Posts Tagged ‘trees’

pollinating tree, April 2013

It’s Thunder Over Louisville weekend which means the largest fireworks extravaganza in North America will happen tonight.  This is the kickoff event for the Kentucky Derby Festival which culminates in the horse race itself on the first Saturday in May.  The festival is a two-week event and while fun for residents and visitors…can also be an obstacle course if you are trying to get around town.  I like using the bridge on 2nd Street to get to the Falls of the Ohio State Park, but it is shut down and being used for the fireworks display.  At its height, Thunder Over Louisville (which also includes an air show) has drawn 800,000 people to the banks of the Ohio River on a single day.  I’m hoping to access the river and the park tomorrow.  For the moment, I have images to post from my last visit.  Looking through the pictures, it occurred to me that I had captured moments in the lives of individual trees that I would like to share.  The area continues to green up and many trees are producing their pollen.  For allergy sufferers, this is an especially difficult time.  If I was affected by seasonal allergies…I doubt I could do this project.  There is something about being in the bottom of the Ohio Valley that seems to bring out the worst for those allergic to various molds and pollen.

driftwood at the creek, April 2013

driftwood at the creek, April 2013

driftwood lining the banks of the creek, April 2013

I started this adventure on the Woodland Loop Trial near the Interpretive Center.  The path eventually leads to a small creek that at the moment has a tremendous amount of driftwood lining the contours of its banks.  All this wood was deposited here by the Ohio River swollen from winter rain and snow melt all along the length and breath of the river valley.  More high water could eventually carry all this wood back out into the river for parts unknown.  Still, this represents a lot of trees.  I have this idea in my head that as a result of climate change, we have all this extra water and energy in our weather systems?  Where does the water from retreating glaciers and Arctic melting go?  I’m guessing that some of it is evaporated out of the oceans and into a warming atmosphere where it influences the global weather patterns?  This excess water eventually precipitates out causing more severe weather events including flooding.  This increases riverbank erosion and tree loss.  Is there a limit on how much water the atmosphere can absorb?    Of course development along the rivers takes its share of trees too.  The cumulative effect of many actions continues to shape the environment.

tree too close to the river, April 2013

tree roots and river mud, April 2013

These exposed tree roots are something that I’m noticing more of at the Falls of the Ohio.  I’m assuming that frequent high water causes this?  This isn’t necessarily fatal and these trees can survive as long as the riverbank stays in place.  In addition to more water…an increase in storm related wind velocity has also been noticeable over the years.  We have had a lot of trees simply blow over and be lost in this manner.  Continuing to walk westward in the park, I can see that my favorite cottonwood tree continues to be developed as a party hang-out.

cottonwood tree party hangout, Falls of the Ohio, April 2013

fire pit outside the tree fort, April 2013

distant view of downtown Louisville from inside tree fort, April 2013

I posted on this wonderful cottonwood tree not too long a go and remarked on how it was once again becoming a focal point for parties.  The fire pits are larger and there are more beer bottles and cans around this tree than before.  I’ll bet this place is especially magical illuminated by camp fires.  Plus, more found wood has been used to hide a large silvery sheet of corrugated plastic to impart a more naturalistic appearance.  From inside and under the tree, you can see in the distance part of the downtown skyline of Louisville which will be filled with fireworks tonight.  Over the years, this tree has been discovered by different generations of folks and continues to hang in there.  I hope this will always be the case.  The next big flood will eventually wash all the additions away as it has done before.

tree with snagged wooden pallet, April 2013

Here’s an image that demonstrates how high the river can rise.  This snagged pallet has been hanging out on this tree branch for a couple of years now.  Trees can demonstrate some resilience in the face of adversity.  I know of a couple of trees at the Falls that have made use of improvised “planters”.

Willow growing within a tire, April 2013

Cast off tires are a ubiquitous element of river-born trash.  Somehow this willow tree has found a sheltering toehold in this wheel.  I’m curious to learn whether this tree can continue to grow and survive in what is ultimately a restrictive space?  On this walk, I also came across this unusual juxtaposition and thought it might fit in this post too.

willow roots, plastic laundry basket, and clothing item, April 2013

This may be as near as I come to having a tree suggest that it could do laundry too!  The surface root of an old willow tree has caught this old jacket.  The last high water floated this plastic laundry basket into this area and it settled next to the root.  This is not your average still life.  The gravel in the photo was deposited here by the last of the retreating ice age glaciers.

Sauger Man, April 2013


To conclude this post…as I was walking along the loop side of the trail, I spotted  a piece of Styrofoam in a ditch.  Retrieving it I discovered one of my previous sculptures from several months a go.  I originally included him in a story that featured sauger fishermen.  Except for a missing nose, the sculpture was complete.  I was surprised that it survived intact going on several months now.  Looking through my collecting bag…I replaced the lost nose with another piece of found plastic and set him up to greet visitors along the trail.  Here’s a final picture showing him next to a tree that the wind blew down last year.  Thanks for hanging out with me for the past thousand words.  Have a great weekend!

Sauger Man, under a tree trunk, Falls of the Ohio, April 2013

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One last driftwood post before hopefully moving on to the current conditions at the Falls of the Ohio.  As my knee heals, I have been sifting through my own digital photographs.  Sitting at home, I have been spared the relentless heat that has defined our summer.  Artist at Exit 0, however, does miss bearing witness to life along the river and can’t wait to get back!  I thought I would end this driftwood series by looking at wood that is more organically expressive.  As mentioned in a previous post, the river processes a tree by removing its branches into increasingly smaller segments.  With all the broken down wood present at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, it can be a challenge to find a piece that implies movement.  Here are a few larger examples that I find to be especially sculptural.

I come across many unique pieces of wood in the park that feel as satisfying to me as many abstract sculptures made by man.  Walking around a  particularly nice piece of driftwood, I am rewarded with different viewpoints that remind me that the object I am regarding share a common space.  Here’s a different image of the same dramatic driftwood log and the experience in perception changes as you move around the wood.  I notice not only the arc of branches and roots, but the spaces between forms as well.

Here’s another nice piece that I came across this year and it also has many nice sculptural qualities.  I love the “S” curve snake-like motion implied in this driftwood.

When I see a piece of wood this twisted and convoluted I’m reminded that nature is the true sculptor here.  Doing the shaping are water, wind, and the life force of the tree itself whose innate “intention” is to live.

It’s hard for me to imagine that works of art were considered ” superior” to the “corruptness” of nature.  Fortunately, the philosophy of aesthetics is ever-changing, but still could use additional tweaking from what strictly enhances the experiences of our lives to embracing a better appreciation of life in all its forms.  Even when we use ourselves as the egotistical measure of all things we should be starting to understand by now that the quality of our very lives and that of our descendants depends upon the overall quality of the natural environment.

When I’m at the river I try to be as present in the moment as much as I can, however, my mind does day-dream a lot about the relationships between art, man, and nature.  I believe as my friend Ellen Dissanayake has eloquently expressed through her well-researched books that art has survival value otherwise our species would not have spent thousands of years involved in this activity.  My reaction is to try to use my creativity in this special place using the materials I find on hand to try to further this conversation along.  The sculptures I make to tell my little stories are combinations of natural and artificial materials.  The river-eroded Styrofoam I use for my figurative work is usually so static in form that to enliven it requires finding rootlets and branches that the river hasn’t fully removed all sense of gesture and movement.  These pieces become the arms and legs of my characters that help imply animation.  The picture above shows roots I collected while walking over the driftwood that the river did not completely break apart.

It’s interesting how often trees enter the picture.  One nice touch in the opening ceremony of the recently completed London Olympics was the large tree image that brought nature into the festivities.  Key to the life of a tree are the roots that help bring water and nutrients to its tissues.  By growing and burrowing through the soil the root system helps buttress the tree and holds the soil together.  This is especially important on a riverbank.  Since driftwood is essentially deadwood…I didn’t want to wrap up this post on such a dismal note.  At the Falls of the Ohio live many tenacious trees and here are images of a few of them that have weathered many a storm, flood, and the activities of man.

Before the idea of climate change and global warming there was already enough change occurring through the busyness of our species.  I remember looking at satellite imagery of the Amazon region a few years a go and being able to see the tell-tale grid system of logging roads and farms supplanting the jungle.  Deforestation is continuing at an even greater rate now.  Our trees need our love and we need the free services they provide.  Now for one last look at another resilient tree at the Falls of the Ohio.

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Welcome to my second look at wood as expressed at the Falls of the Ohio.  The first post concentrated more on the river and water as an agent of change moving material through the landscape.  This post looks more closely at the driftwood that gets stranded in this southern Indiana park.  I once curated an exhibition at the Louisville Visual Art Association entitled “River Sticks” where all the artworks were made from locally procured driftwood.  The majority of these works of art utilized raw, natural sources, but there is also wood in the mix of a slightly different character.

There is a wooden staircase placed here by the Department of Natural Resources (which maintains this state park) that is a popular access way onto the riverbank and fossil rocks.  It is not unusual during bouts of flooding to see part of this staircase submerged by the Ohio River.  During those moments, all you can do is look from a distance or visit the Interpretive Center.

Over time this staircase has needed frequent repairs as it gets battered by floating logs and tree trunks.  Only after the water has drained away can you walk among the driftwood and see what else made from wood has been left high and dry.

Here’s a dramatic shot of a different staircase that has floated down the river and has been snagged by a willow tree.  Objects stranded in trees bear witness to how high the river rose.

I frequently find wooden pallets and they get snagged in the trees too.  This one is a little different in that it appears the tree is growing through and around this artificial form. Over time, the pallet will fall apart. Perhaps wood is wood, but one can’t help noticing how much milled and processed wood is a part of the mix.  Here are a few other images showing this contrast between natural and man-shaped wood.

Sometimes it seems like there are enough planed boards at the Falls to build a small house. Fishermen and visitors use these planks to span muddy areas and puddles to keep their shoes clean and dry.  All this wood is a disposable resource?  I’ve seen visitors taking lumber out and I’ve done the same.  I like using river-worn cut boards as bases for the Styrofoam sculptures I choose to keep.  To me, even the smallest board tells a story of our relationship to trees and nature.  I tell myself that someday I’ll make some rustic piece of furniture from this wood.  The same processes that break a tree down in the river…do a similar “service” to disposed of wooden furniture.

Here’s a piece of a child’s crib or bed that I found at the river’s edge.

This is one of many table legs and turned pieces I’ve come across.  Sometimes I pick them up and take them home.  I’ve used them on rare occasions in my art, but I have also given many pieces to artist friends to see what they could make of them.  I suppose I could make an homage to  Louise Nevelson’s sculptures, but would prefer to create something more personal.  Nevertheless, I have picked up a few wooden artifacts from the river and here’s how they look collectively.

I left the toes of my shoes sneaking a peak for scale!  Here’s some of the hand-turned and machine-made table legs, chair staves, and spindles I’ve saved.  These artifacts do break down over time and eventually revert back to nature.  Now for a detail.

Here’s a slightly different collection of wooden artifacts I’ve saved over the years.  Some things I recognize and others require pondering to figure them out.

The objects on the right are mostly finials from fence posts.  The circular objects with the holes in them…I’m not sure how those were originally used?  Could they be part of a float system for barge ropes or are they wooden wheels for toys…could they be lids for some kinds of containers?  In this grouping I have also included a small rustic picture frame I found as well as a whittled stick I could tell someone cut and scored and is perhaps the most minimal artifact in my altered wood collection.  I find many board fragments, but I kept one small piece because someone named “Bill” tried routing his name in the wood and drilled a few holes that became bigger as the wood softened and aged from exposure to water.  This piece of wood exhibits several ways we leave our mark on nature.

I also have a sign collection that can be seen in my Pages section.  Most all of them are also made from wood and were once part of this unusual driftwood mix that came from the Ohio River.  I’m thinking of putting my found “Bill” board in that collection because it too is a sign of the times as we lose our ability and desire to write in cursive.  Very few schools in my area even bother to teach this skill anymore.

Not all the driftwood in the river consists of logs, branches, and roots.  Much of my riverblog bears witness to the extent our handiwork pervades the larger environment.  What I see happening in my part of the world I assume is transitioning  simultaneously across the surface of the planet.  We have added our own distinctiveness to the overall material aggregate which challenges our now quaint notions of what is “purely natural”.  I was right when I mentioned in an earlier post that the month of July would find a way to be memorable.  It’s official now, July was our hottest month ever in what is shaping up to be our hottest year ever.  Much of our country is experiencing an intense drought and so I end with a picture of what it looks like when there is too much water.

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I have been doing some armchair beach combing while my knee recovers and I have selected images to help tell the story of wood at the Falls of the Ohio.  Since this wood was also once alive, it is also the story of trees along the Ohio Valley. When I went through my last three year’s worth of images…I found enough material for a few “wooden posts”.  Hence, this is Part I of what may prove to be a couple of stories.  The Falls of the Ohio is well-known for its driftwood deposits and many people (and some animals when I come to think about it) like to take advantage of this resource.  I have met many a person in pursuit of a select piece of wood.  What folks do with this wood is as variable as the person.  Some people like to use driftwood to enhance garden displays, some are inspired to make art from the found wood, and others may choose to burn this wood during cold winter nights.  I’ve seen Pileated Woodpeckers make short work of decayed tree trunks in their pursuit of carpenter ants and beetle larvae.   And once I found a Mallard duck’s nest inside a hollow log.  I’ve seen many beautiful fungi helping to convert this wood to humus. Driftwood is plentiful in the park and what usually happens is the Ohio River during its high water moods moves the old wood out and lays down a fresh layer that originates up-stream from us.  Sometimes I wonder if the wood I’m seeing is also part of the riverbank eroding in the northeast? These days, riverine ecosystems are under so many pressures. Since the Falls environment is continually being rearranged by nature, no two years are exactly the same and the riverbank is ever-changing.  It is interesting to me to think about these very images as digital driftwood that flows from the rivulet of data coming from my computer and tumbled into the ocean of info that is the internet.

A prolonged rainy system upriver from us or a sudden flash flood caused by short, but intense rain storms causes the Ohio River to rise quickly.  “New” wood flows over the top of the dam and soon mixes with wood already in the park.

Prevailing winds and river currents push the driftwood which can form large rafts and mats against the Indiana side of the Ohio River.  If you notice, there aren’t many trees here with intact branches.  The river breaks each tree down and keeps subdividing it into ever smaller and straighter pieces.  The wood chips in the water are the remains of tree bark that have been ground off by continually rolling against the other tree trunks in the waves.  Of course, there is other detritus much of it man-made also in the water. Eventually the water recedes and strands the wood in interesting formations that are a part of a new and rearranged environment.  Here are a few images made while the river retreats.

Not all the driftwood gets corralled by long logs that organize the smaller ones into neat parallel rows that fill in beach space like pieces to a puzzle.  It’s fascinating to get a sense of the water by how the wood was laid down.  Sometimes there is just so much material that immense mounds are formed by the interlocking wood.  Exploring these mounds can be tricky because the wood is still settling and caution is recommended.  At the moment, there is a sizable amount of driftwood under the railroad bridge which is also closest to the dam.  Here are a few images of all these logs after the water has drained away.

The small creek that flows into the Ohio River gets backed up with logs during high water.  When the water recedes and deposits the wood, it covers the contours of the creek’s banks.  Here are a few more recent images.

In the above image you can see how the trees that line this bank are beginning to be exposed by the river.  I believe there is just so much additional water and energy in play now because of climate change that the days of gentle rains will be fewer and farther between one another.  In our area, many residents have noticed that our storms seem to be fiercer and becoming more event worthy.  The main beneficiary of this are the television weather forecasters who love to hype the weather anyway.  I believe I will end here for now, but will continue later because there is more to say about this driftwood.  To close, I will end with another large and sculptural mound of driftwood.  Have a great week and month everybody!!

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Sycamore in Fall, 10/09

The American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is a large and familiar tree found primarily east of the Mississippi River.  Many people recognize it by its mottled bark revealing patches of brown and white color.  Usually sycamore trees are found close to water and that is the case at the Falls of the Ohio.  I have a favorite stand of these trees, but they are remarkable for reasons other than their size. 

Sycamores with open roots, 10/09

Sycamore trees, Falls of the Ohio, 10/09

I can remember when I first came across these trees, I had the feeling that they were trying to uproot themselves and walk away.  The exposed root systems in these specimens are elaborate.  I wonder if the riverbank was more extensive at some earlier point in the development of these trees and eroded away due to flooding?  Sycamores can be fast growing trees, but these examples don’t appear to be that old.

Sycamore roots, 10/09

Their roots snake across the riverbank nearly touching the water and are very picturesque.  I have used this location as a backdrop to photograph some of my sculptures.  I did this most recently for a work entitled “Audubon’s Apotheosis”.  Within the aggregate that makes up a sycamore’s seed ball is a small sphere that I have used for eyes in some of my figures.  I also like the yellow-green color of the leaves this time of year.  Here’s one last shot of a particularly “Ent-ish” tree, its dropped leaves swirling around its amazing roots.

Walking Sycamore tree, 10/09

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Mr. Hand Grenade Heart, 6/09

Yes, I proudly admit that I’m a tree hugger.  And, the harder it is to wrap my arms around a tree the better I like it.  I realize change is a constant, but somethings are moving so rapidly that this hand grenade of a heart of mine …sometimes feels like exploding.

Falls landscape, 6/09

You may not remember the chestnut trees, but I do. Once they were the dominant tree of the eastern forests.  They had really wonderful leaves and their nuts provided food for all kinds of animals.  Now they are all gone.   Today’s trees at the Falls of the Ohio are a little removed from what was first recorded here.  Now, we feel somewhat secure in the knowledge that what we have is what we have.  It’s always going to be there for us…but big changes are walking the land.

Mr. Hand Grenade Heart, 6/09

I’m out here by the river all the time.  It’s around the edges, the interstitial zones, where changes can be seen most noticeably.  The weather and climate of the last two years have been especially hard on our trees.  Paradoxically, we have had spells where we had too much rain at one time, and then not enough.  Those gentle rain showers also seem to becoming a thing of the past.  Today’s storms are more fierce with energy.

Mr. H.G.H., 6/09

Last year’s wind storm from Hurricane Ike was an eye-opener!  With gusts clocked at over 70 plus miles per hour, the wind clothes-lined our trees.  Some snapped in half at mid-trunk.  Others fell over exposing their root masses when their leaves and canopies provided too much resistance.  The ice storm that followed in winter didn’t help matters any.  Already it’s considered the worst natural disaster to hit Kentucky in modern times.

Head of Mr. Hand Grenade Heart, 6/09

Why are we in such a big hurry to go nowhere?  Is it we just can’t help ourselves?  Already we are introducing exotic pests and diseases that are destroying our indigenous heritage.  Ever heard of “bacterial leaf scorch” or the Emerald Ash Borer?  Succession will occur sooner than later because our trees are already in a weakened condition.  Every time the water gets high, the Ohio River deposits its washed away trees here.

Mr. H.G.H. and roots, 6/09

At the Falls…I can see the maple trees waiting in the wings along with trees introduced from other countries.  I don’t know what we can do about all that’s already put into play.  Perhaps we can try living more simply and do our part to reduce the causes of climate change?  When we travel, be vigilant about unseen invasive pest hitchhikers.  For now, I’m going to say goodbye to an old friend.  I’ve enjoyed the shade of this cottonwood tree for many years.  Treasure the big trees and keep them growing!

wood wreath with trumpet vine, 6/09

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rising river, 5/09

rising river 5/09

It’s been raining upriver from us and so what happens in the northeast eventually flows down.  More rain is expected and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the water completely cover the fixed wier dam that forms the park’s eastern boundry.  Massive piles of driftwood and debris are getting ready to flood the area under the Conrail Railroad Bridge.  Every time the river rises the landscape of the park gets rearranged and creates new novelties.  I was looking over recent images and found I had taken several shots of tree roots that speak not only of the power of water, but the tenacity of trees as well. 

black willow roots, 4/09

These are the roots from a black willow tree.  This is an amazingly tough tree that grows in the poorest soil (essentially clay mud and sand) and frequently gets completely submerged during a flood.

cottenwood roots, 5/09

The writhing roots from a cottonwood tree.  At the moment, fluff from these trees is drifting like dry snow through the air.

tree roots, 4/09

I believe this is a cottonwood tree as well.  I marvel at how the river will undermine a tree along the bank.  In places, canopies are created and you can sit underneath the roots of a tree which comes in handy when it rains or on very hot days. 

roots and frayed barge rope, 5/09

All these exposed roots are good catch-alls for whatever the river sends their way.  This tree has snagged a bit of frayed barge rope or cable.  Originally, these ropes are about as thick around as a man’s forearm.  The river has no problem dealing with them.  We will see how high the river gets.  I’m looking forward to making new works in this rearranged environment.

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