Flip-flops, Mystery Fluids, and Spent Cigarette Lighters Monday, Jun 5 2017 

Each year has a different character to it and for what I do at the Falls of the Ohio, a lot depends upon what I find.  Last year, there was an abundance of plastic bottles in a full spectrum of colors that stood out among the natural driftwood.  This year, we have had a mostly high river due to locally intense rains throughout the Ohio River Valley.  There have been successive waves of wood and plastic that have had me wandering the wrack lines filling my collecting bags and stuffing my computer with images.  The Falls are not a big area, but the dynamic changes that rearrange the riverbank keep it interesting.  This year I have concentrated mostly on formal arrangements on site using flip-flop sandals, plastic soft drink bottles with colored backwash in them, and I have also been astounded by the number of cigarette lighters I have been finding.  Following are a few of the many compositions I have already made this year.Chromatic arrangement in Flip-flops, Falls of the Ohio, Feb, 2017

Made this one on a sunny day in February.  I found all these flip-flops on a single walk along the riverbank which is how I still like to work out here.  I get ideas for projects based on what that day’s walk presents.  Kind of like going to the grocery store and seeing what’s ripe and in season.

Flip-flop arrangement on the sand, Falls of the Ohio, March 2017

Why flip-flops?  First, they are a ubiquitous part of human life around the river and they float and travel great distances to reach the park.  I also like the idea that these sandals are unique to the people who wore them and have their “soul or spirit” imprinted on them.  They come in a variety of colors and sizes and can be as variable as people.  There is also that saying about not understanding others until you can stand in their shoes.

Flip-flop ring, Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

A work from April of this year made with flip-flops.  Some colors seem to be harder to find than others particularly a true red or yellow.  Once in a while, I will also pick up and use the sole of some other kind of foot ware if I think it will come in “handy”.

Cottonwood Tree Composition, late May 2017, Falls of the Ohio

My latest flip-flop composition from late May.  Sited in the western section of the park, this piece is situated by a favorite cottonwood tree that I have shown in posts many times before.  It uniquely has a space under the roots that you can stand under.  It is a favorite place for locals to party.  Now for the next part of this post…”Mystery Fluids”.

Found soft drink and sport drink bottles with partial contents, Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

Usually found floating in rivers and other bodies of water are these partially consumed sport and soft drinks capped and in their bottles.  At the Falls of the Ohio I find them intermixed with the driftwood and everything else too.  Often, it is the bottom of the bottle that is sticking up from the wood.  I think being starved for color is why I gravitated towards this common element of our waste stream.  When the light hits these bottles just right…the colors can be very jewel-like and attractive.  Here are a few of the projects and images I made with them this year.

Found bottles and contents with the skyline of Louisville, Feb. 2017

Found bottles and contents, western section of the Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

Found bottle composition with contents, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

I have photographed these bottles in a variety of contexts and combinations over the year.  Their contents are amazingly well-preserved and I have never found one that had mold growing in it.  It could be that conditions have rendered these bottles sterile?  Did they get too hot, too cold, not enough oxygen?  Certainly, there is plenty of sugar, electrolytes, and preservatives in them.  On site, I usually have arranged them on the back of stranded logs or boards that have floated in here and then I take my pictures and walk away.  At my main outdoor studio…I have now been caching some of these bottles and flip-flops too for later in the year when the water level is low.  Now for the final category….found cigarette lighters.

Found cigarette lighters by various manufacturers, Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

Took this photograph a few days a go and represents my record for found cigarette lighters in one day out at the Falls of the Ohio.  I think there are 103 lighters here all gleaned from the driftwood.  I have always known that cigarette lighters are out here, but not until now have I concentrated on them.  When you begin looking for them, they can be everywhere up and down the riverbank and intermixed with the driftwood.  Once upon a time, the ability to create fire was a special and important skill.  It’s more than the climate that is changing.  Before I show you what I made with a hundred lighters, here are some earlier attempts.

BIC lighter color line, found cigarette lighters from the Falls of the Ohio, 2017

This found lighter composition is unique in that only “Bic” brand lighters were used.  The are arranged on the back of a log.  I still like referencing light through color.  The irony of our dependence on fossil fuels to make things like plastic and energy is that it comes from sequestered carbon created from sunlight by plants living millions of years a go.  Now we need to just look up in the sky to see that same source of energy in the here and now.

88 Cigarette Lighter Oval, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

I think from April?, but definitely the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Created this oval from 88 found lighters.  The river was still very high and this arrangement is up against the riverbank.

Found Lighter Circle, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

68 Found Lighter Circle, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

Lighter circle made with 68 found cigarette lighters.   You can see the marks my fingers made in the sand adjusting the lighters to expand the circle.

Nearly forgot about this one!  “Stump Star” composed of 48 found lighters, a yellow reflector, and of course…a stump.  Made under the willow trees, the light playing through the tree canopy made this piece hard to photograph.  It just occurred to me that I have no idea where butane comes from?  All of these once stored compressed butane.  As these physical objects age and are exposed to the elements, their metal components are the first to corrode and rust away.

Another day and visit to the river.  I try to maximize each opportunity out here by making as many site specific pieces from the various materials I encounter.  Here’s a quick piece with my the toes of my shoes poking in for good measure.  I call this one “Keep Calm” because there’s one lighter that says that…or “From Clear to Blue” because if you look closely you can see between the white and blue lighters is one clear one.  So far, that’s the only one like that I’ve seen out here.  Okay, one more to end with and it’s the one with over a hundred lighters.  I made another composition with these lighters, but decided to try a more open design and it turned out better than the first.Double-spiral Cigarette Lighter Composition, Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

When given the chance to go to the river or write about past experiences…I will opt for the river, unless the weather is bad and it has already rained hard today.  I’m staying busy and engaged with art all around me which has had a calming effect on me considering all the political decisions people are making regarding the health of the environment and everything else too.  If you are interested in some of what’s in the Ohio River and other rivers in this country…then I’m your blog.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Double Spiral found cigarette lighter composition at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

Rare Winter Birds Tuesday, Mar 7 2017 

A late winter landscape at the Falls of the Ohio and what has to be one of our warmest February’s ever!  I can’t recall ever having an 80 degree day in winter before…not in Kentuckiana in mid February to boot.  We had just a trace of snow to speak of and while nobody missed living through the freeze and gray monotony of winter…somehow we know “pay backs will be hell”.  The cost will come in more insect and weed pests at least.  It will be interesting to see how many and how severe our spring storms will be.  Will they be full of energy violent and remembered for deluges of rain?

With a name like the Falls Pheasant, you would expect to find this bird here.  Alas, our only native pheasant started disappearing when stands of river cane became less numerous.  Once thought extinct, this colorful pheasant has started reappearing in once familiar places.  I wish I could also report that the river cane is also coming back, but it hasn’t so far.  Perhaps what’s left of these pheasants are the ones who will accept other habitat?  It’s all about being able to adapt with the changes?  Some birds pushed to the fridges of their comfort zones found new areas to live.

This is a young male of the species.  As an adult, the center tail feather becomes twice as long and the head becomes a bright shade of turquoise.  I chanced upon it during a period of high water investigating small islands of trees and driftwood where potential food would become concentrated by the rising river.  The females are so cryptically colored that you can’t see them when they sit on their nests.  The Falls Pheasant produces a small clutch of four white eggs with brown speckles on them.

From his driftwood mound vantage point, the pheasant sees noisy Canada geese he would rather avoid.  Hopping from one bleached and weathered log to another it was soon on the ground.  Reaching a stand of weed stalks, I was so surprised at how quickly the pheasant could completely disappear.  I doubt this bird decided this area was a good place to stake a claim.  The Canada Geese here are aggressive and then there are all the other predators too.  Stray cats, dogs, compete with coyotes, foxes, raccoons, minks, humans, and birds of prey from the air patrol this space.  Better to keep moving on.

Our story doesn’t end here.  Just a few weeks later and at a spot not too far away from where I saw the pheasant…I came across another great rarity.  I have always maintained that “chance favors a prepared mind”.  I think subconsciously, I am always looking around for something different or out-of-place.

It was late in the day with the sun slipping quickly to the horizon line, when I spotted this distinct red color moving through the willow trees.  Hiding behind the trunks as best I could, I was able to get close enough to snap four or five images.  I would need to wait until I got home to make the identification which was a personally exciting thing to do!  This was one bird completely unfamiliar to me and a new Kentucky and Falls of the Ohio record.  This is the Elfin Flycatcher or Sugarbill as it is better known in Northern Quebec.  This bird can truly be considered an “accidental” because it is so far away from its usual home range.  In its winter home of Cuba…it is an insectivorous bird known for its aerobatic hunting of small flying insects that live in the warmth of the tropics.  During the spring breeding season, the Elfin Flycatcher undergoes a long journey along the Atlantic coastline until it crosses over into the coldest reaches of Quebec.  It arrives before the northern insects have hatched and to supplement its diet, it drills into hardwood trees (similar to our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker) to collect the nutritious sweet tree sap that pools in the drill holes.  It feeds on sap until clouds of mosquitoes and midges arise from the waters of the north to change this bird’s diet.

The bright yellow tail and the purple crest mark this as an adult male of the species.  The brown wings were continuously flicking like some nervous tic this bird was experiencing.  How this bird got so far off track is a mystery.  Sometimes large storm events along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast will cause birds to travel great distances to get out-of-the-way.  There is another concern, less with this bird, but more so with other migratory species.  As climate change scrambles the natural clocks, timing is crucial to migrating birds.  Routes have developed over time to source food when it appears and if it doesn’t…what happens to these long distance migrants?

This is what has so many biologists concerned.  What happens to all those species that find the changes too challenging and can’t readily adapt?  For now, I will keep making my anecdotal observations from the Falls of the Ohio State Park and work my best to try not to get too depressed about it all.  Drawing a deep breath of fresh air, I picked up my collecting bag and that day’s trophy river finds and turned for home.