Bill Long 4/1/05
On my way back to Oregon from a Spring Break vacation, I stopped in at the Oregon Caves National Monument. Except for Elijah Davidson, the Anglo "discoverer" of the Cave who followed his faithful dog Bruno, who was chasing a bear, into it in 1874, I doubt if anyone ever ends up at the Monument now by accident. It lies twenty miles off the main highway from Crescent City, CA to Grants Pass, OR and can only be reached by a narrow, and winding, highway from the main road. Because of the interesting lore surrounding caves (with stalagmites and stalactites and bats and interesting rock formations), and because I knew that the federal government usually puts good resources into its Monuments/Parks, I was pretty sure that the tour would be fascinating and memorable.
Well, let's jusy say that the tour, which is advertised to last 75 minutes (and really lasted nearly 105), should probably last about 30-45 minutes or, better, that there should be two tours, a shorter one for those who want "exposure" to the world within the cave and a longer one for those who want to "linger" and ask questions about mudslides and waterflows and bats and other mammals or insects in the cave. Nevertheless, I was satisfied because I picked up a few new words and recaptured some old words, and here they are.
In fact the word that was never used in my visit is the title of this article, but I am using it because that is the word that is oldest in my memory--going back decades to a time in graduate school where a friend used to call me a "troglodyte" all the time. I wasn't sure what it meant at the time, and I am sure he had heard it from an older person who used it as an appellation for him, but I remembered it. A troglodyte, according to the OED, may be "one of various races or tribes of men (chiefly ancient or prehistoric) inhabiting caves or dens; a cave-dweller." The adjective brings with it a secondary meaning--"resembling a troglodyte; of a degraded type like the cave-dwellers; also fig. not interested or conversant with affairs."
Thus, I think my friend was trying to hint that I was a somewhat uncouth person. But he was from the Pittsburgh area, and many of the males I met in my graduate work were themselves from Pitsburgh and were trying to come to grips with growing up in a "tough town" that had fallen on "hard times," even if the "Stillers," as they pronounced it, were kicking butt in the 1970s. So, these Pittsburgh guys were themselves probably feeling a bit like cave-dwellers, and so they projected that feeling on others (I was from CA at the time) whom they met. An endearing quality of the folks.
Back to the Caves
But what I discovered in the caves were that there were troglobites, troglophiles and trogloxenes. Let's take the words apart. Troglo is a prefix derived from the Greek word meaning "hole," and a troglobite is one who lives (bio) in such a hole. A troglodyte, by the way, is one who "gets or goes into" such a hole. The Oregon Caves have three species of troglobites-- the albino millipedes, water mites and springtails. The over-officious guide, Dave, made sure that we all saw the millipede, as he trained his high-powered flashlight on the little critter, who lived on a rock formation right along the path that was traversed by hundreds of people every day. It is surprising to me, now that I think of it, that no one has decided to sweep little millie away--maybe she would hang on for dear life with all her 1000 legs.
A troglophile, rather than simply one that "loves" a cave, which is the literal meaning of its name, is a cave-dwelling animal that does not live entirely in the dark. The Oregon Caves glossary says that a troglophile is an organism that can live all its life either inside or outside a cave, so I guess a troglophile is to a cave as an amphibian is to water. Oops. The SAT just dropped analogies, so I guess my analogical thinking will fall on deaf ears. In any case, the troglophiles in the Oregon Caves are spiders, salamanders, cave crickets and gryllobladitds, whatever those are. Actually, that word is probably misspelled, because it is not in the OED or on the internet. The closest I can find is gryllotalpa--which is derived from the Greek word for grasshopper or cricket (gryllos) and mole (talpa). Glad you asked?
Then, there are the trogloxenes, which are defined as "an organism that regularly or accidentally enters a cave but must return to the surface to maintain its existence." The Greek term behind "oxene" is xenos, translated "guest," (xenophobia), so the trogloxene is only a "guest" in the cave for short periods. How homey. The Oregon Caves includes ants, bushy tailed woodrats and hibernating bears among its trogloxenes. I learned that a hibernating bear lives in a hibernacula--the place where the hibernating animal sleeps in the winter.
More Cave Language
Most fascinating to me in the cave was the phenomenon called drapery--defined as the curtain-like, linear flowstone (rock) that gives the appearance of a drape because of the way that water has congealed over the years. I could almost imagine the stone as some kind of curtain that would swish back when the slightest breath of air was applied to it. I learned that this rock feature, along with many others, were examples of speleothems--a secondary mineral deposit formed in caves by the action of water. Because the rock formations were so suggestive of other realities, words like "popcorn" or "straw" formations were used to describe some of them. Wedding cakes and Washington monuments and Ghost rooms, taking their names from interesting formations, were the order of the day.
It seemed to me that my new-found vocabulary could profitably be used to describe the ways of people. Let's leave troglodyte aside with my Pittsburgh friends. But a trogolobite (the permanent cave-dweller--thus one who always lives in the dark) might be a person who is absolutely clueless. Always in the dark. Never a flash of insight. Utter blackness. Hm. Maybe that fits all of us at times. The troglophile likes to dwell in the hole but often retreats outside the cave for light. Well, such a person would be called versatile today, don't you think? Can live inside or outside of caves. Very good skill to have. Finally, the trogloxene is the person who just comes to the cave occasionally. This person loves to visit but never stays, possibly because the environment is simply not to his/her liking. Maybe like visiting unbearable relatives--you just show up for a day or two, and then gracefully withdraw. Ah, the insights caves provide...