Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Underground Journey


The 7th of July happens to be an anniversary of sorts, and as such, I wanted to do something special. I had started to think about it the weekend prior when we were at the seafood dinner, and finally it just solidified in my mind. I wanted to go to a cave. I like being in the dark and underground and I thought it might be nice to do in the states for a change. Though Korea does have some gorgeous caves, I realize that I had never visited one in the US.

I also found myself recalling, during my US tour, that in a year or so prior I had been contracted to write a bunch of books about the US. Though the project itself was, like many others, a project that drove me batty, I did learn a lot of things that I had either not known or forgotten about the American states. One of those things was that Missouri is the cave state, having close to 6,000 caves. After reading this factoid it must have stuck itself deep down in my brain waiting for just the right moment to reveal itself. That moment, apparently, was while sitting on a couch and thinking about what to do for the 7th. After some research I discovered just the thing, a cave in Missouri that has special tours done by flashlight only. The cave has no installed lighting, and is a bit more advanced then some of the other touring caves nearby. It was perfect!

I told the boy about it.

“Let’s go to a cave.”

“Ok. Where?”

“In Missouri.”

“Okay, which one?”

“Cathedral Cave, you have to walk through it and bring your own light.”

“Okay. When are we going?”

“Next weekend.”

“Okay.”

I love these conversations. So the following weekend we packed up and drove the six-odd boring hours through the state of Illinois to get to the much-less-boring-to-drive-through state of Missouri, to discover that I had the wrong time for the cave tour, and that there was not, in fact, a tour at four in the afternoon, but there was one the following morning at ten.

We drove on to find the hotel and crashed hard, discovering as we turned on the news about the Asiana flight that had gone down. I had actually been on that flight before, so we listened with alarm for awhile, until finally we had some food and crashed out for some much-needed sleep.

In the morning we woke bright and early, packed up the dog and headed off for what I hoped would be the most awesome cave tour. I waited while the Boy walked the werewolf, and we eventually met up in front of the old shed in the Onondaga State Park and waited for the ranger who would take us on the tour of the caves. While waiting we were eventually accompanied by a nice couple of women with their son, and another couplewho were mostly likely from Poland—with their very young daughter. The ranger commented when he got there that this was perhaps the largest group he had ever taken on the tour.

To get to the cave we did a half-mile hike up the mountain to the great big steel gate that was all locked up. It was explained that the security was necessary, as some twenty years ago the cave did have lights until someone stole all of them. This was not an easy cave to get to, making this a rather audacious crime to commit. At the entrance the ranger bid us wait while he went in ahead, after a few moments he waved us in while he closed and locked the door behind us. In the entry he pointed out some spiders and a few of the other insect residents that lived near the front of the cave.

“We have a big mother wolf spider in here, but I don’t see her at the moment. I didn’t want her to frighten anyone. With a large spider, the best thing is to just let them be. Especially a wolf spider. They carry their young on their bellies, so stepping on them is only going to release about a thousands smaller spiders to crawl up your leg, which will definitely make your problem much worse.”

We all stood in sort of hushed awe after the speech while he opened the door to the cave for us, and down we went. I had a headlamp on loan from the Boy, and he had a flashlight. Since all of us had lights, actually, the Boy never really turned his on unless he was lighting up a feature for me to take a picture of. In the cave it was quite, peaceful and cool. We worked our way down the first set of stairs and up to one of the easier features.

Our ranger explained a number of things to us as we walked through.

“You see this puckering here that looks like popcorn? If you are ever stuck or trapped in a cave that is what you need to look for. This happens when outside air reaches down into the cave. If you see this, you know you are near an entrance.”

We walked further in and he pointed out the stalagmites and stalactites that had formed over many thousands of years.

Later, he pointed out the straw like objects hanging down from the ceiling.

“These are soda straws.” I couldn't remember exactly what that meant, but apparently it was Albert Einstein who eventually discovered their purpose in a cave.

“This is cave bacon,” He said as he pointed out a long hanging-down piece that seemed to cascade off the wall.

“As you may have noticed, those who study caves are sort of obsessed with eating, so a lot of things get named after food.”

We laughed and continued in to the dark depths. Even though we spent a lot of time looking, we never did see a Cathedral Cave snail, which is apparently rather unique. Although it has rather a large cave population, no one is quite sure what it eats, though the running theory is that it might live off magnesium. We did manage to see quite a few of the cave salamanders, and at least three bats, only one of which did a flyby, practically brushing my ear. We climbed down about five hundred feet and hit the end of the cave where we saw the impressive Cathedral Cave feature: a beautiful towering spire of rock that looked much like an alter from a church. It was at this point that we all turned off our lights together to experience a moment of total silence and total darkness.

It was absolutely blissful.

I grabbed my boy's hand.

It was the perfect way to spend a day together.

On the way out we revisited some of the more interesting points, until finally, back in the hot sun, we prepared for our trek down the mountain. It was there that one of the group discovered the wolf spider hanging out in a dead log. We all went over to have a peak at her. She had what seemed like a thousand eyes and looked to be a bit bigger than a tarantula.

“You can see why I didn’t want you all to stumble upon her in the dark.”

We could.

The walk down the hill was quiet and contemplative with my love and I hanging in the back, taking in the quiet of the wood and thinking about the deep dark depths we had discovered here. We were silent for a while on our drive home.

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