A Birthday Surprise for Martin: Moaning Cavern

The Backstory

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to take a moment and reflect on how you got into a particular situation.

That’s exactly what I was doing, as I dangled by a thin rope above an enormous cavern, my heart pounding right out of my chest. I looked down, past my feet kicking helplessly at open air, at the tiny grains of sand far below. Those pinpoints of light were the headlamps of people at the bottom of the cave, looking up at me.

Actually, I thought hastily, my heart hammering away, best not to look down.

I had eased myself down through a small hole in the roof of the cave. I stared fixedly at the rope, my only lifeline. It chafed gently against the rough rock.

What, in god’s name, was I doing?

It was Martin’s birthday. Somehow, astonishingly, I had decided it would be fun to surprise him with a trip to Moaning Cavern. We would rappel 165 feet down to the bottom of the echoing, stalactite-dripping cave. We would then go spelunking, intrepidly slithering on our backs through impossibly-narrow cracks, shimmying around corners (Hold your breath! Don’t get stuck!), and wedging ourselves into tiny hollows in the pitch black, cramped together, knees drawn up, heads ducked down, hundreds of feet of solid rock above us. Pressing down.

Sounds like fun, right?



And once we’d clawed our way back up into sunlight, we’d really make a day of it by throwing ourselves off a tower, and ziplining across a tree-filled valley.

I must have been out of my mind.

Martin’s sister and her family had come up to our house, ostensibly for an Easter egg hunt but secretly to watch our then-new puppy while I whisked Martin off the next day on his birthday surprise. Plastic eggs were hidden, scattered around the yard. The kids, shrieking with excitement, quickly gathered them up.

One enormous egg had, inexplicably, a piece of paper inside.

A piece of paper with a poem.

A poem for Martin. He cocked his head, puzzled. What’s this?

So I read it to him.

Happy birthday, Sweetie. Surprise! Gonna go have fun.

If that’s what this is, dangling by a thin chafing rope from the roof of a colossal cave.

I took a deep breath. Martin was down there at the bottom, waiting for me. I loosened the rope and slowly descended, gaining more and more confidence as I drew near him.

Martin has that effect on me.

With Martin by my side, I find the courage to rappel down thundering waterfalls, hike along the icy spine of glaciers, squeeze blindly into narrow cracks in the earth, ford raging frothing rivers, climb into helicopters without doors, kayak through crocodile-infested waters near the Nicaraguan border, and throw myself off platforms into thin air.

With him, I can leap tall buildings in a single bound.


Yes. Crazy in love.

Tomorrow’s Your Birthday!

Tomorrow’s your birthday! Here is the thing:
You’ll wear grubby clothes. You’ll remove wedding ring.
It’s good you’re not scared of the dark or high speed.
Not claustrophobic. Don’t easily bleed.
Cramped spaces and darkness are nothing to you.
“Dizzying heights” just means there’s a view!

You’ll be given a helmet and pads and a light.
You’ll be handed a rope – make sure that knot’s tight!
You’ll stand on the edge of a great gaping hole,
Then hundreds of feet into blackness you’ll go.
Deep in the coldness, you’ll wriggle and crawl –
You’ll explore narrow chasms and cavernous halls.
After some hours, you’ll fight your way free.
You’re invincible! Fearless! (You’re married to me.)

And then you’ll be whisked to a platform on high:
Just a thin little cable, with your head in the sky.
You’ll stand at the edge with the whole world below –
Then you’ll throw yourself forward! Off the edge! There you go!
At impossible speeds, you’ll be flying, it seems –
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! (It’s a long drawn-out scream.)

So lend me some courage – thank goodness you’re brave!
Tomorrow we zipline, and rappel through a cave!

2 Comments A Birthday Surprise for Martin: Moaning Cavern

  1. Karen Gake

    You amaze me with your poetry! I could “feel” the fear, fun, and excitement through your words, and the love you have for your wonderful husband…what a sweet tribute!


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