Gliding along the dusty path on my stomach, I grab whatever jagged rock I can reach, dragging my body forward down the deep, dark shaft. Stones jump into my pockets as I scrape my knees along the ground, keeping my head down to preserve the fixtures of sediment above me. I emerge from the mouth of the passage and gaze around into the surrounding openness.
Ignorant humans may think caves are deserted, lifeless environments. I know I did before I embarked on this expedition. But this environment houses an elaborate ecosystem teeming with incredibly adapted species ranging from cave crickets to eyeless fish. I look for some of these creatures as my tour group rests outside the passage and passes around a bag of pastel red and orange gummy worms for instant energy.
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I spot a cricket. Following it with my eyes, I analyze its antennae which protrude from its shell-like face. I remember reading that this species has lost its eyes because they offer no evolutionarily advantage. Eyes serve no function in the dark cave environment, and the space they take up can be used to encase other organs. This example of natural selection fascinates me and continues to encompass my mind as I return to the group.
We navigate through dark, winding passages, turning our hips every few feet to fit through the narrow gaps. We reach a vast room with a vaulted ceiling, and the aura causes everyone to fall silent. Water trickles down the wall and splatters, reverberating around the hollow alcove. We turn off our headlights and are engulfed in a darkness that eclipses even the faintest outline of my hand, which I move in front of my face.
As I listen to the sounds around me, I experience how calm and pure nature can be. I realize that there are places on this planet that aren’t affected by the noise and light pollution that permeate every waking moment of my life. It strikes me that if we don’t preserve these spots of paradise, we will be engulfed by our growing consumerist culture.
We retrace our steps to exit the cave, and I spot the cricket again. It has moved a few feet, but is still feeling around with its sensors. I wonder how many other unique species there are in this cave. I ponder what other amazing adaptations they have acquired due to this exotic environment. This mystery of the unknown captivates me. In this tiny passage, there could be dozens of microorganisms or other living creatures that no one else on the planet has ever seen.
As I leave the cave, my heart fills with sadness over leaving this natural purity. Once again, I realize how we must work to preserve the life on this planet. So much of it is essential to our survival, and we just destroy it, every day, without even realizing it is there.
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