The Wookey Hole is a limestone cavern in the Cheddar region of southwest England. ‘Wookey’ is derived from a Welsh word for ‘cave’, “Ogof”, which became “Ochie” to locals. ‘Hole’ is Anglo-Saxon for ‘cave’. Thus, Wookey Hole Cave as it is known, means ‘cave cave cave’, which I find interesting. Here, water which has percolated through the limestone collects from the surrounding Mendip Hills providing the source water of the River Axe.
One fact, or image, from my visit to the place has remained for me a potent metaphor. The cave consists of a labyrinthine network of chambers and grottoes. It is not a particularly large cave by any means. At one point, an experiment was performed whereby a dye was poured into the river just upstream of the cave. Days later the dyed water emerged.
Aquifers and underground streams are pertinent to a discussion of how the mind works and develops, certainly as metaphor. Unlike irrigation canals, they are not linear, point A to point B. The least of learning is linear, particularly in the case of younger children.
“When left to their own devices”, not the other kind, children will wander and meander. When they ride bikes and play with sticks and stones and driftwood, and other pieces from nature, and with each other, they are following a certain inner flow which is very healthy. They need room to take things in, to absorb them, just as aquifers do with percolated rainwater, for example.
Stories have a way of moving through us unconsciously, time and again to resurface in a kind of inner dance. That is why enriched language is so valuable for children, the language of fairy tales, for example. Even if there is only a partial understanding of meaning at the time, something is brought to their experience which charges the aquifer, as it were.
All that children learn doesn’t need to be remembered. What is forgotten, if it really has touched them and made an impression, is still there and will become available at the needed time. This will provide a kind of thinking enriched by feeling and imagination as they mature.
We can see in the environment what happens when aquifers and ground water dry up. There is a parallel effect when our inner life starts to dry up. Drought conditions prevail, and we can see signs of this in our culture, or lack thereof, today.