Treasure Hunting

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I wrote this in 2013, when I was working in Alderley Edge. I was interested in geocaching [an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a GPS receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world...thanks Wikipedia!] I found a well-hidden cache in a beautiful wooded area on the Edge, which inspired me to write this...  (What was I on? High on life itself, I guess)

Treasure hunting, geocaching, I pull off the main road and into a narrow lane I’m only slightly familiar with. It runs between two faster roads but I can’t give away this location, and soon you’ll know why.

A whole world exists between these routes in which I’m an unknown soldier to animal and human. My only passport is the car in which I negotiated entry to these complex territories. Fox and rabbit ignore my shape-shifting. My vectors fail to disturb their daily routines of hunter and hunted, (unless my wheels inadvertently release them from earthly bonds). 

Apart from this unwanted interaction I’m unable to intervene in their transactions, trapped by gravity as I am. 

The road corkscrews right, left, down, up, right up. See on the left, a carved unpolished owl 100 x actual size, right, now up and ever upwards. During the headlong rush I constantly expect to meet other travellers flying towards me or chasing after me. Apprehension can finally be put to one side, and pick up another time, when my lane finally runs out.

Swinging right in the car, I arrive in an avenue overhung by a million shifting leaves. I pull in on the right in front of a Forestry Commissioners 4×4, to fine tune my destination.

In spite of this being the wettest June within living memory in the UK, it’s not raining. Behind me through the interior mirror and rear window, the squatting hulk of the 4×4. Beside it a man’s head appears over a rustic forest gate next to a house for sale sign.  He gazes quizzically in my direction. Perhaps he’s querying my right to invade these spaces or even expecting a buyer.

When I arrive at the search site, I slide the car into a parking space cut from the grass by the constant intercession of other cars.  I feel the existing ruts, tongue and groove at my wheels.  Do they want to position or repel me from this zone?

In the car’s trunk are my walking shoes and socks.  I tuck trouser hems into gritty wool, thrust in feet, tie the laces and rise up, ready for the hunt.

A short walk later it’s foot to the forest floor, rain running down iridescent tree trunks.  No artist’s palette could paint this skin. Countless needles, nut shells, root and branch search out life, sustenance or simply decay, and my tongue tastes spores on the air.  Misty rain holds a gloomy curtain to dance gently on my face. Moisture drips on broken, leaning mossy posts, thinly strung with collapsed rusty barbed wire that trails on the soft carpet like the useless veins of a fallen forester.  A dying tree leans against another, like a large broken brown parasol. A trunk torn in two lies like a fallen hero in the mud.

My GPS target is an ancient stile where the wooded apron skirts the track. It’s stepping stone is bowed by countless footsteps. I visited several days ago, but failed the quest.  Dogged determination, will to win, has dragged me back for another try.  

Across the narrow country road I hear a man whistle and call, and a fleeting, regular glimpse through the high hedge of a horse on the end of a rein turning in a training circle, a living zoetrope.  I hope I am hidden and that he’s too busy to ignore my reiterated searching.

A yellow countryside arrow and sign point up to indicate the path the explorer should take.

Signs inform “keep dogs under control”.  A busy road lies at the end of the track. No driver wants to be surprised by racing hounds breaking loose into the path of several tons of brutal metal that can tear through human and animal flesh and bone in an instant. 

My palms ache to take on the stains of organisms living on the wood as I grasp and move individual components one way, then the other. 

Are these the keys?  I turn rusty nails this way, then that, but no open sesame.  

The sign has been on the stile for many a year, and seems solid enough.  Yet a corner has become loose, and who knows if the treasure cache may lurk like a pupa in the darkness behind?  

With a little more effort, the ageing plastic slowly comes away. I hope this act of breaking and entering, may in some way be forgiven if my search proves unsuccessful.  But at last I see the bounds of the box and pull it out like buried treasure.  When I open the container and pull out a mystic geocoin from a Slavic land, I hope there are still a few places left fit to play as cunning a hiding place as this has been.  

It’s not the treasure, it’s the puzzle solved, that’s the important thing.  I sign the log, clip back the lid, and restore the box, making sure I pocket the coin to move it on to a geocache somewhere else.  These are the rules of the game. The cache eases gently back into place.  

I leave the scene, almost undisturbed.  The boughs re-drape.  The moss springs back and receives the rain.  The rabbit and the badger raise their heads above the parapet and carefully survey the near horizon.  Rain slips off the wire.

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