Sunday, February 27, 2011

The World's First 'Art House' Sasquatch

Producer/Director Chris Munch scouts locations (and a few orbs) on the Clackamas River in Oregon, 2006
                                                                                                                           photo by T. Powell
     A couple years after the publication of The Locals, I was contacted by a film director from Los Angeles by the name of Christopher Munch. He was interested in doing a fictional film with a sasquatch story line. He wanted to know if he could use some of the material I presented in my book.  Specifically, he was intereted in the stuff about infrasound, habituation, and to a lesser extent, the accounts of goverment interest in the sasquatch.
     "Let me get this straight, Christopher," I said.  "You are writing a fictional screenplay, and you want to know if you can use some of the factual information I report in The Locals."
     "That's right," Chris said.
     "Well, I don't think you need my permission," I replied. "After all, I'm reporting these things as facts.  I can't sell you facts and I don't think you need anybody's permission to use facts in a story line. In any case, I love the idea that you wants to make a film with benevolent sasquatch in it, so I'd like to support you in any way I can.  For starters, you can take anything you want out of my book. Don't even bother to ask.  And if there is anything else I can do, just let me know.  It sounds like my kind of movie."
     Chris explained that he was also in the process of scouting filming locations.  He needed a logging operation,  a river landscape denuded by a forest fire, a remote cabin, and some downtown shots. He planned to be in Portland soon and he wanted to know if I could suggest some locations in and around Portland that would be suitable.
     A month or so later, Chris and I took a walk up the Clackamas River to survey a recent forest fire that burned along one bank of the river. It was a rainy winter day and Chis liked the creepy, moss-draped look to the forest (see above) but the forest fire scars just weren't very dramatic.
     True that. The fire of the previous year had stayed on the ground and, athough a lot of the trees had their  trunks blackened, very few trees had actually been killed in the fire.  We retreated to the the rustic Stonecliff Inn Restaruant overlooking the river to talk about other possibilities.  Chris explained that he was an independent film maker and he was working with a pretty limited budget (only a couple million dollars), and if he could find a single area that could provide all the locations he needed, it would really help control his costs.  Moving an entire film crew from location to location gets really expensive. Chris added that he needed some shots of the Shakespear Festival that is held each summer in southern Oregon. Did I know of any locations in that area that might work.
      I told Chirs that there had been a terrible fire on the Illinois River in southern Oregon, and although I didn't know the area well enough to direct him right to the burned landscape, I did know a guy down there from my river guiding days named Greg Bennett.  He was a lifelong resident of the area and he co-owned an environmental consulting business. Greg knows just about every bush in southern Oregon. I gave  Chris his number and then I called Greg to warn him that he might get a call from a movie guy.
     Independent film makers are like novelists.  There are millions of them and they all have projects that they are struggling to get funded. And, like novels, one in a hundred indie films actually get made, so I didn't get my hopes up of ever seeing a finished production of this film with the sasquatch story line. I'm no expert on movie-making but I still felt a film with a benevolent sasquatch would be a particularly tough sell.   It's kind of a confusing topic for the mainstream public to wrap their head around. They aren't quite sure whether sasquatches are monsters or clowns, but the sasquatch had never before been portrayed as any kind of benign or mystical presence. And as we all know, most folks are don't even think they are real. I didn't want to be too negative, but I did warn Chirs that the costuming and make up on his sasquatch character would be very expensive, especially if he wanted to do a credible job of portraying a sasquach.
     I e-mailed back and forth with Chris a few times in the ensuing years. He confided that funding his project was indeed a struggle, as I feared. Beyond that, my own affairs kept me plenty busy and I didn't hear anything else from Chris about his film.  I assumed the project was dead.  So, imagine my surprise when I got a call from Chis last December, informing me that his project was nearly finished!   In fact, he had looked up Greg down in Ashland, Oregon, and Greg was able to find him exactly the locations he was looking for.  Better yet, Greg's first hand knowledge of the whitewater on the Illinois River and his background as a river guide was extremely helpful in shooting the scenes in which the female lead kayaks the rapids in the process of doing her hydrologic surveying. I was gratified to learn that Greg Bennett's detailed knowledge of the remote regions of southern Oregon was so helpful to Chris, who was now doing the final editing in preparation for the his upcoming debut at the Sundance Film Festival.
     It was all too amazing. An 'art house film' in which a sasquatch figures prominently in the plot was actually going to happen! What's more, my buddy Greg ended up being the key location scout, and he was so helpful in so many other ways that he was even given a small speaking part in the film!
     I couldn't wait to see this thing. Chris was kind enough to send me a working copy of the film for preview. "Letters From the Big Man" debuted at the Sundace Fim Festival in January, and although it did not win the festiveal, it got some very favorable write-ups including a lengthy treatment in the New York Times. Of course, I'm not very objective on this particular project, but I thought the film was absolutely fantastic. Not only did I get a kick out of seen my pal Greg's face in one of the opening scenes, but Chirstopher's portrayal of the sasquatch was like nothing that has ever been done before.   For the first time in cinematic history, a sasquatch was portrayed as something other than a monster or a clown.
    Basically, Sarah Smith, the female lead played by gorgeous actress Lily Rabe, is a forest hydrologist who takes up residence in an isolated cabin and unintentionally habituates a sasquatch to her presence.  At first she struggles to understand the mysterious presence that keeps to the shadows.  After she comes to accept its presence, her struggle shifts to protecting the creatures from the prying eyes of her Forest Service colleagues and her duplicitous boyfriend.
     Make no mistake about it.  'Letters From the Big Man' is unlike any other film with a sasquatch character.  It is a true first. For one thing, 'art-house film.' Wikipedia describes the 'art film' or 'art house film' genre as "a social realism style with an emphasis on the authorial expressivity of the director; and a focus on the thoughts and dreams of characters, rather than presenting a clear, goal-driven story."
    That phrase decsribes Christopher's film very acurately.  What this does not describe is the first-ever  New Age portrayal of a sasquatch with a sentient and wise forest presence.  The New York Times reviewer called the film "willfully independent" and "decidedly eccentric" which is even more impressive when one bears in mind that film festivals like Sundance are veritable showcases of every  'independent' and 'eccentric' work.
     My favorite published comment came from James Greenberg of 'The Hollywood Reporter:'
 "His (Christopher's) Sasquatch is a more evolved creature with mystical communication skills. Such an interpretation might seem airy-fairy were it not rendered with such earnestness and filmmaking skill. This is clearly not a film made for everyone, but for a fortunate few, it will feel like a cleansing in nature."
     I can definitely relate to that. It sounds like Mr. Greenberg is speaking directly to the frustrated devotees of the the sasquatch phenomenon like me, who have long wished for a filmmaker who would truthfully portray a contemporary sasquatch image on the silver screen. Well, the wait is over. Now we have it. To finally see a film that portrays a sasquatch accurately is fantastic. I'm proud to have contributed in some small way to the production of this fine film.  A friend of mine playfully berated me for referring Chris to somebody else for production assistance, thereby missing out on my big chance to have a hands-on role in the making of this important film. I don't see it that way at all. I'm proud to have helped Chris find Greg, who was able to locate everything Christopher was looking for. Greg even found a chopper and a pilot that enabled them to add some aerial shots of the breath-taking Illinois River canyon. I could never have done what Greg managed to do for Christoper and his film. And what a kick it is to see my old river guiding buddy from thirty years ago in Christopher's film.
      One again, my favorite old saying proves true:  
"You can accomplish anything if you don't care who gets the credit for it."

Isaac C. Singleton as the sasquatch in "Letters From the Big Man"
     Being and 'indie film', it is difficult to say where a curious soul can go to see this film. There is a web page on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMBD) that you can view by clicking here.    If you have an 'art house' theater in your town, I would encourage you to let them know of your interest in "Letters from the Big Man" by Christopher Munch. I'm sure that copies will eventually be available for sale.  Until then, Chris is taking it to various film festivals and trying to find a market for this daring piece of filmmaking. Watch for it if your twon has a film festival
     Meanwhile, I can direct you to a 'trailer' of the film that Christopher has posted on YouTube:
                     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRGYc2_4s3U
     I sent a copy of this post to Chirstopher. Perhaps even more interesting than this post are the comments by way of a reply sent to me by the man himself. I posted the 'letter from the big man' in the "comments" box below this post.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tree knocking 101



"Let's see, where's a good stick for some tree-knocking...?"
Artwork by Paul Smith





    On the Skookum expedition back in 2000, Jim Henick and I sat in the darkened forest on the edge of  Skookum Meadow at 2 a.m. Owl hoots emanated from some timber on the opposite side of the meadow.  We decided to answer with hoots of our own. To our amazement, the next thing we heard was not another owl call, but two loud, sharp knocks, as if a big stick was being hit against a tree.  That was the  first indication that we may have indeed put ourselves in the vicinity of a sasquatch. Of course, other things happened on that Skookum Meadow expedition that got all the attention, but I'll never forget how it all began with a few 'tree knocks.' Such knocking sounds are reported quite often by sasquatch researchers during their nocturnal operations. They call it "tree-knocking."
    And, after a lot of thought and even more testing, I think I just figured out how the sasquatch do it.  It came to me the other night on a woods-walk.
     There is considerable discussion among bigfoot researchers as to what the sounds mean. For a long time now, Joe Beelart and I have debated this and one other question: how exactly the sasquatch make these knocks.  It seems that most, if not all sasquatch field researchers have encountered this sound at one time or another.  Some researchers feel that the number of knocks correspond to the number of humans that are trying to sneak up on the sasquatches.  I usually travel alone but it may just be coincidence that I do hear just a single knock in the rare cases when I do hear the knocking sound.In Skookum meadow, there were two of us listening and we heard two closely spaced knocks.
     In any case, it has always been assumed by most folks, including me, that the noise we hear is being made by whacking a stout limb against a tree trunk, producing a hollow, penetrating sound that reverberates throughout the forest.  The problem with this idea arises only when we began to try to make the same sound ourselves.  Sometimes, we want to respond in-kind, other times we were trying to provoke a response by initiating the  tree whacking sound. 
     The probem both Joe and I were having was we just weren't getting the right noise. Sometimes it was because all the stout branches that were lying on the forest floor were too damp and weak to make good whacking-sticks..  In such cases, the limb would crumble when it was struck against a tree trunk, making a soft, anemic sound as the stick disintegrated. In most damp forest around the Pacific Northwest, it is so difficult to find stout stick that was also hard and dry that we began carrying a our own stick that we made at home.  Then, we found that a hickory or ash baseball bats were an ideal tool, and we began carrying a bat around in the woods taht we would use for signaling purposes.
     Of course, this led us to wonder whether the sasquatch also carry their own, custom tree-knocking stick.  It was assumed that a sasquatch must have the same trouble finding a strong, stout stick when one was needed for tree-whacking.
     Then there was the other problem:  not all trees produce a sharp, crisp noise, even  when whacked with the perfect hard, dry, bark-less stick, or even a Louisville Slugger. Sometimes the bark of the tree is too thick. Sometimes the tree is too skinny. Other times the tree that is too big and one fails to get a great noise.  I have also found, through careful experimentation, that even trees of the same species and the same diameter produce vastly different sounds when struck.  I seems to me that dead or dying trees produce the best noise.  A healthy tree that is growing vigorously is heavy with sap and that extra liquid seems to dampen the hollow sound that makes for a nice, loud, resonating tree-whack.
     And it doesn't end there. It even makes a difference how you hit the tree. There is one spot on a stick or bat that produces the most power and the best noise. Baseball players call it the sweet spot.  On a wood bat, it's the part of the bat that has the "Louisville Slugger" insignia burned into it.  Hitting a tree to produce a loud noise is just like hitting a baseball: if you don't contact the 'sweet spot' on the bat, you don't get the desired results.
      Making a loud, resonating whack requires a bit of trial and error: the right stick, the right tree, and the right point of contact.  Now, you may be starting to see the problem: How do they do it, especially in a dark woods?  The whacks you hear are always perfect on the first try.  Maybe they're just good at it, because the sasquatch have had years of practice. I guess that's what I have always assumed to be the case. But, on one particular occasion in the Mt. Hood National Forest, the source of the loud whacks we were hearing was moving around, from place to place, yet always making a perfect whack.  The creature making the noises, presumably a sasquatch, would have had to be carrying the stick with him or her, and also was somehow able to find the right kind of tree every time and hit it just perfectly.
     For all these reasons, Joe and I supposed  a long time ago that maybe the creatures were not actually whacking trees at all.  There might be another mechanism at work  It did seem all too obvious that if wood-like whacks were coming from a forest, then it was because a tree was being hit.  But maybe there was another way to make the same noise.
     It has been over two years since the last time Joe and I had this conversation, but just the other night, while taking a night time walk in my woods, I came up with another compelling answer.
      It was a clear cold night and I was bundled up to ward off the chill.  I had a knit hat on my head underneath my hood, and ski gloves on my hands.  I was thinking about other ways of making a loud noise that would sound like a tree being whacked, and the answer just came to me in the form of a command:
"Cup both hands hands, and clap them together hard, right in front of your open mouth."  I don't know what made me think of this, but I clapped my cupped hands together right in front of my open mouth, and to my amazement,  the sound I made was a dead ringer for a stick hitting a hollow log. A perfect "tree knock!" 
      I took off the ski gloves and tried it with bare hands. No dice.  It was not nearly as loud or as hollow-sounding.  I put the gloves back on and tried it again.  Sure enough, a loud, hollow knock.  I have experimented a bit since that evening last week when it first dawned on me that there is a way to make a 'tree-knock' sound with out hitting a tree. It seems to work best when one's mouth is held open in the shape of a tall, narrow "O".  It is also important to cup the hands and clap them so that that all the outside edges of both cupped hands meet at the same instant.  Clapping very hard also makes a much louder knock. I got the best results when I clapped my hands hands so close to my open mouth that my thumb nails brushed across my open lips. You can try it with bare hands and get a pretty satisfactory noise, but the  thicker the gloves, the louder louder the noise. Ski gloves worked better than garden gloves, which worked better than bare hands. Imagine how well the massive muscular hands of a sasquatch would work when clapped in front of a much bigger vocal cavity than ours.
     I guess one can never be sure what the sasquatch do unless we witness it ourselves, but I am certain that I happened upon a way of making knocking sounds that will carry very well through the still night air,  without carrying around a bat or searching the woods for the right stick. Now, I can instantly make a knocking noise where ever I am. The more I think about it, the more it seems like a perfect mechanism for the sasquatch as well. Their mouth cavity would be larger, they have bigger, fleshier hands than mine are even when I'm wearing ski gloves, and their stronger arms would produce a bigger shock wave that would produce a much louder knock. 
     Try this with you own bare, cupped  hands, the get a pair of ski gloves and try it again.  You will be surprised at the difference.  It really booms if you clap you hands with a lot of force, while cupping the hands so that all the outside edges of the cupped hands meet at the same instant.  One you get the hang of it, you never need to  hit a tree with a stick again.  This is also good for the trees, because hitting a tree with a stick or a bat also  damages to the cambium layer beneath the bark where all the growth happens.
     One more interesting account comes to us from James "Bobo" Fay, a dedicated Northern California researcher who has gathered a great deal of Indian lore on the subject. Bobo told me of one Indian who was investigating the sound of gunfire coming from a narrow and isolated ravine. The Indian crept toward the sound, expecting to encounter illegal target shooters.  To his amazement, the Indian saw a sasquatch slamming its hands together with tremendous force and producing the sound of a gun shot each time its hands met! 
      Fascinating.      

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thomsquatch Television

The thomdoggie speaks of sasquatch at the University of Oregon

     I gave a talk last November at the University of Oregon that attempted to cover the current state of the sasquatch research game in a lecture that did not hurt to listen to. I'm not sure whether I succeeded.  It seems a little self-important to be sticking videos of myself on my own blog, but at least it is very well produced by the Uof O people who made the video. It runs for an hour which was painfully long to for me to try and watch all over again, but then I always seem to know what the guy on the TV is going to say next.  That also meant  none of the jokes were funny. Maybe they just aren't.  You be the judge.
      Or, maybe you just want to listen to the audio feed in the background while you do something else on your computer. Maybe you just want to skip the whole thing. I dunno. The introduction is also too long, but I couldn't figure out how to zoom past it and get right to the talk. There is a similar talk out there in cyberspace of a talk I did in Oklahoma.  That talk goes in a different direction but it is still so similar so if you already watched that, you can take a pass on this one.

Oh, well, one advantage of watching the whole thing is you can skip my future public appearances in favor of something more important, like organizing your sock drawer. . 
     I was kind of hoping that the Universtiy of Oregon would never get around to posting this, so I could give the same talk this year at the Oregon Sasquatch Symposium.  This video talk was a lot of work to put together so I was hoping to get more mileage out of it in the future. . Dang! Now it's available free to anyone with a computer and a comfortable chair, which means I have to make another one for Toby's conference this June.
     Anyway, here is the link, courtesy of Toby Johnson at the Oregon Sasquatch Symposium and The University of Oregon.  Get a pillow. Don't say I didn't warn you:



http://media.uoregon.edu/channel/2011/01/20/community-conversations-searching-for-sasquatch-cryptozoology-and-the-science-folklore-of-hidden-animals/

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Out-Of-Town-ers




"I don't understand how something that is not flesh and blood can leave footprints. If it is not of this world, why would it want to leave prints?"   -Joapeterson, commenting on the last Thomsquatch post.

        The rule in the blogosphere is that for every person who goes to the trouble of submitting a comment, there are thirty others who feel the same way. So, to "Joapeterson" and the thirty others who have the same question, all I can say is, "That was my question, too."
       Once again, reaearcher Steven Streufert submitted the thought-provoking answer.  Steven writes, " 'Not of this earth' must be figurative speech. Bigfoot operate outside of OUR known world (view of it), but still within the "real" world."
     In other words, we might be able to hang on to a strictly "flesh and blood" view of the bigfoot phenomenon if we look at the wilderness as a 'different world' than the one we live in, which, figuratively speaking, it most certainly is.  As I said in another one of these posts, the answers can get pretty cagey sometimes, especially when we try to quote the creatures themselves.  But this time, the information I was quoting came from  John Keel, a regular, flesh and blood dude, at least while he was still alive.  I don't think Keel was trying to be purposely vague or allegorical. 
     I know a few serious researchers like Henry Franzoni, who feel that the sasquatches must utilize extensive underground hideouts. Here too, it could be said that living underground would be living in a 'different world', and one I wouldn't care for, at that. It would be a depressingly cold, dark, damp uncomfortable world compared to our world of sunlight, fresh air, low humidity, and expansive views, unless they have sophisticted underground technologies that make the subterranean world more comfortable than it seems to us surface-dwellers..  And yet, an 'underground world' if it exists, is undeniably part of our familiar planet. So, here again it becomes possible to live in a 'different world' right here on earth.
     While I cannot ever completely discount the possibility that the 'other worlds' mentioned by Keel are right here on earth, I really think John Keel was being much more literal when he says they are other-worldly.  I think he means, quite simply, that they come from another planet.
     Maybe it is just because I have been an astronomy teacher for so long.  I don't teach only astronomy, but astronomy is a big part of what I teach every year. And there are two things I know from teaching astronomy for twenty six years: 1.) most folks know very little astronomy, and 2.) astronomy has changed a whole bunch in a very short time. 
     First thing everyone should know: It's not even called astronomy any more.  Astro-nomy, the naming of the stars,has been over for a long time. Every star we can see from earth has been named in several different star-naming catalogs.  So, the study of everything beyond the earth is not called 'astronomy' any more, but rather 'astrophysics.' And aside from all the other stuff that has changed in our thinking about space, perhaps the biggest thing of all that has changed is the astrophysicists' thinking about the existence of 'extra-solar planets'.
     Ten short years ago, the first extra-solar planet was discovered around the star Vega, some 54 light years away. Prior to that, there were no know planets outside our solar system, so scientists and religious people alike could agree that the idea of life beyond planet earth was 'paranormal,' not scientific. And that is the biggest recent change in astronomy.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of known extra-solar planets, now. There is even one, discovered only last year, that is decidedly earth-like.  Gleise 581g, only twenty light years away in the direction of the constellation Libra, reside in  the 'Goldilocks zone' of moderate planetary size, moderate distance from a moderate-size star means that it has moderate temperatures, and therefore, liquid water. And with liquid water, Gleise 581g would almost assuredly produce life, sooner or later. This isn't my opinion. This is what astrophysicists are now saying.
     This is a profound game changer. The Kepler orbiting telescope will be operational in another few years, at which time we are likely to witness a cascade of still newer planet discoveries, but we are already aware of enough planets orbiting other stars that it is increasingly certain that the chance of not just life, but intelligent life, elsewhere in our galaxy is a virtual certainty.
     In other words, the idea of life on other planets, given what we now know about astrophysics, is not paranormal any more. It is a virtual likelihood, given the number of known planets, not to mention the ones that are going to be cataloged when the Kepler telescope goes on-line.
     So, when the news reaches our eyes and ears that there are beings on this planet that are 'other-worldly', I think there is strong, mainstream science that supports the view that these 'other worlds' are indeed, other planets.  The only thing that is paranormal about this idea at present, is how they get here from there, since we ourselves do not yet know how to travel long distances in space.
     A few months ago I got a call from Kewaunee Lapseritis who is putting together a new book.  he wanted to know about using a particular photograph, but while I had him on the line, I asked him what, if anything was 'new'.  Lapseritis, author of The Psychic Sasquatch, is the original claimant to the ability to communicate with the sasquatch via some sort of 'coconut telegraph' of psychic energy.  Even though I've always been a science guy, I've read enough to know that the world of psi is not all baloney, even though it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to prove. Anyway, in response to my question, Kewaunee told me quite matter-of-fact-ly that the message he was getting was pretty much the same one as always: 'They' were put here many generations ago, but now they live here like we do.
     Cool. Now let's consider Joapeterson's question in light of all this unverifiable information given to me by the likes of Kewaunee Lapseritis and John Keel. If the consensus of these two sources seems to be that the sasquatch are indeed 'other worldly' in the very literal sense, then the knee-jerk reaction to this news has been all along to label them 'paranormal.'  But, in light of what astrophysicists have learned just in the past few years, the 'other-world' possibility has become much more straight-ahead science. And just because they may or may not be other-worldly in origin, that does not make them any more paranormal than the rest of us in the way they function on good old planet Earth. They may be extraterrestrial in origin, but they live here now, just like we do.  They eat, they sleep, they shit, and they walk on the ground, and we find plenty of evidence  of all four of these of these basic life processes that are attributable to the sasquatch.
     The big question then, is not "Does the sasquatch exist?" but rather "Where are they from?"  I have always assumed that, whether they be ape, human, or some combination thereof, that they evolved right here on planet Earth like we did.  Now I am getting other sources of information that deliver the consistent message that the sasquacth, at least some of them anyway, are from another world, not just in the figurative sense, but maybe in the literal sense. And as an astronomy (oops, astrophysics) teachers, I'm thinking, "What's so paranormal about that?"
     Well. to answer my own question, what's paranormal about beings from another planet is what they are capable of doing that we cannot do. When it comes to sighting report information, most stuff is the run-of-the-mill, "I saw bigfoot dash across the road" kind of stuff that makes the creatures sound pretty terrestrial and pretty ordinary.  But then there are the folks who insist that the creatures could read their minds, that the creatures disappeared into thin air, that they move across the ground as super-human speeds, or that they traveled under water for super-human distances. I have personally listened to witnesses describing all of these claims and more, and I am aware of other sober researchers who have, too.  I don't personally feel that these extraordinary claims require that the creatures originate on another planet, but it certainly does provide another distinct possibility as to why the sasquatch may be able to do so many things that are beyond our human capabilities.
     If every answer leads to another question, which it most certainly does in this particular line of research, then I think I can anticipate the next question I'm going to get if I actually have the nerve to post this blog:

"If they're from somewhere else, what are they doing here?"
     I dunno, but I could come up with some guesses: Keeping an eye on a really nice planet. Keeping an eye on us. Vacationing.  It's not scientific, but it's a fun idea to wonder about.
     If I ever get the chance, I know what I'm going to ask them.