One of my transitional moments between childhood and adulthood was when watching a nature program about caves (yep, you know the one). And watching people have to scramble over sharp rocks and use harnesses and ropes to get places, I realized: caves are not made for people. To that point, most of the thought I’d put into caves was in the context of fiction: where the Huck Finns and Beth and Jody‘s of the world had adventures.
But caves are made by the same geological processes as everything else, and sometimes they come out adventure-ready, and sometimes they don’t.
This is one such cave I saw in Petra squished between sandstone slabs:
It’s made by water but not for humans. Realizing that parts of the world made themselves for their own purposes and not for mine was and is a big part of how I see the world differently as an adult. The world wasn’t made to my specs, but it can still be beautiful.
That pretty much summed up my feelings towards caves, until 8:02 PM, October 23, 2011. That was when Matthew sent me this story. We’d been rock-climbing together for a few months and his brother had passed it on to him.
6 hours later, I finished reading it, in my dark apartment, totally fucking terrified. It is, bar none, the scariest horror story I have ever experienced. That includes Family Remains. That includes Portraits of His Children. That includes Cabin in the Woods, which, all for being meta, still left me afraid of elevators for 3 days.
It was effective because it looked real. It had real pictures, was on a real, 2001-era angelfire blog, and felt real.
Enough so that when I was in Lebanon this past February at Qozhaya, the Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great, I couldn’t go deeper into the cave than the light of my flash could penetrate.
I felt like one of Asimov’s robots: the First Law of Jessicas is curiosity, but I had an important, auxiliary law telling me I was going to be eaten if I went any further into the cave. So this picture is my best evidence of how effective that story on caving, rock-climbing, and geology is.
Like the story reminds me every time I hear two rocks scrape together, caves weren’t built for people. They can be fun to visit, they can be important shelter, but in their slippery roots and sinkhole-laden-speckled, they are not necessarily for people.
“It is well known that stone can think, because the whole of electronics is based on that fact, but in some universes men spend ages looking for other intelligences in the sky without once looking under their feet. That is because they’ve got the time-span all wrong. From stone’s point of view the universe is hardly created and mountain ranges are bouncing up and down like organ-stops while continents zip backward and forward in general high spirits, crashing into each other from the sheer joy of momentum and getting their rocks off. It is going to be quite some time before stone notices its disfiguring skin disease and starts to scratch, which is just as well.”― Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites