Monday, April 15, 2013

Sensible second thoughts of a would-be spelunker

Saturday, April 13, 2013
Our family has visited more than a half dozen caves in the Western United States and also one in Slovenia, and each time I think about what it must have been like to have been one of the first explorers of the cave—a real spelunker who isn’t just following a guide on a much-traveled trail. Now I stand outside several caves unmarked on the maps and known to only a few local residents—and I chicken out.

The caves are on a hillside opposite Eberhard and Dorothea’s house in upper Pian di Mommio. Eberhard says the caves have only now become visible from their house because a couple of large trees tumbled down the hillside during a winter mudslide. Dorothea tells me she has seen the caves but never gone inside. I take a 20-minute hike up the hillside and peer inside the largest cave. I can see back about 30 feet, and then the cave takes a sharp left turn. It is tall enough to walk in standing up, though only wide enough for one person at a time. I look at the ground and think, this clay is going to stick to my feet and make a layer two inches thick, which has already happened to me during my gardening work today. As I debate whether to enter anyway, I notice tracks in the clay—of a canine variety. Probably a dog, but then wouldn’t the tracks of a fox or wolf be similar? And could it be a wild dog?

I back out and decide to walk over to a nearby stream to
Not something I want to see in a cave.
think about this. Then I see more tracks in the trail, but these are cloven hooves, quite possibly of cinghiali, wild boars. Whatever all these tracks are, these little-known caves would surely make great dens for wild animals. The only human prints I see are my own, so I decide not to enter the caves. It would be thrilling to explore them, but maybe too thrilling for a sensible person without a flashlight and baseball bat. Exploring an unmarked cave will have to remain on my bucket list a little longer—or maybe it should just be crossed off entirely.

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