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Coincidence?

More than a while ago, I left the United States mid-winter for Brazil. I thought I had packed just right for the temperature there but, it turned out, I was several degrees short. So on one of our long lunch breaks, I went off to find a new shirt and bought one that was kind of splotchy with light blue and light tan and light white splotches; it made me look very Brazilian.
A couple of years later I was in a hotel in Amman, Jordan having a normal Jordanian hotel breakfast while pretending I was a Brazilian when I looked up from my chickpea, pita bread, yoghurt, cucumber and two olives to see a guy sitting on the other side of the room with the exact same shirt as the one I had on; same blue, tan and white splotches with the same elegant Brazilian cut, eating the exact same meal I had had the night before at a friend’s home which consisted of chickpea, pita bread, yoghurt, cucumber and a big dish of olives. Was it just a “coincidence” or was it a Soviet spy playing with my mind?
How about this one: one of my now aging nephews went by Cairo, Egypt a year or so after his college graduation to see his parents before he went off to count refugees from the Vietnam War. While in Cairo he decided that he really had to climb a pyramid—the big one—just to see if he could. So, one dark night, as he neared the apex of his climb, he heard voices. He got to the summit and there seated on that small space was a young couple half of which was a high-school classmate who may or may not have been an ex-girlfriend. He won’t say. Was it just a “coincidence” or was it a “payback” she had conjured up say…six years earlier?
I have a friend from the old Chile days that I have seen maybe five times in the last 45 years—all of them chance meetings in places like a street in Mexico City, a restaurant in Guatemala, a hotel in Quito and, once, in the men’s room in the San Jose, Costa Rica airport where, while I was just standing there staring at the wall trying to figure out why someone had drawn all those small, weird looking civil war canons, a guy slides in beside me and starts yakking about a subject that seemed familiar. It was his final point to a discussion we had been having five years before. “Coincidence?
The web machine is full of people trying to figure out just what a “coincidence” actually is. As far as I can tell, they come in three kinds, by which I mean the people.

There are the mathematicians-statisticians, who, after many, many pages of very dense statistical stuff normally found only in my nightmares, who conclude that there is one chance in a gazillion billion that they will ever get it right.

There is the “God Group” whose answer is immediate and with absolute certainty that it is their “Friend on High” who had it all planned out a few thousand years ago.

And then there is the third group made up of even more confident folk who say that “There ain’t no such damn thing as a “coincidence,” no matter how much something may look like one.”

I normally fall in one or the other of the three groups depending on the latest made-up conspiracy theory from “Breitbart” and whether or not my lovely wife has made us a sandwich of chick pea, yoghurt, and cucumber salad stuffed into pita bread along with all the olives I can eat.
Now, to put all of this into the context of why you are wasting your time reading it, I know of a small lake somewhere north of Santa Fe that I am absolutely almost certain that Forrest Fenn also knows, and the name of that lake is the same as that of a clan of Forrest Fenn’s not so long-lost relatives who probably homesteaded the place. “Coincidence,” you say? I doubt that’s what you are doing because what you are really doing is wondering just where on earth that lake may be.
Fine. But what I’m doing is wondering what happened to that splotchy shirt? And the troubling part of that is that I’ll surely find it long before any of us find Forrest Fenn’s treasure.
Have a great Thanksgiving.
r/

Sleuthyguy as Dance Judge

Forrest lets us know that he has no affection for Dancing with the Stars although it took until page 139 of his Memoir to let it be known. That, however, doesn’t mean he doesn’t dance. Doesn’t mean he does either.

But I suspect that since he has always had that outgoing personality and given the photograph of the dapper young fellow on page 46 of that same Memoir, at least by Texas standards, what with the wide lapels and fresh haircut, at one time he knew the rudiments of dancing. Besides, he had a lovely Sweetheart and if the students at Temple High had any sense they surely named them their high school’s “Favorite Couple” and even with his being a Southern Baptist and all, there is little chance that he was a total wallflower. Besides, the photo of that authoritative expression wearing a Temple letter sweater and white socks that sits on the fender of “Bullet” (Page 52 of Too Far to Walk—part two of his Memoir) kind of proves it.

And, what kind of a dancer was he? If I were forced to say, I’d say that he was more like a Sandhill Crane than a Broad-tailed Hummingbird and the differences are, ahh, large:

The Broad-tailed weighs in at a little over a tenth of an ounce while the Sand-hill comes in over ten and a half pounds.

The Broad-tailed has a wingspan of five and a quarter inches and an overall length of four inches whereas the Sandhill’s wingspan is six feet plus and its length nearly four feet.

And the dancing is likewise a mismatch. That of the Broad-tailed male is aimed at a specific object of his “affection” who just sits there watching and measuring it all, by which I mean there is a whole lot of horizontal figure eights over a space of a couple of feet and then a series of flights of sixty or seventy feet straight up and then straight down. Once he wins that pretty little thing, he is on to the next.

Then the poor gal gets to build the nest herself—a labor of about a week at four hours a day in which over thirty trips an hour are made. The result is a nest of anything small and fluffy and enough spider-web to hold it all together. In the end it resembles an empty half of a walnut shell camouflaged with a bit of moss.

On the other hand, the dance of the Sandhill is a lot of bowing and curtsying, and jumping by lifelong partners who seem to be gargling with several pints of Sprite each to keep their hydration up. And then all the neighbors join in the fun until the whole wetland resembles a full-blown rave at its height with most of the moves you would expect: head-banging, jumping, fist-pumping, shtomping—even twirking, a whole lot of twirking.

Sandhill nest building is likewise totally different from that of the Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Both parents are involved; it takes place far to the north and is the work of individual pairs.

On our very first search for Forrest’s treasure almost four years ago my wife and I stumbled on a nest-building duo just a few yards from where many believe Forrest’s “inadvertent” clue in Too Far to Walk will lead them and that was a long time before he decided to mistakenly put that “clue” out there for all of us to see.

We found nothing of the treasure, of course; but what we did find was a pair of Sandhill Cranes building their nest in the lee of a small island that had formed in the middle of a river. They were standing together and every 20-30 seconds the male would bend down to pluck a stick or a leaf or a two-needled lodgepole pine fascicle from the water as the stick or leaf or fascicle floated by. He would then toss what he had found to his mate who would add it to the pile of other sticks and leaves and fascicles and then sit on them, wiggle a bit, stand up, adjust the pile some and try again. We watched until dark and though we weren’t formally introduced, we called them “Bubba” and “Peggy.”

Peace,

r/

shc madison

Peggy and Bubba nest building on the Madison.

ps If you are at all interested in Sandhill Crane dancing, it is precisely this time of year when some 30,000 of them show up along the middle Rio Grande. Take a trip to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge just south of Socorro, New Mexico to meet up with about 10-15 thousand of them along with what seem to be a million light geese, some hawks and eagles and coyotes, a gazillion ducks of several varieties and an equal number of tourists—also of several varieties. Maybe we will see you there.

Gone

Like all guys, those of us going through our early teenage years in northern New Mexico were borderline perverts and certifiably stupid. We laughed in all the wrong places, threw rocks at one another, blew things up, had acne, and became experts at snapping wet towels at bare buttocks in communal showers. Worse, we thought that “yinyang” was the funniest word that anyone had ever invented.

And then we were forced to take a class called “The History of World Civilizations” taught by a snarky immigrant from Ohio who, as he conned us into reading what became our very first real book, said that even we had a place in there somewhere.

It worked though. Mike whizzed through eight years of college in four years and became a scientist at Los Alamos. Bobby was a standout tackle at New Mexico Highlands on his way to becoming a history teacher himself. And, though raised with a whole bunch of syblings in a one-room adobe just off NM 285, Walter was voted most likely to succeed and became a respected politician.

Those friends are gone now, taken out in three separate automobile accidents along dark New Mexico roads. But we learned something in that class: that there were a great many other fascinating places that the Española Valley did not encompass, that things were a whole lot more complex than fishing the Rio Grande, that wars have been with us forever, and that yin yang was much, much, more than our word for the human nether regions.

That ancient Chinese notion of interrelated opposites: of “light and dark,” of “hot and “cold,” of “illness and health,” and, especially of “home and away” fascinated us because it seemed that both the yin and the yang of “place” were required if either “home” or “away” were to have any real meaning.

And that is why my lovely wife and I are once again homeless.

We’ve had a case of the “goings” for awhile but for many reasons it didn’t happen and now, all of a sudden, we are gone. We’ve sold the house that we built and the home that we loved and traded it all for a small rv trailer decorated with wild flowers and filled with the aroma of well-brewed coffee. We’ve moved on to new adventures; to add new friends and to nurture our time with old ones.

Have we spurned Santa Fe? Sporatically. Santa Fe is a tough place to get rid of.

Do we still chase after treasure? Absolutely. “Thrill” has a way of growing on you.

Is this the end of “Mountainwalk?” Nah. Sending y’all down fruitless paths is way too much fun.

/rCultures-Yin-Yang-icon

Intuition

My wife, bless her heart, can walk up to any dog, anywhere, and say, “Hi Sweetie,” stick out her hand and after a sniff or two, scratch it behind the ears. Dogs just seem to know.

If she sees a cat, she says, “Hi, Sweetie,” and in five seconds, the cat is on her lap being scratched under the chin. Cats just seem to know.

The first time I saw her, from thirty yards away without knowing if she was married, engaged, or otherwise compromised, I just seemed to know that my single days were over and that was almost exactly fifty-three years, 30 days and four hours ago.

It shouldn’t have happened, of course. I had years of schooling left and I had no money. There were things I wanted to do, places I wanted to see, and there were friendships that would not let go. And yet I knew.

Five years later, after finishing a long stretch of graduate work, we were invited to Chile. In many ways, it meant the postponement of a career that I had planned for since the age of thirteen. It meant a new culture, a new language and new challenges. And on this side, there were aging parents and promises made. And yet, we knew.

It is a marvelous thing, this thing that evolution has given us. Certainly intuition is often at odds with reason, its younger sibling, but that is only because we let it happen. When we use the lobe of our brain responsible for reason, our response is slow. We need data, we need analysis, we need conversation and we need time. Further, there appear to be a number of cells and synapses that continuously jump in front the reason train to slow things down even more.

Intuition is different. It resides on the other side of the brain and is variously described as “instinct,” a “sixth sense,” a “gut feeling,” a “hunch,” a “tug at the heart,” and, I suppose, “muscle memory” can also be thrown in. But if you take any of these descriptors and break them apart you will find that they are the result of millions of individual bits of information gathered by all of our senses throughout our personal histories that are then stored in the corners of our mind, in our subconscious, to be called upon when needed—even when we don’t realize they are needed.

And that is why I put number 19 in my list of 20 things to be aware of while searching for Forrest Fenn’s treasure (Intuition and the Art of Sleuthiness). It says, “Intuition is not an enemy.”

I still believe it.

r/

Me and Che

I’m wrong, I know. I‘ve asked all my friends who are linguists and anthropologists and they all agree: I’m wrong.

But it’s interesting nonetheless. Just look at what we have: several varieties of Apache in New Mexico, Arizona, and a bit of Texas and Mexico; the Comanche in Northern and Eastern New Mexico and a portion of the plains states; the Wehmenuche (Weeminuche), Moache, Parianuche bands of the Ute tribe in Colorado and New Mexico; the Nabedache and Nagadoche in East Texas; the Neche (also in Texas); the Natchitoche in Louisiana; the Monache in California and the Apaluchee in Florida.

Then, further south, we have the K’iche in Guatemala, Lache in Colombia, Mariche in Venezuela, Moche in Peru, and Aché in Paraquay.

Are you sensing something here? If not, consider this: in Southern Chile and Argentina the Arucanas are divided into the Pehuinche, Mapuche, Phuelche, Huilliche and Picunche. And, at least in these groups, the “che” part means “men” or “people” or “guys.” That is, the Pehuinche are the people from Pehuin, the Mapuche are the men from Mapu, and the Huilliche are the guys from Huilli. My friends say that there is no relationship between these “-ches” and all the other “-ches” and since they are the experts, I have come to accept that my theory is wrong.

Be that as it may, in the Southern Cone of South America the “che” part is now something that people call one another. It’s like saying “Hey Man,” “Que hubo, Bro?” and “What’s up Guy?” depending on where you were raised and when you grew up. Some of the young folk, especially in Argentina, use the term “Che” so often that each of them has been given the nick-name of “Che” as in Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine med student who joined Fidel Castro and his band of guerrilleros who came down out of the mountains of Cuba to depose the dictator, Fulgencia Batista. “Che” then thought he could do the same in Bolivia but failed completely.

Of course, I didn’t know “Che” Guevara but I do know his Bolivian guide, Rómulo, the then young fellow who kept “Che” alive for the few years he wandered around the Chiquitano dry forest of eastern Bolivia. Then, in 1967 “Che” was captured by the Bolivian military and the CIA and summarily executed (but only after everybody, including the CIA, got a 1960’s version of a “selfie” with him). The soldier who was told to kill him also got his pipe.

I got to know Rómulo when he was assigned to guide me around that same forest for a few days several years back. Rómulo is all of five feet tall, fearless and the owner of maybe two T-shirts, a pair of old chino knockoffs and an endurance that would make 100-mile ultra-marathon runners look like old men with creaky knees. As we searched out the trees of value to see if the forest enterprise in that area was behaving itself, a forest fire followed us and no one in that forest seemed to care, especially Rómulo, since all it did was flush out a whole lot of snakes and send billions of gold-green butterflies into streams of long gold-green tubes about three feet above the ground. All of them seemed to know where they were going no matter which part of the forest they took off in—just like Rómulo.

Chiquitano Dry Forest of Bolivia (Photo by John Morrison. Encyclopedia of Earth)

Chiquitano Dry Forest of Bolivia (Photo by John Morrison. Encyclopedia of Earth)

It was a bit difficult to keep up with him and though I carried oh, say a gallon of water, he carried only a small plastic bag filled with dried coca leaves. I followed him down unseen (by me) trails trying to keep his sweat wet t-shirt in view while keeping my distance because his shirt was covered with hundreds of bees—as was mine had I dared to look. From time to time he would stop to let me catch up and while I tossed down a good portion of my water, he would stick another coca leaf between his gums and teeth as we continued our conversations about Marx and the futility of the effort and ideas of his old buddy “Che.” I offered him a drink of water, which he declined, and he offered me a leaf, which I took. It didn’t help.

Though I could almost always identify a mature mahogany or cedar when standing under one, he could spot a six-inch seedling of these species from forty yards away. It was uncanny how he knew exactly where he was, when to stop and let a snake slither by, and what time of the day it was though he probably had never in his life seen a clock. And he always knew where he was going and what would be there when we arrived.

I guess guides are like that no matter if they are five feet tall or six feet two or if they are 20 years old or eighty. Forrest Fenn once belonged to that community so don’t under-estimate him just because he thinks he is getting old. He knows exactly where he is and where he’s been and where he wants to be. I wish I did—by which I mean I wish I knew where he’s been and where he wants to be because that is exactly where the treasure is.

Stay cool, r/

 

Remembrance Day

In the opening of my Bio, I tell of an uncle’s farm and, though operated by an uncle—the brother of my father, it was the farm of a great uncle—the brother of my paternal grandmother. The property was part of what had been a much larger farm that suffered what so often happens to such acreages. They are divided among the heirs and then divided again and again and eventually sold when the resulting parcels become too small for anything approaching a real living.

Great Uncle Soren was born in Denmark as was my grandmother and when they were just kids, the family immigrated to America and crossed the country from New York to eastern Colorado in a covered wagon when buffalo still roamed the prairies.

I knew Uncle Soren as a curmudgeonly old fellow with an awkward gait who chewed tobacco, preferred Frank and Maud, his team of horses, for farm work over such things as tractors; bought a new pair of bib-overalls once a year, and seldom ever acknowledged the presence of us kids. On Sundays he would ride Frank in to the nearest small town for church and to collect his mail. He never married and lived alone in his part of the old farm house where he cooked his meals, collected feel-good stories from magazines like Readers Digest and played his favorite hymns on an ancient, squeaky violin before going to bed.

I know this—the collection of stories—because I came to be the owner of some of his belongings a half-dozen years ago and the stories were pasted in several old notebooks. Also among those memorabilia were yellowed and decaying newspaper clippings that told of his time as an elected county official, a photo of a young Soren, an article from 1914 saying that he had left for Europe having volunteered to fight in World War I and then a shorter, later statement, a notice really, that he had been seriously wounded.

It saddened me that I had known none of this before—that he was once young, that he was bright and involved and brave and full of tales that he would never tell and that now are lost forever.

Great Uncle Soren

Great Uncle Soren

When the treaty to end that war was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the United States set aside “Armistice Day” as an annual holiday now known as “Veteran’s Day” and the awfulness of that war was diluted to something that celebrates all of us who have served in the military with free access to national parks and museums and a whole lot of furniture sales.

Elsewhere though, in Europe and the British Commonwealth, it is called “Remembrance Day” meant as a time to reflect on the horrors of war, the loss of loved ones and the assuredness of death. There is no celebration there.

But we do have “Memorial Day;” a holiday that began as a time in the spring when flowers could be collected to decorate the graves of all those who died in our own Civil War. But this has also been changed and now we decorate the graves of all of our fallen from all of our wars and we wear t-shirts with flags on them, watch a flyover by the National Guard and discard the ads for more furniture sales.

And so, for my friends Guy and Jim, for my cousins Kenny and Keith, for my uncles Roy, Everett, Rizz, and Wesley, for my Great Grandfather Joseph, and for my Great Uncle Soren, let me leave you with the wisdom of some of our greatest warriors:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. – Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. – Gen. Omar N. Bradley

I have known war as few other men now living know it and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a method of settling international disputes. – Gen. Douglass MacArthur

It is well that war is so terrible or we should grow too fond of it. – Gen. Robert E. Lee

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children. – Pres. Jimmy Carter

Our chiefs are killed…the little children are freezing to death. My people…have no blankets, no food…my heart is sick and sad…I will fight no more forever. – Chief Joseph

During that Great War to End all Wars some of the most horrendous battles were fought in Belgium at a place called Flanders Fields—now the home of row after row of the graves of those who died there. Twenty-five of them are inscribed with the name of “Fenn.”

Playfair

“Playfair” is not an admonition—except for maybe two or three of you. Rather it is the name of a renowned geologist who got renowned for figuring out how stream tributaries interact with the streams they are tributary to. He even made up a law about it:

Every river appears to consist of a main trunk, fed from a variety of branches, each running in a valley proportioned to its size, and all of them together forming a system of valleys, communicating with one another, and having such a nice adjustment of their declivities that none of them join the principal valley either on a too high or too low a level; a circumstance which would be infinitely improbable if each of these valleys were not the work of the stream which flows in it.

Playfair’s law is called the “Law of Accordant Functions” and despite the very authoritative sounding name, the law is wrong. We can let the error slide, however, first because Mr. Playfair made it up in 1802 when a good portion of the US population still believed that the reason the hills and valleys they lived in got to be hills and valleys because of the Biblical Flood and, second, because Mr. Playfair had not yet walked the Big Horns or the mountains of Yosemite where glaciers had done their thing.

But it was close enough and because of the other things he and a few of his colleagues were doing, a new science was invented called “fluvio-geomorphology”—the study of how water acts to form what we see around us. They also discovered really swell words like “thalwig” (the line within a stream channel connecting the lowest points at all sites of the channel), “avulsion,” (a rapid change in the course or position of a stream channel by erosion to bypass a meander and shorten channel length and increase channel gradient), “saltation” (the process by which sediment, of sand size and coarser, bounces along the stream bed), and “comminution” which is the “process of reducing a mass to small, fine particles by impact or abrasion.”

Saltation/Comminution/Suspension (Adapted from UMd)

Saltation/Comminution/Suspension (Adapted from UMd)

Now, you are thinking, “What does this have to do with Forrest Fenn?” Well, it’s because when Forrest Fenn, the kid, waded the streams of the Rocky Mountains, he always ended up with sand between his toes and even if he wore tennis shoes, not only did he get sand between his toes, his shoes filled with pebbles. Forrest Fenn may or may not know what “saltation” is but he certainly knows how uncomfortable it is to have the toes of one’s tennies filled with rocks.

It also has to do with Forrest Fenn because river rocks have rounded corners for the same reasons– all that “saltation” acts as a slow but incredibly efficient sand blaster that grinds away at anything that happens to be in a river including brass boxes and their contents and because a “sedimentation” part occurs wherever the “saltation” part doesn’t; things in a river disappear because they are “sanded” away or because they are covered in mud. And it all happens a lot more rapidly than we think.

The result of this treatise, of course, is that there is no way that Forrest Fenn put his treasure in a Rocky Mountain stream.

Maybe you can still return your new waders and snorkel for a full price.

Best wishes,

r/

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