Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Sasquatch in the Snoqualmie
(Chapter 4 from Memories and Musings of a Post-Postmodern Nomadic Mystic Madman)
Long before the white man wandered into the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains and to the west, the native peoples were aware of the existence of another intelligent hominid sharing the forests, and they generally respected and revered these cryptids as close cousins and even brethren (despite scattered stories of certain tribes that rather fearfully portray these mysterious mythical beasts). The Yakama tribe called these shy furry forest dwellers ste ye mah, words which denote “a spirit hidden by the woods.” The Quinault refer to these behemoths as tsadjatko, and the Salish language names them saskets (thus the English derivation “sasquatch”), both of which translate into English simply as “the giant” or “giants.” The Lakota call them shiye tanka, or “Big Elder Brother.” The Tillamook (the tribe, not the cheese-makers) named them yi dyi’tay (not Valençay nor fior de latte nor cheddar), which means “wildman.” Indeed, there are stories about and appellations for these massive yet nonetheless elusive animals throughout the lore of North American Indians.10
As any average American boy, I was fascinated by tales of encounters with Bigfoot. Episodes of In Search of . . . and various books from the Laramie Public Library inspired my youthful imagination and embedded a proverbial itch deep under my skin to seek out evidences proving the existence of this secretive species. I devoured reports regarding unexplained sightings of said cryptid, certainly a favorite amongst the menagerie of monsters and mythic beasts that trod the forested paths and swam the dark depths of my youthful imagination. I decided somewhere around the age of ten that I must indeed someday have an encounter with the mythical sasquatch.
Fifteen years later, give or take, I was with two others hiking back to base-camp in the wilderness of the Upper Sauk River drainage in the mountains above Darrington, Washington (an established hotspot for sasquatch sightings), when a chill or tingle rose up my spine, and I felt compelled to utter a proclamation of my prescient sense that we were going to “have an encounter.” My companions and I were clearing trails of old growth deadfall and brush in the lush rain forests of the Cascade Mountains, and of course talk of sasquatch was regular fare for late-night chats amongst our crew whilst we passed pipes or joints, sipped beers and shot the shit ‘round the firepit.
On this day, as my coworkers and I were casually chatting about the subject of sasquatch on our hike back to camp, said sensation of the presence of prescience pleasantly stimulated my central nervous system, alerting me to the gravity of a mini-revelation.
“We’re going to have an encounter!!” I announced excitedly as Jonah and I and a local kid on our crew were marching down the trail, laden with two-person (crosscut) saws, axes and bow saws. “I just know it!!” I added with a rather giddy laugh.
Jonah and I had met at a coffee house in Bellingham, Washington a number of months previous. We chatted and played some drums, smoked some herb and became fast friends. It was Jonah who had discovered this amazing employment opportunity when he and a friend had been forced to abandon their intentioned backpacking trip covering a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, as the pair and all their gear got soaked in a storm of sleet and cold rain up in the high country. He and his companion had thus been forced to follow an alternate trail down to the nearest Forest Service road, and upon reaching the trail head happened to encounter a man and a herd of goats wearing saddles and loaded with saws and axes and winches and such. In spite of weariness and a wish or want to return to civilization, the two saturated hikers stopped to inquire about the oddity of saddled goats. Gary the goat-herding Forest Service contractor offered employment on the spot.
Meanwhile, I had been biding my time on the sidewalk in front of Stuart’s Coffee House in downtown Bellingham, waiting for something to happen. In spite of the mostly pleasant company of other birds of the same feather—un- or underemployed hippies, ravers, punks, freaks of whatever flavor, students, and various and sundry sorts of coffee addicted (mostly-) potheads—I was feeling anxious, and sensed somehow that Jonah’s return would herald an end to the rut I had slid into in this cloudy city in the northwestern corner of the continental United States.
As soon as Jonah arrived at Stuart’s one sunny midday, just returned from the mountains to the southeast, I was already ready to go. We made a few last minute arrangements, Jonah said a few-hours long hi-and-bye to his girlfriend Cristina, and we hit the road sometime around midnight. We were bound for the Sauk River drainage, twenty-miles or so southeast of Darrington, Washington, a wilderness area where stands of enormous old growth timber still touch the sky in the lush rain forests on the western slopes of the Cascades.
After cruising through Darrington, a quaint hamlet immediately surrounded by picturesque towering peaks on three-sides, we met the end of the pavement and continued into the forest on a wide dirt and gravel road in the dark of night. Jonah kept his eyes open to search for the turn into the trail head campground whilst we blazed multiple bowls of beasters (British Columbian Cannabis) and jammed out to Jimi Hendrix or Dead Can Dance or some trance tune CD of Jonah's played on the stereo. Erstwhile entranced by the rhythms and vibrations of the road, Jonah realized we had missed our turn after we wandered winding up several switchbacks, so I spun the truck in a quick U-turn and we started back down the zigzagging road.
Jonah cautioned me to slow just as we reached our turn, which was at an exceedingly sharp angle from the truck’s trajectory. As I tried the turn after something like a second of hesitation, I had to bring the truck to a halt as the 1963 Dodge Power Wagon’s turning radius was quite a bit too wide to complete the turn in one motion. We were facing the forest, sitting perpendicular to the proper direction of traffic on the dirt drive that led to the trail head, when suddenly I had the sensation that we were rolling backwards. I pressed harder on the foot brake and engaged the parking brake at the same time Jonah uttered an urgent appeal,
“The brakes are on!” I replied to his anxious plea with an equally anxious response.
We were not rolling. The wheels were quite firmly planted on the hard-packed light-brown dirt drive, and yet we both continued to feel as if we were moving backwards. I gazed as if in a trance at the trees directly in front of us, which appeared to be moving away, but in a continuous motion that never quite caused them to recede into the distance. Jonah reported the same sensations, both visually and in terms of the sense of inner-ear balance.
It seemed to both of us as if we only lingered thus for a few minutes before I put the truck in reverse, then completed the turn. Shortly after we parked for the night, however, we noted that the drive from town to this site had taken well over an hour. Upon later clocking the distance of this drive—and even factoring in the fact that we’d passed the turn on this first time traveling to the trailhead—we concluded we had lost somewhere approaching an hour whilst we’d observed this anomaly of a forest repetitively or continually fading back from our perspective, both seated firmly on the bench seat of the Miraculous-Beast-Shanti-Mama.
Had we been abducted by aliens? Was it a “vortex” or a “wormhole” or some such time-space anomaly we had experienced on this mountain road during the dark of night? Had we perhaps entered a portal into another dimension? Certainly the extraordinary experiences we were to have over the coming weeks working and playing in this enchanted rain forest would lead us to conclude that one or another of these odd options was indeed a distinct possibility.
Next morning we met Gary, his partner Lucy, and their goats. Gary had long graying hair in a ponytail, and wore the appropriate facial hair to match his occupation. Lucy had slightly curly mid-length dark-hair, and as I recall from our brief meetings a rather pleasantly curved figure (and no goatee or other ungulate-like characteristics, I am happy to report). The pair had been contracted to clear several kilometers of trails here and elsewhere in Washington and were quite pleased we had shown up, as apparently good help was hard to find in this particular neck of the woods.
Our job was to remove deadfall from across the trail and cut the brush alongside to a few inches in height. Some of the fallen trees that blocked the pathway into the high country were upwards of five to six feet in diameter, and were no little task to cut through and winch or leg-press out of the way of hikers and horses (and goats) hoofing it up or down the mountain. Granted, these were not redwoods or giant sequoias, but as this area was designated wilderness we were required to use manual saws and axes on the still massive fallen trunks. Though this obviously required an extra expenditure of human labor, the relative quiet of a crosscut saw compared to a six-foot long chainsaw allowed us to encounter wildlife which otherwise would have hightailed it to the next valley over.
Just past the trailhead was a small swamp filled with ferns and devil’s club, a wide variety of funguses, mosses dripping from tree limbs and quite a number of species of aquatic plants growing in the still pools of water. Old growth cedars and Douglas fir grew to great heights above the marsh, rendering this part of the trail darker than pitch as soon as the sun would set behind the high peaks and allowing only a little sunlight to filter through so many layers of needled boughs and fringed fronds above even at high noon. A boardwalk and small bridges made up the better portion of this lower stretch of the path into one of the most magical patches of forest I have yet been blessed to experience.
After this marshy fern-filled portion of the pathway, the corridor through the massive moss-embellished trees ascended sharply into a much younger forest. A steep scree slope to one side, and a likewise steep decent to the river beneath and to the other side, the trail twice crossed rushing spring- and snow-fed creeks that were tributary to the larger flow in the valley below. On one occasion we watched a small black bear scurrying up the rocky slope, rather startled by the scarcely seen sight of humans on this lightly travelled trail.
The packgoats were generally a bit reluctant to cross the rushing waters of the rivulets, and would often hesitate at the banks with the proverbial stubbornness of a mule. These billies and nannies would scarcely even lower their bearded muzzles to partake of the clear cold drink, as their desert-dwelling ancestors had adapted to acquiring most of the moisture they required from whatever vegetation they might manage to locate in the barren scrub of their homelands in northern Africa, and the vegetation here in the Pacific Northwest rain forest was saturated. The parched and sawdust covered primates accompanying said cloven-hoofed beasts of burden, however, were always happy to arrive at these streams after long hours of sawing and chopping and winching variously sized logs and limbs and lumber out of the way and to one side of the trail, splashing the cold and refreshing flow on soiled faces and arms and even sometimes chancing a case of beaver-fever to taste of these revitalizing waters.
On the day of my prescient epiphany, we were heading downhill and had just crossed the second stream, carrying on with the usual bullshitting and banter, when my intuition indicated the certainty of the coming encounter. Indeed, Native American lore tells that sasquatch are “spirit beings” and not mere animals, thus I’m supposing it likely this spiritual beasty transmitted the psychic message that let me know of his or her intentions to visit.
That night, as Jonah and I sat next to a roaring fire, sipping tea and smoking herb and cigarettes after a filling meal of brown rice and veggies, I began to get the feeling that we were being watched. Several times I scanned the forest around us with my headlamp, focusing the beam of light on a particular point between two trees where I sensed our voyeur was located. Jonah commented that I was wasting my batteries, so heeding his advice I turned off the lantern. No sooner had I set this headlamp down on the ground beside me, when a booming “CRACK” resounded through the forest from nigh exactly where I had suspected someone or thing was watching.
Now, this was no ordinary din in the darkness. Something exceedingly large had quite obviously broken an exceptionally large branch. We had been cutting and chopping and breaking and dragging all manner of lumber by saw and axe, hand and foot and winch, from one-inch-thick sticks to fallen trees nigh six-foot in diameter cut through twice and winched away to clear this trail of obstacles, and the noise this breaking branch made in the still and dark night indicated something quite exceeding heavy had either stepped upon a freshly fallen tree or limb of no small girth, else had become night-blinded by my lamp’s light and had thus broken a large unseen limb on a standing tree. I immediately hopped to my feet.
“HOLY SHIT!” I proclaimed in surprise, “Jonah, that was something really fucking big!”
Jonah still sat, staring into the darkness.
“C’mon, man. Let’s get in the camper, dude,” I urged, as if the thin aluminum sheets, fiberglass insulation and pine paneling that made up the camper’s walls would prevent a thousand-pound-plus beasty from getting at us if it had the urge.
“Naw. If it’s a bigfoot, I wanna meet it,” Jonah said somewhat nonchalantly.
I continued to adjure that he join me in the illusory safety of the piggyback house on wheels, until I finally enticed him inside to smoke a bowl. I turned on some mellow tunes at about half-volume on my CD walkman with remote speakers and we sat there casually puffin’ some nuggets and philosophizing as was our usual fare, till suddenly a din that at first seemed the thunder of a distant explosion sounded over the stereo’s volume. I immediately turned off the tunes, and quietly uttered,
“What the fuck was that?”
“I dunno,” was Jonah’s simple reply.
“Was that an explosion? What the fuck would be—” my query was cut short by another “BOOM,” or perhaps more accurately, a heavy “THUD” that shook or vibrated the camper, à la Jurassic Park when the footsteps of T-Rex sends shock waves through a glass of water sitting on a table.
“Oh shit!” I said with a worried whisper, “What the fuck was that?”
“Uh . . . I dunno,” Jonah answered, likewise in an alarmed and under-the-breath utterance.
The sound and vibration had issued from just the other side of the thin walls of the camper, right next to where I sat. Something exceedingly heavy had seemingly stomped upon the forest floor, something quite massive that stood mere inches from where I sat upon the lower bunk. Neither of us even dared peak out from behind the curtains to see what had made such a monstrous noise in the night. I was quite certain that were I to move the curtain aside, I would be staring at a hairy chest at seven feet off the ground, and Jonah’s want to meet bigfoot had met with a wariness of things that go bump in the night—especially really big things that can shake a nearly three-ton truck with the stomp of a foot—and the wariness won out.
We sat petrified in the silence for a few minutes, till said silence was broken by four or five more heavy bipedal footsteps that proceeded to the back of the truck. We sat still for nearly half-an-hour more, listening intensely before either of us had the guts to look out of the windows to see what we might see. We heard a few more noises, the clattering and clanking of some pots and pans we’d left on top of the picnic table and assorted other slight dins and disturbances in the still of the night. When we finally dared to look outside, we saw nothing suspicious, and then went to sleep after another bowl or two to counter the adrenaline. Jonah didn’t sleep in his tent that night, and took the top bunk instead.
Next day when we awoke, I noted that the pots and pans and utensils were still all piled together in the largest pot as we’d hastily left them the night before, but were moved from the table top onto the bench of the wooden picnic table. We offered an account to the others, who reported they’d had a quite quiet and undisturbed sleep. Though I had some suspicions someone had played a trick on us, upon testing whether a mere human might be able to stomp or drop a heavy rock on the ground to manufacture the sort of sound and vibrations that would shake a three-ton truck and camper, we concluded this was not a viable explanation. We even took turns climbing to the side of the pickup bed then leaping off and onto the forest floor to try to make even a tiny vibration detectable to the other, seated on the lower bunk inside. Indeed, neither of us could even tell when the other outside had hit the ground, both endeavoring as much force as our respective weights could create upon stomping or leaping down from five feet high.
Gary informed us he had to go to town to get some supplies, so we concentrated on clearing brush from the sides of the trail not far from base camp. As we weren’t venturing far into the forest we didn’t bother to pack lunch, and instead returned to our respective campsites to replenish and rest during our midday break. As we then began to hike back up the trail to resume working, walking on a side trail that later met the main, I spotted a large brown humanoid-shaped figure through a corridor where the undergrowth was absent, standing and staring straight at us from some seventy yards away.
“Whoa!” I said, lifting my hand to halt our group’s progress, “What is that?!”
Jonah and the local kid who was working with us stopped in their tracks to attend to my alert.
“There’s something up there!” I said, squinting to attempt to make out the details of the tall thing I was observing in the dim forest light, which again, appeared to be the dark brown shape of a humanoid standing and facing my vantage.
The local kid, whose name I can’t recall with certainty, said he saw the same something from another vista, a few yards ahead. As I started towards his perspective he likewise started towards mine to discern if we were indeed viewing the same something. Whilst no one was watching for no more than a few seconds, this bogey took the opportunity to make him or herself scarce, for upon returning to my original point of view I noted that whatever had stood staring at us had made a hasty withdrawal, and local kid said the same of his sighting. We immediately started towards where whatever it was we’d seen had stood, and upon arriving at said spot, right next to an alternate trail sign, I gauged that what I had viewed (judging by the height of the trail sign and such) must have measured between eight and nine feet tall. Local kid agreed, and still in investigative mode, we started up the side trail towards the top of Lost Mountain.
The trees along this trail were tall and thin, and though the sun was shining, only patches of the forest floor were illuminated by rays unfiltered by broad-leafed and needled boughs. A distinctly magical quality imbued the light and air and sounds we experienced as we stalked the tall, dark, and assumedly furry beast we had briefly viewed from below. I felt like a native brave, hunting some illusive and magical totem animal as we walked with slightly crouched postures, gazing side-to-side and stalking this specter with stealthy strides, thoroughly enjoying this playful excursion in search of sasquatch—now that we were in the light of day.
After hiking a mile or more with no further sign of our quarry, we decided we ought to retrace our steps and return to work. Just as we began the descent, we heard a call echoing through the woods unlike any animal’s vocalization I had ever heard before. I have spent a great deal of time in the wilderness, and have ravenously consumed every nature program I’ve happened across on television since early childhood, from Marty Stauffer’s Wild America, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom to pre-cable National Geographic televised specials to the Nature Channel and Animal Planet. I’ve fished and hunted from the mountains of Wyoming to the hills of Oklahoma, studied birdcalls from bird watching guides and time in the field, listened to Elk bugles echoing in the misty fall mornings of the Rocky Mountains, observed various species of owls—the source of sometimes ominous seeming sounds in the forest—in both daytime and night, and hiked in the hills and high country from the West Coast to the East. This resounding mid-pitched “hooooooooooo” fit no category of creature call I had ever heard or read of, and conveyed a quality that seemed to indicate it issued from an exceedingly deep and billowing chest. Perhaps the closest analogue I can think of would be a howler monkey’s eerie cry echoing through the rain forest, except as one long and unbroken sound.
We paused to listen for a second call, and I decided to mimic its sound to see if I could elicit another. Sure enough, a second sounding followed, a bit closer and louder than the first. We resumed our hike down the trail, trading calls as the source seemed to follow alongside at a distance. By the time we reached the turn to our trail the calls had again grown quite distant, so we returned to our work trimming shrubs and removing overhanging branches from the sides of the trail.
Cristina, Jonah’s girlfriend at the time, and several others from the Bellingham coffeehouse crew came up to visit and camp with us on various occasions, and we made a couple of trips back to the city to replenish supplies and socialize, but had no more encounters with sasquatch in the Sauk River drainage. We did, however, have a somewhat more questionable and less up-close and personal possible encounter on the occasion of a little “trip” into the woods near Mount Baker on one weekend-off, and also experienced a few other amazing and anomalous incidents at our worksite, such as observing odd little blue lights in the swampy section of the trail which would dart through this darkened old growth section of the forest like tiny dancing stars, and chancing upon a sasquatch totem embossed on the burled trunk of an ancient tree.
The other possible “encounter” with sasquatch occurred on the occasion of a reggae festival held annually at the River Farm, a longstanding commune about twenty miles towards Mount Baker from Bellingham. We picked up a batch of the Stuart’s Coffeehouse crew on our way, and after arriving and wandering the festival grounds purchased a couple of ounces of boomers (shrooms, magic mushrooms, fungus of the genus Psilocybin, don’t ya’ know) and distributed these amongst our cohorts. After a while hanging out in the camper, we decided we wanted to wander in the woods to play and explore. Unfortunately, however, the forested area around the festival was off limits, so we agreed to take a little drive to a spot where Jonah and I had searched for chanterelles on an earlier occasion. I had personally only eaten a (relatively) small amount of fungus at this point, by the way, as I had the foresight to recognize I might have the need to get behind the wheel.
Once we arrived at our destination, our crew of nine hopped out and started to wander up the winding trail that led to the top of a heavily forested ridge. The first section of this trail was thickly wooded with willow thickets and various other deciduous trees and undergrowth, and as the ridge cut off the sun, the area was quite enveloped in shadows. We played amongst the thickets, and then found a circle of nine large trees where each of us took a seat, leaning against his or her chosen trunk. After several minutes of quiet meditation and intoning a group AUM or two, we again started meandering up the trail. Jonah and I decided this might be a good place to experiment with the sasquatch call we had heard and learned to imitate on the aforementioned occasion, and were much encouraged to do so by our companions. We took turns making the long wailing call, pursing our lips in a simian fashion as we did our best simulation of the sounds we’d heard a week or two before and a hundred-miles or so to the south.
We continued on the narrow pathway, and at the first switchback heard a most peculiar noise issuing from a bit beyond this turn in the trail and through an impenetrable thicket. Said odd sounds seemed somewhat like those made by cows, yet more like an imitation of cows than actual bovines. We all agreed on the unusual nature of this din in the dark forest, and I immediately recalled having read a book as a child that claimed sasquatch often imitate cattle “mooos” when traveling in a group to mask the noise of multiple massive and heavily laden feet treading upon the heavily littered forest floor. We continued past this first switchback and these “cows” seemed to be following our progress, a bit behind and upslope from our trajectory.
One of our crew decided to run up ahead to see if he might surprise our stealthy pursuers around the next switchback. He soon came barreling back down the trail to excitedly report that he had startled “something really big” that was bedded down up ahead. Jonah and I went ahead to check out the bedding area, and noted that indeed, something large had flattened a significant area of tall grasses. As we rejoined the rest of the trippers at the second switchback, the crew consensually concluded it was time to turn around and head back to the camper. Whatever was tagging along turned back towards the first switchback precisely when we did, always just out of sight and continually uttering off-tone bovine-like vocalizations. The family of big beasties had somehow continued to evade our gaze, leaving us with a mystery will never be solved.
Now I will admit, auditory hallucinations and distortions are part of the package when magic mushrooms are ingested. Nonetheless, a couple of significant facts caused me to believe it likely that what we were hearing were not four-legged domesticated bovines, but a tribe of sasquatch coming to our calls. First of all, cows are by no means stealthy—especially when in the numbers we heard, and can easily be approached even in the wildest of settings. Second, the fact that all of us agreed that what we were hearing sounded more like something pretending to be a herd of cattle than actual cows seemed to add weight to this assessment. Still, this “encounter” is obviously to be regarded as more suspect than the encounters Jonah and I had previously experienced for the simple fact that mushrooms do undeniably alter mental and sensory faculties.
After another day or two off Jonah and I returned to work in the Sauk River drainage. Cristina joined us for this stint in the wilderness, collecting conifer cones for seed to sell for a reforestation project of the Schwarz Wald in Germany whilst we worked on the trail, as there was a woman in Darrington paying fifty-bucks a burlap bag-full. During this span in the big woods, I was blessed to see one of the little blue lights Jonah had seen on a few occasions in the swamp just after sunset. Unlike fireflies, these lights were exceedingly fast fliers, and were not intermittent in their bioluminescent display. Said anomalous flying lights would only appear after deep darkness had fallen in this magical marsh, swiftly soaring in spiraling erratic patterns between the tall thick-trunked trees and ferns and devil’s club. The little light I observed zipped across the trail a few yards ahead as I was slowly making my way through the darker than night shadows under the old growth cedars, then performed some amazing aeronautical acrobatics, looping and spiraling away and deeper into the swamp.
Insofar as other encounters with suspected faeries, whether or not this adds any credence or context to the aforementioned account, once whilst engaged in shamanistic play with a group of friends from Laramie next to a pile of boulders known as Eagle Rock, a lovely sprite named Mandy laughingly led me to a bush from which sang something that sounded precisely like the flying faeries in the 70’s cartoon movie Wizards. Mandy also once dragged me into the women’s restroom at the Ranger Bar, led me into a stall and pulled her jeans down to display a large tattoo of a winged faerie on her thigh. I also believe I glimpsed one more Cascades faerie before we left this forest, out of the corner of one eye.
We soon finished cleaning this section of trail and moved on to another sight nearby. We remained at this second location for only a week or so, and then packed up to depart from the Sauk River drainage for good, as there was no more trail to clear. Of notable discoveries at this second site, Jonah and I happened upon a large forked tree that bore a massive burl about five feet in diameter on its trunk that bore a certain similitude to a primate’s face—and specifically rather resembling an orangutan’s visage—with two large symmetrical eyes, a continuous furrowed brow, and a decidedly simian mouth and chin clearly portrayed through the bark and burls of this totem tree.
On the day of our departure, I sat beside the river to chant and meditate and to say goodbye to the magical wilderness of the Cascade Mountains and to offer thanks to the kindly and playful creatures and spirits we had encountered amongst the ancient trees of the rain forest. I paused from my chanting to take some deep breaths and contemplate the wonder of this delightful and mystical place, perhaps a few tears of joy falling onto my cheeks, when out of the corner of my eye I spied something flying by a few feet to my right. Translucent lacy wings conveyed this tiny creature up and into the branches above, and I swear I saw two tiny human-like legs dangling from this flying form. Indeed the forest’s magic was seeming offering a parting appearance via said slight soaring emissary, responding to my grateful sentiments expresses in chants and pranam by offering a magical farewell, a gracious goodbye, conveyed from this ancient forest’s wondrous, wild and weird inhabitants to one merely open enough to see and believe.