As a kid growing up in the sixties I was never really intimidated by school, like most of the other students I knew. Some part of my spirit knew it was just a transitional phase that would one day fade away to reveal what real life was really all about. The cliques and social posturing didn’t impress or interest me at all, as I already sensed I wasn’t going to fit in well with any of them. Likewise there was very little else school had to offer that I was interested in…just the books. I was there for the books pure & simple.
On the weekends I would often take the bus downtown; spending the morning in the public library and the afternoon scouring used book stores. By the time I was a senior in high school I had a pretty impressive library of my own at home. While a good many subjects held my interest, I was especially fond of the paranormal; those things which “science” rejected, and refused to investigate. One book in particular really caught my imagination: “Abominable Snowmen: Legend come to Life.” by Ivan T. Sanderson. The author not only wrote about the Yeti of the Himalayas, but went so far as to suggest there were four different species of this creature, living on most of the planets continents except Australia! I had no way of knowing it at the time, but that book set in motion a series of choices I would make in my life that would lead me to have several encounters with the Alaskan Sasquatch, or “Bigfoot” as one unimaginative newspaper man from California famously named them.
Fast forward to the spring of 1975: after participating in the southeast Asia war games [where the United Stated took second place;] you could say I was ripe for some adventure of another kind, and followed my soul to Alaska, making it my adopted home. My objective and desire was to live a rustic wilderness lifestyle, out in the boonies away from town, and people & all their drama and noise. Traveling with me was my new bride, who not only shared my desire to live in the wilderness; she wanted to do it up in the Brooks range, around the Arctic circle. Tough minded woman! We established ourselves in the town of Ketchikan, bought a trailer sitting on a cliff out north of town, and began getting ready for winter. Before long I found myself gainfully employed on a local harbor tug boat; and times were good.
A couple years slipped away…and it suddenly dawns on me that my dream of wilderness living is still on hold, and slipping away along with the good times and easy money. That flame of desire in me was building, I really didn’t want to put it off another year…but then there were three of us now, and my wife wasn’t so keen about moving into the woods with a 1 year old child. I reminded her that humans have logged much more time living in wilderness than they have in big cement cities…it’s where we come from after all, I just wanted to return. Once we got to talking about it, we realized we both still wanted the same thing, and began planning our “jumping off” date. Eighteen months later the plan came together rather nicely: we divested ourselves of the Cliffside trailer, exchanging it for a three room cabin, on a log raft, aka A Floathouse.
For the first few weeks we were essentially water squatters as we were still trying to line up a place to put the floathouse. Got kicked out of Bar Harbor, the main marina on the waterfront; so we moved across the narrows to Gravina Island and tied up to a log storage raft…right under the airport flight path! A few weeks later a friend of mine who was related to one of the board members of the local native corporation; secured me an employment contract to provide public relations and security services up in George Inlet. Almost halfway up the inlet is a beautifully pristine little pocket in the shoreline called Gem Cove, our new home in the wilderness fifteen nautical miles from Ketchikan.
The most unusual feature of this cove was the long, narrow, tree covered island situated directly across the entrance; leaving just a narrow, rock studded corridor one had to navigate to gain entrance to the cove. I had of course scouted the area beforehand and thus was certain we could get the raft through the narrow entrance. The topography of the shoreline afforded but a single optimal spot for the floathouse, on the north shoreline just across from the narrow skookum chuck entrance. We eased the raft in on the highest tide of the month; then coaxed it into position. A few minutes later we had two anchors set, and mooring lines tied to the shore. Four hours later with the outgoing tide draining water from the cove, our little floathouse settled onto the beach beneath us; not quite perfectly level, but close enough for us. As the sun began to lower in the sky I sat on the back deck of the floathouse in a moment of reflection and satisfaction; offering the universe a silent prayer of thanks that my lifelong dream of living in the wilderness was now reality.
There is an unapproachable quality of life to living in the wilderness, away from the trappings of humanity, and the difference is immediately noticeable to the soul. You wake to the sound of eagles calling, and perhaps some breeze in the treetops, but not much more than that. The first few weeks we were there it seemed we heard vocal objections to our presence from the squirrels, ravens, and blue jays as well as the eagles; but after a while they must have grown used to us because things quieted down. I made it a prime directive not to hunt in the vicinity of the cove because getting to see Alaskan wildlife in their native habitat was a big part of my reason for living here. Once used to our presence, the local denizens of the forest returned to their regular routines, allowing us a glimpse every now and then. Sometimes in the mornings we’d see deer on the far shore, and a couple of times even wolves. That first summer we learned to our surprise that the large stream feeding fresh water into the cove was indeed a salmon stream! Now this was good because of readily available salmon and not-so-good because the black bears also like easy pickings. So, it wasn’t too unusual to see the occasional bear strolling the beach out in front of the floathouse on it’s way to or from the stream.
One of the nicest things about wilderness life is that once you have accomplished the necessary daily chores of tending to your needs such as firewood, water, meal preparation, and putting up preserves for winter; there is still plenty of daylight remaining for other projects & pursuits. After dark it’s all about family time, reading, cribbage, music and finding ways to keep a 2 year old child entertained & happy, (which is tough anywhere!) Next day you get up and do it all over again just like any lifestyle; except in the wilderness all your effort benefits you, not some boss somewhere. You set your own rules and productivity knowing that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.
We’d lived in Gem Cove for just over a year before we saw the first evidence of Sasquatch. A friend of ours from town had come out to spend the weekend with us. Little Bear was a native Tlingit woodcarver who a year before had carved me a massive chair from an old seasoned tree trunk. He wanted to get in a deer hunt so he could take some venison home to his family. We took my skiff up the coast a mile or so then put ashore and headed uphill to a nearby ridge system. Near the top of the first ridge we came onto a nice big muskeg meadow which was dotted here & there with small stands of trees: perfect deer territory. We hunkered down just inside the tree line and tried the deer call…nothing. After waiting a while longer we decided to skirt the edges of the meadow, in opposite directions, but keeping each other in plain sight.
Just a few minutes into this strategy however, little bear whistles at me to get my attention. When I looked over at him, now about 30 yards distant, he calls out to me, “Hey come check this out!” Being a tad miffed that he’d just spooked any deer that may be around, I walked over to where he was standing. As I drew near he just points to the ground next to him saying “You ain’t gonna believe this.” There in the mushy muskeg carpet was two different sets of what appeared to be human footprints…except they were barefoot tracks, and very large. One set was only just bigger than a normal human foot – but the other was considerably larger. Not having camera or tape measure with us we could only estimate the big prints to be some 16 inches long and about 6 to 7 inches wide.
We saw a long line of these footprints, where they entered from the tree line and cut across the meadow towards a stand of trees. The large footprints left a 2 inch deep impression in the muskeg, the smaller ones, about half that. In comparison our own footprints lasted mere seconds before disappearing as the muskeg returned to it’s normal state. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t get the muskeg to hold our footprints, yet there was the trail of these giant barefooted tracks! Suddenly feeling like trespassers poaching on private lands, we agreed the hunt was done and headed down to the boat.
Back at the floathouse Little Bear told us that his people tell stories of Sasquatch encounters in southeast Alaska as part of their tribal heritage. It isn’t a legend or mystery to them, but rather a known part of the natural world. Our friend told us of hearing his grandfather & the elders talk about them. One of the things he remembered was the elders said when you hear the sound of tree knocking, (someone beating a stick upon a tree), that Sasquatch is in the area. The elders also said that if respected and left alone the Sasquatch generally afford the same courtesy to others. You find this same kind of respect among many divergent native people, from the coast Salish tribes to the Lakota Sioux; all regard Sasquatch as a great spirit of the woods.
It was a couple of weeks later when we were harvesting blueberries, just up the hill behind the floathouse, when we saw a couple things that smacked our curiosity a good one. The blueberry ‘bush’ we were working was actually a massive entanglement of many bushes which towered above our heads. Up higher than we could reach we saw several branches which were stripped bare of berries, leafs…everything. Just bare naked branches. It looked as if some big thing with prehensile lips had just stripped the branch by pulling it thru its mouth; or maybe used it as a toothbrush! Immediately I began searching the ground for any large footprints, but being dry and somewhat rocky the terrain wasn’t conducive to footprints. However my search did come across something totally unexpected. A few feet away from the berry tangle, laying on the ground was a little something left behind. The polite terms like droppings or scat or even defecation just don’t suffice in this case. I was looking at one magnificent turd. Very unlike what a bear might leave, it was quite human-like in its appearance, except for the size and girth, which is what made it so magnificent. The thing was longer that my size 12 boot!! Agreeing that we had enough berries for now mom and I with kid in tow made a dignified retreat back to the beach.
Being that I’ve read about such creatures all my life I was actually fairly excited in a happy way about seeing the footprints, and now the magnificent turd! Being from west Texas farm stock, my wife was somewhat less excited than me, and I think less impressed as well. Like I said, tough minded woman, who evidently does not rattle easily. It was a good thing she didn’t rattle easily because things were about to get kicked up a notch or three in short order.
One of the home improvements I made to the cabin was a small second floor balcony accessible from our loft bedroom. We enjoyed having dinner out on the balcony many evenings, and sometimes would just sit out there talking into the wee hours. About three weeks after the berry incident we were out on the patio one evening admiring the star field above us. The mood was lighthearted and we were teasing & kidding each other, just goofing off mostly…when the still night air was pierced by a shrieking howl sounding very much like amputation without anesthesia! This ungodly sounding howl was a good distance off, maybe a couple miles up the inlet and lasted nearly five or six seconds. We just kinda looked at each other for a long second, then I decided comic relief was called for, so I asked my wife: “What do ya think, should I answer back?” Before she could utter a word, something else returned the same exact screeching howl from the ridge up behind our cabin. It was so loud every hair on the back of my neck bristled as we sprang into action. There was no need for words, we simply retreated inside locking & barring the door behind us. We didn’t hear anything else, but that didn’t stop us from preparing ourselves and home for the unknown. The unknown stayed away all night. We know because we didn’t sleep that night, at all.
In the following days we came to discuss and re-assess our choice of a wilderness lifestyle based on recent occurrences. I am certain sure part of my wife’s persona wanted to move back to town almost as much as the rest of her wanted to stay. In the end, logic prevailed. We’d lived in Gem Cove over a year without any problems at all from Sasquatch (or any other creature)…why would they wait this long to scare us off the land?
It was just that hearing the second howl so very close to home kinda rattled us both a little. The sound was primal in it’s intensity and overpowering in it’s sheer volume. I think hearing that every night, or even every week would have run us out of that place, but the serenade was not repeated and life in Gem Cove returned to normal, for a while anyway.
With summer fading and winter approaching I kept busy adding to our firewood supply. A nice huge driftwood log had come ashore just outside the cove so I grabbed it, towed it home and began cutting it up on the back deck. Having to stop to refill the chain saw, I decided to take a bit of a break, let the saw cool off a bit, so I sat down to have myself a smoke. One thing that’s the same as living anywhere else is that when something changes in your day-to-day environment in the woods; you tend to notice it. Enjoying my break from work; my eyes just naturally began scanning the far shoreline of the cove, and that was when I saw it. Maybe 30 feet or so above the waterline a quarter mile away there was a patch of black behind the tree line, motionless. Knowing this was not a normal part of the landscape my interest was piqued immediately. Pulling the brim of my ball cap down to shade my eyes, I could now make out a squat head on top of that patch of black. Binoculars were hanging just inside the back door to the cabin, so I very casually got up to retrieve them. Binoculars in hand I used the edge of the house to steady on and looked toward the black patch on the far shore. What I was seeing was very clearly a large hairy black humanoid looking creature…from mid chest up, as it was standing behind a bush. It was looking directly at the floathouse, and me. Again the bristling hairs on my neck, and that wilding sensation that accompanies the thrill of discovery!
I wanted my wife to witness this so she wouldn’t think me totally off the deep end, and I repeatedly tried to yell at a whisper for her to come outside, not wanting to scare the creature off before she could see it. Finally she comes to the back door, I gave her the field glasses and told her right where to look…as I looked back myself just in time to see the thing turn away & disappear into the forest. When asked if she’d seen it my wife just said she’d gotten the briefest of glimpses just as it disappeared. She thought it was a black bear. A wise man might have just left it at that, but not being terribly wise I had to go over there and seek some kind of evidence. Armed with a camera, tape measure and a couple of guns; I took the skiff over to the far shore where I’d seen Sasquatch. I was disappointed to find no conclusive footprints in the hard ground, no hair samples, not even a magnificent turd! My surprise confirmation came when I went to check out the ‘bush’ sasquatch had stood behind, finding it in fact was a tree measuring eight feet tall. Since the tree only came to mid-chest on the creature, I feel safe in estimating his height to be a minimum of ten feet.
Something happens when you experience firsthand a thing or event that common consensus excludes and ridicules. Whether you have yourself believed in it or not doesn’t really matter; because such an experience changes you fundamentally, and you will never be the same person you were the day before the experience. You can never un-see once you have seen, you cannot un-know once you know, and the energy which accompanies such peak experiences can be addicting or terrifying depending on who you are. I am addicted, having spent the majority of my life in search of having that feeling again, and again. It never gets old.
A few days after my first Sasquatch sighting, an idea occurred to me which seemed perfectly logical at the time; however my wife felt otherwise. The salmon were still running in the creek for another week or better, so I thought to offer some up to the neighborhood sasquatch. The idea was brilliant in it’s simplicity; Fish-kabobs! I gathered three long poles from spare lumber I had, & sharpened both ends. I impaled a couple fresh salmon on one end, then sank the other end deep in the wet sand alongside the creek. When finished; each pole suspended it’s fish some eight feet above the beach, with the poles placed 15 feet apart. The eagles, bears, ravens, otters and such all love fresh seafood, why should sasquatch be any different? I set the 3 poles up just prior to dusk, then returned to the cabin a couple hundred yards away to await what the light of day would reveal.
I wanted to go out and look right at sun up, but made myself wait, knowing many animals feed at dawn & dusk. After a quick breakfast and some hot coffee I could resist no longer, and went to have a look at the poles. As the stream came into view I could see the poles were all still standing, exactly as I’d left them, except there were no fish, just empty poles. I know that isn’t concrete evidence that sasquatch took the fish; but a bear would have knocked the poles over, as would a wolf or any other critter. To my knowledge eagles & ravens don’t hunt at night – but an owl might possibly have snatched a fish or two…but all six fish?? Whatever took the fish managed to do so without disturbing the pole much, if at all, so there’s that anyway!
I concluded that the results of the experiment were interesting albeit inconclusive; and that they warranted another try, so that very night at dusk, I offered up six more fresh caught salmon on the poles exactly as the night before. The next morning I headed to the stream a little earlier than the previous day, restless with anticipation. When I approached the stream I could instantly see that all three poles were gone. Closer inspection confirmed the poles weren’t just down, but gone as in totally missing. I searched the beach, even the tree line, the poles were nowhere to be found. While I saw this development as something positive, even interesting; my wife saw it quite another light. She conjectured that I had just armed the sasquatch, and the missing poles represented some kind of threat or warning to us. All I could offer in reply was that finding the poles jammed into the beach in front of our house would be a warning or threat, and to remind her we’d been here more than a year without any aggression from the local sasquatch group. “But why would they take the poles?” she asked defensively. Hoping to defuse the issue with positive energy I said: “Maybe it’s like that old proverb; ‘if you give a man a fish he eats for a day – if you teach him to fish, he feeds himself.’ What if the fish-kabobs gave old high-pockets the idea of spearing fish instead of chasing them?”
Soon the salmon run was over, as was the summer, and as fall descended upon us there was no further evidence or incidence of sasquatch near the cove, and we busied ourselves with getting ready for winter. My job with the local native corporation required me to patrol George Inlet by boat a minimum of twice a week. What with my curiosity & sense of adventure, a patrol could consume several hours, so I always packed a lunch along with my usual gear. One afternoon I was on patrol about seven miles up the inlet at Coon Cove and decided it was time for lunch. Just inside the cove I cut the outboard motor and let the skiff drift as I ate. The incoming tide carried my boat further into the large cove as I marveled at the idyllic, pristine wilderness that was my office. Out here in the quiet places a man can think without having to block out distractions. There I was lost in thought soaking in all the raw beauty around me, when movement on the beach caught my eye. There on the beach about a hundred yards away I saw a black bear, looked like he was turning over rocks for the small crab often found there.
As I turned in my seat to get a better look; my knee bumped one of the oars, which in turn banged into the aluminum hull of the skiff with a loud thump. Instantly the bear stood up on it’s hind legs, and turned towards me to see what made the noise, and my heart jumped into my throat to realize the bear was in fact a sasquatch; staring directly at me. It seemed like longer, but in a few seconds the creature just casually turned and strode back into the woods, disappearing from view. I just sat there with what I’m sure must have been a stupefied look on my face as the energies I’m addicted to coursed thru my body as they do with each peak experience. I remember wondering if the sasquatch was as curious as me. I could imagine him gazing at me now from concealment, wondering what he thought of me.
There is a kind of reverie which follows an encounter such as the one I’d just had, and it enveloped me the whole trip back to the cabin. Upon returning home I decided not to share the experience with my wife just yet, simply didn’t see what could be gained from it as I already knew she didn’t share my fascination with the sasquatch and it didn’t make any sense to give rise to needless fears. Unfortunately, that was the last time I was to see the creature; in fact we continued to reside peacefully in Gem Cove another three years without any sign or indication of them at all. But in the back of my mind I knew they were there, if not close, then somewhere else, and once you know you can never un-know.
Although there exist numerous accounts where the Yeti, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch have displayed decidedly aggressive behavior toward us humans; such was certainly not my experience. The two creatures I saw seemed more curious than anything, but guardedly so. I will never forget the face of the sasquatch I saw with the binoculars, the eyes had a certain quality to them which you don’t see in wild animals…the lights are on and somebody’s home!! When the Tlingit people speak of sasquatch it is with respect, because he is considered to have supernatural powers like telepathy; and that you will only see them if they desire it.
Ever since Roger Patterson & Bob Gimlin filmed a sasquatch near Bluff Creek California back in 1967; people have taken to the back woods in hopes of finding the legend. Some are true believers who just want the same peak experience I spoke of, and to know. Others however, hunt the bigfoot with cameras and guns, hoping to exploit the creature into fame and fortune, although they probably wouldn’t like that being done to them, they’re just fine with hunting & killing a sasquatch. Lamentably, cable TV exploits these Duck Dynasty rejects with their own series for the ever burgeoning “reality TV” doctrine. For those who think such filmed hunts are “real” I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re being played like the saxophone on ‘Bad to the Bone’ because no self-respecting sasquatch would go anywhere near such a circus of clowns. What really bothers me about this is that such conduct of hunting down a rare unknown humanoid is even legal. It’s sad, really to think that of those who believe in the existence of sasquatch, some are more than willing to kill one to prove it.
With humans behaving so badly on these filmed bigfoot hunts is it any wonder there are accounts of hostile and aggressive behavior? How would any of us react if our home was invaded by armed & aggressive puny hairless apes? Isn’t it enough that we’ve declared war on nature, must we really also destroy those who have learned to live in harmony with it? Recent video and still photos coming out of Russia of sasquatch and Yeti have renewed the public interest in the subject; which is bound to inspire even more hunting expeditions to come. This is one of those times to remember the sage advice; of being careful what you wish for, if you intend to join such a hunt. First there’s the sheer size and power of sasquatch, who can throw a full 55 gallon barrel with no problem, then you have the very fact they go to extremes to avoid humans, which is proof enough of a superior intellect.