Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Guy James Cave Diving Review

This is a review of a cave dive in Guy James Cave by a friend named Skip Kendrick.  I absolutely loved his description of the dive, so I have reprinted it here with his permission.  I hope you enjoy it!

There we were in zero viz searching for the gold line. The cave ain't that big, but dang if I can find the stop sign! I thumb the dive 15 feet in; less than 3 minutes. That must be the record for short cave dives! I would call it a cavern dive, but there was no visible sunlight due to the lateness of the day and the total siltout. Up close in Crawford's face I stuck a big thumb with my light inches from it wondering if he would see it….he did and turned to leave, signaling Marbry to turn the dive too. After they both exited, I looked around (as if I could see anything - funny how you rely on sight even when sightless) and soon found the stop sign and the beginning of the gold line. I tied off and followed the line back out to signal Crawford and Marbry to come on down!

The viz was the usual blue-white haze requiring us to stay on the line, or within an easy reach, as we finned along that little golden highway. Why is it blue-white in the first few hundred feet? We know there's a side passage leading to a rock-filled sink that brings it in, but what is it: limestone run-off? I'm thinking of something dead. You know when you see a dead fish or crayfish on the floor of the cave how it is surrounded by blue-white, and then later it's covered in blue-white hairs? I've seen deer thrown in water-filled quarries and how a simple light touch will suddenly fill the water with bit of flesh and that same blue-white fog….

The cave clears a bit past the bone. It's a big black bone, like a cow femur. And there are hip bones, and pieces of broken bones all laying at the bottom of a break down rubble pile. I've been up and down the rubble pile; up to where tree roots hang down into the water and down to where the rubble thins and becomes rock/clay bottom. There's lots of bones in that breakdown pile and catfish too. They roam up and down the pile digging and pulling, so I'm thinking with lots of cows and lots of sink holes….well let's just say there's plenty of food in this cave!

And there's plenty of life too. Two species of fish, big wide-bodied big-eyed fish and solitary cigar shaped fish, that seem to come into the cave only in winter. Of course the usual sculpin, southern cavefish, crayfish, and salamanders, the year-round residents, are ever-present. White and black isopods crawl along the bottom and hide under rocks, while amphipods (some are really baby crayfish I think), fill the water if you just defocus your eyes like you do when staring at those dot-matrix three-dimensional posters (random-dot stererograms). When finally you get the focus right, the 3-D image unfolds and it's like you entered another dimension beyond ordinary sight. I can't help but think of these tiny little creatures, normally undetected by human sight, that spend their lives floating about eating microscopic bits of dead flesh and decomposing vegetable matter. 

And of course I think of our human lives as no more than microscopic in the larger scheme of things, of how our planet is but dust-mote in the universe, less even than a speck of nothingness. But my life seems so large! I, my life, must surely have more meaning than the life of a brainless reflexive cave amphipod. Or maybe not. 

My favorite is the southern cavefish. Blind, albino to the most of almost transparent, and if you get close enough you can see the pink heart beating. But getting that close is difficult. I wonder if a rebreather would calm them down, let me get up close and personal. I think of capturing them and taking them home to a basement aquarium where I can stare closely at them for as long as I want….

Whoa, where are we? As I've been lost in daydreams we've been swimming and the water is now as clear as a bell. I look back and Crawford and Marbry are back there, so I turn and swim back a short ways to where the milky-blue meets the nearly clear and play in the halocline. Like a white fog it hangs just so, in gentle hills and shallow valleys. You can put your head down into the milk, then raise it up and look out over the surface of the smoky fog. Cool.

Crawford and Marbry catch up and we continue on, up and over the camel humps where the water gets shallow and the cave walls get close. The bottom is coarse sand and pebbles and you can see the shapes left by currents from when the rains filled the passage with torrential outflow. Up high is a secondary shelf of beautiful chert formations; black rocks in the shapes of flat-topped mushrooms, rounded on one side and sharpened on the other, some up tall skinny stalks with big plate-sized heads and others small and squat, like little pancakes perched on short fat pedestals. Like a forest in some places and all spread out with room to breathe in other places, the chert formations are delicate testaments to the millenniums. This shelf was formed by a millions of years of rainfall, millions of years of water falling to the ground, of being absorbed by the ground, and millions of years of eroding away the softer rock from the harder, separating the two parts to reveal the artistry of Mother Nature.

We drop down and around the sharp corner, where I always fear the line will one day be cut by the razor-like edge, but today it's continuous and on we go. Deeper now, all of 35 feet, we follow the wide high channel. I stick close to the bottom where the small life flits and scatters, where they wiggle in great effort to move small distances and am reminded once again of our lives, how we too wiggle with great effort to move small distances. As if our lives depended on it, we struggle, we love, we hate, we engage and disengage and too often treat our lives as the most important thing on this earth. Then we settle down in a new spot, a new frame of mind, a place that is not there but here and stop wiggling long enough to catch our breathe and pray we are out of harm's way. I pass the little stick of black salamander, smaller than toothpick, no more than a short dark line in the bedding plane and understand that we are two of a kind. My wiggling and its wiggling differ only in magnitude, in quantity and duration. Long after his wiggling has stopped, mine will continue…or so I hope!

I wiggle a bit extra hard and come up on the triangle rock, the rock that was not there when I first dove this cave, and then one day was. I investigated the ceiling from which it fell and can see the exact placement where it once was, like a piece in a jig-saw puzzle and I always wonder what it must have been like to have been there when it fell. But mostly I think of other large chunks of ceiling falling - especially that one place where the ceiling and floor, both solid rock, are separated by no more than three feet, so that if the ceiling fell, you'd be squashed like a bug. It always makes me smile. Now that's a death! I can see my tombstone now: He was squashed like a bug. Here lies a bit of goo that was once you!
When I die I want my cremated ashes distributed in Guy James Cave. I'd really like an urn with a slow release valve, a time-release valve, hidden in some remote part of the system that would release just a bit of my ashes at 10 or 100 year intervals. Or maybe ask Michael Angelo to mix my ashes, some of them, with his artificial cave clay and blend me into that clay bank just where the milky-blue turns clear! Now that's a grave sight. No tombstone, no plaque, but an urn with my name and born/dead dates hidden where no one will ever find it, releasing the molecules that was once me into the cave waters, to join the milky blue haze.

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