Archive for February, 2012

Brother Fenn (Part I)

According to Rule #1 of Intuition and the Art of Sluethiness, we need to find everything we can about the “perpetrator” of a mystery; in this case, Forrest Fenn.  This is a bit terrifying because there is no telling what you will find when you try to get close to the real Forrest Fenn; to fill in a few more details of his life history; to discover his habits, worries, and preferences; his friends and enemies; his allegiances and followers; his travels and his likes and dislikes. But I will tell you anyway.

Forrest Fenn was raised a Southern Baptist.

And now that you know, I want you to also know that the above statement is a declaration and not, as some would suggest, an accusation.

It was an easy sleuth. The funeral for his father was held at the First Baptist Church in Temple, Texas and attended by an overflow crowd. A Google search of that church told me that it has pretty much always been allied with Southern Baptists. And, since we know that the young Forrest Fenn would show up at  “church socials,” we know that the Fenn family was at least somewhat familiar with the affairs of that church. And that tells us of the immense pressure that Brother Fenn had as a kid to become a member of that church.

My interpretation of this information was also relatively easy. It helped that my father and father-in-law were deacons; my brother a minister; my wife a seminarian; and I, an excommunicate in and from Southern Baptist churches.

Now you ask, “Other than being interesting in a voyeuristic sort of way, does this information tell us anything? Does it get us any closer to the treasure?”

Of course it does, although that comes in Part 2 and I promise I will get to it later.

But for now I want to begin with an interesting obsession of Southern Baptists. That is, all good Southern Baptists leave the comfort of their homes for a hard wooden pew in order to hear some 170 sermons a year, and all of this sermonizing is, supposedly, based on something called “exegesis”(Rule #3, Intuition and the Art of Sluthiness).

A very simple definition of “exegesis” is that it is “parsing” which, I have learned, has nothing to do with gourmet cooking.  “Parsing” is what journalists did four years ago to figure out what the then Governor of Alaska was saying. They had to identify the verb(s), subject(s), object(s) and a bunch of modifiers in her statements, put them in an intelligible order and then figure out why a whole new topic would suddenly appear in the middle of it all. To “parse” one needs only to be a very patient grammarian.

“Exegesis” is something else. It’s what scholars do when they try to prove one another wrong concerning the interpretation of ancient, often sacred, texts. It involves an understanding of the cultural milieu within which the text was written; it looks at the text’s provenance and chain of custody and the nuances of its original language; it attempts to identify the author or authors through an analysis of the writing style and supposed personality of the writer(s); it looks at the various meanings of each word; and it considers the people for whom it was written and for what purpose. With some adaptation, this is what we will have to do with each of Forrest Fenn’s clues.

For example, take what is perhaps the very first “clue” in his Memoir and one I have mentioned before:

“I tend to use some words that aren’t in the dictionary, and others that are; I bend a little.” (Page 3)

This sentence was not written for the casual reader; it was written for us—the ones trying to find his treasure. And it is there to warn us to be careful when we decipher other of his clues because things could be “fudged” or “made up” and that no matter what we think we know about a clue, we could easily be somewhat off and that difference will be the difference between success, and total frustration.

It’s a fair warning. And it comes from Brother Fenn himself.

Don’t know what you do to remember things like this, but I put this one on a sticky-note and stuck it inside the cover of my very own hymnal.

Keep the Faith,


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I’m now getting to the place in this blog where I must be careful not to give away anything really, really important.  This has nothing to do with the caves on Jicarita Peak that I haven’t yet told you about or the hot springs I have found over the years that sit just above and below the rim of that long black scar west of Taos known as the Rio Grande “Box.” And it has nothing to do with the fact that my partner in this new pursuit may be worried that I will tell too much. I mean, he mostly likes to walk in the rain and jump into puddles.

My wife and I went to visit him early last fall and what we found when we got there was rain; It was the kind of rain that, if it occurred in Santa Fe, would find its way through every flat roof, skylight, and foundation in the county—even those featured in back issues of Architectural Digest.  It had been raining for weeks, it continued to rain while we were there and it rained steadily until after we were gone.

In my long career as a more or less observant itinerant, I have discovered that rural folk, especially those in the southern hemisphere, don’t worry about being out in the rain while urban folk, especially those in the northern hemisphere, spend a lot of time trying to get away from it—the rain, I mean. The exceptions to this last rule seem always to be little kids and their grandfathers.

So, when things seemed to get a bit tense for those of us stuffed into a closed-up space, I would ask my young partner if he wanted to go for a walk in the rain. The response was an immediate break for the door; but only after we donned our raingear (T-shirts, shorts and sandals) were we allowed to go outside.

He loved the puddles; but a close second was when I would lift him up so that he could pull a crab apple off a tree and the pull would release a torrent of large drops that got into his eyes, nose and ears making him squeal for more.

And then we saw the mushrooms: zillions of them in all colors and sizes. To be honest, I’m no mycologist but I do recognize a half dozen or so that are very good eating; and I know enough not to sample the others.  I wondered if he knew anything about mycology.

Sure, the kid was only 16 months old but what the heck, it’s never too soon to learn about mushrooms and neither his mother nor his grandmother were there to say “no,” so under my tutelage, before long he could easily tell the difference between a mushroom and a pinecone, between a mushroom and dog doo-doo, and between a mushroom and a Bud Lite can. I have no doubt that he could easily have mastered their scientific names as well except that, like the rest of us, he had trouble saying that weird Latin “æ” sound.

All of this probably makes no sense unless you know that a friend and I had gone out earlier in the year to look for “Brown.”  We had set up camp and a very nice campground lady came by to make sure we hadn’t placed the tent door over an ant hill and she told us that Game and Fish had recently “shocked” the stream and discovered several “Browns” of 36 inches and pointed us in the right direction. After about an hour of hiking up the trail that followed the stream, we sat down to rest and I took out my binoculars to see if I could spot an eagle, an elk or someone else looking for Forrest Fenn’s treasure. Nothing.  What I did see though, was a fairly large pool at the end of a lengthy ripple in the stream about thirty yards below us.  And in that pool was absolutely the largest trout I had ever seen outside of the “Macho Pond” at the fish hatchery north of Pecos.

My friend immediately went down to count coup while I watched from above. To make a long story short, I will leave out the part where I took a nap while my friend did his best imitation of “nija fishing,” and say only that 36-inch trout do not get to be 36-inch trout because they are stupid.

On our way back we ran into a number of cows in a small meadow and while my friend busily practiced his dry-fly casting, I decided to take the “world’s most awesome photograph” of a cow. It was when I zoomed out to include some of the landscape that I noticed the meadow was full of soccer balls.

Except they weren’t. What they were, were Calvatia gigantea, the giant puffball; a royal member of the Lycoperdacæ family and a choice edible. There were enough mushrooms in that meadow to have fed Napoleon’s army with soupe aux champignons throughout his whole campaign.

And now you want to know where they are. No way. Mushroom finds are secrets more tightly held than are the solutions to any of Forrest Fenn’s most difficult clues. You will have to find your own. 

Happæ hunting,


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