Misplacing Bigfoot: Turning a Great Quest into a Brainless Shouting Match

Todd Standing recently released a documentary on Netflix titled—informatively if not creatively—Bigfoot.  Taking these ninety minutes in conjunction with yet another season of Finding Bigfoot leads me irresistibly into a few reflections.

Standing is the real deal.  On his own weekly serial called Survivorman, Canadian naturalist and hiker-extraordinaire Les Stroud tramped through British Columbia with Standing for a couple of episodes two or three years back and was probably more than half persuaded by his host of the gigantic crypto-hominid’s existence.  Standing spends days and weeks at a time quietly fusing with some of the wildest terrain in the Northern Hemisphere.  He is the source of what must surely be the best close-up photos ever taken of a Sasquatch (on the assumption, of course, that the photos are genuine).  Yet he is no black belt when it comes to producing entertainment for the broadcast media.  Stroud, having logged years of experience filming his own series, integrated Standing into two riveting episodes.  Their well-edited pace preserved a flow sadly lacking in Todd’s just-released documentary.

Nevertheless, both Bigfoot and Survivorman share a potentially lethal liability, from the mainstream marketer’s perspective: they have no bells and whistles, no fireworks and hoopla.  Investigators of this caliber (and there aren’t many) examine unnaturally bent or snapped trees in highly artificial formations, they scrutinize indentations in the moss that might be enormous footprints, and they assess the tidy disappearance of apples and other goodies placed high on spindly branches that wouldn’t support a squirrel and would require a mangling assault from a bird.  All very CSI, very professional… just not likely to induce the consumer of reality shows to dribble potato chips and pizza from his dropped jaw.

Now, the FB Four Stooges, as I’ve grown fond of calling them, have their shtick down pat.  Entry scene in van cruising along an interstate, initial night exploration with hoots and hollers, “townhall” meeting, interviews of individual witnesses as one of the party camps out in a “likely spot”, then reunion for the final night’s grand finale of more hoots and hollers… which of course turn up nothing—“but we’ll be coming back here.”  No kidding.  As long as the cow gives milk, keep pulling on her udders.

I’m afraid I’ve taken a positive dislike to the Stooges.  They’ve milked their cash cow for too long.  Unless they are themselves representative of some less evolved primate species, they’re bound to realize that the routine isn’t going to produce close contact after… what is it?  Six or seven years?  A Sasquatch just might respond from a very great distance—if the moon is blue—to one of their yodels with a howl that no audio equipment can capture.  As soon as they repeat the cry in the wrong pitch or cadence, however, or fail to repeat it after the proper interval, the critter and his whole clan know for the remnant of this infrared media blitz to stay under cover.  Bigfoot doesn’t want to be seen, idiots—and you don’t know his language!

A good case could be made, I know, that we’re the idiots for watching.  I, for one, am watching no more—or perhaps fast-forwarding to the eye-witness accounts, which are much the most relevant information gathered by the series.  On the other hand, I think the hubris of this lot is very genuine.  The presumption that Bigfoot is a lumbering mega-gorilla without enough sense to invent clothes or leave trash in the open infuses the entire hour, year after year.  The high-handed digital imposition of a young King Kong in the bushes to animate every witness’s testimony is especially annoying.  These mock-ups look nothing like Standing’s photographs.  Have you noticed that the witnesses themselves are never invited to comment upon the accuracy of the cartoonish reconstructions?

The Stooges are now in full celebrity mode, trotting out family members, devoting episodes to their favorite reminiscences, traveling the country to do live gigs on campuses… laughing all the way to the bank, and posing all the way to Hollywood-class stardom.  Meanwhile, poor grunts like Todd Standing try to keep pace by piping in Heavy Metal from some old Rambo flick to cover transitions from one scene to another as an ATV crashes through the underbrush.  Todd, please take a tip from Les Stroud.  Just stay simple.  People who are receptive to this possibility are few and thoughtful, if popularly represented as weirdo wackos.  The multitude who mock and rail are tuning into Animal Planet because the prospect of several adults screaming wildly into the night turns them on.  Let the wheat and the chaff separate.


A New Life Matters Infinitely More Than a New Year

Yeah, yeah—another new year.  Another old year packed in moth balls.  Ring in the new!  Bells and whistles, toasts and firecrackers… idiotic resolutions and mawkish nostalgia.

Actually, 2017 was unique for me.  Bought some land to start a farm and contracted to have a house built.  Got my son successfully out of college—and without debt.  Found that my complex publishing ambitions could be easily accomplished, in large part, through Amazon—and am about to bring out my sixth book as the final day of December wears on.  Acquired a Twitter account, as well as my first faithful follower (everyone tells me it’s a “must” for publicity).

Also extraordinary amounts of misery and hardship.  Still fighting through a severely strained tendon in my knee, and had close run-ins with several afflictions that I was able to treat homeopathically.  Watched my son go through three jobs once he decided to give up baseball—the result, mostly, of being lied to during interviews.  (Some things never change.)  Continue to do battle with various investment firms to get my retirement in order and wrest control of my accounts from stifling bureaucracy—and to think that this is the private sector!

The Center for Literate Values will officially die this evening at midnight.  Amazing how many people want me to keep parts of it up and running on a fixed income—people who aren’t volunteering a dime of their own money.  Some things never change.

A fall semester safely in the books that trespassed on my academic freedom (thanks to electronic technology) more presumptuously than I’ve ever seen, and with every sign of continuing.  But I’ll be gone after one more round of this.  I taught my classes my way as ’17 wound down, and I’ll begin ’18 the same way.  Go ahead and fire me—make my year.

All in all, 2017 was one of the most productive twelve-month cycles I’ve ever lived through—and also one of the most traumatic and draining.  I haven’t described the half of it.  What I really need is for it to go away now.  The Year Eighteen gets me out of my professional prison to think and write freely as long as my time on earth continues.  It will bring me to a place where green vegetables other than cactus grow.  I’ll have a home where my son may come to visit over Christmas and not be counting the days till he can escape the deadest terrain north of Hell.

And maybe I won’t feel that chasmic gap in my life when he leaves—that abyss just after Christmas.  Maybe I won’t have to ask myself all the old questions any more, the ones I’ve pondered since he left home for college five years ago.  “Why does this tear your heart out?  You don’t want him to stay here, do you?  What would he do in Tyler, Texas?  Compete with other realtors for a small share of a small market, trying to make enough loot that the snooty locals deign to notice him—that their daughters deign to go out with him—and probably turning into a drunkard under the shadow of all the Baptist churches?  No, we want him out of here.  That’s what we’ve worked for all these years.  You don’t want him a child again—and you don’t want to be the bigger fool you were yourself twenty years ago, when you were trying to raise him.  Isn’t it your own life as it has come to be, though, that makes you weep as he leaves?  Not so much because he isn’t in it day to day, but because bringing up a child no longer distracts you from what you actually do. Isn’t it that you can no longer avoid seeing what’s right in front of you? Isn’t it the nullity that remains after that fresh gust of youth withdraws—the awareness of having sold out for almost nothing to a profession that itself sells out everything you believe in by double the amount each year?  The bitterness… the nothingness… isn’t that what you can’t face?”

Well, I won’t need to face it any more in a few short months. I will proudly be able to say, to my son or anyone else, “This is my home.  Welcome.  This is my food I grow, the forest I walk daily.  These are my thoughts about the world.  You are welcome to any of it you want.”

A new calendar is just another piece of paper.  But a new life… now that’s something to toast, if only with myself in silence.

Denver: Infernal Paradise

My trip to Colorado already seems a distant memory. I thought I could probably write about it for weeks on end… but did it ever even happen? I keep drifting through my “new old” life saying to myself, “Two weeks ago, we were at the foot of Saint Mary’s Glacier—my son, my wife, and I…”—and the next day, “Two weeks ago, I was watching my boy’s shoulders merge with the night as he left us in the parking lot to return to his apartment….” I hate how life slips away like that, at least the good parts. The bad parts just don’t want to go away.

But I feel that I have to attempt some kind of wrap-up, some general verdict on what I saw. It would be this. Denver, like so many of our other major cities, is too “wide open”. I realize that that’s an attraction for young people, especially those who have grown up in small cities and towns. The situation has been repeated so often that it has become a rhythm characteristic of our national life: the young leave the farm for the city lights, jobs flourish in the city because so many people are pouring in, the cost of living also shoots up because the demand for everything has skyrocketed, public amenities are strained and local taxes soar through the ceiling, crimes related to vice and violent invasion surge because so much loot is lying about and so few neighbors know each other, the streets grow unbelievably congested… it’s a bonanza for some, and a descent into Hell for others. And here I’m talking about any large American city.

In Denver, this paradoxically “infernal paradise” phenomenon has been magnified by the legalization of marijuana. People have transplanted themselves to Colorado for no better reason than that here they may smoke their weed unmolested. The streets grow even more congested, the apartment complexes even more prolific, and the taxes even more onerous. The catastrophic failure of state economies to the west (California, Oregon, and increasingly Washington) has also generated a flood of “white-collar refugees” who want respite from ruthless taxation yet have not divested themselves of the political opinions that created the mess they left behind. In fact, I find Denver to harbor an unusually high density of contradictions rooted in “pampered white professional” fantasies.

Just consider. Denverites want the traffic, the pollution, and the unsightly and cheaply constructed apartment complexes to go away, yet they declare their burg a sanctuary city.

They view themselves proudly as defenders of the natural environment, yet they pour into the Rockies whenever they have a few hours of free time with bikes attached to vehicles and smother Mother Nature beneath their collective human mass.

They cheerfully accept being designated as health nuts and surrender substantial chunks of their paychecks at upscale grocery stores that grossly overcharge for cashew butter and bison steak; yet their appetite for kinky sex, socially lubricative beverages, and—yes—the inhaled smoke of certain incinerated leaves rivals any city’s anywhere in the country.

Half the population seems to possess racing bikes or mountain bikes, complete with skimpy biking clothes that cling like duct tape, streamlined water bottles, saddlebags of trail mix, etc.; yet the city sprawls too much for anyone to bike to work, and it’s so overrun with traffic that no one could actually get much exercise waiting for all the lights to change while biking a few dozen blocks.

Denver has no sense, over all. Like its horde of young residents, it hasn’t thought anything through. It likes to flash images of what it wants others to think about it and wants to think about itself; but these surfaces can no more resist profound realities than a grand vista can soften the threat of the daily afternoon thunderstorms that rage down from the mountains.

I have to believe that the pockets of surviving Denverites from generations back are no happier than long-time residents of Austin, Santa Fe, or Phoenix. You sometimes see evidence of a few of them: a pasture where horses graze boxed in by humming highways. How they afford the tax on their property is more than I can answer. Perhaps they’re holding out for someone to offer them a million bucks per acre… but at some point, you have to sell up and move on.

And then the sharks gather, like the faceless conglomerate that owns my son’s former apartment complex and tried to stick him with a $3,000 bill for undocumented damages months after his departure. That was my final impression of Denver this trip. Know what? You can have it.


Christianity in Denver: Musical Marijuana

Had to travel to Denver again last week. I have tried to like the place: most people love it. For me… no, I’m just not going to make it up to the Peak of Affection. I can’t even make it out of the Abysm of Antipathy.

Since I’ll likely be writing about this subject from various directions for a week or two before I can get it all out of my system, let me start with the progressive church in the heart of Lakewood that I attended last Sunday. My son was kind enough to invite his mother and me, so I did a fairly good job of bottling up my bile after the service. After all, I really wanted to see just what he was taking in every weekend.

The entry phase felt like a sporting event. Personnel in bright vests direct you to a certain portion of a huge parking lot. Then you make your way to a sprawling structure with virtually nothing in the form of exterior windows, art work, or signage. It resembles, rather, the economy-model gymnasium of a ritzy private school that, for all its wealthy patrons, has begun to bleed a little into the red after the class buildings are finished. And for all I know, that’s the actual story behind this unique sanctuary: a cast-off gymnasium. Even on the inside, it looks for all the world like a facility for basketball, volleyball, and the rest with a great wrap-around corridor where tickets and refreshments are sold.

No hoops in the inner sanctum, however. At this point, in fact, we might as well have been in some sort of bizarre (to me) night club. While I’m not a clubber, the near pitch-darkness in which thousands of fold-out seats were arranged around a central stage where performers moaned a cry-in-your-beer species of praise and love to Jesus as guitars twanged and drums thumped had to be drawn straight from Friday night on the strip. I stood with everyone else (of the two or three thousand, I would estimate) as three of these numbers were belted out interminably. A finger was stuck in my left ear most of the time to reduce the pain of 140-decibel sound waves. A casual onlooker might have thought that I was holding up my finger to give my life to the Lord, or something of the sort.

I’m already so long in this entry that I can tell I’m going to have to retain my comments about the main event (a.k.a. the sermon) for next time. So let me just say this about deafening, pulsating noise in a religious sanctuary. It is a physiological fact that a steady stream of stentorian sound waves plunges the mind into a kind of drunken stupor. Loud, throbbing music can be a drug. The tom-toms of certain rituals in tribal, pre-literate societies are a means of “elevating” participants into a higher state. Contemporary rabble-rousers can also gin up huge crowds into irrational behavior by packing them into tight spaces and then allowing cranked-up amplifiers to project their rhythmic shouts.

Whether intended or not, this same effect must inevitably work upon the minds of masses crammed into a dark room where a rock band keeps orgasmically repeating variations of a verbal formula containing, “Jesus”, “love”, and “beautiful”. I wouldn’t begin to argue that no thrill, no poignant or passionate emotional surge, is drawn from many of the congregants by this method. No; the very thing that worries me is the thrill’s reality.

The Christian faith in churches like this has become a drug. One shows up on Sundays to get one’s “fix”. The rational mind gives ground, real-life concerns evaporate, the boundaries separating self from other vanish, and a psychedelic fantasy fuses the mass in a communion of emotional orgy.

Sorry… but this does NOT have the look of my God and my faith. And I’m not entirely sure that the effect is unintended, for the “message” that finally followed appeared to count upon a sort of indiscriminate group-think… but of that, more later.


Except for People

Just got in from checking on my garden. The sweet potatoes are starting to send their leave up out of the ground—it happens literally over night. My bell peppers are doing much better now that I’ve transplanted them from the raised, boxed garden with its rich soil into more sandy terrain; they just didn’t take to the high-rent district! My goji bush is exploding; an odd little tree that I think (and hope) has sprung from a jujube seed continues to thrive; and the ever-screwball butternut squash have actually volunteered this spring (after I had given up on them after so many years of wasted time) and are producing plump gourds that, by all lessons of the past, just shouldn’t be there!

One can usually make peace with Nature. If things aren’t growing, there’s a reason, and one may be able to figure it out with a lot of patience—though it would have been even better to have preserved some of that ancestral wisdom which we’ve trashed along with Grandma’s sewing machine. Many times, I have the thought that a large part of our postmodern malaise is owed to our having ruptured our bonds with the soil and the seasons. Life and death, health and sickness, the stages leading to maturity, the rain that must fall so that the sun may give further life… even the electricity released by violent thunderstorms, I suspect, must be balancing out something in the atmosphere that would prove toxic if the weather were forced to be “peaceful”.

Yet all I hear and see in the human world is irksome whining about natural limitation (e.g., our paltry two genders), arrogant rejecting of cycle in favor of strict linear progression (e.g., our looming immortality as human/robot hybrids), and tasteless self-insulating in childish fantasies (e.g., the newly released Wonder Woman—and should she have hair under her arms, or not?). Plants can talk to you through how they look: my bell peppers told me that they preferred the sand when I saw them putting out new green leaves. Their language always makes sense. It’s about sun, and water, and survival, and supplying the next generation. People, in contrast, just don’t make any sense at all to me any more. Their audible language is much easier to assemble—but its message, the combined product of its words, is gibberish.

As I was walking back inside, I had the kind of thought that isn’t typical of me these days—and it came to me so powerfully that I was actually saying it out loud: “God, the world is beautiful… except for people. Except for people.” Yeah, that last part is typical “me”, I suppose, as I’ve now become; but I sometimes forget how Edenic life on this planet can be if you can just escape the clamoring, yammering apes in clothes. The alternative is well worth seeking out.



Animal Planet Peddles More Unicorns

I think “cryptozoology” is a really fascinating subject. The assumption is always made by the general public (and usually fed by professionals in the sciences, who don’t like to admit that something might possibly lie beyond their ken) that we must surely have discovered by now every life form on Planet Earth. This is an ignorant, arrogant leap of faith. Because most of us have now squeezed ourselves into “megalopolis” or into one of the concentric rings of suburbia enclosing it, we can’t imagine any weird creature’s escaping detection. One thing we fail to consider is that our collective influx into cities has left rural areas depopulated. Yes, the explosion of human inhabitants in all quarters of the globe would seem to compensate for any relative diminution in the percentage of people filling this or that corner. I doubt that this proposition is unassailable, however. Comparatively few though we were a hundred years ago, our overwhelmingly agricultural society still concentrated its strength very heavily in the boondocks. Now any drive along a rural highway (and how many of us ever take such a drive?) reveals desolation on all sides. Abandoned houses are falling apart everywhere, and seldom does any new structure rear its satellite dish in their place.

People who should find themselves in the country for some reason are also less likely now to know its sights and sounds. They can’t tell a wolf’s cry from a coyote’s or a crow’s call from a caracara’s. The situation where a tenderfoot thinks he may have seen a chupacabra when he’s only run across a large stray dog often works in reverse, thanks to such ignorance: a person might see an unidentified species and assume that it is a familiar one. Witnesses in shooting incidents almost invariably say that they at first thought the gunshots were a backfiring car. The stronger tendency of the human mind is to blend the unique into the commonplace, not the other way around.

Thirdly, the encroachment of human beings on so many once-remote parts of the natural environment can create opportunities for more resourceful species that were formerly hard-pressed. Squirrels are much more abundant in suburbia than in the wilderness. Humans have chased off or killed most natural predators (foxes, snakes, hawks) while allowing the “cuddly, adorable” little fur-ball to chew up orchards and attics unmolested. If something extraordinarily perceptive and intelligent like a Sasquatch did exist, an invasion of humans that thinned out rival predators like panthers and bears while allowing food sources like deer and squirrel to proliferate might actually improve the outlook for survival.

All of this is merely to say that I was looking forward to the first episode of Animal Planet’s Destination: Mungo last Sunday. Quite a letdown. Once again, we are treated to a showman who expensively, ostentatiously makes his way to some forgotten corner of the planet… and then spends one night in the “hot spot” to see if his infrared cameras are activated by anything larger than a rat. Bwana Mungo hasn’t even heard of the coelacanth, apparently (and hasn’t yet figured out how to pronounce the word, either). In one scene, he contacts his biologist buddy in the States to ask if the Postosuchus, a Triassic ancestor of the crocodile, might really exist today, as Liberian locals are reporting. Responding via satellite through a laptop linked to a smartphone, the suitably bearded academic tells an inspirational story. “Have you heard of the coelacanth, Mungo?” “No, never. Tell me about it.” Oh, please!

In the first place, the coelacanth’s presumed date of extermination was considerably closer to our own time than the late Triassic (by a factor of close to a thousand). In the second place, coelacanths inhabit ocean trenches and would be virtually undetectable to human beings in the normal course of events. In the third place, of course Mungo has heard of the coelacanth! I learned of its lately discovered survival into the present when I was a young boy—a professional wildlife photographer and cryptozoology enthusiast could no more have remained ignorant of the subject than a physicist could fail to have heard of a quark. And finally, biologist buddy’s fishing stories transmitted by satellite, however inspirational, are insufficient reason for Mungo to rise from his laptop feeling new confidence in his quest. He hasn’t garnered a single particle of arcane information about tropical African fauna that might be seen as assisting his search. The whole exchange is highly staged and utterly ridiculous… almost as bad as a mockumentary about mermaids.

So… my quest of credible shows on the subject of cryptozoology continues as we permanently put the Amusement Park of Mungo at our backs. I’m looking for something rarer than a unicorn, it seems. In the meantime, old episodes of River Monsters are far less a waste of time.


Does It Matter Who’s Truthful When All Action Is Corrupt?

Have you heard why Megan Kelly really left FOX News? Or why Christina of HGTV’s Flip or Flop really split from her husband, or why the same station’s Joanna Gaines is in hot water for arriving late on the set of Fixer Upper? It’s the same reason in all three cases, according to certain stories that pulse along the side-panel of your screen: they were all so busy marketing the same company’s beauty secrets that the bonanza of prosperity distracted them from their boring day jobs.

This isn’t quite the same level of aggressive, in-your-face duplicity that characterized (for instance) the History Channel’s idiotic “mockumentaries” about mermaids, megalodons, and Sasquatches… but the kinship is of a first-cousin order. “Fake news” is now so embedded in our cultural consciousness that we have apparently given up being outraged by it. “Kim Jong Un just nuked a small Pacific island… and the only survivors were using Apollo Sun Tan Lotion (improved formula)!” We swallow the b.s. with scarcely a grimace. The most worrisome problem is that, should the chubby child of Dearest Friend indeed decide to vaporize an entire populace, we would already have been rehearsed in passing over the news and looking for the next thrill.

“The Boy That Cried Wolf” Syndrome has deeply infected us. I don’t even know if most of my freshmen would recognize the folkloric reference… but I do know that they’re convinced, almost to a boy or girl (or whatever lies between), that human beings are causing a disastrous climate change. Chemistry and biology majors cite data to me that I can’t dispute, since their fields extend far beyond my intellectual reach. So maybe they’re right. But then a celebrated academic appears on national television and claims that carbon dioxide is a more lethal toxin than sarin gas. Even a chemistry-challenged numbskull like me knows the difference between monoxide and dioxide—yet our guru was apparently conflating the two. Could his ilk have been among the teachers of my freshmen?

I don’t like cars. Never have. I probably walk more in a week than most atmospheric scientists do in a year—and I don’t consume jet fuel flying to conferences that might have been held on Skype. Reducing car traffic is fine by me. Why, however, can we not address the problem by scrapping our special-interest-fueled zoning laws and oppressive regulations that prevent people from running shops out of their homes? Why is the “green” solution always more government intrusion into our personal lives? And why are the insane windmills that now deface much of the Southwest a step forward when the effort of constructing, transporting, and rigging their blades requires more energy than they are likely to restore in a century of steady gales?

I will postulate, for the sake of argument, that the science behind climate change is compelling: then why are the measures that we take in consequence so patently ineffective and mired in sordid political boondoggle?

On this issue as on so many others, I don’t know who’s telling the truth, and I don’t think I’m capable of knowing—not in the earthly time I have left. I know this much, however. On one side I see lies proliferating as part of popular cultural and consumerist marketing; on another I see our elected “saviors” getting sleek and fat as specially targeted problems only worsen; and on yet another I see campus culture shutting down free speech with thuggery and shouting down open debate in fanatical zeal. Maybe the wolf is really coming this time… but when the watchdog is a hungry Bengal tiger, maybe I’d rather have the wolf.