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What Creatures Are Waiting for You in the Trees?

A dubious journalist dives into the rampant belief and storied history of Bigfoot.

A graffiti drawing of Bigfoot being abducted by a UFO.
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  • Photo Credit: Darren Halstead/Unsplash

Do you believe in Bigfoot? Across decades, this peculiar cryptid has been the hot subject of debate. Is the elusive primate a myth that's gone too far, or just a real-life creature that enjoys its privacy?

Journalist John O'Connor is skeptical about Bigfoot's existence, yet found himself fascinated by the fact that so many people want to believe this creature is real.

Setting out on a quest for answers, he tread everywhere from the shadowy woods of the Pacific Northwest to eccentric cryptozoology conventions. O'Connor goes far beyond Bigfoot's ubiquitous presence in media and marketing, explore the origins of his story in ancient folklore.

We couldn't be happier to include this book in the April/May Creepy Crate—our last Crate ever.

Read on for an excerpt of The Secret History of Bigfoot, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy!




The Secret History of Bigfoot: Field Notes on a North American Monster

By John O'Connor

Sometime in the night, the noise started. Quietly at first. Then less quietly. Then it grew urgent. Then livid. Until it was positively beside itself. A free-form, sphincter-shuddering howl, attended by a near-subliminal reverb, coming just beyond my tent. I’d been lying there, trying to sleep, feeling overly proud, feeling exultant really, at having huffed up from the road that morning carrying way too much—up sidewinding cloisters of Douglas fir, across scrubby fields of red hawthorn where crickets pinged off my trekking poles, into meadows of pale valerian and purple heather and tangy wild blueberries hardly bigger than Nerds, over shattered rockfall, past weird hummocky deposits of turf that turned out to be marmot dens, along a narrow culvert whose edges tipped into the void, and onto this imposing yet minor summit of the Northern Cascades, where, sweating and cursing like a farmhand, I’d plopped a flimsy tent below an abandoned fire lookout and climbed inside—when the howling commenced.

Suddenly I was eight years old again. As the night air shuddered, I shuddered too. I’d been deluded in coming here, had once more distilled my neurotic, citified, armchair jones for wilderness into a Sierra Club fantasy. Yet here I was, fifteen, maybe twenty miles from another soul. Twenty-five from asphalt. One hundred from the nearest Wendy’s. It was a place where two hikers, including an ex-Marine, had gone missing in recent years. Like the narrator of the Rosemary Tonks poem—“I’m being broken / At this very moment”—I sensed prefrontal slippage, mass losing solidity.

Before bedding down, I’d strung a bear bag among sagging, cliffside spruce. But an inedible trail bar, the kind that gums up your intestines for seventy-two hours, lingered in a coat pocket. Ditto a sodden, ziplocked tangerine. To the proper audience, I was a rack of lamb. Only once, in the Smokies, had I encountered a wild bear. This high up, at this time of year, on this solitary spur, a bear would be odd. So I told myself.

What then? Marmots? These adorable beefcake guinea pigs occupied the shoulders of my perch in a colony several dozen strong. When I’d first heard their shrill, graveyard screams, it had shaken me to my core. But this wasn’t that, was it? Maybe the northern harrier I’d seen wheeling about? Stone-cold killer, that one, trailing death across hill and dale but possessing a battle cry that was ludicrously pipsqueak.

Which led me, by way of a certain line of thinking, to Bigfoot, or Sasquatch if you prefer. The “strange and ghostlike” forest being that local Sauk-Suiattle and Skagit Indian legends describe. The humanoid giant that European fur trappers and railroad men, loggers, and miners claimed to have encountered during their westward ravages. The “abominable snowman” that two boys, Mark Meece, sixteen, and Marshall Cabe, fourteen, ran into just east of here, at Cub Lake, in 1969. The “monkey or gorilla” that tourists saw crossing Highway 504 over in Cowlitz County. The source of eerie yowls, “like people yelling,” that elk hunters heard recently on Spencer Butte. The seven-to-nine-foot-tall beast with a “cone-shaped head” and “matted and dirty, but not stringy” hair that a man spotted “lumbering along” a hillside near Darrington. The ogre, trickster, cave monster, mountain devil, wild man, and cannibal child slaver that nearly every Indigenous American culture has a name for: Bakwas, Dzunuḵ̓wa, Kala’litabiqw, Kchi Awas, Nik’inla’eena, Omah, Ste-ye-hah’mah. The tabloid curiosity. Skulker of the old growth. Model of Arcadian simplicity. Transient and scary-ass figment of my dreams. Imaginary herald of our oldest and most hard-dying myths, or long odds candidate for a real yet undiscovered hominid species.

Whatever it was, marmot or missing link, it circled, footfalls crunching frosted stonecrop, claws scattering talus. In my barricade of fleece and down, I lay perfectly still, eyelids bolted shut, my only weapon, a plastic spork, clutched tightly to my chest. There came a surgical howl, followed by another, my own this time—a feral, childlike, trombone wail—and the crash of rock on rock.

A tent tucked among the trees at night.
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  • Photo Credit: Alex Moliski/Unsplash

We all have our coping mechanisms. Mine was to burrow deeper and hum a few bars of Little Feat’s “Willin’” while weeping inwardly. Later, when the noise subsided, I pulled myself together. Wriggling free of my bag, I slipped on my headlamp, unzipped the tent, and stuck my face into the darkness. It was the bottom of the ocean: pure black above and below, the weensie glint from my headlamp illuminating fuck all. I clapped, as you’re meant to do with bears. Nothing. Stepping outside, I found a loose tent peg being dashed against the rocks by the wind, its guyline snapping in a frenzied dance. Thus had a seam opened between tent and rain fly, creating that unfathomable howl. Which should’ve been obvious from the comfort of my bag.

David Rains Wallace, in his book The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution, describes a bout of visions and night terrors that troubled him in California’s Siskiyou Mountains, a region of frequent Bigfoot sightings. “Lying in the dark, I couldn’t close my eyes because intensely vivid faces would appear, mouthing incomprehensible words. The faces seemed so real that I had trouble reassuring myself that they came from my mind, and I afterward saw them at other camps, as though I’d been sensitized to something.” He entertains rational explanations—a microbe, exhaustion—as well as other possibilities. “It made me wonder where the mind ends and the forest begins.” A similar kind of residual illness, I felt, had struck me just beneath the surface. Could it all have been a trick of the imagination?

After so much excitement, I decided to make coffee. This was early September. The wind was a wet wrench. But the eastern sky trended blue gray as the sun began its interminable crawl over the mountains.

What a balm the daylight provided. To the south, I could make out the ten-thousand-foot Glacier Peak, its summit wreathed in clouds. Directly opposite was another ten-thousand-footer, Mount Baker, a black dorsal fin breaking a blue line of surf. Due east, beneath the crest of Sinister Peak, the fast-retreating Chickamin Glacier (eighty-six hundred feet), and to the west, the chossy flanks of White Chuck Mountain (seven thousand feet). I was aboard the palpably inferior Green Mountain, sixty-five hundred feet of andesite cinder and humble pie. Usually snow-packed till midsummer, it swarmed now with bluebells and silvery sedge. Fox sparrows, golden-crowned kinglets, and my favorite of all, the ubiquitous juncos, on holiday from Mexico, bounded past on mysterious errands. Smoke from wildfires farther south, around Mount Rainier, gathered in the valley below. Behind me, standing like a fez cap on the summit, was a shuttered fire lookout, its east flank crumbling into a boulder-strewn gully, mist coiling from its steepled roof.

This extraordinary tableau was the reason I’d come here. Or half the reason. The other half being the stated subject of this book. Long story short, I wanted to write about Bigfoot: its myth and meaning, where it comes from, why it bewitches, confounds, and occasionally terrifies us. Most crucially, I wanted to meet Bigfooters. Months back, midway through the pandemic, I’d gotten caught up in the spirit of our strange times. I couldn’t stop myself. If you’d asked me then, I’d have said that Bigfoot was a beautiful yet harrowing intimation of the future, a terminal cocktail of hope mixed with discontent and a twist of climate apocalypse. Or some such. On Green Mountain, I could read a lot of the personal and public dread of 2020 into that thinking. While it seemed clear that fear and self-delusion were intertwined with Bigfoot, I was also made painfully aware of our uneasy rapport with nature. But I still knew virtually nothing about the Big Guy. I had a lot to learn.

In truth, one rarely thinks about why they’re looking into something until long after they’ve begun. Bigfoot was probably always there, in the back of my mind. Perhaps I thought it would fade. Instead it gained momentum. After abandoning my blockbuster film treatment, “Wrath of the Squatch,” I began imbibing the Bigfoot literature, the podcasts and chat room banter, Instagram posts and Facebook rants. I watched the unwatchable films, spoke to believers and non, diehards and weekenders, clearheaded skeptics and fervid charlatans, plumbing the thin margins between credible and contrivance, between reasoned inquiry and unhinged pursuit of a creature whose exact location no one could specify but whose existence was taken as a matter of faith. “Other people’s obsessions don’t turn me on,” Saul Bellow once said. Other people’s obsessions are precisely what turn me on. They become my own obsessions, propelling me down uncertain paths, making life more interesting. With Bigfoot, there are innumerable paths. You can find him everywhere. While I planned to hit all points of the compass on my Bigfoot walkabout—north, south, east, west—it’s in the Pacific Northwest, as everyone knows, where Bigfoot’s story begins.

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Featured image: Darren Halstead/Unsplash; Additional image: Alex Moliski/Unsplash