Understanding The Learning Curves — Fall 2021
The Seventh Grade Picture
The first page of this chapter is a full page photograph of a young Forrest Fenn hanging out in what looks like the back yard. The caption reads: “That’s me at age thirteen, thinking about starting seventh grade.
If we continue the theme of gradation rather than test scores or school levels, then this caption could refer to the possibility of a seventh change in direction while boots on the ground. And the look on Fenn’s face sums up the mood of the average searcher once that realization sets in.
The Title and The Doodle
Chapter titles are used to quickly convey the subject and purpose of a chapter so it makes sense for us to analyze them. So what is a learning curve and how might one jump start it?
We talked about what a learning curve is over on Bear Looks for Stuff, but the question remains, how does that information apply to The Thrill of the Chase? We’ve learned that we, as searchers, cannot measure our progress. It is not possible because there are simply too many variables and no concrete known facts. Therefore, we can only use the term “learning curve” colloquially.
And the Bell Curve is the most helpful in aiding our understanding because: If Forrest Fenn wanted to make his treasure hunt for the average person, as was his claim, then he must have had a working knowledge of the IQ of the average person. Also, Fenn uses Bells repeatedly in his writings which place a special importance on them. And, in viewing these stories at a broader scale, for instance, using the pattern of 3 into 1 and viewing this chapter as describing an area from the put-in towards the blaze, then this chapter directly refers to Bell Peak. Researching and understanding the Bell Curve gives us a direct and obvious hint while boots on the ground in our search area.
The doodle accompanying this chapter, a borrowing of Norman Rockwell’s “Facts of Life,” is especially appropriate not only to the subject matter directly related to us in Fenn’s story, but also to the idea of the learning curve specifically. The Bell Curve of IQ, the curve of achievement, and eliminative curves are all graphical representations of how the world is.
The Story Proper
So going into this chapter it is probably safe for us to assume that a young Forrest Fenn is going to learn a lesson that will somehow set him up for success later in life AND we, as searchers, will somehow learn something that will set us up for success later in our treasure hunting adventures.
But we should remember the pattern of three into 1 that we have established. This chapter should work in conjunction with First Grade and No Place for Biddies and if that pattern were to remain consistent with our boots on the ground trip, then we should be reading this chapter in the context of pulling ourselves out of the depression of Buhrer Gulch and facing the climb at Bell Peak at the place in the poem, From there it’s no place for the meek.
He begins with the lines: “In 1943, I started the seventh grade in junior high school where my father was the newly appointed principal. It was there that my life really began, but for the first ten years I figured that if it weren’t for my name I wouldn’t have anything at all.”
After three introductions and a chapter titled First Grade, here is another beginning and he is putting emphasis on the name. The name of the learning curve that we discovered is the Bell Curve which reminds us of Bell Peak.
He continues on to talk about his teacher, Miss Ford, and the “cat and mouse” game they played during Spanish Class. The “cat and mouse game” is an English language idiom that means “a contrived action involving constant pursuit, near, captures, and repeated escapes.” The Cat is unable to catch the mouse, and the mouse is unable to defeat the cat even though it avoids capture. It is a game with no end; a perpetual stalemate. It is commonly used in old western tales involving outlaws and sheriffs. Black hat and White hat cowboys.
After one particular instance of cat and mouse between Miss Ford and the young Fenn, he remembers the saying: “Don’t make the alligator mad until you’ve crossed the river.” This quote is attributed to Cordell Hull, the longest running Secretary of State at 11 years, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in establishing the United Nations.
Fortunately Fenn was saved in that particular instance by the ringing of the class bell. Hull is the second person Forrest Fenn has mentioned who was a recipient of a Nobel Prize. The First was Ernest Hemingway who won the prize in literature for The Old Man and the Sea. Both stories are directly linked to Bells.
Fenn admits that he secretly loved Miss Ford but that he couldn’t understand her teaching methods because: “she kept trying to teach me Spanish by talking Spanish all the time. I never figured out that technique.
That technique is called immersion. The idea is that if you frequently hear the same things over and over again then your mind begins to forge connections subconsciously and the putting all the pieces together happens a little more quickly. Kind of like the repetitive nature of these stories in The Thrill of the Chase.
In one particular instance, Miss Ford hauled the young Fenn into the principal’s office because, she says, he called her an “old bat.” His father gave him a look and he reiterates through italics: I mean really a look. Perhaps he means for us to really look at the writing in this story. That’s when Fenn holds up a hand and clarifies: “Father, her story isn’t exactly right. What I said was ‘my father says you’re an old bat.’” The clarification here is that Miss Ford left out the part where it was Principal Fenn who called her the old bat, presumably to avoid a confrontation with him. Much like we, as searchers, are apt to conveniently leave out information that contradict our solves. This is often done unconsciously, much like the immersion technique we learned about earlier.
This conjured up a memory in his father’s mind of a breakfast where Miss Ford had annoyed him by calling in sick requiring him to find a last minute substitute. When he realized how that incident lead to this one, his attitude changed with his understanding: “Now his demeanor was one of deep compassion and understanding.” And he asked: “Okay son, what have we learned from all of this?”
Principal Fenn states: “What we’ve learned is that you should always tell the truth, but you should not always tell ALL of the truth.” This quote is often used as “proof” that Forrest Fenn frequently lies about aspects of his treasure hunt. But as we can see, that is not the context this quote is placed in. This is about clarification and how sometimes telling the “whole truth” can change the context in a way to lessen understanding, not strengthen it.
The lesson our young Fenn ultimately learned is: “I had just learned about fear, hate, ethics, dread, moralities, passion, honesty, subterfuge, truth and a bunch of other things I can’t even remember anymore.” It’s not easy to see how he could have learned all of those things from this interaction on the face of it. Passion, for instance, one might struggle with until you realize that it was Principal Fenn’s passion for his job that made him call Miss Ford an old bat when she called in sick for work hours before class started yet it was her passion for her job that stopped her from calling in the night before, just in case she felt better by morning.
Putting those lessons into practice he said: “I decided to just do things my own way and to heck with what people thought.” And his father told him, “The greater part of knowledge is knowing those things not worthy of knowing.” It is our job, as the searcher, to go the extra mile and find meaning in all of the stories, not just the ones which coincide with our understanding of how things should work.
In another classroom incident, Fenn got in trouble for running across some of the school desks and was sent to the principal’s office for a spanking. When he returned home, he got another spanking for receiving a spanking at school.
He writes: “When I explained to him that I’d been double jeopardized he told me that those things didn’t count in a dictatorship. That’s when I first started to mistrust governments.” Henry Plummer was the Sherriff of Bannack, Nevada, Virginia City and all in between. He was the highest form of government in the land, and he was the worst criminal that government had ever seen, until of course, another man came along and pardoned him.
Fenn writes: “It was easy to justify the time I spent in Spanish class looking out of the big window that was adjacent to my desk. It was on the second floor, and a beautiful old iron, slide-down fire escape was just outside that window.” Adjacent to my desk is a window that I have created on a map using arrows I’ve found out in the Rocky Mountains. It creates a two dimensional plane that represents the three dimensional world and is a window into The Thrill of the Chase. He continues that on occasion, “I’d quickly slip through the window and down and away.” “…that rusty old iron thing marked the tail of my britches pretty good with a heavy brown color,” If you were on top of Bell Peak, and you looked to the east, you just might be able to make out Blaze Mountain. On the mountain, facing west, is a sliver of snow that never melts called The Devils Slide.
To end the chapter he writes, “I was beginning to learn where the edges were, and later in life it would come to me that one of the greatest mistakes of human endeavor has been the belief that wealth and fame could always equate with intelligence.”
The Doodle at the End
This chapter closes with a drawing of the school house edge on and the caption: “Central Junior High School. The wonderful iron fire escape slide is on the back of the building — 1943.”
If we think of this photorealistic drawing of the High School as a reflection of what we find out in the Rockies, then this monumental building could easily be thought of as a mountain, and on the back of that mountain is the slide. Just like the view we get of Blaze Mountain from Mirror Lake.
- Bear -
Here is the link to the live show
Here is the link to the Summary Video on Bear Looks for Stuff
Here is the Link to the Companion Video on The Rainbow Solve
Here is the link to The White Lighting Projects for The Thrill of the Chase