Monday, January 14, 2008-A few years before the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington, I worked on a timber-cruising crew near that mountain. We stayed in a barn-like lodge and ate at a nearby diner. During breakfast one morning, Harry R. Truman, who owned Harmony Falls Lodge on Spirit Lake, came in. He was wearing an ancient raincoat and the same wrinkled cap he wore years later when he told a cameraman, a helicopter pilot and the world that he'd never leave his mountain. Days later, it blew.
Nodding to the diner's proprietor, he poured himself some coffee and came to our booth. "You fellas must be the timber cruisers," he said. He'd obviously had his morning whiskey. "There's something you boys should know. A Big Hairy Guy hangs out in these woods. Someday you'll be taping a tree, and a shadow'll fall on you. He'll know you're fixin' to log his forest, and he'll be mad."
He sipped his coffee. "I can show you scratch marks 10 feet high where he tried to get in my barn. I know when he's around by the smell. Whew! But my cats warn me before he gets that close. They go crazy! Edna, my wife, won't go out at night, at all. The Big Hairy Guy's passed up many chances to get me, 'cause he knows I'm on his side. You boys, though..." He shook his head.
We figured that Truman was saying he didn't like our being there (I couldn't blame him), while ostensibly warning us about Sasquatch, as some Native Americans call the legendary creature. We considered ourselves duly advised on both counts. But in weeks of beating the brush, we saw no sign of the Big Hairy Guy, though in that mysterious forest of shadowy glens and hulking, mossy trees, believing in such a creature wouldn't have been much of a stretch.
It could be the way we timber beasts were living: Our so-called ski-lodge was nothing but a cavernous wooden frame building with cots lined up, army-barracks style. To heat water for a shower, we had to build a roaring fire in a woodstove. It took over an hour to produce enough hot water for one person taking a short shower. The weather was cool and rainy the entire time, and after the first day we decided a shower was optional. Maybe that's why we never encountered Bigfoot.
For more than a century, Bigfoot sightings have been reported all over the Northwest. In 1890, railroad workers in British Columbia supposedly captured a rock-throwing, apelike creature they called Jacko. It escaped before anyone photographed him.
Several sightings have been hoaxes, such as those engineered by Ray L. Wallace, who fessed up before he died three years ago. Though his faked footprints and films were amateurish, many believed they were authentic representations of something furry and big. His bio-hoax, built on a legend already in place, was not the first involving a cryptid, a word meaning "hidden animal," or creature of unproven existence.Yeti of the Himalayas and Nessie of Scotland's Loch Ness are cryptids.
They lend themselves to bio-hoaxes because their existence is physically possible, and for reasons that might be termed romantic or psychological, people want to believe they exist. Sometimes they do exist. Former cryptids include gorillas - discovered in 1847, giant pandas - found in 1869, Komodo dragons - spotted in 1912, and giant geckos - found in 1984.
While Wallace's motive in fooling people was unclear, several bio-hoaxes have been perpetrated for political reasons. A bio-hoax by environmentalists involved planting endangered plants in a forest scheduled for logging. On the flip side, loggers made sure one forest harbored no spotted owls by shooting them. This is perhaps more bio-hit than bio-hoax, though the shooters aided their "enemy" by killing a barred owl, which threatens spotted owls through interbreeding.
One rumor had it that a Bigfoot was shot and secretly buried so "enviros" wouldn't find out and demand Bigfoot refuges with connecting BFRs - Bigfoot runways - a mountain myth no less incredible than others that persist. It's interesting to speculate what might happen after a confirmed Bigfoot discovery. Personally, I'd like to celebrate by taking the discoverer to breakfast at the diner where I met Harry R. Truman. But, of course, the eatery is buried under millions of tons of volcanic debris. As is, apparently, Harry, and perhaps - who knows - his Big Hairy Guy.
Chuck Bolsinger, a freelance writer in Boring, Ore., is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org).
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