Visiting Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
There are moments when I wonder if one day
I will drift too far, too deep into my mind,
a world where fragmented thoughts,
memories and feelings might be lost forever.
The last trip.
A one-way ticket.
Traveling halfway around the world, we are
in New Zealand, the land of Aotearoa,
‘the land of the long white cloud.’ Driving
south, we arrive in the Maori heartland.
From Rotorua with its dizzying sulfuric scent,
we hike past brilliant springs, steaming lakes
and hot, bubbling mud pools where it seems
as if the underworld might hover just below
the surface of this ancient thermal valley.
One morning we go to see Pohutu Geyser.
After a while, I wander from the path only to be
unexpectedly splashed by a small spurt of water
that was invisible until I came too close.
The Maori guide tells me that I’ve been blessed
by the spirits. Brushing off the still warm spray
of water, I hope she is right. I want to believe.
Driving through this world of rolling green
volcanic hills, we finally reach the Waitomo Caves.
As we wait for our boat, I feel a pulse in the land—
I know we are standing on sacred ground.
With our inner clocks all timed out, we begin
the dark journey into the heart of the cavern
Skimming silently through the still waters,
the young boatman leads us far into the blackness
of a cave that tunnels in so far, we lose all light
and sense of where we are. Our eyes now adjust
to this obsidian underworld, and it seems that
we have begun to cross into unending nighttime.
Everyone in the boat is silent. To be this close
to the infinite expanse of darkness,
to transcend time and self—this is a place
for stillness…and so it is.
With only the lapping of water against the boards,
the boat slips along. Although we came here
knowing what was hidden in this hollow, no one
is prepared for the full beauty of what is there.
I look up and see endless strings of glowworms—
glowworms hanging so high up, they become
numberless strands of summer stars—pale green fires
in these underground heavens whose ghostly translucence
leaves me feeling as if I am asleep somewhere,
not wanting to wake up from this ethereal place
in which I float between two worlds.
The boat glides quietly in the gentle sway of water,
and it is then that I begin to fear we have drifted too far.
I can remember no way back.
No trail of crumbs.