The Thrill of Chasing Memoirs

Submitted into Contest #192 in response to: Write about someone finding a treasure in an unexpected place.... view prompt

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Adventure Creative Nonfiction

Let’s cut right to the chase. I buried treasure.


But before we get into any of that, I must introduce Mr. Forrest Fenn.


In barefoot youth, Forrest Fenn explored the Blackland Prairies of Texas. With fingers probing deep, fertile soil and toes squeegeeing creekside mud, he discovered an insatiable craving for arrowheads. After a day’s crusade, he’d lay among bluestems and fly his triangular treasure, pinched between fingertips, throughout the air. The wind, slipping through Indiangrasses, lisped, “Adventure.”


I first met Forrest in a classroom. Perched over the eve of Easter, while students burrowed into state tests, I leafed through a stack of literature on a teacher’s desk. I signed oath and waiver as test proctor to do nothing but stare at test takers. I vowed to partake of no phone, no grading, no reading material, and zero conversations. I did not intend to engage with Forrest Fenn, but The Thrill of the Chase sucked me in. 


Forrest first dealt in war.


He never could shake the Indiangrasses beckoning him as a child, so at the age of twenty, he enlisted in the military. He became an Air Force pilot, notching combat missions over Southeastern skies. Jet-fueled caresses of the Truong Son Mountains and cockpit traces of Kumgang Ranges satiated his hunger for adventure, but the fragile brush of life stroked in war’s artillery haunted Forrest. 


Despite a decorated career flying in the military, Forrest could not escape the call of grasses, bedrock, and soil. The barefoot patter of pursuing arrowheads thudded in his heart. He hailed nature as church; he felt closer to God in the wilderness; he described the beauty of earth as a relic. So, after retiring from the Air Force, he constructed the rest of his life at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.


I hiked those mountains once. Mere months before I discovered Forrest Fenn in a classroom. Their trails served as a leg-stretch pit-stop on a long journey in the absence of home. I had packed up a moving truck, sent it ahead, then followed it across the country. Unlike my soon-to-be-found friend, Forrest Fenn, I detested adventure. I planned to root into the land in which I was born and bred, planned to teach in the exact same classroom until a box carried my body off. 


Life didn’t turn out that way.


Instead, on the cliff of Easter, I perched atop a stool in a foreign classroom hawking students take a test for a state I didn’t belong to. Yes, I completed proctor training and understood the stack of literature was forbidden, but I was a guest in the room; I hadn’t placed the readings there. And besides, The Thrill of the Chase wouldn’t stop nudging like a bony elbow. Forrest Fenn, in that moment, refused to go unnoticed. 


Forrest later dealt his fortune in art.


War molded Forrest like the mountains he flew over, with shadowy recesses and glittery pinnacles. He wrestled with the grotesque beauty. In near death scrapes and captured grazes, he quaked at life’s fragility. But in downtime, as his boots strolled humid villages, he discovered the common language of survival. He heard it in the delicate calligraphy traipsing the lips of pottery; it echoed through the latticed headdresses of painted figurines; the resonance rested at the seat of stone carved dieties.


Art drew the thin line between life and non-existence, traced borders to connect humans. Forrest never lost the beat of childhood bare feet pounding in pursuit of arrowheads. He never released the notes of distant jungles and alien summits. So at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, he opened a gallery. It’s safe to assume he first displayed the triangular, toothed treasures of his youth. But the holler of the remote, wild Rockies drew him to explore and accrue more heirlooms. 


It wasn’t the art that heralded me to Forrest Fenn. It was his buried treasure estimated to be worth $2 million.


As test takers’ heads bowed to pencil in uniformed bubbles, I pinched a leaflet of literature between fingertips. Taking furtive glances toward the door, I slid it from the stack on a teacher’s desk. Yes, I know I was not supposed to. But what can one expect? $2 million! As a public educator, no wealth was ever known in those monetary figures. With stealth, I spread The Thrill of the Chase open in my lap and read every account of Forrest Fenn. Rest assured, I still executed proctor duties.


A six-letter word can upend. It can create a chasm, black and bottomless. It can snap like tectonic plates and cause one’s world to jerk into crumbs. 


Cancer. I imagine the six-letter word dropped like prison slop. I bet Forrest Fenn looked down at his hands, coursing the map of spots, veins, and tendons. After the air-lifting whoosh in his stomach leveled, he probably looked up to meet the gaze of he who delivered the diagnosis.


“Terminal?” Forrest's question landing more like a statement.


“Statistics show, at your age…” The rest is most likely a blur of jargon and acronyms.


Forrest Fenn, at the age of eighty, stood toe-lined on the precipice of non-existence. At the feet of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains he ran a successful art gallery for decades, propelled not by financial motivation, but by sharing his passion with the community. He had amassed a fortune of revered collections.


Prescribed with mere months to live, Forrest decided upon one last footed adventure. He took from the shelf an ornate bronzed chest estimated to be as old as a millennium. In it he placed gold nuggets, precious gems, rare coins and jewelry. Added last, set atop the mound of riches, was an arrowhead dug from the soil of childhood.


Forrest latched the chest shut, took up a pen, and wrote. 


Forrest buried his chest in the shrouded folds of his beloved mountains. He published both a poem and a memoir with hopes to leave, in the wake of his death, the spirit of adventure. In order to ignite the same spark and wonder he discovered while hunting arrowheads throughout childhood, he wove with words, into the poem and memoir, clues and hints to the location of his treasure. 


I’m not privy to the emotional upheaval that followed Forrest Fenn’s diagnosis. I can’t claim to sit beside him alike in experience. I only learned what was imprinted as words into literature. But I do know what it is like to close eyes in the comfort of a well-constructed life, and reopen them to a stark, barren landscape. The time suspended in that eye-blink remains scrambled, fragmented, untethered. 


Moving. My own six-letter word imploded like an aerial collision at the apex of a pandemic. My hands groped to grip against the spinning. After the siphoning of air from lungs and a stomach wretch, I looked up to meet the gaze of my husband.


“When?”


He lowered eyelids and folded his hands atop the kitchen table. Right over left, wedding ring hidden. He sighed into a long pause, then muttered, “Quickly.” The rest is a blur of packing tape and cardboard boxes.


I did not stand on the precipice of death; I never took flight over mountains. I did not, at any single moment, amass fortune (I’m a public school teacher). But like Forrest Fenn, I had, since childhood, played the rhythm of barefoot pursuits of my homeland’s riches. Instead of Bluestem's and Indiangrasses, I laid among lines of soaring oaks and listened to the leaves shush like librarians. I amassed my wealth in the classroom. My treasure: the spark of wonder that alighted students’ faces upon discovering the magic of nature.


As a farewell, Forrest imprinted his legacy into words. He drew his departure into a thin line memoir, a poem, written as a map for adventures. It attracted thousands of readers. For a decade after its publication, people found the thrill of chasing treasure throughout the Rocky Mountains.


Forrest Fenn dealt, for others, pure beauty. 


I tucked The Thrill of the Chase into my back pocket. Now, for those who may be policing state-test proctoring responsibilities, I did not merely remain seated, reading about Forrest Fenn. I snaked aisles and rows, sharpened students’ pencils, and monitored time to the milliseconds. Besides, the training manual said test issued material must be returned to the state; it said nothing about literature stacked upon a teacher’s desk. Don’t judge me.


As test takers crowded the door in anticipation of release and reunion with their handheld technologies, I stayed behind to count the exam packets for a state I barely lived in. I moved. In the middle of a pandemic. I never said good-bye to home or classroom. Standing at a stranger's desk, clutching standardized exams, I thought of the departure from my well-constructed life, the childhood pattered paces through oaks and grasses dissipating into non-existence.


So, in in the spirit of nature, in the spirit of art, I decided to follow Forrest Fenn's footsteps and wrote a letter. I also mustered up a teeny-tiny fortune.


Not $2 million worth, more like $250.


Then, just like Forrest Fenn, I buried treasure in a memoir. Embedded throughout the letter, in words and images, are the riches of where I was born and raised. Like in The Thrill of the Chase, my phrases and diction also serve as clues and hints--thin-lined arrows pointing directly to my place of origin. If analyzed with care, the letter reveals home’s exact location.


Unlike Forrest, I skipped the poetry part and made this all non-fiction. Cut me slack. I teach science. 


So for those seeking adventure, I invite you to find my letter and probe it for little, hidden treasures. The first reader to guess where home is (with supporting evidence) wins the two-hundred and fifty dollars.


In dedication of an inspiration, Mr. Forrest Fenn.

April 07, 2023 21:52

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9 comments

Amanda Lieser
13:05 Apr 13, 2023

Hey Éan, You did an incredible job of creating a vivid and beautiful piece. I adored the way that you chose to talk about student testing. That’s such a core part of our childhoods, but I feel like we’ve somehow forgotten it a bit. I thought your introduction was beautiful and intriguing, right off the bat. Nice work with this one! It was a very fun read.

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Emma Noelle
00:06 Apr 12, 2023

Jeeps are manufactured in Atlanta (which also have a lot of lakes), so my guess is Georgia?

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Éan Bird
20:04 Apr 13, 2023

You're apt to note the Jeep's significance, but they are made in a different location...

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April Mattson
23:59 Apr 11, 2023

Ok, so this might be cheating, but I did a deep dive on this author, and she has other writing that offer more clues. She mentions the stars quite a bit, so definitely dropping hints. Using complicated astronomical tools (ha ha, kind of a stretch) and based on location of Big Dipper in relation to other formations, I’m going to guess New York? Maybe a stab in the dark, but I am a HUGE fan of her writing. She truly is gifted.

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Éan Bird
19:57 Apr 13, 2023

Oh my! I tried a few platforms before Reedsy; didn't think anyone read them. Not sure it's cheating, but I might have to become harder to locate on the internet 😉. I am honored by your glowing endorsement. Thanks for the guess...those heavens sure do function to guide us.

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Mary Bendickson
19:43 Apr 11, 2023

My son and his daughters went exploring for Forrest Fenn's treasure. A couple of times. He told me he knew exactly where it was but never went to claim it. Then it came out it was found? I can't remember all of it any more but it wasn't what it appeared to be? I believe you are from the suburbs of Chicagoland. Or at least went to college there. The turbulent lake, the trains rattling the bar, the interstates leading to streets then country roads, the hundred-year-old oak trees. I live 100 miles west of the 'windy' city so you may be out this...

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Éan Bird
19:45 Apr 13, 2023

Your family hunted Fenn's treasure?! I truly became fascinated with his story--alas too late--for, you are correct, it has since been discovered 😞. Happy you connected on a personal level. Thanks for entering a guess to my hometown's location. I really will give $250 for the correct answer!

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Mary Bendickson
20:56 Apr 13, 2023

They really did. Some computer site even said someone with his last name was extremely close. But it is a common name (not same as mine,now). I wish I could remember better but he was on a quest for a long time but it involved so much more. I may insult him if I ask because he was working toward our family history weaving something into Fenn's story and I have forgotten something about it all. It was fun guessing but I probably wouldn't have taken your money. You just won that:)

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Mary Bendickson
00:13 Apr 18, 2023

Another note, I think I remember the constellations being part of Fenn's clues.

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