Posts Tagged ‘Noblesville’

Noblesville (Indiana) Democrat for July 15, 1892

A Big Snake Story

Last Friday morning Samuel Applegate and George Farris, two young men of this city whose reputation for truth and veracity cannot be questioned, saw a strange sight which they converse very freely about.  They were driving north on the Cicero Pike between the Lake Erie car bridge and the wagon bridge when their attention was attracted towards White River when they noticed what they at first supposed to be a large dog splashing in the water.  Closer observation changed their opinion as to the character of the animal.  A few moments later they saw the entire body of the monster, which had the form of a huge serpent twelve feet in length and perhaps three feet in circumference with a forked tail.  On catching a glimpse of a man, the animal immediately disappeared and has not been seen since.  It is supposed that it came down White River from some larger body of water during the recent floods.


In the 1820s this monster, painted by Indiana artist George Winters, was said to inhabit Lake Manitou in Fulton County.

When Hamilton County Historian, David Heighway, shared this story with me the wheels started turning. Why wouldn’t I carve the Noblesville Sea Monster?


We will see where this leads over the next few weeks.

For more information about the Noblesville Sea Monster read David Heighway’s article here.


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photo (16)Since I’ve moved forward with plans to paddle the 740 mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail beginning in June my paddling adventures have become even more purposeful.  

About a month ago I was offered a canoe — exactly the canoe that I had in mind for training.  I desired a cone that is heavy and tough and handles well.  That all came to me in a 15 ft. Smokercraft canoe.  

Other than the Herculean task of simply lifting the monster (I’ve portaged twice with it.  Ouch!)  I couldn’t be more pleased with this brute.  My first and best surprise was when I poled up through some riffles in our local river.  There is a section, near an abandoned dam, that has given me difficulty in the past.  When I planted and paused it was next to impossible to keep my fiberglass 13 foot Navaro pointing its nose upstream.  With the aluminum training canoe I planted and it waited patiently– nose upstream — for me to make the next move.  What I had thought was a skill issue had been a boat issue.  

I desired weight to help build strength and stamina.  

Yesterday I paddled open water for the first time in years.  I spent my childhood summers in small boats on the coast of Maine.  I have open water experience, but it’s been awhile.

When we were very young, my sister and I had a bright orange inflatable dinghy.  We rowed that little boat around our dock gaining rowing and paddling skills.  As our skills  improved we were allowed to roam further from our float.  On one memorable day we rowed all the way to the end of the cove and learned the importance of considering wind conditions on every voyage.

We were having the time of our lives.  Rowing and playing.  We passed, more quickly than usually, one cottage and then another.  We explored the small shell mounds and stone walls in the shallows.  Then photo (17)we turned home — an into the wind.  

We pulled and pulled and nothing happened.  We took turns.  It was clear that getting home would be impossible.

From the rocks above, Max Weildon appeared.  Max was one of a handful of true old salts that lived in our cluster of cottages.  Max gently guided us closer to the shore and into the lee of the high rocky shoreline.  In the wind shadow that followed these rocks we easily made our way home.

Yesterday was breezy.  It wasn’t scary windy, but there was enough wind that it had to be managed.  I chose a launch point at the south end of the lake.  The wind was coming from the northwest. The plan was to work my way to the north along the west shore and enjoy a free ride home.

I head due west across the lake to get into the lee of the trees and houses on that side.  This was my first time in open water so I began with experiments in trim.  I carried little but a lightly loaded pack tossed behind the bow seat.  Heading nearly upwind, I was not surprised to find the best paddling position was on my knees with my thighs braced against the thwart forward of the stern seat.  Once I found this trim the boat tracked well and responded as expected.

I hit almost mirror still water along the windward shore and enjoyed a very peaceful paddle northward — paddling through brief bursts of wind outside coves and inlets.  In the calmer air I switched paddling positions several times and practiced my paddle strokes on the not-so-dominate side.

When it was time to go home I paddled out into the wind and began to ride the wind back to the starting point.  Racing with the waves was a delight.  I passed under a bridge and hit a blast of air.  As often happens, the wind had swung south several points and I found myself fighting a strong crosswind.  I picked a point well upwind of the park landing and worked at keeping a straight course and even stroke.  From my position — aft and on my knees — the wind was having a field day with the bow.  I had to fight hard to keep the bow from dropping off the wind.  I switched my position to dead photocenter, on my knees, and the canoe become mush easier to control.  Looking back at my tracked position (I used the iPhone app MapMyWalk) I’;m pleased to see I did keep my course straight through this section.

I arrived at the slip with the bow upwind and sculled sideways the last 10 feet to the dock.  

It was a great paddle.  I learned a great deal about how this boat trims in these conditions.  I look forward to many more practice sessions.

Goals include becoming more comfortable paddle on both sides and building endurance.

Birds – Buffleheads (8), Ring Billed Gulls (Several), Mallards (dittio), Canada Geese (ditto), Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Blue Jay, American Crow


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I wrote recently that I’ve begun to explore my Pennsylvania Dutch culture through a exploration of Putz houses or glitter houses.

I knew, from the beginning, that the challenge in designing and creating these shining little houses would be in interpreting existing structures. The scale and character of these small structures — as well as the thick layer of glitter — dictate that details and scale of windows, doors, chimneys, even the structure’s form must be adjusted. On this project I made some drastic changes. I removed and simplified windows. I removed a back gable and entire section of the church to simplify the roofline.

It’s no match for the original — it doesn’t need to be — but it is recognizable.



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From the current issue of TravelIN.

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Where’s Geoff ?


Last night, my willow bending friend, Greg Adams emailed me to check in. We don’t see each other, much, and he keeps tabs with me via this blog and emails. When I stopped writing, he checked in. I realized that a few others may have wondered where I had gone.

It’s been “one of those weeks”. As I’ve written before, I am a teacher in a failing urban school. My school is on the list. THE list.

I am very tempted to write, pages perhaps, on education politics at every level and their effects on students, teachers and administrators — the folks that need the support most. I won’t. You’ve heard it before, and it will work me up into a tizzy that I don’t need. I’ll just say that I’ve spent a great deal of time in meetings and completing paperwork.

Another delay in writing (which I’m bound and determined to overcome right now) is a change in computer platform. I’ve made a commitment to iOS and plan to do most of my computer work from my iPad and iPhone. Writing this blog on this platform, unexpectedly, has become one of the most difficult transitions. I’m writing today, from Pages, Mac’s iPad word processor, and plan to copy and paste into the blog’s online editor.

I’m thrilled to report that the iPad is a great way to organize and too edit photos fast.

There are some big plans in the works for 50 Little Birds. An exhibition in Ohio, an urban bird project and a summer of field work. Keep reading. Make comments. I’ll keep carving and writing.

(BTW- The problems writing and editing this blog seems to be (mostly) solved.


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I love this show and the fine women that run it, but it didn’t look like I was going to be able to participate this year.

Good news–Circumstances have shifted a bit and 50 Little Birds will be on hand.  We are a late entry so please do what you can to let the folks of Bloomington know the birds will be on hand!

Bloomington Handmade Market

Bloomington Convention Center

Saturday, April 7, 2012

10:00 – 5:00

Thanks to Sally, Nicole, Mia and Jessica!

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I’ve written, a bit, about birding at Goose Pond, near Linton, Indiana, last weekend.  The highlight of the trip was spending malmost an our observing a pair og whooping cranes at sunset.  I set up my camera and tripod and shot close to 100 frames as these birds fed, badgered sandhill cranes and took flight into the sunset (actually they flew to the north at sunset).

I was with my friend and willow weaver, Greg Adams.  He shot quite a few photos, too.

He emailed me early Monday morning asking me to check the backgrounds of my shots.  He attached one of his photos.  In the background, little more than a white speck, there appeared to be a snowy owl perched in a tree.  He urged me to check mine and, sure enough, the same large white bird appeared in many of my shots.

Like any good birder I was filled with hope and skepticism.  Snowies live on the tundra where there are no trees.  While I’m sure they have perched in trees when this far south the one that I’ve seen spent its time on the ground, on fence posts and on rooftops.  The little dot of a snowy in my crane photo looked out of place.

I wanted it to be a snowy.  None had been reported on Goose Pond that weekend and there were hundred of birders pocking around every nook and cranny.  What a great story I could tell if I missed seeing one (watching other rare birds) but accidentally got its photo!

Using Picasa (Google’s photo editing software) I “enhanced” the image.  This is not an area of expertise for me. I cropped out the dot and enlarged it.  then I played with the contrast aadjustments until I could see more.

What I saw could not be a snowy owl (durnnit!) Though I cannot see any more of the bird in the “enhanced” photo, it’s pretty clear that it has very long legs. The white area does not taper to a head.  It remains wide and rounded — clearly (or unclearly) this is the breast of a large bird — probably a red-tailed hawk. Above and on the sides I can almost make out the outline of wings, head and mayb, even a bill.

Dissappointing, but no surprise. Ina sense we are lucky.  I would have hated to miss spotting a Snowy Owl and not knowing it.

The lesson learned is to avoid being so fixated on THE BIRD to miss the birds.  how many times have I  fixated on a wood duck only to miss the ivory-billed woodpecker at my back?  (Probably never — but you get it.)  Look around.  Look behind.  Look beyond.

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My 39 inch skin-on-frame northern cardinal has been hung for tonight’s show!

Put a Bird on It!
Harrsion Center for the Arts
Delaware and 16th Streets
6-10 pm

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I was interviewed yesterday for an article in Travel Indiana Magazine.  I like interviews.  I like talking about my work, inspirations and my creative process. (That’s why I have this blog.)

There are two questions, that I’m asked a lot, that cause me problems-

  • How long does it take to make a bird ?
  • What’s your favorite _______?

The first question is no longered answered.  Ever.

My projects begin with field work and book research and end with a painted and mounted bird.  Sometimes there are many steps and sketches and patterns and trials.  Sometimes I sit down and knock it out in a few hours.   In some cases, like the skin-on-frame cardinal, this process took years.  How long is difficult to quantify in a way that is meaningful.

When folks get an idea of the time involved in producing a piece they begin to calculate the figure in terms of profit and wages.  Without understanding the lifetime of acquiring a specialized skill set, maintaining a studio, building show displays, research, travel, lodging, meals, printing, bank fees and taxes it is impossible to understand and interpret the time/wages/profit relationship.  Folks still try so I don’t supply the numbers.

Quick aside – My wife recently had many serious eye surgeries (She’s better, thanks.) and spent five or six hours under the knife.  It would be crazy for me to think I could figure out how much the doctor made each hour.

Learn more about this here.
I’ve no logical or ethical reason for disliking the second question.  It’s just hard for me to answer.

I don’t pick absolute favorites.

I don’t have a favorite movie.  I don’t have a favorite book.  I don’t have a favorite song.  I don’t even have a favorite ukulele.

My interests change with my projects.  My interests change with my research.  My interests change with need.

My favorites are lists.

Yesterday I was asked what my favorite bird was.  I gave an answer, but not just one, because it was expected — the common crow and the belted kingfisher.

I present here a list of favorite birds.  It’s in no particular ranking and birds may move on and off the list as my projects and experiences evolve.

  • Common Crow –  This is a sound memory.  My happiest moments of childhood — foggy Maine mornings — include a soundtrack of crow calls.  Once I was touring a college campus with my family.  My wife turned and found I was gone and asked the group if they had seen me.  One observant woman reported that I had wondered off talking to the crows.
  • Belted Kingfisher – A wonderful, resourceful, chattering clown.  this bird did play a minor role in my Maine summers, but moved onto the favorites list when I observed one outwit an attacking Cooper’s hawk.  The bird nests in long underground tunnels.  Pretty cool!
  • Blue Jays –  I’ve a love hate relationship with blue jays.  Every time I hear one I am returned to my grandparents’ wooded Philadelphia yard — another favorite childhood place.  One a couple of occassions I’ve witnessed blue jays killing other birds for no apparent reason — once dropping from a tree onto a boat I was building.  A few years ago I could not spot a blue jay.  This went on for months.  I heard them, but never saw one.  I’ve added peanuts to my feeders and now have loud daily visits.
  • Baltimore Orioles – This is about aesthetics.  I’ve few early memories of orioles.  They are pretty.  I’ve always like black and orange and it all comes together on the oriole in grand style.  I’ve not seen an oriole nest, but if I do it’ll be another reason to love them.
  • Red Winged Blackbird – These guys let me know that spring is here.  Like the oriole, I love the red winged blackbirds’ colors — black, red and yellow.
  • Penguins – I don’t know much about penguins.  I’m not driven to learn more.  But, boy are they cute!  I loved watching the penguins at the old Indianapolis Zoo in Washington park.
  • Bufflehead Ducks – Many years ago my step-daughter gave me a gift certificate at a local woodworking retailer.  On a complete whim I purchased Antique-Style Duck Decoys: Contemporary Techniques to Carve and Paint in the Folk Art Tradition by Tom Matus.  This book may be the reason I eventually began to carve birds and is without a dount my inspiration for distressing my birds.  I was hooked on waterfowl and began to haunt areas I thought should be full of migrating waterfowl.  I never found anything but cold and wet grass.  Last year I was driving by a modern suburban neighborhood and spotted some tiny ducks.  I stopped the car and identified a pair of bufflehead and a pair of redheads.  These were my first really good ducks!  I’ve since learned where to look and see great ducks every week. This week I’ve seen goldeneyes, buffleheads, redheads and hooded mergansers.
  • Chickadees – I remember a tiny window feeder in my boyhood bedroom.  From my bed I could see chickadees visiting, taking one seed, flying away to eat and returning for the next.  It’s probably the first time I learned a specific bird feeding behavior.  I love their friendly call, ” chick-a-dee-dee-dee!”  It wasn’t until a few years a go I learned that my Indiana chickadees weren’t the same as my Maine chickadees.  In central Indiana we’ve Carolina chickadees.  Maine has black-capped.
  • Double Crested Cormorant – From our Maine front porch we’d watch these sleek black birds fish.  They stayed under for, what seemed, an eternity and swam several dozen feet.  On take off they beat their wingtips on the water leaving a traing of concentric circles on the surface.  I was taken completely by surprise the first time I saw one in Indiana.  I was canoeing tiny Cicero Creek below Morse Reservoir in Noblesville when one surface adjacent to the canoe.  I’m not sure which of us was most surprised!
  • Osprey – Another Maine regular.  When I was young most osprey were gone from the Maine waterfront.  When DDT was banned and it worked its way out of the foodchain osprey made a speedy recovery.  From our front porch you could watch three nests.  Their calls were heard all day.  It was hard to believe that they had ever been rare.  I see them regularly when canoeing White River in Hamilton County.

This really just scratched the surface.  I could name another ten with no problem.  heck I could name ten waterfowl or passerines!



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I had to take the day from work to take my wife to the doctor.  It was an unseasonably warm and rainy night.  When I awoke the rain had stopped and the sun was fighting its way through the clouds.  I jumped up, dressed quickly and headed out the door with camera, binoculars and scope.

What a glorious morning it is!  Now, at 10:00 I’m back and it’s sunny and 65.

I started by scoping Morse Reservoir.  There wasn’t much to see.  The warm weather brought strong winds from the south.  I spotted a raft of small divers — probably the redheads and goldeneyes I saw earlier this week.  The wind was shaking the scope and the birds were bouncing in the waves.  Before long they rounded a point seeking shelter in a cove.

There was tthe usual regiment of Canada geese guarding the top of the dam.

I did manage to get a poorly lit shot of the hybrid mallard that I wrote about earlier.

I moved on to Blatchley Nature Club.  I didn’t expect to see much activity (I didn’t) but it was really great to spend some time listening to bird calls while sitting in warm sunshine.  I shot a few frames of moss, rocks and interesting things.

On my way to the car I spotted a forgotten trailhead.  It leads to a small triangle of land in the bend of a small creek.  It’s not on my usual routes.  I’m not sure why but I decided to explore.  A few hundred yards in I came across a beautiful patch of white flowers — the first flowers of the season.  The air was filled with their subtle scent.  What a perfect end to a great morning.

I don’t know wildflowers like my daughter, Phoebe, the 4H wildflower champion.  I can’t wait until I can get an identification from her.

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