Into wild caves for an often unnerving exploration of stone.
A wild cave is an inscrutable space, writes Hurd (Stirring the Mud, 2001), heavily symbolic, weirdly inhabited, full of squirmings. You can’t see what you feel, but you sure can feel it, especially the squeeze, the tight places, when you have to accept where you are and find a way forward. All of this jibes with the process of dealing with her friend’s dying, as the disquiet and foreboding become unbearable—to be anywhere but here—and panic takes over: “How to explain it? Some curtain falls, blocks off your ability to be rational.” Still, in she goes, not so much questing as curious, wanting “some slow motion, embodied drama of disorientation and adieu, the chance to study in isolated detail how it feels when almost everything’s gone.” The caves she enters, from the Northeast to the Southwest and overseas, are otherworldly as she describes the calcite flowstones, cave pearls, soda straws, moonmilk, the blind and colorless creatures, the petroglyphs, the dark. There is the pure geology—the way of limestone and marble—and the psycho-geography, the mind space where she tries to get a sense of the power of secrets. Circumstances being what they are, death is a motif, and caves—all crypt and coffin—are an ideal place to brood on the subject (or, if you’re unlucky enough, get experience firsthand). In the act of entering, taking that first step into the stone, there is the transition, the twilight zone, that Hurd evokes with such chilling care: “a slow, eyes-open receding from one world, slipping into the next.”
Hurd knows she’ll never understand the exact source of a cave’s power, but the underground works for her: “The mythologies haunt: this cave, this chamber of shape-shifting, of image disengaging, reforming, harbors a mysterious substance. . . . It closes the wound.”