The spring, or vernal, equinox was last Sunday here in the northern hemisphere. The day prior I had taken my kids to the Luray Caverns in Virginia, something I had been wanting to do for a few months now, but most weekends were taken up by basketball games. The equinox marks when the sun passes over the equator and the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, increasing the temperature and daylight. Equinox derives from Latin – aequi meaning equal and nox meaning night because on the vernal equinox the amount of daylight is just about twelve hours. In September the fall equinox will occur, a repeating pattern. I have been noticing and appreciating the longer days, especially as my next section hike is approaching. I cannot wait to get back on the trail. Being out in Shenandoah this weekend, surrounded by the mountains only heightened my anticipation for my upcoming trip. The spirit “animal” for this trip was the algae that grew in the caverns.
When you’re in a dark place sometimes you tend to think you’ve been buried.
Perhaps you’ve been planted.
In full disclosure, I am not a science person. At one point during the tour, my oldest son said “If I didn’t like nature as much as I do, I might find this really boring.” Same, son. I tried to read the information about how the cavern was formed, but my youngest hurried us along by saying “Come on, there’s no time to lose!” The cavern was formed by water, which did stuff and left stalactites (which hold tight to the ceiling) and stalagmites (which might get to the ceiling one day) and beyond that, here’s a link with actual scientific information. What I did learn from one of the staff is that the cavern is about 64 acres big, the trail that we walked along was 80% the path of the water that flowed through and is about a mile and a half long. At it’s deepest, the cavern is 260 feet deep. Steve went on to explain which rocks were which colors, the fact that the dark spots are from the oils of human hands and that the green was algae. I was surprised that algae could grow in a cave, thinking it would need light for photosynthesis, but then Steve also said the air is the same temperature year round, and ninety-something percent free of bacteria. I went down a rabbit hole about algae, trying to figure out if it’s a plant or a bacteria and from what I understand it can be both. I finally stumbled upon this website, which explained that the algae and moss are only able to grow in this cavern because of the artificial light.
What I did discover in my research is that algae is a mandala, which is a fractal. I have written previously about fractals, and patterns in nature. We are drawn to these shapes because they are visually appealing, but there is also a meditative quality to them. Buddhists use mandalas to transform idle minds into enlightened ones, and I used coloring mandalas a lot last spring towards the end of the school year. I even referred to it as intentional procrastination. I was amazed by how different each of the formations could be in the caverns – all fractals yet many different shapes, colors and some even looked like cloth. There were several towers that looked like broccoli (fractal), some looked like giant legs, and others a row of fish hanging at the market. The thing that draws me back to nature again and again is its beauty and restorative qualities – my ecotherapy. My children’s statements that they are “into nature” make me think they have a similar appreciation, because they are also not so much interested in the how and why, but the wow and oh my.
Surrounded by mountains, in addition to the cavern’s unremarkable entrance juxtapose the unexpected depths below the surface. I used to use The Pattern app when I was first trying to “get back out there” and one pattern it would remind me of frequently was that, according to this app, I try to find depth in people that isn’t actually there. I have certainly done this with a few people, but recently I realized I have done the opposite. I’m hesitant to write about my current relationship, after being quite candid about my divorce and ex-husband, but I will say this- I expected only surface level from him, only fun and casual with our time together, and yet I was very wrong on both parts. The depths of the cavern can be both frightening and beautiful, like the depths of a genuine connection with another human being. In contrast, the mirror lake in the cavern looks deceptively deep and there’s only a few inches of water for most of it. As I navigate life as a single parent, those who are the “deeper” friends (as well as my family) continue to show up for me in ways I can never repay them. Like many divorcés will tell you, some friends just simply drop off the face of the earth during the split, even those who weren’t friends with my ex just kind of did not want to be around me. I don’t blame them, I was pretty miserable at times, but I also wasn’t going to mask the pain and anguish that I was going through.
Without any website to tell me the spiritual significance of algae, I turned to my friend/guru Maria for her interpretation. She said that, “since algae is an aquatic plant, and it helps cleanse the environment and/or water where it is found. It is a symbol of cleansing and detoxification of the mind of those impurities that stop you from living in the HERE and NOW…” Spring is a perfect time to come across this spiritual reminder to detoxify and cleanse your mind, friendships, soul and maybe even your closets with some spring cleaning. I know once I start that process the discoveries will certainly be both frightening and beautiful.