Caves and Red Dust

One of my favorite places is a distant memory. I had visited it only once, as a small child, but it remains indelibly in my mind and my heart as a place I would love to visit once more before I die.

Deep in the southern reaches of Utah, there is a desert. Much of this desert is National Parks, such as Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Zion. Somewhere in that vast orange and red desert spotted with shrubs and cacti, there is a cave. It is more than a cave, really; it is a cavern. Its vaulting ceiling was carved out of stone by water and wind and time. The floor is filled with fine white sand, and the smooth orange rocks provide blue shade against the bright yellow desert sun. Inside the cave, the outside world is lost to the sun, and there is nothing except the vast shadowed emptiness and silent echos. There is a peace in the stillness, a submission in the echos, and a joy in the chill shades hidden under the crevices of stone.

Even though I was not alone in that cave–surrounded by chattering people and echoing feet–the vastness of the shadows drew me in towards a stillness in myself. I found a quiet spot near the red rock wall, where the shadows were most purple and cool, and the sand soft and deep. My five year old hands (or was I four or was I six?) plunged into the warm powdered earth. My entire world became consumed by the grit in my palms. I cannot recall if I thought anything–perhaps I had no thought. But for the eternal instant we occupied that cave, that cave’s flesh occupied ME.

There is a life to be found outside of life. Its easy to forget that stillness and emptiness is just as much alive as any action or form–and just as crucial to our wellbeing. I sometimes look back on that cave with longing, for even now, I wish I had more time to enjoy that handful of silent white sand.

For some reason, I am just now reminded of a verse in a poem by T.S. Eliot: “The Wasteland.” (This is also one of my most favorite bits of poetry in all the english language. I am now struck by a wondering if my longing for the cave of my memory and my fondness for this obscure poem are linked?)

A heap of broken images where the sun beats
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no water. Only there is this shadow under this red rock.
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock).
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you,
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you.
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.


17 thoughts on “Caves and Red Dust

  1. beautiful poetry.

    and what an awesome memory. i don’t thinki have any memories that vivid from when i was 5 or 4 or 6.

  2. Its easy to forget that stillness and emptiness is just as much alive as any action or form–and just as crucial to our wellbeing.

    How true. I so wish I could find stillness these days. I have completely overdosed on people and activity and I’m craving stillness and quiet and aloneness.

    Beautiful post.

  3. I had an almost identical experience on a Hawaiian cruise 2 years ago. You could see all the stars, and the milky way…a big deal for us city folk. Best sleepless night I’ve ever had. Kind of cold, though.

  4. i love caves. i also spent a lot of time in them as a child…oregon is full of them. i find them both haunting and soothing. kind of like gregorian chants only not cheesy.

  5. Puss: Sure!

    Franki: Ive been to the redwoods…they are awe-inspiring.

    martha; I have too few memories of my childhood; but what I do remember are vivid snapshot of time and emotion. My earliest dates back to 2 years old. I should blog it, sometime…

    Jazz; Sometimes you gotta tell people to go away in order to get your moment of stillness. Othertimes, you gotta seek out stillness from within no matter whats happening around you. Hope you find some time soon!

    woozie; excepting the cold part, that sounds totally awesome!

    Ian: TS Eliot had his moments. That verse is one of them.

    Kara: Oooh. you make me want to visit Oregon!

  6. What a beautiful memory. Reminds me of when I used to go further into the forest than I was allowed. But it was a fascinating world for a child… quiet and magical.

  7. What a beautiful memory. Reminds me of when I used to go further into the forest than I was allowed. But it was a fascinating world for a child… quiet and magical.

  8. A wonderful memory and a beautiful piece of writing!

    I have experienced that quiet place within in caves, swimming in the ocean, among the redwoods, and in the mountains.

    I think we carry our handful of dust with us, and we should only fear losing it.

  9. This sounds like a memory from a trip to Capital Reef NP. You were more like 4yrs old and we were with Dad’s sister’s family on that trip. The side cave was in the “grand wash”, a day hike we took together. I remember this trip/hike well because while you kids played in the cave and the sand, I climbed the rocks and walked higher up the wash. I got too much sun and didn’t drink enough water. Needless to say, I was not well for the rest of the day as I paid the price for a near heat stroke.

  10. Jen; you liked the cave too? I didn’t know…

    dawn; seems we are much alike. Wonderful!

    hearts; Thank you for saying that last sentence; you’re absolutely right, adn I never thought of it that way. Youre very wise, and its wonderful! I will write this down and remember this. Thanks.

    Em; Thank you for filling in the gaps! And thanks for the picture!

  11. I enjoy the way childhood memories unfold. They’re magical like a secret passage or a treasure map.

    I really enjoy your observation about life outside of life. I feel that way too when I walk in the woods, or explore creek beds.

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