This is a little spin on my “Characters I Have Known” series. Settings can be inspiration for a story, a character—or simply mined for atmospheric or physical detail.
I have always liked caves. There is something mysterious about them, particularly the ones that are filled with stalactites and other formations. I revel in the primal atmosphere, the quiet drip-drip of water…and the thrill in knowing that the flip of a switch would plunge us into absolute darkness.
When I was a teenager, I went caving once with adult friends who were experienced spelunkers. We drove up into the Ozark mountains of northern Arkansas to a place called Bat Cave. After my friends donned helmets with carbide lights (too big for my head, so I carried a flashlight) we passed through a small entrance into a large cavern of rock and dirt. At the back of the room was a twenty or thirty-foot drop-off into another room.
We rappelled down to this lower level of rocky and uneven ground, and set about exploring. I discovered a cave cricket near a tiny stream, which my friends said was a first for them in this cave. Later, as we were making our way down a narrow passage, we came across scores of bats clinging upside-down to the wall. These were small bats—three or four inches tall. Seeing these tiny creatures in their home environment was thrilling. We watched them for a while, being careful not to disturb them.
When we returned to the surface, I noticed two things: First, I’d lost all sense of time. What felt like three hours in the cave was actually eight. Second, as we emerged from the cave I was struck by how sweet and fragrant the summer air smelled. How thick. Breathing the clean, pure air of the cave for that amount of time had wiped my “scent slate” clean. Realizing how perfumed the air was with wildflowers and other native plants was a revelation. All these years later, the olfactory memory of this is still vivid.
Being absorbed in writing can be like my cave experience: exploring a world of my own creation; the thrill of discovery; the surprising passage of time. And when I emerge—blinking at the clock in amazement—I feel like a writer-spelunker who has just spent a few hours in the cave of creativity.