The river in Three Spring becomes a stream in June. Spring rains come to an end, honeysuckles bloom, and wild raspberries ripen along the bank of what people in Central Pennsylvania call “the crick”.
Trout that were raised on trout farms were stocked by the fish commission in March. The fish with rainbow scales are all mostly caught by the end of April, but a few still survive in summer’s shallow waters and seem to turn their noses up at worms.
Near the ball field in town, where the crick runs next to the town swimming pool, there is a limestone cavern. Access to the cave is possible only by crossing the stream atop slippery rocks covered in a green moss that seems to grow only as an effort by nature to keep the kids in town away from that dark, wet cave.
This was where every boy in town smoked his first cigarette. Across the river we waded, taking off our sneakers with a thrill in our heart that seemed to cool only by the chilling water washing over our toes.
The cave was much too dark to explore. We crawled through a narrow opening of the cave located just inches away from the stream—our bellies turning black from crick dirt. Chris Smith carried a box of wooden matches. Total darkness was pierced by the zap of a struck match. In less than ten seconds, a world that was always black turned bright.
A red ember traveled about in the darkness. Little hands, all in training to catch a baseball, reached for the little glowing sun that bounced among stalactites.
“What was that?” Robbie Garlock asked.
“It sounds like the wind,” I replied, exhaling.
“I hear this cave goes on for miles. One time, Jimmy Romic’s dad rented scuba diving gear and disappeared in here for two whole days,” Chris explained, lighting another match. “They say he came out two miles from here on a farm in Saltillo. He said he saw paintings on the walls inside, and there are places where there is no air and you can almost die.”
Quickly we ran from the cave, gasping for air, the sun striking our faces like a match. Randy Marlin bumped the big head atop his skinny body, and shouted a curse word that none of us were old enough to use.
Into the water of the crick we waded, one behind the other. One little kick with my bare foot and it seemed the whole town was in a water battle. The smell of smoke on our clothes had vanished and our childhood fear of the dark seemed to be left across the crick inside that cave that smelled like dead trout.