I heart Bigfoot

By SAIDEE BROWN | Published: January 25, 2010

When I was 4 we moved from Philadelphia to a rural farming community in Northeastern Maryland. Any farmer will tell of their hardships, our farm was no exception The four years we lived there were fraught with dashed hopes and false starts. A family farm is not a bucolic scene. It is work, hard work even for the kids. It was like being at the end of the earth with a dark cloud locked in over us. There were distractions that made it barable, newborn animals, cold orange sodas from the ice chest at the gas station up the way, barn dances and being close to the mystery of what the natural world holds.

And then there was bigfoot.

There were a lot of Big Foot sitings in our area. In fact, one of the east coasts leading Bigfoot followers lived near us and was friends with our then step dad who owned the farm. We will call this BigFoot follower Jim Fortune.

It was a shock to live on the farm, far from the tidy paved urban setting of Philadelphia. I knew the dangers of muggers, kidnappers, burglars, bank robbers, perhaps a flasher, certainly street people were scary and we all knew a rabid rat could take your face off. I was not to take anything from the hard grinning hippie that hung out in the plaza. There was nothing the likes of BigFoot. It was the 1970's and sure there were lanky hippies with long greasy locks, reeking of fetid body odor and earthy pleasures or big snaggle toothed hooked nosed guys staggering out of the old man bar yelling bad words as the struggle ensued to remove keys from jeans and swim in a haze to wide rectangular boat cars. It was Philadelphia. There was no larger then life hair covered tree loving monster existing in the city of brotherly love that I had seen.

When I first heard about Big Foot it was around the time the first Star Wars movie was released.

"Big Foot lives in those woods." a boy on the bus said waving his arms towards our property.

"So." I shrugged my shoulders playing big city coolie.

"So, He is huge, way taller than your dad."

"That's not my dad." Came my clever reply.

It didn't stop the boys enthusiasm, "Way bigger than my dad. Like two of him and he has hair all over him like a shaggy brown dog and I heard he has sharp teeth. A lot ov 'em."

Having just seen Star Wars I was thinking Chewbakha. I was okay with that. In fact I was momentarily thrilled. Since we saw the movie I hadn't allowed anyone to use my real name, instead insisting they call me Princess Lea. Big Foot went into the wookie compartment in my mind. The lid almost shut him safely in there but couldn’t make a tight fit because the boy sayed, "Big Foot steals children and eats em."

I got the chills.

My stop came up fast. I had to get off the bus. I descended the three black grippy steps but not before the boy yelled "Have a nice walk home. Watch out for Big Foot."

It was a long driveway. I was 4. early kindergarten. I got in under the cut off date. It was convenient, my mom was having another baby and kindergarten seemed the easy answer to her childcare woes. So there I was, 4 at the top of a lane whose length always overwhelmed me, made even longer by the Bigfoot comment. the bus gone, there was no where to go but down the driveway. The bramble along the way were thick but I told myself not thick enough to hide a 14 foot hairy beast man. I was happy the fields were empty. I ran down the driveway, arriving home in record time taking no time to visit rocks or hop puddles.

The grown ups talked about big foot with a snicker.

My older brother talked about big foot a lot. He clung to every word overheard about the phantom of the woods.

Sometimes Jim Fortune would come around and he would try to talk about Bigfoot but the attempts would die quickly as the other adults shifted their weight and some would scratch the back of their necks. The typical farmer faux itchy neck, like uncertainty alights upon the red neck of every farmer not sure what to think or say so they touch this spot, the farmer touchstone and the awkward moment passes. It helps to add an "I don't know about that." while rubbing the neck raw as bent elbows perch on the side of pickup truck beds. It quickly brings the conversation back to crops, livestock and with Jim there perhaps even reptiles.

Jim was also a high school science teacher, his interests very broad. He kept unusual pets like alligators, snakes, large turtles. I wasn't so much interested in those types of things and I wandered off when they left the topic of Bigfoot. Whatever I did catch about Bigfoot burned into my skull, working it's way through my brain as I 'd go about my play or chores.

While gathering kindling near where the farm was left to be wild I would think about Jim saying that a couple of hikers reported seeing a tall shadow near a cliff and when they got closer they saw a big figure dart between a couple of rocks but by the time they got closer he was gone.

So Bigfoot was perhaps near.

Maybe he would get my older brother. He could make him his slave boy. Maybe he was a lonely fella, misunderstood like puff the magic dragon, maybe he could be my bodyguard, laying down a harsh justice on anyone who dared harm me. I could easily shape big foot into a kind being, a gentle wookie and again the woods would be safe.

Occasionally a chill would come over me while I was playing or exploring outside and I would run crashing through the woods on a blind tear of fear to get back to the house. Base. I was safe.

Jim Fortune came and went. He would venture into our woods tracking Bigfoot. Our farm falling especially quiet when he'd reach the extent of the mown areas and he'd slip into the woods. We weren't to follow him. He tracked alone. I would keep a vigil for his return.

"Did you see him" we kids would ask upon his return, eager for information, eager like laura Ingalls for Pa tell her of the missing pups.

"No" he would say "But I think I found some good signs of him. Broken branches, turned up earth and this." Our eyes would travel from his glassy eyes down to his hands where he had brought from a pocket a baggie containing some clumps of brown hair.

I believed him. It was true Bigfoot lived in our woods.

Where was his house. He had to have a house after all. When you are 4 or 5 or 35 everyone gets a house to live in. His, I thought, must be a shack, but why couldn't I find it.

Maybe I could marry Bigfoot. I loved Bigfoot.

Jim Fortune was a hero. He brought color, intrigue and mystery to our farm.

Aside from his own newspaper column he made the local newspaper a few times with his Bigfoot business. This was big stuff. Big news.

On a cold morning in early spring when I was 5 I went out to the barn after breakfast. I loved to open the barn doors on my own, feel the power of bringing light to the dark shelters. On this one morning I got to the barn door, put my hand on the handle and tried to pull but I slid in place. I looked down to see a big ice patch. It was thick and clear. Not the kind you smash with the back of your heel or crunch with you toe but instead the kind that draws you down to the ground where you sit hunched over marveling at the frosted fern fronds on the edges and the magnification of the pebbles beneath and the neat bubbles trapped inside and how nature is the first perfection. I was close to being in that meditation when I saw that it was not merely an iced puddle but it was a massive 3 toed foot print. I screamed, turning, slipping and running to the house.

"Bigfoot has been here." I was certain of it. I was certain of Bigfoot. I was afraid.

I found everyone and got them outside. Everyone to the barn door. It was remarkable. A foot print. One foot print

One.

I turned all around looking for a second.

I wondered how far to let my eyes reach out searching for the foots partner. Nothing. There was only one.

One big foot.

Bigfoot indeed.

Bigfoot.

"Now" I thought "he is a good hopper."

Jim Fortune came out right away.

I had made an important discovery.

As the adults stood around the footprint I thought about the barn and wondered what business Bigfoot had there. What brought him to stand there. I felt a thread stretch between that spot and my bedroom window, I traced a map of the closeness to where he stood and we slept with out any protection uncertain about what to think. I looked at the barn door, imagining his large hairy hand on the handle.

Inside the barn everything seemed in order, all of the animals were there, none of the food was disturbed. Everything was fine. It was eerie. I remember feeling like he was still there, his business left unfinished.

Back outside Jim Fortune was making a casting with plaster of the print I found. My mom and her husband were watching, tolerating the Bigfoot fanatic. It was normal like which helped to make some of my fear go away but not all of it. I didn't walk around the barn as easily as I did before the one foot print was found and I didn't venture as deep into the woods for awhile. But I did think about the one foot print a lot. I mean, it WAS a Bigfoot.

Jim Fortune held tight to his belief in Yeti, Sasquatch, Bigfoot. To this day he is an active member of Bigfoot societies, a keynote speaker at Bigfoot conventions, he has written endless articles on the subject, most likely he has a blog or is regularly featured by other Bigfoot bloggers.

He had been in every way an upstanding player in his community, I heard that he once held public office in his small town. During his elected time he attempted to get measures passed protecting Bigfoot. No one came out to support it with a vote.

He was involved with education, not just as a teacher but also running his own camp and made regular appearances on T.V. as Ranger Jim. Many people in the community have a ranger Jim story or a Jim Fortune tale. He was something of a celebrity.

I heard a while back that Ranger Jim became sick. It was rumored he had cancer and some of the veneer began to peel away. He was arrested for a DWI and it was discovered he had marijuana in his car. This past fall he was arrested again only it was for a lot of marijuana that he was growing on his property and some magic mushrooms. I heard he was growing the plants on turtle island.

I imagine his pond with an island in the middle for his exotic turtles and on the island there are outcroppings of rocks and some bushes, a few well chosen trees for size and branch shape and then in the middle a crop of marijuana plants. I had heard he had refrigerators in his out buildings with quantities of pot, one article I read stated that he had been burning one just before the raid had gone down.

I imagine Bigfoot watched from the shadows, stage left, shaking his head in shame, swamp things cousin, hair hanging off of him in place of the spanish moss and vines, shoulders slumped he turned away into the woods, lopping off assured for a while he would not be pursued, wondering the length of his comrades incarceration, that he might rest, smoke a joint himself, listen to those discarded Coltrane records or some George Jones that he found out at the dump on the old victrola he stole off a back porch.

Far from home the news reached me. It was big news, in all the papers. I called home for the full scoop. My mom laughed and confirmed, said he was even more of a character then we remembered. She started telling stories about him, there were many, he had become objectified over the years it was hard to feel for him in his current situation, cancer survivor, drug user, criminal. I guess we didn't think of him as a criminal.

My mom said he was almost killed by his snake.

"Illegal poisonous snakes?" I asked.

No, one snake started to wrap itself around him when he reached into his tank to do something. He barely made it out and another time he was handling one of the snakes and it started restricting on him and his only recourse was to get to the door and open it up and try to flag down a passerby in a car. It took a while for someone to stop because they all thought he was showing off the big snake. Three men had to pry it off of him. Perhaps this tale has grown, like the tale of a fish, snake tales and fish tales stretching and wrapping around furniture, out the door, passing the azalea bushes, going down the block. Reaching the woods, Bigfoot trips over it on his way to swipe another can of those bachelors baked beans.

She told me about a night 30 years ago.

She said she and some friends were up late into the night playing backgammon. It was her birthday, August 24th. The person who lost the tournament would be made to make a prank phone call.

My mom lost and she had to prank call Jim Fortune. So she dialed him up and in her best south of the Mason Dixon old lady voice she could manage she proceeded to tell him that her husband heard some strange noises outside and went out to see what was happening. My mom is very creative so there were a lot of embellishments and asides. She said her husband came running in and told her to call the man who is into the big shoe fella because he was just at the chicken coop. She went on and on and finally gave him directions which she also made up. Left at the deer crossing sign, pass the big maple, right at the mailbox and then on down a gravel lane.

He went.

It's a wonder he didn't get himself shot out there in the country in the middle of the night knocking on strange doors demanding to see the chicken coop. When she hung up the phone they were a puddle of giggles but not as funny as it was the next day when Jim showed up excited and looking to share the news of his latest discovery. He told them everything and how the old lady was confused when he finally reached her but eventually let him go out back and he thought he had pulled some good castings from her woods.

Last week I went into a local deli and hanging on the wall was a sort of diorama, painting, shadowbox thing. It looked like an over the couch landscape painting that had been corrupted, with half of a three dimensional light up UFO in one corner, some model train trees and foliage coming from the bottom and a few plastic fawn, there might have more but my attention was stolen by the center piece. Starring in this scene was a three dimensional Bigfoot. I gasped. There he is.

I felt a pang of elation and then it turned into a dark jealousy. My Bigfoot. What is he doing here?

What does anyone in upstate NY know about Bigfoot. I can't stop thinking about it. In the piece Bigfoot has a red suitcase. It touches me in the most inexplicable way this campy diorama. It is a manifestation of one of my childhood daydreams. Bigfoot will come, he will pick me up, I can put my things in a suitcase, sure it can be a red suitcase, he will rescue me, sure we can get aboard a spaceship. I feel strangely exposed by this. I remarked to the artist how much I love it trying not to sound too psycho but there is no way I can explain so I say.

"I love your Bigfoot piece."

she says "That's good since it's coming home to live at your house."

"What!?"

"Mark is slowly paying for it, oh, oops," she says. "You didn't know?" she asks.

I am shocked. I press my hands to my chest. Bigfoot is coming home to roost.

I mention the Bigfoot piece to a friend. We talk about its significance to my life. We laugh about it. I tell him about Jim Fortune's bad turn, his drug bust. He raises an eyebrow.

"You really think he was looking for Bigfoot in your woods."

What "I say, "oh, you think he was checking out his harvest?" Oh.

Oh.

I am moved to look up Jim on the internet. I find articles, pictures, interviews, cartoons. The bounty of information overwhelms. He is big in the Bigfoot world, grand pubba of Bigfoot. It looks as though the casting of the print I found almost 30 years ago is still one of his most significant pieces of evidence. I worry for this piece I am writing which at the beginning felt urgent in it's personal importance and now it all feels bigger than me, my experience an insignificant cog in the Sasquatch machine.

It is bigger than me but it is still mine.

I am compelled to ask people about Bigfoot. For the most part people respond as if I am showing a grainy image of him on the front of the weekly world news. A close friend who grew up near the farm I lived on as a kid never heard of Bigfoot. She had no idea he was supposed to be traipsing about our woods. A friend of my husbands tells a story of being physically assaulted by the woodsman. As for other knowledge of his existence I have to mention the people in Georgia who said they had found his remains. I was devastated by this news. It was then I realized my true feelings about him. I thought of Bigfoot as something of a guardian angel, a protector, my own personal incredible hulk with nothing better too do then sulk around on the sidelines of my life waiting to step out if things got too rough or I was in danger like caught under a disc plow in the field. I felt his passing like one would feel sorrow for the loss of a favorite uncle.

It was a hoax and Bigfoot was restored to his place except I was thinking about him a lot again. Thinking of him tromping about the shawagunks, having made his way north following the path of my migration.

Jim Fortune, he is free. The charges were dropped. His station in the community slightly tainted but strong. Jim, human, subject to err.

Bigfoot, elusive, making minimal impact on the planet, perfect.



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