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© 1973 & 2005 - jim otterstrom
I used to be a cave dweller and parts of me still are, in my heart, and my DNA.
I lived in this very cave for a period of time, back about 1966, and had I run across a cavewoman maybe I would've have stayed there.
The cave may look primitive by some standards but it was equipped with several homey amenities.
It faces away from the prevailing winds, the exterior granite wall sloping back at enough of an angle to facilitate the building of a fire among the boulders at the entrance, where the warm rocks heated the interior late into the night, yet the smoke still vented to the outside air.
A soft sandy layer of decomposed granite behind the fire pit made for a nice sitting & eating area with an inspiring view, and a good place for sleeping as well.
In the upper right corner of the picture you will see an extra bedroom, its yoni-esque doorway just the right size for a thin agile young hunter/gatherer to slide through, but once inside, the domed ceiling allows two six foot humans to sit upright on a level sandy floor. This is where I usually slept.
The tiny trickling creek flowing along the base of the rock, pooling here & there, provided water, which, after boiling for a few minutes over a wood fire, was quite suitable for drinking, making tea, or cooking rice & beans. Parts of the year some pools were even deep enough for bathing, other times I bathed in the Pacific Ocean, not terribly far away.
Instinctively, you know this is no ordinary hole in rock, uniquely situated as it is, and I never imagined myself as its first human inhabitant. So I often wondered about the people who slept on those beds of sand long before me, quenching their thirst from the same pools. Three jagged notches define the upper left side of the cave opening, and, if you look closely at the one in the middle, you'll see faint sooty traces of smoke from long cold fires, some much older than mine.
And no, I didn't live there with the woman in the photo. She was my girlfriend much later, in the early 1970s when I worked for the Post Office, owned a Nikon camera, drove a Datsun pick-up and dwelt in a man-made house with forced air heat, a gas-range, avocado shag carpeting and a king size bed, but it's the only photograph I have of the Santa Maria Cave, and Annie's lovely presence adds humanness to the picture.
My days of cave dwelling, and the accompanying nights in, on and around that ancient heap of granite, under black skies and blazing heavens, were ponderable times indeed, and are surely as close as I'll ever come to revisiting the womb.
The gravity of stone, to humans, feels like stability or permanence, something solid and protective.
Sheltering in a cave after a day of sharing in lifes magic, mysteries, and struggles, or exploring the infinite possibilities suggested by the moon, stars, and universe above, or simply to avoid the turbulence of an approaching storm, allows people to contemplate their observations from the warm dry safety of a completely natural space.
The primal simplicity of cave dwelling is oddly familiar too, like a long overdue visit to an almost forgotten home.
Perhaps I come from a line of cave dwellers, not an unreasonable thought considering that, sometime during the late '60s, unaware of my cave dwelling inclinations, my younger brother, Kerry, briefly changed his name to Otis Sun, and, for several months, also inhabited a cave.
A cave just barely above the high tide line in the cliffside of a secluded cove near Zuma Beach, the same cave that was later used in the original 'Planet Of The Apes' movie.
Today the Santa Maria Cave sits desecrated, a piece of private property in the backyard of a white stucco box.
Two stories of particle board, drywall, plastic and garbage were deposited directly in front of one of my most treasured places like so much excrement.
The builder made no attempt whatsoever to match the ugly pile to its gorgeous surroundings.
And the secluded valley I knew in those Santa Monica Mountains is now populated most noticably with Hummers and Cadillac Escalades roving back and forth between million dollar mini-ranches and the jobs that pay for them.
Even in my time there, when the cave was literally out in the middle of nowhere, you could already see an ominous glow at night, radiating above a ridge to the north, beyond which, the "greater" San Fernando Valley I had escaped from was already lain to waste, so you knew what was coming.
Now it's just another place I don't go anymore...
... and I'm sure the Serrano Indians that populated Big Bear during the summers of past centuries wouldn't want to visit what has become of their forested mountain valley either, where our little cabin now sits, among all the others, between paved grids of asphalt and noisy speeding cars.
How much of our planet will end up like this before it's over?
Labels: art, autobiographical, nature-writing, nudes, photography, progress?, rants, San Fernando Valley, social commentary, Topanga