Heaven is a deep hole in the ground


Gunter Kleist


Ken Moore is the campus electrician for NVU-Johnson, aspiring curmudgeon, and avid explorer.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Being able to make things work for the college and for the students, mainly for the students. That’s the main reason for being here.

Can you explain to me what spelunking is?
Well, there’s two things: Speleology is the study of caves. Spelunking, as cavers put it, is somebody going into a cave with a flashlight, sneakers, t-shirts, somebody who’s got a curiosity, but they don’t necessarily always understand what they’re getting into or doing. A popular saying among cavers is cavers save spelunkers. Cavers, we consider ourselves much more involved. Caving is one of the last ways to explore our planet. Cavers tend to be a certain type of person that likes to push their limits as far as they can.

How did you get into caving?
A guy that my wife worked with had just gotten back from a trip to Kentucky where he went caving. My wife said, “I bet Ken would like that.” He took me and I’ve been hooked ever since. And that was almost thirty years ago.

What is your proudest accomplishment?
My daughter. She’s going to be twenty-seven next month, a UVM grad. She’s running a retail shop now.

What brought you to Johnson?
My daughter, actually. I was living here in Johnson, and I heard about the tuition waiver that they have here. I applied and a couple months later I got a phone call asking if I wanted a job.

What three things would you bring to a deserted island?
Well, a knife, a flint set to start fire. Anything? I’m thinking what’s gonna let me survive. Probably a harmonica. I don’t play harmonica. However, music has always been very important and having something other than your own voice, I think would be nice.

What happened to the outdoors club?
The pandemic happened. They just dissolved for a couple of years. I think that one thing that has had an influence on it is we no longer have outdoor education. So that definitely has had an impact because, historically, we’ve always had a lot of outdoor ed students involved with the club. As leaders of the club, we’re just participating. Now we don’t have that. But I think the pandemic has also done some damage to our social structures and people’s willingness to be in close quarters, especially with strangers. Most of our first meetings of the outing club, we would have anywhere from 20 to 30 students show up. So last year when we had our opening meeting, we had no one show up. This upcoming semester, we’re going to bend some of the rules. I’m going to try to organize the club, lead it, and get it going again. But the outdoor ed program just blessed us with about twenty backpacks and more sleeping bags have been donated. So, we have more gear than we did before.

What is one thing that you think everyone should do if they could?
Explore as much of the world as you can. I love to travel. All you’ve got to do is say “road trip” and I’ll jump in the car.

What’s your favorite place you’ve been?
Really hard question. It gets into caving, so it’s gonna be West Virginia. It’s very much like Vermont in many ways, and some not so good. But it’s a beautiful place.

What is the best thing that anyone’s ever said about you?
I guess that I was kind and giving. I was helping a friend that was having a very hard time with life. At the time, the person was looking for a way out. I guess I was able to talk them off the ledge.

What three people dead or alive would you most like to have over for dinner and why?
Genghis Kahn. If you look at his history, he was actually a pretty good ruler for what he had, what he did. Albert Einstein would be a good one, because it would be fun to talk with him. I got questions about dark matter and stuff. I’d definitely like a musician in there. Let’s say Frank Zappa.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
No. At least none that I feel guilty about. My biggest pleasures are playing in the woods and playing in the caves.

What would your tombstone read?
Well, that’s gonna change as you grow in life. I don’t think about myself that much. I learned lessons early in life about egos and I’ve always been very anti having a big ego about anything in life. I cooked in the restaurant business for many years, where you meet a lot of huge egos. I suppose: “He destroyed himself having fun.” I’ve beat the crap out of my body having these adventures of mine.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I’m debating with myself about how deep to go into myself. I guess one of the biggest life risks is leaving home, but that was at thirteen. At the time, it was in Middlebury. It was a big risk. I mean, I’ve taken a lot of risks. I’ve hitchhiked cross country a number of times when I was younger, getting on a rope and dropping two hundred feet into a cave that I didn’t know. I’ve done a lot of backcountry outdoor camping on my own. I’ve done a lot of winter camping. So taking risks really hasn’t always been a big impact. A lot of the stuff I’ve done and that I still do, people look at me like, “I would never take a risk like that.” I’m an electrician, right? So every day, I take a risk sticking my hands in this electrical stuff.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Believe in yourself. Believe in yourself first because nobody else in this world is going to be true to you.

What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?
“It won’t hurt.” I guess the worst advice I
received as a young person was trust in the
system. I always question system.

What is your biggest pet peeve?
People answering for me. I really don’t have many.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would you change?
Greed. There is no need for it.

What is one thing without which you can’t live?
The woods. I don’t think I could ever live in an urban area again.

What is the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you in a cave?
Strangest thing, I guess would be hearing voices. The echo effects that you’re getting in caves, most caves have running water. And running water at a distance with the echo effect of rocks, corners and stuff can make it sound like you’re hearing voices. The first time I was in a tight crawl, I had my hands over my head, my chest was right against solid rock. I stopped for a minute because I thought I heard something move. And as I’m lying there, I realized it was my heartbeat resonating through rock. Pretty freaky the first time.

If you have a bad day, what’s the first thing you do when you get home?
Take my dog for a walk. He’s a plot hound. He was a bear hunting dog, and we got him from a shelter. He’s a very nice dog.

What is the single thing that you’re most passionate about?
Caving. For people that are into it, it actually becomes an obsession. Not many people do it. It definitely takes a certain mindset/personality that that is into that sort of thing. Mainly A-personality people, a lot of us. But at the same time, we have the attitude that we accept everybody because we know what we’re doing is…on the fringe of what you should be doing in this world. Have you ever been to a Dead show? Same things, deadheads. You may never have never met before, but you’re on the same page with something. With the caving community, all the social lines are gone. I’ve caved with billionaires. I’ve caved with people who live in trailer parks, engineers, electricians, cooks. Just everybody. But all the barriers disappear, because the one basic thing we all understand is, when we’re in cave, my life depends on you and your life depends on me. And it becomes a certain bond. It’s very cool.

What is your most prized possession?
Besides my sanity? That’s actually a hard question because I’ve always tried not to become overly emotionally attached to material things in life. So I have to say actually my prized possession is my family. Not that they should be called possessions. Material things? Honestly, my cave gear and my ski gear.

What three bands or musical artists best encapsulate your music taste?
Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath. I do branch out into other stuff like King Crimson, Yes, Bob Dylan, Leadbelly. Pretty much everything but Country and Western that started in the eighties, because that’s just all rock and roll with a twang put to it.