The Search for Sasquatch
Looking for Bigfoot in the north woods of Minnesota
(page 2 of 3)
THE NEXT DAY my campmate Dave and I got up late. We’d set up our tents in a clearing about half a mile from the next camp, and we were ready for a full day and night of what, we had learned, was called ’squatching.
Dave, like me, wasn’t running around calling himself an “enthusiast,” even though here he was, spending four days in the woods, looking for Bigfoot. Talking to others, I soon found that many of us had more doubts than hopes that something so incredible could be true. On the way back to base camp, Dave and I discussed the imponderables that occupy the mind of the Sasquatch hunter: How much deer meat would it take to support an 800-pound primate? Do they store food in winter, or just keep hunting? If they can tell the difference between hunters and hikers, do they know we’re looking for them?
“I’m a little skeptical about that rock-throwing,” Dave said. He was referring to an incident that had happened the day before: Two guys had driven into camp with a big dent in the side of their car from a rock or log—which they claimed was hostile fire from an angry ’squatch. They were so scared—it looked like Bigfoot wasn’t the only beast who’d left some scat in the woods.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m not sure I believe it either.”
“But then you have ask, what would the motivation be?”
“Right. That’s what my wife says,” I agreed. “Then again, it’s hard to trust people who want to believe.” I meant, of course, people like myself.
“It’s a big seesaw between belief and nonbelief,” Dave said.
“Exactly. And I keep going up and down.”
BASE CAMP was set up under a big brown tarp. Several of the 42 men and women on the trip sat in camping chairs, while others sat on logs, waiting for the meeting to get started. Those gathered were garbage men and CEOs, woodsmen and city folk, curious and convinced, all gathered to answer a single question.
When everyone had trickled in, Andrew called the meeting to order and started to write down unusual things people had seen, in an attempt to gather as much information as possible.
As we listened to the stories of that first night, it quickly became clear that no one had found any large hairy bodies, no one had shot any telltale film footage, and most of the evidence we’d collected remained tantalizingly inconclusive. One group reported a figure paralleling their party in the woods. A woman had heard tree-knocking and then rustling outside her tent. There was a case of strange eye shine, which turned out to be the goggles on a thermal imager. Dave raised his hand, and did his best to reproduce the odd sounds he’d heard in the night, which were determined to be an owl.
“Do you want to tell them your story about the howl?” someone asked a beefy quasi-lumberjack whom I’ll call John.
“Well,” said John, “it was real short and sweet. We got up about five o’clock, made some coffee, and were listening to the owls. It was dead calm, quiet. There were owls in the distance, then straight south of us was a perfect Ohio Scream. Clear as can be.”
An Ohio Scream?
“What’s that?” someone asked.
John demurred at doing his interpretation of the scream, but we learned it was a kind of long, moaning howl first recorded in Ohio in 1994.
Andrew jotted this all down, and seemed pleased with the amount of activity. When everyone had finished their stories, we dispersed until later in the day, since the ’squatches were thought to rest during the afternoon, being nocturnal creatures.
As we were leaving, I approached a man I’ll call Roger. “Hi,” I said. “I heard you were on an expedition in Michigan…and something strange happened.”
“Yeah,” Roger said. “That was a good example of being ‘zapped.’ ”
“Well,” he said, “it was dark, and we had a lot of activity. We were going to try to set up ambushes, and we were walking down this road when we heard them up ahead. They went ‘thump!’ and one went left, and one went right. Then I felt this incredible pressure in my chest. My nerves were all on edge. Things weren’t working right, but it felt neurological, not psychological. It was very frightening.”
“Wow,” I said. “Do many people get zapped?”
“I wouldn’t say many. It’s probably the exception.”
“And you think that’s how they hunt deer?”
“I think so—with ultra-low frequencies that we can’t hear. I don’t think there’s any other explanation for it.”
THERE MAY OR MAY NOT BE other explanations. But what is certain is that this is the point where my wife starts giggling. (“Zapping? Seriously?”) From Bigfoot’s invisible energy beams, it’s not far to the edge of the cliff that many enthusiasts have happily thrown themselves over, leaping from simple zoological fact into a morass of New Age nonsense.
Once, I was up in the Cascade Mountains in Washington—serious ’squatch country—where a guy told me the reason they hadn’t found Bigfoot was because he was a shape-shifter. Others believe Bigfoot is a UFO pilot, or that he teleports from other dimensions, or he lives in the hollow earth, and displays all manner of psychic powers. Even if I did want to believe, these things make it very hard.
Some people posit that there is more than one Bigfoot—a whole species of Sasquatches, here and perhaps elsewhere. In fact, the notion that there are small populations of unknown primates around the world got an unexpected boost when Scientific American published a cover story in 2000, titled: “We Were Not Alone.” It began: “Our species had at least 15 cousins. Only we remain. Why?” The article said our last relative died out 25,000 years ago.
But a 16th cousin was added in 2003, when the existence of the “hobbit,” a human-like creature that scientists believe died out 12,000 years ago, was confirmed in Indonesia.
For years, locals in that country had told stories of Orang Pendek, a small hairy person that lived in the forest, yet such tales were dismissed as folklore. Now that science has begun to rewrite the evolutionary family tree, the question arises: Are we really alone?
Recently, scientists with more than a few credentials have started to take that question seriously, people like primatologist Jane Goodall (who, in 2002, told Talk of the Nation host Ira Flatow, “You’ll be amazed when I tell you I’m sure they exist”) and Jeff Meldrum, an anthropology professor at Idaho State University. In his book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, Meldrum looks at the assembled evidence and finds that some Sasquatch footprints have a midfoot joint that’s common in nonhuman primates while others have toe prints running lengthwise instead of across the foot. And new examinations of the old Patterson-Gimlin footage suggest the figure’s torso and limbs don’t match typical human anatomy.
“What we know suggests this is all very reasonable,” Meldrum told me when I reached him by phone at his office in Idaho. “We find them where the habitat would support large omnivores. There’s a fossil record that suggests these animals have an ancestry and didn’t just drop out of the sky. And the behaviors we see are similar to what we see in great apes.”
But what about the zapping? Seriously? Zapping?
“Great apes have these extra-laryngeal air sacs [for producing low, continuous frequencies],” Meldrum noted, “and there’s some suggestions that Sasquatch might as well.”
So maybe, just maybe, Roger was onto something. After all, as Meldrum pointed out, it was recently discovered that tigers stun their prey with a blast of infrasound just before they pounce.
They zap them.