I grew up out in the country. We were NOT farmers, but I worked for farmers and our setting was very rural. On “days off” (my mom had LOTS of chores for us to do, so even as a kid, having a full “day off” wasn’t all that often.), my buddy and I would often plan adventures. (Sometimes, we would play Whiffle ball all day, however!) Our adventures often had to do with going to…The Creek.
There was one creek that ran about equa-distance between our houses, which were a 1/2 mile apart. That was a fun place to play or camp, but not really “adventure” quality. The adventure creek was farther away. To get to it probably took a 20-30 minute hike. We would pack a lunch, head out in the morning and not get back until near dinner-time. Frankly, if something had happened to us, no one even really knew where to even look for us. It was different time and place! We would get there and start hiking down the edge of the creek, following the flow of the water. A ways down the creek, it came to a waterfall. This was one of the highlights of this leg of the creek. While the water flow was seldom all that great, the dropoff was a good 20 feet, which was pretty cool. We would stand there for a while, admiring the scenery and throwing things off the edge. We would then continue down and around the waterfall on dry land.
A ways farther, there was a confluence with a larger, deeper, faster moving creek. This confluence was interesting because, unlike most confluences you will find in the country that somewhat resemble highway off-ramps, curving from one to the other, this one literally was a T-bone- the smaller creek just dead-ended into the larger creek at a 90-degree angle. We tried going both directions on the larger creek over time, but usually settled on continuing to follow the flow of the water. There was a reason for that. There was a natural feature about a mile down that leg of the waterway that drew us like the Song of the Sirens- The Cave!
We had heard stories of The Cave. One local farmer told us that, if you crawled far enough back, it opened up into a large room. MAN did we want to see that room! The problem, however, was two-fold- the mouth of the cave was in the side of a bluff that shoulders the creek, about 20 feet up, and the entrance to the cave was narrow, a tunnel that required shimmying in on your belly!
The day we found the cave, it was like finding One-Eyed Willy in the movie The Goonies. It was the realization that this thing that we thought might just be legendary was actually real! That first day, we managed to scaled the bluff to the mouth, which stood in a recessed “shelf”. We had NOT come prepared- not flashlights. But we stood at the mouth of the cave and marveled. True to form- the mouth was so small and round that the ONLY way in would have been to shimmy in on your belly and, if you didn’t find the promised “large room”, then only was out would be to shimmy back out…backward. We went home and made plans to return.
The shimmying part seemed pretty daunting. Okay- terrifying. But the lure of that large room was great. So, a week or so later, we made a return trip, armed with flashlights. We arrived. We scaled the bluff to the mouth and stared into the cave. With the light help, it was now apparent that, not only was the cave a small tube cutting back through the limestone…it undulated. Which meant that, even with the added help of the flashlights, you couldn’t really see more than about 20’ back. You would be shimmying into the complete unknown. Even at that age, we understood it was a recipe for potential disaster. So, we did NOT “screw our courage to the sticking place” and attempt it that day. We sat there on that shelf, ate our lunch, dreamt about what might be back there…and then went home.
As we got a little older, we also got a little braver. (And, apparently, more stupid!) So, one day, we went back, determined to actually breach the cave. We got there, scaled the bluff and made it to the mouth. I decided to be the one to try first. Armed with the flashlight, heart pounding, I started shimmying in. It was rather tight, even for a kid. I shimmied and I shimmied and that cave felt like it was closing in more and more. Claustrophobia started to set in. Then panic started to follow next. I was probably about 20’ in. I had made it past the first undulation and found…another one. I still couldn’t see very far in front and still had NO idea if there WAS a large room and, if there was, how much farther it was…and what I might find if I made it that far. By then full-blown panic was very near the surface. I decided to give up. I started shimmying backward as fast as I could- I felt like I couldn’t breathe. After what felt like an eternity, mt feet stopped hitting the sides of the cave- I was almost out. I nearly feel off the shelf and down the bluff scrambling the last few feet out, so grateful the be back in the fresh air and sunlight.
I told my buddy what I saw- which wasn’t much. He could see how scared I was, but we never talked about that. We sat there, silently, for a bit, looking into the mouth of the cave with our flashlights. Then, without saying a word as we climbed down. The trip home started out pretty quiet. But by the time we were half way home, conversation had settled back to relative normal. We talked about all sorts of things, but not the cave. In fact, we never really talked about it much at all after that, And my recollection is that we never went back.
To this day, two things stand out- I still wonder if there was REALLY a large room back there (everything ELSE the farmer had told us about the cave proved to be true, so…?) and, as I said earlier, BOY was that a different time and place. I would have never willingly just let my kid wander off for the day, not knowing where they were going or were to even begin to look for them if they didn’t come home. But that wasn’t a sign that our parents were bad parents. Not at all. Instead, it was sign of a simpler day and age, when people left their houses and cars unlocked, where kids played outside all day and where the only rule was, “be home when the streetlights came on”. (We didn’t even HAVE streetlights out where we lived!)
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