworthy event.  Let’s move up the evolutionary ladder a bit.  I was busy working on one of my Styrofoam sculptures at my outdoor studio when I felt I was being watched.  When I lifted my eyes up from my artwork…I found myself looking eye to eye with this critter.

Woodchuck or groundhog at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

This is the common Groundhog or Woodchuck ( Marmota monax ).  As its scientific name suggests, this large rodent is a member of the marmot family.  Woodchucks are successfully established at the Falls and I encounter them often.  They are fast diggers and live in an extensive system of burrows.  Woodchucks usually don’t stray too far away from the entrances to their burrows.  Succulent greens are the preferred foods.  This particular woodchuck regarding me is a young individual and may be seeking territory of its own?  Usually, I don’t see them this close to the river.  I did have an interesting recent encounter with a very different animal in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Have you ever heard of an animal called the Camelope, (Antilocapra fallsei )?  It is very rarely seen.  The flora and fauna at the Falls can be roughly divided between forms that are “natural” and “unnatural”.  The spider, butterfly, toad, and woodchuck fit in the natural fauna category, while the Camelope is definitely on the unnatural fauna side of life and may represent evolution at an accelerated pace?  The many stresses to the environment and its myriad ecosystems have required a dramatic response and creatures like the Camelope may be nature’s way of responding to these changes?  I’m not a trained scientist, but that is my educated guess.  Discovering and documenting these recent life forms has become a passion of mine.  Anyway, let’s look at a Camelope.  Let’s start with an image of its head.

Camelope, detail of head, August 2013

It’s called a Camelope because its head generally resembles that of a camel’s.  This is a browsing animal and accepts a wide range of vegetation growing along the river.  It has dark eyes that are always nervously looking around for potential predators.  This park is also home to Feralocitors that prey upon Camelopes.  This particular species also has an acute sense of smell.

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

I came across this Camelope in a more isolated section of the park.  It was hiding among the stands of loosestrife and drinking water from the springs that flow downhill and into the river.  It is ever alert and very nimble with quick feet and seemingly at home climbing on rocks or navigating through dense vegetation.  Their bodies resemble that of deer or antelopes…hence Camelope.

Camelope reacting to an unfamiliar sound, Aug. 2013

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Since it is a relatively new animal…not very much is known about it.  I was able to conceal my presence long enough to manage these images.  I either moved or the wind shifted, but anyway my presence was detected and with a quick bound, the Camelope disappeared into the brush.  I hope I may come across it again and learn more about its secretive life.  Regardless, I will keep my eyes open and my camera at the ready for any new “unnatural” life forms I discover.  It occurred to me on my way home that my Falls of the Ohio Project is now officially ten years old!  I started exploring this fascinating park as the Artist at Exit 0 in August 2003 when the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was being celebrated.  Reading early 19th century accounts of the natural abundance of our country and this place in particular made me wistful for a world that no longer exists.  Two hundred years later…that process continues and no doubt will two hundred years from now.  I have often thought of this riverblog as a historical document as relevant today as Lewis and Clark’s notebooks and journals were back when this country was first being described.  I hope this park and its remarkable history will continue to inspire people for a very long time.  In closing, I would like to present an image of Canada Geese on the water near the fossil beds.  Their coloration gives them in my mind’s eye a formal quality and lends dignity to the landscape.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Canada Geese and fossil rock at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

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Falls of the Ohio, mid May 2013

It’s mid May and the Ohio River is high at the Falls of the Ohio.  A now warm wind (it was cold yesterday) is driving muddy waves against the shoreline and the willow trees are in their element.  Except for me…there is no one else around.  Bird life, however, is ever-present and I count many newly arrived species that spent the winter south of the equator.  Eastern Kingbirds are establishing their territories and many different birds already have active nests going.  A bright blue Indigo Bunting flies into my sight line long enough to be identified before once again hiding from view in the tops of the trees. Because the river is taking up most of the bank, I’m walking on top of the driftwood on the parameter of the willow environment.  As I slowly walk along, I move as quietly as possible between the trees.  I’m always hopeful of seeing wildlife and although it is mid morning…I get lucky.  Something has caught my eye down the beach at the water’s edge and I reach for my camera.

young Styrobuck at the water's edge, Mid May 2013

It’s a young Styrobuck and it is nervously checking out the river.  The wind is blowing my scent in the opposite direction. This is indeed great luck because this unusual animal is also one of the rarest mammals in this area.  Years can go by between sightings and there is always conjecture on whether they still exist here at all.  Occasionally, tracks are found which renews hope that they still occupy their original range. I decided that this was too great a photo opportunity to pass up and so I changed my plans for the day.  I would follow and record this beautiful and odd animal for as long as I could.

Styrobuck at the river, May 2013

The Styrobuck is one of those hard to classify mammals.  Although genetically a deer…it also shares traits with goats and antelopes.  I recall getting caught up in the discovery in 1992 of a new large mammal discovered in the Annamite Range bordering Vietnam and Laos.  Science calls it a Saola, (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) but it is also more colorfully known as the Asian unicorn.  Anyway, its resemblance to an antelope is striking, but technically it is a member of the cow family.  Just when it was looking like all the big animals on the planet had been discovered…out trotted the Saola.  The mystery of it was amazing!  Of course, the indigenous people had known about it for a long time.  Once in a while, they would catch one in their snares meant for the other forest animals.  Still, it was a great rarity for them as well…a near mythic animal.  It was probably tasty too.

head of a young Styrobuck, May 2013

Styrobuck, detail of head facing forward, May 2013

Styrobuck ,detail, head facing left, May 2013

The Styrobuck is by necessity a very nervous and wary animal.  It is about the size of a small dog and the perfect prey size for many of our predators.  It has large eyes and a keenly developed sense of smell.  There are also old first hand accounts that also suggest the Styrobuck has a sense of curiosity which can lead to its downfall.  Smallish antlers are grown and shed each year after the breeding season in the late autumn.  In the spring one to two fawns are born that remain with their mother until the following  summer.

Styrobuck in the willow woods, May 2013

The animal I was watching was more than likely born last year and probably newly separated from its mother.  To my eye, it did appear that the young Styrobuck was searching for something in the vicinity.

young Styrobuck, mid May 2013

The Styrobuck certainly was concentrating in an area between the river and the margins of the woods.  If there were any other members of its species around here…they remained well hidden.  Every now and then the young buck would browse on young tree leaves and tender grasses.

Styrobuck in the water, may 2013

My last image of the Styrobuck in the water was taken from a vantage point in the top of a willow tree that I quietly shinnied up.  I could feel the wind shifting and sure enough the young buck caught my all too human odor and bolted for parts unknown.  I shared my images with the Interpretive Center who were glad to receive them.  I hope exposing this one animal won’t lead to a stampede by the public that drives this vulnerable species from our area for good.  The Falls of the Ohio is a richer for having this interesting animal call this place home.

Falls of the Ohio, looking east, May 2013

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The heat and the relentless light of the sun makes it official.  It’s summer at the Falls of the Ohio.  Now I need to plan my forays a bit more carefully if I want to get the most from each trip out here.  Earlier in the day is better.  You miss most of the heat, there are fewer people (except for the die-hard fishermen) and the chances are better you might see some wildlife…especially birds.  Luckily, if you don’t make it out here early enough…the trees are all in full leaf and the shade provides needed relief.  I wonder what kind of summer is boding for this year?  So far we have had the warmest spring ever being nearly a full seven degrees above normal temperatures.  Yikes!!  No doubt, summer will find a way to be memorable.  Anyway, when I’m out here I try to take some precautions in the form of drinking water and sun block.  Once my mind engages on something…I tend to forget my body.  This post is about another “personality” that I ran into on this day and the following is his story.

I came across this fellow several times during this day.  The usual protocol when encountering a stranger is maybe a quick nod of the head and each party then goes their own way.  I would have been happy to stick with this, but I kept bumping into this guy seemingly everywhere I walked.  One very curious thing about him (or her and how do you tell?) was that “he” was picking up old shoe soles and sticking them under his belt.  Here’s another view showing this.

Truthfully, I was at a loss to explain this to myself and the best I could come up with for this strange behavior was that this guy forgot his collecting bag and had some type of project that required shoe soles?  I’ve already noticed that a lot of wayward shoes wind up here courtesy of the Ohio River.  If you don’t believe me, check out my special collections area under “The Shoes You Lose” and you will doubt no more!  I haven’t added images to either collection in a while, nevertheless the lost shoes keep on coming.  Just for kicks, here are a couple additional shoes I saw on this trip that piqued my camera’s interest.

Here’s another shoe found near the previous one.  See what I mean?  I could go on and on about the shoes alone.

After my first encounter with this odd character I ran into him near a willow tree by the river’s edge and he was doing the same activity as before.

This time I abandoned my typical reserve and engaged the guy in conversation.  I think I said something like,…”Hey mister, I can’t help noticing that you are collecting shoes and shoe soles and although I know it is none of my business…what are you going to do with the footwear?”  I further added, ” I see you have tucked a few more soles into your belt since I saw you earlier.”   The Sole Man (my mental designation for him) smiled easily from his green mouth and put me at ease.  I had nothing to fear from him.  We walked together for a while and he told me what his angle is and why he does what he does.  Spotting another lost sole in the sand, my new friend bent over and lifted it up.

Upon picking the sole up, the “Sole Man” flung it over his shoulder and said follow me.

We didn’t need to walk far.  The Sole Man had a spot in mind where he told me he was going to deposit his shoes.  In the full light of the sun he selected an area marked by two shattered plastic drums, driftwood, plastic junk, and the tell-tale white beads from Styrofoam that had been deposited here by the Ohio River.

One by one my new acquaintance dropped his shoe soles in his selected spot.

He told me that he does this as a form of meditation.  Seeing all the junk from our material culture wash up here at the Falls of the Ohio has bothered him for years.  He couldn’t understand why anybody would do this to the Earth?  Fixating on all the debris was just making him madder and angrier which has  its own consequences.  He carried these shoe soles here because he wanted it to be visible so that others might see and reflect as he had.

He hit upon the idea that collecting and carrying these soles might provide him some peace of mind or insight into his fellow beings?  Each sole was a record of a lived life with their scuff marks and pressure points compressed into the very sole itself.  The sole was a record of an individual’s life experience and no two souls were bound to be alike. The old adage about not knowing a person until you walked in their shoes hit home like never before.  I asked him was it working…making him less angry?  He said that it did.  His negative feelings were replaced with something akin to empathy for he understood that he was not much different from the former owners of these shoes.  It made him feel less “high and mighty” and more of an equal stakeholder for the many conversations to come.  After a few more photographs, I bid my new friend good luck.  Leaving him, I placed one foot in front of the other and headed for home on this hot day.

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Okay so I’m bowing to a little peer pressure and presenting additional images from a project I did the last month.  The day I made my Styrofoam ant project I also kept crossing areas on the riverbank where iridescent flows from something oily was percolating up through the sand and mixing with slow flowing water.  In my original story…imbibing this stuff is what mutates the ant into a giant!

I still don’t know what this prismatic film is that is seeping to the surface?  It could be old long-buried petroleum or some oily residue from decaying vegetation?

These rainbow flows are a fact of life at the Falls and gives me another setting my sculptures can help interpret.  The colors and patterns on the water and sand can be very striking.  Here in quick succession are several more abstract images created the same day as the ant project, but minus the Styro-insect.

In the above image, you can see a few recognizable objects including nuts, sand, and coal.  I’ll close with a final image of why the ants are so large here…they are drinking the sheen and it’s the Godzilla effect all over again!

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I met my friend the “Professor” by the old cottonwood tree that has been turned into a hang-out of sorts for the local teenagers.  I don’t get to see him as often as I would like to…so the time we spend together is meaningful for me.  Usually, we pick a topic to converse about and see where it goes from there.  This time, since it was the end of October we decided that a Halloween-theme was in order.  By now it shouldn’t surprise the regular readers of this blog that all kinds of holiday related stuff also washes into the park along with all the regular junk that unfortunately is in the Ohio River.

The Professor and I have been friends for a few years now.  I first met him here by the river.  We are both beachcombers and it has been fun to recount our various discoveries.  It is interesting how people like to collect different things and the Professor keeps his own cabinet of curiosities which is composed of his river finds.  When I caught up with him this morning, he had already been prowling the river’s beaches and he was anxious to show me his treasures.  This is what he decided to keep to add to his growing river collection.

It’s not everyday that you encounter a lobster at the Falls of the Ohio.  On occasion, you do come across the small crayfish or “crawdads” that the herons and raccoons like to eat.  The Professor seemed especially happy to have found it.  His next exhibit was a bit peculiar and a tad distasteful.

Yes, it’s an old intact jar of pickles that reminded the Professor of the preserved specimens you might find in a medical museum.  While these “albino” pickles are indeed scary…they are not overtly Halloween decorations.  There was something inside the tree house that the Professor said did fit the bill and here is a snapshot of it.

Now here indeed was a true Halloween decoration that has been augmented with an improvised eye-patch and the worm dangling from its bony mouth is a plastic worm used for fishing.  This find was hanging up inside the tree house and my guess is that it is being used now to impart some pirate atmosphere.

With his beady little eyes shining, the Professor was anxious to see what I had brought.  Reaching into my collecting bag I pulled out an envelope of photographs.  One difference between the Professor and me is that I no longer feel compelled to pick up and carry home every little thing I find.  Sometimes a photographic image of it is enough for me and this set off a conversation about how nothing replaces being able to handle the real thing and how computers and on-line shopping are weirdly vicarious experiences.  I let the Professor rant a bit and of course…he’s right.  Regardless, I did show him my images and I’m glad to also share them with you.  Most of them are Jack-o-lantern candy containers for holding the actual trick or treat loot.  So, here are the pictures which span about a year and a half worth of finds.

Here’s a few smaller novelties that probably were part of the candy’s packaging.

I once found a skeletal reference of my own and I think it was used as a stopper for some kind of candy container?

And now for a couple of found disguises.

This full-face mask looks like a hockey goalie’s mask, but I think it recalls one of those scary Halloween movies which I’m not fond of.  The next one is more my style!

I thought it was humorous to encounter this plastic nose mask!  Okay, one last image before total boredom sets in.  Here’s another jack-o-lantern pumpkin I came across after last spring’s flooding.  It’s meant as a house decoration and was as large as a good-sized pumpkin.  It was so muddy where it rested that I just took this picture and went on my way.  Here’s hoping you all had more treats than tricks during the last Halloween.

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