On a Wednesday afternoon just before Christmas, I was intrigued to learn from our tour guide how many years it takes to make a stalactite. In general, one can grow a single cubic-inch in 1,000 years. Deep beneath the earth, in Virginia’s Luray caverns, there is never a breeze and the temperature remains at 54°F year around. There are no seasons, just a pace of change that could make a heavy-laden snail appear faster than lightning.
The only thing normal down below is the speed at which a water droplet falls from a stalactite toward its future mate below. One of the more fascinating forms of stalactites were the curtain-like, pleated shapes, at times thin enough to almost see through when backlit. Unlike the more typical conical shapes, these wide bands of leached limestone carry an elegance rivaling a cathedral’s organ pipes. What emerges strong as rock can still be fragile, a metaphor for life, no matter how protected from the elements.
The next day my wife and I raced away early to get ahead of a severe winter storm with air temperatures tumbling from near 40°F down to 10°F in minutes. Overnight our anemometer displayed a 51 mph wind gust as the Chesapeake Bay roiled up oceanic waves. The next morning, Christmas Eve, everything within twenty feet of the Bay was coated in several inches of ice. The lawn was coated in what resembled a million mothballs, each so frozen they would not even crumble under foot. Then came a remarkable sight. Extending almost sideways from posts we placed in rip rap to protect a fire-pit, were 18-inch stalactites with those curtain-like formations.
What takes 18,000 years to develop underground, took only 10 hours on our forever changing earth’s surface. A friend envisioned it as an Indian women wrapped in a blanket, with her back to the storm. Our fragile earth may look strong to those with their back’s turned to nature.
Facing the headwinds of change takes courage.
By Richard LaMotte