IMG_3693, originally uploaded by Mic2006. As Edgar Allen Poe says in his story “The Premature Burial”, “There are certain themes in which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction”. These topics are, “with propriety handled only when the severity and majesty of truth sanctify and sustain them”.
Poe wrote of a burial that, due to the warm weather, took place in “indecent haste”. The supposed deceased had been thrown from a horse and injured by a contusion which had “rendered him insensible at once”. I am sure you can imagine the victim’s horror when he woke underground to the realization that he had been buried alive. “An unendurable oppression of the lungs- a ridgid embrace of the narrow house- the blackness of the absolute night”.
In Poe’s opinion, it is rare that a cemetary be encroached upon and some of the skeletons are not found in postures that might suggest that they had been pre-maturely interred. That, to a claustrophobic, is what Poe so gleefully dwells upon; the horror of suffocation beneath the earth.
At the end of our short but beautiful Ontario cave tunnel, we had found a sump from which flowed a golden stream. It emerged from a low cobble-floored slot and beyond, the sepulchral draw of a subterranean breeze and inky tunnels of endless night. It was in theory a most beautiful spot and the horrors of the coming embrace of rock and water were washed off down the tunnel with the water.
Lying on my back, I felt the water trickling down my spine. It was an excruciating agony and I shouted loudly in protest, (much to the alarm of my companion). Taking several breaths, I tipped my head back and felt my helmet and ears filling with freezing water. I immediatly began to feel dizzy but wriggled onward until only my nose and lips protruded above the stream. The sump was short but tight and when I opened my eyes I could see that both they and my forehead had protruded into a cavity beyond. Looking up I saw the ceiling of a substantial crevice in the beam of my headlamp.
Wiggling further was difficult as the cobbles beneath and the roof above were pressing my lungs. I felt just a twinge of Poe’s delicious horror and with hands that were aching from the cold I struggled back through the squeeze.
Catching my breath I slouched dizzily against the tube and resolved to try again in a few weeks when the water is warmer and some of the cobbles have been cleared out. It was too cold at that time and though I am now a little disappointed at my retreat, my companion and I know that a really exciting cave lies in wait.
SOME FURTHER UNDERSTANDING OF ONTARIO’S CAVING EXPLORATIONS CAN BE OBTAINED IN MY BOOK “ROCKWATCHING; ADVENTURES ABOVE AND BELOW ONTARIO” (see the sidebar to the right for order information).