Let me say it up front: You were right. The Sasquatch is a myth. I know, that’s hardly a surprise to you, and honestly it’s less of a surprise to me than you might suspect.
My guides in my hunt were a pair of second-generation Sasquatch-spotters, a rosy-cheeked husband and wife team, Timothy and Tiffany Ludlow. The Ludlows have spent their entire lives migrating through a circuit of cabins and camps in the wooded northwest, ushered into their lifestyle by their own parents. They were a welcoming pair, self-appointed ambassadors to the Sasquatch-curious, always on the search for potential new initiates. I met them in a camping supply store, where I was selecting the items for my camping kit. They were happy to offer their guidance on essential equipment and reliable brands, with further advice about good spots to camp and places to avoid.
“Is this your first time chasing Sasquatch?” Tiffany asked. I had not volunteered that I was seeking the Bigfoot. I’d said nothing about it at all, only speaking of my intention to go camping, to get away from the world for a while, to seek myself in the woods. The Ludlows weren’t fooled. They were attuned to their own; they saw Sasquatch in my body language, my tone of voice, the little things I didn’t say. I laughed, and made no effort to deny my true intentions. I needed their help after all, so why be anything less than forthright?
They invited me to join them at their camp, which turned out to be a grand enclave of beards and flannel, a dozen part-time cryptozoologists sharing resources, sharing meals, trading stories of their sightings and near misses, weaving in improbable details, unaccountably poor luck. They reminded me of Nica, these spontaneous storytellers, the way they all were so delighted to have an audience in their midst who hadn’t heard their stories before. Do you remember after the hurricane when we were kids, how the power stayed out for days, and Nica wove tales for us by candlelight every night before bed? And then the power came back on, and we went back to watching television and playing our cassette tapes, and after three days of that, the power went out again. It only lasted a few minutes that time, before Dad discovered that all the fuses were gone, stolen, hidden away in Nica’s sock drawer, and Nica extravagantly wondering aloud how they could possibly have gotten there.
These men were the same, in a way. A bald-headed insurance adjuster told of the time he spotted just the Sasquatch’s hand resting on a fallen tree, before withdrawing back into the brush. A portly line cook told of the fresh tracks he found in the mud behind his restaurant, leading from the tree line to the dumpsters and back again. A diminutive shop-class instructor told of the time he and his girlfriend were parked at camp, when they were interrupted by an inhuman cry from the darkness. They all talked of how they would leave their day job someday, just as soon as they had the evidence they needed, the perfect film footage, the complete fossil, the living specimen. One day soon, their faith would prove out, and the world would acknowledge them.
I lived with a rotating cast of these characters for the following six months, each of them taking turns as my guides and companions. They each had their pet strategies, their favorite spotting grounds, some favoring treetop blinds, some spelunking uncharted caves, some preferring to simply walk the trails and count on serendipity to deliver the beast to their path.
Serendipity never delivered. In the six months I spent searching, I never saw the least bit of convincing evidence, much though my companions tried to convince me otherwise. They showed me animal hair and footprints and broken branches, and none of it justified the claims they made, none of it resembled the miracles they imagined finding. Once, while perched in a treetop blind, I observed the Ludlows, hunting separately, approach each other from the woods, close enough to see, but not recognize the other, each mistaking their spouse for something remarkable. That night at camp, they corroborated each others’ stories. They had seen it in the same place, hadn’t they? By the creek, something manlike, lingering in the trees, peering out at them from behind insufficient cover. They each spoke of being watched by something intelligent, they reported the same, furtive, careful posture, timid and curious. They described the same eyes, knowing and generous, and deserving of love. What else could it be but the Sasquatch?
The other cryptozoologists devoured this story, added their own embellishments, how one of them had once found half a footprint in the mud by that same creek, another had picked up the scent of the Sasquatch’s distinctive musk. They congratulated themselves on this great discovery, this great step forward. They opened beers and boxed wines and they celebrated. I said nothing of my observations from my own vantage, of how I had seen them discover nothing but their own selves. I knew I was done then, but I said no goodbyes, reluctant to explain my loss of faith, my exit from the congregation. Disillusionment has never been a gift worth sharing.
That idea probably makes no sense to you, does it, Leon? The truth had been laid bare, the mystery dispelled. That would have satisfied you. More, that would have relieved you. But I was never there for the Sasquatch, Leon. I was there for the mystery itself. That was what drew me. Had I failed to draw a conclusion, I could have stayed happily in those woods for the remainder of my life.
Do you remember that book of riddles we shared as boys? They weren’t difficult to solve, especially for you — you saw the logic of them, plucked solutions from the nuances of phrasing like an angler pulling fish from the sea. But they got harder as we got deeper into the book, took you longer to puzzle out, until eventually they began stumping you entirely. You sat and thought, five minutes, ten minutes, fixated, but quickly giving in to frustration — you snatched the book from me, flipping to the answers at the back, only to find that I’d carefully razored those pages out, tossed them away days earlier. You lost interest instantly, but I continued reading riddles out to you, tormenting you with irresolvable conundrums. I wasn’t interested in the answers, only the questions. The riddles I liked best were the ones we couldn’t solve.
After leaving camp, I hitchhiked to Portland, feeling ready for a few weeks of comfortable living, a hotel bed, a long shower. The hotel was a hotel. The bed was a bed. The water was wet. After four days, I was roaming the streets, looking for signs, omens, miracles. I walked down to the pier to see the ocean, those vast alien fathoms. The depths have always comforted me.
That’s where I met the man who owns a submarine.
Dear Leon, by the time you receive this letter, I will already be gone, down beneath the waves, in the company of submariners. I will write you again, as soon as I can. Until then, I offer you a mystery: How much of our world has been lost to the ocean?
What might still be there?