Feb 14, 2004.
I pushed back from the computer to take a break and fix dinner. Three more long days of reading through scientific publications had netted me two more names. While I hadn't understood half of what I had read, I hadn't been expecting to either. I had found a dozen names of people whose writing seemed to indicate that they had an open and imaginative mind that wouldn't just dismiss something strange as impossible and who seemed to care much more about their work than notoriety. The letters were all written; and I sure hoped I had written it well enough that it would make at least some of them curious enough to write me back. I had a photograph of the Place of Remembering that I still needed to make copies of to include with the letter; but right now my companions were very tired of me spending hours and hours on the computer. I would make the copies after dinner. If the weather was good enough tomorrow, we would walk down to the main road and put the letters in the mailbox for the mailman to pickup. Mutt, Katt, and Mama would enjoy that because we very seldom walked that direction. In fact the last time we went that way was the day Mutt, Katt, and I found Mama and her kittens.
Feb 23, 2004.
Since we took the letters to the mailbox a week ago to be picked up by the postman, Mutt, Katt, Mama, and I had gotten in the habit of walking to the mailbox every day. It was about a quarter mile from the cabin to the county road where the mailbox was; but the weather had been nice enough for the walk. It gave us a chance to walk along the county road too, which I had never done before. Mutt and I had walked all the way to the river one day and all the way to the next crossroads in the other direction another day. Both days I was surprised to notice that the whole way the trees and undergrowth on my land looked as dense and thorny and impenetrable as what surrounded the grove. Nowhere did it look inviting at all. Where it could be seen, the fence was old and rusty; but there were a lot of fairly new no trespassing signs. Added to that, the road didn't have a shoulder, just a ditch of varying depths to drain the water from the road; and there were no level spots for anybody to park a vehicle, not even at the end of the narrow old bridge across the river. And although the woods were more open on the other side of the road and there were some fields, they were all tightly fenced; and there were only a couple of turnoffs into the fields in places where backing out onto the road would be hazardous. It was no wonder I had never noticed anybody strange on the property. There was nowhere for them to come from, nothing that would invite somebody to just stop and look around.
I was disappointed that I hadn't received even one letter back yet; but I kept telling myself that there had barely been time. The postman had been by early the day we put them in the box. He'd probably wanted to take his wife out for Valentines Day. They were a sweet couple, just married a few months ago. As we walked down the road, there was the smell of growing things in the air; and I thought I could see a faint flush of green in the woods as the sap was beginning to rise as the days lengthened and warmed. By the low water bridge, we startled several robins; and I laughed and pointed them out to my companions. "Look! There's the first robin of the year! It won't be long now before everything is green again." They were unimpressed; but I didn't care. Every little sign of spring was so welcome after what seemed like a very long winter that I wanted to shout and laugh out loud. Maybe today we'd get a letter back from someone.
As I reached the county road, I realized that there was nothing inviting about the road into the property either. It was narrow and water stood in several large puddles as far down the road as you could see. Even though they weren't deep and the road was solid under the water you couldn't tell that by looking. The edges were overgrown too. Even the mailbox was old and battered. Really looking at it for the first time, I realized how run down and unused it looked; and I wondered why I had never noticed it before. It wouldn't take much more work than I was already doing keeping the cabin clearing mowed to brush hog along the road and make it look a lot better ; but somehow I had never gotten around to doing it. I shook my head at the strange ways these ancient woods protected their secrets from the outside world. I would just leave well enough alone. I might have to warn visitors about it though. If there were any, I thought as I opened the mailbox. There were the usual bills and junk mail; but among them were two regular letters. Two answers! I shuffled through the stack of envelopes and circulars again and saw a third one. Three!
"We've got answers!" I exclaimed. "Three of them!"
Hastily I stuffed all the mail into my backpack except one of the answers and closed the mailbox. Starting back toward the cabin, I carefully opened the envelope and began reading.
Mar 14, 2004.
I watched as the tail lights of the last car disappeared from sight; and then sank down on the steps. The last three weeks had been a whirl of emails, phone calls, and visits culminating in today's small gathering. During their first visits I had introduced everyone to Mutt, Katt, and Mama to get their reactions to each other. My companions had unanimously approved of all except one of the scientists; and I had been uneasy in his presence too. He had not been invited back after his first visit; and by the time he left he was not interested in returning either. However, all the others were very interested and had managed to make time for this past weekend.
The excitement as we sat talking and planning in the lower cavern was palpable. Everyone wanted to just rush in and get started; but also understood that nothing much could or would get done until there was electricity and communications. We had met this weekend to discuss how to get started, and what everyone needed. There was complete agreement that the site should be kept secret until we knew a whole lot more about what was here, how it worked, and what it meant. They had jumped right in and in less than two hours had drafted an agreement which we all signed agreeing to complete non-disclosure of the site and everything learned there for at least one year when we would discuss it again.
We had discovered several other rooms farther into the cliff which did not have the lichen in the walls but which did have several fissures through which air was exchanged with the outside that we thought could be used to bring in electric and phone cables from the outside without any alterations to the natural state of the cavern system. Katt and Mama had explored two of them and reported seeing daylight; but hadn't gone all the way to the outside. It was agreed that I would contract for a small concrete building to be built at the corner of the property nearest the caverns and closest to the nearest city; and have electricity and phone service brought in to it. From there we would bring it into the caverns ourselves. Several of them had worked with an engineer who they believed would do the work and anything else of a similar nature that needed to be done just to be included in the project. Somehow this had taken on a life of its own, and now that they were all gone I was overwhelmed. I had set something in motion that I was loosing control over; and I didn't know where it would lead or whether to be frightened or glad. My companions didn't know either.
Apr 09, 2004.
The progress was astounding. I had just started phoning contractors to get bids when Ron Littlehorse arrived. He was a structural and mechanical engineer who had worked with the archeologists on several projects. He had been so intrigued by what he was told that he dropped everything to come take a look. Ron had such a reverence for the woods and the grove that I took an immediate liking to him. On some level he too had communication with the natural world; and I trusted his judgment implicitly in the matter of getting electricity and communications to the lower caverns without disturbing the Place of Remembering or the ancient woods and their natural balance.
Three days later Ron was back to stay in his pickup with the camper on the back and his two dogs. Work began almost immediately. Crews came from out of state companies I had never heard of, stayed a few days, and left again as soon as their immediate job was done. I was relegated to the job of bookkeeper. The team sent what money they could while they waited for grant money; and I opened a bank account for the Tashal Foundation. When that was gone, I paid the contractors out of my own account. Ron orchestrated everything from his truck with his cell phone, laptop, and satellite dish. He was an amazing study in contrasts. One time I would see him and his dogs reverently walking through the woods, the next time he was shouting orders at a construction crew or blasting out emails and phone calls. He worked, slept, and ate out of his truck, keeping a room at a nearby motel for quick showers until I finally told him to get a well drilled since he was living at the site anyway. He looked at me like I'd grown two heads, looked at his plans, thought a few minutes, nodded okay to me; and three days later the well was in with temporary electric powering the pump and lights in the building which was sort of under roof by then.
It was barely three weeks since Ron showed up for the first time; and today I was watching the electric company connecting the lines to the service panel in a concrete building which had gone up more quickly than I thought was possible. The building was twenty feet square and had a peaked metal roof. There was one large, heavy metal door in each of the side walls, two small windows high up in the front wall facing the road, and four identical windows in the back wall. Out of sight from the road various antennas and satellite dishes sprouted from the back wall and roof. Incongruously a six foot wide raised flower bed circled the entire building except for the raised concrete slab by each door.
The building sat in the middle of a cleared and graveled area that was about 200 feet on each side. Large rocks, dug up while clearing the site and building a one-lane bridge across the roadside ditch were placed around the perimeter to prevent vehicles from being driven into the woods. The bridge was closed with a heavy swinging metal bar, leaving just room enough for one car to get off the road and no way to turn around. With a casual look, the woods and undergrowth around the area appeared untouched; and except for a few scars here and there even the rocks looked like they had been there for years. Steps inside the building led down to a large concrete pipe big enough to walk in that would carry the various wires in conduits under the parking lot and eventually to the lower cavern. A gas tank sat in a containment area behind the building for a backup generator. Ron was adamant that heavy construction machinery, or vehicles of any kind were not to go any farther than the parking area; but wouldn't tell me how he planned to run the conduit all the way to the cavern. Topsoil, plants, and bushes from the construction area had been carefully saved; and today a small crew was busy replanting them in the beds around the building and in various spots between the larger rocks. By the end of summer, it would look like it this building had been here for years; and more importantly the undergrowth would be as impenetrable and inhospitable as it was around the entire perimeter of the property.
Although we had had many conversations, Ron had told me nothing about himself, keeping the talk strictly to what had to be done and sometimes why. Yet in my evening walks I had seen him sitting atop the bluffs looking out over the river and fields below, lost in thought that I was sure did not center on the project. I tried again today to steer the conversation into a more personal vein; but got only a cryptic "Soon the outsiders will be gone. Then we will talk." From his tone of voice, I knew I would have to be satisfied with that; and I left him to continue working.
Jul 11, 2004.
After being alone for several more days, I finally decided I could no longer ignore the mounting stack of bills and receipts from the past months. As I worked on the tedious job of sorting, entering into spreadsheets, filing, and finally writing checks, I began to put together a timeline of events of the last few months.
The substation had been completed the third week of April. Blankets, sleeping bags, camping equipment, boots, work gloves, shovels, flashlights, and GPS equipment had been delivered to the substation the following week. Spools of electrical and communications wire of all kinds and hundreds of feet of conduit of various sizes had been delivered to the substation and later to an address in the small town across the river in May. By the middle of May checks had been sent to us by team members and other organizations and deposited in the foundation account by Ron. He had written many small checks; and somehow I had signed half a dozen larger ones. A jon boat and later a pontoon boat had been purchased the second week in May. Early in June lumber, steel shelving, and server racks began arriving at the address across the river. Late in June communications and network equipment plus servers and several workstations arrived.
Despite all the deliveries and enough camping equipment for nearly a dozen workers, nothing had marred the peace and quiet of the woods around me. Nor had there been any sign of any disturbance anywhere I had been when I ventured from the away from the cabin. I had seen the pontoon boat tied up in the river but no other sign anywhere that I was not alone in the woods or in the Place of Remembering. From the latest deliveries Ron had to have sophisticated communications and computer networks set up somewhere within the lower caverns; but who was helping him? Where were they staying? Why all the camping gear? Who had been staying at the cabin with me for months; and where had she gone? Question upon question filled my mind; and I had to find Ron to get the answers.
"The Healer comes every night," said Katt.
"While you sleep," added Mama. "She still watches you."
"Watches me or watches me?" I asked either one.
"She is a healer," they both replied, implying that she was still watching out for my welfare.
"But why doesn't she come when I'm awake?" I asked.
"She has done what she can. You must finish the healing without her," said Mama.
"She says you are doing well to Ron," added Katt.
"You can hear her?" I asked.
"Sometimes," came their reply.
"Ron can hear us sometimes," volunteered Mama.
I could feel their agreement and their confusion at hearing and being heard by someone other than their companion in my mind.
"Is that why you speak his name? You have never called any other human by their name."
"We helped him find the way for the hard strings to go," Mama said hesitantly without answering my question.
"He needed our help; and The Healer was with you," Katt explained.
"That's good," I reassured them. "I would have wanted you to help him all you could."
Reassured, they jumped up on either side of the keyboard, effectively preventing me from getting back to work. I smiled at them and stood up; and started toward the kitchen. "I guess it is time for a break. Who's getting hungry?" I asked.
Jul 19, 2004.
As we emerged from the forest, I paused to look around the valley, trying to get some sense of which way we needed to go to get to the substation. My sense of direction was still confused by the oak forest; and I just picked a direction and waded out into the tall grass. I hoped that I would have a better sense of which way to go when we got farther away from the forest.
Wolf had a difficult time keeping up because of the tall grass; but Katt and Mama slipped through it with ease just off to the side of where I was walking. Before long Wolf gave up following me and pushed his way between the dense clumps of grass behind them. We were all hot by the time we reached the stream; and glad to take a break and cool down.
After resting for a few minutes I took my shoes off and started wading upstream, searching for a trail through the tall grass. I was sure there had to be one from animals coming to the stream for water. No way was I going to try wading through any more of that grass. It was just too difficult to be worth whatever steps it saved us. Finally I saw a trail. In just a few steps, my feet were dry; and I put my shoes and socks back on. The going was much easier; and soon we stepped into the shade of the trees.
This was familiar woods again like the woods around the cabin; and finally I felt like I knew which direction I needed to go. Since the trail continued on in the right direction we stayed on it until we reached the top of the hill and another trail intersected it. I turned onto the new trail; and after a few minutes we came to several large rocks that seemed out of place. I could look through the undergrowth and vaguely see the substation.
Not wanting to push all the way through and leave a trail into the parking lot, I turned back and circled around until I was where I thought the conduit was buried. I was looking around for some sign of which way Ron had run the cables when Mama said, "I know the way from here."
"You know where Ron buried the cables?" I asked.
"This way," she replied; and started walking away.
As I followed her, I could see almost no trace of any disturbance in the woods. The undergrowth wasn't quite as big; and there were a few places where there was bare earth. But the woods looked almost untouched. Finally I saw a place where two bushes had been replanted. Hidden behind them, several large rocks had been moved to hide the manhole cover beyond which several small conduits fed into a crevice in a rocky overhang. Had I not noticed the carefully tended bushes, I would never have seen the rocks that hid the cover and the conduit.
"We can still go through there," said Katt. "We showed it to him."
"I led the string through," said Mama.
"You both did very well," I complimented them. "So did Ron. Nobody would guess that any wires were run between the substation and here. How close are we to the Place of Remembering?"
"Close," said both Katt and Mama.
"Follow," said Katt.
Without waiting, Katt started off through the woods toward where I thought the bluff should be. Within a few minutes we were on a trail that led down to the river. There was just barely enough exposed ground to walk on between the bluff and the river; but as we rounded a protruding corner of the bluffs, I could see the pontoon boat and the trail up to the lower caverns. We were much closer to the substation than I thought we would be because we had come straight through the woods instead of following the bends of the river. Not quite ready to face the activity I could see still going on at the entrance to the lower cavern, I retreated back around the bluff. Finding a comfortable spot, I sat down to rest and just absorb the feelings that a river always engendered in me. Even Wolf was tired from our walk; and soon dozed off lying on my feet.
Aug 25, 2004.
Returning to the cabin after being called back to the city for yet another emergency, I looked around at the familiar clearing with the eyes of a stranger, seeing it as if I had never been here before. I wondered at that, until I realized that the grass was newly mowed and there were no weeds in the flower beds. For the first time since I had moved here, someone had been taking care of the place while I was away. I was no longer coming home to an empty place; and it felt very good.
"The Healer", said Katt.
"I imagine so," I replied.
Rose Littlehorse had grown very attached to the cabin in the weeks and months since we lost Mutt and I had almost lost myself; and I was deeply grateful to her for her care and company during that awful time.
Validating our guesses, the front door opened; and Rose walked out onto the porch. I had missed her while we were away; and I hurried up the steps to give her a big hug. It was good to be home again.
Sep 02, 2004.
The last of the scientists had arrived yesterday. I had spent the last week meeting each one as they arrived in the little town across the river and escorting them to the landing where Ron was waiting with the jon boat. As of this morning they were all reasonably well settled either in a sleeping room in the lower caverns or at a motel in town. A schedule had been set up for the jon boat to make trips across the river to ferry them back and forth; and I was finally free to go back to my normal routine, whatever that was.
I smiled wryly as I stretched; and then got out of bed. Normal had become going to the lower caverns to see what Ron and the technicians and workers were doing as they installed computer, communications, and test equipment in the lower caverns and made the warren of rooms off the main passage ready to house the scientists when they arrived.
Not one hole had been drilled in the walls for any of the equipment. Instead, Ron and the workers had assembled platforms in the center of the four large chambers designated for electrical equipment and attached whatever shelves, braces, and brackets were needed for monitors and equipment to the platform. Bundles of cables emerged from natural vents high up in the walls and looped over to waiting supports on the platforms to keep them off the floor. Katt and Mama had quickly learned that the safest place in these rooms was on the platforms safely up and out of the way of the chairs which rolled on the floor and ran over tails and legs as the techs pushed themselves from one station to another to configure and test the equipment. None of these large interior rooms had been colonized by the lichen; and strong tension rods held heavy light and noise dampening drapes to close their entrances.
Ron's domain was the hub into which the cables from outside entered the lower caverns and were in turn fed to the other rooms. The many cables overhead resembled a giant spider web anchored to various points high up near the ceiling; and one bundle of cables even went into a vent in the ceiling.
A fifth room had been set up as a lounge with couches and chairs grouped around three televisions and several small tables for games or puzzles. Here the cables dropped down from a lower vent and were carried in conduits around the edges of the chamber to supply TV, phone, and electric connections.
The communal kitchen backed up to these chambers; and had a platform with an electric stove, ovens, and microwave ovens and various small appliances. Down the center two age-old plank tables had been scrubbed and new chairs set up. On the far side were the ancient wood fireplaces and ovens. This was Rose's domain; and she loved preparing soups, stews, and breads in an ancient fireplace. This cavern was on the cliff side of the lower caverns; and the lichen colonized two of the walls. Near the electrical platform, a spring bubbled up into a basin for drinking water and overflowed into a large trough that carried the water away through the outside wall.
Across the passage, storerooms held bins and shelves of staple foods, linens, implements, and nets of herbs and spices left by the people. As careful as the scientists who would follow her, Rose had carefully photographed, saved samples, and documented the contents and arrangement of the room, then barred entrance to everyone else. Her modern supplies were stored in an adjacent storeroom; but I noticed that she carefully experimented with the contents of the old storeroom.
Katt's plaintive meow reminded me to finish dressing so we could go get breakfast. She was hungry. I finished brushing my hair and opened the door. I was hungry too.
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