I’ve been imagining this triple digit heat without air conditioning. Where would I go for comfort? Our ancestors didn’t have the convenience of HVAC units, so they sought the dark, moist enclosures of caves. They parked their chairs at the mouths of caves and plucked guitar strings, gossiped, brought out their checkers and playing cards. Over the past few years, I’ve toured several caves, learning about their differences and enjoying the experience of caving with friends and family members. I like watching the different ways that people respond to being in a cave. Some people feel claustrophobic, others want to sneak away from the group and explore on their own, many joke to ease their fears, and one or two imagine all the previous lives to pass through the earth’s corridors.
A grandmother said, “It’s cold enough to dance the jitterbug without breaking a sweat in the summertime.”
We were lined up, waiting to descend into the cavern, with flashlights in hand. I asked her if she’d been on a date at the cave. She giggled, said, “Now, how’d you know that?”
I shrugged, “Good guess.”
She continued, “It was so cold in there that he gave me his jacket. It was scary too. Caves make kind of creepy shapes.”
“And you want to go back inside?” I asked.
“Yeah, you always discover something new, see it in a different way.”
In one of the caves I toured, couples can have their wedding ceremony. The wet, limestone trail unevenly dips further into the earth’s interior. I consider a 21st-century bride in popular stilettos wobbling around the winding passage toward the groom. She could wear a headlamp instead of a veil. That might be a great scene for a novel.
In my novel Multiple Exposure, a cave is one of the strongest parts of the setting, but no one gets married in it for this book. I wrote about other faces of the cave–how inviting it can be, offering cool air during the heat; how frightening it can become in the darkness; how secretly it holds mysteries; how inspiring the process of discovery becomes when people explore the underground regions of the earth.
With 109 degrees pushing Middle Tennessee thermometers to extremes, caves offer a comforting embrace. Afterall, they are carving out spaces with a constancy that we forget while we scurry around up here, under the sun.