Who'd have thought? There we were, on a lovely summer day, in a movie theater packed with people yearning to see... a documentary about a cave?
That was the scene at Bar Harbor's Reel Pizza Cinerama (one of our favorite places) as we took in the 2-D version of director Werner Herzog's 3-D film Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The documentary guides viewers through the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arca, 1,300-foot-long limestone cavern in southern France that was discovered by accident in 1994 by three French adventurers. Chauvet-Pont-d'Arca contains strikingly beautiful paintings of bison, horses, cave bears, wooly mammoths and at least nine other species—images from as long ago as 32,000 years, making these the world's oldest known artworks. The walls even display human handprints made with red ochre by someone who had a crooked pinkie.
Caves—even ones less spectacular than Chauvet-Pont-d'Arca—are fascinating works of art and nature. They embody the forces that shape and re-shape the planet: water erosion, volcanoes, earthquakes, chemical reactions and more. They house living creatures that start at the microscopic level (bacteria and fungi) and grow through the kingdom of insects (millipedes, mites, spiders, crickets, flies and countless others) to the realm of warm-blooded animals, most notably bats, those under-appreciated and increasingly endangered fellow mammals that are more closely related to us than they are to rodents.
In the darkness of caves scientists find enlightenment about the Earth. In caves such as Chauvet-Pont-d'Arca, scientists and art experts work together to illuminate the roots of human creativity. Why flock to a cave movie? Because caves are rooms within our own home (planet). Some of our ancestors lived in them.
As good fortune would have it, two of our Naturalist's Notebook team members, Eli Mellen and Julie Olbrantz, both recent graduates of the College of the Atlantic, decided a few months ago that they would like to turn a room at the Notebook into a cave environment. Using chicken wire, fabric, blackboard paint, rocks and other raw ingredients, they transformed an upstair bathroom into a darkened, information-rich wonderland complete with dangling bats, stalactites, stalagmites, a little green spelunker on a rope and a wall on which to create cave paintings in chalk. Kids love it. So do grown-ups.
The two creators were recently caught chatting about how this dark, magical space came about:
Julie: So, what did you first think when you went into the upstairs bathroom?
Eli: That I would rather be exploring a cave than using the bathroom. How about you?
Julie: I was thinking about bats, mostly. Strange.
Eli: I guess that is why it doesn't work as a bathroom anymore.
Julie: As you can see, the cave was clearly formed in the famous recession of the Cotton Glacier 20,000 years ago.
Eli: Yes, clearly. It is most certainly a fuzzy fracture cave, the soluble porcelain bathroom dissolved, leaving the surrounding fuzz exposed. Further mineral seepage has formed its exquisite stalactites and stalagmites.
Julie: Mmm. And,unlike other caves, this cave is completely touchable. Usually any hands-on interaction with a cave would threaten its delicate ecosystem, but touching and drawing in this cave enhances its fuzzy ecosystem.
Eli: This cave shows evidence of habitation by insects, mammals, reptiles and perhaps even some artistic folks.
Julie: There is also an ample vein of knowledge to be mined from the cave.
Eli: Yes, both plush and textual knowledge, pure -- still in its raw mineral form.
Julie: HOLY STALAGMITES, BATMAN!
Eli: QUICKLY, TO THE NOTEBOOK CAVE!
My favorite news story of the week (don't worry, the turtles were relocated safely):
Answer to the Last Puzzler:
Who has more teeth, a shark or a crocodile?
Answer: A shark, by far. Sharks can have as many as 3,000 teeth; crocodiles generally have no more than 68.
Of the more than 1,000 Americans per year who are hit by lightning, what percentage is men?
b) 59%c) 82%
John Allen Paulos, the gifted mathematician and highly entertaining author who has contributed some smart ideas to the Notebook, celebrates today, as would Rube Goldberg, the San Francisco-born cartoonist and inventor of wacky contraptions, had he not died in 1970.