The Summit of Squatch

“You’ve got to go to the Sasquatch Summit,” they say.  “It’s so much fun,” they say.

This year, I listened.  Booked a cheap flight to Seattle, rented a cheap car, and made my way to the Quinault Casino in Ocean Shores, WA.  This entailed sojourning south on I-5, taking a right at Olympia, and heading straight through that little slice of paradise known as Aberdeen.  More correctly, it entailed making about five complete circuits around Aberdeen before finding my way out.

I don’t remember Aberdeen being so complicated.

I arrived at my hotel on a Friday afternoon in plenty of time for the evening’s squatchy activities.  After finding the casino and ordering a massive bowl of chili and a couple of beverages in the bar, I was ready to go.

When I say “casino,” I mean it.  This was an incongruous setting for a bigfoot conference.  Walking out of the enormous ballroom where hundreds of people are seriously considering the existence of an eight-foot-tall hairy hominoid and into a bright, smoke-filled room full of gamblers staring at dinging and chirping slot machines never got old.

Some friends I’d met at previous conferences had graciously saved me a seat in the second row.  The first presentation of the evening was by Russell Witala, a local researcher.  I must admit I’m still not sure who this person was or why he was speaking, but he frequently assured us that he was saving some essential information to share with us at Sasquatch Summit ’17, so apparently he’s on the roster for next year as well.  Witala spoke of a habituation site he frequents where the juvenile sasquatches have taken a shine to him.  He then showed us some photos of trees which he said were broken by the squatch kids playing on them.  He said they also like to make coyote noises at him.  How he knows that it was not snow that broke the branches or actual coyotes making the noises, I’m sure he’ll reveal next year after he borrows a razor from Mr. Occam.

So we were off and running. Next up was Ron Morehead, whose 1970s “Sierra Sounds” recordings have become iconic in certain circles.  Morehead and certain linguists believe the sounds represent actual conversations between the creatures.  You can hear some of the recordings here.

Next on the program was David Ellis, an audio specialist with the Olympic Project.  The Olympic Project is a well-known outfit which researches alleged bigfoot activity on and around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.  I was familiar with Ellis through the podcast OK Talk, which I adore, and on which he’s been a frequent guest.  Ellis was presenting sound recordings from the “Devil’s Creek” location discussed in the podcast, so I had already heard most of what he had to share.  They have captured some interesting sounds there, similar to gorilla chest-beating, as well as alleged vocalizations.

I have a slight complaint about Ellis’ presentation and that was that he showed us none of the visual signatures of these sounds. Sound produces vibrations, which can be represented visually similar to a seismic readout of an earthquake.  Ellis repeatedly said that through these spectographs, he can tell that the sounds have NOT been made by known animals in the area — but he didn’t show them as part of his presentation.  David, if you are reading, toss in some screenshots next time!

After a brief “town hall” meeting moderated by Derek Randles, also of the Olympic Project, it was back out into the casino for the remainder of the evening, complete with a live band and line dancing in the bar.

I was a bit late next morning.  Ordered some breakfast back in the good old casino bar and it took a long time.  So I missed the first speaker, who was Mitchel Townsend. Townsend has found bones with teeth marks he alleges are from sasquatch.  He has written an incredibly lengthy and dense analysis of this find which I, admittedly, will probably never work up the wherewithal to read.  I can barely make it through the title page.  You can find it here.

Thom Powell was taking the stage by the time I wandered into the conference room.  Our front-and-center seats had been bogarted, but I skulked around the edges of the room and found a spot.  Confession time: I like Thom Powell.  He reminds me a lot of Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future and one expects at any moment to see the man hop into a DeLorean and disappear.  His book The Locals is one of my favorite bigfoot reads.  I was in the middle of his more recent book, Edges of Science, at the time of this conference.  Powell has, after years of study, developed a sort of unified theory of the paranormal, which is fascinating in itself whether or not you agree with much of it.  What do extraterrestrials, Aztec gods, Eisenhower, and bigfoot have in common?  Look up “Edges of Science” if this interests you (how could it not?).

Cliff Barackman next did a presentation on sasquatch hand prints.  A lot of attention is paid to footprints, obviously, but a number of alleged bigfoot handprints have been found as well.  This was my favorite presentation of the conference.  So often, the same old beloved stories are dusted off at these conferences.  But Cliff, who is an engaging speaker anyway, was treading territory here unfamiliar to the mass of us.  Explaining the telltale markers of finger length and even the folds of one’s palms, the prints Cliff displayed indicated a definite pattern of hand movement and usage that are more primate than human.  We’re accustomed to thinking in terms of footprints, but obviously handprints have the potential to reveal vastly more about this creature’s behavior.

After another Olympic Project presentation about an alleged sasquatch nest site, complete with photos that indeed appear to be very large ground nests made primarily out of huckleberry twigs, Christopher Noel took the stage to tell us about autism and bigfoot.  I read a book by Noel a while back because it was a free download for the Kindle.  In the book, Noel offers that certain behaviors common to individuals on the autistic spectrum are common to bigfoot as well. He speculates that these behaviors increase the bigfoot’s chances of survival in the wilds.  He calls this the Sasquatch Savant Theory.  I’m just gonna leave this right here.

In another odd juxtaposition — the speaker following Noel was Dr. Jeff Meldrum.  I was especially interested to see Meldrum’s presentation as I had only gotten to see snippets of it at the Big Sky Bigfoot Conference.  Meldrum expressed his displeasure at the public perception of bigfoot as “paranormal,” bemoaning that his book is located not in zoology sections of bookstores and libraries, but in the occult or new-age areas.  (Dewey, of the decimals, categorizes it as “controversial knowledge.”)  He complained — as do I — that the so-called “skeptical” literature of the bigfoot world is anything but.  And like at the Montana conference, he urged the crowd to act as citizen scientists, collecting evidence in a systematic way that can be verified by scientific means.  The implication, of course, is that taking a no-nonsense scientific approach to the problem of sasquatch will elevate its study in the public eye.

I was waiting for David Paulides.  A one-time bigfoot researcher and former law enforcement officer, Paulides has more recently turned his attention to missing-persons cases, writing a series of six (!) books under the title of Missing 411.  He was the anchor of the program and was allotted an hour and a half for his presentation, whereas everyone else had gotten a slim hour.  Paulides’ talk, after taking some potshots at the “bigfoot community,” was a catalog of missing-person case after missing-person case after… well, you get the idea.  It soon began to feel that I was at the “Missing Persons’ Summit” instead of the Sasquatch Summit.  So mainly I had been waiting for Paulides because I really, really wanted the man to make some sort of bigfoot connection, although I didn’t have any expectation that he would do so.  What connections DOES he make?  Well — a lot of people who go missing are doctors!  How can that be a coincidence?  And — a lot of people who go missing are picking berries or mushrooms in the woods! How can that be a coincidence?

So, essentially, the answer to the question “What connections does he make?” is really “None.  None at all.”  But he sure does have a lot of books to sell, and by refusing to make these connections, he assures that he can sell them to the widest possible audience.  I’ve stated before on this blog and I will state again now: There is no good that can come of stirring the pot.  And anyway, what’s the point of collecting hundreds of stories and not formulating a theory to connect them?

Well.  What were my impressions of my virgin Sasquatch Summit? They were right, it was a blast.  It was also large; I believe more chairs had to be brought in to accommodate the hundreds of people who came.  I learned that you can have an eclectic line-up of presenters which includes both “flesh-and-blood” and paranormal believers, and that it can actually work, for the most part.  The Summit affirmed my belief that we CAN all get along despite having disparate positions on the phenomenon. But I also learned that I have real issues with people presenting theories as facts, and perhaps even bigger issues with people presenting facts that have no theories.

The Summit caused me to think quite a bit about the responsible presentation of information.  If you accept as fact when someone tells you, for example, “This tree branch was broken because of sasquatch; I may not have evidence of this, but I know it to be true,” — that’s not critical thinking.  To flip that coin, if you say (as do many of the so-called “skeptics”), “I believe bigfoot does not exist, therefore bigfoot does not exist,” your brain may as well leap out of your skull in a frenetic and desperate attempt to find a better home.  Similarly, if you say, “I have documented hundreds of cases of missing people but I refuse to make any logical connections unifying them,” — what the heck is even the POINT?  Without a logical framework, ANY and ALL presumptions fail.

Going in, I knew it would be a weird blend of flesh-and-blood and paranormal believers, but I didn’t expect the Sasquatch Summit to be so thought-provoking.  I also didn’t expect the casino food to be so good (I’ll be thinking of Friday night’s fisherman’s platter probably for the rest of my life).  So I’m glad I went.  As the last conference of 2016, Sasquatch Summit was a definite winner.




Skeptics, schmeptics

noun: sceptic; plural noun: sceptics; noun: skeptic; plural noun: skeptics
1. 1.
a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.
cynic, doubter
pessimist, prophet of doom
“skeptics said the marriage wouldn’t last”
a person who doubts the truth of Christianity and other religions; an atheist or agnostic.
agnostic, atheist, unbeliever, nonbeliever, disbeliever, doubting Thomas
“skeptics who have found faith”
2. 2.
an ancient or modern philosopher who denies the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief, in some sphere.

(Thanks to Google for the definition)

Yesterday I listened to the most recent SasWhat podcast, entitled “Squatchy Skepticism.” I’ve enjoyed SasWhat for a while now, due to its rational, intelligent, and humorous commentary on the world of squatchery. This may be the best episode yet. (A direct link follows at the bottom of this post.)

See, I’ve read all those so-called “skeptical” books. I have issues with them.  The skeptical canon may be many things, but skeptical it tends to be in name only.  Let’s revisit the above definition and see how it applies to Bigfoot.

1. a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions

Note the word “all.” In the absence of hard evidence to the positive, a skeptic questions the existence of Bigfoot. Equally, in the absence of hard evidence to the negative, a skeptic will also question the non-existence of Bigfoot. The skeptic questions all.

It’s perfectly fine to question and doubt things – in fact, it is your responsibility as a sentient being on the planet Earth – but doubt does not equate to closed-mindedness. Let’s look at doubt, too.

noun: doubt; plural noun: doubts

a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.
“some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account”
uncertainty, unsureness, indecision, hesitation, dubiousness, suspicion, confusion

(Thanks again, Google)

Uncertainty. Lack of conviction. If I say (purely for the sake of argument), “I doubt Pierce Brosnan has ever made a good movie,” I’m leaving Pierce room to redeem himself. I am uncertain that Pierce Brosnan has ever been in a good movie, but I am allowing the possibility that he has. If I say, “All of Pierce Brosnan’s movies are absolute crap,” this is a strong and unequivocal statement. It is not uncertain.

Back to Bigfoot. So someone who says “Bigfoot does not exist” is not being skeptical. That person is not questioning, nor is he uncertain, nor does he lack conviction.  He’s making a statement.  That’s fine; just don’t tell me you’re a skeptic when you’re doing that.  The true skeptic would say, “I don’t know if Bigfoot exists or not.”  That uncertain, questioning, doubting old skeptic does not have the knowledge to comfortably make a definite statement.

It’s well and good to believe or disbelieve something. We all have beliefs, and we all have doubts. Let’s stop confusing the two.

And hey you, go listen to this SasWhat episode. For real. Episode 53: Squatchy Skepticism