I say we need wild places, places of mystery–like Dead Man’s Cave. Places that kick the imagination into gear. But I haven’t been back to Dead Man’s Cave in a very long time; I think it might have vanished into the morning mist, like Brigadoon.
Just say the name out loud: “Dead Man’s Cave.” If you’re twelve years old or so, there’s potent magic in that name.
I had heard of Dead Man’s Cave years and years before I ever saw it. Kids spoke of it in hushed whispers. Older kids had been there, and were kind of vague in their descriptions of its wonders. That only served to feed my imagination all the more. Was the cave a hideout for outlaws? Or a completely crazed murderer? I dared conjecture even farther: prehistoric animals. That’s what you’d find there, if you went in deep enough. A saber-toothed tiger, at least.
It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that I actually laid eyes on Dead Man’s Cave. And went inside. Yes, my friends and I went in!
Well, why not? I mean, it wasn’t exactly Carlsbad Caverns, was it? All thoughts of Tom Sawyer trying to elude Injun Joe among the stalactites and stalagmites evaporated from my mind.
Dead Man’s Cave turned out to be an unused, brick-lined culvert that ran under a railroad embankment. The other end was blocked by rubble, so it wasn’t very deep. Its archaeology featured beer bottles, soda cans, cigarette butts, and not very original graffiti. No sign of a dead man anywhere.
But I dare say one is all the better for having had a Dead Man’s Cave in one’s life–especially if you spend some time looking for it and never quite find it.
Because, in all fairness, how could it have ever lived up to your imagination?