Forrest Fenn, Santa Fe artifact collector, purportedly filled a treasure chest, years ago, with gold dust and rare gold coins worth what some believe to be well over one million dollars, burying or placing it in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Helpfully, he wrote a six-stanza poem with clues to where you ought to search for it, if you’re so inclined.
I used to work at the nearby Colorado College, and one March, just prior to spring break, I asked a student what his plans for the break from school entailed. He was the first one to tell me about Forrest Fenn’s treasure, and said he and a group of students were going to go search for it, using Fenn’s poem as their guide. I said it sounded fun, and wished him good luck, but really wanted to say,
“Ah, grasshopper, grasshopper. Sit at my feet.” Truthfully, the whole buried treasure thing feels a bit like the lottery, which I’ll never win because I’ll never play.
More to the point, Fenn’s treasure feels like it’s beside the point.
I’m not saying Fenn hasn’t actually hidden a box in the hills or that it’s impossible to find, assuming it hasn’t been already.
It just feels like a diversion from the real treasure one can find in life, if they have eyes to see it right in front of them. Kind of like last night, when my wife, Nan, and I were sitting across from our friends Glenn and Michelle at Paravicini’s in Old Colorado City, enjoying a tasty Italian meal and talking about the possibility of traveling to Brazil together some day. We’ll see – sounds dreamy, but speaking of plane travel, a few years ago I was flying to New York with the entire senior year contingent of art history and studio art majors, who were scattered throughout the three-quarter’s full cabin. I had the window seat. Next to me was an open seat, and next to it sat a middle-aged woman. I was ensconced in a good book and she, in some magazines.
As the plane began to descend towards La Guardia Airport, however, and with my book finished, I decided to see if I could strike up a conversation. I asked the lady if she was coming or going. She said she was heading home from a conference. I asked her what the conference was about, and she told me she was a textile designer, and had given a talk in Dallas at an industry-based meeting.
She inquired the same of me, and I told her that I was on staff in the Art Department for the Colorado College, and that we were headed for a week of museum, gallery, and art studio tours and the like. I began to explain the block plan, but she politely cut me off, smiling, saying when she had been in school on the east coast, her boyfriend went to CC and she’d fly to Colorado every block break to see him. Small world.
Smaller and smaller yet: After finding out a bit about what she did, and how she had her own design studio, I asked where it was located – was it, by any chance, somewhere in New York City? Not only was it in the city, but it was in Manhattan, a borough with over four million residents, exactly one block away from the midtown hotel where our group would be staying.
Would she, I then asked, be amenable to having a horde of students over to her studio? Would she mind, if I could set it up on the fly, giving a brief talk about what she did for a living?
And that is how, just a few days later, about ten students, a faculty member and I found ourselves entering her studio, where she gave us an interesting hour-long explanation of her fascinating and creative work. Before leaving, a number of the students whispered to me that they thought it would be great to intern with her, and, lo and behold, the boldest of them actually did. After graduating, Chelsea worked there for over a year and even traveled to Europe as a part of the job.
The next time we were New York, a visit to the textile design studio was a part of the official itinerary.
All because I decided to engage with someone on a plane just minutes from landing.
But how many such opportunities have I missed in life, times I’ve been too self-absorbed or distracted by inconsequential things to make the effort to connect?
The real treasure in life isn’t located where Forrest Fenn’s poem cryptically locates it.
The truer and more lasting cache is in you and it’s in me.
It’s in my kids and my wife.
It’s in the connection we might just possibly develop with a complete stranger on a plane, if we’d just put down our book or look away from the screen long enough to engage and connect.
And the blessed ripple effect from such connection, like the butterfly effect, goes on and on, ad infinitum.
Do I really agree with what I’ve just written?
All too often my actions betray the fact that I don’t.
When I do, I become much more ‘other focused’.
Might it hold a key as to why I find myself sculpting hands?)
Why, then, Andy, don’t I take a pick axe to the often stony ground of my heart? Well, Andy, I’ll tell me: connection involves knowledge, and a wise man once said that with much knowledge comes much sorrow. That’s why, Andy, if I must know.
But, as Brené Brown talks about in her Ted Talk on the subject of the vulnerability inherent in connection,
Painful though it often is, moving toward fuller connection with others is central to a fuller life,
and I feel like I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of a reality that’s buried right in plain sight.
Way down deep, I believe that, in comparison, true connection and relationship with others makes Fenn’s tempting treasure look like fool’s gold.