2009, 45” x 48”
Pitch Black: Limrock Blowing Cave
I was guided on a cave adventure in north Alabama by Bill Finch of the Nature Conservancy, and quickly found that caves are not for sissies. I had a terrific time, but had to face utter darkness, creeping creatures, and bunches of bats. I came away with memories of a rich experience, and some stories that became funnier the farther I was from the cave. I darted my flashlight around constantly to make sure no monsters were coming at me, a bat flew in my face (which they supposedly never do), and I had to wade my way down an underground river, hunched over to avoid the ceiling, which was covered in thousands of blind, albino cave crickets.
Alabama, particularly the northern part, has one of the highest concentrations of caves found anywhere in the world. Deep deposits of limestone lie beneath north Alabama, and caves are formed when flowing water dissolves the limestone and forms tunnels. This area of cave formations stretches into Tennessee and Georgia and is called the TAG region by cavers. In Alabama alone there are over 4,100 caves.
It took many months of creative pondering to find a way to convey my impression of the cave, because the most defining feature, total darkness, has a serious lack of visuals. Everything we saw on our trip was by flashlight, and ultimately became the inspiration for the outside layer. The cave wildlife is highlighted as if in a spotlight, lending long, spooky shadows that communicate well how they made me feel. Most of the creatures portrayed in the piece are albino and blind, having no use for sight or pigment in the dark. Because caves are a unique and limited habitat, most of these creatures are rare or endangered. Alabama caves are habitat to two species of endangered bats, the Gray and Indiana bat. One cave in Lauderdale County contains the endangered Alabama cavefish that is found nowhere else in the world. It is one of the rarest of all vertebrate species.
For the tiles, I wanted to illustrate the fantastic flight patterns of the bats, which were darting around us constantly in the cave. I love bats, and my carvings ended up looking sort of cute, which pleased me. No light means no plants, and I struggled to come up with my usual botanical for the centerpiece of my painting. My solution was to show the Trailing Wakerobin, or Trillium Decumbens, a lovely and rare local flower, outside a cave entrance.
The National Speleological Society, headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama, is dedicated to the purpose of advancing the study, conservation, exploration, and knowledge of caves. The NSS also contains groups who specialize in cave rescue and cave conservation, and can be found at www.caves.org. Limrock Blowing Cave is owned by the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, another excellent cave organization. For more Info check out www.SCCI.org.