Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sam Squanch and the Colossal Bellyache

Sasquatch/Bigfoot by Don Hunter with Rene Dahinden (1992): Oh, Sasquatch, favoured monster of my youth. I actually read the original version of this book back in the 1970's. I realized this fact only because I remembered the famous snuff-box incident when I came across it here.

The snuff-box incident involves a hunter in the 1920's escaping from a family of Bigfoot by tricking the father into eating an entire box of snuff (that is, powdered tobacco). Once Dad fell over with a paralyzing bellyache, our resourceful prisoner ran away from the other Bigfoot. Frankly, it reads like a rough draft of a Trailer Park Boys scenario. Just substitute 'pot' for 'snuff.'

Don Hunter does a competent job of arguing the case for the existence of Canada's favourite cryptid (sorry, Ogopogo), focusing on long-time (and now deceased) Sasquatch hunter Rene Dahinden and his decades-long accumulation of interviews and field experience. Could a relatively large number of 800-pound omnivores remain mostly hidden from humanity in the tens of thousands of square miles of forest of the Pacific Northwest? Maybe.

But problematically, Sasquatch makes repeated forays into civilization through the years: walking down highways, shambling around 5 minutes from downtown Vancouver, accosting skiiers, running around construction sites, knocking on car windows...none of this sells the isolationist argument for a cryptid. What it sells is an 800-pound raccoon with no discernible fear of people.

The Native Canadians who named Sasquatch (though that term is an approximation of several different terms from several different tribes) maintain that it's been out there in the Pacific Northwest causing trouble forever. And it really, really likes Vancouver Island (its apparent ability to swim would make it a member of humanity's branch of primates and not those of chimps or gorillas -- they can't swim, though they do sink beautifully).

Still, the book is fun -- Dahinden's narrative isn't exactly Ahab-like (he doesn't want to kill Bigfoot), but he certainly devoted the last 40 years of his life trying to track the big fella down. Yet even now, 20 years after the publication of this revised edition, the sum total of useable Sasquatch footage remains those 20 seconds or so of fuzzy film shot in Northern California. Hunter tries to make the case that the film is authoritative, to such an extent that I started to wonder if there was another high-resolution version of the film that only Sasquatch hunters are allowed to see.

But it's a better world with the possibility of a Sasquatch wandering around somewhere in it. It's a nice mystery, one that doesn't seem to get anyone hurt. Just remember to keep your snuffbox handy. Recommended.

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