Friday, August 7, 2015
The caverns were discovered in the early twentieth century when someone was digging for a well. This was right in the middle of town, about half a mile down the street from my house. A number of adventurers descended into this civic underworld, using candles for light, it being the Great Depression. The explorers found chambers and long passages and lakes and flowing waterfalls. There were abortive attempts to seal off the system because of the dangers it posed, but these came to naught. The fun ended at last when a couple of young men lost their way and had to be rescued. Aunt Polly triumphed, and the hole was plugged with concrete.
And there it sits to this day, a circle of concrete in someone's back lot on the south side of town, forgotten by all but a few. But the newspaper had one old picture of several men in a sizable chamber hung with speleothems. Just to think, that could be right under my feet!
Other people wrote in to say that they remembered a cave mouth in a field up north of town, but no one knows where it's at now. It led to an extensive cavern that was accessible only by rope. It's thought that the systems connect. One person claims that someone once walked underground all the way here from Bat Cave in the hills north of town, but that is a manifest falsehood. Still, the testimony is unanimous that there is a secret subterranean world underneath our houses.
All of which immediately made me think of the girl of the Gueiquesales, whose image I painted in Bosque-Larios I last winter:
Being the romantic that I am, I conjecture that her incorrupt body reposes somewhere beneath the town. The natives doubtless had access to the system from some opening that is now lost.
I painted Bosque-Larios I as the first installment of a series of paintings depicting local legendry, especially that which comes down from the Spanish colonial era. This particular story (which I recount here) is not very well known. I became interested in it after reading a historical marker about the High Mass on the Nueces River.
I've just completed the second installment, Bosque-Larios II, which depicts said High Mass with no particular regard for historical accuracy (see above). It measures 5 inches by 7 inches and is painted in watercolor on Arches hot-pressed paper. The landscape is typical of the area. In the background we have a cottonwood and a couple of ash junipers; a palo verde (a lovely green-skinned acacia with bright yellow flowers) hangs over the group, and prickly pear, cenizo, and agave occupy the foreground. The slightly crazy perspective is inspired by Henri Rousseau (or so I tell myself), as are various other elements; there's a bit of Diego Rivera as well.
I've been showing my art locally, hence the emphasis on local culture. This painting and others are currently on display in a one-man show at a gallery and community center called Casa de la Cultura, located on the historic Brown Plaza in Del Rio, Texas. La Casa has kindly put me up for a couple of nights in town at a cool retro motel called Whispering Palms Inn, and that's where I'm writing from.
The exhibit has a wall dedicated to Dragonfly art, accompanied by a pedestal with a few Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperbacks and a Frank Frazetta-illustrated copy of Thuvia, Maid of Mars and Chessmen of Mars between bookends. It's the first shrine to pulp fantasy in the middle Rio Grande border region that I know of. The show's opening is tonight. I wonder what my fellow citizens will think of it?
I don't live in Del Rio, but it's on the circuit I ride as a professor. I have a lot of good friends here. The people are friendly, the culture diverse, the air hot, and the vegetation sparse. It's a remote place, standing at the eastern end of the longest stretch of U.S.-Mexico border with no crossings. The next crossing is the Presidio-Ojinaga International Bridge, which is hundreds of miles away. Between here and there is a whole lot of nothing, and directly west is what's been called one of the remotest places on earth. But, simply put, this is one of my favorite places in the world.
There are no bookstores in Del Rio, and in fact the nearest bookstore on this side of the river is one hundred and fifty miles away, in San Antonio. Perhaps one day that will no longer be the case. It's my hope that, in my own small way, I can help to effect a change for the better.