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Bending Reality at Old Man's Cave

It began with a soggy afternoon drive through the hills of Southeastern Ohio.  Green, thick, moist, lush and calm.  The trees... Ohio has more trees than I could have possibly imagined.  We exited the freeway and followed the winding roads of the Hocking Hills past pleasant little houses and grassy knolls as I stared out the foggy window contemplating what daily life might be like in this quiet little corner of the world.  Eventually, the twisted road guided us to our parking place just outside the entrance to Old Man's Cave.  We readied ourselves and wandered down the wooden stairs to find ourselves thrust into a magical place devoid of time and reality.  

We followed the trail into this mystical forest only to find more magic around every corner.  The soft and consistent rain barely broke through the overhanging leafy canopy causing the vegetation to drip and splatter lightly on our heads and our surroundings.  Moss-covered rock faces, trees and snarled roots lined the sides of the path and the gentle sounds of trickling streams and waterfalls permeated the air, creating deep desire to allow my conscious mind to drift into the subconscious, permitting me to melt into my surroundings as if I were one of the trees myself.  This place feels as if it has transported me to another reality entirely; reminiscent of a land where fairies may be hiding under toadstools and perhaps we may turn the corner to find a brontosaurus craning it's neck to feed on the thick vegetation overhead.

The interlacing paths and streams beckon us to explore.  To our left we notice a small cave and are overcome with the desire to investigate.  We crawl through the darkened entryway and wind around to look back out at the outside world as if hidden away from it in our own private dwelling.  The trail leads us farther into the forest past trickling waterfalls and up to The Devil's Bathtub.  Water runs down from the stream and drops into his tub, seething and swirling to create an all-too-perfect ovular basin.  Legend says that the waters within this tub run to the depths of Hell.  My imagination spins images of what it might be like to ride the waters down and what strange stories there may be to tell if ever I were to return.  Maybe another time... 

We retrace our steps and make our way down to the lower section... towards the Old Man's Cave.  The rain lets up and the sun begins to penetrate the canopy with beaming spotlights.  It's rays sear the moistened ground and condensation is transformed to evaporation.  Steam rises steadily from the ground and the rays are illuminated from bottom to top.  Light and moisture become one and dance through the forest air as we gaze in amazement.  

As we wind down the path to the cave I admire the trail work and muse at man's ability to fuse nature and structure.  Subtle steps carved into the rock, wooden stairways and arching stone bridges.  Tunnels and stone walls that appear as if they were always here; as if they were always meant to be here.  The bridges, tunnels and walkways usher our way to the cave.  Serpentine stairways lead up to a massive overhang.  The cave is carved deep into the sandstone cliffside.  It reminds me of a much larger version of the cave we once lived in for a time.  I think about the natives of this land and how they may have used this place.  Ceremonies?  Shelter?  A secret escape from their own version of "the daily grind"?  An just who is the Old Man?  Perhaps there is a sign to ease my uncertainty, but I decide not to look for it and leave the details to my imagination.

We leave the cave to travel deeper into the forest to another set of waterfalls and then begin to work our way up the ravine's side, following the steep stairs built years ago.  The stairs lead us to another darkened tunnel and we follow it up.  Light gleams across our faces as we emerge from the depths of the forest and take our first steps back into reality.

We followed the cement sidewalk to the asphalt road and trudged through the parking lot while cars passed, circled, parked and un-parked.  We heard the chirp of our own car, loaded ourselves in and it was over.  My subconscious released it grasp and I relaxed, allowing my new reality to set in once again.  Will we ever return to that magical place?  I can't be certain, but I'll always reserve that little place in my memory for the forest we once were in the hills of Ohio.

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