When I think of caves I automatically start feeling a little nervous. The thought of being surrounded by nothing but darkness, walls of stone, vampires sleeping in bat form and let us not forget the demons from the pit of hades – aka camel crickets – makes my heart beat a little faster and my breathing become a little shallow. Of course not all caves are just a closed in bunch of channels that you have to crawl through on your hands and knees in the blind darkness with water dripping on your head and cave dwellers waiting to pounce on you out of nowhere, but somewhere over the course of my life – probably watching too many scary movies – I have developed this stereotypical thinking that I have applied to all caves.
About a year and a half ago I took up the hobby of hiking. I have had the privilege of banking 27 trail days in 17 months and visiting the most marvelous places. Numerous magnificent waterfalls, mammoth sandstone channels formed in the ice age, mountain tops and balds with breathtaking views and even a few fire towers that were worthy of a climb. Many times the trail brings with it life lessons for me and the opportunity to conquer some fears. I am not at all fond of heights but I will scale the most slippery of rocks to get the birds eye view from atop a waterfall; I’ll hike until my hamstrings and buttocks are screaming at me to see the view from the pinnacle; I’ll stand as near to the edge as I possibly can to behold the trail from whence I just came. I’ve never been very fond of being alone – for some reason the deafening silence of solitude sent me into panic mode- yet I have ventured out on 3 solo hikes this past year that have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Now I catch myself yearning for those moments to be alone with just me, myself and I and God’s creation. The last thing I will mention that I use to absolutely detest is winter. I’m a cold natured person (not cold hearted – cold natured! distinguish the difference please), I’m the chick that freezes in 80 degree weather! Everyone else will be donning shorts and tank tops and I am comfortable in a nice cozy warm hoodie; God forbid I forget my jacket if I go anywhere – that’s almost as tragic as forgetting my chapstick. Every year I would dread the coming winter and live daily waiting for spring time to arrive. Now, after going on several winter hikes in temperatures so frigid the lakes are frozen, I find myself praying for a snowfall and a day off to layer up and go adventuring.
Oftentimes while hiking we talk of other places that friends have visited and I can always feel my heart longing to go to these places – well all of them except the ones with caves! Nope! Nada! Negative ghost rider! No desire! Almost every nerve in my body would tense up as I gave that “oh sure, that would be cool” nod in response. However, just a few days ago, I found myself with a limited amount of time but a huge desire to get out in the wide open for a few hours. After a “hey whatcha doing Friday morning??” message to a trail mate, some conversation and planning, a chilly Friday morning (twenty degree weather!) we were off to a gem of a spot right off the beaten path in Scott County Virginia known as Frazier Falls. You park your car on the side of the road, hop a guard rail and wha-bam! You are in outdoor heaven.
The fall itself is incredible to say the least. With its size and flow it immediately put me in mind of Red Fork Falls that is located in Unicoi County Tennessee. Tons of moss covered rocks that provide a bridge-way to travel back to and fro in front of the fall and offer some great places for photo shots. The area surrounding the fall is a rock climbers playground. Huge craggy rocks that are perfect for a climb up, and they even provide a nice natural slide for the ride back down (by the way I landed my descent from the top with a little forethought, lots of grace and a butt-load of mud – pun intended). On up the ridge is an entrance to what is referred to as Frazier Cave and apparently that was going to be our destination for the morning. Whoa! What? Insert an “oh snap!” under my breath that verbalized itself into a “sure let’s go for it!” No I had not been drinking, it was 9 am, and no I hadn’t lost my mind, I am however known to be a little strong willed and the thought of missing out on something spectacular just won’t fit into my essence for adventuring, and yes, I trust my trail mate with my life and I knew he wouldn’t scare me too awful bad so…. I swallowed the lump in my throat and the ascent to the cave began.
The opening of the cave is quite large, no crawling on your hands and knees, no walking like a duck, in fact you don’t even have to stoop down to walk in. Once inside it opens up into this huge room at least cathedral ceiling in height. The temperature inside was pleasantly warm and the light from the opening is viewable even to the back wall. There were a few nooks and crannies that were completely dark but a seasoned hiker always has a flashlight handy to extinguish the darkness (and hopefully it’s not the one your sweet grandbaby plays with and runs the battery down) and well, like I said, a good trail mate always has a nice headlamp to light the way ;). I was filled with amazement as the first sliver of light went prancing across the cavern walls! It was as if someone had spray painted gold glitter everywhere and we were surrounded by a shimmering array. Precisely formed rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, vibrant colors that were otherwise hidden in the darkness but demanded attention when the light danced across the canvas of rock. I skillfully ignored the camel crickets plastered on the wall to my left, instead my attention was drawn to the loner bat that clung to the ceiling and was a super sport allowing us to take many close up photos of him. To say the least I was in awe at the beauty this cave had hidden inside of her walls. I stood at her opening, gazing out at the landscape before me and entranced in thought. Had I let pre-formed stereotypical thinking stop me from venturing in I would have missed out on, not only a tremendous sight to behold, but also a sweet life lesson that was penetrating my soul.
I stood for a moment and I wondered how many people cross my path daily that are dwelling in darkness. People who possess magnificent beauty but have it hidden because they have been labeled by some stereotypical mindset. People who just need someone who is willing to have the courage to step inside their world and shine just a sliver of light on their soul. Oh my! What might we see waiting in the depths if we just take the time to explore? You see, it wasn’t that long ago that I was dwelling in darkness. Trapped in a prison of my own fears and anxieties. Hidden behind self made walls built to keep others from hurting me. Frustrated, miserable and alone. But one glorious happy day someone looked beyond the shell they saw on the outside, shone a light into my darkness and penetrated the walls of stone. This light that, no matter how far I venture or how many nooks and crannies I slip into, always extinguishes the darkness and it is always visible and present. A light that is not bound to prejudice mentalities or preconceived notions. This light that not only shines from the outside but has enlightened my soul and renewed my heart. It is not mine but I possess it and long to shine it wherever I may go. A light that will perhaps penetrate someone else’s walls and their beauty, no matter how deeply hidden, will be revealed for all to see. I am so very thankful for this light, and for an adventure to a cave on a chilly November morning,
John 1:1-5 Before anything else existed, there was Christ with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. He created everything there is – nothing exists that he didn’t make. Eternal life is in Him and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.