Head Fakes

It’s March; and everybody knows what that means. Is it that I am a year older? I am, but that is not it. Is it the month that Julius Caesar died? It is, but that’s not it either.

No, this is the month that my lovely wife commandeers the T.V. remote because it is the time of the year for “March Madness”—that part of early spring when the 68 “best” college basketball teams in the country, each with a couple of seven foot tall players from Eastern Europe plus Spain and a shooting guard from Canada, are whittled down to 32 and then to 16 and then eight and then four and then two and then to one. That last team will be the one that has the best discipline, the best conditioning, the best strategies, the best talent, the best teamwork and the best motivation and all of that together guarantees two things: one, a really heavy trophy and two, at least half of that team’s players will soon become instant NBA millionaires.

If you are keeping track, all that besting comes out to be something like exactly 67 games played over a three week period all of it filled with head fakes, slam-dunks, ally-oops, lay-ups, turn-overs, three-pointers, rebounds, fouls, flips, slips, missed free-throws, more missed free-throws (I’m talking Arizona here), overtimes, upsets and tears from grown men.

I know what you are thinking.

You are thinking that my wife hides the remote so that I can get the breakfast dishes done with time left over to work on the income tax before it’s fast approaching deadline arrives but you would be wrong. Not only did she finish the income tax last January, the dishes are put away before I even get to the morning Sudoku. More importantly, my beautiful wife was a college cheerleader back when they wore anklets, mid-calf dresses and had chaperones. But did she just sit there in her little uniform with pleats, yell “Yea” from time to time and smack the palms of her hands on the floor every now and then in a strange rhythm known only to cheerleaders and rock drummers?” No! She soaked up every strategy, every nuance, and every rule of the game and now she is a FAN and that, as you know, is short for “FANATIC!” She is such a fanatic that she knows the difference between a “high-post” and a “low-post,” and not only does she know what “RPI” stands for, she can calculate it as well as tell you the hometown of Gonzaga.

But that is not why I am here. I am here to tell you of my discovery that Forrest Fenn is a champion “head faker” himself; perhaps the best “head faker” of all “head fakers” –even those from Duke, and we fall for them all.

How do I know this? I know this because we are still not even sure if the treasure is buried and, a couple of posts ago, I used a head fake of my own. And, as the evidence shows, you fell for it. Here it is:

You “put in” below this “Home of Brown” via totally legal access, and a short float of 25-30 yards brings you to an island in the middle of that river that is owned by neither the folk on the left bank nor the folk on the right bank nor by the USFS, NPS, BLM, SCS, nor any other of the feds including the United States Air Force Academy and the IRS. It is, however, managed by the state Department of Game and Fish, but they only seem to care if the willows are growing.

Now, a head fake is not lying; it’s more like a little hint at something that might be true in the aggregate but has no meaning in the specific. I’ll let you reread the paragraph quoted above from “A String of Pearls from Black Friday” to see if those of you who thought “Colorado!” can figure it out.

We will need a whole lot of discipline and all that other stuff if we are to let the head fakes of Forrest Fenn slide by and not end up face down on the floor with a sprained ankle.

Bear Down,



It’s spring-cleaning time at our house. Of course, it’s not really spring and most people not my wife cringe at the thought of starting it early; but this one is turning into something special. We keep finding notes from Edie.

Edie came by to see us last November.  She is the granddaughter of some old, old friends and the last time I saw Edie’s mother she was about ten and showing off some really smooth ballerina moves and now she has a family of her own. They were driving across the country heading home and spent a couple of days with us.

Edie is four going on forty-five and from the looks of it she and her red cowboy boots are inseparable. The morning after a late arrival she was in the kitchen. I said “Hi, I’m Richard” and she said “Hi, I’m Edie” and shook my hand.

Edie collects rocks so I dug out my collection of the thumb-size shiny ones I’ve collected from every place I have ever been for her to check out. She went through them all looking over each one and then put them back in the gourd I store them in. Ellery, her younger brother, age one, wanted to see them also. He carefully took them out of the gourd, tasted each one, and set them aside. Edie put them back when he was through with his taste test.

Collecting rocks is about as good a hobby as a body can have. Each one carries with it the memory of a place and a time and it is an inexpensive thing to do except when you start hauling them around the country. Problem is that we are at the age where we are thinking about “down-sizing” as well as “spring-cleaning” and the only things I really want to keep are my rocks. My wife prefers her coffee pot thingies so a day of reckoning is fast approaching.

I try to convince myself that collecting rocks is as good as keeping a journal but I secretly know that not keeping a journal is one of my great failings. Of course, a taste test does help with that memory thing but I hope that Edie and Ellery keep a journal and that they start when they get to be, say, about twelve.

Edie also likes to play “hide and seek” but it’s not the game we played when we were kids. Like someone else I know who collects everything from bottle caps to gold, she enjoys hiding things that everyone else has to find. So Edie and her mother wrote out just about everything Edie likes and then made us all close our eyes as she hid them just so we could learn about something called “thrill of the chase.” Each find brought a smile and a giggle to Edie. Now we find the really well hidden ones during spring-cleaning, and we smile, and it makes moving furniture something special.

When they were leaving I gave Edie a rock with a fossil in it. I said, “Bye Edie” and she said “Bye” and then I got a hug.  Now that is a treasure worth waiting for.

And so I’ve been thinking.  Forrest Fenn, with his habit of collecting things and then hiding them for others to find is in very, very good company – and the world is a better place because of it.

I think he knows that.


Paradise Lost

“Paradise” is always in the “Eye of the Beholder.” For some it may be a harem of never-aging concubines; for others, a long street of boutiques and an unlimited bank account; for others, a box of cupcakes and for others a lake full of hungry fish.  It depends on one’s experiences, needs, likes, dislikes, and ideas of bliss. I once spent a summer riding the backcountry of the Big Horn Mountains that seemed at the time to be paradise. What I needed was solitude; the matchless beauty and uniqueness of the place were added gifts.

For some, a “loss of paradise” is much easier to see.  It can be a decaying city, a power-line stretching out across a mountainside, a string of billboards almost anywhere, or, a really high pollen count.

This post is about a trip I made into the Colombian portion of the Upper Amazon Basin over 25 years ago where the loss of paradise was easy to see. But you won’t find that story here. Once again it is on this Blog’s Bio at “Paradise Lost.”

It is not a new story. Rather it is from a small book that a friend and I edited called The Bottoms Up of International Development which is a collection of stories that friends had been telling one another for years about their experiences in international development.  We blackmailed them into putting them down on paper. The book is worth a look and may still be available on Amazon.



In Search of . . .

A couple of years ago, I asked a mutual friend if she would introduce me to Forrest Fenn—I wanted to see if I could visit his ruin in the Galisteo Basin. She did and the three of us were having hot chocolate at the Collected Works Bookstore when I began to question him about the predicament he had gotten himself into by being shot down over Laos and he confessed something he had never told anyone before.

I’ll let him tell you what that is if he wants to, but the conversation brought up some interesting questions, one of which was “If he felt that his knowledge of the wilderness around Yellowstone would have helped him survive in the wilderness that surrounded him in Laos?”

He said, “No. Survival didn’t depend on those things.“ What I took from the rest of the conversation was that “You are never lost if you know where you are.”  You can digest that one for a while and then go to my Bio for the next edition of me. Scroll down to “In Search of . . .” in the text. For those of you who lack the interest (understandable) or who have a moralistic prejudice against voyeurism, and haven’t looked in on my Bio, you probably ought to read the last three or four sections of the Bio to understand this one.

Happy New Year all,


I’m out of cookies and out of bones, and because of my habitual tardiness, some of you now suggest that I am but a part-time blogger. That really hurts, you know? It doesn’t seem to matter to you that my wife and I were doing some kickboxing a couple of weeks ago and she hit me with her left in-step on my right short ribs, and then I got a cold.

Of course only those of you who have ever had both a broken rib and a cold at the same time will understand, but let me tell you, such a thing is not all sniffles and hot tubs. It’s COUGHING and SNEEZING, and WRETCHING and every WIGGLE sends little platoons of Texas militia guys with the quad-fifties they use for hunting cottontails shooting up and down the broken rib and then they zip across the break to have a go at the other side. My “nursey” sister says its called “healing.”

But just to show you that I do care about your puzzle-solving abilities even though the cookies are gone and the bones broken, let me give you what can only be described as a “string of pearls.”

First, lets say that a discovery has been made of a place on the side of hill that has a number of hot springs and the water from these hot springs heads downhill. (“Remarkable!” somebody snidely interjects. “Sleuthy Guy knows that water runs downhill!” “Ha!” I say in response. “I know a place where the water runs uphill that my dad showed me 65 years ago and the place where it goes still isn’t full!”).

Now, said stream of warm water flows almost due south for a number of miles gathering steam until that rapidly growing stream of warm water hits a much larger stream of cold water widely known for the number and size of its brown trout. You go down that cold water stream a distance that certainly fits within the 15-40 mile sashay that is “not far but too far to walk” to a place that not only is full of brown trout but THE brown trout of record for that state once lived there, and a great many of his brothers and sisters still do.

You “put in” below this “Home of Brown” via totally legal access, and a short float of 25-30 yards brings you to an island in the middle of that river that is owned by neither the folk on the left bank nor the folk on the right bank nor by the USFS, NPS, BLM, SCS, nor any other of the feds including the United States Air Force Academy and the IRS. It is, however, managed by the state Department of Game and Fish, but they only seem to care if the willows are growing.

Screen shot from Google Earth.

Screen shot from Google Earth.

Further, this small island can also be legally reached by a couple of bridges over irrigation ditches and then a couple of short wades of ten yards or so across shallow, slow moving water. Even I could do it. Also interesting is that this small football field size island is from 5002 to 5010 feet above sea level and is located at nearly the exact center (N/S and E/W) of what Google Earth calls the “Rocky Mountains.”

And further still, depending on how one interprets it, “ΩΩ” is the name of the small village nearest to the island, and it is all about 500 feet to the nearest highway. This is all true and enticing and the only thing wrong with the whole scenario is that this particular string of pearls didn’t have a clasp and the pearls weren’t tied off. So, they all rolled away and now you know how I feel.

Hope you all had a great Black Friday. I stayed in bed.


The Day I Learned Spanish

We lived for nearly five years in South America during the first part of my career and I spent the rest of it wandering in and out of that fascinating part of the world.

During that time, my normal mode of operation was to arrange a meeting with a few of the most knowledgeable folk wherever I found myself to let them tell me what it was like living where they lived.

One of those places was Pasto, Colombia—a sleepy little city high up in the cordillera just above the elevation where the coca plant grows best and where a few of the local wise guys had just tunneled their way into the bank—from the jail where they had recently been tossed. Pasto is that kind of place.

I stopped there on my way to Chile once. And to get things started on a project to have the local farmers convert their really, really, great cash crop to something like switch grass, I asked the fellow I was to work with if he could arrange such a meeting for when I got back in four days. Six or seven experts would be the right number for a good discussion.

Volcán Galeras, Pasto, Colombia (Wikipedia Commons)

Volcán Galeras, Pasto, Colombia (Wikipedia Commons)

Early on the day I returned, I asked if everything was set and he said, “Yes. For 5:30.” At 5:00 on the dot, we took a short drive to the university where we were met by its rector. The three of us stood for about 15 minutes in a hallway of the school and then the door we were standing by opened and I was politely asked to go in first. I did and as I did, I heard a fellow standing on a stage, microphone in hand, talking to a small group of 200 members of the nation’s Association of Geographers and he was introducing me as the one to give an hour-long key-note address on “Recent Advancements in Environmental Impact Evaluation.”

It was the first I new of it. As a matter of fact, it was the first I knew of the Asociación de Geógrafos Colombianos. Pasto is that kind of place.

So, I started off by saying that an hour was probably 55 minutes longer than the five minutes I hadn’t prepared for and went on from there.

On the positive side, I haven’t had a problem with public speaking in Spanish since, and that experience gives me the background to advise those of you who may attempt translation of Forrest Fenn’s Memoir into Spanish—especially when you get to that part about the “home of Brown” which, apparently, is where some of you are.

First, in his Memoir, Forrest Fenn, while admitting to a certain admiration for his Spanish teacher, likewise admits that he should have flunked the class. So believing that Forrest Fenn could sneak in a clue in Spanish is your first error. I’ve little doubt that the best Forrest could do is “Houso da Browno” and that his only other phrase of value is “Dondi is la bano.”

The second error lies in translating “brown” as “moreno” instead of what it really means, which is “marrón.” Yes, I know that “moreno” can mean “brown” but only in the sense of a suntan. It’s like my wife commenting on how “brown” I got putting the new roof on when what she really means is how “dark” my ageing skin had become.

Likewise, when a friend of mine admires the “morena” instead of the “rubia” when two of the “girls from Impanema” walk by, he is saying that he admires the one with dark hair over the blond no matter the skin color. On the other hand, when a young lady from Impanema admires the “moreno,” nine times out of ten he is the one with dark skin. Thus, concentrating a search to the Moreno Valley of Northern New Mexico just because one believes it to be the “Brown Valley” could be an error.

A third error has to do with the Cimarron River. That is, “Cimarrón,” though containing “marrón,” is not even close to ”brown” no matter how many of us walk that river in search of Forrest’s treasure. The word means “wild” as in “runaway,” be it a plant, a horse, or a younger brother.

The fourth error—which is not so clear, has to do with the differences between “casa,” “hogar,” and “querencia.” “Casa,” of course means “house” as in “Voy a la casa” which is “I go to the house.” Generally, “home” is translated as “hogar;” as the place where we sometimes eat, sleep and watch Seinfeld reruns. “Querencia,” on the other hand, is the term that best fits the “home” in “home of Brown.”

At least that is how I interpret it and I do so because it best fits one of Forrest’s “unknown knowns” and it has to do with “home” as a special place that carries a significance far beyond that building where we show up to eat or to sleep or to watch television or because it has “free” wi-fi. Conservation writers, landscape architects, and certain philosophers call the phenomenon “Sense of Place” and for me, the best articulation of the concept is given by Barry Lopez (The Rediscovery of North America) who uses the argument of “La Querencia” as the basis for his understanding of “sense of place.”

That is, La Querencia is that spot in the bull ring where the bull goes to rest, to gather himself, to put aside the wounds from the lances, the darts, and the confusion that he has just been made to go through. It is that place where he gathers his strength and focus for the renewal of his fight with those who wish him ill. And he goes there because he understands it to be that very special place.

My guess is that such a place is the real “home of Brown” and Forrest Fenn knows it well.

Te wi miti baka,

The monsoon rains came just like always on July 4 and lasted until September 21, just like always. But this year was special; things greened up more than usual, Boletus was busting out all over and the clouds were as magnificent as I have ever seen them.
But also, just like always when the monsoons show and just like always when the snow turns to ice on the canales and just like always when a bank of moisture rolls in from the northwest, there was a problem. You see, we have a well-kept secret about Santa Fe securely hidden away during the time when well-heeled tourists come to admire our world-famous-flat-roof-mud-brown-faux-adobe architecture and that secret is: flat roofs leak.

And so the rains came and we called a roofer who came out after a lengthy wait due to a very heavy workload. He crawled around up there for about 15 minutes, came down, holed up for thirty minutes in his pickup, licked his pencil twice, feigned a serious frown and announced that it would be $21,000 for a redo which would be “worth it since it carries a guarantee of 10 whole years” and “financing could be made available.”

I then did what any of you would have done if laughing, crying and cussing are in your repertoire. And then I went to the hardware store to check out prices on the very best stuff available, calculated how much I would need and hired a couple of really good Spanish-speaking friends off a downtown street corner for a day to help me get the worst of the gravel off the roof. And then I became a roofer for the next four or five weeks. I put the gravel (which is remarkably similar to the base course on my driveway) on said driveway, which needed it anyway, and it saved me at least the thousand bucks it cost to do the whole roof myself!

So now you know my excuse for not being around for a while and I know you will accept this excuse if you know how long it takes in a daily-half-hour-very-hot shower to get an old man’s muscles flexible once again (the correct answer is ‘one hour’).

Of course this has nothing to do with Forrest Fenn and his acknowledged ability to make a correct decision in almost any given situation—except that he also lives in a house with a flat roof. Santa Fe does that to you.

Stay dry,


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