The following is a hypothetical description of the day Forrest Fenn hid his treasure somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe. It was written by Toby Younis and edited by Shelley Carney of agypsyskiss.com and agypsyskiss.tv. Although it is written in the first person, and in Fenn’s voice, Forrest Fenn had nothing to do with its development. It is, in its entirety, the opinion of the writer.
The Day That Forrest Fenn Hid a Treasure
Somewhere in the Mountains North of Santa Fe
Like every other morning, the alarm in my head went off at 6:30am. It’s like that when you’re old. It was summer so the morning light was already trying to sneak its way past the curtains and into our bedroom.
Peggy lay asleep on the other side of the bed, snoring softly, in a ladylike way.
I sat up, pillows against my back, and started thinking about the day ahead of me. I spend about an hour every morning, just thinking.
Today, though, required some hard work, although it was a day I had planned for years.
A while later, Peggy awoke. We exchanged greetings and she headed off to her morning routine. I stayed where I was and focused on a sliver of sunlight that was sliding along the far wall. When it reached the mirror on the dresser, I got out of bed, showered, dressed in some jeans, a short-sleeved shirt, crew socks and my hiking boots. I pulled my hat off the closet shelf, a light jacket from the rack, and dropped them on the chair in the foyer before heading to the kitchen.
Peggy was sitting at our large wooden table with a half-filled glass of orange juice and the newspaper held up close to her nose, even though she was wearing glasses.
I made myself a cup of tea, a big bowl of oatmeal with raisins and nuts. I poured a glass of orange juice and sat down at the table. While I was eating, I had a conversation with the newspaper Peggy was reading.
“I think I’ll head up North for the day,” I said.
The newspaper asked, “Fishing?”
“Most of the day.”
“Drive safe. Take some water bottles with you. Want me to make you some sandwiches?”
“Yes, please. Peanut butter and strawberry jam will do.”
“OK. Give me a minute.”
Finishing my breakfast, I put my dishes in the dishwasher, and kissed the top of Peggy’s head. She turned from the newspaper long enough to make a kissing sound aimed in my general direction
I headed to my vault, and spun the combination lock right, left, right and then left again. The door clunked to let me know I had spun correctly. Then, I swung the door handle to the left and pulled it open.
The beautiful chest sat on the wall-long shelf in the far corner. I opened it. It never got old – looking down at the treasure I had accumulated over the years.
“Are you ready to start this last adventure?” I asked.
I waited a moment for an answer, closed the chest, wrapped it in canvas, and tied it with a leather thong.I pulled a heavy canvas backpack over it, and stood it up on the shelf before pulling the backpack straps over my shoulders.
I walked it out to the sedan, lifted the back gate and turned around to let the backpack slip off my shoulders onto the deck. I covered it with a surplus olive drab wool blanket that had seen duty at every family picnic in the past 10 years – and had the scars to prove it.
Closing the gate, I headed back to the front door, but Peggy was waiting for me on the porch with my hat, my jacket and a colorful wicker basket we had bought on a vacation in Guatemala. It held a couple of sandwiches, several water bottles and a small bag of Fritos.
“Get your fishing rod?”
I leaned down to give her a peck on the cheek. She put her hand on my shoulder.
“Be careful, Forrest Fenn. Be back for dinner, I’m making chicken pot pies.”
I love chicken pot pies, and told her so, but by that time she had turned and was walking away.
“I know,” she said to the front door, “I know.”
Having filled the tank the night before, I started the car, headed out the gate, and down Old Santa Fe Trail and then Old Pecos Trail through almost the center of Santa Fe. Passing the National Cemetery, with its long rows of white tombstones, I flung them a salute that would never have passed muster in the Air Force, but it was flung in a respectful way.
The drive was a little over three hours, but I stopped once along the way to top off and visit the latrine.
I drove north until a little after I crossed the New Mexico – Colorado border, then I headed west, until I reached a turnoff into the National Forest. Then South and West along Forest Service Roads for about an hour.
I crossed the railroad tracks and headed down into the river valley. Up to this point, I hadn’t had to use four-wheel-drive, but I was about to ford a river. A small one, one I had crossed dozens of times, and at this time of the year I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. I switched into four-wheel-drive headed down the steep bank, crossed the river that never got deeper than the bottom of the rims, and pulled up the equally as steep far bank.
From there it was a short drive on dirt to what I had always referred to as my “launch point.”
I pulled up, and turned off the car. I sat for just a moment, long enough to wonder if I knew what I was doing. Then, I opened the door and stepped out. It was a perfect day of turquoise blue sky, with brush strokes of puffy white clouds, a light breeze, raptors overhead hunting small game, the smell of sunshine, pine, sage with a hint of cow poop. I was alone except for the ever present herd of cows that casually scattered in a dozen different directions as I drove up.
But, the cows were actually a good thing – an indication that there were no bears or cats in the area.
I lifted the back gate and leaned against the deck long enough to eat a sandwich and drink a bottle of water. I figured it was a good time to eat the Fritos as I could use the energy.
I knew my walk was about 45 minutes, but I had already decided to hide the treasure in two trips, one to take the treasure, and a second to take the chest. 42 pounds would have been too much to carry in a single trip for me.
Once I had finished my lunch, I pulled the wool blanket back from the backpack. I poured the chest out of the backpack, untied the leather thong and unwrapped the canvas. I spread the canvas on the deck and poured the contents of the chest into it. Then I lifted the corners of the canvas into a ball and tied the leather thong around the top to close it up.
It, alone, was light enough to lift into the backpack. I cinched it up,and swung it onto my shoulders. Closing the chest, I covered it back up with the wool blanket, closed the lift gate, and locked the doors.
I headed east, down into the river valley. There was a trail I could follow for a bit, but it evaporated as I got closer to the river. Only the most passionate of fishermen would head much further. As I walked, the terrain changed, and eventually lead me to a place on the river that could best be described as a rock walled canyon. I knew every inch of that rock walled canyon, every niche, every hole in the wall, every set of steps made by the water and the wind and other forces of nature. I knew exactly the place I wanted to hide the treasure, and had things worked out differently, alongside it, my body.
I had shown it once to my father, not explaining to him why, but he was fascinated by it anyway.
“This would make a heck of a hideout, if I ever needed a hideout,” he had said. “How did you find it?”
“Luck,” I said, “but the sun had helped.”
He shook his head, in that way that he did just before he’d say, “Forrest Burke Fenn. Son. What am I ever going to do with you”” But, this time he didn’t say it.
I made my way to my special place, first along the river bank, and then, carefully, up a natural stairway to a place well above the high water mark. You could only see the entry from one angle, the rock camouflaging itself against itself.
I had to take the backpack off to squeeze through, dragging it behind me. I stood for just a moment to appreciate the wonder of it, a hiding spot that could tolerate the centuries. It would take a very wise man or woman to find it.
I removed the canvas bag containing the treasure, and placed it on the ground. I knew that, here, it was safe.
I walked back to the car, checking off each of the places that were represented by the clues in my poem, making certain, once again, that correctly interpreted, they would lead to the treasure.
The trip back to the car seemed shorter. And, as usual, there was no one around when I arrived – this time, not even the cows.
I unlocked and lifted the gate, slipped the backpack off long enough to put the chest into it, swung it onto my back, and grabbed a water bottle to quench my thirst.
I headed back to the treasure. Once I was safely inside the niche, I took the chest out of the backpack, rested it upon a rock shelf, just big enough to hold it, and poured the treasure back into it, careful to set the olive jar aside so as not to break it.
I took a few moments to arrange it so it looked it’s best, finishing by resting the silver and turquoise bracelet atop everything else so as to remind the finder of how important it was to me.
I closed the chest one last time, and kneeling beside it, once more, in what seemed to be a countless number times I asked myself if I knew what I was doing.
I did, and it was time to go.
Leaving the treasure chest, I headed back to the car. I tired on the return trip, and realized the one bottle of water had not been enough. Up the last hill, the sun was low, and not yet setting, but the evening chill was making itself known to this old man.
I popped the lift gate open, swung the now empty backpack onto the deck, and in my head, heard my father say, “Forrest Burke Fenn! Did you just do that?”
I laughed back at him, and said aloud. “Yes, Father. I just did.”
The drive home was uneventful, and I finished my second sandwich on the way. I had to make a stop to top off and visit the latrine.
I arrived home with the setting sun leaving the sky in yet another trite New Mexico sunset. I parked, headed for the front door and opened it.
The smell of baking chicken pot pies greeted me.
Peggy popped her head around the door to the kitchen, and asked, “How was the fishing?”
“It was too nice a day to waste on the fish,” I responded.
Slightly confused, but with more important things to think about, she headed back into the kitchen, and told me to wash my hands before I sat down at the table.
I did as I was told.
Those may have been the best chicken pot pies I had ever eaten. And, I told her so.
After dinner, I retired to my study, sat down in my favorite chair, and contemplated the satisfaction of having done what I had promised myself, long ago, I would do.
That, to me, was a very relaxing thought. And, eventually, right there on my favorite chair, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.