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

Fish Stories from the Falls of the Ohio Saturday, Dec 31 2016 

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The Falls of the Ohio offers a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year.  Whether you prefer light tackle action in the shallows or the pull from a fifty pound catfish while sitting on a boat…you can find that on the Ohio River flowing by Louisville.  I always check out what’s happening on the riverbank when I come out here.  I am especially interested in seeing what species are being caught and what’s being used to catch them.  On this warm December day the action was happening in the shallows.  Fisherman were using soft-bodied jigs to catch Sauger (a smaller relative of the Walleye) and this nice White Bass.

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The White Bass, (Roccus chrysops) was first described by the eccentric naturalist Constantine Rafinesque who was familiar with the fish life at the Falls of the Ohio.  The White Bass is a big river fish that is also found in impoundments.  This fish can get to be 15 to 18 inches long and a maximum of around five pounds.  We also have a smaller relative, the Yellow Bass that is also found in the Ohio River.  Both species are related to marine sea basses and scatter their eggs without further care of their young.

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Since there is a lot of fishing activity on the river, I also find a lot of lost fishing gear. Broken poles, snagged line, and lots of plastic fishing lures like this recent example. It’s very easy to snag and lose a lure in the rocky bottom out here. Usually, when I find a lure, it is minus its hooks which either have broken off or have dissolved away.  I also pick up lost fishing floats and have been amazed by how much design variety that fishing tackle can encompass.  On the negative side, I also have a fairly full sandwich bag of lead fishing weights that I have accumulated over the years.  When the river is down during the height of summer, I will check out the dried holes in the rocky bottom that catch and tumble lead and other metals.

If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered by me for the quality of the fishing.  I was able to catch three species new to me to add to a growing list of species I have documented at the Falls of the Ohio.  Check out the next couple of images of a rare Ohio River Bowfin (Amia ohioensis) I angled from under the railroad bridge.

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The Ohio River Bowfin is only marginally related to the better known Bowfin, (Amia calva).  The Ohio River Bowfin has adapted its life to living in shallow rocky streams where it ambushes other fish, frogs, crayfish, and other river invertebrates.  Uniquely, its anal and caudal fins have fused into one large fin that comes in handy for scraping out nests in the gravel bottoms it prefers to breed on.  After the male entices the gravid female into his nest and with a little luck and persuasion, a clutch of about fifty eggs is deposited and fertilized.  The male assumes all parenting duties.  Can also be distinguished by it long slender body and bright orange-colored eyes.  After a few pictures and measurements the fish was released unharmed back into the river.

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On another river expedition in November, I visited a different Falls of the Ohio location near the Interpretive Center to sample the fish life there.  Within a minute or two of my first cast I caught this near world record Copperbelly Suckermouth, (Catostomidae cupricana).  I was using a hook baited with clam meat which is the principle food of this Ohio River oddity.  The boats anchored in the river are probably going after large catfish.  This view gives you a good indication of the body type that evolved with some fish that inhabit swift flowing water.  Drag has been minimized and the pectoral fins are strong enough to anchor the fish in place as it hovers over the clam beds it prefers.

Here’s a symbiotic side note…several fresh water clam species use the Copperbelly Suckermouth as an intermediate host during part of their life cycles.  The nearly microscopic clam larvae attach themselves to the fish’s gills where for a short time, the larvae suck blood and grow before dropping off the fish to complete their life cycles in the gravely bottom. The host fish are left unharmed during the process.

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A sneak peek on why this species is called the Copperbelly Suckermouth.  It’s undersides are a deep, rich, red to orange ochre color that is particularly intense during the Spring breeding period.  The strong sucker mouth is located on the fish’s ventral side and is flanked by barbels that help it locate food in the river’s bottom.  This was also strictly catch and release as was the case with my next fishy find.  As with most bottom dwelling fish at the Falls, one should limit how big a meal you make from your catch.  Toxins are more prevalent in the lower reaches which then are ingested and stored in the fish’s fatty tissues.  This particular species, however, has minimal food value.

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Another day and location at the Falls of the Ohio and another unexpected catch!  Using a grasshopper I caught on the bank and a beaver-chewed willow pole I found nearby, I fashioned a rig with an old line and a hook and caught this Kentucky Killifish, (Cyprinodontidae gargantua) by jigging the grasshopper around the shadows cast by the fossil-loaded limestone.  I dropped the grasshopper into just the right dark hole and pulled out this beauty.

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This is a giant among the killifishes as most are under a few inches in length.  Its blue eyes are distinctive.  Small invertebrates in the form of insect larvae are its main food item, but experience has shown it will go for whatever it thinks it can swallow using its relatively tiny mouth.  This fish has no food or sport value what so ever.  During the summer breeding period, the males of this species can get very colorful in an attempt to impress.  Still, a very nice way to cap the year with a new fish to add to the life list!

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Fishing on Mars or the Falls of the Ohio?  The setting sun has colored the dried riverbank a lovely Martian red.  Here explorers are doing what we do…searching for life in the most promising place we know which happens to be by the water.  I hope 2017 manages a way to be kind to our rivers and freshwater everywhere.  I’ll end my fishing story with a look inside the box where I keep my found fishing lures.  See you next year…from the Falls of the Ohio.

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