Friday, July 23, 2010

Run to the Light

The sun has just peeked up over the mountains, so I slip on my garden clogs and head out to weed. The plants are cool and wet with dew and that old bob white is up bright and early letting me know he is around. I whistle back and forth with him for a minute or two while I rest on the handle of my hoe.
     The early morning sun is suspended in a soft fog that burns off as I work. The garden is going great guns. The corn is tasseling, the broccoli is crowning, the squash are burgeoning and the beans are blooming. Looks like my cellar will be full this winter. But, right now I am full of a gardener’s kind of contentment. I am already filthy and I haven’t even had breakfast, yet. Damp dirt clings to my fingers as I practice the art of weed and shake meditation. Pull a weed, shake the dirt from its roots, toss it on a pile to wilt in the sun. Pull a weed, shake the dirt…well, you get the rhythmic picture.
     The sun defeats the last of the fog and I feel the heat on my back as sweat drips off my nose. I don’t mind. I love the summer because of the sun. I am like the plants in my garden always happiest in its radiant light.
     Yesterday, I spent some time, out of the light, in a wild cave in West Virginia. Caroline and I took a ride with some of her relatives to the Sinks of Gandy (don’t you just love that name?) It’s a remote, ruggedly beautiful area of Randolph County. We travelled a private road that stretched across ten miles and five gates to her aunt’s property tucked in a sea of towering, grassy meadows. The feeling was the same one I get when I stand at the edge of the ocean and watch breakers rolling in from the distant sky.
     Then after a packed picnic lunch that included fresh cucumbers, potato salad, watermelon slices, homemade peach jam, and (heavenly days) homemade coconut cream pie, we gathered some interesting rocks, resisted the urge to nap, and drove another ten miles across vast wilderness to a place where the Gandy River ran into a hill and disappeared, only to reappear almost a mile to the north.
     Caroline had been through this cave twice and wanted to explore it again. I was happy to finally get a chance to go through a cave I’d heard so much about. We left her family at the misty entrance and turning our beams to the darkness, followed the water inside. The happy sound of our splashy footsteps bounced from one wall to the other as we sloshed upstream and our flashlight beams soared up to an arched dome of a ceiling. It wasn’t long before the giggling stream dodged under some boulders and we were forced to climb up and over the tumbled remains of floods and ceiling drops. We turned off our flashlights and spent a moment in the dark. The only sound was our breathing and the gurgle of the creek on the other side of the rocks.
     The plan was to follow the water all the way out to the other side, but the water never reappeared. We clambered around a stagnant pool of foam and sticks, and we waded through a dark, cold spring-fed pond, but the stream eluded us and soon we couldn’t even hear its happy song. Caroline was all for pressing forward, even though her memories of the cave didn’t match the reality. My rising sense of panic overruled her. My head was screaming in my ears about death and being buried alive. We turned around and realized that we weren’t sure exactly how to go back. There were several paths to choose from.
     With our flashlights bouncing off of the now menacing rock formations, we began searching for a way out. The route back didn’t match our memories of the route forward so we took turns scouting ahead until we stumbled upon some familiar looking features. The stick that looked like a snake, the arrow painted on the wall that clearly showed we had gone the wrong way (Oh, that’s what that arrow meant!) and finally the glimmer of sun dancing off water up ahead. Like a horse headed to the barn I picked up my feet and cantered to the light.
     After ten minutes of thanking a watchful God and enjoying the sun, we hiked up to the car and changed into dry clothes. Then we decided to walk over to where the river reappeared and exam the cave from that side.
     This entrance was a bit trickier. In our clean clothes and shoes we slid down a narrow crevice through wet orange clay to a small chamber. Intrigued by light dancing on the ceiling we discovered a large lake with an opening to the outside on the opposite shore. Then we turned around to go back the way we’d come, only again (can you spell I-D-I-O-T) we could not locate the correct path. There was no exit sign to guide us out and our flashlights were beginning to cast rather faint orange ovals on the pitted floor.
     I looked at Caroline and said, “If we don’t find our way out of here in ten minutes, I am swimming that (expletive deleted) lake and I will climb down a thirty foot drop if that’s what it takes to get out of here!” She told me to stay where I was and disappeared. I turned off my light to conserve my batteries. In a minute I heard her calling. She had found the way out.
     Now Mom, I know you are reading this and you are ready to pick up the phone and give me a call, but the reality of the situation is people knew where we were, and the cave is rated family friendly. The only real danger I was in was the danger of spraining my ankle as I galloped to the light. In fact, I would really like to go back and try to get all the way through sometime. Well, maybe not for a while.

     Light and dirt. Two of my favorite things. But, dirt without light doesn’t hold the same magic. I have read Tom Sawyer with my students too many times. I know Tom and Becky get out of the cave and he discovers treasure in the end. But, I’ve discovered I wouldn’t make a very good troglodyte. My treasure is the warm smile of the sun on my face and a garden full of green things that have captured the light and stored it so I can enjoy it later.

1 comment:

Due to some spamming I now need to moderate comments. Thank you for your patience.