Monday, November 25, 2013

Sasquatch Summit 2013

Back home here at my computer, I can now post my perspective on the Sasquatch conference I attended at the Quinault Casino in Ocean Shores, Wa.

About 300 or so people filled most of the seats in the Great Room at the Casino, a mixture of hunter-types, engineer-looking guys with fleece vests and crewcuts and big guys with cowboy hats and biker-chick girlfriends.

I think overall that it was enjoyable to see Meldrum speak. I'd been wanting to do that at least, since I bought the book (Sasquatch - Legend Meets Science) and have had a couple of email exchanges with the Dr. over the past couple of years.  I imagine that any lecture he gives at Idaho State is a lot like hearing him at a Sasquatch event, his jargon is filled with the professorial terminology earned by years of higher education. There is still a tendency to baffle with bullshit, however, and I'll touch on that later in this post.
Along with Mr. Meldrum, I got to meet Scott Taylor, who as an official BFRO spokesperson, is responsible for some of the best research reportage on that site, and in particular he did the digging on the very good, recent Ocean Shores encounters where an elderly man claimed to feel he had 'made a friend' upon seeing an oversized, hairy creature sleeping in a copse next to his home.

I chatted with Derek Randles for a moment too, and after hearing a bit of his lecture on the Olympic Project, I was impressed by his delivery and intelligence and level of excitement about his work in habituation on the Olympic Peninsula. If I can work up the courage to get myself out of this chair more often, I think I will seriously look into joining an expedition with him and Meldrum.

My overall feeling about this, my first Bigfoot conference, ran from dull observation of attendees to the annoyed sense of the commercialization and marketization of the unknown cryptid, back to the collective wonderment of a modern mystery in our midst. The search for the knowing of Sasquatch is all of those things and probably more, and while I hope to not piss anyone off in the process of sussing out the truth,  I will attempt to tell it the way I see it.

The opening blessing by a Quinalt Tribal Elder was appropriate, though I did not write down his name (the sound system was boomy and unclear) the fellow spoke from his heart and sang until I'm sure the crowd was beginning to wonder when he would stop. While the Tribe Elder sang, I spotted Bob Gimlin in the front row, head down and right hand up and slowly waving in concert with the singing. Gimlin seems like a cool guy and I walked past him a few times during the Summit and noticed his dapper western outfit and ever-present smile. I don't need to meet him or shake his hand just so I can say I did that, his presence is enough.
A local DJ named Johnny Manson, who did a good job of running the microphone. He apparently had his own Bigfoot encounter when he was a toddler, as is listed in some of the Summit literature.

                                                                               Gimlin -a dapper dude

As Manson was setting up for the first speaker, I saw Meldrum pass by and go to a table set up with footprint casts. I took the opportunity to say hello and as he settled in I asked him a couple of questions that I had been stewing on since I had read his book, 'Sasquatch -Legend Meets Science'. It's the right title for the book, by the way, since Meldrum represents the only real credentialed person to actively pursue the mystery. There are a few others like Estaban Sarmiento (a primatologist), Loren Coleman (zoologist) and Melba Ketchum (a former Veterinarian and DNA technician) but Meldrum is the only one who travels around the world to research, lecture and follow-up on the supposed 'finds' whenever they pop up. His place in Sasquatch research as a Doctor in charge was first broached by colleague Dr. Grover Krantz, (RIP-2002) who taught Anthropology at nearby Western Washington U.
                                                                  Look at the size of his hands....they're HUGE

From an interview in 2001, Meldrum said, '"Frankly, when I wear my scientific hat, I hold that word 'believe' at an arm's length," he said. "I will say at the very least that the evidence justifies ongoing research and investigation. I can't just walk away from it now."

After hearing him speak at this conference and noting the way that he phrased his sentences with conclusive wording like, " ..In contrast, the Sasquatch appear to have adapted to bipedal locomotion by employing a compliant gait on a flat flexible foot" and ".. officers investigating footprints found by loggers on the Satsop River, in Grays Harbor County, Washington, in April 1982. The Sasquatch strode from the forest across a logging landing, then doubling its stride, left a series of half-tracks on its return to the treeline."
In speaking this way, Meldrum gives life to the conjecture.

As I stood at the table with Dr. Meldrum, a few others began to show up and stand next to me.
I asked the Dr. the first of my questions, "How come in the photographs of trackways the footprints fall in a straight line when you would think it would be more likely to have some straddle, like human footprints do?" He started in by saying, "Not all of the tracks I've seen are strictly in line.." and then some schlub in a flannel shirt and camo hat who sauntered up next to me broke in loudly, "I"ll tell you why they're not in line, 'cause on a forest service road, bla, bla.."

I couldn't hear his dumb explanation because the D.J. began warming up his microphone, which was just as well, since I had come to hear Meldrum's explanation and not some joker like myself who has no real chops. I slowly backed away as the schlub continued to harangue Doc Meldrum and I went and sat down.

                                                                                   Scott Taylor

 Scott Taylor was the first speaker. I am interested in Taylor's perspective because of his work with the BFRO and his attention to detail. Among Taylor's first words were the questions he posed to the audience. "Who watches 'Finding Bigfoot'? Many hands go up in the crowd. "Who here has SEEN a Bigfoot?" about four hands this time. He asks, "Who here has heard them talking?" and several more sets of hands go upward. Even though Taylor started out sounding a little skeptical, as time wore on and the speakers came and went, more and more of them began with the supposition that Bigfoot is real. Taylor described his own BF encounters, one of which put him within three feet of a creature in the dark and I wondered, 'how can you come to be so close to something this huge and still not be able to see it face to face?'  The dark of night is easily split by a common flashlight.

Taylor went on to say that he has tried to take photos on several occasions but just could not seem to get the shutter on his camera to fire before the elusive critters stepped out of sight. I can identify with this problem, actually, as a photographer myself I know that it's not as easy as it sounds shooting a moving object with a still camera. Darkness aside, if you have ever tried to photograph a wild animal like a bear or coyote, you will know that they don't stand around very long, particularly when in the vicinity of humans. Taylor displayed a few blurry photos on the projector screen, the standard in the world of Bigfoot photographic 'evidence', but when he said that the BFRO is '376 reports behind' in thier site updating, I was impressed.

Taylor also casually mentioned that Bigfoot creatures like to watch children and blonde women and on the mention of blondes, added 'who doesn't?'  There is a historic precedent to that hypothesis about why blondes have 'more fun' which is interesting, and I had read about the theory that when given the choice, Pelaeolithic males chose blondes, who stood out from their rivals. To oversimplify, the theory went that a blonde female may have been seen as more youthful and thereby healthier in a reproductive sense. In a strict, visual sense, blondes stand out from surrounding terrain like beacons, so it may not seem so strange that, just as humans might,  Bigfoot should make notice of them as well.  My own wife is a blonde and I confess that she stands out in any crowd.
                                                                         Bigfoots prefer Blondes

Taylor talked about habituation sites he is working on in Kent, Wa. and in East Pierce County new Mt. Rainier. My address is right smack in between those locations, so I'm interested about this too.

He said that at the Kent site, which is inhabited by a 6'2" tall blonde woman, Bigfoot hangs out often and yells 'Hey' at the poor lady, coming by at night to slap the side of the house. He continued that the big guy comes and uses the outdoor pool and leaves hair in the filter.

How uncouth.

Lastly, he said that BF's like PB&J sandwiches and may consider stones as a sort of currency, gifting them in exchange for other items people leave out. He also said that Bigfoot has 'greasy' hands, and that female Bigfoots do not stink like the males do.

Near the end of his segment, Taylor pushed the BFRO expeditions and as I looked around the room I noted the stuff the vendors, now fully manning their tables, had on display.

Bigfoot Coffee, Music CDs, some local beef jerky, some indian art and jewelry and even a stripped-down motorcycle of some sort. The T-shirt guy had some pretty neat designs, but I already have three Bigfoot T's and I'm still rather opposed to the idea of Bigfoot merchandising and the attendant exploitation. Still, I know that it is part and parcel of any mysterious phenomenon, and while I might rail at the idea of people making money off of a myth, none of these guys are rolling in dough from it. I suspect that Doc Meldrum barely makes enough to pay for his gas and lodging, which puts him in a more favorable light in my mind.
After Taylor left the stage, the D.J. Munson came out and joked, 'ah..tragic news...Rick Dyer's bigfoot was seized by the FBI.." adding " I shouldn't even have said that.." The audience mooed and booed at the reference. Munson was making fun of Dyer, the known hoaxer who claimed to have shot a bigfoot in a wood lot behind a Texas Home Depot a year ago, also claiming possession of a bigfoot 'baby' in the process and offering a DVD of the autopsy, hyping it on Youtube with fantastic details like 'he's got double rows of teeth' and 'two sets of genitalia'.

Just a couple of weeks before the Summit, Dyer's coterie of supporters began to drop out of the deceitful enterprise, with Dyer himself posting a rambling, non-commital video about 'giving up.'  Dyer, in a word, is a hoaxer.

I asked Taylor about Dyer later, after his talk, mentioning that Dyer had contacted another speaker at the Summit, Derek Randles about meeting in Nevada to see the BF body. Taylor thought that I had confused Dyer with another joker that claims to have shot a Bigfoot, Justin Smeja.  I said no, it was Dyer, but now here at my computer, I have learned that Randles also had dealings with Smeja, who apparently was the supplier of some Bigfoot 'steak' that was used in Melba Ketchum's DNA work.  Convoluted indeed.

 Poor Derek Randles, he seems to be the go-to guy for running down every 'I shot Sasquatch' story that pops up.

Just as I was leaving, Taylor asked me if I had read Autumn Williams' 'Enoch' yet, and I had not. He recommended it, but I have already learned that it's provenance is specious, so...I picked up Christopher Noel's book, 'Sasquatch Rising 2013-Dead Giants Tell No Tales' instead and enjoyed it.

At this point in the Sasquatch Summit Conference, Phil Poling came on to talk about breaking down videos. Because of the horrible, blurry results he had to work with I chose that time to go get something to eat. Other people in the audience began to peel off as well and then after the scheduled lunch break Ron Morehead came with a laptop full of Bigfoot sounds like wood knocking, animal mimicry, whistles and chatter.  I'm non-plussed by most of this, since it's so much easier to mistake a howl from a supposed BF for a howl from a coyote or fox or bugle from an elk. And while I was chatting with Meldrum, he said, "I probably shouldn't say anything about other conference speakers, but that wood knock thing is hard to believe, since it's very unusual to find a good, solid piece of wood to strike a tree trunk with...everything on the ground is so rotten."

I left again to attend to my wife and dogs before Dr. Matthew Johnson came out to speak. I didn't feel that Johnson had that much to add to the story, since he's just an encounter/witness by himself.

                                                                         Derek Randles

When I returned, Derek Randles was on stage. He's a smart guy, a decent speaker with lots of detail. He seems to be in the business for the long run. He says the reason that we don't have good photo documentation beyond the P/G film is that, "..there's just not that many of them out there, and they're intelligent and they're hyper aware."

Randles and a compatriot he brought out, I believe was named Davis, showed the audience a series of thermal images of a bigfoot crouching behind some brush. Just the head and shoulders, which when compared to a human placed in the same spot, indicated a shoulder width of 60 inches. That's big alright, but the glowing, reverse silhouette from 122 feet away was not convincing. These blurry photos, FLIR images and shaky videos of blobsquatches still pale in comparison to Bob Gimlin's old 1967 footage. That holy grail of 16mm film is unsurpassed to this day, with only a couple of possible additions like the Paul Freeman footage and the Redwoods film. (Note: for any references that are obscure to the reader, simply google the phrase to learn what I'm talking about.)

Derek finished up his talk by mentioning his 'Olympic Project' work and the expeditions he holds along with Dr. Meldrum. The way he said this, I had a flash of being in a B-grade monster movie, like Godzilla, where a breathless reporter props up a scientist who then holds court calmly pointing out how the monster is operating, stomping it's way through the city. And I think it is monsters that is the attraction here. The idea that this oversize, hairy beast is lurking on the outskirts of the city, leering at our blond women and children is too much to ignore. If this were a group of Furbys running across the highway or stealing chickens from the shed, nobody would care.  A great big, menacing entity who reportedly can run up the side of a mountain as fast as a horse, who has eyes that glow in the dark and who can tear a deer into pieces in seconds is a monster by defintion.  Suggestions that Bigfoot is just a harmless Hairy Forest Person who wants to be left alone are balanced by suggestions (mostly from researchers like David Paulides) that Bigfoots are cannibals who like to steal children. Even some Indian cultures maintain that 'See-atko' is not a friendly and if you encounter one at night, by yourself, you're pretty much a statistic.

Randles left the stage to applause and at 4:10 pm Meldrum took the microphone.

The audience applauded most loudly for Doc Meldrum, and this is clearly a nod to his television exposure.  Meldrum has been doing BF research since prior to 1996, when he first made casts of footprints in the Blue Mountains of Walla Walla and he has appeared on Finding Bigfoot the cable tv show numerous times as the resident scientist.  I have seen a few episodes of the show and am bored with it, since it's mostly commercials framing the 'not-finding' of Bigfoot.

But Meldrum recognizes the advantages of publicity and his own star-power. He's as comfortable on stage as he should be as a regular lecturer and has a mellifluous voice. He uses words like 'homo troglodytae' and  'dermatoglyphics'  as he explains taxonomy and the way properly-made footprint casts can show ridges. But in truth, Meldrum is speaking far over the heads of 95% of the crowd. This is where we must decide if he is still an objective researcher or if he has become (gasp) a believer. I would not suggest that he dumb down his presentation just to suit a non science oriented audience, but if the people you hope to reach with revealing truths come away baffled by examples of Anthro 101 and the elastic strain energy component of Kangaroo limbs rather than substantive evidence of our quarry, the Sasquatch, then what's the point?

In Meldrum's defense, he spent a good deal of his time talking footprint analysis, and he made a good case for Sasquatch having evolved concurrently with humans with new research indicating a less linear and more 'bushy' family tree, with as many as six different hominid species co-existing as late as 10,000 years ago in the time scale. But he also acknowledged that we still have a myopic view of the phenomenon saying, "We're looking at the baseball game not through a knothole, but a knothole about five feet way from the fence."

He says, 'We now know..' a couple of times, which I think is smart, as opposed to being avoidant of new developments as some Primatologist authors might be, and he talked about a recent trip to a sighting south of Pocatello near his home. A group of students out studying erosion were taking video of surrounding geologic formations when one young lady said, 'Hey...there's a dude watching us.' The camera man swung around to catch what turned out to be another blobsquatch, but it was enough to get Meldrum and a son to drop by for a visit to do a little field research of their own.

Another ongoing project Meldrum mentioned was a set of 55 tracks in an area called the Palisades Reservoir.  He again went into great detail at points of his lecture about plantigrade feet and the subtleties of supanation and pronation of foot casts, until the presentation began to sound more apropriate to a podiatry convention. But this IS his specialty and really, that's what you want when you're analyzing footprints; a dude who KNOWs feet and ambulatory locomotion.

Previously in the Summit, before Meldrum went on stage, I got another chance to pin him down while nobody else was tugging his sleeve. I knelt down with my arms on his table so I could hear him better and asked him the question I had begun earlier.

Citing the clear paths that Mountain Gorillas leave in the areas they occupy, including nests and trampled vegetation, I asked him why a bipedal hominid of such large size doesn't leave any obvious evidence of passage? His answer wasn't very satisfactory, when he said, "Sasquatches have a very large range of territory and I've been in areas where entire herds of Elk have come through and when I went to look at the tracks, there was almost nothing there."  Elk vs. Sasquatch...I'm not convinced. I got back to another question about in-line gaits and straddle and he elucidated, "The leg bones grow down into a 'v' shape, which allows the Sasquatch to be able to put one foot in front of the other."  I didn't really understand this, when humans do not appear to have significantly different anatomy, but, he's the specialist. Also, I asked Meldrum about the Falcon Project. He said the funding had hit a bit of a wall when an expected investor backed out, but that the project made sense because it provides a very stable, high end camera system that can peer down into the gaps in forest canopies from as high as 2000 feet up.

As a side note, it's mentionable that Dr. Meldrum never seemed to use the term 'Bigfoot' but stuck with Sasquatch instead. Maybe it feels more credible to him and less circus-ey.

Just about this time, another Summit attendee sauntered over to bother Meldrum, a big guy with a backwards hunting cap and a shotgun shell earring forced into the lobe of his ear.
I used the seconds I had left to buy one of Meldrum's print casts ($40) and a Sasquatch Field Guide for $10. He graciously autographed the cast and the Guide, I shook his big hand and went to find a seat for the rest of the conference.
                                               Meldrum with a replica of one of the Bossburg footprint casts 

Throughout the bulk of the Summit, the crowd in attendance was fairly rapt.  When Poling came onstage, the vendors got a brief rush of business, but for Taylor and Randles, Morehead and Meldrum it was clear that people are excited about this part of discovery science and they want to believe. For me, I admit to believing the Bigfoot exists. With so many excellent reports from credible, trained observers like cops, miltary people, forest service personel and others, it is nearly impossible that all of them are hallucinating are mistaking a BF for a bear, tree stump or a moose.

Something is out there, but because we still have no body and we have so little in the way of high quality film, I'm betting that this is no ordinary, flesh and fur critter we're dealing with.

And after all, this site IS called Bizarre Bigfoot, so I'm sticking with a bizarre explantion:
For the same reason that we have bad photos and scant evidence of UFOs, Nessie and Ghosts, we will never have a concrete explanation for Sasquatch.  Sasquatch, Bigfoot, Giant Hairy Forest Person, whatever you wish to call him or her is not wholly of this dimensional plane.

Roll your eyes, call me a Beckjordite, but there are too many holes in this phenomenon that cannot be filled with conventional, known physical science.  I look forward to next years Summit.

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