By Dave Curry
It is a privilege and an honor to contribute my little bit of knowledge to the Field Notes. Researching and reflecting on the natural world is fun as well as a continuous learning experience.
This column was begun by a young newspaper editor, Cal Price, nearly a hundred years ago. He went on to become a great conservationist, self-taught environmentalist, and student of life. From panther stories to life on the farm, from the latest sheep killing bear removal to the first tomato of summer, Cal had a constant interest in our natural world.
It is a pleasure to contribute my two-cents worth, but this time we may be breaking new ground.
While channel surfing my way down the TV remote one lazy afternoon, the words “Here we are in the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia” caught my attention. I paused for more information while the screen filled with rolling mountains and deep valleys in full autumn glory that could be anywhere in West Virginia.
The program was “Finding Bigfoot” on the Animal Planet channel. A team of researchers travel the country checking out Bigfoot sightings and had come to Pocahontas County to talk with a young researcher, David Stennis.
David is a 17-year-old senior at Pocahontas County High School and son of NRAO engineer Mike Stennis. They live in Green Bank in an area known as the Rabbit Patch. David had his own encounter with Bigfoot nearby in 2005.
“I came out of the house toward the clubhouse in the backyard and saw this large, dark creature on the edge of the woods about 50 yards away,” he said. “I ran back into the house, grabbed the camera and came out and got a couple of pictures.”
This was the beginning of his quest. Since then David has developed that interest and continued the search for Sasquatch. He and his friends have hiked, traveled, called, recorded audios, taken pictures and done all manner of research hoping to have further encounters with Bigfoot. David maintains his own website and Facebook page to solicit input from others. This can be accessed at WestVirginiaBigfoot.com
“Finding Bigfoot” is a popular show on the Animal Planet and is replayed several times each week. Many segments of the show can be pulled up at their website on Discovery.com
Folks came to visit David last October after finding some of his pictures on a blogspot and to film a short piece for their show. That segment aired in late January.
David was probably surprised when the entire Bigfoot team of nearly a dozen support people turned up. In addition to the technicians for cameras, lights and equipment, they also had infrared and night vision gear as well as audio recording equipment.
There are four principals in the cast. Matt has degrees in literature and law and appears to be the leader of the team. Cliff is a teacher and jazz guitarist. Bobo is the third member of this group, all from California and might come closer than the others to resembling Bigfoot. All have several years of experience in this field of research.
The fourth member of the team is Ranae. She is from South Dakota and is a legitimate scientific researcher, having done much field work in Alaska and Washington on fisheries.
While all four seriously hope to prove the existence of the “big guy,” Ranae is the skeptic. She makes sure that field work is done correctly and scientific principles are followed.
The Bigfoot Hunters spent most of a day and part of an evening with David, doing some field research on the mountain behind the Recreation Area at the observatory. The thermal imaging cameras and parabolic antennas were employed. Calls were made and recordings done but no “sqatches” were heard or seen. Eventually the camera time was edited down to about eight minutes that was shown on the Animal Planet show.
David said that he had a great time meeting and working with the Bigfoot hunters. Seeing how they go about their work and the equipment they use was the most interesting for him.
What started for him as a joke has turned into a serious obsession and may turn into his life’s work. We certainly wish him the best of luck.
Legends of Bigfoot go back hundreds of years and most every native-American group had their own name for them. Sasquatch is the most commonly known or accepted name. Early historians wrote about them. Daniel Boone claimed to have shot one.
But it was not until 1967 when a grainy 8mm film by Patterson and Gimlin purportedly showed a huge, hairy biped walking up a creek bed. That is when Bigfoot crossed over the line into pop culture.
There are literally dozens of Bigfoot hunters “out there”. A computer search will reveal many groups, individuals, blog spots, clubs and Facebook pages dedicated to the pursuit of Sasquatch. There are an equal number of folks ready to stage or act out an encounter or to Photoshop an image just for orneriness.
This writer will continue to be skeptical. It will take something more than a fuzzy, dark photo taken at a long distance to convince me.
However, it might be fun to play the “devil’s advocate” for a little bit.
For instance, we need to remember that the natural world is dynamic, constantly changing. It usually doesn’t happen overnight but change can happen fairly quickly.
One hundred years ago, a primary component of the forest was the chestnut, which fed many of our critters, domestic and wild. Long since wiped out by a fungus disease, the diets of wildlife had to change. The large tracts of giant spruce were largely wiped out by loggers in the same time frame. Some spruce has recovered but the landscape has changed with birch and cherry filling in the gaps.
The weather patterns have changed. Whether cyclic or man-caused, there is little doubt of this change.
One hundred years ago, the white-tailed deer were scarce. With proper management to grow the herd and with top predators being wiped out, there has been a huge swing in the deer population to get to present day levels.
Thirty years ago, a hunter would have been hard pressed to find a coyote in this area. There are plenty of coyotes here now and that population increase coincides directly with the deer herd. The same thing could probably be said about the Black Vulture, a recent emigrant into this area over the last 40 years. With lots of venison road kill to feed on, they are competing well with the native turkey buzzard.
Is it not possible to believe that Bigfoot was forced out by early settlers into remote regions and is only now recovering and adapting? Many researchers claim that Sasquatch eats deer. Could the increased sightings be a direct result of the increased deer herd?
Or maybe not.
Earlier, we mentioned “breaking new ground” and now wonder if Bigfoot was ever mentioned in the early days of Field Notes. No doubt things happened that are unexplainable.
Certainly Cal Price would be interested. If he were alive and had that opportunity, he might even be in the forefront of research for Bigfoot.