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Posts Tagged ‘wood’

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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