Our Maine Event: A Mammoth Undertaking

8 08 2017

Our vacation was coming to an end.  But we had one more adventure: Mammoth Cave National Park.  And this one we would enjoy with friends and family.

7/19/17 Day 13: Drive to Mammoth Caves. 425 mi./7 hr.

After an uneventful drive…No, I can’t say that.  By this point we were well into the audio-book Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, so deep that the miles just flew by and we were slightly disappointed when we arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park.  I had downloaded two audio-books onto my phone before leaving.  The first was Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck.  I enjoyed listening to this book as we made our way up to Maine, but Brian didn’t.  In describing his travels, Steinbeck went on too many detours for Brian’s straight-forward engineer’s mind.  But Before We Were Yours—well, this book grabbed us and wouldn’t let us go.   Set in Aiken, it had links to Tennessee, Edisto, and Augusta, but even the local interest was not as enticing as the storyline.

 

 

After setting up our tent in the Mammoth Cave campground, we made our way to the Horse Cave KOA where our friends John and Deborah and their grandson Tristan were camping in their RV.  Before long we were joined by my niece Becky, who drove her son Nate up from Franklin, TN to stay with us.  Nate and Tristan were like-minded ten-year-olds who had hit it off the year before at Camp Invention.  Having them together took away some of the struggle to entertain them each separately, but also provided us adults with ample entertainment just watching them.

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When it’s hot and there’s nothing to do, you make your own fun!

7/30/17 Day 14: Explored Mammoth Caves.

Our first tour of the caves was the self-guided Discovery Tour, one that I had been on many times and so was not particularly excited about.  But this was the first time in the caves for four of our party, so it was a good place to start.  I must say, though, that I left this tour completely enthralled with what I learned from Park Guide Jerry Bransford.  The direct descendant of one of the most renown slave guides at Mammoth Caves, Mr. Bransford told gripping stories of his ancestors’ lives, stories of children being ripped away from their parents, land sold from underneath them, and jobs that evaporated because of their skin color.

Our next tour was also one I’ve done before: Frozen Niagara.   This is a simple tour, but a good one with its views of cave formations including flowstone, stalactites and stalagmites.

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Then, later in the evening, Brian and I took the boys on the Star Chamber tour.  Outfitted with oil-burning lanterns, we got a glimpse of the cave as people long ago did, encountering graffiti on the walls and ceiling made dot by dot with candles on the end of long poles.

And from these three tours, it was reinforced to me that wherever you are, the best way to engage learning is to involve the senses and emotions.   The history, the personal stories, the sheer awe of the place leaves an indelible mark on those who are open to the experience.

7/21/17 Day 15: Drove home.  8 hrs./503 mi.

It was time.  I hated for the adventure to end, but at the same time I was glad to be heading home to our dog and our own bed with a bathroom nearby.   We met Nate’s mom in Franklin, TN where we all were amazed to hear what he remembered!  The teacher in me had been in full bloom while at Mammoth Cave, with the boys reading each sign aloud and me giving quizzes  and points for correct answers.  It was all in fun, but the boys took it seriously, vying for points as we went.  A little competition never hurts!

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When we finally got home, we were greeted by a super wiggly dog and a fridge stocked with dinner left by our daughter.  And later that evening, before bed, we finished the last 30 minutes of Before We Were Yours.  It was that good.  And so was our trip.

John Steinbeck, in his book Travels With Charley: In Search of America, wrote, “Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

This trip did take us.  It took us through time, through cultures, through geography and geology.  But mostly it took us through ourselves, opening our eyes to new experiences and reinforcing our belief that this is a grand and glorious country.  And after living in a car, tent, or stark cabin for two weeks, I realized how much I can do without and how much I appreciate the “with.”

While we were in Acadia National Park, I read a quote by Donald Soctomoh,  a Passamaquoddy Indian: “We are part of everything beneath us, above us, and around us.  Our past is our present and our present is our future.”  With so much in the media about “living in the present” we forget that it is impossible to do this without remembering who we are, where we came from, where we are going, and our place in the world.  This trip is now a part of me, a part I want to remember and learn from.

But my favorite quotation I’ll take from this trip came from Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours:

Oh, child. The best thing is to know. I always tell ’em, best to be who you is. What you is deep down inside. Ain’t no other good way of livin’.

For me, traveling and learning and learning and traveling is a good way of livin’.  It’s who I is.