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Remember: Into Crystal Cave

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Into Crystal Cave

DSCN1602 Once you get past the hokey PA Dutch Gift Shop, once you watch the eight minute 1980’s themed introduction video, once you can discern silence from the chatter of children and ill-timed jokes of the tour guide, the magnitude of what you are observing becomes clear.

Millions of years ago, (really try to comprehend that, one of us is lucky to get to eighty years) in an ancient ocean, the “ooze” and sand formed stone.  That “ooze” was the organic materials that remained after an organism or other life form died.  These stones were pushed together in what geologists call a “mountain building event”.  It is from that event, we get our Appalachian mountains, our Tuscarora sandstone and the caves and sinkholes frequently found in this area of Pennsylvania.

The rocks I spoke at length about at Bake Oven Knob are cousins to the rocks in Crystal Cave.  Down here though, there is no mass wasting.  Here, the rocks are adorned with stalactites and stalagmites.  Here, some rocks become flowstones.  In the cave, geology has made for itself a cathedral.  We worship with our eyes and the wonder in our minds.
With my back to the Cambrian wall, I looked up.  Ernie the tour guide pointed out fossilized coral on the ceiling.  He said it formed in the Mississippian Ocean.  I thought of the sun those fossils once used to create the energy needed to sustain life, and how long its been since those fossils saw it.  In all likelihood, they will never see it again.
A primal fear in me sent a slight tremor into my hands when Ralph turned the artificial lights out at the back end of the cave.  The darkness was so encompassing it would be hard to believe in light if you stayed down there too long. (Fair enough, Plato.- Forgive me, I couldn’t go a whole cave post without a lame Plato joke)
The year round temperature of 56 degrees in the cave is constant.  In a sense, save an earthquake that happened 500,000 years back, the cave itself is constant.  Funny thing is, moss grows in the lights people have installed to accommodate tour groups.  Flowstones that have been touched by human hands are altered by the oils of our flesh.  When two enterprising men stepped the first human foot into the cave in 1871, they began to change something that in some ways had become everlasting.
Sure, in a few million years as continental drift takes our North American plate elsewhere and crashes us into another plate, Crystal Cave may be no more.  To us, for now, with our limited sense of perception, this cave seems infinite. With the same wonder we view the lights in the night sky, which are themselves shadows of former events, we can look with wonder in the caves of the earth. Be it a hardened wave of a long dead ocean or a 300 year old calcite buildup, we can be amazed at the closest thing to eternity we are likely to ever experience. 
I hope that thought isn’t lost in the knick knacks of the gift shop or in the giggles of children seeing figures in the rocks.  Beyond the perception of the infinite, the cave provides for us one other important insight.  Like Crystal Cave, we too will one day be buried underground.  We will become part of the same earth that we currently visit as a tourist destination.  With every footstep into the depths we are at once surrounded by the seemingly endless and our obvious endings.  Especially when Ernie turns the lights off.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you accomplished yesterday was totally unbelievable. You have come so far. It is almost like watching you take your first steps all over again.

April 2, 2010 at 2:29 AM  

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