The Science and Mystery of Sasquatch
It's the middle of the night and from outside your tent you hear the sound of a twig snapping. What's making that noise? We interviewed author of The Sasquatch Seeker's Manual David George Gordon for the answer.
David George Gordon is the author of 20 books, ranging in topic from edible bugs to the Museum of Flight. In addition to his numerous published works, Gordon also served as a staff writer for The Signpost magazine (predecessor to the current Washington Trails magazine) in the early 1980's. Charlie Lieu sat down with him to talk his latest book, The Sasquatch Seeker's Field Manual.
by Charlie Lieu
My head lamp starts flickering as the darkness looms overhead and closes in on me. Panic is tickling the edge of my mind, threatening to take over, but I muster the will to push it back. To drown out the booming silence, I start talking to myself: “You’re fine, Charlie. You’re not lost. You’re still on the trail. You’re gonna catch up to ... ”
Without warning, a loud crack echoes in the dark forest behind me. A stench hits my nose—a mixture of gym musk and wet dog. The nearby brush rustles in the still, heavy air. I stop and slowly turn around to meet the gaze of a pair of eyes hanging seven feet above the forest floor.
Screaming, I woke up in my tent, and pinched my arm to make sure that I was not still dreaming. “Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out,” I repeated. Cautiously, I peered out from behind my open tent flap, the waning moon dimly illuminating the forest. There was nothing but trees swaying in the cool breeze.
Fully awake now, I glanced around the inside of my barely lit tent. My copy of The Sasquatch Seeker’s Field Manual was still folded open to where I had left it when I succumbed to sleep: page 18, with its illustration of two tall, shadowy figures behind glowing eyes, lurking in the dark forest.
Eek! Not going back to sleep tonight.
Ten days later, I found myself driving to the Lake City Starbucks in north Seattle. As I closed in on my destination, I saw a familiar image of the tall, ape-like silhouette overhead. “Bigfoot Car Wash,” announced the dark, inky lettering. I chuckled.
Arriving at the establishment, I glanced around and spied the man I was meeting standing in line. David George Gordon’s white hair and wayward beard bore no resemblance to the terrifying Sasquatch. Instead, he seemed to channel Saint Nicholas with his jovial greeting and pleasant manner. After getting our drinks, we sat down for a chat.
How did you become interested in the Sasquatch?
Gordon: I’m not sure I’m any more interested in the Sasquatch than any other wild thing. All of my books, in their own way, are about human interactions with the natural world. I’m not just writing about animals, but I explore the human relationship with nature. It’s something I’ve been interested in since I was a child.
Sooo ... the book is not really about the Sasquatch?
Gordon: The book is about citizen science. In general, it’s a great way to collect lots of data and study things that otherwise wouldn’t get funding for study. Citizen science empowers individuals to contribute to science and broaden their view of scientists beyond those with white lab coats. We are all scientists by nature, with innate curiosity and rational intellect.
I’m giving people the skills to get out there and gather meaningful data about the world. I want people to become aware that they can provide valuable contributions so they can make better use of their energy for science if it is something they care about.
The whole aim of the book is for people to go outside and look. I wrote it with the notion that anything you can do to get people more aware of their natural surroundings is a good thing.
How does the Sasquatch play into this?
Gordon: The Sasquatch is a fun way to deliver all these topics that otherwise would not be very fun. It’s like hiding vegetables in your meatloaf. There’s a lot of science hidden under the guise of “let’s go out to look for a Sasquatch.” People can go out armed with tools and methods, instead of just thrashing and trashing in the woods.
Beyond that, I think the Sasquatch is provocative because it’s a creature that is similar to ourselves. The existence of a mythical ape-man, even as an idea, encroaches on our belief system that we are somehow different than animals. The Sasquatch forces us to think about our place in nature. It forces us to think about our relationship with the wilderness—and our place in it. We need Sasquatches and sea monsters in our collective psyche. It makes our world much more interesting. I think there’s a quote by John Steinbeck that conveys this notion.
"Men really do need sea monsters in their personal oceans ... An ocean without unnamed monsters would be like sleep without dreams." - John Steinbeck
What inspired you to write a book like this?
Gordon: When I wrote the first book, Field Guide to the Sasquatch, I didn’t know very many of the Sasquatch experts. After it was published, I went to a conference and met a lot of them. I came away with the sense that it’s a lot of self-taught amateurs. At the time, the biggest name in Sasquatch studies was a retired Canadian post office worker with no scientific training.
Honestly, there was not a lot of coherent science in Sasquatch research: no methodology, no tracking of evidence, no chain of custody, no standardized documentation. I wanted to change that so we can have some hope of figuring out whether the Sasquatch is real or not.
Gordon: I think there’s a movement toward participatory experiences. There’s increasing popularity of ecotourism around cryptozoology called cryptotourism, where people go out searching for “hidden” animals, like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot.
Looking around, there are a lot of books about what we “know” about the Sasquatch (and the natural world in general), but there are not many books that enable people to do it themselves: to get out and find it.Plus, there were a lot of serendipitous factors that pointed me to doing this book. Like moving next to the Bigfoot Car Wash and bumping into an old family friend who happened to love illustrating Sasquatches—and who wound up illustrating my book.
Have you gone out searching for Sasquatch?
Gordon: I’ve gone on lots of wilderness outings, but not specifically looking for Sasquatches. If you go through the Bigfoot Field Research Organization’s sighting database (bfro.net), you’ll find there is no rhyme or reason as to where you might find them. If you think about it, a sighting happens when you have two elements: 1) an observer, and 2) the thing you observe.
We only know an animal’s range from what people have seen, and we can’t always cover an animal’s full habitat. To date, there haven’t been any methodical studies about the Sasquatch’s actual range. I was told that remote thermal springs are the best places to find Sasquatches since they like the heat, but there is no solid evidence to suggest this.
You have to remember that people see evidence in context, and sometimes that skews perceptions. I once heard a statistic that said, “Most sharks attack in less than six feet of water.” Of course, that is where people are, so sharks attack humans there. It doesn’t mean sharks are only in six feet of water or attack exclusively there.
After all this research, do you have a better idea as to whether the Sasquatch really exists?
Gordon: I am a fence-sitter. While I wouldn’t go to court with the evidence available on Sasquatches, I do think there is probably something out there. I have talked to a lot of experienced outdoorsmen who are not likely to mistake a rock or bear for something that is ape- or primate- like. There are still mysteries hidden in the wilderness, and we are still discovering new species all the time. It’s kind of smug of humans to think that we have seen everything.
How do you think something as big as the Sasquatch has eluded people?
Gordon: Despite the expansion of human settlements into the wilderness, there are still places that we don’t really go, so even very large creatures can hide from humans. For example, a group of experienced scientists was sent into Washington’s North Cascades some years back to look for grizzlies. At the time, grizzlies had been absent in the North Cascades for a while, but they thought bears were crossing from Canada into the U.S. through forest corridors. The scientists spent five years tracking the grizzlies. They saw paw prints, scat, scratched trees and pulled-up bark (from bears searching for grub), but they never once saw the bears.
Being a seasoned author, do you think you can predict how successful your book is going to be?
Gordon: The one thing I learned over the years is that books are like children: you always have a lot of hope for them, but you never really know what will happen. As a purist, I write because I want to teach something to the world, so I do hope that this book serves as a guide to citizen science and inspires people to look at the natural world in a more objective way. Besides that, you just hope your writing will touch people because when it does, it’s very gratifying.
Our conversation ended as pleasantly as it began. Passing once again under the shadow of the Bigfoot Car Wash sign, my mind wandered ahead to my weekend, and Gordon’s parting words echoed in the hollows between my ears. “If you want to go on a fun trip, it’s not a lot of extra stuff to bring with you to go Sasquatch hunting,” he said.
I reflected on the checklist of items I would need from The Sasquatch Seeker’s Field Manual. In fact, in addition to presenting background on the Sasquatch, Gordon outlined all the necessary protocols, from mounting a search to gathering evidence to properly sharing discoveries.
While I still believe that Sasquatch is a myth born of our collective imagination, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try hunting for one on my next outing. Later that evening, while perusing the hiking guide included in The Sasquatch Seeker’s Field Manual, I circled a few trails that were already on my to-do list.
It seemed Gordon’s book did touch at least one Sasquatch skeptic— will it have the same effect on you?
This article originally appeared in the Sept+Oct 2015 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.