Do you ever long to make your mark? A sign, a signature, some kind of message that says with a flourish, “I was here! I did this! "
Have you ever made something, expressed a brilliant idea, shown your artistry in your vocation or other passionate pursuit and thought, “this is my legacy, this is what I leave behind, this shows I made a difference.” ?
15, 000 years ago, deep in a cave, filled with shadows broken by a small flickering light, a woman drew charcoal horses marked by large round dots. She loved to see these horses on the plains as the clan made its way to summer lodgings. The horse she drew is powerful, sacred because of what it provided the clan. We know very little about this artist. Was she a shaman in her clan? How did she find the cave? Why did she paint there in the dark? Was she alone? What we can see is that after she finished her art-making, she placed her hand on the cave wall and blew dark pigment around each finger to outline her hand, the artist’s hand. She made her mark on the damp limestone wall, for some unknown future visitor, to see and know of her life.
The cave was lost for millennia. Located in the southwest region of France known as the Lot, la Grotte du Pech Merle, with its drawings and intricate natural formations, was discovered again in 1922. It is one of the few remaining Paleolithic era caves where visitors still have access to the original paintings. Wandering through this beautiful limestone cave, I sometimes found myself within three feet of ancient markings. Lifting my eyes as I rounded a curved passageway, I actually gasped at the sight of the dotted horses. My eyes riveted on the outlined hands appearing above the horses, and I saw that the prints were about the size of my hands. I held my hand in the air in an echo of the gesture, as if I were about to paint a similar silhouette on the cave wall.
I thought of the woman who stood there millennia ago, and how, like me, she yearned to make her mark, to take note of this moment in time and her unique passage through it.
I like rusty things. Partly because of the color and texture changes, but mostly because this evidence of the passage of time stirs me, takes me on journeys of memory and imagining. With the details of color and shape and the stories implied, this collection of bicycles mounted on a wrought iron fence was attractive, satisfying, like a good meal.
I wondered who made this display, and how long it took them to find the bikes. I wondered about those finds, the stories and encounters that each bike represented, the laughs, the wheeling and dealing to obtain, the carting home, stuffed around kids or a dog or the groceries. I began to see a novel emerge. Why bicycles? How long has the project been in the making? What happened during this process? Who laughed, or said, "how silly!" or complained "enough, already!" Did the artist tire of this and move on, leaving the bikes rusting quietly in the summer humidity and rainy winters? Is she still keeping an eye out for old bikes?
I saw one like my big sister rode, that kind with a flat seat on the back fender, which was later passed down to me. When I first learned to ride a bike I could do everything but stop myself and dismount. So I would ride around all over the neighborhood with my friend Gary and when I was ready to come in, I would ride by my house or his, shouting "somebody come out and stop me!". This worked for some time, but then one day, it was raining and as Gary and I drove through his circular drive towards the carport I knew I had one chance or I would get soaked. Full of fear of a big crash, I flung myself off the bike at the last moment. I stopped myself! I didn't need help, now I could control the end of my journey. It was a grand moment.
What did you learn from riding a bike? Have you told anyone the story yet?