Cave Walls

Rouffignal - The Cave of a Hundred Mammoths, France

Rouffignal – The Cave of a Hundred Mammoths, France

 

There is comfort in keeping what is sacred inside us not as a secret, but as a prayer.

  • Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

 

There are certain things that can only be learned from a different perspective.

Pushing aside the darkness, a tiny, flickering lamp in hand, our ancestors crawled into the caves of Europe to paint the animals important to them. Still alive on those walls, mammoths with high, domed foreheads and a hump over their shoulders face two-legged stick hunters. Their humps held fat reserves, making them coveted prey, and dangerous prey make great stories.

Caves are potent, resonant underworlds. Tallow lamps held in a hand cast a low-level light, shadow each curve of the rock wall, suggesting a hump over there, the curve of an antler here.  With red, brown and yellow soils dampened by egg white, blood, animal fat or plant juices, our ancestors recorded the vocabulary of the hunt on wall after wall. They made their brushes of hair and their sponges of moss or leaves. They inhaled the dampness of the earth that receives all, both those who eat and those who are eaten.

Escape, exhaustion, success, death, galloping bison and herds of antelope, squared jaws of lions, the arched necks of horses, and outlines of cave bears – painted by generation after generation of artists, who left their signatures in an outline of a hand or a couple of dots, who left only stick representations of themselves.

After etching the outline of a mammoth on rock and storing its spirit forever in darkness, the crawl back to light perhaps gave the world a new appearance – as if it could be conquered, controlled, illuminated, literally brought alive by an artist. Life stories painted under the ribs of the earth. Hidden knowledge. The past the present the future recorded on rocks deep in caves.

Was the crawling to light a prayer?

We are the progeny of ancestors who lived with, hunted and ate the great ones. We are the result of their lives intertwined with those they knew in the belly of the earth.

I carry in my veins a longing for turquoise-blue glaciers, a blood-red night sky and breath I can see as I breathe. Ancient memories flicker across my mind, casting shadows against cave walls. I press my hand against rock, blow pigment between my fingers. This is my signature. Look, I was once here. See how your hand fits into the outline of mine? See these hairy elephants? They were here then, too.

Imagine the smell of air freshly born from retreating glaciers, a sky cleared by melting snow. Imagine the scent of an earth newly thawed. Out there, just like you painted, a mammoth driven by a hunt has fallen over a cliff and bellows arrive in waves.

Our palm prints on cave walls, carvings on bone, the exposure of light on glass plates full of chemicals, digital cameras, electrons arranged in display across computer screens, voices tumbling through the air – is it the destiny of the human race to remember and record? Is that our place on earth?

There is a cave of light from our eye to our brain; but it is the corners of our eyes that perceive the most light; the corners of our minds where we begin to understand.

Cave of the Hands, Argentina

Cave of the Hands, Argentina

8 responses

  1. My good friend Cheryl – your writings thrill me in a way that I find difficult to express in words. They take me on flights of magical exploration. The exquisite way in which you express your thoughts reflects the beauty and light of your mind. The following line is a wonderful example of what I am talking about: ” There is a cave of light from our eye to our brain; but it is the corners of our eyes that perceive the most light; the corners of our minds where we begin to understand.”
    May your magical pen keep on dancing in the Light.
    Thank you for sharing your God-given gift with us.
    Much Love, you friend

    1. Thank you Gill. Your comments are coming through on my end.

  2. I love reading about places I have never been and will probably never go. That cave looks amazing!

    1. Thanks Kim. I agree there are too many amazing places in the world, and sigh that I will never get to see them all.

  3. OMG Cheryl, this is music!

    1. Oh thank you Katie – you’re too kind.

  4. I so enjoy not only your photos, but the heartfelt writing that accompanies them. My friend Dawn grew up in Kenya, 80 years ago, and loves elephants.. And indeed all critters. We share dismay at elephant ivory smugglers. Some good news is the use of sniffer dogs in Africa to detect ivory in vehicles; and the painting of tusks to make them unusable.. Thank you for your hard work. I envy you your closeness to these sentient gentle giants. Carol Owens Orcas Island USA

    In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. Albert Einstein

    >

    1. Thank you neighbor! I’ll wave at you from Port Townsend now and then! Glad you enjoy the posts.

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