Spelunk, Spelunk, Spelunk

Spelunking. What a unique word, especially if you say it out loud several times. It sounds like a 30-ton dinosaur stomping through the swamp. “Here comes another brontosaurus—spelunk, spelunk, spelunk.”

Maybe that’s why people who explore underground prefer to call themselves “cavers.”

The other night I attended a talk by a man whose passion is caving. He was a good speaker, and it was fascinating to listen as he shared his delight in underground exploring. He showed us amazing photographs of caves he has been in—giant pillars where stalactites and stalagmites had grown together, draped “curtains,” delicate crystals that looked like frost, and dramatic underground waterfalls. The beauty was breathtaking.

The most literally breathtaking picture for me, though, was one that a fellow caver had taken of the speaker. Part of him, anyway—his boots. They were sticking out of a slit in the rock. The rest of him (did I mention this man was very slender?) had already disappeared into the narrow hole. It was like the last sight someone might have had of Jonah just before he vanished down the gullet of the whale.

Just seeing the photograph made me shudder. Crawl into dark, twisting passages so slim that if your navel were an outie instead of an innie you’d never make it to the other end? No, thank you. Not on your life.

I have visited a couple of caves. Touristy caves, with walkways and railings and comforting electric lights. They were spectacular. The day I went to Carlsbad Caverns, I’m sure I set a personal record for the number of exclamations of “Wow!” in a single day. Carlsbad, or at least the parts of it they let the visitors see, is a huge place of high-ceilinged caverns and vast spaces. That much I can handle, at least as long as they leave the lights on.

Anything smaller I’ll leave to the real cavers. It’s fun to see the pictures and to hear someone describe something he is so excited about. It’s wonderful that there are people willing to venture into the world’s less accessible places and then tell the rest of us all about them. More power to them. May they stay slender and may their headlamps never fail.

I’ll just stay out here in the sunlight and enjoy playing with words like “spelunking.”

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