There once was a man named Fenn,
Who much to our chagrin,
Went on a quest
To hide his chest.
Now he taunts us all with his pen.
I am writing this to you in letter form, instead of email, as I believe that letter writing has become an endangered species and I’m doing my part to keep it alive…I also think it is more personal.
First, let me preface the rest of this letter with this statement: I am not “fishing” for clues or leads to the chest…I just wanted to share a few stories with you, if you have the time.
My husband, Jake, and I learned of your treasure story late last spring. We read your poem and both of your books until the ink was embedded into our finger prints. Both Jake and I already read the Journal of a Trapper several times. We conducted more research and settled in on an area near the Madison River and Hebgen Lake to begin our expedition. Neither of us had been there before, so we decided to approach the first trip as a “scouting” effort. We packed up our dogs, Jasper – Border Collie/Red Heeler mix; Hope – Australian Shepard who was a pound rescue and Rowdy – Toy Fox Terrier who was a puppy mill rescue, and headed out. That trip we camped in our wall tent. (Won’t do it in that country again…As we live in a mountainous region of Western Wyoming we should have known better…More on that later.)
The first day we hiked around the Madison River where it makes its deposit into Hebgen Lake. Jake collected a couple of treasures – a Bison skull and some wild Bison hair – he had to be sneaky and move real fast to get the hair. ☺) I have enclosed a sample to share with you.
We spent most of that day fly fishing the Madison, both prior to Hebgen Lake and below the dam. We managed to land a few fish, but the flies lost outnumbered the fish caught. I have heard about a small creature, which lives in trees and bushes, and snatches fly fishermen’s lures just to wrap them around branches out of our reach. It’s called it a Pharnox. (Pronounced Far-Nocks) No one has ever actually seen one, but I have plenty of evidence and experience to prove their existence. I must confess to not being a “good” fly fisherperson, but I sure have a good time doing it.
On our second trip we took our old horse trailer and camped in that. I felt much safer in a tin can than surrounded only by a piece of canvas. We did not go home empty handed. Jake stumbled upon a set of elk ivory from a winter-killed cow elk. Lucky for him. Not so lucky for the cow.
Our third trip was in June. On one particular outing we had several encounters of interest:
We hiked up the Cabin Creek trail and ran across a tree with the initials FF carved into it. Below is a picture. It looks like someone tried to hack it up. We wondered if this might be a tree you marked in your youth, or if someone was just “Fenning” with us. (Sincerely, I’m still not looking for clues. – I just thought you’d like to see these pics and it gave me a chance to utilize my new, made up verb, “Fenning”.)
It’s a little tough to make out on the left pic, but in person you can see the “FF”.
The one on the right just had an “F”.
After a few miles we ran out of trail at the confluence of Cub Creek and Cabin Creek. It appeared that, at some time in the not too distant past, Cub Creek washed out the trail. The water still was running fast and deep and I knew my little terrier, Rowdy, would have difficulty crossing. Jake was determined to see what was on the other side. He left his pack with me. Which by the way contained his bear spray and .45 cal pistol. (You probably see where this is going.) Our Aussie, Hope, crossed over with him while Rowdy and I sat on the bank on the other side of the creek.
Pretty soon Hope came splashing back to me. I glanced up and saw that Jake was upright and mobile in the willows, so I knew she wasn’t channeling her inner Lassie to tell me that “Jake had fallen in a well.” She waited until her arrival at my side to shake off the muddy river water. I stood up and turned around to face the sun, and the trail we had hike to get to this spot, and began brushing off the water. About that time Hope and Rowdy took off barking like their tails were afire. They got about twenty feet ahead of me towards the trail when I called them back. I knew something was amiss when they each flanked me. Hope was three feet ahead of me and five feet to my left. Rowdy stationed himself similarly to my right. They quit barking, hairs on their backs standing straight as soldiers, and eyes fixed toward the trail. I looked up and saw a brown patch of hair. Immediately, my subconscious tried to defuse my panic and told me it was probably just a moose, as we had encountered moose tracks on the way in. Then, I saw a shoulder roll. It was a bear. Since the river was to my back, there would be no fleeing that direction, so my mind tried to convince my eyes that it was just a brown-phased black bear. Nope. It peered around the side of a tree. There was a classic grizzly bear face staring back at me. It then stepped out from behind the trees. Yep. Full grown boar grizzly. Close enough to see its eyelashes and determine his gender.
By this time I had my bear spray in my left hand (safety off) and Jake’s 45 in my right (cock and locked.) Knowing he had no protection on the other side of the river, I began to holler, “Bear! Bear! Grizzly Bear!” Unbeknownst to me, he was yelling, “Where?” (For some reason he could hear my voice over the roar of the river, but I could not hear his. I know there’s a joke in there somewhere about the acoustics of women’s voices over men’s…But I won’t go there.) During this time, the bear continued to stare, unblinking, at the dogs and me. He kept rocking forward on his massive front legs as though he was trying to decide whether or not to come through us. About that time I saw Jake, in the river, out of the corner of my left eye. I yelled, “There’s a grizzly bear over here!” He hollered back, “I know! I see it!” My husband is not a man small in stature. When the bear heard him, he took one look and I guess decided that Jake, added to the equation, was just too much to tackle and left the scene. I maintained my cool until Jake was back at my side…At which time my gun hand began to tremble and I turned into Barney Fife.
We headed back down the trail toward the truck finding tracks where that bear had trailed us the entire way. From one of the trees along the trail we did collect some of his hair. I’ve included a bit for you with this letter.
About half way out, Hope commenced barking again. We said, “Oh no!” (Okay, those are not the exact words we said…) But this time she was barking towards a mountain goat crossing the river. Awesome! I managed to obtain some of the goat’s hair from a bush where it snagged. (Perhaps a Pharnox grabbed that too?) There is a little baggie of his hair for you too.
We live in Wyoming and have long, cold winters with little else to do but shovel snow and conduct more “Fennian” Research. This is Jasper at the task. He is 16 yrs old with bad hips and canine lupus so he does not get to go on our hikes anymore. For Jasper, it’s just “too far to walk.”
P.S. – For fun, I tied a fly with some of the grizzly bear hair. Spoiler alert – trout don’t bite on grizz hair. I’d send you a picture of the fly, but a Pharnox got it.