Alone in the Dark

There is no comparing the satisfaction of munching Lifesavers Wintogreen mints, and watching the little green sparks jump in your friends mouth.  Doing it in a cave brings the experience to a new level, since the green flints are the brightest (and only) thing in sight.

But then, being in a cave, swallowed by the complete absence of light, alters most any experience.  Four of us took a trip to the unincorporated village of Burksville this weekend, out somewhere in God’s country (south of Waterloo) to Illinois Caverns.

To get started, we carefully descended the steep slippery stairs, heading towards the warm, dark air.  In less than a minute, you’re in a cave – a veritable cave, not some tourist trap with lights, concrete and a gift shop.  The air is so heavy with moisture that you can see it floating in the air, like a fine mist.

Most of the going is fairly easy; alot of walking and treading on slick stones, some wading, and the occasional climb.  The hardest part is resisting the temptation to reach out and grab a bat- the little critters are adorable, like a pet mouse with wings and a snout.  I managed not to grab one, but I could easily observe it from about half a foot away.  We also saw a few tiny crustaceans squirming around on a rock- they may have been an endangered species that inhabits only the caves around southern Illinois (according to Wikipedia), or they might have been totally unremarkable- I prefer to think the former is true.

What was most enjoyable for me was the moment when the four of us turned off our flashlights, and listened to the sound of another world.  The darkness is tangible- when you can’t see anything at all, and there’s no wind or perceivable temperature, darkness becomes the way to define your surroundings.  Even though I knew there were four of us, I felt totally alone.  What’s more, not being able to see anything immediately heightens your awareness of the noises of the cave- running water.  It’s as if you turn instantly into a bat- unable to see, but with sharp ears and a sense of peacefulness within the cave.

Some people are afraid of this sensation- the absence of human life, the crushing environment of being underground in an alien world.  All I can say is that I found it very tranquil- the thought occurred to me that my distant ancestors, and my future progeny would see nearly the same cave as I have, even thousands of years into the future.  Even the tiniest passages that dotted the walkable parts of the cavern took millennia to open up, and the walkable portions themselves were far older than those little passages.

Being in the cave also gives you a taste of the inexorable force behind its creation- water.  Though the rocks might not know it, that water was effin’ cold, and during the last part of our trek, I was in up to my waist (which meant that April was in above her belly button).

It’s a lesson in humility, one that I think might never get old.

Up and Atom

I can’t remember right now what got me interested in atomic weapons in the Second World War; most likely, Wikipedia led me to it by degrees.  It got me reading the discourse about the usage of the atomic bombs in Japan- a debate that can have no conclusive outcome, but still attracts alot of attention and thought.

The two opposing theories I learned about years before in school were fairly

Hiroshima before the bombing.
Hiroshima after the bombing.

simple.  From the pro-atomic perspective, it was necessary to end the war.  A ground invasion of Japan would have, by some estimates, cost millions of lives, both Japanese and American (this requires you to set aside any scepticism about how accurate such projections were).  Certainly, the Japanese Empire showed no interest in surrender, in spite of their worsening situation, so the U.S. had no choice but to make use of a weapon that would deal immense physical and psychological damage.  This would, ultimately, result in fewer lives lost in comparison to an invasion.  So goes the pro-atomic reasoning.

In the opposing corner, the anti-atomic faction insists that under no circumstances was it necessary or prudent to use the atomic bomb.  They maintain that the total annihilation of a city, with all its men, women, and children, is a war crime, and that Japan would have surrendered without the use of the Bomb.

Both of these arguments have a healthy mix of ethical considerations and some practical, albeit speculative elements.  I don’t have any desire to debate the morality of the choice, since morality is too easy to judge 60 years removed, and even then, human moral standards are like snowflakes- no two are alike.

One thing in favor of the anti-atomic viewpoint is that history has since given them ample opportunity to find fault with the outcome of the war.  The argument goes that had the U.S. not dropped the Bomb, there never have been a nuclear arms race that would bring us to the brink of cataclysm on several occasions.  An interesting observation, but I’d like to jump in a suggest the opposite- that if the Bomb hadn’t been dropped twice by the U.S. in 1945, it would have inevitably been used by us or someone else, with potentially more destructive results.  To put it another way, I suggest that Hiroshima and Nagasaki taught humanity a lesson, one that has not yet been forgotten, and the destruction of two cities and their inhabitants has kept us from an even worse fate.

Like the other arguments I’ve heard, it’s just silly speculation, but it gives me something to think about while my toes freeze in the middle of winter.