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March, 2006

What's In There?

by Valerie

For anyone with a sense of curiosity, a penchant for solving riddles, or a love of mystery, there is something irresistible about holes. Not the sorts of holes that happen in socks, punctured inflated toys, or window screens, but those that extend into something, usually beyond the reach of light, so that there is a beckoning darkness that invites speculation. This kind of hole is found in tree trunks, rocks, walls, or the ground.

While there are varying reasons why people in northern latitudes like to ice fish during the winter, you can bet one is the lure of putting a line down a hole and never knowing quite what will be retrieved. That little portal to the dark, cold depths holds more fascination than many will admit. It's obvious why we have a special word for the investigation of caves. The urge to explore underground caverns is as old as humanity, and spelunking is still a popular activity today. Even simple wells, dug for water, have that small spark of magic that makes many people throw coins in while they "make a wish."

Periwinkle investigating a fox hole in Wisconsin

Not all holes need be dark on the other side. People have always wanted to know what was beyond a fence, wall, or other barrier, and the best way to find out is to look through a hole. The imagination can run wild with possibilities of finding some totally different scene that was never expected. A subset of holes would have to include tunnels, those manmade artifacts that inspire admiration, wonder, and sometimes a little trepidation as we imagine what is on the outside of the walls and travel from entrance to exit. Many books and stories revolve around portals, openings, or passageways that connect disparate cultures, worlds, times, or realities.

Often, we have some idea what is down a hole. Here in Texas, armadillo holes are usually easily identified. Many animals live in holes, from the extensive excavations of woodchucks or prairie dogs to the simple dens of gopher tortoises or trapdoor spiders. Anyone who has gone clamming recognizes the siphon hole of a bivalve, and worm holes in the soil are so common that almost nobody even thinks about them. Some holes are especially intriguing, such as one large enough to be the home of a bear.

Even the means of excavation can be a source of interest. Termites creating holes in the timbers of our houses or other structures are cause for great concern. The same is true of carpenter ants and bees, shipworms, and even beetles. All these animals manage to chew their way through wood, leaving passages in their wake. There are all sorts of animals adapted to digging through soil, from the grubs and other larvae that live almost undetected under our lawns to the moles and gophers that make themselves all too obvious.

From dreams about holes in which things disappear without a trace to the unimaginable power of black holes or the awe-inspiring chambers of the largest caves, these defined, but empty, spaces exert an influence on us that is beyond their physical form.

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