Tuesday, January 19

Into the Mouth of the Cave - By Janie DeVos



     The mountains of Western North Carolina, which include the Great Smokies, and the Blue Ridge, are, according to geologists, some of the oldest on Earth, and, at one time, loomed higher than Mt. Everest does today.  But, millions of years worth of erosion have worn them down, leaving them mere shadows of what they once were.  These ancient, mist-shrouded mountains contain many secrets and mysteries, some of which we’ll never know about, but, in the late 1800’s, emeralds were discovered in “them thar hills”, as well as garnets, aquamarine, smoky quartz and beryl.  At one time, these mountains were so rich with gemstones that the famous New York jeweler, Tiffany and Company had ownership in the mines.

 Through the many decades, much money was made from the much sought-after gemstones, but they were not the only valuable commodity to be discovered here.  Others minerals included feldspar, which is used in glass and ceramic production (your toilet bowel, being one such product), as well as quartz, which is used for navigational instruments, mobile phones and more.  The other material found was mica, which is used to make any number of things, including cosmetics and toothpaste, but it also acts as a highly effective heat barrier, which is why NASA used mica in the Apollo missions.  Because of the abundance of the broad assortment of minerals found here, our town of Spruce Pine took on the moniker of “The Mineral City.”  

Many a plate of beans were put on people’s tables because of the jobs the mines provided.  Hard work though it was, even deadly at times, the miners continued to dig deeper and deeper into the mineral-rich caves until all of the gemstone and mica veins eventually dried up.  As a result, the now-defunct mines have become tourist spots, or have simply been forgotten and left for the Earth to reclaim that which is rightfully hers. 

The caves are only a fifteen minute drive from me, and each time I pass by, I slow down and marvel at the sight of them looking like large gaping mouths, open in silent protest that they’ve been stripped of all their hidden riches and then abandoned like a discarded plaything.  Getting a glance inside at the cave’s inky darkness, I can’t help but wonder what the first prospectors must have thought when they drove their pickaxes into the virgin soil and began to uncover the riches within.  Such was the case today as I drove by them once again and slowed down to take in their eerie but awe-inspiring presence.  Only this time, I didn’t just think about the past that is connected to them, I thought about the future that is connected to us in the new year ahead.  

Walking into one of the first unexplored caves, thinly lit by lamplight, looking for rare and wondrous treasures, must have created great excitement but it also must have put one’s nerves on edge simply by not knowing what might be waiting ahead, much like they way we feel when starting a new year.  As we hang up a new wall calendar (for those of us who still use them), we see many little empty squares for each day of each month that will be filled as time marches on.  They will fill up with tiny gemstones of life; someone’s baby shower to attend, or the first day of a new job, or the graduation of a child we’ve watched grow into adulthood, and almost certainly, there will be sad marks on that calendar, too, but, we’ll get through them all; sometimes hating to see them end, or, at times, glad to have them behind us.  Just like striking a pick into the Earth to see what rare and wonderful riches will be found, that’s exactly what we’re doing as we strike out into the new year ahead.  We’ll be searching for those things that make us rich; not necessarily the monetary kind, though those are wonderful, too, but the kind of riches that make us laugh or bring us contentment, the kind that make us feel loved and excite us, or inspire us to keeping trying for that brass ring.  And each and every one of those moments will make us grow, enriching us, in any number of ways.  

Embracing the new year ahead is like walking into the mouth of a dark cave; though we are unable to see what lies ahead, we move into it with a little trepidation, but also courage, determination and faith that we will certainly find those treasures that await us if we only try.  And when a vein or two runs dry, which, inevitably, they will, we’ll simply continue to lift our pickaxes optimistically high as human nature propels us forward, anxiously anticipating that the next vein will indeed be rich with life’s beautiful little treasures.




  1. What a wonderful post, Janie! Thank you for giving me a good start to the day.

  2. Well, as always this is a beautifully written blog about something that is meaningful and powerful. We will find the treasures that await us!

    1. Ah, thanks, Rebecca! I'm loving your book, My Dad, My Dog!!!! Can't wait to yak with you about it!

  3. As we walk into this new year, let's remember to take our flashlights with us to light the way. Wonderful post, Janie!