The Under World

Underneath the ground, below the grass and the dirt, where the sun’s rays no longer reach, where everything feels still, there is another world.

This world here is quiet, with nothing but faint voices and the occasional sound of footsteps. It is very dark, there are lights but they are man-made, and relatively dim. Just enough to keep you from falling and plunging into the depths. It is cold, and damp. Everywhere there are shadows.

These shadows travel along the stone as you move, changing forms, morphing and evolving–but never going away. They dance and circle as you travel, a constant struggle between the light and dark, between your presence and your disappearance. These shadows remind me of shades, the souls of the long-dead in Greek mythology. They aren’t purposeful, they aren’t sinister. They simply move, float, react. In life they were neither exalted nor reviled. In death they are also neither.

As I move through the cavern I think about my own mortality, and about these shadows. Memories, and ideas, thoughts about the future and the past circle through my head, blending with the shadows until eventually all I can think about is my own progress through the cavern. The path is very curved, winding over steep cliffs, overlooking palatial rock formations as they jut out from the ground and brush the very top of the cavern. Somewhere deep inside the caverns, nestled in the shadows, sleep the bats, nocturnal creatures who will wait until we end our voyage in the caverns to resume theirs. I like the idea of them there, living beings at one with their shadowy surroundings.

Carlsbad Caverns- Photo Winter Betancourt

When my journey through the cavern ends, I stand blinking in the sun. Around me people get into their cars, heading to new destinations–hotels, back home, to restaurants, shopping. I look down at the ground underneath my feet. My hiking shoes, and the pavement stare back at me. Beside my shoe is a bag from the gift shop. I pick it up, not wanting to leave it to spoil the natural scenery. For several moments I gaze down at the ground, remembering that walk through the darkness, my thoughts, those memories. I think about the secret world, created by nature, discovered recently by man. The labyrinth of stone, the stalactites, the reflective pools. It’s a whole different universe, existing right underneath our feet. An Under World. Ideas begin to take form, inspiration for my book. My protagonist spends a lot of time in the Underworld. I feel closer to her, and to my story now.

What other treasures does our Earth hold? Will we discover more of these beautiful places one day? Do I even want for us to, or would I rather them be left undisturbed, quietly existing, repositories of secrets and shadows far beneath the surface, untouched by human footsteps? I don’t know. I love this idea, of these amazing Underworlds, and I would want to know more of them. But I know what human beings are capable of doing to our planet. Perhaps these places should stay hidden, protected from the outside world.

I will always think about Carlsbad Caverns as a place of myths. A world of its own, existing very far and yet very close to ours. It seems as though it would be possible to wander here lost forever, if you were to somehow leave the path. It has a bewitching pull to it, beckoning you to the world that lies further and further beneath the surface. How far could you wander here, before you were truly lost? Here in the darkest corners, free from the noise outside, there is nothing but you and this natural creation. Not even a phone will reach you. Surely, here, sings the siren of the cavern, your thoughts can rest. The cavern holds many secrets, buried in the shadows. A dangerous and forbidden world.

What places have inspired you to write? What do you think about these “hidden” worlds, buried deep where human eyes can’t easily see them? Wishing you inspiration for your next creative project, and the freedom for your imagination to wander to all kinds of new and interesting places. 🙂

-Winter

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