Hidden Nature
139 pages
English

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139 pages
English

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Description

Reed Environmental Writing Award Finalist, Southern Environmental Law Center, 2021

More than ten thousand known caves lie beneath the state of Tennessee according to the Tennessee Cave Survey, a nonprofit organization that catalogs and maps them. Thousands more riddle surrounding states. In Hidden Nature, Michael Ray Taylor tells the story of this vast underground wilderness. In addition to describing the sheer physical majesty of the region’s wild caverns and the concurrent joys and dangers of exploring them, he examines their rich natural history and scientific import, their relationship to clean water and a healthy surface environment, and their uncertain future.

As a longtime caver and the author of three popular books related to caving—Cave Passages, Dark Life, and Caves—Taylor enjoys (for a journalist) unusual access to this secretive world. He is personally acquainted with many of the region’s most accomplished cave explorers and scientists, and they in turn are familiar with his popular writing on caves in books; in magazines such as Audubon, Outside, and Sports Illustrated; and on websites such as those of the Discovery Channel and the PBS science series Nova.

Hidden Nature is structured as a comprehensive work of well-researched fact that reads like a personal narrative of the author’s long attraction to these caves and the people who dare enter their hidden chambers.
I'm in a cave, lying on my side atop a bed of mud and sand washed in probably decades ago by some forgotten storm. Above me a pleasant fall afternoon warms a pastoral valley. Leaves have begun to turn beneath the spotless blue sky. Up there the Cumberland Plateau dominates the southern horizon, rearing like a green tsunami poised to crash over central Tennessee. In a sense the plateau is an ocean, if one long dead: its stacked sediments bristle with the fossilized remains of Carboniferous sea creatures. Beneath the plateau's hard sandstone cap, voids riddle the softer limestone-more caves per square mile than in any other location in the United States, according to data compiled by the National Speleological Society. These water-carved caverns send out tendrils beneath the plateau's edges. They can run on for miles, curling and coiling like a labyrinth Lovecraft might have imagined.

Several long caves reach this valley. I'm digging with hopes of breaking into a new one from a short, allegedly dead-end passage. The surrounding landscape is karst, a term derived from a German word describing the geology and topography of the Dinaric Alps, now applied to any limestone landscape featuring caves, sinkholes, and streams that vanish underground. I was sweating before I began this work because I could not find the entrance, hiking an unnecessary hour through boulders, chest-high thorns, and cow pies before giving up, driving up to the ridge for a cell signal, and calling the landowner for more detailed directions. Then I drove straight to it, thorns scratching at my rented SUV, boulders and stobs threatening to gouge the pan. I geared up and crawled over the rough cobbles of the entrance to begin digging in a smooth-walled rotunda at the end of the known space.

Barely two hundred feet long, this little cave has been known to local residents for over a century. Proof is written on the white limestone ceiling in the form of a half-dozen blackened signatures and dates, scrawled in candle smoke by rural visitors during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Elsewhere in this valley are caves explored by much earlier settlers from early in the nineteenth century all the way back to Native Americans who lit their way with cane torches thousands of years ago.

People have always been drawn underground. The oldest human remains have been discovered in the caves of Africa, Europe, and Asia-some of them older than our most ancient common ancestor. A spate of studies of human mitochondrial DNA has pushed forward the date when a small band of African humans began to populate the rest of the world. As recently as sixty thousand years ago, or fewer than two thousand human generations, our common ancestors may have journeyed outward. Traces of their lives persist: caves serve as repositories for the earliest known examples of art, basketry, shoes, and clothing.

Humanity's more recent spread through the American South is also chronicled below ground. Less than an hour's drive away from the spot where I lie digging, I once followed bare footprints in soft, damp cave mud, noting bits of ash and mineral samples dropped by three walkers. Protected from casual obliteration by colored plastic flagging and extreme secrecy, these prints were made by the lined, leathered feet of explorers who traversed the passage more than four thousand years before me, according to the carbon dating of bits of river cane that fell from their flickering torches.

A big-eared bat chirps nearby. Ruffling leathery wings with a drumming sound, he objects to my intrusion into his normally silent chamber. Over the past decade much of the bat population of the eastern United States has been decimated by white-nose syndrome, a deadly plague spread by fungal spores, but the few individuals I can see appear robust and healthy. Their annual hibernation period will soon approach. For now the weather outside remains warm enough that I know they will exit at sunset, each consuming hundreds of insects before returning at dawn.

Except for bats and a few cave crickets, I'm alone in a passage perhaps twenty feet wide and twelve feet high at the center. The old signatures are spread over a comfortable alcove where the ceiling height is about six feet. Farther from the center of the chamber, the roof slopes downward to meet the floor, giving the room the appearance of a lens. At the edge where I've worked for the past hour, the white limestone ceiling sits no more than twenty inches above the dried mud on which I recline. I reach with a garden hoe into a still smaller space, barely wider than the hoe's blade: the spot where all present-day drainage vanishes. Water is rare here. The entrance sits on the high side of a sinkhole so that it only comes in during the largest floods.

Following a list of clues over the past few months, I have found reason to believe that somewhere beyond the reach of my hoe unexplored passages and chambers await, perhaps connecting to a hidden borehole winding southward from the plateau. I can't say that I'm here merely in the hope of scientific discovery. Other cavers far more accomplished than me have also been poking into sinks in this area, seeking a back door into a known subterranean system many miles long. I deeply admire these explorers: I once wrote a glowing profile of their cantankerous patriarch, Marion O. Smith, in Sports Illustrated, a publication not normally known for caver stories. Smith is by far the world's most experienced caver, with well-documented trips to over eight thousand separate caves in his seventy-seven years. Each of these caves is meticulous documented in a shelf of journals going back over sixty years, yet he calls the "most experienced" title "hogwash."
 
  1. Near Spencer
  2. Florida-Georgia Line
  3. Bat Season
  4. Finding Caves
  5. Secret Squirrel and the Deep Biosphere
  6. In Xanadu
  7. Graffiti
  8. The Bridge
  9. The Source
  10. On Tarball Pond
  11. TAG on Steroids
  12. Caver Tree
  13. Goat’s Paradise
  14. Saving Secrets
  15. Slow Going
  16. Back Door
  17. Crapshaw
  18. Convention
Chapter Notes, Acknowledgments, Index
 

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Publié par
Date de parution 15 août 2020
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780826501035
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 7 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0950€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

HIDDEN NATURE
HIDDEN NATURE
Wild Southern Caves
MICHAEL RAY TAYLOR
VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY PRESS
Nashville
© 2020 by Vanderbilt University Press
Nashville, Tennessee 37235
All rights reserved
First printing 2020
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Guider, John, photographer, writer of introduction. | West, Carroll Van, 1955– author. | Williams, Learotha, Jr., author. | Bender, Albert, author. | Sellers, Jeff, writer of foreword.
Title: Voyage of the Adventure : retracing the Donelson party's journey to the founding of Nashville / John Guider ; essays by Jeff Sellers, Albert Bender, Learotha Williams Jr., and Carroll Van West.
Description: Nashville : Vanderbilt University Press, 2020. | Includes bibliographical references. | Summary: "In the fall of 2016, photographer John Guider retraced John Donelson's journey from the present site of Kingsport, Tennessee, to the founding of a settlement now known as Nashville, over 1,000 river miles away. Guider travelled in his hand-built 14 ft. motorless rowing sailboat while photographing the river as it currently exists 240 years later. This photo book contains 150 images from the course of the journey and includes essays providing long-ignored contemporary histories of the Cherokee and the enslaved people who Donelson encountered and brought with him, some of whom did not survive the journey"—Provided by publisher.
Identifiers: LCCN 2020013208 (print) | LCCN 2020013209 (ebook) | ISBN 9780826501097 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780826501103 (paperback) | ISBN 9780826501110 (epub) | ISBN 9780826501127 (pdf)
Subjects: LCSH: Donelson, John, approximately 1718-approximately 1780. | Cherokee Indians—Tennessee—History. | Tennessee—History. | Tennessee—Pictorial works. | Nashville (Tenn.)—History.
Classification: LCC F436 .G84 2020 (print) | LCC F436 (ebook) | DDC 976.8/55—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020013208
LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020013209
This book is dedicated to Marion O. Smith, one of America’s greatest explorers, and to H. Lee Pearson, one of my greatest friends.
CONTENTS
1. Near Spencer
2. Florida-Georgia Line
3. Bat Season
4. Finding Caves
5. Secret Squirrel & the Deep Biosphere
6. In Xanadu
7. Graffiti
8. The Bridge
9. The Source
10. On Tarball Pond
11. TAG on Steroids
12. The Caver Tree
13. Goat’s Paradise
14. Saving Secrets
15. Slow Going
16. Back Door
17. Crapshaw
18. Convention
If You Want to Go Caving . . .
Notes
Bibliography
Photography & Illustration Credits
Acknowledgments
Index
SOCIAL INTERLUDE


As Jim Smith sets a bolt traverse above a cave pool, Frank Bogel provides belay.
I spent the weekend camping and caving in middle Tennessee and visited one of the project caves we are working on. A large passage was seen on the last trip which was on the opposite side of a 20 ft. deep pool of water. Joel Buckner, Hal Love, James Smith, Kyle Lassiter, Garrett Sexton, Marion O. Smith, Jason Lavender, Clinton Elmore, and I met at the cave Saturday morning to ferry climbing gear and provide support to those doing the traverse. Jim Smith did a 25 to 30 ft. long horizontal bolt traverse about 15 ft. above the pool which led to a virgin upper level passage. Kyle Lassiter came behind and cleaned the gear off the traverse. After rigging the drop, we joined Kyle and Jim and mapped about 200 feet of cave before it ended in a large breakdown collapse room. We ended up spending about 10 hours underground.
FRANK BOGLE | Facebook post, August 16, 2015
Chapter 1
NEAR SPENCER
I’m in a cave, lying on my side atop a bed of mud and sand washed in probably decades ago by some forgotten storm. Above me a pleasant fall afternoon warms a pastoral valley. Leaves have begun to turn beneath the spotless blue sky. Up there the Cumberland Plateau dominates the southern horizon, rearing like a green tsunami poised to crash over central Tennessee. In a sense the plateau is an ocean, if one long dead: its stacked sediments bristle with the fossilized remains of Carboniferous sea creatures. Beneath the plateau’s hard sandstone cap, voids riddle the softer limestone— more caves per square mile than in any other location in the United States, according to data compiled by the National Speleological Society. These water-carved caverns send out tendrils beneath the plateau’s edges. They can run on for miles, curling and coiling like a labyrinth Lovecraft might have imagined.
Several long caves reach this valley. I’m digging with hopes of breaking into a new one from a short, allegedly dead-end passage. The surrounding landscape is karst, a term derived from a German word describing the geology and topography of the Dinaric Alps, now applied to any limestone landscape featuring caves, sinkholes, and streams that vanish underground. I was sweating before I began this work because I could not find the entrance, hiking an unnecessary hour through boulders, chest-high thorns, and cow pies before giving up, driving up to the ridge for a cell signal, and calling the landowner for more detailed directions. Then I drove straight to it, thorns scratching at my rented SUV, boulders and stobs threatening to gouge the pan. I geared up and crawled over the rough cobbles of the entrance to begin digging in a smooth-walled rotunda at the end of the known space.


View of the Cumberland Plateau from the Sequatchie Valley, Cumberland County, Tennessee.
Barely two hundred feet long, this little cave has been known to local residents for over a century. Proof is written on the white limestone ceiling in the form of a half-dozen blackened signatures and dates, scrawled in candle smoke by rural visitors during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Elsewhere in this valley are caves explored by much earlier settlers from early in the nineteenth century all the way back to Native Americans who lit their way with cane torches thousands of years ago.
People have always been drawn underground. The oldest human remains have been discovered in the caves of Africa, Europe, and Asia—some of them older than our most ancient common ancestor. A spate of studies of human mitochondrial DNA has pushed forward the date when a small band of African humans began to populate the rest of the world. As recently as sixty thousand years ago, or fewer than two thousand human generations, our common ancestors may have journeyed outward. Traces of their lives persist: caves serve as repositories for the earliest known examples of art, basketry, shoes, and clothing.
Humanity’s more recent spread through the American South is also chronicled below ground. Less than an hour’s drive away from the spot where I lie digging, I once followed bare footprints in soft, damp cave mud, noting bits of ash and mineral samples dropped by three walkers. Protected from casual obliteration by colored plastic flagging and extreme secrecy, these prints were made by the lined, leathered feet of explorers who traversed the passage more than four thousand years before me, according to the carbon dating of bits of river cane that fell from their flickering torches.
A big-eared bat chirps nearby. Ruffling leathery wings with a drumming sound, he objects to my intrusion into his normally silent chamber. Over the past decade much of the bat population of the eastern United States has been decimated by white-nose syndrome, a deadly plague spread by fungal spores, but the few individuals I can see appear robust and healthy. Their annual hibernation period will soon approach. For now the weather outside remains warm enough that I know they will exit at sunset, each consuming hundreds of insects before returning at dawn.
Except for bats and a few cave crickets, I’m alone in a passage perhaps twenty feet wide and twelve feet high at the center. The old signatures are spread over a comfortable alcove where the ceiling height is about six feet. Farther from the center of the chamber, the roof slopes downward to meet the floor, giving the room the appearance of a lens. At the edge where I’ve worked for the past hour, the white limestone ceiling sits no more than twenty inches above the dried mud on which I recline. I reach with a garden hoe into a still smaller space, barely wider than the hoe’s blade: the spot where all present-day drainage vanishes. Water is rare here. The entrance sits on the high side of a sinkhole so that it only comes in during the largest floods.
Following a list of clues over the past few months, I have found reason to believe that somewhere beyond the reach of my hoe unexplored passages and chambers await, perhaps connecting to a hidden borehole winding southward from the plateau. I can’t say that I’m here merely in the hope of scientific discovery. Other cavers far more accomplished than me have also been poking into sinks in this area, seeking a back door into a known subterranean system many miles long. I deeply admire these explorers: I once wrote a glowing profile of their cantankerous patriarch, Marion O. Smith, in Sports Illustrated , a publication not normally known for caver stories. Smith is by far the world’s most experienced caver, with well-documented trips to over eight thousand separate caves in his seventy-seven years. Each of these caves is meticulously recorded in a shelf of journals going back over sixty years, yet he calls the “most experienced” title “hogwash.”

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