• 52°

Universe’s death and Linville Caverns

I’m using a little different format with this week’s column. In this introduction, I’m telling you that the first half of this week’s column will be about astronomy, and the second half will concern geology (the little Old Concord Road kid with Golden Nature Guides in his back pockets, now on Medicare). In addition, I will hint that the title for this week’s column ties both of these subjects together, but won’t do the tying myself, leaving it for you to tie. I’m not trying to be vague, just doing things a little differently, since humans love some variation now and then, on top of our regimented “tradition.”

In the early 1960s, my father purchased a book for me at Bunker’s Book Shop titled “Frontiers of Astronomy,” by British astronomer Fred Hoyle. Fred looked a little unusual for an astronomer, his unruly hair giving him the look of the late Stan Freberg (“Wun’erful, Wun’erful” (1957)).

Fred Hoyle trumpeted the “steady-state theory” of the universe, as opposed to the “big bang theory (Sheldon and company not included).

It was as if God had never completely rested and given up the business of creation, still popping out one atom of hydrogen per every cubic mile of space, which amounts to a lot, since (and forgive me) the heavens comprise a helluvah big space!

Hoyle’s theory was disproved and he was later regarded as a little “touched,” (but what’s that to me?) leaving the Big Bang in charge. It’s kind of depressing, though, since according to the current crop of cosmologists (people who theorize about the universe’s “comings and goings”), there also won’t be any repetitive “oscillating universe,” and everything will eventually “cool off” to absolute zero (-459.67 Fahrenheit), the stellar lights going out gradually and literally, never coming on again (unlike the lights in Europe after V-E Day). With not a single star in the sky (not just “our” sky, but the whole universal “sky” at large), the universe will be forever dark and forever cold.

Thank goodness this applies only to the physical heaven, the one with lower-case “h.” The Heaven beginning with capital “H” will still be our refuge, as in ages past, by then, even more ages, long, long past

My late wife and I took our children Rachel and Jeremy to Linville Caverns some years ago. I was always fascinated with caverns after having visited Endless Caverns during the “Great East Rowan Band Trip of 1966.”

Inside, Linville Caverns had the look of a great underground, dripping aqueduct. In that subterranean place, the “music of the spheres” was drowned out by dripping sounds. (In my mind, both were drowned out by Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave Overture.”)

I had heard of the cavern’s renowned “sightless fish,” and on that day spotted a couple. Their eyes looked disconcertingly filmy, but not sufficiently so as to drive me to the madness experienced by Poe’s protagonist in “The Tell Tale Heart.” Looking at those fish (our “eye conversation” only “one-way”) I saw the truth in that old maxim: “What you don’t use, you lose!”

The stalactites, with matching stalagmites (their floor-bound “alter ego”) were beautiful, and the flow stone looked like ice cream, as if the whole of Linville Caverns were merely some giant’s springhouse, tucked deep within the earth.

We enjoyed our “High Country” trip that day, including our “sub-mountain” trip to Linville Caverns, but I later thought back to something scary which our cavern tour guide had done to us. In a farther recess of the caverns, she warned us that she was going to turn off the electric lights so we could see (or rather, not see) what “real darkness” really is.

The instant the lights were extinguished, I saw (as if the word “saw” is appropriate) only a seemingly all-encompassing dark void. In an effort to reach out for something reassuringly “touchable,” I extended my arm, and my warm fingers were met only by cold, unilluminated, “planetary” stone.

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