Sunday, September 21, 2003

Theories in Collision

We walked underground for three hours listening spell-bound to our ranger/tour-guide as he told us the stories of the cave. In his warm Kentucky accent coming from under his broad-rimmed hat, his words enchanted as they have since he started doing this almost thirty years ago.

A man in the middle of the group asked about the color of the dirt. Although it was dark down there and our 16 lanterns threw out only modest puddles of light from their flickering wicks, if you looked at your feet you could swear the ground looked red.

Good question, the ranger said, as he seemed to say frequently to invite yet more.

And he told us about the waters of a subterranean torrent and about dissolved iron from the soil above the caprock that loomed in the darkness above our heads. He told us of the shallow seas that once covered this place, and about continents in collision. He told us about the uplift of mountains, explaining that that is what geologists call -- and he said this slowly so that even the youngest children could understand -- the theory of plate tectonics.

He told us that this is the explanation geologist give. And in the seventies, he told us, this was as far as the explanations would go: they would talk about tectonics and then move on.

But today, he said (and my heart began to drop, for I knew what must be coming), Today some of you may know of a different theory in a different book.

My shoulders dropped, and I turned my head away.

Today, some of you may know of the Book of Genesis. You may know of the Theory of the Flood.

For me, the tour was ruined.

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY. Summer 2003

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