What Lies Beneath
Two Stories of Treasure
Heliodoro’s Story, Mexico 1922
Heliodoro Lopez Vargas was as poor as the red dirt between his toes.
Then again, his family, friends and neighbors were all in need, as well. The view they all shared of the snow-clad mountains belied the fact that their soil was as dry and empty as the winter winds.
The mountains that shadowed their parched land stole all of the water from the clouds as they passed over the high peaks.
The mountain range they called Montañas de Ladrones* made brilliant snow of their life-giving water as if to torture the people below. And when the water melted in the spring, the parched earth at the base of the mountain drank it all down before it could reach Heliodoro’s village.
It is true, Heliodoro was poor. He drank his café con leche that morning from an empty tomato can. But before the sun was at its highest point in the blue sky, he would be the richest man in the village of Quebrada Seca. **
In truth, the discovery made that morning in a dry arroyo must be credited to Heliodoro’s burro. For it was the burro, heavily loaded with firewood – cut from higher up the hillside – that stepped too close to the edge of the trail, causing it to give way.
If seen by one of the ever-present vultures circling above, the incident would have been comical, indeed. First the burro, then Heliodoro, both cursing in their own language, slid on their backsides down the steep bank, coming to an abrupt stop in the middle of the rocky arroyo.
Such an undignified event may yield nothing but embarrassment should others be watching. But not on this day of blue skies and circling vultures; the accident was a gift from God.
Heliodoro believed that with all his heart.
A poor man such as Heliodoro often wore a more fortunate man’s discarded clothing. His trousers, being too long for his short legs, were folded up into cuffs. And scooped up in the cuff of his left leg was a heavy green stone as large as the burro’s eye.
The giant emerald and Senor Heliodoro Vargas’s great generosity brought life to Quebrada Seca. He built new houses for his family and friends. With his riches, the church was remodeled, including a sanctuary and library.
An adobe school was built for the children so they could learn to read and know of things beyond the village.
Heliodoro also built a modest city hall where a mayor was installed. He further endowed the village with a large sum of money to be used for the betterment of the community.
As for his burro, he was put out to pasture for the rest of his life, never again to toil in the hot sun under the burden of firewood. Although, the word “pasture” was not an apt description of the dry scrub that dominated the landscape.
Heliodoro was quite satisfied with the new prosperity of his village. For himself, he would take a cruise around the world, perhaps see every country that might welcome a lucky man such as he.
Several years into his journey his funds started to dwindle, but Heliodoro did not worry. He was a man who planned ahead, and he had never revealed to anyone where he had found the large emerald.
For him, obtaining more funds would only require that he return to the site of his find. By using the new mining technology employed for gold, he would simply harvest more of the emeralds that were so loved by the jewelers in New York and Paris.
Before his departure on his around-the-world odyssey, Heliodoro had ordered that a well be drilled so that the parched region could be productive and self-sufficient.
He wanted his fellow villagers to no longer feel shame when those from the larger cities passed through Quebrada Seca on their way to the beachside resorts. He knew in his heart that those people looked at the villagers with pity.
He was now anxious to end his journey and return to Quebrada Seca to see the lush oasis provided by the deep well. But instead, Heliodoro found a huge lake where all of the arroyos used to be, including the one where he had found the emerald.
The well never produced so much as a drop of water, so with the rest of Heliodoro’s money, the mayor had contracted with an engineer to build a dam and divert the snowmelt from the mountains down to Quebrada Seca.
Now there were orchards of avocado and oranges. Thick green grass grew in the meadows that surrounded the village. And the town had so much water that there was a fountain in the plaza, which the children of the village enjoyed beyond words.
Heliodoro went back to the only thing he knew, gathering firewood. And now he had a young burro capable of climbing higher up in the dry arroyos, far above the lake’s surface.
The priest had told him that lightning had struck the church’s belfry twice in the previous year. So maybe, Heliodoro thought, fortune plays by the same rules. Perhaps he would again find another extraordinary emerald.
Heliodoro was now as poor as he was before finding the big emerald. However, he did have a few pesos tucked away in his faded jacket.
With those, he purchased a pair of used trousers that were, again, much too long for his short legs. And as soon as he put them on, he folded nice neat cuffs on both legs.
One day Heliodoro and his burro wandered far above the lake and up into the arroyos on the mountainside. He checked the cuffs of his trousers frequently but the only thing he found were drab gray pebbles and one scorpion that he dispatched with his walking staff.
He found no emeralds – not even a muy pequeña one. ***
Soon they arrived at the top of a mesa, one he had not visited in his 73 years of wandering the area. The magnificent view was dominated by the blue waters of the lake. But off in the distance was an emerald-green area surrounded by parched desert.
At first, he did not recognize this landmark. It was in the very next moment that Heliodoro suddenly grasped a very important thing. The green emerald in the distance was none other than his own village.
Now, he could happily cut the cuffs from his trousers as he had no further need to search for emeralds. He already had the greatest emerald in all of Mexico, the now prosperous and proud village of Quebrada Seca.
In next week’s Watoga Trail Report:
To be sure, Heliodoro is a product of my imagination. But those like him show us that treasure can take many forms. Treasure has the power to transform in unexpected ways when in the right hands.
We are all intrigued by the very idea of buried treasure; the word “treasure” is in a category of its own in our collective imaginations. Few of us actually find a cache of gold, yet all of us have thought about it.
The notion of something of value that has been purposely hidden away has great power. And when we know that some form of treasure exists in a specific place yet is just beyond our grasp, it is even more tantalizing.
In next week’s edition of the Watoga Trail Report, we will follow a park ranger who came across something mysterious that he knew had great value many years ago. Something that was soon to be under deep and murky waters. And, best of all, it is a true story.
* Montañas de Ladrones – Mountains of Thieves
** Quebrada Seca – Dry Gulch
*** muy pequeña – very small