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.
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.
The walls have ears. Approximately 8,000 of them.
Some of the bats wear a coat of condensed water droplets while they sleep. They glitter in the flashlight’s beam like pale geodes.
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.
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?
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.
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.