Saturday, November 17, 2018

Into the Earth--Literally!

Dear Husband and I recently went on the daytrip of a lifetime. He sometimes accompanies a soprano and/or her studio of adult learners. To make things more interesting than just working through a book of songs, she organizes a theme. The last three years comprised the trio Wind, Water, and Earth, and to properly close out a year devote to Earth, she wanted to give a concert underground…in a cave! So a group of us carpooled halfway across Pennsylvania to Lincoln Caverns, a roadside curiosity since they were discovered when the highway was built about 1930. There was a shallow layer of snow over everything up in the Laurel Highlands We enjoyed brown bag lunches while she described the program for "Into the Earth" to us. At first she thought singing in a cave would be like performing in a dry, echoing cathedral, but in fact when she scouted out the location, she realized it would be more intimate, warm (52 degrees year-round!), and damp. These are limestone caves carved out over millennia by water, which continues to drip. So the cave itself would be a performer, too. She chose healing music, such as a Gregorian chant "Illuminare Domine" that reads, "God, illuminate those / who remain in darkness. / Direct their steps in the way of peace, / Oh God of all humanity." So fitting.


After lunch we wandered the gift shop, which tempted us with magnets, photo frames, agates, polished stones, and various bat memorabilia. The Lincoln Caverns had thousands of bats until the white-nose fungus nearly wiped them out 8 years ago. On our tour we saw only two, sleeping snuggled up to each other. What is remarkable is that the entrance they use to get in and out of the ground is only as large as a quarter! We hiked up the hill and used a ramp and then some stairs down into the second, performance cave. Our guide, Leigh, is an experienced caver and showered us with a wealth of historical and geological facts. One thing I learned is a bad dad joke:

Q. When a stalactite grows into a stalagmite, what do you call’ em?
A. A column.

Another thing I learned is that although the original proprietors had installed steel beams to reinforce the cave for fear of falling rocks, the only thing that has ever fallen in this cave is water. Even neater, at one point we were 95 feet under ground, and there were still teeny little tree roots working their way through the rock. How's that for perseverance?

Some of the minerals make amazing formations like curtains, or slabs of bacon, or pearl buttons, or popcorn. One kind fluoresces under black light (above left) and then holds the light for a second or two after you turn it out. We saw a pool of water that looked very shallow but in fact is more than 2 feet deep—we tossed in pennies to make wishes—and another pool in the deepest part of the walkable cave that looked very deep but what only about 6 inches in depth (below).

We took a very quick tour through the second cave, where DH and E”J”D were waiting for us. He balanced a battery-powered keyboard on his lap for the accompanied pieces. Some of them involved audience participation. And at one point, Leigh turned off the lights so we could experience total darkness. After it was all sung and done, we piled back into the cars to eat delicious Italian dinner at a restaurant in the little town where “J”’s partner had grown up. Then it was home again, home again, jiggety jog.

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