I lived in those years in the Midwest and I remember walking anxiously through fields of corn stubble, scrutinizing distant windbreaks in fear of seeing a big, lumbering figure haunting the forest.
Since arriving here in the Adirondacks, I’ve heard occasionally from Sasquatch believers. One guy very kindly sent me a photograph of a lumpy chunk of stuff that he claimed was the mold of a footprint — a really big footprint, as you might imagine.
The issue surfaced again earlier this month, when state Conservation biologist Gordon Batcheller dispatched a letter to folks organizing a bigfoot convention in New York. (A convention for believers, obviously, not actual critters…)
“The mythical animal does not exist in nature or otherwise,” Batcheller wrote, in a letter which you can read here in full.
“I understand, however, that some well organized hoaxes or pranks have occurred, leading some people to believe that such an animal does live. However, the simple truth of the matter is that there is no such animal anywhere in the world. I am sorry to disappoint you. However, no program or action in relation to mythical animals is warranted.”
There is actually a really fun video of a purported bigfoot sighting in the Adirondacks on Youtube. Check it out.
This comes as a woman is making headlines, including in Time magazine, for her claim that she has sequenced the DNA of sasquatch.
So let me acknowledge a clear bias: I side firmly with the bigfoot deniers.
The idea that some kind of shaggy man-like critter still haunts the wilds of North America — let alone the Adirondacks — is fun but fanciful. It’s flat earth stuff.
That said, I think the lingering power of this story speaks to its enduring elements.
We humans are drawn for some weird, Jungian reason to the idea of “wild men” haunting the untamed spaces at the edge of our world.
Perhaps it’s a hard-wired legacy of that long-ago time when Homo sapiens really did co-exist nervously with more primitive and powerful Neanderthal cousins.
Even now, when “wilderness” is confined to scraps of dwindling park land, we are thrilled by the notion that bogeymen still lurk at the edge of our towns and suburbs.
As stories, I think these figments are useful and cool.
There is real mystery and power to the idea of wildness, to the notion that something important exists in the vast non-human realm that surrounds us.
Embodying that mystery in a shaggy, shadowy, half-glimpsed figure at the edge of a field is an understandable human impulse, a kind of shorthand or symbol.
The great failing here — again, this is my bias — is literalism.
People who want Sasquatch to be “true” and “real” in the same way that, say, a cross-town bus is real, or a DMV clerk is real, are sure to be disappointed.
Bigfoot’s power is that he is a myth, a story. You won’t capture him on film. You won’t find a scrap of his DNA, or a clear print of his foot. You’ll never put him in a cage at a zoo.
Whenever you reach the treeline where you think he’s hiding, the shadowy figure will have crept away to the next treeline, or the far ridge of hills. Which is exactly where Sasquatch belongs.