The Tower

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The Cathedral of the Mountain

Shannon Vail

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When my feet begin on the rocky descent down into the caves, I wait for the sense of terror to grip me, to suffocate me but nothing comes. Yet…

My mom looks to me to make sure I feel ok but I shake her off and move towards the front of the tour.

“Make sure not to touch any of the rock formations and any parents keep close eyes on your kids. Don’t want them tumbling into any of the other grottos, right.” The guide smiles after saying this as chimes of right and other forms of hushed agreement come from parents and even one or two kids.

I try not to roll my eyes as we move deeper into the caves.

As we move past rocks, carved structures, and winding tunnels, the tour guide’s words explain the cave and its features droning on in the background of my mind as I wander into the curved corners and look into the domed ceilings as we go. Suddenly a loud metal grinding penetrates my thoughts, and I see a thick metal door close behind us.

I start to open my mouth to ask why we are being closed in here when the tour guide explains, “don’t worry folks, this door is used to regulate the temperatures in each of the caverns. Restricting the airflow keeps everything cool in here. Also, as we go farther into this cave the lighting will be… well, you’ll see.” He moves back to the front with a smirk.

In a way we do slowly start to realize what he means as the lighting grows dimmer and dimmer until the only thing lighting our way is a long line of candles in fixtures on the walls.

I feel as if someones eyes fix on me as the candle tops keeps going in its rotation creating whirls of starlike light and ominous shadows on the walls. But no one seems to be looking as I try to find the presence locked on me.

The guide once again gathers our collective attention, he explains- “Now this is how the caves were shown when they were originally discovered by the Darrow family that lived on the mountain in 1897. The father C.W Darrow gained most of his wealth by leading cave tours just like this one, with the fairy tour being his biggest attraction. In fact they were so rich by the standards in that time period, that these caves are one of the first caves in America to ever have been lit by light bulbs which you will see later in the tour.” As we move closer together as the tunnel squeezes tight before opening with a flourish into a wide tunnel.

As the ceiling of the cave rises leading us into a large amphitheatre like space with a ceiling full with of round stalactites, my dad says, “hey is there a busted pipe or something because I just got a drop of water on my face?”

“Oh that’s really good, this is the perfect place for that.” The guide failing to contain his obvious excitement on his face as he talks.

“What is it like acidic or something,” my dad asking before moving to wipe the water from his face.

“No, no, it’s kind of like a legend you see,” the guide stalling my father’s hand with his words, “ if the water from the mountain lands on you here it’s sort of a blessing. When it happens don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you, it’s really like the mountain saying ‘hello’”. With no one interrupting him, the guide continues, “the Darrows unknowably stopped the caves natural growth by blasting it to get to more of the caves. Because of the explosions, it let in heat and

essentially caused the cave to die. Luckily because of the Beckley’s, the couple who own the park now, environmental work by keeping it cool the cave is slowly coming back to life and so when you get those water droplets on your skin or your clothes, it’s like the mountains life blood. We call it a Cave Kiss, and basically imagine that after thousands and millions of cave kisses there are new stone formations and so this creation goes on forever.”

The tour moves on into the exit on the other side of the cave but wait so I can look around on my own pace. Then when I go to follow the decreased flow of people, I feel a cool touch of water land on my bare shoulders. And as I look up into the ceiling above a sense of peace comes over me as another droplet lands on my forehead, just a blessing from an old giant slowly rising from death into slow growing life once more.

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The Cathedral of the Mountain