Letters & Essays

Unnamed Caves

John Jeremiah Sullivan

We approached a grotto. A curving, amphitheater-like hillside went down to a basin. It was Edenic. “No diver has ever been able to get to the bottom of that thing,” Jan said, indicating the blue-black pool of water. Frogs plashed into it at the sound or sight of us. We stepped sideways, following a half-foot-wide path through ferns and violet flocks, little white tube-shaped flowers whose name I didn’t know. Following a ledge around the pool, we reached the entrance.

Jan struggled with the lock on the gate. It looked like a mean piece of metal. I wondered if they weren’t overdoing it—that was before I’d heard all the stories of what some Tennesseans will do to get into caves they’ve been told not to enter, using dynamite, blowtorches, hitching their trucks to cave gates and attempting to pull them out of hillsides whole. Jan sent me back to the truck for motor oil, to lubricate the lock. I went gladly, jogging no faster than I had to back through that sanctuary, my pristine white caving helmet bouncing on my hip.

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