Spelunking we will go

Larry Van GuilderAs I see it

Yesterday morning’s temperature brought to mind the thing I dislike most about winter – it’s cold! I don’t know what the official low was, but I saw a raccoon wearing a North Face jacket, a ski mask and L.L. Bean flannel-lined jeans.


I recognized the jeans as a pair that had gone missing from my closet. The jacket was mine as well unless the raccoon’s initials are “LVG.” (I have to get that backdoor latch repaired.)

If you want to get away from the frosty mornings, and dark, cramped spaces don’t bother you, then check out your nearest cave, preferably of the non-commercial variety. While it’s not true that every cave remains at the same temperature year-round (geography affects the temperature), steady temps of 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit are common.

That’s cool enough for bulky sweaters and fleece-lined jackets, but much more bearable than yesterday’s wind chills in the teens. A bit of exploration will also go a long way toward keeping you warm.

My first experience with spelunking – that’s caving for the uninitiated – came as a youthful Marine Pirate. As I’ve written before in these pages, Marine Pirates were a hardy bunch when I was growing up in Fountain City. Where there was danger, there you’d find a Marine Pirate, probably with a cast on his leg.

I don’t know if it’s still there, but 55 or 60 years ago there was a very slender opening into a cave on a hill north of Lynnhurst Cemetery. By “slender” I mean too small to fit my left leg today. Way back then, like “Little Jimmy” Dickens, I was little, but I was loud.

The only way to enter the cave was feet first, which left you with a short drop to a sizeable boulder. The band of intrepid (and skinny) Marine Pirates I entered with the first time was outfitted with the latest spelunking technology: several six-inch candles, a pack or two of “safety” matches and a canteen filled with cherry Kool-Aid. What could possibly go wrong?

The front room of the cave was large enough for us to stand up. That turned out to be a cruel deception as we pushed our way into the darkness. Soon enough, we were crawling, at first on hands and knees, then on our bellies.

As the thinnest of the thin, I led the charge through the claustrophobic parts. Just as the space between my chin and the crown of my head was at its most narrow, I was treated to the Marine Pirates’ well-known sense of humor when my hand grabbed something that felt suspiciously like a skull.

It was a skull – of the rodent variety. I later learned my good buddy Danny had made a solo trip to the cave about a week earlier and “salted” it with the bones of a squirrel he found on the banks of First Creek. I can attest that when your nose is buried in dank dirt and you’ve just dropped your candle any skull at all will give you a start.

Fortunately, my scream didn’t start a cave-in.

Danny went to his reward a few years ago. I was never able to square accounts with him here unless you count the time I put hot sauce on his peanut butter and banana sandwich, but that’s a story for another day.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday.

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