My first buried treasures were the old bottles I found near the stone foundations of long gone cabins in the woods at the edge of my childhood neighborhood in Virginia. 

 

After school or during the gloriously long days of summer, my best friend and I spent every minute we could in those woods.  Some days, we’d set up an old screen door in the creek and use sticks to rake the rocky bottom to catch the crawfish and salamanders dislodged into the current.  Other days, we made a game of finding young trees of just the right size, climbing to their tops, and floating gently back to earth when they bent under our scrawny weight.  Sometimes, the fun was the scary kind.  Like when we nearly drowned trying to cross our creek after it had been swollen by a recent hurricane, or when we were caught too far from home in a raging thunderstorm that toppled a tree right in front of us and dropped hailstones big enough to leave welts on our backs. 

 

As I got older, other landscapes left their impressions.  As a teenager, I spent weekends working on a friend’s Virginia farm -- though mostly we just snuck off to hunt or fish.  Around that same time, I could often be found hiking and backpacking in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, where on one such trip, my father first told me the legend of the Beale Treasure.   

I’ve also been fortunate enough to live in some pretty impressive landscapes.  Like on an island in the Pacific Northwest, where it wasn’t uncommon to see eagles, otters, and seals - and even the occasional whale - on the way to work.  Or in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, in a little adobe house dwarfed by ancient saguaro cacti, where our idea of summer fun was to sit on the roof and watch the silent fireworks of thunderstorms a hundred miles away. 

   

I guess it’s no wonder, then, that my favorite books have always been stories where the natural landscape plays as important a role as the characters themselves, and why I’d write a first book like The Lost Cipher.

 

It took a while to get around to it, though.  I had some wonderful writing teachers in middle and high school, and I even took some higher-level writing courses in college.  But other interests took root, and while the thought of trying to write a novel always niggled at me, my real jobs always got in the way.  Long story short, I’ve worked in marketing and advertising, in the nursery business, as a designer of public parks, and as a professional photographer.  Best of all, I got to be a stay-at-home dad while my daughter and son were little. 

  

When my  children were in kindergarten and first grade, I began volunteering in the schools and eventually became a teacher.  Along the way, I conducted book clubs with reluctant readers, many of them boys who just weren’t all that interested in many of the wildly popular – and plentiful – fantasy-adventure books.  But they devoured the slimmer pickings of realistic survival stories, tales like Gary Paulsen’s classic, Hatchet  and Gordon Korman’s Everest and Island series.  Seeing those students respond to those stories, the kind of stories I love, too, finally got me writing.   

 

I now teach elementary school art and make my home in the historic little town of Hillsborough, North Carolina with my wife and children, a dog named Nixie, and two cats, Luna and Mo-Mo.  When I’m not teaching, writing, or reading, I’m kayaking a nearby river, hiking the mountains, or searching backroads to find and photograph old treasures like abandoned country stores and farmhouses.   You can see my photographs at www.ghostroadimages.com.

© 2016 by Michael Oechsle