Not long ago, a bout of writer’s block was abolished for me when writing a chapter. In it, a character has descended into a flooded mine in pursuit of a wanted criminal. In writing this scene, and the chapter to follow, I had to (and will) draw on experiences I’ve had in deep, dark places. I feel like a cave or a mine is one of the most oft-writ locales for adventures, but I ask myself: how many of us have actually been in such a place?
Like really in there, deep?
I can’t call myself a spelunker, but I’ve been in a few deep places now and again. The earliest memory would be a place called Howe’s Cavern, a natural formation open to the public. I recall as a youngster getting on the big elevator after passing the cheesy mineral gift shop and descending into a place not altogether different from my gaming experiences of Dungeon Keeper and Diablo (1!). I was never scared while there, they did a good job in keeping the place family friendly and safe.
Not so for a zinc mine I had seen during my foray in New Jersey. This place had a very different feel from the ancient, natural, close-to-the-earth vibe from Howe’s Cavern. In this zinc mine, which I ought to mention was abandoned, they held tours showing people down under the mountain and deeper than any creature of the sunlit world has any right to go, and we passed a number of death holes.
I don’t recall precisely why the place was no longer in use – either flooding or exhausting of the resource – but like I said there was a very different feeling down there. We were told stories of miners who went even deeper than where we walked, how children were used for manual labor, how there were occasional lethal gas leaks.
It’s easy to read about these things in books or blog posts and have facts and figures memorized. Everyone knows they used canaries in mines because the birds are famous for being quite vocal, so when they died (due to scentless gas), there was uncanny silence. Meant it was time for the miners to get the hell out.
I won’t even get into the miserable giant insects that have been discovered down in the subterranean world. No thanks. Almost as bad as jellyfish.
Personally, I’d rather seek out magical turtle spirits.
The takeaway? Visit a mine, check out a (safe) cave. When you’re down deep enough, there really is not feeling like the knowledge of thousands of tons of rock between you and the surface world, the sound of wind as foreign as an animal call from some exotic land. Down there, it’s quiet as death.