Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling through the Dark

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In this exhilarating work, Barbara Hurd explores some of the most extraordinary places on earth, from sacred caves in India to secret caves in Arizona. With passionately informed prose, Hurd makes these strange dark spaces come to light, illuminating the natural history and spiritual territory of caves as powerfully as Kathleen Norris portrayed the Dakotas. Entering the Stone provides an awe-inducing tour through a fragile and beautiful subterranean world.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Reading Entering the Stone is not unlike exploring a cave system. The layout may be unclear. Some quarters may be confined. But then, unexpectedly, a seemingly unconnected chamber will converge with other passages and you find yourself in an expansive space and feel you've encountered something enlightening."--New York Times Book Review

"In this profound and beautifully written exploration of caves and caving, Hurd describes not only her initiation into the stony earth but also the full range of human depths. Geology and spiritual discovery in this book are one, the evolution of Hurd's knowledge of stalactites and sightless cave fish inseparable from her encounter with fear and mystery, invisibility and intimacy, eros and grief, life and death. Entering the Stone is a masterpiece of the interior world."--Jane Hirshfield, author of After: Poems

"[An] exquisite meditation on caves and their peculiar power . . . While plenty of writers have navigated this territory before, Entering the Stone seems destined to stand out among books on spelunking. There is a natural link between caves and the stalactite-covered hollows of the human heart, which Hurd plays up with elegant restraint."--John Freeman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"An often unnerving exploration of stone . . . A wild cave is an inscrutable space, writes Hurd, heavily symbolic, weirdly inhabited, full of squirmings. You can't see what you feel, but you sure can feel it. . . . Hurd knows she'll never understand the exact source of a cave's power, but the underground works for her."--Kirkus Reviews

"Hurd chronicles her experiences in these dark spaces and her intertwining journeys into fear, loss, intimacy and spirituality. Along the way, she opens our eyes to the beauty and fragility of this subterranean world."--Nature Conservancy

"Here was an outdoorswoman who also thinks; a naturalist who, back indoors, reads and then writes. But bog turtles were just a prelude. All this while Hurd has been into something larger and darker-caves."--James Bready, The Sun

"This is not a sensationalist adventure story but rather a sometimes mystical journey of discovery into the hidden recesses of the mind."--Library Journal

"Using a venerable literary device, Hurd explores her inner life through her fascination with caving. Her meditative, flowing prose pauses on sundry people and events in her life, which she illuminates through descriptions and comparisons with her physical surroundings in the subterranean world.”--Booklist

The New York Times
Hurd is a consummate naturalist, and she has wide-ranging knowledge of her subject. Her book abounds with references to mythology, poetry, conservation, biology and more. Over the years, she keeps company with an assortment of specialists -- a cave-rescue expert, an archaeobotanist, a mountain-lion hunter -- who lend the book some fascinating asides about, for example, the evolution of troglobites (animals found only in caves), which has left them blind and without pigmentation, and the ancient weather patterns that can be read in sawed-off stalactites and stalagmites. — Naomi Wax
The New Yorker
It’s a torture chamber, I think, a too-small casket tilted foot-up and you’re the one inside,” Barbara Hurd writes in Entering the Stone. Hurd, a caver for the past ten years, describes the difficulty of crawling through narrow subterranean passageways, called “flatteners” or “squeezes.” While tourists visit “show caves” like Howe Caverns in upstate New York, Hurd seeks out the more adventurous “wild” caves, and finds herself “trying to memorize escape” from them. In a marble cave in Oregon, she stops to press her hand into a wall of moonmilk, a calcite deposit with a cream-cheese consistency. But cavers are careful to leave the underground environment much as they found it. Despite collapsed rocks, fossilized bones, and the occasional piece of litter, wild caves may be among the cleanest places on earth.

Caves are marvels not only of space but of time; they remind us of the sublime slowness of the geologic clock. In Chauvet Cave, the editor Jean Clottes collects the writings of a team of scientists who are decoding this celebrated system of caverns, discovered in 1994 in southern France. There are photographs of Chauvet’s sweeping limestone landscapes and its etchings of rhinoceroses and lions emerging from rocky lairs. The ancient-art specialist David Lewis-Williams devotes The Mind in the Cave to the connection between such Paleolithic paintings and the evolution of early people. He describes the shock of descending deep underground and finding art work thirtyfive thousand years old: “Muddied and exhausted, the explorer will be gazing at the limitless terra incognita of the human mind.” (Lauren Porcaro)
Publishers Weekly
In this follow-up to Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs and Human Imagination, poet and essayist Hurd turns from the water to go underground, further exploring her fascination with the way physical landscapes can mirror personal, spiritual or psychological landscapes. Readers who enjoyed her previous book will relish the prose in this one, but newcomers may find Hurd's nuanced style an acquired taste. Hurd uses the sport of caving Maryland's Devil's Hole cave and Oregon's Siskiyous Mountains-to name only a few of her many cave-related subjects-as the launching point for observations about the ways we "use landscape and the people in our lives to orient ourselves." Hurd often weaves resonant parallels between what she sees in the nature of caves and her own life, such as her moving recollections of her father and of a friend dying of cancer. Outside of an extended look at the clandestine development of Arizona's Kartchner Caverns, Hurd doesn't really provide much detail about caving itself, eschewing these hard details for more ruminative ones. A great chapter on "The Twilight Zone" beautifully uses the area of a cave between the entrance and the dark as a metaphor for her own "uncertainty about degrees of loss." (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hurd (Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and the Human Imagination) provides a glimpse of the underworld for those who have neither the courage nor the ability to explore wild caves. Although she does relate some hair-raising episodes, such as the panic attack that brought her to a terrifying halt as she was squirming through a narrow chute, claustrophobes can relax. This is not a sensationalist adventure story but rather a sometimes mystical journey of discovery into the hidden recesses of the mind. In the black stillness of a cave, Hurd struggles with the loss of a dying friend, muses on how the trappings necessary above ground are meaningless without light, and discovers that the absence of stimuli can actually bring about a sense of spaciousness and freedom. Along the way, she points out the natural history of caves, their formation, the unique life forms that have adapted to total darkness, and their fragile existence in a viable ecosystem threatened by the slightest disturbance in temperature or humidity. Highly recommended for general collections.-Maureen J. Delaney-Lehman, Lake Superior State Univ. Lib., Sault Ste. Marie, MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Into wild caves for an often unnerving exploration of stone. A wild cave is an inscrutable space, writes Hurd (Stirring the Mud, 2001), heavily symbolic, weirdly inhabited, full of squirmings. You can't see what you feel, but you sure can feel it, especially the squeeze, the tight places, when you have to accept where you are and find a way forward. All of this jibes with the process of dealing with her friend's dying, as the disquiet and foreboding become unbearable-to be anywhere but here-and panic takes over: "How to explain it? Some curtain falls, blocks off your ability to be rational." Still, in she goes, not so much questing as curious, wanting "some slow motion, embodied drama of disorientation and adieu, the chance to study in isolated detail how it feels when almost everything's gone." The caves she enters, from the Northeast to the Southwest and overseas, are otherworldly as she describes the calcite flowstones, cave pearls, soda straws, moonmilk, the blind and colorless creatures, the petroglyphs, the dark. There is the pure geology-the way of limestone and marble-and the psycho-geography, the mind space where she tries to get a sense of the power of secrets. Circumstances being what they are, death is a motif, and caves-all crypt and coffin-are an ideal place to brood on the subject (or, if you're unlucky enough, get experience firsthand). In the act of entering, taking that first step into the stone, there is the transition, the twilight zone, that Hurd evokes with such chilling care: "a slow, eyes-open receding from one world, slipping into the next." Hurd knows she'll never understand the exact source of a cave's power, but the underground works for her: "The mythologieshaunt: this cave, this chamber of shape-shifting, of image disengaging, reforming, harbors a mysterious substance. . . . It closes the wound." Agent: Cynthia Cannell
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820331539
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 184
  • Sales rank: 991,573

Meet the Author

Barbara Hurd is the author of Walking the Wrack Line, Stirring the Mud, and a collection of poetry, The Singer's Temple. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays, Yale Review, Georgia Review, Nimrod, New Letters, and Audubon. Hurd teaches creative writing at Frostburg State University, where she has held the Elkins Professorship, and at the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.
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Table of Contents

1 The Squeeze 1
2 Begin Here 21
3 The Twilight Zone 35
4 Impurities 49
5 Moonmilk 63
6 The Solace of Beauty 77
7 Elephanta Cave and the Eros of Mystery 89
8 Desert Cave 103
9 Derichment 115
10 Rescue 131
11 Dark Wings to Zero 145
12 In the Hollow That Remains 155
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