There’s a book I read recently for our local book group: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. It’s a tale centered in the Indian Wars and the American Civil War. At times it’s funny, at others horrific, and with its stream-of-consciousness delivery, you might say it’s more of a tone poem than a novel. How historically accurate it is I can’t say; certainly, with its references to cross-dressing and interracial exploits, it feels a touch implausible and anachronistic in places, and yet it is an imaginative tour de force, carrying the reader deep into the blood-soaked landscape and vomit-inducing stench of war.
For me, the past year has been a lesson in the power of imagination. There have been periods of terror offset by flashes of enlightenment – all brought about through intense introspection as a result of my involvement in the Chase. It’s only now that I’ve concluded my search that I’m able to look back with a sense of perspective, and begin to understand how imagination has played a critical role in forging a path that I could follow both physically and metaphorically.
We all know that Forrest Fenn ranks imagination above knowledge, but it might be worth asking ourselves why that is. What is it about imagination that will propel us forward to the hiding place, while knowledge leaves us scratching our heads in confusion? To answer that I want to start by examining the reasons given for the treasure hunt: “…to get kids off the couch and away from their texting machines…” and: “…in a terrible recession… I wanted to give hope to those who had a sense of adventure and were willing to go searching.”
As someone pointed out recently, given the decision to write the poem and hide the treasure preceded the economic downturn by more than a decade, we can pretty much discount the second reason as a prime mover for the Chase, unless we’re prepared to grant Forrest clairvoyance. It may well have been something that gave added impetus to the timing, but even then it seems unlikely that a family deeply affected by the recession would have the spare resources to gamble on the one-in-a-billion chance of finding the chest. But before we dismiss it entirely, the word “hope” is interesting. Whether or not we’re in an upcycle or downswing, the human condition is one that needs – is almost desperate for – hope: hope that there is something better in the future; hope that our lives are not lived in vain. Hope springs eternal according to Alexander Pope in his poem An Essay On Man, in which he castigates mankind for believing that he can use his knowledge of science to “scan God.” So by Fenn saying that he wanted to give hope, maybe he was talking about the power of imagination over that of knowledge, where the latter speaks to man’s desire to measure and classify everything, and the former grants access to a cosmos of fresh ideas. Perhaps there are some things that transcend the known, and yet remain vital to our wellbeing.
As for the first-mentioned reason, we probably spend about 90% or more of our “search” time online, with a tiny proportion given over to BOTG. Families searching together certainly give their kids wonderful and real experiences that they couldn’t possibly match with their “texting machines,” but overall, even though there’s probably been a huge upswing in searchers’ exposure to the wilderness, the Chase has probably also been instrumental in increasing our slavish devotion to gadgets!
So we’re left with two given reasons that are not altogether satisfactory. And if we accept that, then is there a hidden or underlying reason? I would contend that there is, and that it is partly to do with imagination – to help us develop that faculty and to open our minds to whatever influences may be present. In my own search that has meant using imagination to bridge the “gaps” between clues, and developing a kind of sixth sense for recognizing “aberrations that live out on the edge.” It’s more of an art than a science, and if, like me, you’re not used to that way of thinking it can be a lengthy – and at times frightening – learning curve.
Merriam Webster defines imagination firstly as: “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before perceived in reality.” That’s an interesting definition because it allows for truly “blue-sky” or visionary thinking, not necessarily grounded in reality. In the context of the Chase, my contention is that the only way to successfully complete the challenge is to delve as deep into your imagination as it’s possible to go, until you develop the technique of mirroring Fenn’s thinking. The problem is knowing when you’re beginning to succeed, especially if there’s apparently so little to help you confirm your progress (ignoring for a moment the books and ATFs, which have the tendency to confirm everyone’s solves!). But I would suggest that if you can develop this technique you will have flashes of insight that help you plot a way forward. The mirror may be very cloudy at first, and progress will be stumbling, but with time and persistence things should become clearer.
Of course without knowing where to begin and without understanding how the numerical framework comes into play, imagination alone won’t be sufficient, but it can certainly help with both these elements. However, here’s the rub. There’s no way to know in advance whether your poem interpretations and mirror-imaging are correct without testing the ideas on the ground – possibly many times. I seriously doubt whether this depth of “vision” can be obtained by fireside cogitation alone. Even though I believe the answer we’re all seeking is fairly simple in one sense, the possible permutations are almost endless. We’re talking about a slow and dogged development of this faculty, which requires getting off the couch and out into the wilds.
My last trip to Wyoming was not a particularly happy event – and nearly didn’t happen at all. It came after what my doctor diagnosed as an acute psychotic disorder. I was recovering from a bout of flu when I began to have serious concerns about the Chase, and these rapidly morphed into terrifying thoughts and delusions. Basically, I had spent so long making connections at a profound level that I’d forged pathways into my own darkest mental recesses. In short, I’d let the demons out of the cage. It was an intensely unpleasant experience that was also very distressing for those around me. So the trip, which had almost been canceled, was foreshortened and took place alongside a wife who had come to, quite understandably, detest everything about the Chase.
But before you dismiss what I’m about to say as the ravings of a diagnosed lunatic, I’d ask you to consider what Fenn really had in mind for the most ardent searchers. This is “The Thrill of the Chase.” We might normally define this as the excitement of the hunt. But what if we adjust the emphasis a little?
Fenn has a way with words – to the point of exasperating the reader. Take SB 178 as an example. The first line is: “Pony Ault was the only important client our gallery had in Santa Fe, and she seemed to know everyone.” Does that mean that Pony Ault was the only person living in Santa Fe who was an important client? Or does it mean that she was the only important client… period? Well, the latter seems unlikely since Forrest could boast of some of the biggest names around as clients. But now read the entire SB slowly and carefully, and pay particular attention to the final paragraph; does that alter your perspective at all? A quick Google search for Pony Ault will reward you with very little. But you will find the name given as a founding member of the Santa Fe Art Institute, along with William Lumpkins, a member of the Transcendental Painting Group, which aimed to convey spiritual truths through abstract art. Interesting.
Now try, “It doesn’t help to stretch a tangent.” Back in 2016, if I’d read that sentence with the emphasis on “tangent” instead of “stretch,” I might have saved myself a couple more years of searching, and perhaps some heartache too.
So to return to TTOTC, the word “thrill” originally meant “to pierce.” If we read the line with the emphasis on “Thrill” instead of “Chase,” we might conjure an image of a searcher being pierced by something. So could the phrase really be referring to searchers being hunted down and pierced? And if so, by whom and with what?
We all know from the fishing stories and the cover of OUAW that Fenn is angling for something. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that he’s looking for someone for a reason. What that reason is remains known only to the poem’s author. I honestly don’t believe he’s looking for the cleverest searcher; after all, there are some pretty amazing brains working on this, but cleverness doesn’t seem to be what’s required to solve the poem. Could it be, instead, that he wants someone with the necessary imaginative skills to complete the journey? And if so, why?
I believe the answer to these questions is a spiritual one. An abiding image for me is from an interview during one of the earlier bookshop appearances, in which Forrest breaks his vocal stride to deliver a line which goes something like, “nothing is as it seems.” When you watch the video it seems like a non-sequitur, and that draws attention to it. What is not what it seems? From my own experiences this year I would suggest that we’re not talking about a regular treasure hunt, but about a vision quest where outward appearances may be deceptive. I’m not the first to suggest this as a plausible scenario, but I would like to support that viewpoint and relate it to the concept of imaginative solving as I try to make sense of what’s been happening in and beyond my own chase.
I will say upfront that the search is over for me. Interpret that as you will, but it certainly tallies with my current predicament. I am stuck in Britain, unwilling to risk my marriage any further for a box of gold. Unless the domestic situation changes, there will be no more trips to the Rockies. Besides, the Welsh countryside is equally impressive, just on a smaller scale!
In the past, the various artefacts I’ve found and spoken about as being Chase-related have caused some controversy and hilarity. That’s completely understandable, particularly if you don’t know the reason why a particular spot has meaning, or how a specific find can help spark the imagination sufficiently to be able to move forward in a solution. On the other hand, my own interpretation has developed over the course of time as I tried to make sense of the simple practicalities involved in placing strategic “pointers,” or generating distinctive symbols that appear on Google searches.
At one time, I was convinced that Forrest or someone he trusted had somehow gone around secreting these little “aberrations.” Take the smashed pottery as an example. See the “Garden City” name here? Now look at the picture of the book cover in SB 172 – and note the publisher’s address.
It’s these tiny coincidences that I kept discovering that had me believing these were plants. Now, after being able to see more clearly the role imagination plays, my understanding has both shifted direction and deepened. Now I believe that if you can open those mental channels sufficiently, your subconscious will “notice” things (aberrations out on the edge) that can assist your conscious mind in its deliberations. They are not necessarily things that have any direct relevance to the Chase, but they are things that help reinforce the connections you are making. And that also means that they are likely to be different for every searcher.
The two quartz-filled stones forming a triangular window are another example. These were so important to my developing trajectory in terms of confirmation that without discovering them I could easily have floundered. They would probably mean little or nothing to another searcher who happened upon them while on a different trajectory. And that’s another thing that I’ve changed my view on. There are many possible routes to the chest. It was only after discovering my end point that I realised I’d taken a particularly convoluted path. If I’d understood things better earlier on, the path would have been much simpler. So why did I find these stones that could have been placed there by anyone? Because my imagination needed them as a spur. A bit like, “…seek, and ye shall find.”
The “frog” offers another small insight. This was how I found it when first searching at this spot. It gave me a heck of a boost.
When we returned to the place this year, it never quite looked right. I tried to get the same angle and effect, but to a certain extent it eluded me. It’s not that there’s anything particularly different about it twelve months later – maybe just the lighting – but I’m not sure I would have even noticed it if I didn’t already know it was there. In other words, it had already given up its meaning to me, and because I no longer needed it to give my imagination fresh impetus, my subconscious now ignored it.
So my conclusion from all my “finds” (of which there are many), is that whether FF placed any, all or none of these, it doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you have created the conditions necessary for your imagination to assist you. But as I discovered to my family’s deep concern, there may be a price to pay for diving so far into the deep. Beware!
And this might be an appropriate point to mention another book that passed my way from our book group: The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall. This is a fascinating account of Crowhurst’s attempt at sailing singlehanded and nonstop around the world as part of a competition in the late ’60s. The work involved old-fashioned investigative journalism of a kind rarely seen these days, and uncovered a tale of hubris, fraud, resilience, shame, and (inferred) suicide. What is particularly intriguing towards the end is the state of mind of Captain Crowhurst as he tries to formulate a theory of man’s forthcoming evolution while drifting in the Atlantic, but descends into incoherence and madness. And although it’s tempting to ridicule the man for his vain attempts to set himself up as some kind of new prophet, his long, lonely days at sea had given him the opportunity to use similar techniques of “imaginative penetration” to those that I believe are required in the Chase. Unfortunately, he paid the price for straying off course (both literally and metaphorically) after being pierced by something from deep within.
One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten when considering the importance of imagination is that Forrest has said he would never tell anyone his secret spot. If that is literally true, then the poem, on its own, does not reveal the spot. If it did, that would contradict his statement, and he would have, by inference – even if only obliquely – told the whole world his hiding place. So although the poem contains all the ingredients necessary to discover the spot, the method of cooking is missing some vital instructions. In order to measure and mix all the ingredients in the right order, we’re going to need directions from the subconscious. Without them, the task is hopeless in my opinion. And specialized knowledge, beyond a comprehensive knowledge of geography, will yield nothing useful. To bake the cake according to Forrest’s recipe, we need to be able to navigate precisely, and rely on a level of imagination that approaches divination.
In support of that, and to suggest that logic, while important, can really only take you so far, I want to touch on a couple of things that have occurred to me since returning to the UK from my last search. Because I had left Wyoming with the job unfinished, I continued to ponder my finishing moves. This was around the time of the Dizzy Dean SB. A major breakthrough was forthcoming relatively quickly, and with the aid of Google I was able to home in on a spot which contained a symbol that echoed what I’d found at my start point. A helpful arrow was also visible nearby. I had been checking my progress against the website wherewarmwaters-halt.com that someone had referenced around that time. After congratulating myself for finding what I assumed was “the spot,” I was irritated to find the website continued to make insistent “noises.” At the same time I had the nagging suspicion that, despite what looked to me like a perfectly acceptable hiding place, I hadn’t quite finished. There were loose ends. During this time I was sending my “moves” to Forrest in somewhat coded form, and what seemed to be coming back via the website dovetailed neatly with my situation. (I have no idea who is actually behind that site.)
Suddenly, as I went over and over the data I had amassed, the penny dropped. I used a technique that I’d honed on previous excursions to pinpoint a spot – in a totally unexpected area – and noticed something in a Fenn drawing that seemed to offer support. But still the WWW-H website shouted its orders. I wasn’t done yet! This time, rather than use the website for confirmation, I allowed it to lead me to a spot about a mile distant that I should have noticed before but didn’t. The place had meaning for me via its distinctive rock formation. The website went quiet, and I breathed a sigh of relief, tinged with slight annoyance that I’d succumbed to being led rather than working it all out for myself. But my relative peace of mind didn’t last long. The combination of what I’d discovered at the spot, what I picked up from a few rather odd blog posters, and my own still rather fragile psyche’s promptings sent me into a downward spiral. Once more I endured terrifying thoughts and deep paranoid suspicions that lasted for days. It was very difficult trying to keep this from spilling over into my daily life and rekindling my wife’s angst.
But as I wrestled with these demons, a thought occurred to me. What would happen if I spun these thoughts 180 degrees? What if reinterpreting them as positive rather than negative symbols might be the way to go – and avoid a real crisis? So then began a slow but steady period of recuperation. Even though I’ve never been a very successful meditator, I tried to recall some of the techniques I had encountered briefly in the past. Things improved, and I continued with trying to use imagination in a wholly positive way. And that was when I began to discover its real power.
When you open up your imagination as a direct consequence of delving deep into the subconscious – in this case attempting to get on the same wavelength as Forrest Fenn – I believe that your subconscious will attempt to help you. This concept was brought into sharp relief for me during late summer as I tried my best to practise a form of mindfulness.
Here I was, back in Wales, not really thinking about the Chase anymore, when out of the blue I discovered that the coordinates of my home in Montgomeryshire, which we’d moved to from Oregon two years prior, added up to 166 – a really odd coincidence. I was jolted back into search mode, and tried to see if my subconscious was attempting to tell me something. For some reason I felt I had to visit the Rainbow horse riding trails in Dyfnant Forest, just a short distance away from where we live. Specifically, I felt directed towards the spot where a lookout tower used to be sited at the top of a hill to help protect the surrounding forest. There, my trusty GPS refused to function, and so I had to rely on intuition and what I remembered from the map to guide me to the exact location.
I found the metal posts indicating where the tower had once stood in the middle of brambles and undergrowth. The trees had been felled in the immediate vicinity and on one stump just below the summit I spotted something rather bizarre. Three identical small pegs had been inserted into carefully drilled holes surrounding the center point of the tree rings.
A beer bottle cap with the image of a leaping hare lay to one side. Why anyone would take the trouble to make this with such care and in such an awkward-to-access spot was beyond me. I spent hours pondering it, and then came across this whimsical piece of craftwork adorning a tree in our village a couple of days later.
There appeared to be distinct correlations to many of the things that had featured in my Chase (the three-sided fire pit, the three-cornered stone, the three-coordinate rectangle, even the chalk graffiti at the Museum of the Mountain Man where “Fenn” looks like “Fe3 – with the “3″ twisted 90 degrees CCW.”)
I had a look on GE and traced a line north through the two locations. Some miles distant, a third and related tri-pole symbol appeared in a village that I’d never heard of. Looking it up on Google, I found that Pennant Melangell hosts a church and shrine dedicated to Saint Melangell, a sixth century hermit and now the patron saint of hares. The coincidence was remarkable, if a little spooky.
My wife and I visited the shrine, adorned with pilgrims’ images of hares, and took in the beautiful surroundings, including a rock shelf where the virgin hermit used to sleep out of the reach of wild animals.
I was perplexed. It was quite clear that Forrest had zero to do with the placing of the “symbols” that led me to the shrine. But they definitely had resonance for me in the Chase, and came amid a cascade of odd incidents, chance meetings, book readings, and online “contacts” that I couldn’t explain. A few seemed quite otherworldly. What I suspect is that Forrest knew he was setting up a “spiritual” challenge when he launched the Chase, but he probably had no personal knowledge of how this would affect each individual searcher with their unique insight and experiences. For me, it was a major process of spiritual discovery that has profoundly affected my worldview.
By the time we visited Pennant Melangell I’d stopped communicating directly with Forrest. But it seemed that he hadn’t quite finished with all of us. As autumn arrived, it came with a series of public communications from Fenn, which sent me wearily back to GE. I really didn’t want to be doing this anymore. Each of Forrest’s posts contained pointers. I used them to tie in with what I knew of the area of the Rockies I’d “landed” in. They helped me navigate to the blaze, and then (after a couple of false starts) to the final location, strangely only some 200 ft. from where I’d “spent” the previous couple of months, never noticing what was so close by. And at last things became clear. Here was the symbol that mirrored those at the two “ends.” Here was where you’d at last find J.C. Penney. Here was the place that finally brought the poem to a close – and for once I had no doubt in my mind.
But I could no longer claim that it was “my” doing. It was a question of making the effort over five years, yes, but then it was the recognition that not only had I made use of prompts from Forrest through his public utterances, and occasional searchers’ pointers, but also that whatever was at work deep below the conscious ego was far more in tune with events than “I” ever could be.
But despite all this the chest remains out there for anyone to find and retrieve. I don’t know whether circumstances will ever be right for me to return to the Rockies, and that’s hard to live with, admittedly, but I try to be content with things as they are. I stay off the blogs as much as possible in order to concentrate on “real” life, but as you can see I’m not always successful! (It may be that Forrest has also now withdrawn from public interaction, but only time will tell.) The Chase has taken me to the darkest places, but also to radiant uplands. I have made discoveries that go far beyond anything I could have imagined – and for that I’m eternally grateful. I certainly feel more “integrated” than I ever have done in my 65 years.
To wrap up these musings on imagination, I have a sneaking suspicion that the chest will only be recovered when it is ready to be recovered. Yes, that sounds fanciful and a bit “woo-woo,” but if you believe, as I do, that this a vision quest as much as it is a treasure hunt, it may require a certain state of mind and personal readiness. I know that all of this will send some searchers into fits of giggles, and others will just sigh and shake their heads, but that’s OK; there will be a few who will be curious and willing to keep an open mind, particularly when they return to some of the Scrapbooks and other Fenn writings with this in mind. Remember that there’s a reason the Little Girl from India can get no closer than the first two clues with her map and poem. Anyway, I apologize to those looking for concrete pointers that none of the places pictured here are anywhere near my final spot (nor even the places the first two clues lead), but I sincerely believe that those willing to delve deep can find the same haunting hillside that both beckons and bars me (for now). And lastly, to return to books, if any of you are into motor racing, and particularly Formula 1 (sorry, Nascar fans!), Damon Hill’s autobiography, Watching The Wheels, makes for a fascinating read, as well as touching tangentially on the theme of this post.