SASQUATCH AND I ARE QUITS
By Kitt Bradley (guest blogger and science fiction author)
Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I have been aware of the idea of
Sasquatch’more popularly known as ‘Bigfoot’ these days’since my junior high
years. The famous Patterson-Gimlin film, theoretically taken in 1967, was part
of the early growth of the Sasquatch mythos. By the mid 70’s there were popular
books about the mythical ape-man of the forest of the Northwest. The Sasquatch
of that time was tall, hairy, secretive, and shy. They were apparently few in
number, but had been mentioned under various names in Native American folklore
Could be hiding?
When I was in high school, Bigfoot was the subject of an
episode of the ‘In Search Of’ TV series. And how could something narrated by
Leonard Nimoy, the voice of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, be mere fantasy?
It seemed a possible, if implausible, scenario to have a few scattered bands of
large primates hidden in the western parts of Oregon, Washington, and British
Columbia (and northwestern California). The Pacific Northwest has multiple
mountain ranges, dense forests, frequent rainfall and abundant food sources.
Deer, birds, elk, rabbits and squirrels could add meat to supplement a diet that
required few hunting skills. After all, the human inhabitants of the region not
only survived, but thrived, before they had acquired guns or modern tools.
The Native tribes of the Northwest share a highly stylized type of art.
Large mammals do live in the Pacific Northwest. Why not an unknown one?
Stylization is a hallmark of cultures which have been around for a long time and
have ample resources so that artists are free to specialize. Edible berries,
mushrooms, and roots are found year-round; and the annual return of the salmon
provides a reliable supply of smoked meat that would last for months to years.
In addition, the Pacific coast and Puget Sound provide shellfish year-round, and
fresh water streams and lakes hold fish, frogs, crayfish, and freshwater clams.
Bears with comparable body size to the Sasquatch manage to live without tools or
the purported intelligence of the hairy wood apes. To my high school mind, the
notion of another large mammal filling a niche somewhere between that of the
grizzly bear and the Coast Salish tribes was pretty reasonable.
My older brother began collecting what books were then available, and devoted
some serious time to the idea of becoming The Guy Who Found the Proof. Through
him I learned about the plaster casts of suspected Sasquatch footprints, and
different theories of what method could be used to find the elusive beasts. But
we had other priorities, like passing classes; feeding pets; meeting members of
the opposite sex; and, in his case, learning to play guitar and banjo. Sasquatch
research went on hold, except for reading what the library added to the shelf
from time to time. I did notice that the popular press grew to prefer the name
‘Bigfoot’ to our local term ‘Sasquatch.’
This should have clued me in. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO)
Why should we all have a Bigfoot?
was founded in 1995, and a quick check of their website shows that they are
collecting reports of sightings–or other evidence like footprints, strange
noises, or odd markings on trees. Some of these entries are descriptions of
mysterious events from decades ago just now being reported. These sightings are
from all over the US and Canada: Many areas are suddenly discovering a ‘history’
of hairy men in the woods that was previously unknown. I callously believe this
is because of television influencing people’s expectations.The Discovery Channel first showed ‘Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science’ in January of 2003, and the series ‘Finding Bigfoot’ soon followed. This program shows the efforts of Matt Moneymaker (I swear I’m not making that name up) and his team to find and film the elusive creature. I believe it is in its sixth or seventh season now.
Other networks have their own Bigfoot series, including one in theGulf Coast area that is focused on killing the hairy critter to protect nervous farmers. As these depictions and ‘re-creations’ of Bigfoot encounters have become more popular, the nature of the creatures seems to have standardized a bit. The areas in which they have been seen have also expanded to cover pretty much anyplace with trees, hunters and campers, and beer.Bigfoot is now big business. Books and DVDs of the TV shows and ‘documentary ‘movies are available in stores and online; conferences are held across NorthAmerica; and the BFRO website includes information on how to join ‘research expeditions’ in various states.
For $300 – $500 for three days–plus the costs of bringing your own food, clothing, water,
Let’s go find a Squatch!
camping gear, gasoline for your SUV or other vehicle, and travel to the expedition meeting place you can work with Real Bigfoot Researchers who will take you to ‘known habitats’ to look for evidence. Some expeditions require only 2-wheel-drive vehicles, some are 4WD only. You must be in good enough shape to hike in mild terrain (and no dogs or guns are allowed). You get to ‘learn from the experts’ who have never actually found anything that stood up to laboratory testing.
I have eaten in Bigfoot-themed restaurants; gotten a latte at a Bigfoot Java(which is pretty good coffee); seen a place named ‘Yeti Yogurt’ advertise its frozen treats; and seen the Jack Link’s jerky commercials use messing with Sasquatch as an ad gimmick.*** You can buy Bigfoot Crossing signs for your home or garden, and Bigfoot themed mugs, bumper stickers, and action figures. Really!You can buy a Bigfoot action figure from Wal-Mart. (Now *that* is market penetration!)Unfortunately for those of us that actually kind of sort of believed there might be a real ape or hominid, the passing years have brought an erosion of the possibility of the Sasquatch being real.
The expansion of the regions apparently occupied by these creatures across a massive
area and into very different biomes is a big strike against the likelihood of a real animal’s existence. In the natural world animals are limited to habitats where their survival strategies are a good match for the local weather, prey items, plant life, and terrain.Mountainous forest species can’t live well in swampland or on the prairie. Even birds’ except those transported by or with humans’ are not found distributed across the whole continent; and birds can just fly over mountains, rivers,badlands, deserts, and other obstacles. For a bipedal animal to successfully migrate through such varied terrain would be highly unlikely. For them to do so without leaving any evidence of their passing is even more improbable.
The challenge for Bigfoot is that, now that everyone has a decent camera on them
nearly all the time’the ubiquitous cellphone works for pictures even if you’re
hiking too far from a tower to transmit calls’we have *fewer* photos, not more.
(This decrease has also happened for UFOs, interestingly enough.) Unattended,
inconspicuous trail cameras that fire when they detect motion have taken
pictures of bears, elk, moose, cougars, wolves, and even a previously-
considered-extinct-in-Washington wolverine’ but no unknown hominids.
The tools for other biological research have become more sophisticated. Scat
science does not cover up “evidence of Bigfoot, science simply asks for evidence of Bigfoot.
(that’s science-speak for poop) is routinely gathered and assessed, and often
processed for the DNA of both the poop creator and, in the case of omnivores or
predators, the prey species. Oddly, these never turn out to be Bigfoot scat
gathered in error. Studies of carnivores don’t show them attacking baby Bigfoot
or leaving scraps of hair or bone in their lairs or at a kill site. Hair
gathered to be assessed for the health and distribution of moose, elk, bear or
other woodland denizens has never turned out to be unfamiliar DNA. And
intentionally gathered ‘Bigfoot hair’ when DNA tested turns out to be synthetic
fiber, bear hair, ape hair, yak hair, or human hair.
The one scientific paper reporting it had found ape and human DNA in some
samples’which suggests to most lab technicians that there was sample
contamination, not a hybridization’was published in a journal *owned by* the DNA
tester (who is also the lead author of the study) which had no prior publishing
history before the Bigfoot issue. This kind of murky dealing does not inspire a
lot of trust in the results.
We do have people on Bigfoot-seeking TV shows that seem to find lots of shaking
branches and hear howling sounds’howling being another relatively recent
addition to the big guy’s reported behaviors’though they seem to always have
‘near-miss’ encounters. What’s odd is that this seems to happen *every time* the
hunters film a show! As the child of people who hunted elk and deer for
food’yeah, I ate Bambi’s aunt, and she was delicious’I know that even with
careful planning, lots of experience, and favorable weather conditions,
sometimes the game just doesn’t show. (And that’s for things that we know
Wishing for something to be true, doesn’t make it true.
I find it especially concerning that the TV hunters ask locals where and
when they should be looking and mystically, there is an event right there when
they are known to be looking for it! I can’t help but think that the Bigfoot
searchers are at best being hoaxed, and at worst, hoaxing the audience.
So, I have to say it: I no longer believe. I really WANT Sasquatch to be real. I
think having a big hominid running around the Cascades would be very cool. I
think having a legend turn out to have a real underpinning would be a great
boost to our sense of wonder and awe, and to our faith in the wisdom and powers
of observation of our predecessors. But I think what we really have is a lot of
people who let that desire to prove the mystery lead them to accept any scrap of
unidentified, possible evidence as though it were proof; to ignore known hoaxes
or solved ‘mysteries’; to treat 25-year-old memories as being as reliable as a
biologist’s camera; and to deny the possibility that they could be mistaken.
Maybe it’s because they think if they believe hard enough, Bigfoot will *have*
to be true. Or, maybe it’s because they’re now making a living promoting the
legend. Either way, I’ve now put the Sasquatch in the same genus as the Tooth
Fairy. Until and unless some robust evidence is found, I’m not worrying about
***For those who have missed these, there is always a group of people eating
Jack Link products who observe a Bigfoot. They feign friendship, and trick him
into doing something foolish or self-harming. On the plus side, these ads always
end with Sasquatch getting even with the pranksters
Thank you Kitt for taking time from your busy schedule to contribute to the blog. As someone that lives where “Bigfoot” was originally supposed to be found, the growth of Bigfoot from local legend to a nation wide phenomenon is confusing for many critical thinkers. It seems those that profit off of the legend of Bigfoot can’t have ENOUGH Bigfoot. The growth of the Bigfoot industry means it’s becoming less science and more “We have a TV show, and filming is only for 3 days.” As long as Bigfoot makes money, there will be believers! But your process from hopeful believer to unbeliever is fascinating. Logic and legend do not always go together when profits are involved! Kitty Mervine