I remember the first course in ecology I ever took and I remember it because it was mind blowing in any number of ways. It made me want to go to the library and find every book and article they had on the subject. I sat in the front row. I stayed after class and pestered the professor until either he tired or the next class wandered in. It made me see things and processes I had never seen before. I wanted to know every little event that created any landscape that happened to be in front of me: its history of storms, fires and landslides, the burrowing and the bugs; who was winning and who was losing. I wanted to know about its washings and its dryings, what was permanent and what was passing, its temperature swings, who ate what or whom, and when and with what it all started. Ecology was challenging and oh so much fun.
Ecology is so much fun that I give an exam to all the Santa Fe visitors who are in good enough shape to walk the Rt 66-La Bajada-Camino Real circle with me. On the way back from that crazy incredible piece of Earth, I ask them to explain what they see as we break over the edge toward Santa Fe from the rutted Caja del Rio plateau. It is a glorious scene with the southern extremis of the Rocky Mountains in the distance, the Santa Fe River course below, and a strange grouping of trees in the near view. It is that grouping of trees that is of interest because of how it is laid out—exactly like an orchard but the trees in it are not trees one sees in an orchard. They are junipers—a small tree that is ubiquitous at this elevation and latitude and among its few uses are firewood for Forrest Fenn, subjects for artists to paint and a light wintertime snack for coyotes and scrub jays.
However, to plant junipers as an orchard would be a complete waste of time, money and contrary to common sense. It would be like planting goldenrod around a house in Maryland or Virginia. Out here, juniper is the plant that sheds pollen in the trillions and each little bitty pollenette with its mini-minute thistle-like spikes flies into your nose holes and then shuffles all the way up and through your sinuses; within days of the bloom, which seeming lasts from March through to October, the entire population of Santa Fe becomes a raspy-voiced chorus of crybabies.
But there that orchard is in front of you as if laid out by a band of teenage Future Farmers of America and if you can say just why it’s there, you may have a leg up on trying to find Forrest Fenn’s treasure. It means your powers of observation and logic are finely tuned and that your curiosity concerning things that just don’t fit is close to that of my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson who has now entered the “why” stage of his development.
This “fine tuniness” even helps when reading Forrest’s Memoir. For example, you need to be aware that his picture captions come in two different fonts—one manufactured by a geeky engineer in Palo Alto and the other in Forrest’s very own non-cursive hand writing. This became important a while back when my wife found a strange bit of graffiti on a rock, and when I compared the printing on the rock to the captions on pages 122 and 123 of the Memoir, they appeared to have been done by the same hand. But, then, my wife announced that she wrote her alphabet the exact same way and proved it by showing me the New York Times crossword she was doing. Damn; so close and yet so far.
But sleuths don’t let that kind of thing bother them. I went back to the Memoir and became aware that chapter titles came with chapter subtitles, and there on page 126 I found a subtitle that said in really well hidden letters, “Somewhere north of Santa Fe.”
Now we were getting somewhere. I leafed through the Memoir looking for more subtitles and found one that said “Somewhere in Wyoming.” “Aha!” I announced to no one in particular but my grandson immediately wanted to know what “aha” meant and why I had said it.
I ignored him. I was on to something. I took out my map of Wyoming and found that if you go canyon down the Shoshone River east from Yellowstone, you hit the Buffalo Bill Reservoir (Home of Brown?) and just below that, you have the metropolis of Cody, Wyoming (See pages 65-67, Memoir). And then I found that Forrest Fenn is not only a member in good standing of the “Buffalo Bill Historical Center” in Cody, Wyoming, he is also a board member of that fine institution.
It was all coming together and I searched for more subtitles thinking that they would give me even more information. I found the clincher on page 58. It said, “Somewhere in Montana.” My grandson shouted, “Aha!” but I knew that I was foiled once again.