Remembrance

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Remembrance

Postby GroundquestMSA » Dec 6, 2016 12:55 am

I know a man who worked in the woods of my county for all of his working life. When he was young he cut tie-wood by hand and hauled it off the steepest slopes on his back to a wagon and mule. After the war in Korea, he got married and lived at the foot of the hill. Everyone left who was around then says that when he was thirty years old he was the strongest man they knew. He kept cutting logs, and he worked sometimes at the sawmill or in tobacco during busy seasons. Ignoring the legal seasons, he hunted his food when he needed it. Though he was a good marksman, he killed sitting rabbits and squirrels with a shotgun instead of a rifle. On foot one evening, on the way home, he saw a fawn caught up in a fence. He killed it with the axe he carried and took it home for the table. Remembering such good fortune, he told me about the fawn with a delighted chuckle. He set trot-lines, picked up turtles from roads and ditches, took whatever groundhogs the farmers shot. He had a son who grew to be nineteen years old before being hanged to death by his drunken friends.

--

I have claimed in the past that organizations such as the NSS need not, and should not, exist. An article appearing in the fall 2016 issue of Western Caver is, unintentionally, supportive of this conclusion. The column, written by Jo Schaper, deals with the tired old topic of categorizing cave “explorers”. Are you a speleologist, spelunker, or caver? Interestingly, Schaper failed to reveal any meaningful difference between the three groups. Acknowledging that there are few formally trained cave scientists, she defines a speleologist as one who enters a cave to gather data. I understand data to mean apparently or demonstrably factual information; what we all use as a basis for learning and calculating. The term data is typically used by scientists, and assumedly “speleologists”, though it seems that they would be as well served to say “information,” or some more specific descriptive word, like the rest of us do. Seeing the gaudy term “data” for what it is leads us to the suggestion that no one has an honorable right to enter a cave as anything less than a speleologist. To travel through a cave and to emerge without having learned anything is an unacceptable transaction, given the undeniable fragility of “cave resources”.

--

Angry, he stopped working for the farmers or for the mill. He went into the woods every day, alone, digging ginseng, yellow-root, bloodroot, may-apples, blue and black cohosh. Ignoring the legal seasons, he dug all year, digging in the cold of winter from memory. He never took too much, and in three decades never ran out. He lived and healed in the woods.

--

Schaper’s description of a spelunker is largely gear-based. A spelunker, supposedly, uses tennis-shoes, cotton clothes, and handheld lights. Spelunkers climb, reportedly, hand-over-hand on manila rope. These are clearly portrayed as negative practices. What Schaper and a massive population of self-important cavers fail to acknowledge is that these are actually problematic only when accompanied by ignorance.

Meanwhile, a caver is a non-scientist cave explorer with “proper” equipment. What Schaper and a massive population of well-equipped cavers fail to realize is that good gear is poor protection from ignorance. Ignorance, of the caver, spelunker, or speleologist, is the real threat to the cave and its visitors. Is the NSS combating damaging ignorance? Only in the most superficial sense.

By the definitions in Schaper’s article, I am, sometimes alternately but usually simultaneously, a speleologist, spelunker, and caver. This vaguery illustrates the foolishness of the caver’s culture, by which we are taught to be repulsed by the word “spelunker”.

--

This man is living still. He is short, wide, thick. His arms and legs are short and thick. His hair is grey and coarse, and he is bald in the middle of his head. Though he is too sick to be outside often, his skin is dark. His eyes are brown. His nose is long and wide, but defined, not a monstrosity of time. His hands have the softness of old age, the weakness of old age, but the unalienable strength of hands that have worked. His hands know still how to do work that his body is too weak to carry them to. He can look from the window of my car and discern, almost without eyes, a hickory among oaks on a distant slope.
He is my friend.


--

An example of this foolishness is found in this direct quote from Schaper:

"In the States, one wishing to be taken seriously avoids the word [spelunker] in self-reference, corrects others who accuse him or her of being a spelunker, and proudly displays the bumper sticker, “Cavers Rescue Spelunkers.""

This sentence is ridiculous on many levels, but most pertinent to criticism of the NSS is the notion that cavers should wish to be taken seriously. There is nothing glamorous about caving. It is not an accomplishment or a talent or a service to society. It is a hobby. Cavers are due no more respect than any other hobbyists. The NSS, no matter how noble its origins and despite the “Speleological” in its name, is nothing more than a hobby-club whose primary purpose is self-perpetuation. The NSS is dangerous because, by enfranchising disrespectful, careless, and ignorant individuals, it offers a guise of legitimacy to entirely unqualified and illegitimate cave traffic. Recreational caving organizations make easily and quickly available what should be understood, earned, and used slowly, carefully, and respectfully. Under their watch, caving resembles nothing more than sport-hunting.

--

One day a few years ago, before he stopped driving, I went to see him. Coincidentally, we both pulled into his driveway at the same time. When he got out of the car there were tears on his face. He wiped them from his chin but not from his cheeks. I asked him – Are you all right? This man, who I have been trying to tell about, who has seen many deaths, who has killed and butchered, killed and butchered, killed and butchered -who told me the story of the fawn in the wire- wiped his chin again. He said – I ran over an kilt a little ol squirrel.

--

Last week in my county were dozens of trucks straddling ditches, trailers hauling ATVs, gas stations full of men in camouflage. When they haul the deer to get tagged they try and drape the head over the side of the truck. All around were the sounds of the harvest, blasts from that hill, that fence row, the place where that trail leads through an ironwood grove to the pond. Walking during the day, I saw that some moron had marked the trail to his stand with reflective thumbtacks. And I saw too in the woods and ditches the headless corpses, and I saw the big trucks scattered in the taxidermist’s yard. Now I look up when I am walking and see that while the hulls the squirrels have dropped are already sinking into eternity, a hickory is still holding to some of its yellow leaves.

--

Caves cannot bear the load of overuse by thrill-seekers. This, overwhelmingly, is what cavers are. The NSS, by encouraging condescension toward non club members, tells cavers that they are something more, that they are legitimate. The NSS then, appears to me to be responsible for a significant percentage of damaging cave traffic, and must surely be the US entity most harmful to caves.

--

I have a cork-board at home, and it is covered in papers. Sketches and maps of caves, scribbles of writing like this one that I am ashamed to share and afraid to forget. Photos of caves and people and of mushrooms and trees. Phone numbers and schedules and reminders. In one corner is a torn-off edge of paper with his room number at the hospital. It is stuck on top of other things on my cork-board with a reflective thumbtack. I have a whole bunch of them in a cup.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby batrotter » Dec 6, 2016 7:15 am

I'm thinking about this......
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Re: Remembrance

Postby tncaver » Dec 8, 2016 9:17 am

What about those who write, and post pictures on social media to glorify themselves as cavers, speleologists
spelunkers and/or conservationists? What is the psychological significance to that? :roll:
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Re: Remembrance

Postby GroundquestMSA » Dec 8, 2016 6:25 pm

tncaver wrote:What about those who write, and post pictures on social media to glorify themselves as cavers, speleologists
spelunkers and/or conservationists? What is the psychological significance to that? :roll:


I don't know anything about "psychological significance". If your comment is directed at me, I can only say that I find no glory in being a caver (or whatever I am), and that I would never call myself a conservationist. I'm writing because I've found that it helps me to think, and that I often learn exactly what I believe about a subject when I try to write about it. I write every day, about lots of things. 99% is never shared, and 90% goes in the stove. I post a few things here because I reckon a different viewpoint might be interesting to a few people, and because I welcome criticism and discussion that might help me learn.

If you're talking about the general social media scene, I can't help you. I don't use any social media outside of this site and its UK equivalent.
I know that the whole thing runs on narcissism, that a psychological term, right?
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Re: Remembrance

Postby tncaver » Dec 8, 2016 7:33 pm

I was referring to cavers in general.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby tagkycaver » Dec 31, 2016 9:28 am

Hey Groundquest, I guess I enjoyed reading the tale of the old man embedded in your post, but I'm not sure what point you are trying to make by including it here. I don't mean to be a smart*ss, but could you explain how it fits into this forum?

I will say that by and large the NSS serves a purpose by connecting people who share a common love of caves. While many newbies come and go over the years, people who are lifetime cavers are different from people who just "go caving." The NSS is more-or-less a fraternity for them. You're either a caver or your not. Most of the people I know on the planet are "non-cavers;" including friends, family, and co-workers. Unfortunately, we're never gonna stop temporary cavers, or weekenders with spraypaint. The NSS does a pretty good job of stressing conservation; most people who become involved with the organization at all get some dose of treading lightly. They get some education in conservation, gear, safety/rescue etc., which they might not get if the NSS didn't exist. I think it's far better to at least try to unite people who are already caving; people like sharing common interests. No different from coin collectors, bowlers, or even hunters, as you refer to in your post.

For the most part no caver wants to knowingly damage or destroy any cave. (This being said by a person who has blasted passages open more than once.) But by treading lightly we can largely leave most caves relatively undamaged. No argument that as world population continues to increase, cave traffic will ultimately increase, and impacts to caves will ultimately increase, same as impacts to everything else on the planet. That's why it's so important to stress conservation among the people who we KNOW are visiting caves.

And yes, the NSS is comprised of mostly hobbyists; but also there also many speleo-scientists, historians, poets etc. Just look at the NSS Bulletin, the Journal of Spelean History, or an old Speleo-Digest.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby tncaver » Dec 31, 2016 10:19 am

Good post tagkycaver. I believe digging caves open should also be included in cave science, as digging requires engineering skills and
can extend caves or open new caves where even more scientific research can be conducted. A couple of great examples are Lechuguilla
Cave in New Mexico and Blue Spring Cave in Tennessee. Without digging neither of those caves would be available for scientific study.
Lech is probably the most fantastic known scientific cave in the world. I vote to include cave digging as cave science along with surveying,
and recording of historical artifacts like those that exist in all those nice Kentucky caves you've been going to. Cave digging is a science
all it's own and requires engineering skills to accomplish as well as conservation measures to keep from over doing it sometimes. The
second entrance (not the scuba entrance) was dug open in Blue Spring Cave using forceful persuasive techniques yet the formations at
the new entrance were preserved. That took some engineering and thought to accomplish.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby Chads93GT » Dec 31, 2016 5:14 pm

tncaver wrote:What about those who write, and post pictures on social media to glorify themselves as cavers, speleologists
spelunkers and/or conservationists? What is the psychological significance to that? :roll:


So you admit you do not use "social media" but you automatically assume that people who write, post pictures about caving on social media, are seeking to glorify themselves? Really??? Really???

So, in your eyes, cavers must never socialize with other cavers, must never show photographs of any caves they have discovered, surveyed and drafted maps for, must never show maps they have drafted of caves they have surveyed, and must generally refrain from talking about any cave trips else people like yourselves will automatically call them glory hogs or showboaters? Seriously???

What is so wrong about sharing cave discoveries, stories, maps, photos and simply what is going on underground, in your region of the world, with other cavers around the globe? One thing we all have in common is our love of caves and the study of them, no matter how in depth that studying may be. Can we not, in this day and age, seek new ways to learn even more about caving, share what we are doing, without being called narcissists?

Sorry, I don't get it.

If you choose to keep your caving work locked up in a closed, in a room in your basement, then that is your prerogative. What I do not understand is those who blatantly chastise those who seek to share with others what it is they do. I don't spend weeks of my life every year, underground, surveying in less than ideal conditions, and even more countless hours drafting maps, just to lock that data up. I chose to share my data so that others may learn so that these caves will inevitably not be destroyed by the ignorant public that develops the land on top of them.

I use social media to keep up with other cavers, make contacts, learn about what other projects are going on in the states, get invited on trips to survey in areas I would not otherwise have access to, I could go on and on.


"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love
only what we understand; and we will understand only
what we are taught." (Baba Dioum, 1968.)
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Re: Remembrance

Postby tncaver » Dec 31, 2016 5:24 pm

Chads, there you go assuming. I only asked some questions. Almost all my discoveries are an open book to any member
of the Tennessee Cave Survey. This is the only social media I am on, not that it makes any difference.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby Chads93GT » Dec 31, 2016 6:19 pm

I am not saying your projects are under lock and key, but to insinuate people have psychological issues for talking about caving on social media, come on man. If it isn't your thing, it isn't your thing.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby trogman » Jan 21, 2017 4:35 am

Like some of my caver peers, I have to respectfully disagree with many of the sentiments expressed by Jonah. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people with a common love and interest banding together as an organization, which is exactly what the NSS is. Sure, we have our shortcomings, as I will be the first to acknowledge. Like you, I cringe when I see a bumper sticker stating "cavers rescue spelunkers." That represents nothing but arrogance, and honestly I think that kind of attitude should be strongly frowned upon in our membership. When someone who is not a caver calls me a spelunker, I just smile and say "yes, I am." After all, I am a member of the National SPELEOLOGICAL Society. I recall the days when I went caving without all the great gear I have now, and I am glad there were cavers around to show me a better way. Yes, ignorance is probably more dangerous than being poorly equipped; but a combination of both is even worse.

As always, Jonah, you do raise some interesting points and provide food for thought.

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Re: Remembrance

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jan 21, 2017 9:06 pm

trogman wrote:There is absolutely nothing wrong with people with a common love and interest banding together as an organization, which is exactly what the NSS is.


You are correct, but the NSS pretends to be something it is not, and this pretense leads to carelessness and unnecessary damage. I understand that common interests will and should bring people together. But "community" cannot be "national" in any real sense. Certainly communal responsibility cannot be national, for local needs vary. And if real, specific, enacted, understood, and sustained fidelity toward a common ground (or underground) is not the basis of an organization, I suggest that the organization is operating beyond its honorable scope.

I don't have any bad feelings toward any individual members of the NSS, but I find myself alarmed by the contrast between what cavers say they are and the effects they are having on caves. And I am finding new and fascinating things, but am afraid to release them into the influence of Caving.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby tncaver » Jan 21, 2017 9:37 pm

Jonah, are NSS members really having a detrimental affect on caves? I've been to caves that have been visited by THOUSANDS of cavers
and show little to no wear other than some polished rocks due to having cavers sliding over them. The most damage I've EVER seen was
caused by locals who go in caves. They are not cavers. They are LOCALS who happen to go in a cave maybe once in their life and
bring spray paint sometimes. Just my opinion of course.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jan 21, 2017 9:48 pm

tncaver wrote:are NSS members really having a detrimental affect on caves?


I believe so. TN is better than VA and WV, where they have done a lot of avoidable damage. And it is important to remember that spray-painting and breaking formations are not the only ways to damage caves.
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Re: Remembrance

Postby tncaver » Jan 22, 2017 8:38 am

Jonah, I think perhaps you are becoming somewhat of a conservation fanatic like so many, who have what I call the "gate" mentality.
Just my opinion of course. There are caves in TN that are heavily vandalized. But as I mentioned previously, they were well known
party caves that locals have visited for decades. The NSS has always taught cavers to "leave nothing but footprints" and "cave lightly".
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