Wednesday, January 31

Meditations on Mud (Caves)

Meditation 1: This is actually an entry from my journal while on the trip. It's better with the random little drawing that goes with it, and the formatting is as close to the original as I could get it. Anyway....

into the deep dark of the caves
away from the sun from warmth from life
twisting body bent by the contortions ofthe
cave eating dust and drinking dark
choking on both of them
the occasional glimpse of light
envying those who walk
forever under the sky
and never in the dark
feet trip and slip
dislodged by the same
dust that grinds
between your teeth
weeping but tears
turn into mud
not the mud
that restored
the sight of
the blind but
the mud that
hardens and
imprisons the
mud that is
the cave echoes
scatter bouncing
into nothingness
you begin to forget
the sky and the
sun in the long dark
but wait
to eyes accustomed to shadow the faint light is unbearable will
you turn away into the familiar dark no you decide even if the sun
burns me to ash and the sky press down on me with the weight
of the world i will seek the light scrambling upward hands scraping
through dust and stones you suddenly find your outstretched hand
grasped and pulled up into the light we were watching you they say
you look down and see the ground full of holes beneath you
kneeling down you peer into one and in the gloom you see
another struggling its alright you yell we're here waiting for
you you stand up in the sunlight the dust of the cave still on
your shoulders and look out across the valley the dust shines like
alabaster and the scattered stones gleam like diamonds in the light.

Meditation 2

I admit, I'm prone to seeing life in terms of metaphor. Or, at any rate, expanding random everyday occurances into views on life.

This being the case, here's one thought from the trip.

Fr. David lead the trip, and since he was the only one who'd been to the mud caves, we relied on his guidance. (I'm sure you can see where the metaphor is going already)

But there were two moments that really stood out to me:

The first was in the caves themselves: I had only a candle for light, which was great, but occasionally didn't give quite enough light. So Fr. David was quite often stopping and shining a light in my path to keep me from tripping (I'll let you draw the obvious metaphor)

The other time was outside the caves, when we were all scrambling down the sides of the hills. I slipped on the loose rocks and sand, and almost slid down (it wouldn't have been a bad fall-just a few feet-but still uncomfortable). Fr. David planted his foot right under mine and kept me from slipping.

By now you've figured out the thoughts running through my mind: this is part of the ministry of priests, to shine light into the darkness, and to help those who are slipping into sin. Again, obvious. But a cool image of it, nonetheless.

Meditation 3. Fire on the Mountain

Being in the desert tends to make one think of the imagery and story of the Exodus and the wandering in the wilderness. I love the deserts and high plains; their beauty is subtle, fierce, and wild. The Anza-Borrego was no different, nor was the arroyo in which we were camping. We saw the hills and sand first by moonlight; the hills looked cold and raw, like mountains on some distant planet. The moon shone so brightly it cast shadows on the ground. And God was in the night.

In the warm morning sunlight, the hills looked hot and dusty, as millions of days under the glare of the sun turned everything to fine sand. The scraggly bushes poked forth leaves in varying degrees of verdancy, and God was in the day.

There was no guiding cloud, no pillar of fire by night. But God burned in every leaf on the bush and on the peak of every hill.

Monday, January 29

The Trip

I've been curious about the Mud Caves of the Anza-Borrego Desert for years, but never been there. I started to get really excited the closer we got; I love the high plains and the desert--they have this wild, subtle beauty that takes practice to see.

We got there late, after dark, but the moonlight was so bright we could walk around without difficulty. In fact, I'm glad I saw the hills by moonlight first: it looked like the surface of a distant planet, with ragged hills and stardust spilling down the little valleys. (it was used as the setting for part of the planet Mars in the Starman series; one of the authors was our guide on the trip)

We set up camp and decided to visit one cave before it got too late. We walked a few yards down the road to Plunge Pool, and entered the cave. There weren't enough flashlights to go around, so I got to use a candle instead. Which is great, because I like candles better; I love the dancing flames and the warm light. The cave winds for a few narrow yards before widening out into a cavern, with a skylight 30 feet up. At night, it was completely dark; we put out all our lights, and talked in the dark for a long time. Then we lit our lights, and went back to camp.

We cooked dinner (hot dogs!!) and I discovered that you can, in fact, roast a strawberry over a campfire: it's very good, though you have to be careful, since the fruit gets VERY hot. Fr. David had brought some square handmade peppermint marshmallows, and we toasted a few of those, too. Brian entertained us all by telling a story, enjoying our laughter before realizing that we were laughing more at the charcoal he'd inadvertently rubbed all over his face than at the story. Fr. David brought out The Mad Scientists' Club ---a book that has long been a favorite of mine--and read "The Voice in the Chimney". By the time the story was over, we were all stamping our feet trying to warm up, and shivering.

Everyone froze during the night, except maybe Ashley, who said she was warm. That day was spent clambering around the caves, getting covered in dust, sand, and various scrapes. More on this part in the meditations post. I had enormous amounts of fun finding bits of mica in the rocks and dust on top of the caves, and exploring the great textures left in the mud.

We went back to camp and ate lunch (hot dog sandwiches! A coyote or something had made off with our hot dog buns in the night) then headed out to a few more caves. Brian scared us all by attempting to climb down a cliff wall to another cave opening, but gave up when he saw that it was just too dangerous.

In another cave, we came up into the light in a small hollow. We all sat down to rest, and Ashley and I lay down on a rock, propped our feet up on the far wall, and looked up at the darkening sky. The moon was up, and a jet soared by overhead, leaving a pink trail behind it. We headed back down, and walked back to camp; dinner was chili, with onions and sourdough bread. Fr. David read us "The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake," my favorite of the m ad Scientists Club stories.

The moon was bright and clear again, and we did some climbing that night by its light on the nearby hills. Ashley and I sat ourselves on top of the hill that overlooked the campsite, and lay on our backs to look at the moon; we even saw a shooting star! I think two bats flew overhead, too.

We all slept warmer that night, and slept well. I woke up briefly in the middle of the night, after the moon had set; the starlight was bright enough to see by! Not as well as the moonlight, but enough.

We got up that morning; I did some drawing and writing, several of the others went for walks. Brian finished up the last chapter of the first Starman book. We packed up camp and headed up to Ghost Mountain, home to writer Marshall South in the 1930's. It's a mile-long trek uphill to get to the ruins of the adobe house, but well worth it. We had Mass in the middle of the ruins, and then headed back down the hill, and headed back towards home. I, unfortunately, got rather carsick, and didn't fell at all well. When we stopped for lunch (my first meal of the day, at 3 pm!) at the Wynola Pizza Express, I could hardly choke down three pieces of my mushroom pizza (which was sad, because it was excellent pizza; I highly recommend the restaurant!) When we got back in the car, Ashley suggested that we read the Gospel of John on the way home: Erin and I took turns reading, while Ashley drove. Due to a bit of a jam on the 91, we actually got to finish the whole book! We dropped Erin off, and drove back to the church, loaded my stuff into my car, and the trip was over!
Mud caves!

Ok, there will be two posts on the recent trips to the Mud Caves: the first one, just a recounting of my favorite times; the second, a meditation of some things from the weekend.