Note From Forrest-July 2013 To Amber, Chip, Porochista and Dal
….This will be Porochista’s first time into God’s country. Please don’t let those guys find the treasure up Grayling Canyon. f
Note From Chip-July 2013 To Dal, Forrest and Amber
…My plan is to walk straight to the treasure with you sometime Sunday…
Ezzey, Porochista Khakpour and I are moving fast down the highway from Bozeman toward West Yellowstone. The light is fading quickly. We are supposed to have met with Forrest’s nephew, Chip, a few minutes ago. I can’t use the time warp machine right now so instead I am late for our meeting. I hate that. I check my cell for signal strength. I’d like to tell Chip we’ll be late, by a good hour, but no bars on the phone.
It’s really a shame we’re nearly in the dark because the highway along the Gallatin River and down into the park via Bighorn Pass is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway this country has to offer. I’d like Porochista to see it.
The road was built piece-meal fashion about the time that folks started demanding automobile access to Yellowstone. Originally considered by the citizens of Bozeman in 1904, It was not fully completed for many years later as the park and the county road commissioners haggled over loss of wildlife habitat and uncontrolled park access. Today, urban sprawl is the new enemy along the 75 or so miles of highway outside the park. Cul-de-sacs with three to a half dozen houses each pop-up like blisters on a tenderfoot’s heel as the prosperous ranching towns spread south and west into the beautiful valley of the Gallatin.
It is along this highway that Forrest and Donnie made a 91 mile trek to Bozeman one summer in the 1940s. I have to respect that adventure. I am sorry I never had the foresight to walk 91 miles down such a beautiful river as the Gallatin. I can imagine them each pulling a trout or two every day from the Gallatin for dinner as they camped along this rip-roaring river every night for the five or so days it must have taken to walk to Bozeman. In spite of the encroaching developments and growing traffic since Forrest spent his summers in this neighborhood, the roadway is still picturesque…but get here before it’s gone.
It’s about 9pm by the time we roll into Chip and Amber’s property above Hebgen Lake. Chip’s daughter Emily is there to meet with us as well. After “hellos” and “introductions” all around, the conversation turns pretty quickly to the location of Forrest’s chest and his intoxicating note that snidely suggests he hid it in Grayling Canyon. We are all confident that the chest is NOT along Grayling Creek. We chuckle as we recall the playful note Forrest sent us. Yet, we also know that we MUST look along Grayling Creek because if we don’t and that turns out to be the spot…won’t we be the fools…
Forrest’s sense of humor and command of the English language is family lore. Everyone in the room knows that Forrest wrote a sentence that says nothing about where the chest is, or isn’t located, and at the same time planted a seed we cannot ignore. We also predict he is sitting at home in Santa Fe warmed by his little piñon fire smiling because he knows exactly what his note is going to drive us to do. He’s as clever as the day is long…
We laugh and trade stories about Forrest. Chip says that as a kid he remembers occasions when an Air Force jet would buzz the town of West Yellowstone from south to north. The plane would come in from a long distance off, low and level. The growing sound of a big jet engine screaming right toward town. The whole town would stop and watch. Shopkeepers out on the street. Kids holding fingers in their ears. That plane would head right up Canyon Road, waggle it’s wings and then nose up straight for the high sky, spinning like a top. Everyone knew it was Forrest. Forrest, of course, denies that he would have done anything like that. “That sounds dangerous and probably illegal”, he says with a perfect poker face.
Everyone in Chips front room that evening knows with certainty that there is no treasure on Grayling Creek. We also know that Forrest does not hand out clues to individuals…only to the public at large. We know that the last place on earth we should bother to look is Grayling Creek and we also know that the first place we will all look tomorrow will be Grayling Creek. We are doomed.
I am a little surprised by Chip’s immersion into the poem. He shares a three ring binder with Porochista and me that holds his notes about the poem and his ideas about the location of the treasure. He is a serious searcher with an unshakeable belief that Forrest’s chest is somewhere around Yellowstone.
We make plans to meet with Emily and her brother Aubrey for breakfast in the morning and the four of us will head on over to Grayling Creek for a look/see. Like addicts…we are about to embark on something we know we shouldn’t because we cannot avoid doing exactly what we’ve been told NOT to do…Forrest is a fun loving puppet master…
Before midnight, Porochista and I head off toward West Yellowstone and accommodations provided by Chip and Amber at one of their rental properties. Although we have simple and explicit directions to the building where we will have rooms, we go back and forth and up and down the streets of West Yellowstone hunting for the address. How on earth can I ever expect to find the treasure chest when I can’t even find a two story apartment building in West Yellowstone. I really am doomed.
The next morning Emily and her brother Aubrey meet us at Parade Rest Guest Ranch where we will have breakfast. I really didn’t know about this place before this morning. I may have seen a sign for it along Lake Hebgen but I had no idea the lodge was open to the public for meals. It was a perfect place to enjoy a hearty Montana style breakfast in a western, ranch house setting. Emily has brought along her infant daughter Aliyah. She is curious and perfectly mannered and just about the cutest kid in Montana. She draws a lot of waving and ohhs and ahhs from the other customers at the ranch.
The conversation today is much more relaxed. I suppose because we have the big issue settled. We know where we are headed to search. So around the breakfast table we just talk like normal people rather than treasure addicted searchers. We talk about the vicious otter that has showed up on the Madison River near the 191 bridge. It has attacked and bitten more than one swimmer. I learn that Emily is a trail runner, biker, marathoner and outdoors woman of the most Montana kind. Aubrey is recovering from some broken limbs but looks absolutely fit to me. He busts broncs and rides on the backs of angry bulls on the rodeo circuit but is spending his healing time as a rodeo clown this summer. Have you ever seen what a rodeo clown does? That’s tougher than being a bull rider as far as I am concerned. The whole purpose of a clown in the rodeo ring is to get those behemoth, outraged bulls to chase and try to kill him. His goal of course, is to survive. It quickly adds up to me that Chip has raised a couple of kids not afraid to take on serious challenges.
Right after breakfast we head over to nearby Grayling Creek and begin our search. There really is no trail along the creek. The water is clear and cold as it comes out of the Park onto Forrest Service land. The canyon is sometimes narrow and sometimes broad. The water is in a hurry and the walk is enchanting through wooded riverine and past cliffs of local yellow, scrabbly rock. We are on the watch for bears. They have been in the area recently. Aubrey brings his dog Tater, who will spot a bear long before we do. Once the canyon narrows down to no wider than the stream itself we have to clamber from rock to rock and ledge to ledge to follow along the creek.
Where I come from creeks are a few feet across. The Grayling is much more like a river than a creek at this point. Thirty feet across with lots of charming bends and hiding places for dinner sized trout. Emily is carrying Aliyah on her back as she easily traverses the slippery rocks and narrow ledges. She looks like a dancer moving on her stage. Her feet cling to slimy river rocks like snails. Every step is honest and unchallenged. And Aubrey…If there is anything at all about Aubry that is broken I fail to recognize it. He moves among these rocks like they are library shelves. Meanwhile Porochista and I are slipping and sliding and plunging off rocks and narrow ledges with regularity. Clearly, we are the novices in this country. Porochista’s magenta sneakers light the way in front of me in the darkened canyon. She is a trooper. She never stops. Determined to follow the treasure hunters no matter what ridiculous place Forrest has told them not to find the treasure.
Little Aliyah falls fast asleep on her mother’s back in record time. I am amazed. The creek is noisy. The air is cool. The walk is bumpy. Just another trek in the woods with mom for Aliyah.
At a place in the canyon where we really can’t go much further without walking in chest deep water there is a fall. A beautiful multi-teared fall about thirty feet across and with about a 15 foot total drop. A blaze? Surely Forrest has seen this fall in his exploration for good fishing holes. We cannot avoid the inevitable. Aubrey tells me that the water in the creek is at it’s lowest this time of year. Snow and Ice will keep everyone out in winter. If we are going to examine that fall…now would be the best time.
We wade out and examine every crevice and hole. We look under, around, in and through the fall. Aubrey has the certain feet that allow him to walk across the lip of the fall to look at the other side. Tater gingerly follows. Clearly the dog has concerns. She looks one way, then another. Gets halfway across then begins to turn back . Tater knows this is the wrong place to be walking. I start on this side of the fall and work toward the center at its foot. Emily stays on the side with Aliyah safely on her back. She will wade in if anyone gets in trouble. Porochista stays out of the fall as well. I am convinced she thinks we are all lunatics. Perhaps we all are. The water wants to push me downstream. The current is so fierce in spots that I dare not lift a foot off the bottom without a handhold for fear I will be pushed over. I pry and poke with my ice ax. The water is sternum deep in spots. It’s uncomfortably cold. Staying upright is a constant chore. If I fall I’ll end up about thirty feet downstream after banging into some boulders on the way. Finding a place between boulders to cram my feet is challenging. The rocks move threateningly under pressure from the current. I wonder why I am here. Would Forrest be here? I think not. He’s smarter than I am. We spend most of an hour at the fall. Sadly, there is no treasure chest in our immediate future.
As we are walking out Chip approaches on an ATV to help us carry the heavy chest. Unfortunately, there is no chest to be carried. And of course, I am reminded that it is highly unlikely that Forrest would have hefted the chest through that difficult canyon. Not a likely spot. But certainly a lovely place to waste valuable exploring time with good company.
When we get back to their house, Amber has laid out a fantastic lunch spread. We all make sandwiches and talk about the adventure. The conclusion is unanimous. That fall is not the location of the chest for more than one reason.
1. Too difficult to get at while carrying 21lbs…twice..
2. It’s too remote. We all believe the chest is hidden near an area that the public visits.
3. Why would that place be special to Forrest?
4. I try and try but I cannot make the clues in the poem lead me into that canyon.
The next day Porochista and I head into the park to visit Forrest’s favorite bathing spot on the Firehole river at Ojo Caliente. It’s a murky day. Overcast and threatening storms. The dark clouds add to the ominous sensation as we walk around in the caldera of a super volcano. We explore the lower geyser basin and fountain flats on foot just for the sheer pleasure of looking at the gems of spouting hot geysers, thumping mudpots, multicolored springs and alkaline water holes. We admire long legged birds and the remains of winter and wolves on the open savannah in the center of the Yellowstone crater. The scene is vast and wild and prehistoric. Great steam plumes rise in every direction. Grasses dotted with wildflowers at our feet. Sun-bleached bones scattered around the water holes. The air smells of sulphur and something else…like rye.
The flats seem like a vast windswept grassy plain with small copses of pine here and there to break the monotony. We can conjure up remarkable dinosaurs plodding through the scene just in front of us. Porochista finds a buffalo skull. She is not squeamish. She picks it up to admire it’s earthly story and I snap a picture. We talk about life and death on this plain. We try to understand Forrest’s remarkable childhood experiences. We find a comfortable log and summon up Forrest and Donnie and Skippy and the rest…We imagine the place in 1940…In our fantasizing it is windswept, grassy and steaming, beautifully the same as it is today. We cherish the idea that this protected place is a landscape in only a handful of such landscapes in the world of modern man that have not changed in 70 years…perhaps not even in a thousand years…