Ape Cave: How We See (or do we?)
A group of students once asked me whether I had ever been to Ape Cave. I had never heard of it. They gave me directions to get there and told me they would be there on Saturday.
The cave is south of Mt. St. Helens. I went there with a friend, thinking we might meet them there, but somehow, we missed them. We had brought “headlight” flashlights and I had brought my camera and some portable flash equipment.
The cave is a long lava tube, probably the longest such structure in the hemisphere. It is called “Ape Cave” because it was discovered by a youth outdoor club called the “Apes”. There are actually two parts to the cave; each is about one mile long. If you look at the pictures on the sites mentioned (and a search will find others), you can see that the tube is quite narrow, but the width varies from place to place. It is rather cold down there, and dark. Really, really dark. The interior’s floor varies from strewn boulders to relatively flat and comfortable. There is a very well established trail, worn smooth by the feet countless hikers. Off the trail, it can be quite rugged.
At one end, there is a concession which rents Coleman lanterns, which people carry with them as they hike through the cave. The lantern lights it up pretty bright. Without the lantern, with just the headlights, our vision was by an essentially axial light; that is, the light was very close to the axis of our vision. In this light there was quite a strange luminescence that expressed as a texture of light wiggly lines, like strange bright jewelled worms, on a black field. It is some kind of a plant growth, possibly a fungus. The lanterns would not reveal this wonder. We didn’t go far into the cave because my friend didn’t want to brave the depths. We didn’t know that it would be like a refrigerator, and had not brought warm enough clothing to spend a long time down there.
I proposed that we go over to the edge of the cave in a wide section, as far as we could get from the trail and turn off our lights. Doing so, we plunged ourselves into absolute darkness and silence. Having spent so many years in darkness as a color printer, I wanted to experience darkness in a different way, without the presence of so many pending work orders; darkness in a very large subterranean space, unbroken and solitary, but with another person. That was unusual for me, because in the darkroom I work alone. It was terrific. I have a strong motivation toward experiences of myself in unusual places, inside myself and out. This was one of the best so far.
How long did it last? Not very long, because soon we began to hear a distant sound, which gradually grew louder. Sounds began to become clearer, and differentiate. Their source began to reveal itself as a group of people. I guess we were expecting this. Gradually, a dim light began to grow from our right, and a small party came through, talking, with their lanterns. They passed. The light dimmed and the sound gradually diminished, finally extinguishing altogether. Several other groups came through, each time illuminating the interior, turning it from eerie to prosaic, then gradually disappearing. Like a train going through at night, the sound emerging from nothing, peaking, then diminishing again to nothing. Each time, we were again swallowed by the dark and the silence. No one saw us. They were all focused on the cave ahead, and didn’t think to look toward where we stood silent, our lights extinguished.
This went on for awhile, and then hearing the sound begin again so far away, we listened carefully to its growth. This time it was different. There was an unusual density to the sound, combined with a distinctly increasing chaotic quality. As it approached, it got more and more chaotic, a crescendo of chaos. The light grew, as did the sound. We wondered. What on (or under) earth could this be. Louder and louder, it became almost deafening, and intensely agitating.
As the light grew and the sound grew, individual voices began to emerge and then we saw the comedy unfold. It was perhaps two or three families with several lanterns. There were a whole bunch of children, complaining and crying. Somebody was eating a sandwich. One or two adults were smoking cigarettes. “Dad, why did you bring us here?” “I hate this place! It’s boring!” “I want to go home!” “I’m tired!” “Carry me!” Adult reply: “SHUT UP!” “You are grounded for a week!”
What a great metaphor. These people had brought themselves to the cave, truly a wonderful place to experience and see, and had made sure that they wouldn’t see it. They had rented the lanterns, and the lanterns cast a bubble about them. They couldn’t see the luminescent patina on the walls; their light was too far off axis. They went all the way through the cave with the screaming kids, the cigarettes and sandwiches. They had packaged themselves in a darkproof box.
All they had was what they had at home. Maybe it was even worse. They had none of the accustomed resources, and there was still a long way to go.
Copyright Larry Bullis, 2004 —All Rights Reserved
Here are a couple of links to sites concerning “Ape Cave”
Good morning, Bowzart, Murray, and Vaughn;
Neat stories of the Pacific Northwest. Yes, and even more impressive are the introspective observations.
It is a treat to learn of others who have spent time inside a tent hoping that there might be an hour or two of slackening in the rain. One of the pleasurable experiences three years ago was after spending 5 days and 4 nights in the rain hiking around Mount Saint Helens in August. When we got home, I had to dry the ground cloth and the fly of the tent. The body of the tent, and its contents, had stayed dry.
I did have a 35 mm camera in the pack with me, but the hoped for sweeping vistas of the mountains never came out of the mist and fog.
Ralph Javins, Latte Land, Washington
When they ask you; "How many Mega Pixels you got in your camera?"
just tell them; "I use activated silver bromide crystals tor my image storage media."
So, rain. I just got back from a week in central Mexico. It is so disappointing to be back in the land of perpetual Zone IV. What was it doing when we got off the airplane? Would you believe? Rain...
I prefer to think of those clouds as a tens of thousands of square miles soft box, producing an all enveloping, diaphanous rain forest light
Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.
Some wonderful thoughts Bowzart. I agree with you that people take far less notice of things than they should (and we all suffer from it from time to time, it's difficult to open up) and don't step out of their comfort zone enough.
Let me share two of my experiences:
In the beginning of the nineties, when I was still studying biology, at some summer day in the evening I was restless and decided to go for an evening / night walk (something I actually do quite regularly). This time, a beautiful night with strong moonlight, I was bold, and decided to go for a longer 5 km hike outside of the city I lived, even though it was already 23.45 hours (I was living at it's borders). Going into the countryside around it, passing a grave yard and walking past a canal, fields with horses and cows, I was amazed at how much life was going on! I could hear frogs, horses grazing, birds flying over and even discovered a hole noisy colony of herons nesting in the grave yard's circumventing high tree range.
It was wonderful... and not a single sole in sight of course!
Another more recent "experience" is that I started making sketches outside. Now I have had quite some experience taking drawing classes, but had never before been bold enough to just sit down in the middle of a town, and start drawing. It was another wonderful and contemplative experience. After the first hesitations and worries (can I do it?, what will people think?), I just "let go" and let my mind wonder and my eyes and hand do the work. I came to rest... and people starting showing interest, I had some wonderful talks and experiences out of that!
"The nineteenth century began by believing that what was reasonable was true, and it wound up by believing that what it saw a photograph of, was true.
" - William M. Ivins Jr.
"I don't know, maybe we should disinvent color, and we could just shoot Black & White.
" - David Burnett in 1978
"Analog is chemistry + physics, digital is physics + math, which ones did you like most?
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