With our headlamps off, it was darker than I ever thought it would be. The psychological weight of knowing that massive tons of solid rock pressed around, above, and below us gave the damp air itself a feeling of density. There was an occasional but constant drip coming from somewhere behind the huge boulder we were leaning on: the slow but constant melting of the massive ice sheets thousands of feet above, trickling down through corridors of stone and adding molecule-thin sheets of calcified limestone to the ancient layers that had already accumulated.
The air was cold, and I shivered underneath my thin blanket. I could hear Jason a few feet away from me, breathing slowly and evenly, asleep. I was the only conscious human being in this cave, the first (well, the first of two) to ever experience this. I couldn't help thinking about documentaries I'd seen as a little girl, interactives I'd checked out on the library feed and downloaded to the viewer in my room. Were there still strange, blind, translucent cave spiders? Pale, eyeless insects that scuttled around us in the pitch dark? Was there still something below the surface of our earth that we hadn't yet destroyed?
The documentaries had said that the majority of those species had all but disappeared. But the documentaries had also claimed that all the major cave systems had been discovered and explored, opened to tourism like Carlsbad had so long ago. The bats of Bracken Cave had dwindled in numbers, thanks to the translucent hydraulic tubes that had been installed to allow visitors in and out on an almost daily basis. There weren't any bats here, down below the ice sheets.
But it was amazing, knowing that we were the first explorers here. In a way, we have human climatic interference to thank; if the ice sheets hadn't been melting, we would never have found the entrance. We would never have been able to claim that there were still places on earth as yet undiscovered, unexplored.
And Jason and I the first to explore it. Jason stirred, and we both got ready to go again, clipping on our ropes and harnesses and strapping on our packs. We both turned on our headlamps, and flashed the big lantern around the room one last time. Curtains of stalactites descended in huge ropy spikes; columns where stalactites and stalagmites met formed a colonnade as if we were in the palace of some underground king.
As we continued our slow journey into the unknown, into what might be the last untouched space on this planet, I half-expected to see some sluggish river, some skeletal ferryman waiting for us to cross, never again to turn back.
This week's piece was inspired by Valhalla Pit by Flickr user Magadelic Rock, who has a number of awesome pictures. I was a little spacey writing this. The medicine I'm taking for a sinus infection is making me feel...well, I can only describe it as "shroomy." I guess I was also subconsciously thinking about the IPCC report and how Americans are reportedly the "least concerned about climate change" of any country. Anyway. Check the usual suspects for more Flickr Fiction: The Gurrier, Isobel, Elimare, Chris, TadMack, Neil, and Valsha.