I’ve been asked more than a few times since I started this blog, how I met Forrest. Well, the truth of the matter is that although I was introduced to Forrest some sixteen or so years earlier, I didn’t actually meet him until August of 2011….
Let me explain. I’m a documentary filmmaker by trade. Telling stories on film and video has been my occupation since the Marine Corps made an administrative error casting me into the real-life role of motion picture cameraman. It was a simple human error that probably saved my bacon.
After four years of shooting government film and stills all over the Pacific I headed to college and began working for a series of TV stations, film units and production companies. I started my own video production company in the mid ’80s. I am probably one of the few jarheads who can actually say that I learned a practical trade in the Marine Corps. One that I continue practicing to this day.
In 1986 I was producing Science News stories for CNN as a freelancer. One of the stories I shot was about a team of divers who were hoping to recover a safe from the wreck of the SS Governor in some fairly treacherous water in Admiralty Inlet between Washington and British Columbia. The story was about the technology of saturation diving these folks were utilizing to search the sunken ship. Later I followed this team filming their adventures on other underwater explorations including searching for a WWII era B-17 aircraft that disappeared in 1947 in Labrador, a Yukon Gold Rush era ship carrying a large shipment of gold that sank in Alaska and a WWII Japanese submarine carrying a shipment of gold that was torpedoed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Still later, I joined their team and worked for several years in Uruguay locating and then diving on ancient wrecks from Spain, Britain and South America. We salvaged thousands of artifacts including beautiful bronze canons, delicate crystalware, jars, navigational instruments, coins and more until a political realignment in Uruguay made it impossible for the project to continue. The Operations Manager for this expedition was a fellow named Crayton. As a team we all lived together in a rented house in Montevideo and on days when we were not working the wrecks or pulling maintenance on our equipment we often traded stories. Crayton told riveting stories of his uncle who lived in Santa Fe and led a fascinating life that wowed even the most jaded team members. This was my introduction to Forrest…
As I am sure you’ll agree, Forrest is a fascinating character. So, from time to time I would check on what new thing Forrest was up to by Googling his name or getting an update from Crayton. Such was the case in November of 2010 when I heard about Forrest’s latest book and the hidden treasure chest.
Immediately, I started making my plans to go look for the treasure. My search area was likely covered in snow so I decided to wait until spring to head out. I made my first trip out in May of 2011. I decided to email Forrest and tell him of my adventures while I was out there. I also saw a problem looming. I knew there was a good possibility that Crayton had mentioned my name to Forrest over the years that we had worked together. I figured that if Forrest knew I was searching and recognized my unusual name he might assume that I was getting inside information from Crayton. I wasn’t, but Forrest might not know that. Things began to feel gummy around the edges.
So I created a new email account and took on the name of Mike. This concern of course was all in my head because as Forrest has repeatedly stated “No one knows where the treasure is hidden except me.” In fact, Forrest has specifically said that his friends and family are all welcome to search for the treasure because only Forrest knows where its at.
But at the time none of this registered. So I wrote to Forrest as “Mike from Michigan”. Forrest wrote back and encouraged me to look more. I made a second trip out in June and again came back treasure-less. On the way home I was already laying plans for my third trip in August. I was certain I knew where it was before I even got home and wrote Forrest telling him where I was going to look and sent along some evidence that this was the right place. He said that if I was near Santa Fe when I came back in August I should let him know and he’d buy me a cool lemonade because its hot out there. I knew that although there was the possibility he was familiar with my name, there was no chance he knew what I looked like so it would be possible for me to meet up with him and remain Mike. I was excited about the possibility of finally getting to meet the legendary Forrest after 15 years of hearing great tales about him.
Then the unexpected happened. Forrest wrote back that a TV news guy (Gadi Schwartz from KOB-TV) wanted to hang out with a searcher and would it be okay if he followed me around when I returned for a TV story about the treasure hunt. Yikes!!! Does this mean Forrest thinks I’ll find it? Am I that close? Or does he suspect I am not really Mike and he’s trying to smoke me out? Or is my spot so far away that its no problem for the news guy and the rest of the known world to see my useless spot? If I say I don’t want to have Gadi along will it screw up my email relationship with Forrest?…turmoil. I hate turmoil.
There were all sorts of reasons to stay Mike and all sorts of reasons to fess-up and continue the search as Dal. I was stuck but decided to move the question to the background because I didn’t have to worry about it until I met Gadi in New Mexico.
Just before leaving on my third trip to New Mexico I wrote Gadi and we arranged to meet at a specific time near my search location. I thought about what to do with this “Mike” issue all the way down there. For 30 hours my head was consumed about “Mike vs Dal”. I was careful not to give Gadi my phone number but he expected me to be from Michigan since I had taken on the name, Mike from Michigan.
I brought along a pair of license plates from Michigan and planned to put them on my truck if I decided to meet him as Mike. This whole “Mike” thing was getting ridiculously complicated. I began to feel like I was in an episode of “Weeds”. Crap was piling on faster than I could shovel it off. I decided to wait and see what Gadi was like before I committed to Dal or Mike.
I got to my spot a day early to check it out before I met Gadi. I quickly discovered that it was not as good as it had appeared on Google Earth. I had a couple of back-up spots in mind and headed out to one. The next spot looked better than the first so I decided to take Gadi there.
The next morning I met up with Gadi at the appointed place and time. Not until the very moment when I was pulling up did I decide whether I would be Mike or Dal. I pulled up behind his car as he was unloading his camera gear from the trunk. I saw him glance around and look directly at my license plate…which was from Washington State and not from Michigan. I saw a moment of confusion in his brow. I got out. We shook hands and I said “Gadi, I’ve got something to tell you. Let’s go get a cup of coffee in town before we head out.”
We went to a cafe for a cup of joe and I told him who I was and why I had become Mike. He thought that was a pretty good side bar to his story. He went back and forth about whether he should call me Dal or Mike in his story. I shoved the decision off on him and busied myself with looking for the treasure.
We had a great time. Gadi is a good hunter and fine hiking companion. Of course we didn’t find it. But we had a helluva time looking. As Gadi was climbing in his car to head back down to Santa Fe he decided that I should be Dal in his story. I agreed but asked that he give me time to talk to Forrest about this. I didn’t want Forrest to find out I was lying to him from watching a story on TV. I felt I should tell him myself.
I emailed Forrest and told him that I’d like to take him up on his offer of a lemonade. We agreed on a time and met at the Collected Works Bookstore in downtown Santa Fe. After we got drinks and sat down near a display table that was stacked with Forrest’s books I admitted who I really was and told him the story of why I had concealed my name. Forrest just laughed, shook his head and said it was fine if I wanted to consult with Crayton because Crayton would have no idea where the chest is hidden. Nor would Crayton have any better ideas about the poem than I had. No one knows, except Forrest.
From the bookstore Forrest invited me to his office. A few minutes later I was marveling at his vast collection of incredible artifacts. His office is like the museum of the Southwest and being there with Forrest is like being in the Smithsonian with Joseph Henry. He has stories and tales and he’s just easy to be with. The collection of all kinds of items in his office is frankly, breathtaking. I took some photos, shot a little video of him in his lab cleaning animal bones from San Lazaro Pueblo. Tried to weasel a clue or two out of him and left grateful for the opportunity to visit.
Since then we have emailed during my searches and when I am at home. I have visited Forrest and Peggy many times over the years. Forrest has provided stories to the blog and I have chatted with him at length about his storied life. Peggy and Forrest treat me like an honored guest. I’ve never tried to pump him for clues again.
Sometimes he’ll give out what sounds like a clue to the press or to questioners at book signings, but upon scrutiny, is not. One of my favorites is in the Margi Goldsmith interview. “it’s more than 300 miles southwest of Toledo”, he said.
He’s like a magician but instead of white rabbits he can use words to create an illusion. He is a genuine wordsmith.