Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yesterday may have been the most exhilarating and exhausting day of my life.

Zeb and LaFontaine took me on a tour of the cave.  Strange to call a place like that a cave.  Sumetra Exploration Enterprises had gone to great lengths to create the feeling of a place of business in their subterranean dwelling that rivaled an above ground estate.    Zeb had found a box of blueprints in one of their previous forays, which laid out a multitude of levels.  Zeb said, however, that most of them lay beyond a caved in passage not far from the entrance.

There was more than enough for me to see.  And difficult, difficult to know how to proceed.  The first thing I did was insist on a full photographic record of the rooms that are accessible to us.  While I was occupied taking photographs of every room and object in it before beginning cataloging, LaFontaine set himself up in the room called the Library on the blueprints, disturbing a pile of books that occupied the broad, inlaid table that stood in the center of the room.   Zeb was equally unprofessional, in my opinion.  He spent his time in the Kitchen, where he had already begun erecting scaffolding to support the collapsed wall that threatened the magnificent cast iron stove there.  He could not seem to appreciate the extraordinary state of preservation of the pantry and coal scuttle.  It was as if the cook had walked out moments before!   A dusty dishtowel lay over a bucket, with the casual ease of an everyday thing… oh, I suppose, he is right, a further collapse could be dangerous not just to us but closing the dig forever, but still.  At least I got the pictures as best I could.

You will not believe the sleeping quarters.   Everything was as if the occupants had just made their beds and left.  It must have been men’s quarters.  A silhouette of a woman stood on one of the tables, and a pair of men’s trousers lay across a traveling trunk.  It was so eerie, as though the men who lived here would walk in and demand what I was doing there.

I told you they made every effort to make the place appear to be above ground, well, here is a case in point.  On the walls above the white iron beds were “windows”.  They are frames of glass panes divided into squares and reverse painted with the most exquisite pastoral scenes.    But the greatest find I can hardly believe myself.  Hanging between the “windows” on the left side of the room was a collection of butterflies, pinned in the Victorian fashion, with their wings on display.   But something about the insects caught my eye.   When I looked at them closely, the tiny insect bodies were not insects at all.  They were tiny skeletons of humans, their fragile bones as transparent as glass.  Are they fairies?

At dinner, back at the house, I told LaFontaine about my find and he was not as surprised as I thought he would be.  Today he showed me why.  One of the first things they had found when the earthquake occurred was this fossil…

Isn’t she beautiful?  I think we should have it reproduced and made into jewelry.  No one need know that the fossil is real, and it seems somehow fitting to wear the memory of these lovely creatures.

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