Ape Caves and the Creative Pursuit

We had the outdoorsy weekend planned well before we knew the forecast, but there was no end in sight to the downpour when we arrived at our friends’ cabin near Mount St. Helens – the kind of downpour that makes you look like you fell into a swimming pool in the few steps between the car to the front door. You, of the Pacific Northwest, know of what I speak. You also know that we are not deterred by a little water. Pshaw! Our group set out for a hike in the woods – for an hour. I’m pretty sure the upholstery in John’s truck is still drying out even weeks later.

We wised up on Day 2. Ape Caves, a 2-mile long underground hikeable lava tube a short drive away, would provide great coverage from the rain! Well, not exactly. With the torrent of water pummeling the ground above our heads, the cave ceilings were anything but dry. I’m glad my phone was in a plastic bag.

I thought I knew darkness until we stood in a circle in the heart of the caves and turned off our headlamps. I shuddered thinking about what would happen if our lights failed as we crawled our way over endless piles of jagged boulders, shimmied along cave walls edging inky pools, and hoisted ourselves up and over an 8 foot tall crusted lava fall.

I had plenty of time to think while working my way through the caves with my friends in a single file line. We were together but not especially chatty – concentration was needed to avoid bashing a shin or twisting an ankle, and we could only see the few feet ahead of us illuminated by our headlamps. My thoughts turned to art and how the creative process can feel like navigating Ape Caves to some people. Just as my friends asked me to venture with them into the dark unknown led only by a small headlamp, I ask my clients to venture with me into the artistic unknown led only by a few words of instruction. There are others around but in the end, it’s on the individual.

I was more than unsure at the beginning of my adventure, even asking aloud if anyone would take the easier route with me – no takers so I kept going. My heart pounded with a mixture of fear and fascination for the several hours it took to traverse the cave until I saw the blessed sight of light piercing the darkness ahead and a metal ladder leading up and out of the cave. I cannot adequately describe the dazzle that struck my eyes as I emerged from the darkness into a forested hollow of fresh powdery snow blanketing the ground and the limbs of the sky-reaching trees. The black-to-white contrast took my breath away and made the sense of accomplishment all the more impactful.

I recognize that same “more than unsure” look on the faces of a few clients every time I ask a group to interact with a new art medium, and am certain that there are those who would ask for the easy way out if they could. Like me in the cave, my clients dig deep, bravely start, and take it step-by-step-by-step with a mixture of fear and fascination until they see the rewards of their courage and efforts come into view. I also recognize the looks of awe, accomplishment, and yes, even exhilaration when these same clients eventually take a step back and admire the artistry of their creation.

I didn’t think I could do it when I first descended into the dark, spartan cave. My clients don’t think they can do it when they first step into the mobile art studio alongside co-workers. But I did it and they do it and in the end, we are glad we did!

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