Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cave Dweller...

Click on photo to enlarge
© 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?

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Blogger tansy said...

what a beautiful photo!

i love the simplicity of cave dwelling though i've never done it myself. you have had quite an interesting life!

7:28 AM  
Blogger robin andrea said...

While I've never been drawn to living in a cave, I have felt deep in my own dna the connection to the ancients who did.
Beautiful photograph!

9:18 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

Wow Caveman Jim, you are one fascinating dude! :)

Nice photo, by the way.

9:39 AM  
Blogger change this later said...

Wow, you two seem like you rock.

10:17 AM  
Blogger swamp4me said...

I always wanted to live in a tree myself...

Sorry I never answered your question about The Private Life of Plants. We're in volume six as I recall. I used to use that video in my Environmental Science classes back when I was a teacher. Kids need to know that their backyards are just as special as any of those exotic locales they see on TV.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Lené Gary said...

Quite a story. I love the description of the rock rooms and how you lived there. Do you know if anyone lives there now?

6:39 PM  
Blogger Mary Ann said...

I gotta love someone who sees "facing away from the prevailing winds" as a homey amenity.

Nice pictures, good writing. I'll be back.

7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how wonderful! as a child I would dig a hole in the cool desert sand and let the earth hold me, feeling protected and safe. I imagine a cave would feel much the same. Protected.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

This comment replaces my earlier reply to include everyone who has commented up to this point


Thanks, and yes there seems to be no limit to the interesting things which happen in life.

There's an old Roman curse you might have heard.

"May you live in interesting times."

The times & places of our lives have been interesting indeed, and you know what I often say when something goes awry.

"Life is what happens while your busy making plans".

I don't remeber where I heard that.


Thank you too, and I know what you mean, I feel that ancient connection too, for what it's worth these days.


Caveman Jim says most old guys have pretty good stories about how they got old...

...and if they can just stay young at heart they might still have the desire to share some of them.


yes, but all we are is dust in the wind...


I know what you mean about trees and our relationship with them is also deeply imbedded in our DNA.

I see that Mr. Swamp is now known as Treebeard, one of Tolkiens best characters in my opinion.

I've always been attracted to the myth of the Green Man but what goes on in the world around us often causes me to act more like Dr. Suess' character 'The Lorax'.
A friend introduced me years ago to The Lorax by giving me the VHS and saying "this is who you remind me of", I even look kind of like him these days!


I'm laughing at myself because I have this bad habit of writing directly to the blog and then editing later. This post seemed to require endless edits before I could stand to read it myself, so everyone who has commented here probably read a different version.
But I'm glad you liked parts of it anyway.

I've answered your question about the cave at the end of this comment.

mary ann

It seemed homey to me at the time, that the wind didn't blow directly into the cave suffocating us in smoke or making for a very cold habitat. :~)

cindy m.

Yes, as much as we humans like to fancy ourselves as explorers and adventurers, at the end of the day most of us want the comfort and security our homes or caves provide us.

in answer to lene's question...

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.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, your last reply just broke my heart.

10:09 AM  
Blogger revhipchick said...

an amazing picture, post and life.

it's so disturbing to think of how we (society in general) fail to see and understand the beauty around us and just lay our crap over whatever we want. i'm so very sorry for you and the cave.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Crowe said...

Wonderful photo. Jim, I think you have lived in the most interesting homes in the world! You'd love it here in Wales. There are all sorts of alternative housing communities out in the rural areas - underground homes, roundhouses, a teepee village etc. Unfortunately local councils often don't take kindly to them and refuse them planning permission. It seems councils would prefer us all to live in neat little brick boxes.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll just echo what everyone else has said: great post and great photo.

Easy to forget that even though shelter is one of the "big three" for survival (along with food and water) nature will provide it for any seeker just like she'll provide food and water... And even if we can't all live in caves, there are so many lower-impact ways to create our own shelters on earth.

12:13 PM  
Blogger dragonfly183 said...

that was a really terrific photo. living in a cave sounds so fascinating. There is a place here in Arkansas. Its a bed and breakfast in a cave. A wealthy man, i think sometime in the 60's or 70's built it. Although its not nearly as nice as the way you lived in it. Its all modernized.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your former girlfriend looks like she has some, um, outstanding points!

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a touching story, Jim. I've been fascinated with caves ever since I read The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart's 1st book in the Merlin trilogy.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


Yeah, heartbreak is all around us, mostly self-imposed, but so is beauty and that is my compass, what makes me live.


Thank you so much, and don't worry too much about the cave, it will be much as it was thousands of years from now when our mess is nothing but disintegrated rubble.

It's all the species, the living things, including us, who are being driven toward extinction by our mindlessness that hurts me.

I don't like contributing to the destruction but I do, and I haven't a lot of choice.


I've been lucky in where life has taken me and I'm sure I would love seeing the efforts at sustainable living being practiced near you, and it also sounds like the system they're dealing with is politics as usual.


I'll check out that website, sounds like a neat place.

Have you not been here lately or have I just missed you?

I'm sorry if I've missed any of your comments, I've been busier than I care to be lately which is probably why I'm feeling the need to rant on the blog!

pablo, pablo, pablo...

Yes Annie was a beautiful and curvaceous young lady, and very photogenic, but her most beautiful attributes were, by far, her kind heart and gentle fun loving personality.

It didn't work out between us, bad timing I think, but I believe Annie was probably the only other woman I've met, besides Peggy, that I would've cared to spend my life with.

Last time I talked with her, over a decade ago, she was happily married with a bunch of kids, and it was very nice to hear the happiness in her voice.

So yes, Annie had some very outstanding points, but you won't see the best of them in the photograph.

Hi Peg-

Thanks, and thanks for responding to my e-mail.
I haven't heard of that book or the author but I guess I should check it out.

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How's Jimmy? Hasn't life become interesting? I sit here in the rural midwest, looking to your blog each day, sometimes a couple of times, to catch up on the progress of a young man who I do not know, except through your loving tribute to his courage and strength. Wishing all of you well.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

no blogger id-

Yes, life has become very interesting and I appreciate your checking in on us from the rural midwest.

Jimmy is hanging in there and I'll post an update on his progress soon.

I hope you will sometime open a way for us to know something of your life.

7:18 PM  
Blogger dan said...

reading that, i just get this horrible feeling that i have never lived and have missed out on something huge.

great post.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Michael Lehet said...

Beautiful photo and amazing post, thanks for sharing.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Lené Gary said...

I'm sorry I asked about the cave. No, I should say, I'm sorry about the answer.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

Fantastic photo ... awesome story!

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