Cave

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Ice can do in one winter what it takes dissolved limestone centuries to achieve. Entering the mouth of the cave, we step gingerly between the brittle teeth.

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It’s like a strip show. Look but don’t touch, says the guide; this is a living cave. The formations are so sensitive, one touch of oily skin is enough to halt their slow dance of minerals forever.

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The walls have ears. Approximately 8,000 of them.

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Some of the bats wear a coat of condensed water droplets while they sleep. They glitter in the flashlight’s beam like pale geodes.

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Inverted as they are, we recognize many of these landscapes – or think we do. These are the long-legged peaks and the dark forests we know from childhood, from dreams, from Russian ikon paintings.

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With all lights extinguished, we take the measure of the place one drip at a time. How many generations would we have to live underground before we learned to echolocate as well as the bats?

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The stream that formed this cave was diverted elsewhere so tourists could flow through. At times, we feel like voyagers through our own viscera, inspecting the entrails of a future cut short by the very process of inspection.

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The usual flotsam of outlaws and Indians are said to have left buried treasures and unmarked graves. But these are no ruins. The columns are still barely half-built.

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