Grayling Creek – Part Two…

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This is part two of a two part story. If you’d like to read part one first, CLICK HERE.

 

 

Note From Forrest-July 2013 To Amber, Chip, Porochista and Dal

Thanks Amber….
….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
Hi Dal…
…My plan is to walk straight to the treasure with you sometime Sunday…
Chip

 

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The sweet Gallatin River as it winds it’s way along the highway

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.

Fireweed in bloom along the Gallatin Highway

Fireweed in bloom along the Gallatin Highway

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 gate at Parade Rest Guest Ranch

The gate at Parade Rest Guest Ranch

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.

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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.

Aubrey, Porochista, Emily and Aliyah as we start into the Grayling Creek Canyon

Aubrey, Porochista, Emily and Aliyah as we start into the Grayling Creek Canyon

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Crossing Grayling Creek

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.

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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.

Aliyah at rest. Don't you wish you could sleep like that?

Aliyah at rest. Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?

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.

Approaching the fall on Grayling Creek

Approaching the fall on Grayling Creek

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.

Checking out one more spot on the way back

Checking out one more spot on the way back

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.

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Porochista, Emily, Aliyah, Chip, Aubrey and Tater…treasureless again!

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.

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A splendid lunch with Amber

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 Firehole River near Ojo Caliente, looking at Forrest's favorite bathing spot

The Firehole River near Ojo Caliente, looking at Forrest’s favorite bathing spot

Porochistas sneakers remind me of survey tape

Porochistas sneakers remind me of survey tape

Porochista finds a buffalo skull

Porochista finds a buffalo skull

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…

The lower geyser basin

The lower geyser basin

 

dal…

Grayling Creek – Part One…

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Porochista Khakpour is the kind of person that makes you wonder where you went wrong. She is attractive, of course. She is brilliant, of course. But there is something more, a breath of worldly sophistication accompanies her. Sort of like… I am the chicken and find myself sitting in a restaurant, talking with Colonel Saunders about side dish recipies. She can make a guy nervous. We are riding in Esmerelda heading south along the picturesque Gallatin Highway toward Yellowstone. She asks me who I will tell when I find Forrest’s treasure.

Gallatin River

Gallatin River

But let’s move back a little in time. It’s the first week in August, 2013 and I am around the West Yellowstone neighborhood. Things are moving briskly. I came out here this time of year, in spite of my intense desire to avoid Yellowstone during peak visitor season, just to be with the BBC. They are here filming a story about Forrest’s treasure hunt and my searching experience in the Red Canyon is part of their story.

A few days earlier, before I leave my island home for the mountains north of Santa Fe, Forrest writes that a lovely and charming, dark haired journalist by the name of Porochista Khakpour is penning a story about him for a national magazine. She has spent several days interviewing him in Santa Fe and even visited his friends in Temple, Texas. He further writes that the poor deprived woman has never had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone and since I am headed there perhaps I could meet her at the airport in Bozeman and take her to all the important places in the most important park in the country. “You’ll like her,” he adds.

Forrest also puts me in touch with a member of his family who lives in Montana and happens to have rental accommodations near the park. His relative, Chip, agrees to put Prochista and me up for a couple of days. So, now I have an appointment to be a guide for someone who needs to know everything there is to know about Forrest. I have free accommodations arranged by Forrest and I am going to meet a relative of Forrest’s who clearly must have some idea where the treasure is hidden. Sounds like a plan made in heaven.

Except…what kind of name is Porochista Khakpour? Who is this dark haired siren about which Forrest has told me little? If I were not curious I wouldn’t be looking for the treasure in the first place. Hand me that computer.

Porochista Kakpour by Melissa Hom

Porochista Khakpour as she appears on the web. Photo by Melissa Hom

I know for certain that she’s not from the eastern European neighborhood in Detroit where I grew up. Too many vowels in her name. Kids there had last names like Wojciechowski and Czarnecki. She’s not Polish, Slav, Romanian or German. Maybe Italian…I try pronouncing her first name aloud as if she were a fine goat cheese from southern Italy…”poor-ohh-cheeeees’-ta”. It sounds right..it’s also fun to say. I decide she is Italian.

Not long after I consign Porochista, along with Muscato wine and hard salami, to the Italian corner of my brain I get cc’d on a note from Forrest to Porochista and Chip that reads something to the effect of-

“Chip, whatever you do don’t let anyone find the treasure up on Grayling Creek.”

I stared at that line for awhile. I cocked my head one way and then another…like a black lab watching a squirrel. I read it a few hundred times to make sure I had all 14 words in proper order in my brain. I took a short walk out in the woods. I ran into a beautiful Sphinx moth and took a few mindless pics.

Sphinx Moth from Lummi island

Sphinx Moth from Lummi island

Then I came back to the house, opened the laptop and looked at the message again. All 14 words were still there. That sneaky Forrest. He knows I won’t be able to look anywhere I’d planned now that Grayling Creek is stuck in my head. Of course it’s a red herring. Of course Forrest is having fun with us. I know this as clearly as I know my own name. I’ll bet he’s smiling right now! For some reason Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne in the film, The Witches of Eastwick comes to mind.

I need to stop thinking about Grayling Creek. I decide to look up Porochista and see what kind of journalist she really is. To my surprise, before I even get her entire first name punched into Google her full name pops up in two dozen different references. Not like mine does. Not at various state and federal criminal postings but at places like the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Village Voice…impressive stuff! She’s written for those three and more and her first novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, has garnered notable awards including the California Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. The only thing I can see to hold against her is that she is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence. On the upside she has an MA from Johns Hopkins.

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I was concerned. Porochista and I clearly have little in common. I was lucky to get into a state college and my accomplishments so far are pretty narrow compared to her own. What will we talk about? I have to spend 2.75 days with her. Esmerelda will be happy for someone intelligent to listen to. Do I resent her? Am I humbled by her? Am I frightened of her? Will this be a crummy 2.75 days? Based on her profile Porochista is probably vegan and can’t even savor a simple pizza with pepperoni. Will she show up in some highly fashionable but unhikeable shoes?  Maybe there is a good reason she has not been to Yellowstone. Maybe she doesn’t even like bear, buffalo and beaver…unthinkable, but possible…she’s from NYC.

But wait! This isn’t a date. This is an assignment. Show her the treats of Yellowstone. Show her the secular icon’s of Forrest’s youth in the wild and woolly west. I can do that as well as anyone. Forrest is what we have in common. She just spent several days with him. I can probably garner information that will help me think creatively about the treasure…I am beginning to see how only good can come from this. Just don’t stress the small stuff, I tell myself.

Confidence is in the ether.

A few more lines in Wikipedia and I discover Italy is not even close. Not even on the same continent where Porochista is from. She was born in Tehran, Persia…aka Iran. Her family fled during the revolution in the 80s. She speaks fluent Arabic and her book is about the aftermath of 9/11 and it’s effect on sons who in every culture try to find part of themselves in their fathers. Alice McDermott, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her wonderful book, After This, described Porochista’s novel:
“Sons and Other Flammable Objects is a marvelous novel: witty, wise, continually surprising, continually inventive, exuberant, heartbreaking. It resists the easy categories of immigrant lit, family saga, first novel—because it is, first and foremost, a delightful, generous work of literary art.”
—Alice McDermott, author of Charming Billy

Confidence evaporates in the ether.

Ding! An email from Chip. “My plan is to walk straight to the treasure with you sometime Sunday.”

Back out to the woods and find the Sphinx moth for more portraits.

So now it’s Saturday, day of reckoning and I am sitting in Esmerelda at the Bozeman airport, short-term parking lot. I am considering the next 65 hours with Porochista. She writes for national magazines, the biggest and baddest newspapers and has a wildly successful novel to her credit. I write posts on a blog. The gap is wide. The possibility for learning is vast.

I am an hour early, as is my lot in life. Lateness is one of the eight deadly sins…wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony and lateness. I like to have knowledge of a place…get there in advance…know where the exits are…the fire extinguishers…the restrooms. If someone told me that after this life I was going to have to come back as an airport I would prefer to come back as the Bozeman airport. It is efficient and friendly and the fire extinguishers are conveniently located.

I am thinking about how to greet Porochista. I have never met her. But we have exchanged email. She wanted to make certain I was going to meet her in Bozeman on time. A worrier. I liked that about her. But now, the issue at hand was “hug” or “shake”. Did one or two emails and a common friendship with Forrest constitute a socially acceptable welcoming “hug”…or should I retreat to the always acceptable yet somewhat off-putting handshake? What to do? It’s never an issue between guys. I can only remember actually hugging a few men in my life. Proper hugging was not part of “de rigueur” taught in Marine Boot Camp. I learned to salute. I learned the value of a solid, single pump handshake. I learned how to greet the enemy with a simple thrust and twist of my bayonet. Nothing about hugs. Sister Mary Linus never taught us about hugging in Catholic school either. In fact, I am pretty certain, had I actually hugged one of my female peers in 7th grade I would have been taken out and turned to salt on the spot. Touching, even handshaking was frowned upon between the genders in Sister Linus’ classes.

Not only was I never taught when a hug was appropriate. I also struggled with how. My right hand clearly needed to go to the back, in the upper area…perhaps near a shoulder blade. At any rate, above the hook and eye thingy. But the left hand…that was the devil. The allocated area for it to land was lower and smaller, below the bra but there would be hell to pay if it landed too low. And being too high and actually touching the bra was not considered polite either. It was always a gamble. You could get in a lot of trouble by hugging a woman you did not know well. Particularly if her husband was standing behind her. And how close do you place yourself to her? Sister Linus always maintained that a foot was plenty close enough in dancing. But I’d learned from experience that in hugging, a foot of space was not what women who didn’t wear a crucifix expected. It was embarrassing to be pulled closer to a woman than my already shaky stance could afford. My footing lost, I would crash into my hugee like a drunk and lose my balance, sometimes twirling around once or twice in a little uncoordinated ballet that made everyone giggle. To this very day that still happens as I try to maintain the good Sister’s one foot of clean, unromantic air between myself and my hugee. I watch other men smoothly pull off the mixed gender, socially acceptable, greeting hug with a great deal of admiration.

As I enter the luggage collection area in the airport I can see tired passengers from the flight trolling down the steps from the restricted area above. It suddenly occurs to me in a flash of blankness that I cannot remember what Porochista looks like. I am here to meet someone and I don’t know what to look for…a woman. I try to imagine up the photo I saw of her on the web. She looked sophisticated, powerful, … and….and… Jeese! It’s not working. I remember her age as around 30. I am certain she had dark hair. She was from Iran for goodness sake, of course she had dark hair. I think she wore glasses in a photo I saw. It seems like every other passenger is a woman in her 30s with dark hair. I choose a stranger wearing glasses who might be Porochista. I smile at her. Welcoming her to Bozeman. She gives me a look that clearly lets me know I should be handcuffed and removed from the airport.

Tone it down.

I fully expect Porochista to be in the leading group of discharged passengers. Her Sarah Lawrence seat would be in first class. First on and first off. But the line of satiated travelers in linen and silk carrying suit bags, matching brief cases and complimentary roses moves past me and Porochista is not among them. We are now clearly in the economy class group…backpacks and small duffels. More stressed from having perched for three hours in an ergonomically designed seat that offers a tad less comfort than a plank. Still, no Porochista. Next are the partiers…twenty-somethings…t-shirts, shorts and hiking boots. Still no Porohista. Off comes the smartly uniformed crew and then, finally a familiar face from Wikipedia, but wearing a cranberry hoody and magenta sneakers…Porochista has materialized.

I plaster the “welcome to Bozeman” smile on my face and she posts her “thanks for being here on time” smile on hers. She throws her arms comfortably around me and exclaims that we have to stop at a burger joint somewhere…anywhere and get something…anything to eat.

Porochista at the Happy Hour Bar on Lake Hebgen

Porochista at the Happy Hour Bar on Lake Hebgen, wating for her buffalo burger.

I don’t even remember where my hands land but she does not yell for TSA so I think the hugging part went well. We pick up her small, well worn travel bag and head out the door. As we approach Ezzey, Porochista points and says in an admiring voice that she has read all about Esmerelda and is looking forward to the ride back to Yellowstone in my trustworthy companion. She has read my blog!

“She’s not so bad”, I tell myself.

Part Two – Meeting Chip exploring YNP and searching Grayling Creek. CLICK HERE.