For Seattle Weekly.
Sasquatch: mythical beast, elusive recluse, or something in between? The questions linger as fascination with the thought of wild humanoids living out their secretive lives just beyond our reach refuses to die—but even after all these decades of campfire debate across the globe, the question of Bigfoot’s existence is often left at that: all speculation, no rigor.
David George Gordon, Seattle-based author of the newly released Sasquatch Seeker’s Field Manual, thinks it’s high time we change the conversation. Doesn’t an idea so deliciously outlandish deserve equally exceptional examination? This is the question that Gordon brings to the table with his new book, which aims to arm the Bigfoot-curious with the power of citizen science.
There is no one better to lead the Sasquatch-seeking brigade. The author of 20 books about nature and the environment, Gordon has become somewhat of a specialist on topics that attract ideological intrigue, wavering doubt, and steadfast skepticism. His most popular book to date is The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, with recipes to help you include things like spiders and crickets in your diet. While, understandably, your first reaction might be no way, Gordon, who sports a white beard and round spectacles, presents his quirky fixations with such a wholesome curiosity that they become irresistible. It can be hard to tell how seriously he takes any of it; his arguments are largely sensible, but all delivered with a playful gleam in the eye.
Does Gordon himself believe in Sasquatch? “I actually say I’m a fence-sitter. I’m not going to say there isn’t a Sasquatch—because people could find one tomorrow, and I’d be wrong,” he tells me. “But the bottom line is I wouldn’t go to court with any of the evidence people have gathered so far.”
Even the most compelling evidence—the 1967 footage from Bluff Creek, Calif., which portrays a large apish creature sauntering through the wilderness—is easy to poke holes in once you go looking for flaws. “There are lots of amazing stories out there,” Gordon says. “But what’s most interesting to me is the sort of fundamentals of science that aren’t lining up . . . I want to inspire people to be better field researchers.”
In his book, published by Mountaineers Books, Gordon first describes Sasquatch-related legends and lore from near and far. Then, should you find yourself inspired to go look for a Sasquatch, he outlines the principles of natural science for the layperson: tips for mounting a search (including the three basics—planning, persistence, and patience), for gathering evidence (from taking field notes to interpreting footprints), and for sharing your discoveries (“with other honest and ethical Sasquatch seekers in the hopes of collectively resolving the mystery of the Sasquatch once and for all”). The book’s last section provides recommendations of where to hike for the best chances of Sasquatchian scientific success.
Truth be told, however,whether or not you come home with irrefutable proof of Bigfoot’s existence is just a side note to Gordon’s main point. “What I’m really trying to get people into is systematic observation,” he says. More than a means to an end, to Gordon the search for Sasquatch is the end itself—a tool to get people outside and learn how to observe as a naturalist does. “If I wrote a book about a citizen science project looking at snails, for example—which is actually a subject I’m interested in as well—I don’t think it would have the same immediate appeal.”
Citizen science, Gordon writes in the book, “is a win-win proposition.”
“People get training in scientifically accepted techniques for collecting, sorting, and, sometimes, analyzing data. In return, they share their insights about observable phenomena—for example, the migratory patterns of wild birds or butterflies, or the waxing and waning of local amphibian populations—natural phenomena that may be happening, quite literally, in their own backyards.”
While Gordon hasn’t come across Sasquatch evidence himself, he knows quite a few people who have, and who hold firm in their Bigfoot beliefs. But “an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof,” Gordon says, quoting Marcello Truzzi, a sociologist who studied skepticism. And, as audacious a thought that a Sasquatch could really be out there may be, Gordon thinks he’s got an equally audacious means of verification. “I maintain it will take no less than that—thousands of pairs of eyes and ears, collectively gathering and sharing information that can further our understanding and, ultimately, lead us to this mysterious mammal, if indeed that’s what it is.”
“If there are enough eyes and ears out there, we’ll figure it out,” Gordon tells me. But even if we don’t, the fun of the pursuit just might make getting out there worth it.