The memory of water

Constant dripping, so the saying goes, wears away the stone. Yet, everyone who has visited a karst cave with their often astounding richness in rock formations will know otherwise: constant dripping creates the stone! Now, any speleologist (academese for cave expert) may frown over my lax use of the term “stone”. Fine, of course I mean those pillars and bumps and other formations expertly called stalagtites, stalagmites and stalagnates. Water drops, sintering through the earth and rocks that form the ceiling of a cave, containing minerals and other material, carry that material into the cave, where it slowly builds up into said formations. Talk about slowly – think tens of thousands of years, and then some.

Since you will have walked through the cave as part of a guided tour you will also have been exposed to numerous fanciful appellations for these pillars: “angels”, “organs”, or “thinkers” are quite common. Other common appellations are water-related ones, notably waterfalls and jellyfish. Apart from the obvious (look!), have you ever wondered why? Let me tell you.

Before a drop of water settles for good in a cave, she journeys quite a bit. From the surface of the ocean, picked up by a sunray, she raises to the skies, where the winds blow her in every which direction. Mind you, the drop now finds company and shares her memories of life in the sea – the sights of fish, whales, other creatures – in a cloud of others like her. Yes, every water drop goes pregnant with memories of her sealife! In essence, the drop is that memory (hail to ocean – H2O!).

You see where this is going. Once the cloud is big enough, and under the influence of some drop in temperature, our drop, too, drops (ah, isn’t she full of herself!) – hits the ground, harrows the underground layer by layer, and emerges on the ceiling of the cave. Here, she can stay or take a final plunge – all up to her. Once our drop has found her resting place, she joins others again, and immersing herself fully becomes undistinguishable from them (as before, when she was ocean), except that she makes her contribution to manifest her most important memory: a jellyfish she passed by, and fell in love with, perhaps, or those moments when she waterfell down Mosi-oa-tunya.

Thus, all caves are storage houses, full of the memories of gazillions of water drops. We, too, are mostly water (plus some anxiety), and hence it stands to reason that all learning, all knowledge is merely memory, the memory of water that has seen and felt it all, always already.



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