CAVE PASSAGES by Michael Ray Taylor


Roaming the Underground Wilderness
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 Caving exploits, some of them terrifying, elegantly described by Taylor (Journalism/Henderson State Univ.). There is a small, international fraternity of the intrepid and obsessed, whose members actually find it recreational to plunge deep into subterranean darkness, inching forward on their backs or bellies through shoulder-width, seven-inch-high crawlways, often awash in freezing water, sometimes having to gulp air from pockets in the ceiling, not knowing where a passage may lead, the only certainty the constant presence of danger. Call them cavers (``spelunkers'' is dÇclassÇ), and expect to find them most anywhere that limestone gives evidence of stygian glories. They poke about the underworld gloom of Borneo, crawl around deep under the sands of the Sultanate of Oman, wander slack-jawed through Switzerland's Holloch and Russia's Peschtschera Optimistitscheskaya. Taylor, now a dad, has for the moment retired his carbide lamp, but this collection of stitched together magazine articles is testament to his caving credentials. Taylor celebrates both caves and cavers: caves as diverse as the great labyrinths of China's Guizhou and Guangdong provinces (Taoist monks mapped these vast underground networks in the early 17th century) and segments of Manhattan's abandoned Croton aqueduct system (he kisses the brick where an Irish laborer scratched his name a hundred years before); cavers ranging from the Coons, a husband and wife, both 70 years old, who continue to survey South Dakota's depths, to caving legend Sheck Exley, who came home in a box following a 1,000-foot descent in the Mexican desert into what turned out to be a flooded hole. Along the way, Taylor details the winding road of his freelance writing career--interesting, if familiar, terrain; but his true element is down under, with all its geological intricacies--latticeworks and crystals and rushing waterways--and with those curious souls at home in the netherscape. Mesmerizing, but not recommended for anyone with even a hint of claustrophobia.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-81854-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996