Monday, January 31, 2011

Killing the Messenger

Bill Dranginis
     Responses by readers of this blog have generated some interesting yet troubling information.  It is  interesting because it seems to have a certain consistency, and troubling because of what that consistent information suggests.
     When it comes to gathering information on the hidden world of the sasquatch, my feeling has long been that the most reliable and useful information does not come from eye witnesses, but from serious field researchers. The eyewitnesses seem to be understandably shocked by their unexpected sighting of a sasquatch, and this interferes with their ability to make focused observations. Virtually all eyewitness sightings are also brief, fleeting glimpses although there are certainly exceptions.  Most witness also grapple with intense fear.  They're more focused on getting out of there alive.  It's a wonder such witnesse are able to gather any information at all with so much else on their mind. The habituation, or long term witnesses are the noted exception to this general pattern, which is one reason they are so valuable as sources of intel. Even in these cases, the role of the researcher is critical, for it is the researcher who must sort out the claims and overlay these claims onto a general picture of supposed sasquatch behavior. Then researcher has to make a judgment as to the authenticity of the creature descriptions, assuming there is no physical evidence. Finally, if the the info is seen as legitimate, the researcher hopefully passes the information along to the rest of us or otherwise publishes it in some way.  Indeed, I am in awe of how much useful and detailed  information some witnesses are able to provide to researchers, and  how much we have learned about the sasquatch through this protracted process. Which brings us to a closer examination of the so called sasquatch researcher. 
     Since there is no test or certification that entitles one to be called a 'bigfoot researcher,' there is quite a wide variety of individuals who , like me, label themselves accordingly.  As with bigfoot witnesses, there is no easy way of categorizing all bigfoot researchers, even though the word "delusional" is often used by the skeptics. In truth, there is quite an assortment of well-meaning but poorly organized research groups and individuals who try to provide some much-needed interpretation to the large body of sighting report information.
       The more witnesses a researcher has interviewed, the better that researcher ought to be at identifying patterns, if there are inded any patterns to be found. As stated in the last one of these blog entries, the experiences and the biases of the researcher also influence the kind of information that is gathered from the witnesses.  Specifically, the questions a researcher poses to the witness tend to reflect that researchers view on what the phenomenon entails. If one sees the sasquatch phenomenon as indication of wild ape-like animals, that view will be conveyed to the witness and the witness will very likely omit observations that differ greatly from this view.  Conversely, if the reasearche favors paranormal interpretations of the phenomenon, they may explore that possibility in their questioning as well, even if the witness does not sugget it. I can certainly attest to this tendency from my own experience, which is why I value the interpretations of  broadly based researchers like Henry Franzoni in Oregon and Tony Healey in Australia. They have seen and heard so many reports from so many places for so long that their biases, while not absent, are certainly tempered by the sometimes contradictory nature of the information they are given to understand.  One thing I have learned from my contact with these broadly experienced reseachers: They have gradually come to realize that there is much more to the whole sasquatch phenomenon than meets the eye.
     This does not mean every experienced researcher ultimately abandons the "flesh and blood" point of view in favor of something more paranormal.  Personally, I also support the research efforts of folks like Cliff Barackman who see nothing paranormal at all in the bigfoot phenomenon.  I even hope Cliff succeeds in his efforts to gather photographic evidence that will demonstrate that the sasquatch are simply North American great apes.  It would certainly make this whole problem much simpler to understand.
     I also have a lot in common with Cliff. I, too, began my pursuit of this phenomenon with this point of view. I worked the hidden camera angle for years, beginning in 1996. Back then, I knew of nobody else who was even using game cameras in the bigfoot arena. I wired my own forested property with video cameras after we dismantled the system we instralled in the wood  near Onalaska, WA.
     Although my own position has evolved,  I still exchange information and ideas with with those like Cliff who continue to work the cameras and who heavily favor the 'flesh and blood' point of view.  Then there are the folks who play both sides of the street. They see the merit  in the 'flesh and blood' point of view but they do not shun the paranormal possibilities either.  All they know is that they don't know, so they listen to and look for information of all kinds.
     One researcher who embodies this well rounded, highly experienced, yet flexible field approach is Virginia-based researcher William Dranginis. As far as I'm concerned, Bill is the world's foremost authority on remote camera use in bigfoot research.  No one I know of has devised more ingenious camera systems, and spent more time deploying them than Bill.  His  emphasis on these camera systems pretty much identifies Bill  as as card-carrying member of the 'flesh and blood' camp. Paranormal advocates seldom use cameras. They generally feel that the sasquatch are too wily to ever be fooled by hidden cameras, and in any case they feel the sasquatch are adamantly opposed to being photographed.  While I am genereally of this opinion, I still love tinkering with cameras, so I am very  interested in what guys like Bill  are doing and what they are learning when they do put out the cameras.
      The most interesting thing about Bill is that even as he does the cutting edge camera work that typifies the 'flesh and blood' point-of-view, he is very conversant in matters of shamanism, telepathy, and other slightly spiritual matters that would ordinarily relegate a researcher to the paranormal 'loony bin.'  Like Henry Franzoni and Tony Healey, Bill is as expereinced as they come, so when Bill Dranginis talks, I listen.
     A couple weeks ago, Bill Dranginis talked.  He read my blog post entitled "Spy vs. Spy" that discussed The Mothman Prophecies, John Keel's seminal volume on paranormal research.  John Keel is now dead, but in his lifetime he was a seasoned reporter who investigated some decidedly paranormal events as thoroughly as anyone, ever. Bill  e-mailed me  because he thought I would be intereted in one particular conversation he once had with John Keel about the sasquatch.  I was indeed very interested. As far as I was concerned, John Keel was The Man; the guru on the mountaintop.  Bill was offering to share with me information gathered from one of the most reilable and experienced researchers of them all.   If experience meant anything, then words from Keel, by way of Dranginis, would be something I could take to the bank.
    In the end, this elevated view I had of John Keel just heightened the turmoil I expereince when Bill finally told me exactly what Keel had told him.  It was definitely not what I wanted to hear, nor was it what I expected to hear.  Indeed, after I read Keel's words by way of Bill Dranginis, the futility of all field-based sasquatch research suddeenly seemed more apparent than ever.  I will share this info with you anyway, since it is from as relaible and informed a source as you are ever going to get.  But be ready for the fact that, if you're into cameras and photographic evidence like I am, it is definitely not good news.
     Bill was kind enough to allow me to share his entire e-mail with everyone \who reads this blog post, so here goes:
Hi Thom,
     I called and left a message on your phone Saturday, I hope I had the
right number. I'll go ahead and tell you about my talk with Mr. Keel now, just in
case I get hit by a bus tomorrow.
     A good friend of mine, Sandy Sheppard was good friends with Mr.
Keel when she lived in New York City. Sandy was a VIP in the New York
Society circles as she came from an extremely wealthy family and was very
interested in the paranormal. She worked with Rockefellers concerning
UFO's and she also financed the "Disclosure Project". The 'DP' was the first
comprehensive effort to assemble military personnel, aircraft pilots, and
others to disclose their eyewitness information while being recorded. She
did this work with Dr. Stephen Greer and she gave me the full set of VHS
recordings as well as the transcripts. Sandy also financed the
X-Conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC.
     I met Sandy at a Fort Fest in Maryland in 2003 and we seemed to share many
interests including Bigfoot. Sandy even accompanied me on a number of
investigations including one you wrote about in the Locals. Her name was
Genelle from Southern Virginia. There is an incredible story behind that
meeting.  We’ll need to talk about that one some other time. During one of
our many conversations, Sandy and I discussed the Mothman and I asked
Sandy if Mr. Keel had any thoughts about Bigfoot. She smiled and said why
don't you give him a call and ask? I explained I didn't know Mr. Keel and
didn't even think his number was public. Within seconds, she wrote out his
phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to me and said to call him
after she sets up a time. She called me a few days later and gave me the
time which I could call so I did. I still could not believe I had a
landline call into a New York apartment where Mr. Keel lived, who would
have thought.
     Mr. Keel answered the phone with a simple hello. I thanked him for his
time and quickly told him of my sighting with the two FBI Agents and how
I had become so interested in seeing the creatures again. I continued to
tell him about the camera systems I developed but still didn't have any
video of them. He cut in and started talking about how he had also
researched the Bigfoot creatures for a short time. It was somewhat
satisfying that he had also conducted some of the same type eyewitness
interviews that I had. Towards the end of our conversation he recommended
that I stop trying to find these creatures and that my camera systems and
other techniques would prove futile. He said they are not of this earth
and I would be wasting my time by continuing with the search and I will
never find them. He also mentioned that during the search you will think
you are getting closer to solving the mystery only to find out your
farther away. Sometimes I think he was right, but I continue with this
search because it is part of my journey through life.
     I asked him about one scene in the Mothman Prophecies where Richard Gere
ripped the phone wires out of the wall but the voice was still heard on
the phone. Mr. Keel said that did happen to him when he was conducting
research years ago.
     I hope this email gets to you as who knows what powers “they” have!
Hope all is well.

Bill Dranginis
Manassas, VA.

     So there it is folks: some pretty usettling news straight from the horse's mouth.  I say 'unsettling' only because it it would be easier to dismiss it than take it seriously.  If one does accept Keel's expertise in this area, it forces us to drastically reconsider the whole 'flesh and blood' position, as well as any hope of getting photographs or other compelling eveidence that could be presented to a skeptical public.  Not only that, but it violates the cardinal rule that Loren Coleman and many others have long used to dismiss any paranormal interpretations of the sasquatch phenomenon: "Scientifically, you aren't allowed to explain a mystery with a mystery." 
     Sorry, Loren, but John Keel just wiped his feet all over your rule.
     With all of this in mind, I would like to now direct the reader to go back one blog post on this site and read the comments posted by readers to "The Coconut Telegraph", specifically the one posted by "dede95064" in which she cites "The Law of One Sessions," whatever that is.  The passages Dede quotes  sounds like stuff someone channeled from some sort of 'voice from beyond' named "Ra". It is the sort of stuff that all card-carrying 'flesh and blood ' bigfooters ridicule. But it does mirror many elements of the stuff John Keel was saying. Mind you, Dede's comments were posted on this blog before I shared any of this story.

     Could we be closing in on an important truth about the true nature of the bigfoot matter? I hope not, because it's isn't a truth I wanted to hear.  I like my cameras. I don't want to give up my cameras. But John Keel, among others, is saying' forget the cameras.' Dang!
     I guess if I'm going to be a good little scientist, even in my pursuit of such non-scientific matters as bigfoot, I  must go where the path leads me, even if I don't like where it takes me.  When it comes to my mission of gathering better bigfoot evidence, the problem with John Keel's path is that he leads me right into a friggin' brick wall.
     Since I don't like the John Keel's message maybe I'll just tell myself that John Keel wasn't such an authority on bigfoot after all.
     I mean, if I don't like the message, can't I just kill the messenger, instead?  I guess not.  He died two years ago. Rest in peace, John Keel.

A special thanks to Bill Dranginis at for the inspiration and the fantastic material!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Coconut Telegraph

Three frames of video captures obatined on the night of Dec. 30, 2000 near Onalaska, WA
     I didn't take Rick Snyder seriously when he suggested that he was communicating with the sasquatches.  I listened to his story only out of courtesy.  He had been referred to me by Ray Crowe, the most enduring of Oregon's sasquatch researchers, so I didn't hang up on him.  Rick worked in the vicinity of the Ripplebrook ranger station and he lived in the compound of buildings that surrounded the ranger station, deep in the remote southern portion of the Mt. Hood National Forest of Oregon.
     Rick was telling me that the bigfoots sometimes wake him up at night and bother him until he comes out to feed them. It's his own fault, he confessed. He was the one who thought it was a good idea to start feeding them in the first place. He said he would hop on his scooter and head up toward Mt. Mitchell on a remote road and leave them a warm pot of beef stew sitting on a turned off Coleman stove. The sasquatch appreciated this consideration and this led to some degree of on-going but sporadic communication. According to Rick, sometimes they were even a bit pushy about their desire to have him bring them food.   At one point,  he asked them  if he could take their picture.
     They said, "no".
     He asked, "Why not?". They said it would create publicity and bring more TV cameras like the ones Ray Crowe had brought out there recently.  I was amused to hear this. Ray Crow had been on a TV news segment recently about bigfoot sightings in the Ripplebrook area.
     It was an improbable comment to attribute to the sasquatch. I was intensely skeptical but I kept listening, even though I was also having my doubts about Rick's sanity.  I kept listening because I knew I actually had the means to refute Rick's claims of  telepathic contact with the sasquatches. 
     At the time, I was working a 'habituation site' in western Washington where the residents were reporting multiple sasquatch sightings, disappearing livestock, and track finds. With their cooperation, I installed video and still cameras systems in a BFRO sponsored project begun in 1998, in hopes of gathering good photographic evidence. I had a pretty good relationship with the residents, so on my next visit to the site, I told them of  Rick Snyder's strange claims. I felt they were in a perfect position to refute Rick's claims and I fully expected them to do so. I was certainly not expecting the reaction I got.
     "Oh, yeah, we get that, too," replied April. Her husband Allen nodded in agreement.
     I was dumbfounded. "Hey," I objected, "I've been coming here for two years, now. How come you never told me this before?"
     The answer was predictable enough.  "We didn't want you to think we were crazy!"
     I tried to reassure them. "Okay, your not crazy. Now what else can you tell me about this?"
     "Well, our daughter gets it the most." 
     Their daughter was fifteen at the time, and a very caring soul who empathized greatly with all species of animals. "They wake her up and say things like, 'Come out and play.'  She'll go out and sit on the step and smack rocks together.  They answer her with the same noise.  It's not all telepathic, either.  It seems they know our names.  We've heard them call for our daughter by name. More than once I've heard someone call, 'Mom!' I know it's them because it comes from the woods, not the house or the yard. My kids are in the house, but I hear someone calling "Mom" from the woods!"
     The more they described, the more similarities  there were to Rick's claims. I suddenly felt badly about not taking Rick more seriously.  Notice too how the kind information that bigfoot witnesses offer changes as the reseacher opens their own mind to new possibilities and learns new questions to ask.
     "Anything else?" I asked April.
     "Yeah," she replied.  "The other day I was taking a walk in the woods and having a cigarette.  I had a lot on my mind and I wasn't thinking about my surroundings or the sasquatch at all. But all of a sudden, I heard a very clear statement that said, "Quit trying to trick us. And don't smoke those cigarettes. They're bad for you."
     April didn't have to explain what they meant.  I knew right away what was meant by "Quit trying to trick us."  It was the cameras. April was in complete agreement. I already had suspicions that the cameras were not fooling them.  Over the past two years, we had been finding stick structures that blocked the trails that led to our camera sites. Allen and April insisted it was not their doing. But something about the Hoyt's extraordinary claims troubled me.
     "Are you saying they spoke to you in English?" I asked.
     "Well yeah, English is the only language I speak." April replied. Then she added, "It was so clear that I spun around and looked for someone to be behind me. It was  like someone was right there, but nobody was."
     At that point I was not quite ready to abandon the cameras, but I was having serious doubts about our chances for success.  It wasn't long after all this happened that I got another phone call from another local researcher who was referred to me by Ray Crowe.
     This fellow, Steve Fredricks, told  me of his work in the Jordan Creek drainage west of Portland. Steve was finding tracks in a remote area on the regular visits he was making to this particular drainage in the Coast Range.  What troubled Steve was that some strong statements were also popping into his head while he was out there and he suspected it had something to do with the sasquatch.  I wasn't sure what to make of Steve, but by now, I was a bit less judgmental of such strange claims as the one Steve was now describing.  With the tales of Rick Snyder and Allen & April still fresh in my mind, I matter-of-fact-ly told Steve that there were indeed witnesses I had talked to recently with similar experiences. Steve was relieved to hear that there might be an explanation, however implausible, for the telepathic stuff that he was experiencing.
          After prematurely dismissing Rick Snyder's account, I decided to be a bit more tolerant toward this new claim of telepathic contact between the sasquatches and the humans.  Steve wanted to give me a long description of what he was experiencing.  I had been through it before and I knew stories weren't evidence.  Instead of more stories, I wanted to test this whole idea as scientifically as possible.  To this day I still can't believe I came up with this plan right there on the spot:
     "Okay, Steve, you think you've logged on to some kind of  coconut telegraph to the sasquatches. Fine.  Here's what you're going to do.  You're going to ask them to step in front of the cameras we have up at Allen and April's place up in Washington.  Tell 'em we really need them to do that."
     Steve thought for a moment. "It would help if I knew more about the area where the cameras are."
     "No way, Steve," I insisted.  I want to do this scientifically.  That means 'double blind' as the researchers say.  That means you can't know the location and you can't know the results of the experiment.  That way, you cannot be suspected of faking the results. The residents can't know what you're doing either. . That way, they can't be accused of wishful thinking or outright faking, either."
     "No problem," Steve agreed.  "I just want to drive around the general area and send the vibe out as locally as possible. I don't need to know where the cameras are, or anything like that. I just need a mental picture of the general area."
     Fair enough. I gave Steve the general location of Onalaska, Washington, and encouraged him to drive around that area to his heart's content.  I knew he would still be a couple miles from the exact location. That was all fine with Steve. He wasn't in a big hurry, either. I found that to be reassuring.  He said he wouldn't be able to get up there for a couple weeks.  He promised to call me after he made it up there.
     Three weeks later Steve Fredricks was on the phone to me saying he finally got the chance to cruise the area.  He said he did his best to convey the message. I thanked him for his trouble. Meanwhile, I didn't say anything to Allen and April about what  Steve and I were up to, but I made sure at least one of the cameras was working.
    On December 31, 2000, as I was preparing to go out with my wife to celebrate New Year's eve, I got an unexpected call from Allen. He explained that he was checking the computer that saved the camera images and was surprised to find that last night the camera had captured the a whole bunch of stange images.  They were the best images we had ever gotten! This was only a day and a half after Steve Fredricks had cruised the area and ostensibly 'conveyed my request.' I was dumbfounded.  The timing of Allen's call was uncanny. I had to remind myself not to get excited. I told myself this was just another bigfoot deal and they never amount to anything.
          The next day I was up there at Allen and April's.  I downloaded the images and shared them around with the BFRO people who that were monitoring the project.  They were very encouraged but also very cognizant of the fact that the images were not very detailed.  They were just dark shapes moving back and forth across  the camera's field of view. The images were interesting but inconclusive. Allen and April assured me that they were not outside that night.  In any case, the camera was eight feet off the ground.
     Two things were now clearer to me than ever:  Steve Fredrick's spin through the area and the image captures on the computer were just too closely spaced in time to be dismissed as mere coincidence, especially in light of the fact that the cameras had been up there for two years and gotten absolutely nothing until now.  It also seemed like the creatures that made the images were toying with the camera. The back and forth shadows seemed deliberate, like they were making shadows with the infrared illuminator.
      My read on the situation was that we may have somehow gotten the creatures' attention but this wasn't going to last. We might get one more try, but that was it.  Pictures weren't going to cut it.  We needed to try for physical evidence.
      I was on the phone to Steve but I didn't say anything about the camera images.  I just explained that we  needed to repeat the experiment.  I asked Steve to log on to the 'coconut telegraph' one more time. But this time, he was going to first, thank 'them' for listening, then ask them politely if they would please give us a bone.
     "Do you think they'd agree to that?" Steve asked.
     ""We'll never know if we don't ask."  I was inwardly amused by this strage new direction to my once scientific bigfoot research project.  Still, I had to see this through. 
         Steve didn't call back for a couple more weeks. I had just about given up when he finally called. "They seemed a lot less interested," Steve confessed.  "I'm not even sure I was able to get the message across, but I tried.They just didn't seem very interested."
     I thanked Steve for his trouble and figured that was the end of that.  Lightning, after all, doesn't strike twice..."
     Zap. Less than two days later, there was a message on my answering machine from Allen.  He said they found a bone at the base of the 'camera tree'! Once again, I could not believe my ears.  I was up at Allen and April's before the next sunset. Allen handed me the bone. It was a saucer shaped bone with ragged edges that seemed too thick to be top of a skull, but it certainly had that the concave shape of a skull. (see photos below.)
      I took the bone to.LeRoy Fish, a BFRO member and a Ph.D in wildlife biology.  He said it was definitely a bird bone based on its light but thick structure. He had no idea what kind it was but he could see that it was large. A neighbor of mine raised emus, large flightless birds from New Zealand.  I showed him the bone and he set me up with some reference texts. We found a pretty good match with the emu's breast bone. I shared this with Allen, who explained that his father did  raise emus and he live only three miles away. When an emu died, they were buried and sometimes unearthed by scavenging wildlife.  Allen had no idea how the bone  got to his place.  Dogs or coyotes were always a possibility.
     Soon after all this happened, the camera project at Allen and April's ended.   I needed a break and so did they. I still had not told them about Steve Fredricks and the 'coconut telegraph', nor had Steve been told about the bone.  It was a couple years later that I ran into Steve again. He lived close to the school where I teach and he was having a garage sale. I stopped by and showed him the bone that came from Allen and April's and I told him how it showed up two days after he attempted the telepathic request.   I explained it was almost certainly the breast bone of an emu.  Steve's eyes widened and he hit himself on the forehead with an open palm. I asked him what that was all about.
     "I never actually specified what kind of bone we wanted.  I assumed they knew we wanted a sasquatch bone, but I never actually specified."
     We both had a good laugh. If the sasquatches put the bone beneath the camera tree, I bet they had a good laugh, too. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that this bone is a pretty clear indication that the sasquatches have a great sense of humor.  They would have had a great laugh at my expense if I had gone around prematurely telling people I found a swasquatch bone . Fortunately, I took it to LeRoy Fish before I made a fool of myself. 
    I expect most will prefer to dismiss the whole matter as nothing more than a series of remarkable coincidences, or even one grand synchronicity.  Fair enough. Here's one more really odd coincidence:
      Steve Fredricks was having a garage sale because he had lost his job. He needed the money badly enough that he wanted to sell me his whole chest of tools for just fifty bucks. I figured this was a good time to show my appreciation for his unique efforts to help us on the camera project.  "Keep your tools, Steve. Here's fifty bucks.  Thaks for your help with the camera project. Now, get in my car.  I think I know where there's a job with your name on it."
     We left he garage sale and drove a mile up the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway to the gas station where I had filled up on the way to Steve's. Since we don't have self service gas stations in Oregon, an attendant has to pump th gas, and I recognized the attendant who filled my tank as a former science student. He told me this was his last day at the station, because he was off to college in England.
     Now, a little more than an hour later,  I was back at the gas station with Steve. The former student introduced us to Raj, the service station owner, who was definitely in need of a new attendant. He hired steve on the spot. It wasn't the greatest job, but at least it would 'keep the wolf from the door' until Steve could find something better.
     On my way home that afternoon, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.  I wondered again whether Steve really had a pipeline to the sasquatches.  If he did, then hopefully those same sasquatches would appreciate what I did for their kindred soul.  They may have shown their appreciation.
     That night was the first and only time I ever hads a dream with a  sasquatch in it.  It was a very vivid dream. I was standing with a group of people watching a sasquatch sprint across an open expanse of sage brush country. It looked like a scene right out of the 'Memorial Day footage' shot in eastern Washington. Except, instead of disappearing into a steep ravine, the sasquatch took a detour in my dream and ran inside a long, low building with no windows, like the ones they use in Idaho to store potatoes.  No one else in the group was eager to follow the sasquatch into the building, but I wasn't going to be denied this chance to get a closer look. I ran over and opened the door of the building and there, sitting on the floor in the middle of a brightly lit hallway, was the sasquatch.  Before I could say or do anything, *poof* it transformed itself into a blonde-haired surfer dude wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
     He looked right at me and said, "Okay, what do you want to know?"
     I was being given a fre question. The only think I could think to ask was, "Are you guys from the earth or are you from somewhere else?"
     "Oh no, we live right here with you....mostly," was the answer.
     "How many of you are there?" I asked.
     "Thousands.  Not hundreds. Not millions.  Thousands."
     I opened my mouth to ask another question but my eyes snapped open.  I was wide awake. The sun of a summer morning shone in my window. End of interview.
     Whether that dream was a product of my own imagination or not, you gotta love that first answer.  By tacking that one extra word 'mostly' on the end of the sentence, it leaves the door open to many possiblities. A simple answer suddenly isn't so simple.  It's so cagey and open-ended that it reminds me of the bone.  It seems these guys may know exactly how to exploit the gray areas of every situation. You gotta love that.  I know I do.  I also seem to be the target of some of their humor. I guess I'm okay with that, too.
     In any case, I hope to be better prepared if there's ever a 'next time'.So, I will put it to you, the reader:
     If you could only ask one question on the coconut telegraph, what would it be?  Better make it good, because in my very limited experience, you can expect a pretty cagey answer to any question you ask.
Bone found at the base of the camera tree, Jan. 2001  (above and below)

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Skookum Synchronicity

The Skookum impression, shown here before it was a cast in Sept., 2000, is beneath the board (right of center) that is shielding it from the sun as expedition members await the return of the rest of the group to make the cast. From left to right: Leroy Fish, Alan Terry and Derek Randles talk with Thom Powell (in truck). Note the damp area indicative of the fast-drying puddle around the cast beside the road.
       When bigfoot researchers have no bigfoots to research, they research the researchers.  Just ask Bob Gimlin.  His life has been more scrutinized by investigators and authors than any other bigfoot reseacher alive today. And he  considers himself to be a cowboy, not a bigfoot researcher.     He may be 'just a cowboy', but he still gathered what may be the most important piece of bigfoot evidence so far.  Another important item of evidence, the Skookum cast, was obtained in September of 2000.  This has not been as analyzed and questioned as thoroughly as the Patterson-Gimlin footage, but it has received a good bit of attention by a researchers who are looking for something, or someone to investigate. Bear in mind that these after-the-fact 'investigations' are all about debunking. It's never interesting to investigate something only to conclude it is legitimate.
     Several researchers over the years, and most recently Daniel Perez, have maintained that the Skookum cast is an impression of an elk, not a sasquatch, and that the place where the impression was obtained was an 'elk wallow'. Another recent investigation by Dianne Stocking questions the motives of the people who produced the cast. Specifically, she suggests that the expeditioners may have faked the cast, or at least misrepresented it, in their desire to satisfy a documentary film crew that accompanied the expedition.
     I was on this expedition, if that's what you want to call it. To me, it felt more like a camping trip with TV cameramen along. In any case, I was the de facto logistical coordinator, which is to say I got the group food and cooking gear together. I also made the recommendation to camp out in the Skookum Meadow area.
     Here is what I know:  The day before the cast was obtained, the 'elk wallow' was a shallow puddle beside a forest service road. The puddle was in a large turnaround presumably used by log trucks and flat-bed 'lowboy' trucks that transport heavy equipment (see photo above).
     A day of cold rain ended on Thursday afternoon and the big puddle began to dry up and disappear, leaving a big patch of damp earth and untracked mud beside a road. When Derek Randles put the fruit in the mud flat, it still had a bit of standing water in it, but it was track-free mud at that point. That's why he chose the spot.  Derek placed the 'bait' at around 3 .a.m., while on a errand to assist Rick Noll, whose truck alternator had malfunctions and was broken down.  He probably would not have been there to place the fruit if Rick had not broken down.What ever left the impression in the mud did so between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Friday morning.
     The interesting events of that night began around 3 a.m. I was sitting with the group around the dying embers of our campfire, trying to stay warm.  Noll was driving the roads with one of the film crew, trying to get usable footage with their thermal camera. The rest of the group was in camp.  Moneymaker was sound asleep in his tent. I was pretty bleary-eyed, myself when I heard a faint sqwaking noise coming from my pocket. I ignored it at first.  Then it dawned on me  that it was coming from the two-way radio in the pocket of my down parka. I pulled the radio out and held it to my ear. Someone was saying something (OK, I'm not real bright, nor is my hearing very good). It was Noll. His truck had quit running.  He and one of the Aussies were stranded about ten miles away. They needed assistance. We talked it over. Derek offered to go get them.  As almost an afterthought, he agreed to leave some of the fruit out on his way to the scene of Rick's breakdown.  We loaded him up with a sack of fresh fruit fresh from our home orchards. As he drove by the low-boy turnaround, Derek spied the un-tracked mud flat in his headlights. It looked like a perfect place to get tracks. Bear in mind, everything was about tracks, as in footprint tracks. Everyone was looking for footprints in those days.  Well, almost everyone.
     Earlier in the evening we were having a spirited discussion around the campfire.  I suggested  that, since it was late in the expedition and we hadn't gotten anything in the last three nights, we needed to consider some changes in our approach.  Up to that point, we had gotten some promising vocalizations in response to our high-volume call playing but that was about it.  Rick may have found a track in some moss.  We hadn't gotten anything at all with the thermal camera.  It is true that the film crew wanted some good shots and they weren't getting them.  That is true for every documentary film crew that goes out on a 'bigfoot expedition.'. It would not, however, be fair to say that the film crew was putting any pressure on us, the expeditioners, to give them  better material.
     As I recall, the film crew was more concerned with surviving. They were very cold.  Despite their reputation as rugged Aussies ("too tough for you, just right for us") they did not arrive well prepared for the high-elevation, late season conditions.  Their clothes and their sleeping bags were too light. Fortunately for them, Joe Beelart sent along a couple spare sleeping bags and I had one more. By doubling up their sleeping bags, they were able to better endure the bitterly cold nights. They brought no food with them. They thought they would be able to go to nearby restaurants to eat. They were coming from another film shoot and the casual attitude of a production assistant over the phone had me worried.  So I made up a menu and handed it to Matt, our presumed leader.  He didn't want to spend the money. I insisted and he agreed.   At least everyone stayed well fed and the Aussies in particular were very grateful. They acknowledged that they did not realize they would be in such remote, high elevation surroundings.   
      The point here, is that there was never pressure on us from the film crew to deliver compelling footage.  They felt bad because their thermal camera didn't work well.  They were counting on it to generate some great material.  It seemed Matt had assured them that, if they could provide it, this miraculously high tech device, the thermal camera, that would fool the bigfoots and we would be the owners of fantastic bigfoot footage. Yeah, right.  After the second night, it was clear that the thermal camera was a bust. By Thursday night, we were almost out of food. Fortunately, the cold rains had quit and the sky was crystal clear. Since we were high in the Washington Cascades, it was also friggin' COLD. Everyone was huddled around the fire and lacking in ideas for what else to try on the up-coming last day of the outing. The film crew was beginning to talk about some shots they needed.  they wanted people to speak into walkie-talkies about bigfoots that weren't really there.
     As I said in The Locals, when film crews start to talk about staging shots, it's time to get busy and do something else, quick. So, I went to the campfire and suggested to anyone that would listen that we ought to try a new approach based on the experiences I had gained at the Hoyt's place working the camera traps.
     I explained that the residents, Allen and April Hoyt had been reporting a lot of success with leaving things out for their mysterious nocturnal operators. They also said something else that was even more thought provoking:  Allen and April insisted that the bigfoot creatures that presumably occupied their woods knew a 'set-up' when they saw one and were smart enough to outmaneuver it.  One tactic that they were also claiming to have witnessed personally was that the sasquatch would belly-crawl in close to the house to get a closer view, as opposed to just walking on on two feet.  I explained these claims to the assembled group.  They politely listened but they did not take the claims too seriously.   I even went so far as to suggest that it was possible, based on my experience at the Hoyts', that the sasquatch could be spying on us in our camp. "Heck, they could be listening to us right now," I shrugged.  That comment probably didn't help.  People rolled their eyes. Rick was especially skeptical. he had visited the Hoyt's homestead and he was not at all convinced that their claims of habituated sasquatches were genuine.
     At least they listened, and for lack of any better ideas, the group reluctantly agreed to try to my suggestion that we spend our last night dispersing the fruit that we had brought along as bait, or, as some prefer to call it, "gifts". It was very late and very cold.
    The reader should, by now, understand, that the sequence of events that led to the formation of the Skookum impression was completely spontaneous, and heavily influences by a sequence of chance events: the weather, Rick's alternator, the walkie-talkie in my pocket, the dubious experiences of Allen and April, and the selection of this location in the first place were just some of the chance occurrences that converged.
     One thing that was not a chance occurrence was the actual discovery of the impression.  Rather, Rick, Derek, and Leroy were dispatched the next morning to check on the bait location Derek created the night before. I like to think that Rick might not have even noticed the unusual impression in the mud if I had not brought up the seemingly absurd idea that the sasquatch will belly-crawl into a suspicious situation.  I'm certain that LeRoy did not perceive the impression when they first happened upon it because LeRoy's footprint is forever preserved in the Skookum cast (see lower-center of photo, below).  I credit Rick with keen observation and the willingness to consider new information when analyzing the unfamiliar marks they found in the mud.  Only a day ago, Rick would have been predisposed to look only for footprints. I'm pretty sure of this because of what happened next: As, I was packing my camp gear into my truck, Rick came barreling back into camp in his pick-up (mysteriously, his alternator was now working again). He strode purposefully up to me. I Iknew something was up.
     "You were right," he said.  "They don't always leave tracks.  It sat down in the mud to reach the fruit. Come see what we found!"
Close up of the impression prior to casting, with outline added by Noll to highlight forearm just above thigh impression (center) and heel mark (lower right).  Note also finger marks and apple remains (upper right edge of photo).

     Off we went to inspect the impression in the mud.  I must emphasize mud here, because that speaks very directly to the view that the Skookum cast was taken from an elk wallow.  Elk wallows are ponds of water that elk get in to bathe, tear at the ground with their antlers, and bathe some more. An elk wallow is not a shallow puddle and it certainly isn't a mud flat.  It's a few feet or more of water that they can get into and partially submerge themselves. If one wants to see it. all one has to do is 'google' "elk wallow" on the internet.  Then look again at the YouTube film clips hunters have posted.  Compare what you see in these videos to the photo at the top of this blog post. One thing is clear to me: that mud patch behind my truck sure isn't an elk wallow.
     As the participants eagerly prepared the scene for casting, I did some videotaping of my own then headed back to town.  I must confess now that I was also a bit discouraged by what I saw.  Even in the first few hours after it's discovery, there was obvious posturing and positioning underway by some of the participants.  They were labeling themselves as discovers, and eagerly awaiting their turn in front of the Aussie's video camera.  My motto has always been, 'You can accomplish anything if you don't care who gets the credit for it.' I figured there were plenty of folks around to mug for the camera. My work was done.  I went home.
       In truth, I've always known that there was a lot more to the story than has been told to date, even though I wrote about it myself in a chapter of 'The Locals'.  Here's another amusing detail:  The cast was originally called "Skookie".  That's what LeRoy started calling it in the opportunities he had to speak about it to the media.  Moneymaker called me up one night and expressed concern about the somewhat silly name.  I suggested to Matt that they should just call it the 'Skookum Cast.'. The name stuck.
     Perhaps the most salient point I have to make about the whole Skookum cast deal is the one that has never been made up to this point: the coincidences and happenstances that led to its acquisition have always disturbed me.  Well, not really "disturbed' me as much as 'amused' me.  Even as I stood there taping the affair as they began the process of casting it, I was silently amused for reasons that I have never shared until now.
     That reason is the "p" word, as in 'paranormal.' i know the cast is an item of concrete physical evidence,   but there is also something decidedly paranormal about it; It's the way it all went down. Why did Rick's car die, then start working again?  Why was that walkie-talkie still 'on' in my pocket ( I thought I had turned it off)?  The formation of the puddle when it did, then its transformation into a mud flat was beyond fortuitous. It was remarkable.  We couldn't have asked for a better site for the cast.  The amount of hydrocal (plaster) we had on hand was fortuitous in the extreme, yet it was there only because it was being delivered to LeRoy from Rick's inexpensive source in the Seattle area. Then there was that most opportune conversation we had around the campfire about bigfoots reluctance to leave obvious tracks.  I have often wondered whether the cast would have even been recognized if that conversation had not happened. LeRoy's fooprint in the cast is a clear indication that it was almost overlooked by the 'discoverers'. But it wasn't.  Good going, Rick.
   That is why Rick deserves to be permanent custodian of the cast. Even when he didn't agree with my views, he listened and he remembered. And speaking of listening, my favorite image of all is the one I have in my mind of the sasquatches themselves, lying on their stomachs behind a bush, right outside our camp, as I explained the slightly paranormal matters that were being reported to me by Allen and April. I like to think that 'they' heard from behind the bushes what I was saying to the group, and they liked it so much that they decided they would endorse my position by 'throwing us a bone', that is, giving us something we wanted, but also something that would endorse my paranormal position that 'they,'  the sasquatches, were a heck of a lot smarter than we were giving them credit for.
   I have carried these ideas in my head for ten years.  I never dared to express them during the days when the cast was getting all the attention. I didn't want to say anything that would taint the 'physical evidence' value of the cast.  Now, I'm not so worried.  The cast has been thoroughly examined by experts.  It is accepted by many and questioned by a few for two reasons:
a.) it was taken in an elk wallow and
b.) the participants are suspect on the basis of hidden agendas.
     I can safely say both those suggestions are not true.   It wasn't an elk wallow, it was a mud puddle, and the expedition was too disorganized, the events were too unplanned, and the coincidences too numerous to allow for any kind conspiracy to manufacture the Skookum cast.
      Rather, the myriad coincidences that converged are so remarkable, at least to me, that the whole affair takes on the appearance of a synchronicity; that is, a remarkable combination of too many chance events to be dismissed as mere coincidence.  Now get this: Synchronicities ar not scientifically explainable. Therefore, synchronicities are, by definition, paranormal.  The Skookum cast was, in my view, the result of a synchronicity. Therefore, the Skookum cast, by the rules of syllogism, is paranormal.
     Great, so now, while trying to dispell a couple false assumptions about the Skookum cast,  I have also raised yet another reason to question the validity of the Skookum cast.  It's paranormal.
     Does that somehow invalidate the authenticity of the cast? I don't think so. The thing is still physical evidence. It can be examined by any scientist at any time.  The Skookum cast is real, and it's physical, so it is real physical evidence. If it is real physical evidence, it does not matter if it was gotten by way of a seance. It's not the cast itself isn't paranormal, it's the circumstances that led to its acquisition that are so strange.
     Now that a little time has gone by, here's what the Skookum cast represents to me:
a.) genuine physical evidence of the sasquatch's existence, and
b.) Equally strong evidence that  there is something slightly paranormal going on in the realm of the sasquatch.

     Even if it isn't paranormal, there sure were a lot of interesting coincidences surrounding the acquisition of the cast.  Here's one more. In June of 2008, Joe Beelart, Douglas Trapp, and I were camped right on the edge of Skookum Meadow when who should pull up to our camp but Rick Noll, and in the back of his pick up truck was the Skookum cast.  Rick was on his way home from a conference and was driving through the area. He heard we might be up there and decided to try and find us. Another odd coincidence that I shrugged off at the time, yet it was not lost on me: the Skookum Cast had returned to Skookum Meadow for the one and only time, and by some weird coincidence, I happened to be there. Lots of odd coincidences seem to surround the Skookum Cast. The synchronicity continues. Is all of this coincidence?
     I'm starting to doubt it.

Skookum expedition participants, from left to right, Rick Noll, Greg Bambanek, Ian (one of the Aussie film crew), Alan Terry (center) Erin (Jeff's girlfriend), and Jeff Lemley (holding board). Bottom center between the 2x4's, is the cast, partially completed, with first (splash) layer in place.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Whole Enchilada

                                           Unfinished cover art for Shady Nieghbors

     I told you in my first post that my blog posts would be rambling.  I wasn't kidding.  As if to underscore that point, Steven Streufert summarized all three of my last blog entries in one brief sentence: "Human experience runs way ahead of what can now be scientifically proven." Well put, Steven.
       If one conducted an investigation of the sasquatch in a very active location, like Mount Ranier for example, that this guy or gal would gather a great deal of human experiences that would be useful toward understanding the phenomenon even though it would be utterly unprovable information. The experiences and observation of a person who has habituated the local wildmen may never be provable, even though they may indeed be real experiences. That's because the creatures themselves are aware of what we are trying to do and they have no intention of cooperating.  I suspect that this is precisely what has happened and is happening at numerous isolated locations around the continent that we sometimes call habituation sites.
     I worked a few of these locations myself, and gathered information from several more that I could not be at all sure of, although they seemed to have the ring of truth. It's never for sure, but when the descriptions fit a pattern, I certainly hang on to those descriptions and give them serious consideration.  Then, I apply the lessons learned to my own situation and see what happens.  Sometimes, this leads to more unverifiable observations, but this time they are my observations, not somebody else's.  That doesn't make them any more scientifically certain, but it sure means a lot more to me.  I feel like I've made good progress.  I feel like I'm much closer to at least a partial understanding of what is really going on in the realm of the sasquatch.
      I am, however, no closer to proving anything than I was a decade ago. I do think I have a lot better understanding of the matter. Granted, every answer leads only to more questions, but I still feel like I've gotten at least a few answers.  I figure I'll concentrate on gathering proof later, and just concentrate gaining a little understanding first. At least, that's the way I've been working it for the past ten years or so.
     At some point, one does get enough material that it becomes necessary to check with other serious field people to find out whether my observations, tentative conclusions, and suspicions match the stuff they've been getting.  I did this by writing everything down in one book, 'The Locals', and got that published in 2003.  That was eight years ago. I was relieved to find that even some of the more venturesome conclusions I expressed in that book were supported by still other folks I had never met, but who were out there doing serious work of their own. Lots more news from the field came my way as a result of publishing The Locals,  some of it being  support for ideas I'd already written about and some of it being even more incredible stuff than anything I had already been given to understand.
     It's nice to be in the Pacific Northwest where there are a lot of active field people to check with, although it has been even more instructive to learn from the experiences of  people in other parts of the continent like Bill Dranginis in Virginia, Ron Lewis in Ohio, Lisa Shiel in Michigan, Michael Humphreys in Oklahoma, Larry Hagedon in Iowa, Mike Hall in Louisana, Doug Tarant in Nevada, and many others.
     Eight years later, I  still don't have the proof that everyone seems to want, but I do have still more obseravtions, speculations, and tentative conclusions than I had when I wrote 'The Locals'. Heck, I have more material now than ever. So now what? I guess I could write another book like 'The Locals.'. I started doing that and got about half way through the process when I lost interest.  First, it began to feel redundant to write the same book a second time.  On the other hand, the material I was inclined to feature in the second book was, in some cases was so far out on the limb of  'the paranormal' that it seemed like it would be of interest to only a handful of fringe sasquatch devotees.
     I had to go a different direction, for my own sanity, and in the hope of getting the information I had gathered before a wider audience, not a smaller one. That's when it dawned on me: One can say more through fiction than non-fiction.  Despite the fact that some say 'The Locals' was also fiction, I set out to invent a completely fictional and entertaining story that would also describe what I saw as the true nature of the sasquatch phenomenon. I started writing the story three years ago. I didn't even know how the story would end when I started writing it, but many midnight walks and many rewrites later,  I have finally finished it. 
     Basically, I took somewhere between twelve and twenty of the strangest accounts, observations, and encounters and mixed them all together.  I didn't just put them into a literary blender and pulverize them into a milkshake.  Instead, I tried to layer them carefully and logically, more like assembling the ingredients in a tray of enchiladas. The sighting reports used in the story, like the characters, are the ingredients in the casserole, and the plot, like the corn tortillas, is the starch that unites the separate ingredients into a coherent whole. 
     Many people helped improve the recipe.  I was lucky enough to get editorial help from Tom Yamarone, Joe Beelart, Dmitri Bayanov, Sally Wolford (Autumn Williams' mom), Toby Johnson, Alicia Bateman, Christopher Munch, and a whole bunch of other kind folks.  I've never written a novel before, so I fear this one may still be a little rough around the edges.  But, whatever it is, it had been baked long enough and now it is ready to be served up.
      I took Thom Cantrall's advice and spared myself the aggravation of trying to market the resulting piece of 'niche literature' through the big publishing houses. Instead, I'm following Thom's lead and going the route of what is variously called "self-publishing" or "printing-on-demand."
     It is now in the hands of the publisher.  I could have worked on it for another ten years but I decided it was time to submit and just get it out there before I lost my nerve. In another month or so, you will be able to find "Shady Neighbors" on I'm certainly not Hemingway and this novel may not be epic literature, but it is an attempt to tell a fictional story that illustrated the way humans and sasquatch sometimes interact.
     Just about every bigfoot novel I have ever read has the same three characters: The big game hunter who plans to kill the sasquatch but who ends up getting killed himself, the professor, whose principal role is to provide background information, and the hot babe, who always get away alive even as everyone else dies. I tried to take a completely different course. No guns, no murders, no crooks, and no hidden loot. I tried to make a totally original story that does not portray the sasquatch as the villain or the monster, but rather a part of the landscape, albeit a vey mysterious one. I hope it works.  I'm not expecting a bestseller, and I'm not in it for the money.  If I can put something out there that  entertains even as it portrays some of the stranger but real elements of the sasquatch phenomenon, then that will be the only enchilada I set out to make.