Some think of caves as simple holes in mountains. But when you experience them firsthand, they are hidden palaces of wonder and ancient books to the past. They open up every human’s imagination to the wonders of exploration, adventure, and curiosity.
The cave system of Kentucky known as Mammoth Cave is ever-expanding network of hidden tunnels, tapestries, history, life, death, and mystery. Along the surface, Poplars and Sycamores of great magnitude point to the sky and reach out to starlight. But from a great gap on the mountainside a flow of water emerges. The water is a peculiar green, stained by the stones and minerals hidden below the mountain and deep within the earth. Green. The color of eager young sprouts emerging, tender and delicate in the spring. This water journeys through the sycamore forest to meet with a river changing it’s color and name. The Green River.
But your attention never leaves the origin of the emerald stained water. A gap, a split, opens up and releases the fascinating and perplexing water. That’s how you know that deep below you, the tunnels and caverns lay hidden.
Further up the mountain, as dusk falls over the sky, bats flutter and flap and twirl about in the air like great black butterflies of the night. You follow them to their great home- the stone palace beneath the world. The great cave opens up before you and cool air flows out, the temperature going from a warm summer afternoon to a chilly fall night. But as you look into the blackness your imagination takes all control, and curiosity fills the mind, and the urge to explore is bubbling up inside. A triumvirate of imagination, curiosity, and exploration orders you to enter the earth, leave the surface, and discover what the darkness hides.
And you obey.
As you descend down to stand at the palace entrance, it’s residents dance about the starry expanse above. But within the cave… there is not light, just a void. A complete absence of what you’ve always received from the sun.
So you bring the light.
And as you step into the stone tunnel the light from the outside world fades, and all that you will ever see with is with the light of the lantern you clutch tightly in your cold hands.
Then, the silence comes.
The world above is filled with noise in even it’s most calm moments, the gentle breeze rustling leaves, the songs of frogs and birds and insects. The flow of water. The breath of life. But here, all is still. The only sound is the flame of the lantern and your feet. Your breath echoes and sounds a fierce storm filled with lightning, your heartbeat great drums of a marching army. But the stone is silent. The only sound is the sound of your existence.
You pause to stop the din of your walking feet.
The smoothed walls and roughed walls show where water once existed. The cracked stones showed where some past turmoil shook even the most secret of places. You think about how the earth could create so much violence and then return and see a thousand thousand trees rise again.
Suddenly, a shadow passes you. Movement. A faintest scratching on the stone, almost downed out by the noise of your breath. You search for the shadow, the noise, but nothing is to be seen.
But then you see the minuscule, shadow-making monster. A cricket emerges. Its legs are tall and long, pronounced; giving it the ability to climb on any surface of the cave and jump over any obstacle. Long antennae feel about in front, so even in the complete darkness it knows where to move. They feel about, reaching out as long as the rest of the cricket’s body. The small black eyes look at you, the lantern and light, and then crawls up the cave wall and deeper into the darkness.
And you follow, deeper and deeper, further and further.
Lefts and rights, down chutes and drops and openings, the descent into darkness.
The cricket shows you the wonders of the palace; stalactites, caging off certain rooms and corridors so only the crickets can slip through. Stalagmites stabbing up from the floor and attacking the ceiling. When they connected, pillars formed. These pillars, in the great ballrooms and throne-rooms, put the Greeks and Romans to shame. Rubble filled some places when the ceiling had peeled away and smashed upon a stalagmite, and in a garden bubbles of calcite exploded into flowers that were a million years old. Budding calcite bubbles would soon bloom in a few thousand years. Crickets crawled over the walls and whispered amongst themselves about things a human had never even been able to imagine. Tapestries and curtains hung about the walls, woven from folded and curved stone. Dripping water was building a array of stalactites in one room, and in another is was drilling out a deep pool. Along the cracks in the ceiling, little stone-sickles hung down.
You have never seen such strangely beautiful things in your life. It’s magnificently elaborate and wonderful. This is the empire of darkness that is hidden underneath the surface. And you are seeing it for the first time in light.
Every formation and growth and destruction has taken thousands of years to form, and you are present in their timelessness. And they all hide in perfect glory.
But you wonder where the river of emeralds is. Where is this timeless river Styx?
The traces of the ancient river are seen through every single level of the cave. But it never reveals itself, the emerald river is even lower, even deeper in the earth. You saw it before, but where in this maze of stone wonders will you find it’s source?
You let your cricket lead you onward, down to where light has never been known.
Forever the river in the empire of darkness under the surface of the world. And you are there. There in the darkness below everything you’ve ever known, in the palace of stone.
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