Sunday, October 31, 2004 -- SHAWNIGAN LAKE, Vancouver Island, British Columbia - They're as old as time, perhaps inhabitants of this planet longer than us. Some native North American tribes refer to them as ``naxnox'' (or supernatural being) and report having encountered them for hundreds of years.
Fishermen, loggers, hikers and simple travelers, like you and me, see them from time to time, at night, on lonely country roads, illuminated by our headlights. Or crouching by a river bed, digging for the clams believed to be a big part of their diets.
We're talking Sasquatch here; Bigfoot, Wildman - it doesn't matter what you call them, because it appears they're here, living among us. Unless, that is, you think every one of the thousands who claim to have seen them are charlatans.
I dare you to call John Bindernagel a charlatan, in fact, I double dare you. He has more than 30 years of research and a career as a wildlife biologist to draw upon, and Sasquatch is his passion. Just try referring to the creature as Bigfoot in his presence and see what happens.
``I use (the term) Sasquatch instead of Bigfoot, because the latter has such a jestful connotation. Bigfooters see the creature behind every tree,'' Bindernagel told me late one night. We were at the Shawnigan Shores Bed & Breakfast (877-YES-SSBB; http://www.lakebb.com) owned by Michael and Elly Ruge in Cowichan Valley, on the shores of Shawnigan Lake, about a half-hour drive from Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. The Ruges have set up the ideal little business, Bigfoot Safari (866-553-3668, www.bigfootsafari.com), thanks to Bindernagel's influence.
For five years now, Sasquatch enthusiasts, or simply those looking for an unusual adventure, can head into the deep woods and isolated mountain country here driving 4x4s into territory where there have been claims of Sasquatch sightings.
``The odds of finding something are slight, especially on the shorter trips, but you never know,'' Michael Ruge said.
I took a Land Cruiser out for an afternoon (day rates are $160) with Ruge as my guide, Bindernagel as our passenger and me at the wheel, struggling with the vehicle as I learned how to maneuver it over fallen tree trunks and up and down clogged old logging roads. We didn't happen across anything unusual but the off-road driving was exhilarating and the scenery magnificent.
Ruge also takes participants on weeklong excursions, living and sleeping in the wild, real Sasquatch territory.
For Bindernagel, the author of untold numbers of papers on the subject and the recent book, ``North America's Great Ape: The Sasquatch,'' there is no doubt Sasquatch exist. Ontario-raised and educated at the University of Guelph, where he graduated as a wildlife ecologist, he came to British Columbia primarily to search for Sasquatch.
``When I was in my third year at University of Guelph, I found an old copy of Argosy magazine in a barbershop, with a story about an apeman. When I brought it to my wildlife management class, to discuss it with my professor, he simply refused to get into it. It really got my back up.''
Until the winter snows here preclude exploration, Bindernagel is out on field trips for days on end, looking for signs like Sasquatch nests, hair, spoor or footprints. He made castings of some printsin October 1988, discovering them during a hike on the shore of Lake Helen Mackenzie, in Strathcona Provincial Park.
Bindernagel showed me a box with an assortment of castings. They're very humanlike in appearance, but huge - 15-16 inches long and 5-6 inches wide (and these are small ones, compared to others that have been discovered). Measure your own foot and do the comparisons. The implications are rather unsettling, as is an image of encountering a creature reputed to be anywhere from 7 to 10 feet tall.
Bindernagel also showed me pictures of tracks made on farmland, in nearby Duncan. ``They had been plowed, so they (the tracks) were dusty, but the path was clear and you can see many of them here,'' he explained. ``You'll notice a very linear gait to the animal's walk, as if it were walking on a tightrope. I believe that Sasquatch was an arboreal ape once, so it was used to walking on narrow branches.''
The biologist's biggest challenge, next to finding an actual specimen or some other form of irrefutable proof, is to garner respect from his peers.
``John Green (a renowned researcher who virtually pioneered the study of the creature, starting in the early 1960s) made a good point once, `It's not about belief, it's about evidence,' '' Bindernagel said.
``Even with the casts as proof, most biologists won't take this very seriously. It blows my mind, actually. There are closet believers, but they are waiting (for an actual body to turn up, dead or alive).''
Ruge pointed out Bindernagel isn't the kind of man to toot his own horn and that his low-key approach to his decades of research isn't necessarily positive. ``But the fact is, when definitive proof is found, we'll be well-positioned to take action,'' Ruge added. ``Until then, the purpose of Bigfoot Safaris is to support John and his research whenever possible. We also help expose people to the research that has been done, through the excursions we take into the wilderness of Vancouver Island.''
That night, I slept in fits and starts. Though very comfortable in a modern suite at the B&B (rates are $122 to $241 per night for two, depending on season), I pictured an 8-foot-tall Sasquatch coming out of the forest behind me and peering into the window over my head as I slept.
That night around 3 a.m., I was awakened by what sounded like a rock striking the log wall of the building, making a hollow, ringing sound. I'll never know who or what flung that projectile, but it certainly fired up my already swollen imagination and had my heart break dancing.
In Victoria the next morning, I had an encounter along the waterfront that really had me thinking about the wonders of our tiny planet. Vendors, comprised mostly of Canadian natives, were selling various goods. I jokingly asked one artist if he had any Sasquatch sketches. He looked at me, momentarily pausing for a breath.
``I had two here last summer, but I sold them,'' said 67-year old Thunderbird T-Thedu. ``We saw one, my wife and I, just outside McKenzie Creek.''
T-Thedu then related a most chilling tale of how he and wife Margaret Summers stumbled upon a large, hairy, humanlike creature foraging for food at the base of a hill some two hours from Victoria.
When they called out to the creature, it ``jumped up the hill very fast, or so it appeared,'' he said.
Minutes later, Summers came by. ``Tell him about the Sasquatch we saw,'' her husband prodded. She relayed the same story he did.
For information on Sasquatch, go to John Bindernagel's website at http://www.bigfootbiologist.org
Source: The Boston Herald
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