In 1989, Robert Michael Pyle was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to investigate the legends of Sasquatch. The resulting book, Where Bigfoot Walks: Across the Dark Divide was published in 1995 and was greeted with international acclaim. In the decade that followed Pyle continued his explorations into the mythology and speculative realities surrounding the existence—or lack thereof—of Bigfoot. In a new edition of the book, published this August by Counterpoint Press, he added a new chapter, bringing the story up to date. We are thrilled to present it here for the first time.
The call came from southern California. “Dr. Pyle,” said a male voice, “this is Mr. Kurando, at the Robin/Tani Media Factory in Venice. We’re representing a Japanese television producer who would like to get in touch with you. It’s about Bigfoot.”
Just waking up, I was a little geographically confused. Japan? Venice? I’d had plenty of kook phone calls since publication of this book, and suspected this was another. But the next thing Mr. Kurando said made me listen up.
“The producer of this popular weekly wildlife program in Tokyo read your book,” he said, “and liked your message about wildness and the unknown. He would like to make an episode about Bigfoot, and visit you to shoot footage in the Dark Divide.”
Where Bigfoot Walks had been translated and published in Japan. This happy development led not only to the events I am presently describing, but also to my travel to Okinawa in 2003 with Gary Snyder for a conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. There I had the fun of reading “Ghost Moths at Moonrise” to Rachel Carson’s Japanese translator, Terry Tempest Williams down-winder scholars from Hiroshima, a radical Ryukyu novelist, and other Asian environmental writers. I was reminded that during our e-mail exchanges, my translator had shared a body of ancient Japanese hairy giant stories with me. As Mojo Nixon said about Elvis, Bigfoot truly is everywhere. So this call from a show-biz agent in LA, and the connection between Sasquatch and a Tokyo TV show, wasn’t as far out in left field as it first seemed.
Over the following weeks, I determined that the producer had indeed gotten the book, and what I wanted to say with it. I felt he would treat the subject with dignity, and not make it a joke or a parody. So I agreed to meet with the film crew when they came, and to take them up to the Dark Divide. First, I fixed them up with Peter Byrne, Ray Crowe, Larry Lund, and other active Bigfoot folk in the Pacific Northwest. After they’d seen them, on an August day in 1999, I met the eight-person crew at a cafe in Woodland, Washington: the producer-director; Yukie, the show’s petite firecracker of an on-camera host; Mr. Kurando the agent; a Yank expediter-cum-actor from Portland, and four camera-and-sound men. And we went from there.
On the way up the Lewis River, above the village of Cougar, we stopped for an establishing shot into the rising Cascades beyond Yale Reservoir. While waiting around, I found a colony of small blue butterflies on yellow lotus blossoms beside the road. This species had never before been recorded in the western Cascades, so I was excited. The members of the television team were polite about it, but less impressed. They were hoping for bigger game.
As we entered the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the producer asked, “Will we see Bigfoot tracks now?”
“Probably not,” I said. “People looking for them hardly ever find anything.” To stave off any disappointment I took them into elfin pine forest swaddled with deep lime lichens, near the legendary lava tube known as Ape Cave. They loved these spooky woods, which reminded the director of similar forests in Hokkaido, and they shot some useful footage.
Then Kurando said, “They ask if we can go deep into the heart of the Dark Divide now?”
That would have involved two or three days of hard hiking, with backpacks, boots, and tents; these were Tokyo people in nice clothes and shoes, on a tight filming schedule.
“Not quite,” I said, “but I can take you into wilderness the like of which few Japanese, or Americans for that matter, have ever seen. You won’t know the difference between that place and the heart of the Dark Divide.” They seemed happy with that. I decided the best way to do it would be to hike a short way on Boundary Trail No. 1. So we drove on up Forest Road 25 to Elk Pass, the site of my encounter with Something in the Night. They found the place immediately evocative, and the producer recounted back to me the events in the book with flattering fidelity.
My visitors were indeed wide-eyed as we entered primeval forest of a sort known only in folklore in Japan. But I could tell that the film crew needed something more. So, parking the van at the Elk Pass trailhead, I led them some distance down Boundary Trail No. 1, into the Dark Divide de facto (but unprotected) wilderness. Within 300 yards we might as well have been 30 miles in. The lichen-festooned, old-growth noble firs rose around us, tall as a Kyoto pagoda, broad as a Sumo or two. They’d seen nothing like it, all right.
I pointed out a sapling with limbs twisted off Bigfoot-style, not snapped by ice or snow; and a great midden of bark beneath a dead fir, stacked up as the Klickitats say Tselatiks (“wild men”) does it, not tossed about as a Pileated Woodpecker would. (I had found this big, snow-covered bark-mound the previous autumn, and wondered whether it might even be a game-safe; Bigfoot is reputed to make such cold-storage meat-caches). The camera men eagerly photographed these possible artifacts; at least they were something. I read aloud from the book for the camera, pointing out this ‘n’ that. Then we headed back toward the van.
This is the important part to note: I was in the lead, and we were traveling cross-country, off-trail, by a route I picked as we went. There was no sign suggesting other humans had been there all season. Deadfall on the trail had mercifully kept both motorcycles and mountain bikes off the Boundary Trail. I took a diagonal path back up toward the road at maybe a 20-degree pitch, the eight members of the film crew following behind. We were in untracked wilderness.
And then, abruptly, I stopped, right foot in the air. The others bunched and bumped up behind me like Keystone Cops. I still hadn’t put my foot down. Because there on the forest floor before me—I’d nearly stepped on it—was a god-damn track! Pushed into a pumice slope just below the trail, the impression had forced a stick well into the spongy substrate.
“Oh!” cried Yukie.
“Wow!” Americanized the first cameraman, next in line. And when the director arrived, before the sound-man, assistant, and Kurando, he simply gaped. That was the moment when he felt, and I knew, that the transatlantic journey was worth every yen of his considerable budget.
The ground was recent Mount St. Helens pumice ash, overlain by fir needlefall, twigs, leaves, and a few patches of old snow. There was very little open ground, and when there was, it was overlain only by the tracks of squirrels, mice, and martens. But here was one patch of bare sand, and smack in the middle of it lay an obvious hominoid foot print. There was a good heel and right instep ridge, big toe, and push-off scratch marks from the other toes. The preceding and following steps, and most of the trail of which they were a part, would have fallen on heavy plant debris with no impression possible except perhaps to a master tracker, which I am not.
Well, in a word, everyone freaked out. The crew was mesmerized, then ecstatic. I was simply shocked, and afterward, ever since, unsettled. They got busy exposing a lot of videotape while the sunlight lasted. I made measurements and constructed a stick corral to prevent anyone from inadvertently putting his or her foot in it. Suffice it to say that lots of backs were slapped as we returned to the van with monster-long shadows. My new friends’ long trip from Tokyo was made.
We all ate well down at the Rusty Duck restaurant in Longview that evening, before parting. They gave me a fan with a Sumo wrestler on it, a pretty tin of tea, and a nice check. And when the episode was aired a few months later, and Kurando sent me a copy to view on VHS, even through the show’s rowdy and very strange format—something like Hollywood Squares meets Animal Planet—I could see that they’d done the subject proud, and with dignity.
But that wasn’t all. The following Monday, I got a call from Jeff Baker, book review editor at The Oregonian in Portland. The newspaper had chosen Where Bigfoot Walks as their Oregonian Book Club selection for the next month, and Jeff wanted a fresh interview and photo to run with it. He asked if we could take a day-trip up to the Dark Divide for the purpose.
“Sure,” I replied. “And Jeff—have I got something to show you!” So on the following Thursday, Jeff, his photographer, and I returned to Elk Pass.
My little twig-corral was still there, and the impression had remained perfectly intact. Jeff and I poured the plaster of Paris I’d brought this time (I’d taken none along on the first encounter). It was late in the cooling day, and mixed too thin, it failed to set up. But before we left, we got some decent pictures of the plaster-filled track. The mix ran out on the side of the big toe like a bad bunion, but otherwise it gave a good impression.
The coarse substrate did not make for distinct toe prints other than the big toe, but the heel and outline of the foot, if foot it was, were quite distinct. And here’s the important thing: the dimensions of the track were the same as those of the line of tracks I’d discovered following the night of the whistles nine years earlier—and the location was only a few hundred yards from the earlier site on the slope by the borrow pit above the forest road. Suggesting, in other words, the distinct possibility of the very same animal having survived in this location over the past decade. When I got home after the film shoot, I told Thea the news. A skeptic, at first she said, “Oh, poo!” But when I showed her the measurements against the stick I’d notched just an eighth of a mile away and nine years before, and the dimensions were the same (about sixteen inches long, six across the fifth metatarsal, three-plus across the heel, she said, “Huh!” As for me,
I felt my sense of the creature ramping one notch closer toward outright acceptance.
When I went into the woods to look for my sense of Bigfoot, in the autumn of 1990, I came out again with a great and rare gift: an open mind. The actual physical existence of the animal never was the main thing, but rather, the question of whether we can save the kind of wildness in which even the possibility of wood-giants can survive; and the other question, whether the animal manages to retain any of the dignity and power it has always held for its longtime human neighbors. I found that, the tabloids be damned, it does.
But the question, it turns out, is inescapable after all. In the twenty years since Where Bigfoot Walks was first published, hundreds of readers have written or cornered me and put it to me: “So—do you believe, or not?” I never give them satisfaction, because the fact is, I still don’t know. The best of the evidence is not easily dismissed, and sometimes compelling. But proof in the form of big artifacts like bone or tiny molecules of DNA—continues to be maddeningly elusive. For some hunters, sadly, literally so: the byways of the backwoods are strewn with the tattered lives and minds of frustrated and broke True Believers. It’s a kind of Gold Fever.
This is the central conundrum facing the Bigfoot investigator, hunter, lover, enthusiast, buff, or interested scholar: how does one maintain belief—or better, in my view, an open mind—as year after year goes by without definitive resolution? I see it as a graph, with experience on the ordinate, time on the abscissa, and acceptance as a dependent quantity lying somewhere in between, where doubt intersects with evidence. For sensible people, it takes fresh action on the y axis to counter the inexorable passage of demon time on the x axis, and to keep hopes afloat.
So what has happened since I first crossed the Dark Divide and wrote about it that would serve to keep hope alive for me and others? Of course there has been a vast amount of palaver and poppycock all over the internet, most of which I studiously avoid. It is easy to disappear into the shadow of this particular chimera and never come out. I take a very selective approach out of self defense, and to keep it from going all silly or tainted by the toxic side of social media, of which Bigfoot brings out the very worst. Even so, a few bright things have emerged to catch my attention. Here is a brief, far from exhaustive litany of what I have found most interesting:
The Quileutes at the Bookstore
On Publication Day, in the summer of 1995, I gave a reading from the book to a packed house at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. Afterward, a delegation of Native Americans in the back stood and asked to be heard. They were Quileutes, from LaPush (this was long before werewolves and vampires settled into their territory, courtesy of Twilight, giving them even stranger bedfellows than Bigfoot). “These people live among us,” said their spokesman. “We tell you this not so you will come to bother them or hunt them, but so you will treat them with the respect they deserve. We wanted to see if your book treats them with such respect.” (I was deeply relieved to hear that they thought it had.) The audience was struck dumb. He asked if he could play a tape of the creatures’ normal sounds, to illustrate what he told us. Rick Simonsen produced a boom box, and 200 people listened, rapt, to a concert of cries, whistles, and calls much as I’d heard on Elk Pass that night long ago, and at Timberline on Mount St. Helens, that other cold autumn night in 1970. If anyone came to Elliott Bay that evening with a totally locked-up mind, I suspect they felt the tumblers slipping a bit on their way home
Jane Goodall Speaks
The following spring, I was in Washington, D.C. at the Jane Goodall Institute. As a member of the Advisory Board of the Orion Society, I was there to help celebrate Dr. Goodall’s awarding of the Orion Society’s John Hay Medal—a signal honor given to Wendell Berry, E. O. Wilson, Peter Matthiessen, Gary Snyder, Ann Zwinger, and other major figures in environmental writing, education, and reform. Jane and I shared the same master editor, Harry Foster, at Houghton Mifflin. “Why didn’t you ask me to blurb your book, Bob?” she asked me.
“Oh, we tried,” I replied. “But we couldn’t reach you in Gombe. Did you like it?”
“Very much,” she said. “Only I don’t know why you were so circumspect. To me, the evidence seems overwhelming.”
The Bigfoot (?) Butt-Print
On September 22, 2000, not far south of Elk Pass at Skookum Meadows, members of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) conducted a baiting exercise that led to recovery of a complex set of impressions in mud around the bait station. A three-and-a-half- by-five-foot cast (known as the Skookum Body Cast) was taken of what some Bigfoot investigators interpret as a partial body imprint with impressions of hair. According to Wikipedia, the cast is purported to show “the imprint of a forearm, hip, thigh, heel and ankle, and Achilles tendon of a reclining Sasquatch,” presumably lying down and reaching for the bait. “Impressions of hair are evident on the buttocks and thigh surfaces of the cast, as well as much longer fringes of hair on the forearm region. Dermal ridges appear on the heel.” And “On the same expedition of the BFRO there was evidence of 17-inch footprints that may have belonged to a Sasquatch.” However, others in and out of BFRO read the cast quite differently. They say the impressions “can be recognized as the hindlegs, hip, chest, and wrists of a reclining elk” in a classic ungulate lie, and that the “dermal ridges” are actually impressions of elk hairs. Clearly, this one is equivocal. But its location deep in the Dark Divide, and the fact that some of the most biologically sophisticated researchers have been won over, make this is an intriguing artifact.
Jeff Meldrum’s Ichnospecies
In September of 2007, the Washington State Capital Museum put on a major exhibition on Bigfoot. The State Historian resisted the idea, but his staff prevailed, and it turned out to be their most popular exhibit opening ever. Peter Byrne, Jeff Meldrum, and I were brought in as speakers for an evening event. Professor of Anthropology at Idaho State University, Dr. Meldrum is the intellectual successor (and artifact legatee) of Grover Krantz, the late Washington State University anthropologist who broke trail for academics interested in Bigfoot. For Meldrum, the respected first describer of several species of protohominids, it still can’t be easy. I’d not met Jeff before but I had read his book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, and found it the best of the bunch for scientific analysis of the evidence. “He does bring more scientific rigor to this question than anyone else in the past, and he does do state-of-the-art footprint analysis,” said David R. Begun, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Toronto, quoted in Scientific American (December 1, 2007). As an expert on primate foot morphology, locomotion, and pathology, Meldrum is uniquely qualified to judge the likelihood that tracks are faked or possibly genuine, and he concludes that some are authentic.
Peter, Jeff, and I met for breakfast the morning after our talks. Meldrum told us about his intention to describe Bigfoot as an ichnospecies, which is a category of taxonomic description applied to “species known only from trace fossils, such as footprints, coprolites or nests” (Wiktionary). And indeed he did: “Ichnotaxonomy of giant hominoid tracks in North America”, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 42, was the first Bigfoot paper to be published in a peer-reviewed mainstream journal. It’s an important piece, and it includes a very useful discussion of the Patterson-Gimlin film, since the footprint casts on which he based his description came from that site and event. He named his fossil animal Anthropoidipes ameriborealis, corresponding with his late colleague Grover Krantz’s unaccepted contemporary species, “Gigantopithecus canadensis.” To me, this paper and its underpinnings are impressive, as is Meldrum’s overall work and good nature in the face of a generally dismissive academy.
The Emergence of Robert Gimlin
Bob Gimlin was Roger Patterson’s partner on the horseback expedition into Hoopa Country that led to the encounter preserved in the famous Patterson-Gimlin film—still undebunked, and the most significant piece of photographic evidence for Bigfoot. Made on October 20, 1967, at Bluff Creek, in the Six Rivers National Forest, California, the Patterson-Gimlin film has left an indelible image in the mind of almost everyone who knows anything about Bigfoot, and most who don’t. The aftermath is murky, but Gimlin didn’t come out very well, either financially or in reputation. Patterson took the film on the road, and more or less cut Gimlin out, apologizing only on his way-early death bed. Gimlin was taunted and harassed, damned as crazy if he said he believed, or as a faker if he said he didn’t. So he went underground, vis-à-vis Bigfoot, for nearly forty years, living a quiet if vigorous cowboy’s life.
But a few years ago, maybe sensing things had changed, Bob came out again, and has been lionized ever since. I met him first at a gathering outside Naches, Washington, in his own territory. Bob was much honored by everyone present, and I felt honored to meet him. Now past 85, he is still lean and handsome in his cowboy hat, bandana, and silver Fu Manchu. I mention him here because, in getting to know him a little, sitting around a campfire with him and Peter Byrne and their acolytes, hearing his unaffected voice and watching his bright rider’s eyes, I cannot believe that he was lying. He could no more have taken part in faking the famous film (even if anyone could figure out how it could have been faked, which they can’t) than to mistreat his horse. Which he could not do.
Further analyses of the Patterson-Gimlin film
There have been several of these, conducted in sophisticated media laboratories. They all agree within a narrow range on the mathematics, kinetics, and dynamics of the film and the subject it depicts, including the superhuman stride length of some seven feet. As an advisory board member of Peter Byrne’s well-funded Bigfoot Research Project, which had U. S. Forest Service cooperation in seeking nonlethal DNA samples, I was able to view the latest and best computer recovery of visual data from a first-generation copy of the film (the whereabouts of the original strip remain a mystery). The fluid movement of the muscles in the thigh, the heft of the breast, and other traits were stunning. In these days of CMG, it will be very difficult to make a case for the authenticity of any fresh photographic evidence. But given the technology of the times, that 16-mm motion picture camera rented from a drugstore, Patterson-Gimlin remains for now the Teflon clue in the case.
So these are a few of the highlights on the Sasquatch Scene that have helped keep me tuned in. Certainly a great deal more has gone on in Bigfoot World since this book first appeared. There have been many more books published, notably Jeff Meldrum’s, wildlife biologist John Bindernagel’s The Discovery of the Sasquatch, and two more great reads by Peter Byrne: The Monster Trilogy and The Hunt for Bigfoot. The bleak landscape of Bigfoot-based fiction has been brilliantly lit up by esteemed novelist Molly Gloss’s Wild Life, by far the best conceived and written narrative of what life among such creatures might be like. Molly has managed in this period novel not only to evoke the fin de siècle Lower Columbia and create a powerful woman character, but to imagine and tell the very likely life of a Bigfoot family in a richer, more plausible way than anyone else ever has. (Molly and I were privileged to travel around the region, sponsored by the Oregon State Library, giving joint readings from our two Bigfoot books.)
And of course there has been the great success of Animal Planet’s popular television series, Finding Bigfoot, starring four actual investigators of the phenomenon ranging from dedicated obsessive to skeptical biologist. My friend Cliff Barackman keeps the wilder side of the show on the level. They have entertained a large and growing audience and encouraged many aspirants in the process of, so far, not finding Bigfoot.
But it’s that “not finding” part that’s the rub. As time goes on, it gets harder to make the case with the Big Galoot in absentia. Meanwhile, on the other side, there have been results from scientists analyzing purported evidence that has not panned out. At the same meeting where I met Bob Gimlin and heard Jeff Meldrum’s ichnospecies paper, I was excited to hear retired Navy code breaker Scott Nelson announce that he had discovered phonemes (units of speech) in the well-known Sierra Sounds recordings by Ron Morehead and Al Berry. But since then, more qualified linguists have convincingly criticized Nelson’s methods and conclusions. A much-ballyhooed DNA study and paper known as The Ketchum Project concluded that Bigfoot is an ape-human hybrid species. This work and report, by Texas veterinarian Melba Ketchum, was discussed at length and found to have many disqualifying problems by Sharon Hill in the Skeptical Inquirer (Spring 2013). Then the prestigious journal Science announced the results of the Oxford University analysis of mitochondrial DNA in 30 solicited “Bigfoot” hair samples (Sarah C. P. Williams, July 1, 2014). All 30 turned out to be identifiable as known beasts—human, horse, cow, deer, bear, wolf or dog, raccoon, and porcupine. And nothing has come from the god-knows-how-many Zip-locs of putative Bigfoot poop adorning freezers all over the Northwest. So, no help yet from all the hanks ‘o hair and steaming heaps hauled home by the hopeful. Still, Bigfooters can no longer complain quite so loudly that scientists never take a close look at the evidence. These scientists did just that, and they encourage enthusiasts to keep trying.
In the years after the book, the Forest Service persisted with a plan to overlay the high ridges of the Dark Divide with motorcycle thoroughfares. Through a successful lawsuit by the Washington Trails Association and trench resistance by Susan Saul, Karl Forsgaard, and others, that was avoided, but the compromise WTA proposed for a dirt-bike loop outside the wild core failed too. Now there is no money for either plan, and the status quo pertains: ongoing trail degradation from motorcycles. On a backpacking trip of the Washington Native Plant Society, led by consummate field botanist Jim Riley, Thea and I watched Kawasakis tearing up red mountain heather and delicate shooting stars at the edge of a snowfield blocking the trail.
As for the forest, as long as the Clinton Forest Plan and Roadless Rule maintain, the remaining old-growth seems safe. But who knows, under Trump? The long-term solution for both threats, logging and motors, would be establishment of a Dark Divide Wilderness Area, and this objective has settled deeply in my heart. But tragically, the opportunity was not taken during Democratic administrations and the reign of Congressman Brian Baird. And now, Washington’s Third District has been so firmly gerrymandered for the Republicans that we may not see a wilderness-friendly legislator in that House seat for decades. This is the main reason I hope for a Big Discovery in the Dark Divide: to furnish incontrovertible persuasion for wilderness protection of the animal’s habitat. Thus far, however, definitive proof is doing a good job of hide-and-seek. I found my own hopes running a little thinner. But then there was this.
On the whole, I have avoided most Bigfoot revels and congresses. Some invitationals concentrate on biology and hard questions. But on the whole, such conclaves are likely to be populated by oedipal votaries, PTSD reversionaries, and orb-viewing visionaries.
But I have enjoyed a few gatherings, such as a fun little Chamber of Commerce caper called Bigfoot Bash, held in Home Valley on the Columbia River east of Carson, featuring a valley-wide scavenger hunt and Bigfoot burgers. I’d give a talk, peddle some books, earn a few bucks, and then get to camp with old bigfoot pals (though, truth to tell, that’s where I met the orb-weaver).
Leaving the Bigfoot Bash on August 29, 2010, I was reluctant to drive home on busy Highway 14 and I-5. So I headed up through the hills instead, to Forest Road 25. The afternoon had grown cloudy and cool after hot and sunny in the gorge, with just a couple of sun-glints. I hit Elk Pass at four p.m.; 45 degrees. I climbed out and worked my way around the borrow pit and its surrounds, and placed an apple on a rock. Five minutes later, looking down from above, I saw it was gone. Raven? The only tracks around were elk, and my own. Back in my car, heading south, I noticed Forest Road 2551, just south of Elk Pass, which I had never before investigated.
Two-tenths of a mile along the road I came to a steep pumice slope, and there I beheld a line of tracks along and across the angle of repose—or rather, two sets of tracks. Ten feet up on the shaly slope, running left to right, there were left footprints, shadowed by shuffles right below. The front half of the first track was crisp, the big toe poking through the crust, a suggestion of the other toes, and a strong pressure ridge in the middle, as the owner rocked back on the foot. These tracks ran all along the slope, then onto moss and rock, and on into forest. Above them, a disconformity in the silt texture showed a system of ground squirrel holes, at least a dozen of them arrayed along and above the trackway. There were marks as of indented balls of the feet, and right above them, what appeared to be plunge-holes of hands at some of the burrows—the marks together suggesting a pounce. (Small mammal hunting is frequently attributed to Tselatiks by Native Americans around the Cascade volcanoes.) The sharpest of the tracks measured the same size as those I’d found 20 years before, and the one again nine years after that with the film crew: about sixteen inches long, six and a half across the instep, and three and change across the heel. But, this time, there were also much smaller tracks, running below and in parallel with the big ones: eight to ten inches long, two to three inches wide, with a twelve- to eighteen- inch step. Was this the spoor of a parent with young? Was there teaching going on?
A broken old big fir nearby was all torn up for grubs, just like the one I showed the film crew in 1999. These tracks, suggestive of adult and immature, eleven years later, were less than half a mile from there, and from the borrow pit of the midnight whistles in 1990. And they were all of a size, plus the half-pints this time. I had to admit to the possibility of the same creature having occupied this area and left its tracks for me to see three times over twenty years, and now, having reproduced, teaching its offspring to hunt ground squirrels. That would certainly be one interpretation; and I could not see a better, simpler, more parsimonious one for what I saw. As I drove home that night, twenty years after Thea and I had found those first Elk Pass tracks, I felt the seams of my brain stretching, as my mind opened even wider.
The last time I came down out of the Dark Divide was just yesterday. I had been to the Cispus Center, up where the whole thing began, for my annual “Butterflies & Bigfoot” talk to the sixth graders of the Rainier (Oregon) School District’s Outdoor School. We look at casts and models and talk about how an unnamed primate might not be any weirder than a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. They are full of good, smart questions and surprising knowledge and a zillion stories from logger uncles and fisherman dads. We listen to the Sierra Sounds (which they love), and I read them the climax of “Something in the Night” with the lights off. They all look over their shoulder as they walk from the campfire back to their cabins in the dark.
This time, as I was leaving for the long drive home after pancakes the next morning, I stopped into the Cispus Center office to say hello to old friends. Sue, the office manager, called up a Facebook posting by her son-in-law, Tim, on her computer. And there they were: more tracks, a nice line of them, toes well defined. Eighteen inches, well impressed into the leafy pumice sand. I later talked with Tim. He’d come across them while hunting the late buck season last November, a few miles east of Mossyrock beyond Riffe Lake. There was a big tree break right above them, and they ran maybe fifty feet down to a logging road. Tim told me he’s seen similar tracks near Cispus, just a couple of miles from where I watched his video, less than ten miles from Elk Pass. He said “There’s all kinds of things out there in the woods, if you just look.”
Judging from all I’ve heard over the first twenty years of this book’s life, the Dark Divide isn’t the only place where Bigfoot walks, by a long shot. But if it walks anywhere, it walks here.
Excerpted from Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide. Used by permission of Counterpoint Press.
Robert Michael Pyle ranges out from Gray’s River, Washington, in search of butterflies, Bigfoot, and whatever captures his fancy. His twenty books include Wintergreen, Mariposa Road, Through a Green Lens: Fifty Years of Writing for Nature, and Chinook and Chanterelle: Poems. He is delighted to have Where Bigfoot Walks updated and back in print.