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I tried not to drop my phone as I stuck my hand through the bars of the cage and over the hole to take pictures of the cave below. Looking closer, I saw a lady sitting underground wearing a helmet and typing rapidly on a laptop. She looked like a roller derby girl doing her homework in the dark.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Yes?” she said, continuing to type with purpose, a smile beginning to form on the edge of her lips.

“Are you a scientist?” I asked drawing out the last word like a 12-year-old.

We both smiled, and she said, “Yes. I work for the Texas Cave Management Association. I’m monitoring the air…”

I couldn’t hear exactly what she said. Another guy came up and smiled up at us as we looked down through the bars. I pushed up my imaginary glasses, unclicking my pen, and asked, “Have you been in the ‘Ant Lion’s Den’ or the ‘Birth Canal’ cave?”

“We’re about to be,” she said.

My wife and I looked at each other like we had just chatted it up with airplane pilots who let us into the cockpit and we geeked out. Hi-five. Slap.

Oddly enough, I was editing a story earlier today for my website which was about a hike I took to this place in February of last year. I was looking for wild pigs in Stephenson Preserve, and ended up here instead, where I found a hidden granite sculpture and this ‘Whirlpool Cave.’ I had no idea I’d end up here when I set out today.

We started our hike in a Chipotle parking lot right by the whoosh of commuting cars on MoPac. I didn’t think I’d have a very eventful hike. I knew the trail would be flat, the highway noisy, and the apartments to my right would crowd us in. But I hadn’t been to this section, so we came anyway. I wasn’t expecting anything but brush.

Boy, was I wrong. It was damn near a wildflower clinic. The flowers just sang, head back, petals wide open, rocking back-and-forth like a choir in unison belting out colors to the skies. Yellow Daisies, Indian Blankets and Paintbrushes, Purple Texas Thistles, Prairie Coneflowers, dark maroon and yellow, and Black-eyed Susans lined the meadows and the trail. Every petal in bloom, beaming for passers-by.

And to top it all off, we crossed paths with probably seven or so mountain bikers, and...wait for it...every one of them was nice. What? Polite. Every one. We’re used to

“Coming-through-get-out-of-my-way-no-time-to-talk” mountain bikers, and every one of these guys, and a gal, were so courteous, and of good cheer. One guy had a little bell he tapped and rang when he was coming up behind us. Am I dreaming?

One guy was coming around a curve hot, headed right for us, when he met my scowling face, as I complained, “Heyyyyyyyyy!” holding out my hiking staff like a furious wizard, and he just stopped, smiled, and said, “Oh Hi. It’s just me….How are ya’ll doing today.” I was confused by his self-amusement and courtesy, and I quickly mirrored his good will and smiled back. What strange magic.

The cars zoomed by, pelting the bridge lines on MoPac, and I thought to myself, “What a terrific hike. Look at the gold. Sunlight touches everything, the wildflowers sing, and everyone on the trail here is glad. What a beautiful day.”


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