I fell to the back of our four-person group as we began to descend. I didn’t want to be pushed forward on this trip. I wanted to take my time.
Just on the first couple steps, I remembered this feeling from my first trip. This feeling of being so small, so unimportant, not mattering.
Looking around, I didn’t see odd, cold rock formations as others did. I saw ice cream sundaes, dripping with hot fudge and caramel, dazzled with a maraschino cherry. I saw huge stacks of waffles and pancakes, drizzled with syrup and topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Seated before these scrumptious meals were fairies dressed in flowing gowns and giants with lumpy chins and knees, awkwardly eating at tables that were too small for them.
“Come on, Miranda,” said a voice, tearing my imagination away from these wonderful sculptures. It was my dad, camera in hand, strap around neck. I hadn’t noticed that I had passed him. I sighed, drinking in the thin, cold smell of the caverns. Just breathing it made me feel sleepy. It reminded me of the smell that floated through my open window on warm nights back home.
I pattered along the smooth path, my soft footsteps mingling with faraway voices that reverberated and bounced off the rock walls.
Steadying myself on the handrail, I gazed upward, awed again by how tall, how big, how deep these caverns were. How small, how tiny, how minuscule they made me.
All around me were stalactites and stalagmites, reaching up and down to each other, wanting to hold on and never let go. Some were still reaching. Some had already met; columns taller than my dad.
I rested for a minute, wanting to remember this hike as a dream, not as another trip my mom wanted us to take so we would get in shape.
Breathing in and out, the air hit my tongue, and it was cold and moist, like iced water. I breathed in again, imagining myself getting rehydrated, and then started off slowly walking once more.
I came upon a sign. It stated simply, Please do not touch. I was glad that I had already touched the sample rock up above the caverns, before we descended. It was bumpy, but not pointy; smoothed by generations of hands, some young, some old, some work-hardened, some soft as velvet.
A little ways ahead of me, I watched a stalactite drip water into a small puddle on the path. I put my hand underneath it to feel the cold heavy drops; they hit my palm and made me shiver. They bounced off of my hand, shimmered in a faint light like diamonds, and then dove down to the path to join the other drops merging in the little pool.
I traversed on, going a little faster as I noticed that my family was getting farther and farther ahead of me. But there was still so much to explore with my eyes! Craning my neck around one waffle sculpture to see the delicate frozen syrup, standing on my tiptoes before a sundae to get a glimpse of the maraschino cherry, waving to the fairies and bowing before the giants. I didn’t understand how my family could just walk by and not look at these formations in detail. My dad would just snap a picture and memorize it later when he touched it up, but me? I had to get these ingrained in my mind’s eye in case I never came back.
I saw a bright light come into focus before me and realized that I had nearly gotten to the end of the hike, where food vendors sold energy drinks and high-carb food to people who came unprepared.
I sank, legs and mind tired, onto a bench beside my family, who were gulping down water. I thankfully took a bottle from my dad and joined them in their water-guzzling spree.
“Wasn’t that awesome?” I gushed after I had gotten enough water to wet my throat. And then more words escaped... “Those rocks just looked so yummy, like desserts, and the imps that ate them were so friendly and humble, and I felt so small and insignificant when I looked up at the soaring ceiling, and the walk was too short so can we do it again?”
My parents and my brother didn’t even notice what I had said. Certainly, they couldn’t have just walked without seeing ANYTHING, could they have? I mean, it was so clearly obvious to me. How could I make them see the people and food that were delicately carved and shaped in the rocks?
“They were very interesting,” my brother ventured after a minute. “But I didn’t see any giants.”
Then it hit me. Maybe I was still holding onto my imagination. And I didn’t want to lose it. So I got a tighter grip. And I vowed to never let go.