Christopher Noël holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Yale and taught writing and literature for twenty years at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is the author IMPOSSIBLE VISITS (about Sasquatch habituation sites) and four other books of nonfiction and fiction. His forthcoming book is SASQUATCH RISING 2013. A freelance editor (ChristopherNoel.info), Noël is currently accepting submissions for an anthology, HOW SASQUATCH MATTERS: WRITERS RESPOND TO THE NEW NATURAL ORDER. You can send work for consideration or just drop him a line: LivingKin@aol.com. Noël lives with his daughter in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
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Here are several excerpts from “Impossible Visits,” followed by the author’s preface.
Excerpts from Chapter Two
Family E: Texas #2
The speaker, fifty-four, was chemically poisoned at work in 1993, and has since been on disability. She currently lives alone in a “flimsy lap-siding house,” though in the 1990s she lived here with a husband and four teenaged daughters. Before she moved back in late 2007, the house had stood vacant for five years. Her property and the few properties nearby are surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest.
The late 1990s
When Bill had the rock fight, we never could figure out who he’d had the rock fight with. so we just kind of dismissed it, and after a period of time it just goes into the non-thinking part of the brain. This was in 1998. It was dark out there, there was really no moon, and that area is covered by trees. What he saw was built much like my little spindly daughter. I think it started out as he thought maybe she just chunked a rock at him and inadvertently hit him, but it pissed him off. And so he just reached down and grabbed up a rock and flung one back at her, and hit her, what he thought was her. It made a sound like someone getting their wind knocked out.
Well then they got into this rock fight, and he said it was quick, very agile, in the dark, which he didn’t really understand how she could see where she was going because it was so damn dark. And being on the run and side-arming rocks and just beaning him time after time. I was able to look at him later and there were like nine spots on him, because when he’d see the arm move then he’d turn his back to it and it’d get him right in the middle of his back. He must’ve had eight or nine big ole knots in his back, and a couple on the back of his head, and one on his forehead.
Well, he came inside and he was loaded for bear. He was waiting for her to come in and I said, “What’s going on?” and he said, “I’m waiting…just never mind.” Then I said, “Well, what’s going on?” “I’m waiting for Allison.” I said, “Allison,” and she comes in from the bedroom, and no of course she wasn’t dressed all in black like Ninja Child.
At first he started shaking and then he turned white as a sheet, and I thought it was from getting beaned in the head, like he was going into shock. I thought he’d run into a tree, because he didn’t tell me he’d gotten in a rock fight right away, all I knew was he had a big ole knot on his head. But then when I started looking at him, you know, you could see a knot on the back of his head, too. It wasn’t till after the kids settled down for the night and we were laying in bed, and I said, “You wanna talk about it?” And he said, “Not really.” And I said, “Bill, what’s going on?” And he said, “Allison never left the bedroom?” And I said, “Bill, she’s been working on that school paper all evening.” And he said, “I got in a rock fight.” And I said, “With who?” And he said, “Well, I thought it was with Allison.” I said, “Well, who was it?” And he said, “I don’t know, and I don’t wanna talk about it anymore. I finally got tired of the rock-throwing, I was just gonna chase her down and whoop her butt.” And he chased her down into the ravine and he couldn’t figure out how she got down there so dang fast. And where she went.
“I think they’ve been here all along. You know, with three teenage girls, and two of them crawling in and out windows and smoking marijuana, and sleeping with boys (those were his two), I was trying to hold down the fort with that, and I was still recovering from being chemical poisoned, and then we had forty heads of milk goat and sixty chickens and thirteen hogs that we were raising from babies and, you know, there was plenty to keep my mind going and my body tired.
“So there were a lot of things I would dismiss. Things being moved outside. I’d leave a hoe right there leaning against a tree near the garden. I’d go out there the next day to finish up and it’s not there. And I’d find it out by the goat house hanging in a tree. And I’d think, Haven’t y’all got something else to do besides mess with my tools? I wish you girls would just leave shit alone, and so, you know, there was ongoing confusion here. All the time. I would get my flower pots and stuff…you know, when you have gardens you’ve always got stuff. And I put all my flower pots in one area and I’d go back and half of them were gone or moved. Mostly I’d notice it overnight.
Then there was the voice trick. The girls would be at school and I would hear, “Mom!” from the woods. And I’d think, That couldn’t be the girls because they’re at school. But often, you know, it would be so real I would go and check just to see if maybe they got a ride home from school because they were sick? But we had to sign them out…
Or they’d be at home and come inside: “What do you want?” And I’d say, “What are you talking about?” So you know, these Forest People were imitating me and imitating them. I think they’d just sit up in the trees or whatever and that was their entertainment. Watch this one, watch this one. Like a prank.
Back in 1999, my daughter had a teenage girlfriend from Arizona visiting. Allison and Michelle (the guest) played in the woods for hours on end, making dams in the creek, exploring, climbing trees, etc. One evening, just before sunset, they came busting out of the woods running as fast as they could go. I could tell they had been frightened, but they ran right on past those of us sitting on lawn chairs and hid in the bedroom in the closet. I went in and asked what had happened. Allison told me they got scared and came home…but told me no more about what had scared them. I believe it took them a couple of hours to finally open up and tell us that they saw a large bear-type creature come down feet-first out of a tree, land behind a bush, stand up on two feet, then side-step behind a large tree trunk and peek out at them. Allison said that the creature didn’t move like a bear, nor did it have any “ears” like one. She said she and Michelle had run out of the woods following the well-used path, and the creature followed them, keeping pace–but through the woods to the side of the path. Once they reached the mowed yard area, the creature stayed behind. The girls refused to go into the woods after that, and wouldn’t remain outdoors when the sun started setting. After that time, we teased my daughter about her “big, hairy friend” in the woods. Since none of the rest of us had experienced anything remotely similar, she became the butt of some pretty mean jokes.
From Fall 2007
The house had stood vacant for five years when I decided to move back by myself. During this past summer, I came up more and more often and it must have been about the beginning of October I came up and somebody’d taken a big crap in the middle of the living room floor. It was just disgusting. I’m thinking, What has this person been eating? I cleaned it up, scrubbed it with Lysol, scrubbed it with bleach, you know, and the smell still was in here for four days. That’s how pungent it was.
Then I went into the bedroom and it looked like somebody had brought in a big section of rolled hay. You know how when they bail rolled hay it’s in layers? This was one layer. It was about a foot thick by five foot wide and about eight foot long, and it stank hideously, and I thought people around here are using this as a flop house. But this is what I thought was really bizarre, there was a pile of red surveyors’ ribbons and orange surveyors’ ribbons and different-colored Christmas ribbons and strings and little pieces of wrapping paper.
When I moved back here, there were twelve windows broken out of the house. Two of them looked like somebody had jumped through them from the inside. The back windows looked like they’d been Kung Fu kicked out. And I thought, You know what, that’s a lot of wasted energy, you kids just have too much energy. Prior to October, some of the windowpanes were broken but the glass was inside the house. But this glass was broken from the inside and pushed out. In hindsight, it kind of scares me: They know the lay-out of the house, too.
One of the ladies on the habituators’ forum said, “You know what, I bet you they decided this was a good place for them to get out of the weather, and they are rather warm-natured…they probably kicked it out for air circulation.”
Because the house sat empty for so long they may have thought that I’d left it for them. So there was like a failure to communicate.
I had my first sighting on March 2, 2008, about 9:00 am when the dogs started pitching a fit. It pretty well changed my world as I knew it. It’s one thing to hear about the Bigfoot, it’s a whole new world when you actually see one. I got probably a twenty-second viewing of my hairy friend, which was quite enough for a first encounter…
The Words of Rachel, a fifteen-year-old at another Texas location:
I show rabbits. One day I had a show, so I had to get up about 4:30 AM or so and had to go outside to get the rabbits. I had a headlight type thing on my head when I walked outside, the dogs were going crazy and when I looked into the pasture there were four eyes looking back at me, big eyes. I couldn’t figure out what it was so I got closer and closer then my dog barked and they both got up and zipped off into the pasture. I shined the light over there, and there were two things laying there. I thought it was maybe a big cat, I couldn’t tell, they had BIG eyes. They were looking all around and looking right at me. I was shining the light on them and they were reflecting back. So I started to walk towards them, and when I did, Zeke nipped one of them, and they both tore off running really fast, so fast I don’t even remember much what happened. They went straight up under our neighbor’s fence and stood upright and went into the woods, I was like, Oh, that’s what those are. It was two baby Bigfoots. I was shocked!
And I shined the light back on the cornfield, and I could see them running through the corn, and I was like, I’m going to go get a closer look, so I ran up to the fence, and I get within about six or eight feet of the fence, and Mama walks out, puts her hands on the fence and just looks at me. I’d seen her a couple times before. She starts making this humming noise? And I couldn’t move, I was just like stuck there. I was so scared, couldn’t make a noise, couldn’t do anything. I was getting really scared, and then she started making like this cooing noise, and then I wasn’t so scared anymore. I just kind of stared at her for a little bit. And then, she looked at me and turned around and went back in. I said to her, “Wait.” She looked back at me briefly but kept going. I still went ahead and got my rabbits ready and left.
She had a very human face, very pretty. She didn’t have hair on her face either. Black skin, chocolate black. More like charcoal.
But way before that, I was the first in my family to say, “Hey, there are Foots in the woods,” and of course no one believed it until my big brother saw one. They have been there all my life, I just didn’t know it.
I was walking over to my grandmother’s house the first time I saw one, and it was probably about dusk. It came out of the woods from behind the little house and walked upright towards our house. And then it got on all fours and ran back in. And I got all freaked out and went and told my mom, “There’s a red bear,” and she wouldn’t believe anything about it. That was when I was nine or ten.
So, I got really upset because she wouldn’t believe me. Then the next time, me and my cousin were outside playing in the dirt, because that’s what we do, and something came stomping through the woods, breaking branches, making all kinds of racket, and we saw something big and reddish brown-black, running through over by the little house. We got really freaked out and ran inside, and were like, “The bear’s back.” And she still wouldn’t believe us.
And so then, like a week later, my big brother was coming down [route name] right over there, and something ran out in front of the car, and he told my mom, “It looked like a bear but I think it was Bigfoot.” And then she put two and two together…and then she believed it.
My brother feels as close to them as I do.
I feel like they are part of my family. They are always there…
The book’s preface, by Christopher Noel.
The first time I saw a Sasquatch was in East Texas, on the evening of November 8, 2008, and I didn’t even know it. One of the contributors to this book had made an impressive bonfire in her backyard. She and I, her twenty-year-old daughter, and her daughter’s friend, were roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, talking, and just goofing around.
From time to time, I’d leave the fire area and scan along the nearby tree line with the thermal imager, a machine that reads “heat signatures.” Yes, I did notice that vague bar of light (heat) at the periphery, low and parallel to the ground, at the edge of the firelight, beside a pile of old lumber and debris, but I didn’t judge it worthy of a closer look. In retrospect, of course, I wish I had, but after all, I’d geared myself to pay attention for sudden upright giants, not anything horizontal, low, so modest.
It’s not until nine days later, back home in Vermont, that I reviewed the footage and realized that the bar of light is actually moving, and in a peculiar way, tough to interpret. The front end keeps thrusting forward and down, to the right. I assumed this object on my computer monitor must be a hog or a sheep, or something ordinary in the woods, and that this front end was its head, perhaps choking or making a call that we couldn’t hear, thanks to the loud bonfire.
I enhanced the footage, upping the contrast, and sent the file around to the habituators’ group–people who have had repeat Sasquatch visitations to their properties. The Oklahoma woman said the magic word; she’d noticed that as the “head” moves, it splays, like the fingers of a hand, flexing. I looked again, and again, and in an abrupt gestalt shift, the true nature of the image jumped out at me plainly. This long, bright object is, in fact, a left forearm and hand, slung over a dark, pointed board, the hand actually seen cupping the tip of the board at times, the rest of the figure presumably crouched and hidden behind the woodpile.
Three times, the Sasquatch stretches its hand like this, out and down, flicking, like someone with a cramp. If it hadn’t moved, no identification would have been possible.
I grew up in a village of 450, in Vermont. When I’d explore the woods behind our house, as a kid, I’d peek in holes and hollow trees, scan carefully along ridgelines, positively aching to catch sight of a Hobbit, a gnome, a hulking ogre, or some such utterly other kind of creature than us, non-human yet also like us. The forest as a whole seemed like a house much larger on the inside than on the outside, rewarding belief, unfolding room by room, pocket by secret pocket.
The idea of Sasquatch first reared up before me when I was twelve, thanks to The Patterson/Gimlin Film. Of course, I wanted to travel there right away–to the Pacific Northwest–immediately, to where this creature actually lived, and over the years, this vision persisted, imprinted and always astir, serving me in the way of an elusive deity at the horizon, lush because unattainable.
If I didn’t have Sasquatch, though, I did have the ravine, just a mile from our house–steep, five hundred feet deep, a mile long, a quarter mile across, thick with pines, undeveloped back then, undeveloped still today. When I was a teenager, I felt drawn to it, as to some otherworldly, ancient spot on earth.
And now, thirty-five years later, having learned a thing or two about this primate species, I’ve returned to the ravine at middle age, spent hundreds of hours exploring and camping inside here, and never encountered another human being. But I have encountered Sasquatch and their handiwork. If you’re down inside the ravine at three o’clock in the morning, unable to see two feet in front of you, and something off in the blackness thirty feet away is circling you for six hours straight, snapping branches and occasionally thumping the ground, human civilization can seem a pale fiction.
One snowy morning in early 1992, at the age of twenty-six, my fiancée was involved in a car accident; a massive head wound took her life by 2 PM. Later, seeking some dramatic right angle back into the world, I made a solo expedition to British Columbia, to the little town of Bella Coola, which has logged more than its share of Sasquatch sightings over the years. I flew to Vancouver, rented a mini-van, and drove the hundred and forty-five miles due north, eager to trek the forests. Unfortunately, I found I was so afraid of grizzly bears that I didn’t dare venture more than fifty feet from my vehicle. Instead, I interviewed locals who claimed to have seen the creature. They were credible and understated, these townsfolk. Indeed, one young man claimed only to have seen a leg¬–white, furry, thick–of something walking upright in his backyard, the rest of the body obscured by darkness. He told me several times, “I’m not saying I know what it was. I saw something.” In the post office, I brazenly quizzed a long white beard–a small, ancient fellow from way back up in the mountains. “Oh yup, I did see a Sasquatch once. Just about thirty years ago now. He was totally covered in brown fur like a bear, but he walked on two legs, across the field, and then climbed over my split-rail fence.” He tugged on his beard while I braced for the mind-bending proportions. “I’d say he was about my size.”
Ten years after I lost my fiancée, my father succumbed suddenly to a heart attack. A scholar and writer, he’d been a life-long champion of the human imagination, including my imagination, in the most robust sense of the word, not reduced to the merely fanciful but endowed with the potency of true insight. This death, too, sent me back to the long dream. On-line, I found the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, a group that had been actively studying the Sasquatch phenomenon for years. I joined up, and attended ten expeditions in far-flung regions of North America, traveling more than nineteen thousand miles. I met like-minded men and women, and my childhood prayer of a forest hosting upright others finally stopped feeling so childish. The very ground itself now seemed renewed, re-enchanted, courtesy of great five-toed footprints.
Still: If only I could actually live in one of these Sasquatch “hot spots.”
But back home in Vermont, my life was blooming. Fourteen years after losing my fiancée, I had finally fallen in love again, and together, she and I brought a girl child into the world. At forty-five, I’d become a first-time father.
Before our daughter was a year old, her mother and I parted ways; the break-up felt like another death.
And just then, a report came to my attention suggesting Sasquatch activity just five miles down the road from me. This Ojibwa man turned out to be highly credible, his evidence compelling, and apprenticing with him opened my eyes to signs of the heretofore-inconceivable possibility of local Sasquatch. And not only that; I also came to recognize that members of this species seemed to inhabit the very ravine I’d discovered as a boy.
I am not suggesting any mystical, causal relationship between these three deaths and my approach to this creature, but I do think that they have thrown me open, at some level, to what lies beyond the human, yet offers kinship.
Back to the night of the bonfire, in East Texas, because this story takes another turn. In 2010, a fellow researcher re-appraised my footage, boosting the contrast yet further, in a bit of due videographic diligence I should have performed two years earlier. (Had I slyly veiled my own vision, reluctant to see more?) Now, in addition to the subject’s left forearm and hand, one can plainly make out a large pair of eyes–just, incidentally, where one would expect to see them if one were genuinely alert–glowing white and warm within the thermal image-scape, low to the ground, peering out at us, through a gap in the boards of the woodpile, as we play by our fire. And above them, the head, dimmer, cooled by thicker hair cover? And sure enough, on the opposite side, our visitor’s right forearm, even the fingers, thumb angled off.
In light of this breaking news, the woman who lives there took a yardstick to the main tree seen in the footage. It is 6.5 inches thick. Using this valuable scale, one can derive the distance between the two large eyes (from midpoint to midpoint): 4.75 inches. I immediately measured the distance between my own eyes: 2.25 inches. This, I learned, is the average distance between human eyes generally.
Sometimes, people are not enough, even if they are still alive, nor is the known world as a whole. We seem to retain some level of grief even in the best of times, some hollow in the heart, some longing to pass through to another world. After all, what’s available for us be with, here? Three categories: the human, the animal, and the divine. Sasquatch fits squarely into none of these, exhibiting qualities of all three, yet opening up some fourth front.
If the Judeo-Christian divine is too abstract, as it is for me, too up and out there, then the mind may turn to notions from mythology. This is what Sasquatch reminds me of most: the gods of Mount Olympus. They are part of nature yet seem to stand beyond it; both transcendent and more emphatically terrestrial than ourselves, they cannot be circumscribed or contained. They seem to travel wherever they will, like quicksilver, otherwise known as Mercury, otherwise known as Hermes, fleet of foot, messenger between realms, shape-shifter, trickster, dweller on the threshold. They occupy their own dimension, yet occasionally visit our own, when it suits their purpose, to give us clues, glimpses, gifts, to play with us their oblique and capricious games. They are profoundly and irreducibly Other, yet many (as featured in this book) find that in the grace of their presence, they feel more themselves, in an expanded sense of Self. And as to seekers who have never been able to be with them, why else would they spend decades stomping through wilderness, straining after even a glimpse? Many compromise their home lives in hopes of contact, of a moment of ecstasy–”ek-stasis”: to stand outside oneself.
One of the principal figures in this book describes those moments when you cross an invisible border in the woods, when you suddenly get that sizzle: “You know,” he says, “the sense that I’ve been here before…but I haven’t?” It’s the déjà vu that lets you into a new, old territory, resting on home ground for the first time. It’s as though you’re coming face to face with what you once knew, perhaps eons ago, a recollection of the whole story.
Having now finally seen a Sasquatch (through the favor of video preservation), and seeing that it has seen me, I can report that the overriding feeling-tone is relief. A sudden saturation. And I fill again whenever I am treated to a new testimony of habituation–more captivating somehow, more quickening than most tales from literature.
A good friend once warned me, seeking to curb this folly of mine, “Don’t forget, this is the only life you have.”