“This trip…is all there is.”
The rest of his words are drowned out by an onrush of cold air. I am swept into a vortex. Looking down to ground myself – I fix my eyes upon a single blue-green stone in an attempt to stabilize my field of vision. But I cannot focus.
Instead, I am gazing into a virtual tunnel of images. They form a shimmering cone of three-dimensional scenes stretched out to great length. Each one shows a world related in some way to this place. Starting out as pastoral landscapes, each leads from bright blue sky toward a darkening funnel of clouds far in the distance.
I scan every vista, searching for clues. They begin as vignettes, memories – moments I can identify. In one, I see myself as a child walking the path to Crystal Cave – a huge underground cavern near Kutztown and a commercial attraction. Walking with my parents, seeing things from a child’s-eye view, I can hear the muffled voices of other families behind me.
Descending into the ancient cavern, the summer heat quickly gives way to a chill as I descend for my first journey inside the planet. Everywhere around me, uncanny configurations of stalactites and stalagmites glisten in the artificial light. I have revisited this alien place over and over again in my dreams. It has become a familiar part of my mental landscape. I am not surprised to see it now.
Another scene springs up – the weather is crisp and autumnal. The place before me is Temple Cave – a rough boulder-bound series of subterranean cracks and crevasses I explored as a teenager. Known only locally, the entrance is a mere slit between rocks on a hidden hillside. As I move forward between the stones I can feel the humid atmosphere within. Once inside, there are yards of precipitous ledges to negotiate in the dark, before one can enter a space large enough to even turn around.
These visions coexist in my mind. I see them all at once. And yet, I can travel through each one individually, move around and explore. It is an experience of simultaneity – a hall of mirrors but each reflects a different time and place.
Next, I experience a night in late summer. I am with a group of amateur spelunkers – friends who have invited a few of us to explore a new cavern they’ve discovered just south of Gettysburg. The characteristic shift from the external world to the bowels of the earth is more gradual, as the entrance here is larger. The damp green moss lining the slippery clay walls at the cave mouth disappears into the rough and rugged passageway within.
After ten yards or so, there is a small opening in the stone floor. One-by-one we lower ourselves into the earth. Holding tightly to a nylon line, I slide down through a long rock-edged tunnel barely wider than my shoulders and I am blinded by utter blackness.
Even as these spaces engulf me with their overwhelming presence, I sense us both still at rest, lying on the field of grass from which we will awaken later in the day. Above, the constellations of late-summer shine like laser beams from behind a midnight sky.
These ever-changing scenes appear solid and palpable, yet they are strangely transparent. They seem to rotate within my cone of vision, each one juxtaposed upon the other. It is as if I am enclosed inside a vast crystalline structure, sphere upon sphere, encasing the myriad moments of my life as internal reflections within some incomprehensible mind. And in that mind my dreams are real.