Monday, June 3, 2013

Thom Gets Some 'Ink'

Hillsdale's Sasquatch expert

At Robert Gray Middle School, teacher Thom Powell leaves a big imprint

A few months into one’s freshman year at Wilson High School, alumni of Jackson Middle School in West Portland Park will start forming friendships with those of Robert Gray in Hillsdale. They will trade stories of their middle school years, recounting horrific homework assignments and raving about favorite former teachers. But while former Jackson pupils tend to have a long and varied list, Robert Gray alums all seem to name the same one: Mr. Powell, a teacher of eighth-grade science with a penchant for Sasquatch. Not the annual music festival, but the mythical creature also known as Bigfoot.
by: CONNECTION PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Eighth-grade science teacher Thom Powell with a plaster track cast of the Sasquatch in his classroom at Robert
Gray Middle School.
by: CONNECTION PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Eighth-grade science teacher Thom Powell with a plaster track cast of the Sasquatch in his classroom at RobertGray Middle School.

Thom Powell has taught at Robert Gray Middle School for nearly three decades. He is a tall, gray man with a
raspy voice and a disarmingly piercing gaze. Though his appearance is domineering and almost off-putting,
his students know better. They flock to his classroom as soon as the bell rings, vying for his attention to their preteen attempts at sarcasm and deadpan. Powell meets them bit for bit, speaking with complete candor to his 14-year-old pupils. Truly, he is a gentle giant, and so, he says, is the Sasquatch.
In the 1990s, looking for a fun, light way to cap lessons the day before winter break, Powell would screen footage of Bigfoot available through the school district as an example of pseudo — read: phony — science.
“I used to teach it for years just as a misapplication of science In other words, it was something that wasn’t valid science. It was fanciful; it was baloney. But it was interesting to the kids,” he recalls. “But then I moved out to (rural) Clackamas County, and in talking to some of ... my neighbors, they said, ‘Oh no, this is the real deal ... you don’t understand. Us folks out here in the country, we bump into these things.’... That blew my mind.”
As a man of science who studied environmental education in college in Ohio Powell sought out concrete physical evidence that Big- foot was not, in fact, baloney. He got in touch with a man near his home who was making plaster casts of tracks in the dirt that he believed were of the Sasquatch. Powell was still skeptical, but asked if he could borrow some casts as a visual aid for his lessons.
“He started setting things aside for me, and then even found a particularly good one and said, ‘Here, you can have it’, and so I started acquiring things myself, but also then started really reading the information and finding that, indeed, science is just as prejudiced as people in general can be, and this is definitely a subject that science doesn’t know what to do with because it’s
not verifiable, it’s not quantifiable. You can’t run a controlled experiment for some strange reason, and the reason most people of course embrace is that ... it’s fake.
“But,” Powell continues, “When you run into people who are saying, ‘Oh no’, of course you have to reconcile that. Anecdotal (evidence) does not hold water in science; people’s stories are not good enough. But when you talk to people who are credible and aren’t ballyhooing it - they’re not putting it on the Internet, they’re just saying, ‘Look, I know what saw’ — you have to factor that in.”
Powell decided to try and see if he could experience for himself what so many told him they had experienced, and became, in the late 1990s, one of the first to use motion sensor cameras to attempt to capture Bigfoot on film. Motion sensor camera, and later on, streaming video, did seem to substantiate the existence of the Sasquatch, though not in the way that he had expected.
“We never got great video, but we did get some really interesting things,” he says. “Once I was satisfied that I wasn’t being hoaxed, that were something genuine going on, then it gradually began to emerge that the problem was most likely that we’re dealing with something that’s so intelligent that it knows what you’re doing ... You’re being watched when you’re putting out the cameras ... they’re very sentient beings that are aware of your coming and going. One of the patterns that really became pretty vivid was that every time I would show up, everything would stop, and as soon as I would leave it would start again.”
This meant, he says, “that while you’re studying them, they’re studying you — which is pretty much what ... CIA people know about intel. That’s where I started to realize ‘Okay, you’re not really doing science because we can’t do science, because they’re too intelligent, but you can do intel, you can do what spies do, and that is, you just gather all the information you can get. Nothing is verifiable, nothing is provable, but you can assemble patterns that are fairly bulletproof, and you can predict what’s going to happen next, and you can assemble a profile that matches other peoples’ profile and has predictive value.”
What Powell found was that in the Pacific Northwest, “There were certain hotspots, especially the closer you to Mount Rainier, the more stuff goes on.”
But, he adds, “They’re not just in the Pacific Northwest; they’re all over. There aren’t too many states in the United States where there isn’t some of this that goes on. As long as you’ve got forests and places where people don’t live, and the ability for nocturnal operators to move about, it appears that they’re much more widespread than people realize.”
Not just widespread, but also “much more intelligent than people realize,” Powell says. “They have capabilities that we don’t have because they’re nocturnal operators and because they’re not technologically inclined and watching TV all day, so their sensitivities are much greater than ours. They can see and operate in the night; they know you’re coming before you get there.”
Powell compares this heightened sensitivity brought on by living in nature to that of aboriginal populations in South America and Australia, which would make sense, as research into over 100 supposed Bigfoot DNA samples by Melba Ketchum, published earlier this year, purports to have proven that the Sasquatch has at least half human DNA. Powell personally agrees with her, but says going through the traditional channel of publication in a scientific journal will mean little to society at large right now.
“People are arguing for and against Ketchum’s scientific paper and the results that are described therein. In truth, her work is so, you know, out on the fringe of what’s known and accepted that only once somebody does the same work again will she gain credibility that comes from being replicated by another scientist.”
More importantly, he says, modern science can’t or won’t accommodate the possibility that such a creature exists.
“It’s a very difficult thing for the public to accept that not only are there wild creatures out there — that’s not that radical — but wild creatures that greatly resemble us,” he says. “It’s too radical, and it’s almost sort of politically too unpopular to even float. It might even destabilize the religious paradigm of the Judeo-Christian culture that we’re in; it threatens resource extraction in the federal lands — logging, mining, how much land are they entitled to — and then of course if there is another group of people, then they’re entitled to recognition and an embassy.”
Powell says the Sasquatch’s anti-industrialized ways by and large run counter to everything we know in mainstream society. While waiting for the dominant paradigm to shift, he is content with speaking at Bigfoot seminars, where he answers questions and reads passages from his two published works, “The Locals: A Contemporary Investigation of the Bigfoot/Sasquatch Phenomenon” published in 2003 and “Shady Neighbors,” a work of fiction published in 2011. Powell says members of the CIA came to a recent book signing and told him, in short, “You nailed it.”
Of course, he continues to teach, and every year, when he delivers his lesson on Bigfoot, he teaches not that the Sasquatch is pseudoscience, as he used to do, or even that that it exists, as he now believes.
Instead, he says, “You let them tease you about it. You don’t want to upset the apple cart by being too insistent to a group of kids about something that cannot be proven, so we throw it out there as an intriguing idea — as an example of what science really hasn’t yet come to grips with, which hasn’t been proven and may never be proven — but certainly, for the benefit of kids and as a science teacher, part of the message has to be that they may not exist at all.”
More often than not, however, Powell’s eighth-grade students come to the same conclusion that he has. And they show their work.
“What happens is, every year — this is the most interesting thing — a few kids will always go, ‘My uncle has a story’, or, ‘My dad has a story’ ... and then, all of a sudden, all this stuff starts coming my way,” Powell says. “Just by sampling a population, you actually get stories much more frequently than most people realize.”
The students have proven to be a vital resource not only for Powell, but also for their family members who have experienced a Sasquatch sighting. They get the validation of knowing that a respected teacher could take them seriously, and Powell, in turn receives anecdotal evidence to add to his ever-growing file of so-called intel.
“Isn’t it interesting,” he muses, “that kids are wanting to jump out ahead of grownups in their interest in the unsolved mysteries of the world?”
That, he says, could be what helps the Sasquatch finally get its day in the sun. “As this generation comes on, they are probably going to carry that interest into adulthood, and you’ll see an ever-expanding interest in this thing.”
And although that day may be long in coming, for now, generations of students who come out of a middle school in Southwest Portland have an enduring interest in both the Sasquatch and one of its most ardent investigators — so much so that he has become the stuff of legend himself.
Sarah Miller, a 23-year-old student at Oregon State University, took Powell’s class nine years ago. Today, about to graduate from college and start her own career as a science teacher, her memories of a Powell sighting have left a lasting impact. And, she says, she’s not the only one.
“His unorthodox style of teaching leaves students remembering him in a way that they don’t remember anyone else,” Miller says. “And that’s why he’s become a bit of a ‘Hillsdale icon’ — because everyone has a story to share from Mr. Powell’s class.”
He is an icon with a simple but powerful message: “If you’re going to be scientific, you can’t rule out anything,” he says. “You have to leave everything on the table.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bigfoot DNA Evidence Redux

The first-ever attempt to thoroughly map the bigfoot genome, authored by Dr. Melba Ketchum, et al. and published in DeNovo Scientific Journal, has been out for a couple months. I eagerly spent the thirty bucks to get my hands on a copy at my very first opportunity. I read every word of it three times. I also sought the opinion of a couple of geneticists for, despite my science background, I did not understand most of the highly technical jargon in paper.

What I really needed was some context. Context is particularly essential since almost no one else in the general public has the ability to grasp the incredibly arcane and specific language of the geneticist. I am capable of understanding most of Ketchum’s explanation of the methodology and of course her conclusions. Beyond that, I recall the advice of a career scientist who once told me that the way to read a study is to first read the abstract (a one or two paragraph summary of the whole report), then the introduction, and then the conclusion. Skip everything else. The academics will pour over that and you can’t understand it anyway.

OK, so here it is in a nutshell: 109 samples were obtained from all over North America.
(Obviously, the sasquatch phenomenon is more widespread than most people realize.) Most samples were hair, but not all. Blood, saliva, and even a tissue sample was analyzed. Not all of the work was done by a single lab. Some of it was farmed out to university labs that were not initially given any background about the samples they were asked to examine.

The findings were remarkably consistent: mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA), which is indicative of the female component of the genome, came back as human! The nDNA (nuclear DNA from the male progenitor) was found to be ‘novel’, which is geneticist code for “doesn’t match anything previously extracted.”  Also, large sections of the DNA strands appeared as single strand molecules (haploid), as opposed to the uniformly double-stranded DNA of all human DNA that is not found in sex cells (gametes). This might indicate that the DNA being sequenced was highly degraded DNA, but degraded DNA is found to contain lots of bacteria, and no bacteria was found in conjunction with the DNA that showed single strand configuration.  It was not degraded, but it was single strand DNA in about half of the segments that were sequenced. Multiple labs observed this anomaly, an dutifully reported it to Ketchum.

I was warned ahead of time by prognosticators like my buddy Guy Edwards that a DNA study proving the existence of the sasquatch probably would not rock the world. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is poorly understood by the general public. People want to see a body. I also fully understood that the community of self-anointed ‘bigfoot researchers’ is highly competitive, even back-stabbing. Vocal individuals in that community could be counted on to attack and devour anyone’s claim to scientific progress since it is always seen as a threat to the stature of the other self-important personalities who feel that the media attention is rightfully theirs. Then the ‘group-think’ kicks in. An underappreciated person with a recognizable name becomes critical and launches a blistering attack. The unexamined tribalism of a larger group, who are all in constant contact via the internet and Facebook groups march in lockstep disdain, comfortable in the belief that their collective criticism of the new evidence or new thinking is protected by the umbrella of group consensus, which emboldens the group in the near term but eventually turns out to be based on somebody’s logical fallacy.

Meanwhile, anyone who attempts to challenge the groupthink by endorsing the new idea or new evidence is roundly dismissed with pat turns-of-phrase like: ‘They drank the Kool-aid’ (a crass reference to the members of James Jones’ cult who committed mass suicide in Guyana). In truth, the groupthinkers are the cult, consisting of the vocal critics who will not examine the ideas on the basis of their merits, and those who fall in line behind them for fear of becoming outcasts from the 'bigfoot researcher tribe.

There is a long tradition of dogmatic tribal groupthink in bigfoot research. Peter Byrne and Rene Dahinden, two early luminaries, absolutely vilified anyone who claimed to have more than one bigfoot sighting. They strenuously argued for years that anyone who was claiming more than a single sighting was a liar. "Rubbish," was Peter's dismissive, single word reply. Paul Freeman’s groundbreaking field work was dismissed in his lifetime by these na├»ve purveyors of the ‘my-way-or the highway’ groupthink, who have now, I think, been thoroughly discredited.

Early attempts to collect and isolate sasquatch DNA were met with similar hostility. The sophistication of the early efforts was nowhere near what it is today, so the DNA sequences were always incomplete. Still, attempts were made and the reaction of  bigfoot researchers and mainstream scientists was always the same: The samples were obviously contaminated by the handler because the hair was found to be HUMAN! The researcher who collected the hair was discredited even ridiculed by the vocal skeptics in and outside of the bigfoot researcher community.  Still worse, these views  always managed to get printed or broadcast in a news media that has always favored simple, groupthink answers to complicated questions.

Paul Freeman was one of the most frequent recipients of this abuse. He submitted hair samples he collected under credible circumstances and in his case, no prominent lab anywhere in academia would consider giving his evidence a serious look. It finally ended up being handled by a private cosmetics lab, who stalled on it for months and months, then confidently declared that his sample consisted of artificial fibers, probably from a sofa cushion. As if Paul Freeman couldn’t distinguish between a real hair and the stuffing of a sofa cushion! What about Paul Freeman’s fairly impressive video clip? No one has ever been able to duplicate it or show that costuming was involved, but it was never able to penetrate the opposing mindset which a local Portland environmental writer, Brenda Scearcy so precisely describes as the “ossified tribal mindset”.

Now, enter Melba Ketchum. She has kept her distance from the ‘bigfoot research community’. She has not attended the conferences, she has not made the requisite pilgrimages to the Bluff Creek film site, to Steven’s museum/bookstore in Willow Creek, and the insufferable forums and chat rooms where a tribe of armchair enthusiasts spend way too much of their free time.

The tribe wasted no time.   Before it was even published, the Ketchum study was faulted on several fronts. The eagerly-awaited publication was repeatedly delayed for unspecified reasons. That was seen as damning.  Ketchum’s personal and business life was thoroughly scrutinized by a platoon of amateur sleuths. The fact that her privately owned genetics lab was not flourishing, and that she had some unhappy customers, was the beginning of the groupthink feeding-frenzy. Then it was discovered by eager-beaver researchers that her paper was rejected by first-tier scientific journals. It was suggested that the paper had so many problems that that we might not ever get to see it in print at all.

During this time, I had some contact with Dr. Ketchum. She confided that she was intensely frustrated by the fact that the peer-reviewers for the journals she was courting kept ‘moving the goal posts’ on her. Initially receptive audiences suddenly became unreceptive. Suggestions for small changes were willingly accommodated by her, only to be followed by further requests for huge changes and revisions. All this was taking place while she was trying to maintain her animal genetics testing business and while the hyperactive bigfoot research community poured over her every move and publicized every questionable business decision she ever made on the internet. Meanwhile, she was scrambling to satisfy the demands a highly skeptical group of peer-review scientists. Small wonder her business struggled and her customers were unhappy. I cannot believe she was able to function at all while living under such a microscope. This doesn’t even begin to address the fiscal problems with trying to privately fund such an unprecedented genetics effort, even as she was still struggling to rebuild her business in an area of Texas that had suffered severe impacts from Hurricane Rita.  

Based on information I got from a local lab in Portland, I estimate that Dr. Ketchum had to have spent around two hundred thousand dollars on equipment and materials alone, in order to process the 109 samples she collected from all over North America. In the acknowledgement section of her paper, Ketchum states that she was able to secure the funding for the equipment and materials from a few generous philanthropists like Wally Hersom, Adrian Erickson, Larry Surface, and others. It’s a good bet that this funding source covered only a fraction of the true costs of this enormous effort. Ketchum donated all of her own lab time and probably benefited from the generosity of many other dedicated souls. The labor costs on such a project, I am told, would raise her total costs for the project to something like two million dollars if she had billed all of her time, which she did not. Would one expect her business to suffer while she is pouring her heart and soul into this effort? As the kids say these days, “Duh!”

As soon as the study was made available, the criticism shifted to the fact that, she published the paper by acquiring control of an obscure ‘boutique’ journal, and then making her genetics paper its sole item of content. I would certainly agree that this is not the preferred way to present an important scientific paper. I also know that, as the author of two bigfoot books, ‘bigfoot’ is a topic that very few if any publishers wants to touch, and this is doubly true of scientific publications. Scientists are people too, and they stand in line at the grocery store, reading the tabloid headlines about Elvis’ bigfoot baby or whatever else the tabloids are screaming about that week. Scientists have their prejudices and 'bigfoot' is a big one.

So, hell, yeah, Ketchum is going to have a tough time getting published. I could see that one coming miles away, especially since I had the frustrating experience of trying to get two different books published on the much-maligned bigfoot subject. Maybe it’s just because I’m a lousy writer, but I couldn’t get any publisher to look at my novel, so I, like Ketchum, went ahead and self-published Shady Neighbors. I’d still be sitting on an unpublished manuscript if I had not. Not only do I NOT blame Melba Ketchum for essentially ‘self-publishing’ her paper, I am downright appreciative that she did so. I have no idea whether it required still more money from Wally or Adrian to acquire the rights to the DeNovo masthead, but I do know that, if she had not ‘gone to the well’ one more time for publication money, we would still be waiting to read her paper. I feel nothing but gratitude for the effort and money expended so that us ungrateful bigfoot dweebs could finally read the scientific treatment that we have long-argued that the subject deserved. If I knew of a way to send Melba Ketchum some genetics business to support her lab's bottom line, I most definitely would. I feel nothing but gratitude for the Herculean feat that she willingly, and perhaps foolishly, took on.

Which brings us to a discussion of the results of her study: half human, half ‘novel’ DNA. This finding is so radical, and the implications are so enormous that it’s a no-brainer that she was going to have a very tough time finding a scientific journal that would publish this finding. Scientific journals get very uncomfortable with radical finding, no matter how good the science is. Bear in mind also that Ketchum, with all her radical conclusions, is not nearly as an established in academia as someone like Dr. Bryan Sykes at Cambridge. She's a veterinarian and the owner a small, privately owned genetics lab in Texas. For whatever reason, she had the willingness to apply her genetics training to the bigfoot mystery. And when she examined the genetic evidence surrounding that mystery, it took her to a conclusion that was way too radical for mainstream science. In fact, it seems her conclusions are even too radical for a most bigfoot researchers to accept, and bigfoot researchers have always seen themselves as outside-the-box thinkers.

Truth is, once again, the ossified groupthink in bigfootville does not allow the researcher tribe to consider the possibility that bigfoot is not the ape that John Green, Peter Byrne, and Rene Dahinden always said it was. I believe it was Rene Dahinden’s quotation that lives in infamy, “It’s nothing but a damn, dirty ape!” Sadly that phrase still echoes in the halls of bigfootville and it has done lasting damage to the intellectual integrity with which the competing hypotheses have been considered by bigfoot researchers to this day.

Full disclosure: It is difficult for me to discuss the Ketchum study’s conclusions without wanting to stand up and shouting, “I told ya so!” Indeed, when I first got my hands on the study, it gave me a chill when I read it. Bear in mind the fact that, every time I had the chance to stand up in front of a group and speak on the bigfoot subject over the last fifteen years, every time I published a book or article, I strenuously made the unpopular point that they (the sasquatches) are actually PEOPLE. The First Nation people (Indians) have always said they’re a tribe. My own field work, my experiments with cameras, baiting, habituating, and communication always pointed in the direction of a very wily, avery intelligent, and a very sensitive group of entities that knew much more about us humans than the Dahinden-poisoned groupthinkers were ever prepared to consider.

The very title of my 2003 book “The Locals” says it all. In the first chapter of that book, I discussed early efforts to morphologically identify hair samples as well as the early DNA extractions that had been attempted. In both cases, the few scientific results that were available when I published tentatively concluded that the hair looked human, and the DNA was also of human origin. Of course, the ‘Damned Dirty Ape’ concept still dominated the groupthink and so it was easy to dismiss such  unexpected scientific findings, not to mention a middle school science teacher like me. The ossified groupthink was justified as being 'appropriately skeptical' and I was mostly OK with that, even though it still troubled me that the groupthink was being shaped by people whose ‘field work’ often involved large caliber weapons.

Now that my true colors as a “Ketchum-supporter” are plainly evident, I try to acknowledge the points raised by Ketchum's critics. The paper has flaws, they say, even down to spelling errors. I read the paper three times. I saw no errors in spelling. I do not know the genetics lingo well enough to spot mistakes when it comes to genetics terminology, but I think that finding fault with minor spelling errors is ridiculously nit-picky. I did see two places where the author refers to the “Sasquatch samples” that were being processed. She should have said “the putative Sasquatch samples” or some other wording that implied that the samples were just ‘unknown’ until such time as the study was complete. This too, is a bit nit-picky. I can see how some empirically-minded peer reviewer might object to that wording, but stuff like that does not seem like a reason to reject out-of-hand such a serious and expensive effort as the one she undertook.

Beyond the semantics, there is the much-discussed question of the tissue sample submitted by Justin Smeja, which was ostensibly the product of a hunting accident. The story is being circulated that Smeja’s sample was found to be a combination of bear and human DNA, with Smeja himself being the probable source of the human DNA. I had the chance to ask Ketchum about this. She stated that all the samples she tested, including the ones she sent out to other labs for verification, were remarkably consistent in their result, and one of those consistencies was that in every sample, the human element of the DNA contained mutations that no human, not even Justin Smeja, is known to possess.  Specifically, long sections of the DNA strands that were sequenced by multiple labs showed single strand DNA. Further, Ketchum knows how to take a sample from the center of a piece of tissue when that opportunity exists, and the tissue sample provided by Smeja was substantial enough to allow for a pure sample to be taken from the center of the tissue where contamination is not possible.  Ketchum is completely confident in her methodology and its’ inherent conclusion.

She is not confident of any sample that was not processed by her, Ketchum stated that the alleged bear/human DNA results came from samples that were not part of her study.  Rather, they were independently by someone other than Ketchum. ( Correction: In the first draft of this essay I mentioned an old friend, Bart Cutino as being involved in the resubmitting of theses samples on Justin's behalf. Bart got in touch with me and corrected me on this.  My apologies to Bart Cutino.) In any event, samples were evidently resubmitted after the initial work was done, and they claimed a different result: human contaminated bear DNA. These results surface after the study was published and Ketchum emphatically calimed that whatever was being posted on somebody's Facebook group was not any kind of genetic data from her study.  Interestingly,  the time this happened, Justin, as well as many others in the world were made aware of the fact that the sample he provided to Ketchum was showing indication of human DNA.  This brings us to one of the more peculiar ironies of this whole story: Justin Smeja appears to have unwittingly provided the tissue sample to Ketchum that, assuming her  DNA sequencing work is correct, may ultimately show that accidentally killed a human being!

Bear in mind too, that by this point, Justin Smeja had submitted to and passed a lie detector test in which he insisted that he did indeed shoot at least one bigfoot creature. When the samples came back as human, it had to be a terrifying realization for Smeja, and one that would certainly provide more than enough motivation to put a different spin his story, and maybe even get busy and submit a second sample for testing that would show a more confusing, contaminated result.  Meanwhile, Justin Smeja, or somebody else using his name begins circulating a new story on Facebook group pages: that he was told by Ketchum to destroy his remaining samples. Ketchum calls this a pure fabrication.

If Justin Smeja actually shot and killed one, and maybe two, sasquatches, is Justin Smeja really guilty of a capital crime? I really don't think so.  His defense would simply be that he was completely unaware that these hair-covered human-hybrid creatures even existed. He thought it was a bear. And as long as our trusted government continues to keep the public in the dark about the existence of these sasquatch creatures, neither Justin Smeja nor anyone else, can be prosecuted for shooting such a human variant that doesn’t officially exist.  This is precisely why the focus of Ketchum’s current effort is to gain official recognition of the creatures’ existence before uninformed hunters shoot any more of them!

Smeja’s sample just is one of many. Even if he succeeds in muddying the waters in hopes of reducing his legal vulnerability, where does that leave us? With 107 other samples that all say essentially the same thing: human-hybrid creatures are leaving DNA evidence all around North America.

I suggested to Dr. Ketchum that vindication of her work will only happen when it is replicated by another study, maybe even more than one. She wholeheartedly agreed. We are told that Dr. Bryan Sykes at Cambridge is already on it. Meanwhile, Ketchum has complete confidence that her methodology and her result will withstand the test of time and scientific scrutiny, if scientists will just look objectively at her work.

If there is one pattern in the sasquatch groupthink culture, it’s that right after any new line of evidence, whether it be the Freeman footage, the Skookum cast, or a new track way surfaces, the initial reaction is always very loud and very critical. Then, after vitriol has run its course, the discourse shifts to something quieter, more balanced, and more reasoned. I think I’m seeing that evolution taking place in the case of the Ketchum study, and I am optimistic that Ketchum’s groundbreaking work will be verified by future DNA sequencing efforts.

I find her arguments compelling, and it isn’t just because her findings agree with that which I have always said and published in my books. Her conclusions are also perfectly consistent with everything I have experienced in the field and with all the information I have gathered from reliable witnesses over many years. I long ago concluded that the sasquatch are human so it is very easy for me to agree that Ketchum study is correct in its’ conclusions. If that makes me a “Ketchum supporter” then, yes, I guess I drank the Kool-Aid. All I can say is, it was delicious. And, it was much easier to swallow than that, bitter, even toxic Kool-Aid that has been dispensed for decades by the ossified tribal group-thinkers, and I have certainly tasted that Kool-Aid many times.

There is one final doozy of a stone that is still unturned.  It’s sort of the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about.  Put another way, the Ketchum study, I think, has yielded physical evidence whose implications are so profound that most do not even want to open that can of worms.

I’m referring to the other half of the sasquatch genome that the Ketchum study identified; the part that isn’t human. The sasquatch genome, according to the Ketchum’s work, is human DNA that interspersed with DNA that is absolutely unknown.  It is neither ape, nor human, not lemur.  Ketchum has no idea what it is, nor does anyone else, but the ‘novel’, single strand, haploid DNA is there for anyone to find who knows how to sequence it. Is it some evolutionary offshoot of humanity that we have yet to identify in the fossil record?  Maybe. But the mysterious sequences are single strand, that is haploid DNA, and all terrestrial DNA in somatic cells (blood, hair, tissue, bone) is diploid unless it is in gametes (sex cells).  

OK, so what is the origin of this truly novel DNA that Melba Ketchum found in the sasquatch genome? For one possible answer, check out The Locals, Chapter 10: “No Stone Left Unturned.”  What gave me a chill when I read the Ketchum study is the possibility that I may have written down an answer ten years before I even asked this question.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Best 'Bigfoot Sighting' Investigation You Will Ever Read

     A good follow-up investigation is as important as the bigfoot sighting it investigates. A proper investigation provides needed context that will either validate a genuine bigfoot sighting, or suggest reasons to doubt a possible hoax or case of mistaken identity.  The following investigation of a sighting report from Wenatchee, Washington by veteran researcher Paul Graves, is as good as any sighting report investigtion you will ever read. It is an honor to be the first to publish the summary of this top-notch investigation. It's a long report, but it's worth the time spent reading it.  The list of insights into bigfoot behaviors (near the end of the report) is especially valuable for bigfoot researchers in all areas of the continent. (All photos by Paul Graves) :

Bigfoot Sighting Location: Wenatchee, Washington
Date: January 9th 2013, 7:45 a.m.
Investigator: Paul Graves, Wenatchee, WA

       I was awakened by my friend Dean Dewees, who phoned to inform me that he had just heard on the radio of a reported bigfoot sighting right on the edge of the town of Wenatchee!  Dean said the report had been submitted to KPQ radio.  He could not remember the road names on which it happened, so I quickly called KPQ radio station and talked to radio station employee Steve Hair.

     Mr. Hair told me that a male caller phoned to report that he had just heard of a bigfoot  sighting  in the area of Walnut and Stella streets in north west Wenatchee that morning. He described the creature as about 6'5" tall, covered in dark hair, and running at a super fast pace.  The call was received by the radio station just before 7:00a.m.    I quickly got dressed and made my way to the area of the sighting.  It's a part of the valley that ‘bottle-necks’ down to where the Wenatchee river empties into the Columbia River from the west.     
     The Wenatchee Valley sits in a very unique geographical location. It is located in Chelan County which is 88% national forest.  Most of the residents of the county live in the Wenatchee Valley.  The valley floor sits at about 800 feet elevation, but the terrain rises rapidly to 7000 feet, and is surrounded by millions of acres remote forestland, extending into the Cascade Mountains and beyond. The Wenatchee Valley is hemmed in by the Columbia River to the east.  The Wenatchee Valley trends basically in a north-south direction.  The Cascade foothills, right on the edge of town, are very steep, brushy and incised by steep canyons (or  ‘draws’)  that lead from the heavy timber uplands right down to the edge of town.  The sighting location was very close to these Cascade foothills, just outside the town of Wenatchee, where the 7000 ft. elevation Mission Ridge wraps around the valley to the east and south of town, diverting the course of the mighty Columbia River to the southeast. This Mission Ridge also has a history of sasquatch sightings.  Early settlers first encountered "The Old Man of Mission Ridge," a sasquatch that was seen from time to time in this same vicinity. These early sightings are well-known among the older of the present-day residents of the Wenatchee Valley.  The Wenatchee Indian Tribe also seems to know of a local sasquatch population, which they refer to as “Choanito,” or "night people." 

     I arrived at the area of the sighting around 8:20 a.m. and tried to get a feel for the area and where would be the best places to explore.  I was in the northwest part of valley, near a cemetery and the valley's main irrigation canal .  At first, I had my doubts about it, but once I arrived at the area of the sighting and looked around, things began to make more sense.  There were fruit orchards and old homesteads on both sides of the road.    On one side of the road was an orchard had young trees and recent pruning debris (winter is pruning time for fruit trees). On the other side of the road was a much older orchard of about three acres.  I entered this older orchard and walked along rows of pear trees.  To my surprise, I came across some very large and very fresh barefoot tracks in the snow!  The pear orchard had not been harvested during the year and there was an abundance of rotting fruit lying on the ground.  (Possible food source?)  The orchard looked to be abandoned.  There was no sign of recent pruning, or any human boot prints anywhere.  I searched the west corner of the old orchard and spied a herd of 10 to 15 deer, huddled in a corner of the orchard. The entire orchard had deer tracks throughout and deer beds on the ground, with piles of leaves pushed up next to them like little wind blocks.

    The fresh track line of big bare feet looked very human, but the tracks were much wider than any human feet I was used to seeing, and of course, they were bare foot tracks in snow! The tracks trended south towards the far end of the orchard.  The snow was about 1 to 4 inches of old, crusted snow with deer tracks throughout.   The track line was very fresh-- maybe a couple hours old-based on the fact that snow from the edges of the tracks has just barely begun to crumble off the edges of the tracks.
       That same morning, a low fog filled the valley and lifted by about 7:45a.m. as a warm thermal rolled in, warming up the air to about 40 degrees. The snow was showing a little bit of melting as the valley air warmed and as I was arriving around 8:20a.m.   I noticed in many of the tracks the impression of a pressed down heel, some flexibility in the foot, and a very wide ‘toe box’.  I could see that the feet that made the tracks ‘cookie cut’ sharply around the edges through the old, ice-crusted snow, also pushing back some of this crumbly, grainy snow into a mound behind the toes. One could clearly see the outline of all five toes in a number of the prints.
    A friend of mine Josh Lawrence also helped me document the site. He was amazed by the tracks at first looking at them  . The tracks  were about the same size as my size 13 boot, yet much wider.  The prints measured  a little over 13 inches,  and about 6 to 6 1/2 inches wide at the widest point in the foot (see photos). We measured a ‘step’ (distance from left heel to right heel) of 63 to 65 inches as the tracks proceeded to the back of the orchard, where  they circled a tree. Here, the step shortened and became somewhat confused, trending in various directions before crossing back over its own tracks,  then heading west and up an embankment  above the road at the northwest corner of the orchard.
     The tracks led to a thick grove of trees in a small depression at the top of the embankment that seemed like a good place to view the road only a few feet away but remain concealed.  It was here that we lost the tracks.  It appeared that the creature either used the road and to make its way back to the foot hills, or it headed south from the top of the embankment onto posted private property that we didn’t dare to access. 

     I wanted to make sure I had time to try and cast some prints. Since laying concrete is what I do for a living, I have lots of knowledge of casting material in different weather and soil conditions. I also have experience in casting tracks in snow.   I did not have any Hydrocal-30 on hand, so I drove to a nearby Home Depot and purchased some 20 minute quick-set mortar mix and a bag of Fixall and returned to the site. I cast six tracks. I usually use something to ‘dry out’ the tracks before pouring the casting material.  The best approach is to apply a spray coat of ‘track wax’  on the snow to stabilize the prints before casting them. This keeps the tracks from melting and becoming misshapen as the exothermic chemical reaction of curing generates heat and the casting material hardens.  For lack of track wax, I have used  spray glue or quick dry spray paint then dusted with a fine coat of silica sand or regular sand.  I’ve also heard that taking a flour sifter and sifting a light layer of flour into the track will stabilize the track, depending on the temperature and moisture content of the snow. The spray paint I had on hand did not work well, so I took a chance and simply poured the casting material directly onto the impressions in the snow.  I think it was just cold enough to hold the mold somewhat and the snow was not that deep , but, by noon, the scene had changed as the thermal came in and warmed the ambient air to about 40 degree, causing the tracks to melt-out considerably.  Bummer.
     As in almost every sasquatch sighting investigation, many factors served to complicate the situation:  The night before, Very thick fog blanketed the valley up until about 7:30a.m. in the morning. Visibility was limited to less than ten feet. The fog bank is usually held by an inversion to 1500 to 3000 feet above the ground, though it sometimes settles onto the valley floor, as it did in this case. On the morning of the ninth of January, the fog was blown out by the warm wind that also melted-out the tracks considerably by noon that day  .   The second complicating factor was a particularly bad burn (forest fires ) that decimated vegetation on the hills above Wenatchee, particularly the hills just above the location of this track find. Consequently, a good deal of the regular deer browse in the hills was eliminated, forcing the deer to graze much lower this winter.  This may have put more deer, and more deer tracks, in the orchard.
     I spoke with four of the neighbors that surround this orchard. I talked with one lady who has lived there 60 years.  She said she has always sees deer in that orchard, especially in winter.  Another neighbor that lives close to the orchard told of bear and cougar sightings in the orchard, lots of deer even year round. I showed him the tracks I had found about noon that day, after they had already melted out considerably. The orchard also has an abandoned house and two old barns with lofts. One of the barns in the far south east corner had part of the roof off in one corner.  I spoke with neighbors to the south of the orchard and walked their property, to see there was any sign of the creature coming over the fence onto their property.  I found no tracks on their property.

      The next day, I got a call from another neighbor that lives just to the east of the orchard, a mere fifty yards from where I first found the tracks.  He reported hearing something very strange between 3 and 3:30 a.m. on the same foggy morning as the track find. He sleeps with his window open a bit and he heard what sounded like huge footsteps crunching on the ice and snow. What bothered him was that the steps seemed very big and long, based on the time interval between steps.  He felt he was well aware of how people’s steps sound, and deer, for that matter, when they are outside his window.  He stated that what he heard outside his window seemed very odd, though he confessed he did not  get out of bed to see what it might be that he was hearing.   Then, at morning’s light, he heard about the bigfoot  sighting on the radio and he was obligingly given my phone number  by the good folks at KPQ radio. I went to his house looked around his property very carefully, but did not find any evidence.  I also performed a sound test for his benefit.  I walked across the street in the snow so he could listen to the sound of my steps as I crunched in the snow. I also noticed his next door neighbor had a chicken coop right next to his driveway .  
       Then, the day after the track find, I received another phone call from a resident that lives about a 1/4 mile away from the orchard in the direction of the irrigation ditch. Beyond this watercourse is another orchard at the base of the foothills that lead into the Cascade Mountains. This neighbor reported that he also heard about the bigfoot sighting on the radio.  (KPQ is a popular station in Wenatchee.)  Although he wasn't sure if it was related to the sighting, he reported to me that  he was awakened  three nights before this sighting at about 3 3:30 in the morning to screams and loud shrieking that seemed to be coming from behind his house to the west (towards the irrigation ditch).  This fellow lives on part of the original deeded land claim that his relatives homesteaded over 100 years ago. He still lives in the house that he grew up in, and his parents now live next door.   In all his years, he had never heard anything so spooky and alarming as the cries and wails he heard that night. Incidentally, he and his wife raise chickens in a chicken coop out back.  On that same night, the chickens were very agitated and making a lot of noise, as they had been on the three previous nights.   This was especially unusual since the residents had effectively trained their chickens to be quiet in the wee hours. Hence, the noisy demeanor of the chickens in the middle of the night was most unusual. Indeed, they were concerned that something or someone was getting killed, so the landowner even went so far as to  call 911.  An officer was sent to check it out, but nothing was found.   They even walked a block from his house toward the screams. Nothing.  Naturally, as soon as the police left, the chickens started going off again.
     The next day, I met with the resident and we hiked up to the area where he heard the screams.   I noticed a large grove of forest-type trees (ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, not orchard trees) right next to the ditch.  The landowner was sure that this was the area that the screams were coming from.  This was hardly a surprise.  In my experience, such stands of wild timber serve as very important cover, especially when they are surrounded by open grassland and agricultural holdings.   For example, in February, 2004, a sasquatch was reported in east Wenatchee, up in a pine tree that was part of a grove of wild trees on someone's property.  Interestingly, this grove of wild trees was right next to another irrigation ditch.  Not sure why, There was also a red radio tower beacon nearby.  but this sasquatch was also suspected of being a juvenile.  While investigating this sighting, we hiked past the big trees and though a orchard, this one  showed lots of signs of recent pruning, including weathered boot prints in the snow  beneath the orchard plantings.  

     As we hiked along an embankment that leads up to the canal road,   I suddenly came across the same sort of tracks that I had discovered in the orchard on the track find just the other day (Jan. 9th, 2013). These tracks measured exactly the same in width 6 to 6 1/2 at the widest and a little over 13" in length!  They also had an almost identical step length (63").  Though they were at least a day older, I could still discern the toes in some of the tracks as I followed them up to the canal road. Once up onto the dirt road that followed the irrigation ditch, it appears as though the creature crossed over the ditch, jumped a deer fence,  and landed on the retaining wall of the canal (as evidenced by a hand print on the top of the canal road).  I also saw indications that there was a second, smaller set of tracks (with toes evident) about five feet to the right of the larger tracks that were imprinted into the wall of the canal in the same direction (see photos).  Further, there were also tracks in the bottom part of the orchard near the road.
    After searching ‘Google Earth’ aerial photos for a possible pathway, and knowing the mountains in that area as I do, I was able to trace a possible route from this canal area, down through an orchard, then to the resident’s backyard (the one with the agitated chickens), then across the a road to the northeast, angling through a narrow greenbelt, straight to the back southwest corner of the orchard where I found the January 9th tracks. 

    I am very fortunate to have received word of these report when I did, and to then get to the scene within hours of the sighting.  This, in turn, generated a lot of talk within the community, and I had a lot of conversations with local people who went out of their way to call me and report other details or  other  encounters. I was also asked to do a one hour radio show on KPQ radio, talking about the sighting and my on-going research on the bigfoot subject. I also drove back to the site for the three days that followed the sighting.  And during those  visits , I noticed that the deer were more spread out throughout  the orchard and some were back in the deer beds that seemed to be emptied out on the morning of the suspected sasquatch activity. 

  A small article about the incident appeared in the local newspaper.  Amusingly, they misquoted me by stating that I had found “bear footprints in the snow” as opposed to “bare-foot prints” which is the thought I meant to convey.  

      I grew up in snow country. I work outside year-round.  I learned at a young age how to track and "cut sign". My wife and I own 20 acres at 4200 feet in the Cascade Mountains   I know snow conditions and how quickly they can change and ‘melt out’. I’ve done controlled tests of track melting rates. I know that tracks can double in size in just  24 hours, as a consequence of a mere  five degree increase in temperature , That said, the bare-foot tracks I happened upon  were left in old, crusted snow that had bigger snow granules.  A track made in this kind of snow track punches a hole through the crust, leaving a crisp outline in the surrounding snow crust, but not much detail in the toe area, owning to the crumbling of  loose snow that falls the impression.  The heel, on the other hand, presses down cleanly.   In dry powdery snow or wet, heavy snow,  one gets the full detail of a track, owing to the small, fine snow granules.

     I have a number of reports on file where sasquatch are seen  in low elevation snow, mostly  in the winter months, for example the Dean Dewee's report from Blewitt Pass, 1/23/77),  I also have reports of tracks and sightings  in high-elevation winter snow.  These reports come mostly from snowmobile-ers.  It would be wise for a sasquatch to utilize snow cover in the winter because, at lower elevations, all the leaves have fallen and concealment is compromised. Stealthy operators such as the sasquatch could still travel the lower elevations at night and to take advantage of the available food sources, then move back to the higher elevations just before daylight.  This is especially true in locations such as the Wenatchee Valley where abundant agricultural food sources such as orchards exists in very close proximity to more rugged, high elevation terrain.
    Here is a list of possible associations between field observations and the suspected sasquatch behavior that is related to the observation.  The observations  are in one column and their relevancies to sasquatch behavior are in the other.
1.Time of year .....        1. Indicative of other animals and agricultural food sources, weather

2.Time of day .....         2. The amount of cover has a lot to do with this: brush ,tree cover, snow ,
                                             terrain,  cover of darkness, etc.   

3.Fog ..............             3. Weather condition for maximum concealment when
                                             operating  around inhabited  areas.

4.Orchard .......             4. A food source for many animals ,birds and people  

5.Deer ...........               5. A high-protein food source for many predators; many reports of sasquatch

                                              preying upon deer

6.Chickens ..........         6. Another food source frequently reported in sighting literature

7.Forest fires .......        7. Burned normal food sources for many animals pushing them to new
                                             areas for food and safety

8.Irrigation canal ...    8.Many reports of sasquatch using canals  for possible cover throughway
9.Screams ......              9. Many reports of sasquatch being seen screaming ,all animals and humans
                                           make noise ,and it appears the sasquatch make many different sounds and 
                                           most likely  their own language .
10.Heavey footsteps   10.often heard along with sightings and also heard on this report .

11.History of the area 11. The Wenatchee valley and beyond has a long history with the sasquatch ,a

                                              early school teacher named Clarence Fox was credited by John Green as
                                              the earliest modern-day researcher. He started in the 1940's in this area.

12.Large forest trees in area ..12. Douglas fir and ponderosa pine trees that are down low have

                                                   played into a number of the low sightings ,good cover ,the younger 
                                                   ones  climb the trees in alot of reports

13.Geography of area ......13.millions of acres of   perfect suitable habitat for a sasquatch


14.Radio tower red light beacons ...14. this is a possible association ,there are red tower lights up on
                                              the ridge area near where it seemed to come down out of the mountains  
                                             and one right across the street on the valley floor, the 2004 sighting in east
                                              Wenatchee also had a red radio tower light right in front of it and one  
                                              across the river right in line on Wenatchee heights there was also a canal 
                                                behind the large group of Douglas firs in which the sasquatch was seen. 
                                               My Yakama Indian friend also has sightings very close to these towers and
                                               thinks maybe they are using them in some way .

15.Abandoned barns ...15.There were two in this orchard and there are a number of reports where
                                                a sasquatch will take advantage of a barn loft apparently somewhat like 
                                                we use as a  shelter and or concealment area temporarily.

       All the associations above are related one way or another with this report.  These are associations that I have noticed and gleaned from the reports and people I have talked to throughout my years as a researcher.  So far,  a lot of things add up that to the fact that this was an
authentic and fairly typical sasquatch encounter in many ways. I have spoken with many people from the Wenatchee area over the last 24 years that I have spent researching sasquatch activity in the Wenatchee Valley.  It is rare that the sasquatch are sighted this close to town, but when it happens, this report and the ensuing investigation represents the typical scenario.   Most of the sighting reports I have investigated come from areas adjacent to the Wenatchee Valley, but not as close to town as this particular event.  In any case, I simply documented the matter and perform a follow up investigation to the best of my ability. 
      I am publishing  this recent sighting report and follow-up investigation in hopes that it will serve to educate people as to the most productive yet non-invasive approach to researching such sighting reports.  It seems to me, and many others, that that the sasquatch  are most likely related to us in some way, yet their size, strength ,appearance , traits , and the ability  to stay hidden for so long, suggests that they are also a separate species. In any case, the ‘habituation’ approach developed by Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall does seems to be the best way to conduct field research on these enigmatic creatures, for if you really want to learn about about a group of creatures, you must first gain their trust.