SUBMITTED JULY 2015
I was first introduced to 10-yr old Thomas from Arizona through an email that Forrest sent me a couple months ago. Forrest knew I was spending the summer months making a movie about Fenn treasure hunters, and suggested I “talk” to Thomas and his moms since they had a trip to New Mexico planned in July. We exchanged emails…they were excited at the prospect of being part of a movie project.
We planned to meet at my campsite in Red River Monday evening July 6th to get acquainted and eliminate any jitters they might be experiencing before the first on-location shoot at Elizabethtown the next morning. But something freaky happened Sat July 4th in Santa Fe. My partner Michelle and I decided to attend the annual 4th of July pancake breakfast and festivities on the plaza that morning. The weather was perfect…we arrived early thinking we’d beat the crowd. Ha! By 8 am the plaza was buzzing with hundreds of cheerful folks already enjoying their full plates of pancakes, sliced ham, and whole strawberries (nice touch…the strawberries, that is!) Vendors lined the sidewalks, and the car show filled two long blocks with vintage automobiles of almost every make and model. A band seated on a stage on the plaza played patriotic music that was piped throughout the entire area so everyone could enjoy the music, regardless where they strolled. What an event!
After an hour or so, we made our way from the plaza to Cathedral Park beside Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral where we decided to shoot a quick monolog I wanted for my movie. It was short and sweet so we quickly made our way to the gate on the east side towards our car. Standing on the sidewalk just outside this gate were two golden retrievers, patiently waiting for…whatever dogs wait for. Being the big-dog lover that I am, I went to them immediately. When I raised my eyes to the people on the other end of their leashes, I recognized Thomas and his moms Tracie and Molly from a picture of their family they had attached to an email. I called them each by name, to which Molly glared at me and said in a questionable tone, “who the hell are you?” I laughed…I realized at that moment I had never sent my picture to them since I never deemed it purposeful. What a coincidence for us to run into each other so unexpectedly! The stars and planets must have aligned at that moment, and we all agreed this connection was meant to be.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning…we all met at the B20 Elizabethtown Road turnoff from Hwy 38 and drove a few hundred yards to a place we could pull off the dirt road and park. From there we gathered our dogs and nonchalantly strolled up the hill to the grassy area where old rusty automobiles filled a tire-strewn gully. The herd of grazing goats stared at us disgustedly and moved across the road to a safer location where they could keep an eye on us and our dogs. Unbeknownst to me, Google Earth shows this patch of old rusty cars, and this was Thomas’ primary place today to search for Fenn’s treasure chest. Curiously, I asked him “why here?”
He explained “As a serious poet, I love to write poetry so I took a different view this year. I looked at the clues and the end rhymes…there are nine pairs that have nine matching endings. I am thinking ghost towns, and the Taos area.” Hmmm, I am thinking to myself…I love to hear others’ solves to the poem, and this one is new to me (not Elizabethtown but the rusty cars.)
Thomas and Tracie went from jalopy to jalopy looking inside and outside and beneath these heaps of rusting old metal…I followed, trying to stay out of their way but capture some of the audio and still photographs for later, while Michelle carried the tripod and camera through the tall wet clumps of grass and weeds, trying to keep up as best she could with an enthusiastic 10- yr old and like-wise mom leading the way. Molly was kept busy trying to control two equally enthusiastic Goldens on leashes, who didn’t give a crap about Fenn’s treasure but did care about the horse and goat manure. My Weimaraner Molly was the lucky one…she was free to
run and go where she pleased and eat what was tasty…I was sure she’d throw-up animal manure later (like on my sleeping bag) but she never did.
From there, we all jumped into our cars and drove the short distance up another hillside to the Elizabethtown Cemetery…we all spent awhile looking for Elizabeth Brown’s grave site. Now we all know Forrest has stated the treasure is not hidden in a grave yard, but some folks, I think, have used her grave site as “home of Brown”, and “put in” somewhere below the cemetery.
As we neared the end of our search for Elizabeth Brown’s grave, we came upon this one, where the memorial was permanently ensconced inside a hollowed out tree stump. Molly (with dog Greta) is explaining how this could relate to the picture of the tree stumps and the man with the axe, and the crescent shaped moon on page 146 in the epilogue of TTOTC. Is this an example of “…in the wood”? Is this how Forrest hid and preserved the treasure chest? There is a plexiglass cover mounted on top this hollowed out log which cannot be easily removed. It would protect the chest fairly well from the elements but the chest could still get wet from condensation. Hmmm, we all wondered…we gathered at the cars to decide what was next on the day’s agenda. About that time it started to rain, so we decided to call it a day, and resume the treasure hunt the next day in Cimarron Canyon.
To my delight, this morning’s treasure hunt began mid-way down Cimarron Canyon at Clear Creek Trail…a popular search area but one that I had not yet experienced. The storm clouds had moved out and a clean, crisp air permeated our nostrils as we followed the sometimes- narrow but clearly visible trail through the dense forest, along the swollen creek. I didn’t ask Thomas specifically why here…it made sense. Over the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of footsteps have pounded this same trail. I did catch on pretty quickly that we were here to look in rotten tree stumps or holes in the ground or rock crevices…maybe even behind waterfalls if we found any.
We made our way across narrow bridges…
After a mile or so up the trail, Thomas decided Forrest would not have carried 20 or 22 pounds any farther. After all, he had practiced carrying a 20-lb bag of ice the day before so he understood carrying that amount of weight. We agreed it was a good place to turn around.
Towards the end of the trail before reaching the parking area, we (Michelle and I) asked them if they’d sit and share some of their thoughts on Forrest and the treasure chest…what would they do with it if they find it and if they’d welcome the ensuing media attention. Thoughtfully, one by one, they each gave us their answers…
Sadly, the morning and our final treasure hunt with Thomas and his family were over…they had to go back to Taos to get ready for their drive home to Arizona, and we had to go back to Red River to get ready for our drive home to Rio Rancho. What a fun few days we had together… and what a wonderful new friendship was forged.
Thomas seemed mature beyond his years…I don’t know any other young boys who started writing poetry at 7, and who’s favorite subject is language arts. His knowledge of Fenn’s poem and TTOTC equalled most adults’, and he is determined not to be swayed by the blogs so he can keep his solutions “pure”. But he still is a 10-yr old boy…finding sticks to poke in holes and crevices in the woods, poking his finger up his nose when we were filming, laughing his head off when Durango lifted his leg and relieved himself on the tombstone of a young child we adults had just declared “sacred, one that should be respected.”
Just prior to departing ways, I asked his mom if I could “borrow” Thomas…for two years. My thinking is that with his brains and “pure” thinking and the fact I own a vehicle and have a driver’s license, together we could find this thing…
July 9, 2015
Thomas’ poem for Forrest
Breathe in, Breathe out,
Breathe in war, Breathe out peace,
Breathe in weapons, Breathe out crayons,
Breathe in sickness, Breath out cures.
Breathe in bombs, Breathe out butterflies.
Breathe in fire, Breathe out fireflies.
Breathe in war, Breathe out peace.
Thomas Miller-Culler July 1, 2015
Cynthia wrote a follow-up to this story and has a link to the movie she created HERE.