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November 10, 2008

 When I was a boy, Scouting was a major part of my life.  I was fortunate to have

 dedicated Scout leaders.  One of these men was Mr. Elliot.  He was a Scoutmaster and my Sunday School teacher.  He often took our Sunday School class on outdoor adventures.  One such outing was to the mountains of North Carolina to explore a cave. 

            We traveled on a remote mountain road to a limestone cave that had never been commercialized.  We passed through two small mountain towns only a few miles apart.  One was named Luck; the other Trust.  As the old blue station wagon made its way up the mountain, Mr. Elliot asked if we knew the difference between luck and trust. It was something we would learn about on our spelunking expedition.

            At our destination, the station wagon was parked along the side of the gravel road.  We crawled over a barbed-wire fence and hiked through the woods a mile or more where we came to a large outcropping of granite rocks.  As we made our way around the boulders, we could feel cool air rushing out of the mountain. 

            The mouth of the cave was a small opening. Mr. Elliot crawled in first, carrying a rope and a strong flashlight into the darkness.  The five of us followed, filled with fear and trepidation.  We crawled through the narrow tunnel for thirty yards, damp rocks just above our heads. 

This narrow passageway opened into a much larger cavity under the mountain.  Our leader secured the end of the rope to a huge rock, tied a double bowline knot in the other end, and lowered us, one by one, twenty feet down to the floor of the cave.  He followed last, repelling down the rock face to join us.

            The beams of our flashlights illuminated the interior of the cave.  The magical underground scene featured limestone formations and a quiet underground stream flowing into clear pools of crystal water. 

The cave was active. The constant dripping of the limestone-laden water between stalactites and stalagmites played a rhythmic melody. Hundreds of bats clung upside down to the cave ceiling. 

            Using candles for light in order to conserve our flashlight batteries, we explored the cave for an hour or more.  We cooked our supper on a small gas stove and bedded down for the night inside the cave.

            When the last candle was extinguished, we experienced total darkness.  Mr. Elliot led us in a prayer.  We giggled and laughed for a while and then drifted off to sleep.      During the night, one of the boys awakened.  The complete darkness of the cave frightened him.  He called loudly, “Mr. Elliot, are you there?” 

            All of us woke up.  Mr. Elliot reassured us of his presence. 

“Mr. Elliot, I can’t see you,” said another boy. 

            “No,” he said, “but I am here with you.  Go back to sleep.”

            When I awoke, Mr. Elliot already had candles lit and hot chocolate made.  In the cool damp of the cave, the hot chocolate hit the spot.  We packed up our gear in the candlelight and made our way back out of the cave.  Mr. Elliot went first, climbing hand over hand up the rope to the ledge above.  Each of us took our turn, sitting in the bowline and being lifted up by our teacher.

            As I got to the ledge above, Mr. Elliot asked me to lead the way out.  I crawled down the narrow passage. I could see daylight ahead.  Because our eyes had adjusted to total darkness, the bright sun was blinding.  I crawled the last few feet out into open air and stood up. Two more boys scrambled out behind me.

Then I heard Mr. Elliot shouting.  I crouched down and looked back into the cave. There between the fourth boy and me lay coiled a large timber rattler, ready to attack.

            The viper had spent the night in the cave near the opening.  The first three of us had crawled by without noticing the rattler poised to strike. Somehow Mr. Elliot had seen the danger and shouted the warning.

My heart was pounding. Mr. Elliot and the other two boys waited. The rattler slowly uncoiled and moved toward the opening of the cave.  The three of us outside stepped back as the snake slowly slithered along the side of the rock and disappeared into a crevice.

            When Mr. Elliot and the other two boys were out of the cave, we spent a few minutes talking about our experience. 

One boy said, “Boy! That was lucky!” 

Mr. Elliot said, “No, we prayed for safety. It was not luck.”

            On the second night of our trip, we spread our bedrolls in a large mountain meadow.  It was a clear moonless night.  Lying there on our backs, looking into the heavens, Mr. Elliot pointed out some of the constellations; the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, with the North Star in the handle.  The sky was filled with stars.

The next day, as we traveled back home, we again drove through Luck and Trust.  Mr. Elliot asked us if we knew the difference. This time we had a better idea. 

Luck believes things happen at random. Trust knows there is a divine purpose.

Luck is often fearful. Trust rests assured that we are never alone.

Luck is stumbling in the dark. Trust is stepping into the light.


Kirk H. Neely

© November 2008

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