I’m a philosophy teacher here at this large university here in California. Lots of sun, Spanish style roofs and white stucco.
Flowers and beauty everywhere. Really a paradise.
I have been teaching here for a very long time. I like the school, the campus and the students. Although most of them really have little idea what it is that I actually teach.
Most days I have about a 2-hour break after lunch, and I slip away to a remote far end of campus. There is a bit of an old forest here and a rusty old door at the end of a maintenance shed. I think it was something like 20 years ago that I found this door. When I opened it and looked inside all I saw was darkness. The air was dank, dark and moist. I could hear water running below. It seemed to be an unusually deep and large basement that extended underneath the entire campus.
I closed the door and forgot about it but a few days later a dry hot desert heat wave enveloped the campus, so I sought the old door with the dark coolness behind it. This time I slipped inside and closed the door behind me.
Little pinpricks of light slipped through cracks above me and after my eyes adjusted, I could see that there was a small river running below me. I scrambled down the earthy damp soil. It was fairly steep. At the bottom, the river ran through a damp little canyon with steep rock walls and a tiny little beach.
The cool dark air was a nice respite from the blazing sun and heat wave above. And the small canyon and rushing river was a nice surprise.
Standing here next to this swiftly flowing small river and looking up it seemed like the entire campus was suspended – almost like a bridge – above this dark little canyon.
It is peaceful here. With the sound of the rushing water, I could not hear any footsteps or machinery up above.
And so, for the last 20 years or so I have come down here and just sat. Hung out. Cooled off. Enjoyed my eyes being wide open and alert in the darkness.
Most of the time it was just me and the river and the soil and the rock in the damp darkness. But there were surprises.
At certain times of the year steelhead and salmon passed through my dark little underground river. There was a time earlier in my life that I might have snuck down with my rod to go fishing. But it was enough now to just see the fish flashing in the dark water and occasionally jumping and thrashing on the surface. So many rivers in California had salmon and steelhead runs that now only live on in memories.
There were days when the door was locked, and I never did find out why. It would have been easy to find one of the maintenance men and inquire as to why the door was locked or unlocked at certain times.
But in all those 20 years I never found another human being down there. If I had inquired, I was afraid the door might be locked for good or maybe that my inquiry might encourage others to explore here.
I liked being alone down there. It was OK for me to put up with times the door was locked.
I would guess that most people would not understand why I have come down to my secret little underground canyon so often. Some would probably say it looked like a place that was frightening. Or boring. Or too cold. Or too damp. Or just too darn dark.
It’s true that most of the time nothing happens down here. The salmon and steelhead passing through seem to be the only action.
And if somehow asked me why I came down here so often I suppose I would say I just somehow feel refreshed. When I emerge, I just feel happy and revitalized. Hey…I have had some people say I look young for my age! Maybe this is my little oasis…my own secret fountain of youth.
Or it may simply be that my dark, damp little underground canyon with its mystical fishy river is a respite from all the sunshine, the fluorescent lights, the crush of students and a sort of highbrow philosophical intellectual language that is never complete, never peaceful, and never truly satisfying.
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Today I will allow myself the gift of darkness and the revitalizing relief from the mind.