Although the skies were sunny, 210 of them gathered in the shade of a lecture hall and exchanged vocalizations on the subject of a bigger, hairier and more elusive and most controversial species — bigfoot.
“One thing these people have in common is determination in the face of societal opposition,” said Jim Kiser, who researches bigfoot from his home in Newberg. “My son thinks I’m crazy and my brother-in-law is less polite. My Ph.D.-in-chemistry friend says he has a bigfoot detector — and it’s a six pack.”
The range of the bigfoot-seeking hominid is national, but, since 2003, large seasonal gatherings have occurred in California, Oklahoma, east Texas and Ohio — where 670 turned up in April, said Jeffery Meldrum, who teaches anatomy at Idaho State University.
“It’s a curious commentary on human nature that there are these sorts of gatherings all over the country,” he said. “It becomes a social network that fills a human need, obviously.”
Saturday’s gathering, called the Oregon Sasquatch Symposium, drew participants from — besides Oregon — Washington, Idaho, California, Nevada, Florida, Texas, Hawaii and New Zealand. The symposium continues today in Building 17 at LCC.
The participants’ habitat — while traveling — is the Red Lion Inn or similar motels. But their ordinary location is out in the woods, listening for unaccounted-for knocks and whoops that might indicate the presence of bigfoot.
“Many of them devote any time they’re off the job,” said Jon Nichols, a Sasquatch researcher and bull breeder from Vancouver, Wash.
Bigfoot followers cannot be distinguished by surface activities, such as career or political affiliation, Nichols said. “You’ll see computer programmers to pipe fitters — a wide spectrum,” he said. “You have everything from the greenies to the rabid conservatives.”
They are tool users, these human bigfoot-seekers. They employ infrared night vision goggles, motion activated cameras, plaster casting kits. Some have developed mobile field research laboratories they tow behind pickup trucks to support their work.
Increasingly, they pursue bigfoot on the Internet, where several websites have cataloged signs and sightings of the elusive animal.
The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, for instance, lists 224 sightings in Oregon, including 13 in Lane County — including details of each encounter.
The bigfoot-seekers refer to themselves as “witnesses” if they’ve glimpsed a bigfoot-type creature and “habituators” if they’ve “come to know these beings,” said Toby Johnson, a University of Oregon student and the symposium organizer. Although, he said, the term “habituator” is fading in favor of “long-term witness.” The group calls itself the “bigfoot community.”
The community has its alpha individuals, who are revered for their experiences, their knowledge of foot- or voice-print — or their ability to rivet an audience to an encounter story.
Robert Gimlin, who shot the most famous bigfoot footage in 1967, was on hand Saturday. So was Meldrum, who is among the most prominent academicians to venture into Sasquatch study, despite the ridicule of university peers.
But the rock star was Autumn Williams, the keynote speaker, who was feted with whoops and cheers. “We are a family,” the slender blond woman said as she started her story, “drawn together by our interests.”
Williams told the story of a 50-year-old bulldozer driver in Florida, who took up residence in a swamp to escape the tragedies in his life.
There, Williams said, he took up a Jane Goodall-style life with a tribe of bigfoot. She referred to him only as “Mike” and said that she was the only human in the world to which he would confide.
Mike is a profane and funny witness, given to playfully calling his friends, the bigfoot — bigfeet? — “snapperheads.”
Williams said Mike would not supply her with a picture because he is wary of the demand for such “evidence,” but he allowed an artist to simulate an image that he verified was close to accurate, she said.
“Oh,” a woman in the audience gasped, when Williams flashed a close-up of the hairy face with luminous eyes, wrinkled nose and broad mouth on the lecture hall screen.
“Wow,” other audience members said.
Williams took questions after her speech, and none were critical, Meldrum noticed. “There were no probing questions, none of that,” he said, later adding: “It reflected the attitude of the audience. They were won over to her story.”
Many bigfoot enthusiasts are fervent — and some range into the realm of anti-science, Meldrum said. At an earlier conference, he said, “I thought I was in a Bible belt meeting in the South.”
The bigfoot-seekers are fairly shy. A half dozen wouldn’t mind sharing their experiences for this story, but not if they were identified by name.
“I just don’t want anybody to know,” said a woman from Spokane.
There are a number of reasons for their reticence, Nichols said. “As a (bigfoot) researcher, your highest priority is to not let anybody know what your doing and keep your mouth shut. They don’t want to be held up to ridicule.”
Another reason, Nichols said, seekers are proprietary about the woods where they do their field research. They don’t want their sites compromised.
“Mike,” the habituator in Florida, must remain secret so his identity doesn’t bring attention and jeopardize the safety of bigfoot — which he calls Enoch, Williams said.
“The big guy comes first,” she said Mike said.
Those who follow bigfoot’s trail tend to assume that the creature they seek is, generally speaking, friendly and intelligent.
Some have been influenced by the movie Avatar, Meldrum said, whether they recognize it or not. Williams, for instance, depicts bigfoot as a kind of noble savage who shuns the use of technology and lives communally.
She juxtaposes bigfoot with man’s image-and-possession obsessed society.
“That’s the politically correct posture for a lot of people,” Meldrum said. “The Sasquatch has chosen a path that’s more pristine and pure.”
NOTE: First off, I respect Autumn Williams' stance on this but I'd really like to have one question answered...why her? Why was she privy to this exclusive and remarkable information above all other researchers? As a person who has had an encounter with one of these creatures as well as taken the open-mind approach to sighting experiences expressed by others, I'm still wary of Autumn Williams' revelation despite what others may think. I will read the book and hopefully my questions will be answered...Lon
BTW...you can order Autumn Williams' book 'Enoch' at ORDER 'ENOCH'
Oregon Sasquatch Symposium Revelation
UPDATE: well, I was over at the Bigfootforums.com and it seems the vultures are beginning to circle in reference to Autumn William's narrative. A post by Gigantopithecus canadensis is probably the most detailed:
Autumn's presentation was punctuated by odd rants of political correctness that were invariably fashioned into reasons for not offering any evidence. I thought it odd that she hadn't even been to Florida to meet Mike and check his story out in the slightest way. I was dumbfounded that most of the participants were willing to stand in a very long line to buy a signed copy of her book during the first day's lunch break. I just didn't see the appeal in the book. Even viewing the book as just a story, I must assume it is like her presentation, which I believe told me far more about Autumn than it did about bigfoot.
I understand Autumn may have broken into tears at least twice during the symposium -- once during her mother's presentation, and again during a tribal storyteller's presentation. And taking the cell phone call toward the end of her presentation was just downright rude and wierd. She offered no explanation, and I assume she was expecting the call -- her phone was on the podium. I've never seen anyone give a presentation with their cell phone on the podium.
I found it odd that Mike, the source of the stories for Autumn's book, is not realizing any benefit from the book. I suspect that Mike won't complain, because there's no Mike to complain. If Mike existed, even if he was declining compensation, I'd have a hard time as a human being cutting him out entirely.
Autumn's presentation was the first; her mother gave the second presentation, which consisted of excerpts from her book, Valley of the Skookum. Her mother lost me entirely when she read a passage about her husband watching an invisible bigfoot tromp past their cabin -- he saw the invisible foot depress the grass into bigfoot footprints. I am willing to entertain the idea of bigfoot having some fairly unique characteristics, but invisibility isn't one of them.
Autumn's mom also related what seems to be Autumn's sighting, the event that makes her a witness? Mom and very young daughter (an older toddler?) were walking down a trail looking for sticks to make the fire in their cook stove, when they rounded a corner they came face-to-face with a large bigfoot. Mom told her daughter to run, they turned around, dropped their sticks, and beat it back to the cabin where they remained all day in bed. Apparently mom never talked about this incident until a young adult Autumn asked her a question about meeting an animal in the woods when she was young, then mom related the event. Thus, I have to question what, if anything, Autumn remembers of her witnessing a bigfoot; or, is she simply remembering how her mother told her a story.
There was a disquieting lack of logic running through Autumn's presentation. I suspect her book may suffer the same problem. If so, I assume some member of these fora will dissect her story and post his or her findings.
I just ordered a copy of the book so I can see for myself the reason why this revelation is beginning to cause a ruckus...Lon
UPDATE: The following was posted by Autumn Williams (oregonbigfoot) on the Bigfootforums.com today (6/23/10). Honestly, I don't know what type of response she expected...other than the one she got...Lon
I've been in this field 20 years. This isn't my indoctrination into the world of bigfoot community scoftics and naysayers. When you're in this as long as I've been, you've gone toe-to-toe with the peanut gallery a time or two. The players are different... many of you weren't present during the other go-rounds, some 10 years ago or more. But it's the same each time.
I can sit here all day and listen to insults, snickering comments about "garlic", argue semantics, attempt to defend my "motives", my character, Mike's credibility, my credibility, and even my status as a single parent to those who, for whatever their reasons, appear to have a need to question, question, and re-question those things, despite my giving you the answers. (What... do I need to write a book to explain myself? Oh, wait...) The point is very simply this: in the end, it doesn't matter what I say. If you're inherently deeply suspicious, if you have a need to attempt to discredit, nothing anyone SAYS will make a difference. I expected that - as you'd see if you'd read the book.
You want "proof". I stated long before I finally decided to publish these personal accounts - mine and Mike's, which is what this book entails - that there would BE no proof offered... at least not at the time the book was published. Mike had his reasons for that - they are his and his alone, but I agreed with them. You can sit back and declare all day long that you BELIEVE those reasons are justification for your not believing his story, and that is ultimately your prerogative. He anticipated this. In fact, he warned me about it. I'd anticipated it, too, as you'd see very clearly... again, if you were to read the book. The simple fact is that it does not change anything. Mike shared personal accounts with me. They had a profound effect on me. THAT'S what the book is about. THAT'S why the book was written. Mike gave me his blessing to write the book because he cares about me, because he saw how profoundly I was affected, and because he supports and respects my desire to share his story with other eyewitnesses - LIKE MYSELF.
In part, it's also about researchers. Ironically, some of the folks here play a starring role. Granted, the "researchers" in this story are faceless, nameless, but those characters are giving themselves faces and names as we speak.
To those folks, I'll say this: Don't bother reading it. Honestly, there is likely very little that you'll get out of it. It's not that there isn't loads of detailed, anecdotal observation that could answer many of your longstanding questions. It's not that there isn't a ton of context for why I believe Mike. It isn't that there aren't deeply valuable messages that could profoundly affect you if you were open to such things. It's simply that it does not, will not and cannot measure up to your need to STUDY and PROVE everything you touch before you'll put your stamp of approval on it.
Again, the irony. That's what the book is about. How "we" - those in the research field - treat witnesses. You'll note that I decided to hang up my researcher hat, thus the quote marks around the "we". It's not because I don't value logic, science, empirical thought. It's not that I don't plan to go out in the woods and attempt to learn all I can about these amazing beings firsthand... it's because of this very thing that is occurring here. Witnesses, PEOPLE, become statistics, something to study, to pick apart, to measure, to evaluate. I don't want to be associated with that particular aspect of this group of "we" anymore. Someone brings you a story of something very intense and personal that happened to them and you whip out a microscope and try to evaluate it. Trouble is, you can't MEASURE emotional impact. You can't QUANTIFY the effect something has on someone's life. You ultimately can NEVER PROVE THAT SOMETHING HAPPENED, if no evidence was gathered at the time and you weren't there, no matter how hard you try. That's why anecdotal evidence is ANECDOTAL - and I'll remind you that it's the majority of what we have, so it's a good idea to learn to get along with it. You can try to sit there and examine potential motives for falsifying information, put your witness under that microscope and interrogate him mercilessly, hold him still while he answers your questions and you say, "Oh yeah? Well what about this? And this? And this? And this? And this?" until he's so disgusted with your neurotic fear of taking anything at face value that he's ready to kick your a$$... and what you'll ultimately be left with is exactly what you have here. Someone who DOES NOT want to talk to you, because it's become obvious that it's pointless, that you have already decided that you do not believe him, and that now you're simply out to do everything in your power to discredit him.
Do you honestly think Mike would have shared his story with me if I'd have behaved like this?
"There's a sucker born every minute" you can say. I could counter, "He was willing to talk, because I LISTENED." You can rationalize it however you like, but the fact is that Mike felt comfortable talking with me precisely BECAUSE I withheld judgment and listened.
Some of you can't even withhold judgment until you've read that which you're judging. And THAT is what makes this dialogue pointless.
Like it or not, as a single Mom, I'm busy. (Thanks for the "offer" of watching my "child(ren)", but I'm actually pretty selective about who I have watch my 3 year old daughter. Generally, I tend to start with someone who has at least some indication that there's only one of her...) I have a limited amount of time to devote to this subject every day, and it makes sense to me to spend that time sharing the information I have to share with people who are interested in listening. That's why I have a blog. That's why I have a members forum that is private. There is a lot of time wasted arguing with someone who really has no interest in the actual answer and is simply trying to set you up for a "gotcha!" when that time and energy could, instead, be dedicated to delving into curious exploration that supports witnesses while giving them the means and opportunity for sharing.
"But what about the tough questions?!?" you cry.
You might find that if you simply listen and allow a witness to talk, they'll answer any questions you have in the course of their discourse, whether you've asked them or not, when they feel they can trust you NOT to make them feel like a "specimen" or a "case study".
For those who do feel they might get something out of this, I invite you to read the book, follow the blog, become a member and join the OB forum, if you like. I will be on hand there to answer questions. Yeah... even the "tough" ones, provided they're posed respectfully.
For the rest - and please understand that this is intended with complete equanimity - no one is twisting your arm. Feel free to disregard me as "important" in this field. In fact, I'd prefer it if you DON'T buy the book and delight in trying to tear this witness, who is also my friend and someone I care deeply for, apart. Don't read the blog. It'll be a waste of the time you could be spending sitting here and analyzing other things that you feel might be of more value to you. And don't join the members' area, please. I run a tight ship at the request of the current OB community members and those who bring a public forum approach there last a day if they're lucky.
Finally... Mike's funny words of wisdom to me in the past when I've gotten a little worked up or start taking life too seriously. "Drop your pants and slide on the ice."
In other words, chill out, he says to me. It's good for the soul.
Good advice for us all, I think.
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