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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/

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,

r/

Edie

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.

r/

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.

Enjoy,

r/

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,

r/

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