Friday, March 30, 2012

NPR: Why Did Bigfoot Grow Up in the Northwest?

A Selection of Bigfoot Books (Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp)
I mean there was no mistaking. These were either cleverly hoaxed or they were the real thing, there was no room for misinterpretation of some other animal – a bear or human walking around barefoot." -- Dr. Jeff Meldrum

Below is a reprint of an article that was posted on NPR's website titled, "Why Did Bigfoot Grow Up in the Northwest?" This is a part of the "I Wonder Why..." weekly series that covers attributes in the Northwest that locals find endearing, odd, even irritating.
By Bellamy Pailthorp
It’s one of the most enduring legends of the Northwest – hundreds of people report sightings of Bigfoot every year. Native American stories also call it Sasquatch or “the Hairy Man.”
The idea of a giant, ape-like creature that hides in the woods and might be related to humans has been around for centuries.
Why has this “myth” endured in the Northwest? Is it because Bigfoot is really here? Or, is it because it’s the kind of wild alter ego Northeasterners love to imagine for themselves?

 

Legend continues to grow
Naturalist writer David George Gordon with his "Field Guide to the Sasquatch." Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp
Naturalist writer David George Gordon with his "Field Guide to the Sasquatch." Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp

Now, the Internet has pushed the popularity of Bigfoot to new heights, with sightings compiled on dozens of websites. There is even a Sunday night cable TV show:Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” launched last spring and is now one of the channel’s top three series, ever.
But it’s not just ratings-driven TV shows that are drawn to this material. Respected Seattle naturalist David George Gordon has written a book about Bigfoot, “Field Guide to the Sasquatch.”
“Yeah. This is a field guide – you know, a guide to go out and seem ’em,” Gordon says, as he stifles a chuckle, “to a creature that I can’t really confirm or deny its existence. So, if you read the book, you’ll see a lot of ‘purportedly’ and ‘supposedly’ and ‘alleged’ … a lot of qualifiers.”
His guidebook surveys scientific arguments for and against the existence of Sasquatch.

 

Really? Yes!

The first modern “evidence” that there might really be an ape-like creature living in the forests of the Cascade Range appeared 45 years ago.
It’s a grainy, black and white film from 1967 of an alleged Bigfoot sighting at Bluff Creek in Northern California. It shows a female Sasquatch striding along a creek bed. At one point, she turns and looks at the camera.
The film has created a lot of believers. Others remain highly skeptical.
“It could be anything,” says Patricia Kramer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Washington.
“We can’t tell what it is because it’s so grainy and dark. I mean, I don’t know what it is,” she says.
But not all scientists so readily dismiss the possibility of a Sasquatch. Idaho State University Professor Jeff Meldrum first saw the Bigfoot film when he was a kid in Spokane. That planted the seed for his career in anthropology.
But it wasn’t till 1996 that he got really hooked. He found a fresh set of muddy tracks in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, near Walla Walla. The details were astonishing.
“I mean there was no mistaking. These were either cleverly hoaxed or they were the real thing,” Meldrum says. “There was no room for misinterpretation of some other animal – a bear or human walking around barefoot.”

 

Compelling evidence …

As he made casts of the footprints and took in the dynamics of the motion that must have created them, he says the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He came to the conclusion that he was in a place where a Bigfoot had walked, just that morning.  
“I sat there and contemplated, do I go down this path or not?” Meldrum recounts. “But I thought, How can I walk away from this?”
He had seen a colleague (Professor Grover Krantz) ostracized for researching Bigfoot. But Meldrum made up his mind to risk his career too, because he was so convinced by the evidence he was seeing.

 

… not for this scientist
Professor Patricia Kramer in a classroom where she teaches anthropology at the university of  Washington. She tells her students there is no real evidence to prove existence of a Sasquatch, "it's fiction." Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp.
Professor Patricia Kramer in a classroom where she teaches anthropology at the university of Washington. She tells her students there is no real evidence to prove existence of a Sasquatch, "it's fiction." Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp.

Still, for skeptics like UW Professor Patricia Kramer, the plaster casts are just as murky as the old film footage.
And as for all the reported sightings of Bigfoot every year? She thinks people just like to believe.
“It’s a myth,” Kramer says. “It’s something interesting to talk about – over a beer at the meetings. Or on a field trip. Or on a backpacking trip, like talking about werewolves and vampires out on the Olympic Peninsula, right? I mean, it’s fiction.”

 

Why in the Northwest?

And for writer David George Gordon, having the Sasquatch as a kind of wild-man alter ego fits right in to the culture of the Northwest, with all its mysterious rainforests and unexplored wilderness.
“We have a real thing about the wilds and we like to think there’s lots of stuff out there that we don’t know about,” Gordon says. “So I think that’s part of our mythos, that there’s a whole wild ecology out there that we know nothing about.”
Modern science may soon be able to prove once and for all whether Bigfoot exists. A lab in Texas is working on DNA testing of alleged Sasquatch samples. The results are expected any day now.
But no matter what they show, the stories of a hairy wild man hiding in the woods of the Northwest are likely to endure.

7 comments:

  1. Because of Portland hunters making the woods unsafe, my Dad did not hunt since before I was born. However, I have seen tracks and scat of deer, elk, and coyotes. I have also seen them up close. I have even photographed a herd of wild goats at 10 yards.

    In New York City, they consider a sighting coyote remarkable. We do not get interested until they take ride on Max.

    On the other hand, I have never seen a bear in Oregon, even though I have seen their tracks and scat on occasion. They just do not hang out in wheat fields like pheasants or in ponds like ducks.

    Oregon is home to about 25,000 to 30,000 black bears. We issue as much as 50,000 tags and about 1500 are filled. So, one in 33 get a bear. That may be as much as two months of hunting per bear taken.

    While I say Oregon has been "Californicated" with people who are willing to believe in anything at the drop of a hat, we of Eastern and Southern Oregon are healthy skeptics willing to suspend both belief and disbelief.

    If I were a disbeliever, that would mean I had come to a conclusion. Based on my own observations of bears, I would have to say they are a myth. I have only seen their signs and heard others tell of their sightings. I have seen some skins and pictures too, just like BlobSquatch and guys in costumes. That is quite an admission for someone from rural Northeastern Oregon. I have not seen one of those 25,000 to 30,000 bears.

    Also, I have not seen one of what would need to be in a hypothetical Skookum breeding population of 2,000 to 10,000 in the Pacific Northwest.

    Unlike Doctor Kramer, I do not claim to have covered a significant area of the Northwest's millions of acres to be certain of the non-existence of the Skookum.

    We have counties and wilderness areas in Oregon larger than some states back in the Eastern US. If it takes the average hunter 500 hours of hunting to get a bear where there are 30,000 bears, I am guessing it would take about 3,000 hours of hunting to deliberately find a Skookum.

    "Squatching" is a healthy occupation, but they are not stalkers or hunters for the most part. I suspect if you had 3,000 of them hunting for 500 hours, they might have a fully and adequately documented sighting. I do not say this to disparage them, but to point out a real difference in tracking cryptids.

    Also, there seems to be some confusion. Scoffers are not skeptics. Scoffers are going to disbelieve they have a nose on their face until they cut it off. A true skeptic has to refuse to accept conclusions until they have evidence.

    Ultimately, a skeptic can only say there is not enough information for the existence or non-existence of ANYTHING. They cannot say, like Doctor Kramer does, that it is fiction. That is an ad ignorantiam argument, not science. You cannot argue existence or non-existence from ignorance or lack of evidence.

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  2. I emailed this to Doctor Kramer:

    You are quoted as saying the following:|“It’s a myth,” Kramer says. “It’s something interesting to talk about – over a beer at the meetings. Or on a field trip. Or on a backpacking trip, like talking about werewolves and vampires out on the Olympic Peninsula, right? I mean, it’s fiction.”
    http://www.bigfootlunchclub.com/2012/03/npr-why-did-bigfoot-grow-up-in.html

    I wanted to know if you said that in reference to Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Skookum.

    Also, I wanted to know if you had studied the gait of modern humans on broken ground in the Pacific Northwest. I see you have extensively studied this with regard to humans and Neanderthals:|http://depts.washington.edu/anthweb/people/faculty/PKramer.php
    Please comment.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks JLS! Let us know if you hear anything back!

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    2. I have written these before. Sometimes it takes weeks. I made a request like this to someone making SEM images of hair in Hawaii and almost missed the response.

      I would like to see her debate her position with Dr. Meldrum with an audience of anthropologists.

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  3. I just found out that a real live sasquatch will be reveal Sunday a.m. see sasquatchtalesandreviews.blogspot.com for all the details

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  4. Dr. Kramer's comments declaring the mythology of the sasquatch, and comparing sasquatch-related reports to "werewolves and vampires out on the Olympic Peninsula" do not reflect a familiarity with the subject. The author needed a "skeptic" for the story, and figured that anyone who is a "professor of anthropology" would be viewed as reliable in that regard. Like anyone else, Dr. Kramer is entitled to her personal opinion. Her vocation alone, however, does not add any particular gravitas to her point of view if she hasn't really looked into what she's commenting on. This happens a lot in media articles like this - the reader is expected to be impressed by the credentials of the person with the opinion, while the opinion itself doesn't demonstrate any substance.

    It would be interesting to know if there are "experts" in any scientific discipline who know something about the history of sasquatch reports and can demonstrate an unimpeachable reason as to why such an animal could not exist.

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  5. Agreed! It would be very interesting to hear from an expert skeptic, on the subject of Sasquatch.

    ReplyDelete

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