Freezer-Burned: Tales of Interior Alaska
“Freezer-Burned: Tales of Interior Alaska” is a regular column on the San Juan Update written by Steve Ulvi.
The Pitfalls of Fuzzy Thinking
A decade ago, our fourth summer here, my Alaska pal Archie left a phone message that he would be visiting in Washington state. Waiting through his practiced, jolly jibes about us living in “la-la land, surrounded by a dying Salish Sea, noshing on kale”, I heard that he might stop in.
Why Washington? As far as I knew, in his handful of white-knuckled trips Outside in 50 years of living up north, his whole exposure to Washington State was pretty much flyover or bending his elbow in smokey lounges with fisherman and Bering Sea crabbers at SeaTac.
Hey Archie, Steve here.
Well, I’ll be damned, how goes it Champ!
We’re good, Archie. We are learning to build a house by ourselves wading through damnable nanny-state codes. I know how to do it now and will never do it again! You still gillnetting those beautiful Yukon kings?
Naa, the run and my old 50 horse outboard both petered out, but the smokehouse was full.
Ah, good. Best salmon in the world! What’s up with this trip you mentioned? Maybe you could bring me some king strips?
Well, I’m flying out tomorrow on the ol’ redeye. I have booked a week in the woods riding an ATV with Bigfoot Expeditions run by a guy named Johnny Styne around some town called Darrington.
Archie, have you lost your mind? We both know that Bigfoot is non-existent; a fanciful hobgoblin wrapped in malarky bundled in pure bunk! I got a better idea. Why don’t you charter me and my boat out here on San Juan Island to look for cases of Canadian booze dumped overboard by nervous westside rum-runners during prohibition? Bound to be more productive than searching for a non-existent ape!
In the pause, I could hear Archie exhale after a deep drag.
I pictured yellowed thumb and finger pinching a butt, shards of tobacco clinging on a dirty t-shirt partly covering his paunch. Probably standing on his sagging porch fogging pesky mosquitos. Oddly, he figured that by smoking outside he avoided tainting the smell of his musty, gym-locker cabin. Not to mention the funk of his pet ferrets. I waited, sucking down some apple cider.
Well, it’s in my best interests to go with what Patsy Hunter says. Her “Tarheel” family has deep roots there and they insist that they have seen and heard Bigfoot. Many times. We met on FindASquatchMatch. I got a good feeling about this gal! I gotta get to packin’ my duffles. I’ll call ya, Champ!
Of course. A blinding flash of the obvious! There is an unattached woman at the center of the plan; apparently willing to look beyond appearance, free-ranging opinions and deeply entrenched bachelor habits to check out the fun-loving and persuasive charm of Archie Ferguson at his best. He’s nobody’s fool. Undoubtedly, a double-blind experiment for two people clearly willing to suspend rational thinking. Fits right in with Bigfoot.
I struggled with the idea of my friend’s notion of romance flowering in jouncing ATV’s and standing shoulder to shoulder for hours playing ‘squatch howls’ and banging rocks together in the night. And sleep deprivation on narrow cots, clustered in leaky yurts with shared unlighted outhouses 25 yards away. I am sure that there will be reading and thrilling to “vetted” accounts of Bigfoot contacts that predispose the reptilian brain stem to more easily imagine cryptozoid contact. Johnny Styne would learn that a freezer-burned Alaskan like Archie will have a pocket flask or two at all times. He would also learn not to serve navy bean stew for dinner.
Archie’s love interests over the decades were always the talk of the village. I remember a few. The professional “entertainer” from Kazakstan he met on a dating site who was sent back on parole violations. A local woman who sang and whistled off-key with the radio when happy. Bossing Archie made her very happy. The identical middle-aged twin sisters from east Texas who arrived in the village to spend a summer in the wilds. Archie went all out courting both Pam and Tam but found he couldn’t tell the difference between them. Then he was told that one of ‘em had poisoned her husband and put him through a wood chipper. Archie abruptly left for fish camp the next morning.
Uncharacteristically, Archie sent me an email and some photos a few days after arriving in Darrington. Hey Champ. Everythin’s goin’ great. Patsy is a fun-loving gal and enjoys being in the woods. We really hit it off. She cooks, chews snooze and likes shootin’. She and her daughter want to come up to my place! This Johnny Styne guy is a real promoter and will make a name for himself someday. No Bigfoot so far (heh-heh). AF
As always, photos reveal so much; people in the dark by a pair of muddy 6-wheeled ATVs, huddled, wrapped in blankets, staring skyward, trying to communicate with Bigfoot. Another was of Patsy and her brothers, all quite large, armed and camo-clad in front of a logging truck (my guess she is the one without a beard). And another of a local chain-saw carved ‘Bigfoot’. These “beer in one hand, chainsaw in the other” crude attempts to depict something that no one has ever actually seen, should be enough to cause any respectable Bigfoot (if only they existed) to sneak in at night, barricade the exits, and torch the shack of such a person.
I was curious about the latest developments in this realm of non-religious, faith-based public delusion. I grew up with Abominable Snowman stories in National Geographic while perusing photos of equatorial women au natural. The Bigfoot myth is slightly more plausible than other wishful fantasies about vampires or zombies, and does predate other longstanding public codswallop touting alien abductions, the Bermuda Triangle, and people who spontaneously combust.
There are very good reasons for refusal to believe the unbelievable. Rational analysis, science and logic to start. In my nearly 70 years of sun orbit, science has undergone its own Big Bang expansion of elegant technology developed to unpeel mysteries of life and death for humankind. We can “see” and measure sub-atomic particles, make images of tiny things invisible to the human eye as well as of star birth and demise in our vast neighborhood of the Universe. Among the most profound; sequencing the human genome.
Invisible double helixes of DNA, now visible, and manipulable, has cut through a thick fog of ignorance regarding living things and relationships. For about 170,000 years, we Homo sapiens struggling to survive and cope with endless mystery, required creative explanation (the birth of charlatans) to ease our gnawing fears of the unknown in “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short“(Thomas Hobbes, 1651). Adhering to reassuring social constructs, customs to appease malevolent “gods” and traditional knowledge as member of a tribe, leads to ‘our way or be ostracized and cast out’ as well as social cohesion and strength in numbers for the larger tribe. There were countless things, both real and imagined, to fear in the primordial forest and sea.
That is where the fanciful stories of Bigfoot, now an anachronism, come in. Against all odds, a large, hairy bipedal primate continues to exist in small numbers in wild areas of the Northwest region of North America. The mantra of believers is that science can’t definitively prove that they don’t exist, so therefore they do. Lots of people (some scientists) claim to have seen, heard, found tracks or smelled contemporary Bigfoot. Native American tribes have many traditional stories of somewhat similar creatures.
Further, believers claim that it is completely understandable that no skeletal remains, hair, teeth, turds, or dried blood of any kind have ever been found in nature. Things rapidly decompose, they say. The many expeditions and numerous “reality TV” programs seeking to document or even kill a Bigfoot employing sophisticated technology just haven’t been lucky, yet. If you refuse to suspend rational thinking and dispute these fuzzy claims and “eye witness accounts” you are deemed arrogant, close-minded and angrily dismissed. Bigfoot lives! And so, it goes today in the free-for-all of social media and the web.
Gigantopithecus blacki is the dead-end twig of a many branched, primate evolutionary tree, from which ‘Bigfoot’ is said to have arisen. Teeth and jaw parts found in Asia, where this very large ape existed for millions of years then went extinct about 100,000 years ago, clearly show that they were chewers of bamboo and eaters of fruit in steamy jungles, and certainly quadrupedal. The cooling of the last ice age in the late Pleistocene probably shrank the jungles and they were simply too big to succeed. Believers who even care to think about where Bigfoot came from, think that Gigantopithecus made the many thousand-mile trek all the way across the very cold, dry Bering Land Bridge as jungle herbivores (eating what exactly?) during the prior glacial periods, way before modern humans did some 12,000 years ago.
Some ‘Bigfoots’ (Bigfeet?) then successfully survived with giant short-faced bears, great cave bears, sabre tooth cats, lions, dire wolves and great endless cold that had Neanderthals wearing furs and living in caves in Spain. Then several thousand years later they inhabited what retreating ice had covered for 80,000 years in the montane woods of today’s NW along with grizzly and black bears, wolf packs and cunning atlatl-equipped humans. Then about 10,000 years later the brutal Manifest Destiny of explorers, gold seekers, settlers, fur-traders, professional hunters, railroad engineers, botanists, museum collectors, the US Army and fur trappers penetrated every corner of the NW but never come up with a preserved shred of physical evidence. Never mind the indigenous first Americans.
Lastly, the most astounding part of the true believer’s illogical mental gymnastics and cherry-picked science; the incoming tide of the Anthropocene in 21st century America. No road kills, no skulls or large bones by river drowning death, no hunter kills (this fact alone is astounding), no frantic escaping of raging wildfires, no sightings by aerial radio-tracking biologists, no satellite or trail camera images. A drop of blood, some body fluid, a single hair, a dried turd or bone shard is all that is needed for conclusive DNA evidence. Even a clear cell photo would be cool. Zilch, nada, nothing despite the instant notoriety and big money that would reward a person who reveals tangible evidence.
We are also aware of great strides in the ground-breaking understanding of human cognitive thinking, “motivated perception” and the proven variability in the degree of reliability of in eye witness testimonials. Put simply, we often “see” what we want to see or expect to see. Then there are the many folks like Archie going along with the quirky hoax for profit, 15 minutes of fame or, well, romance.
Archie finally called me again, near the end of his vacation. I hurried to pick up, ready for a wild story or two.
“Hey there Champ! I am heading back to Alaska tomorrow evening. I need a big favor. Any chance you could drive over here and pick me up?”
Well, I have a couple things tomorrow but can back out, need be. What’s the deal? Last I heard you were rounding second base with Patsy and planning to invite her to come up to your place to ‘put the U in snuggle’ as you like to say.”
“Well things changed! The other night as our group listened, I heard a rubbing branch moaning in the breeze across the valley and the next thing I knew they were all dancing and hugging, ecstatic to hear a ‘female Bigfoot mating call’ as identified by Johnny. I had been tugging on the flask in boredom and started laughing. They turned on me like I was a skunk at a garden party!”
“And that ain’t the whole of it. I was invited to an extended family picnic and cook out yesterday by one of Patsy’s brothers. Hope springs eternal ya know so I bought a suitcase of Budweiser and hopped in the bed of his monstrous diesel pickup to ride out there. He has those upstander exhaust stacks that billow black smoke on purpose and a window stencil showing a Bigfoot urinating on a Toyota Prius. We pulled in and kids were everywhere hollerin’ and tumbling and chasin’ on a big grassy slope. There was a big fire goin’, women with little babies in camo and caged hounds whinin’ and pacing.
I joined a bunch of large guys sucking on beers and joking around the fire. They had been watching two little boys slug it out while the boy’s moms rooted them on. A large cooler had a bumper sticker that read “SAVE A LOGGER-EAT SPOTTED OWL!”. Patsy’s brother “Loco” nodded, spit some chew juice and said “Boys this is Archie, a woodsman from bush Alaska. He and Patsy could be getting hitched!” Nods and smirks all around, beers raised. I managed to not spit up the beer I was swallowing.
Trying to buy a moment to clear my mind, I pulled out a full flask, took a tug, then passed it to a guy next to me they called “Tiny” whose fist hid the bottle as he drank it down, tossing the empty on the fire. He belched loudly, turned to another group and waved over a Chinese guy, who had been part of our Bigfoot Expedition. Tiny called him Charley Chan, but I knew that he is an MD and speaks English. Pointing at me Tiny growled ‘he hunt lotta bears Alaska, many gall bladders and paws!’ The doc had mentioned the same topic one night, not knowing what else to do in the moment, I smiled and shook his hand, arms pumpin’”.
“Feelin’ that things were way south, I headed over to the tree edge to take a leak. When I turned back two guys started a round crab trap rolling down the slope with a frantic raccoon tumblin’ in it with a pack of hounds barking and attacking it. Most folks pointed and laughed uproariously. Kids too! Some boys were slinging arrows at a Forest Service public use rules sign. That’s when I noticed Patsy standing there in a Don’t Tread on Me sweatshirt next to a smaller look-alike, who had to be her daughter who was busily smackin’ four grubby, tow-headed kids. She’d never said nothin’ about them!
I moseyed quietly away past the outhouses after a while, anxiously hitched back to Darrington and now have my stuff behind the public library. I’m pretty sure I won’t run into any of em’ there. I need a ride outta here ASAP. I’ll buy you gas and a burger or even one a your goldanged raw fish lunches if you’ll get me to SeaTac!