Pech Merle, Prehistoric Cave Paintings in France, and the CFFC Photo Challenge: Hands

What were we humans painting 16000 to 25000 years ago? — horses, bison, mammoths, sometimes people, and…  outlines of our hands.

Poster near the entrance to the Pech Merle cave, Southwestern France

It’s a poster in the entry lobby to Pech Merle, an ice age cave in Southern France, one of the few still open to the public.

Oh, and dots. We (our ancestors) were painting dots — dots that meander through the scenes and make us wonder about their meaning, and dotted horses that modern researchers have determined were not just another excuse for dots, but most likely represent ancient horses with coats in patterns similar to our Appaloosas.

Road sign - on the way to Pech Merle

Road sign – on the way to Pech Merle

A reproduction red hand-print sign in a village near Pech Merle, Southwestern France

A reproduction red hand-print on a sign in a village near Pech Merle, Southwestern France

Hand-print on a postcard - Pech Merle cave - Southwestern France

Hand print, souvenir postcard

We assume illiteracy, but their visual language was rich, and still speaks to us. Who’s to say the patterns of dots and animal shapes weren’t a language of symbols we just haven’t found the Rosetta Stone for?  Or maybe, as one of our group suggested, considering some of the exaggerated female figures we saw here we could argue instead for teenage-boy graffiti.

But there’s also a relatively recent study of prehistoric hand stencils that argues many if not most were made by women. Could female artists have had an equality in ancient times that we don’t have even today? (hey, maybe those cave-men weren’t such cave-men after all)

Hand-print and horses - from the tourist brochure for the Pech Merle cave

Hand-print and horses – from the tourist brochure for the Pech Merle cave

It couldn’t have been easy to do — in dark caves, with flickering torchlight, at difficult heights in corridors deep underground.  But on a lighter note, here’s one thing our ancestors may not have seen when exiting the caves…

Exit through the gift shop - Pech Merle furry mammoths and bats!

Exit through the gift shop – Pech Merle, with cute fuzzy mammoths and cave bats

And one thing we cave tourists have in common with the prehistoric world?  — no photography. And I understand that. I’m just glad they let us breathe (body heat, moisture and CO2 from our breath can be harmful to the paintings, with the result that only a few are still open to the public).

This was our favorite cave tour of our April trip to southern France. We thought it had some of everything — dots, horses, mammoths, reindeer, bison, and aurochs, some human figures, and of course, the outlines of hands along with incised drawings, and even fossilized footprints.

Do you have a cave tour to recommend?

 

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Hands

Pech Merle Cave  

More on Pech Merle

Who made those hand-stencils?

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Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs Wildlife Refuge, Midwest Flooding, Hope, and the CFFC Photo Challenge: Feathers

At Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs Wildlife Refuge – sometimes there’s a chance to get (relatively) up close and personal with feathers…

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs - Heron - evening light

Heron – autumn light

And sometimes, still lots of feathers, but maybe not so close…

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs - Fall Migration - geese in the air, masses of starlings

Fall Migration – geese in the air & a few stragglers from the masses of starlings that swarm like nanoparticles

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs - Geese - ice in winter

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs Geese – cold feet on the ice in winter.

I’ve been wondering if I’ll get a chance to see any birds when I visit the midwest this summer. Flooding along the Missouri River in March this spring breached many levees in the area. Not just the roadway around the wildlife refuge, but even the Expressway a few miles over had to be closed after damage from flooding.

There was a 500-year flood along the Missouri River in the 1990s too, the year our office was transferred from Kansas City to Atlanta. I remember flying back and forth for work, and seeing the river spread out like an inland sea below.

A few years earlier I’d seen a schoolhouse for sale in a small town near the river, and considered buying it to renovate as a home. I had regrets about passing on that plan, but during the flood, the roads leading to the town with the schoolhouse were closed. It would have been hard to sell my schoolhouse and move, so it was just as well my scheme didn’t work out.

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs - heron in summer

Heron – Squaw Creek in summer.

Birds can fly to safety in a flood, but what happens to everyone else? Do they get swept away?

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs - frog in the mud - spring 2018

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs – froggy nestling in the mud – spring 2018

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs - swimming muskrat - spring 2018

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs – swimming muskrat – spring 2018

And fish – what happens to them when the river rages through?

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs - fishing heron - spring 2018

Fishing heron/muskrat mounds – Spring 2018

Here’s hoping all the creatures survived. I just called the office and found that, despite what the website still says, the auto-tour route around the refuge is open again.  I’m hoping (there’s that word “hope” again) it stays that way. You know about hope, right? — “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all …

 

Squaw Creek/Loess Bluffs Wildlife Refuge

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Feathers

 

Amsterdam: Keukenhof Gardens (and the CFFC challenge: Eyes)

You may think I’m reaching, using Keukenhof Gardens for the CFFC “Eyes” challenge, but it’s hard to think of anything but our eyes — staring goggle-eyed and visually dazzled — when confronted with so much color and light and so many beautiful blooms.

Eye dazzling displays – rivers of tulips. And see the fellow tourists on the upper left? We were part of a river of people touring that river of blooms. 

When we first planned to stop-over in Amsterdam for a few days on the way back from a tour, I was thinking about art, not flowers. “But wait –,” I thought, “We’ve only been to Amsterdam in autumn. If we’re going in the spring, shouldn’t we see tulips?” Sam agreed to a tulip tour, so we booked early. After all, we were going to be there Easter weekend. There would be crowds. And so there were…

The fields alongside were full of color too…

Tulip fields - alongside Keukenhof Gardens

Tulips and hyacinths in the fields alongside Keukenhof Gardens.

I’ve since read that there were a record 200,000 visitors to Keukenhof over the 4 days of Easter weekend. Compare that to 236,000 visitors in the entire first year the park was open – 1950. We were 2 of the multi-thousand there on Good Friday. It was “hot, flat, and crowded” (thank you Thomas L Friedman) but still drop-dead gorgeous. Keukenhof crowds - Easter Weekend 2019We took a tour bus from the Central Train Station, a ride of 30-40 minutes depending on traffic. I later read that by Saturday, traffic was so heavy that there were problems just getting to the Gardens, and tourists went into the fields along the way instead. We saw that happening on Friday too — here are some pictures I took out the bus window on the way back to Amsterdam…

Tourists in the tulip fields near Keukenhof Gardens - Amsterdam 2019 -- Driving by Tulip Fields

Tourists in the tulip fields near Keukenhof Gardens – Amsterdam 2019 

Near Keukenhof - Posing in the tulip fields - snapshot out the bus window

Posing in the tulips

 

Snapshot out the bus window - posing in the tulip field near Keukenhof

Snapshot out the bus window – posing in the tulip field near Keukenhof

Meanwhile, no flowers were harmed in the actual gardens — Is this peak tulip or what?

Keukenhof Gardens - iphonography

Iphonography – one more look before we go.

Keukenhof wasn’t exactly a bucket-list item, but now that I’ve been there I’m tempted to count it as such.  Tulips and other spring bulbs were among the first things I planted when I bought a house. Along with violets, irises, and peonies, they’re the plants most likely to evoke a sense of home and childhood memories. The graceful arc of a stem, light slanting through blossoms, or the heady scent of a large bed of blossoms in sunlight are enough to transport me.

I guess I qualify as a flower-fanatic… do you?

 

Keukenhof Gardens

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Eyes