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What Big Feet You Have | 2014 | Biking to Enlightenment


Why strain the acceptance factor by seriously considering UFOs, telepathy, and other weirdness?  

-Stan Gordon

High Strangeness about Bigfoot and UFOs

Found him! ...Wait... that one is plywood.

When I arrive to the Red Hook Town Hall, John Mattiuzzi and his crew are already setting up cameras and eating a dinner of sandwiches. I recognize a few of the crew members from the Pine Bush UFO Fair a few months ago. Primarily, I told John about the Mysterious Hudson Valley conference in hopes I could have a second chance to be filmed for his documentary, since the UFO Fair resulted in me banging on the door outside my reading, locked out and unable to summon anyone who could let me in.

I invited John and crew, too, because it would possibly make this event a bit more chaotic and interesting. It is one thing to listen to sincere people talk about winged cryptids and sasquatch habitation sites, but quite another when they are being filmed by the winner of a student Academy Award. I had likewise mentioned tonight to a dozen paranormal groups within fifty miles (which is possibly a lot of ghosthunters and UFO spotters for a valley to sustain), four newspapers, and three radio stations, but none of them cared to respond in the affirmative.

That I am being filmed makes me nervous, since I could easily be edited into a nutcase without much work. Still, the point of this for me is publicity, so I sign the provided consent form so that my image and voice can be used however John wishes. It is an act of faith, but my dearest hope is that there is something much weirder mentioned that overshadows my week (or twenty-five years, depending on how one is counting) of research and I come off sound like a moderate voice by comparison.

I introduce myself properly to John and explain that I will be one of the speakers.

"I didn't know you would be presenting," says John.

"Until last Wednesday, I was not aware I would be either. I was told I am their UFO expert."

He looks me over, my black buttoned shirt and gray jeans. "You look like a UFO expert."

I am not sure this is a compliment, but I make some quip about aliens in the spirit of Giorgio A. Tsoukalos and fade back. I worry at being called a UFO expert, as true as it might be given my tens of thousands of hours of research over my life. An expert shouldn't merely be someone who knows quite a lot, but someone who authoritatively believes.

Despite it being a humid late June evening, the air conditioning seems not to work. A majority of the sixty-odd people who said they would be here (of the over a thousand that ended up being invited on Facebook) packed in nevertheless. As I wander a bit to walk out my anxiety of such a crowd, I feel the coolness from offices in the hall. During my meeting with the Bigfoot Researchers days ago, it was more than intimated that the town was not thrilled with the researchers using town resources for their conference. However, they are tax payers and the town could not bar them entrance. This did not imply that the town government had any obligation to make it comfortable.
Various artifacts.

Amber finds a seat on the side of the hall, making clay creatures to sell at Otakon. I admonish her for suggesting by her actions that she isn't going to be paying meticulous attention to the action, but she retorts that she had been present for the planning meeting and doubted ground would be covered here that had not amply been on Gayle's porch.

"I don't see your name on the list of Bigfoot researchers?" asks a stranger a little later, when I venture near the front of the room to look over the tables full of animal skulls, books, and rocks Gayle has laid out to set the mood.

"That is because I am not a Bigfoot researcher. Which is to say, I have not gone on any hunts with them. Is 'hunt' the preferred term?" I laugh. "I mean, they don't have guns, right?" The woman looks at me, confused, and I point to the flier and my business cards, mention I am a novelist, and return to safer ground.

I see people I know filter in and, after assuring them that I am uneasy to terrified, I take a seat behind the dais with the other three presenters.

I go on after Dr. Carol, the PhD shaman, who gives such a comprehensive overview both of the anthropology behind Bigfoots and their apparent current manifestation, as well as the Hudson Valley UFO flap, that I start crossing off my notes of topics I should not cover, beginning to distill it down to occult weirdness, which is certainly a topic on which I can speak, but I had hoped to deflect it until the very end of my speech.

After himself talking about his psychic perceptions of Bigfoots and how he is certain they gifted to him a smooth rock, Johnny Angel begins to introduce me. I step down to the mic. Johnny then speaks for several minutes longer, so I sit on a chair and make faces at Amber like the consummate professional I am.

Once it is truly my turn to speak, I'm certain that I do so at twenty minute's length, but the tension of the cameras so close to my face drains my ability to remember much. I tend to go a bit blank when I cross a certain threshold of anxiety, and I am so nervous that my legs are shaking. (Amber and Daniel, who comes later, assure me that no one could tell this.) I can reconstruct from my mangled notes that I said roughly this:

My priority is as a fantasy novelist whose residence and frequent topic is the Hudson Valley, and who is keen to weave together disparate mythologies to create a cohesive narrative. Though I've often looked for the paranormal, I've yet to find it. Instead, I have found the stories of those in its tenacious grip. I still lean skeptical, more so for everything I have read and seen, joking to those who ask that I write about the weird things and, in trade, they leave me alone to doubt them.

I want my reality to make as much sense as my fiction, so I do my best to eliminate the most likely solutions to these puzzles. If you tell me UFOs cloak themselves to look like airplanes and fly in established flight patterns to throw humanity off -- and I have been told exactly this -- I'm going to call them planes until you show me proof it is otherwise or give me a compelling theory as to why. Tell me a story that makes sense to me, one I can reconcile with my daylight life and what I know of science, or you've lost me.
That's me!

The evidence that strikes me most is not blurry shapes in the sky and conspiracy theories, but facts that cannot be denied. One such event is a sighting during the Great Hudson Valley UFO flap where a triangle reportedly a thousand feet on each side hovered thirty feet above one of the reactors at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. So frightened were the workers that they were preparing to call in the military to deal with it, as one absolutely should when an unknown object is so perilously close to initiating a meltdown. To me, a case like that, well recorded and witnessed, is worth ten thousand anonymous drifters abducted off dirt roads who return smelling of moonshine and opportunism.

One of the questions that is unavoidable and looming is why here in the Hudson Valley? It is hard to argue that more paranormal events are reported to occur here than in most comparably sized areas. We can blame hauntings on the historical antiquity of the area (which is just a drop in the bucket compared against European, Asian, or African cities that do not seem to be constantly beset by hauntings), but that is hardly satisfying when discussing aliens and sasquatches. One potential solution that some believe is that the Hudson Valley is a vortex (third only to Sedona and Stonehenge in potency) and supernatural events are attracted to or caused by this area. This would overwhelmingly please me, since my first four novels have the valley as their setting, the first three Red Hook in particular. Disgraced paranormal investigator and middle school science teacher Phil Imbrogno believed that someone (Druids, aliens, Native Americans, or a different paranormal scapegoat) build a series of stone chambers in the area aligned to the magnetic field, which is posited to amplify the effects of the vortex.

Statistically, states with higher rates of UFO sightings also have elevated Bigfoot ones. The more I've researched, privately as well as for my books, the more I suspect that these phenomena do not occur in objective reality. Often, reports involve a sense of "high strangeness," the subject feeling disconnected, nature growing silent, thoughts no longer making sense, time flowing differently. You are not going to be visited by the supernatural at 3:15pm while you are at a meeting about a new type of stapler. These are children of the night (and possibly the brain) because night is where we relax enough to allow the experience.

As I did further research for this conference, I came upon more and more stories that mention Bigfoot in conjunction with this "strangeness." One woman mentioned having shot at a Bigfoot point blank, only to see the beast vanish in a puff of light, utterly unlike a missing link should. There are also reports of Bigfoots cradling glowing orbs in their paws or them shooting into the sky in balls, which beggars all attempts at belief. I wouldn't dare to write something so ridiculous unless it was intended to be a farce at the expense of the paranormal community. Though neither Ufologists or Bigfooters wants to be polluted by the connection, it's hard to deny that one experience opens one up to others. Moreover, it is a common enough trope in abduction stories that some contactees are tapped for a purpose and are psychically elevated to be more aware. Why not then start seeing Bigfoots and ghosts, once the aliens give you the x-ray specs to see through reality? (It should be noted that horror writer and prominent professional contactee Whitley Strieber's wife Anne has gone on record as seeing women exiting public restrooms who never entered.)
Did Bigfoot skeletonize these? You can't prove he didn't.

When researching in Pine Bush for Artificial Gods, I heard the occasional witness mention Bigfoots in conjunction with their sightings, usually with a slight embarrassment, as though seeing one were perfectly rational, but seeing both marked one as a crackpot. Still, at the United Friends Observers Society meetings, talk of Bigfoots was not discouraged. Even in Ellen Crystall's Silent Invasion, she mentions having seen Bigfoots around where she experienced the air blasts from underground mining sites, hypothesizing that Bigfoots were perhaps a worker class for the Grays. Again, as a novelist, that would be want I would do if I were forced to use both creatures in a book. The Grays appear so effete, of course they would have a bit of brawn to back up their obvious brains.

Even at a basic level, it doesn't make sense to me that some of the Bigfoot tracks are three-toed and others have five, unless we are dealing with two different species. As the Bigfoot Researchers and the testimony of other witnesses mention the aggression of white yetis, this might be precisely the case. Why not have an evil version of the creature to help redeem the otherwise good one, the same tack used in every other Puppet Master and Godzilla movie, where the creature tormenting the plucky young heroes in the last movie now ally with them against a worse threat (until the sequel)?

One way I would begin to redeem this jumbled Bigfoot mythos if I were its author would be to bring in the idea of tulpas or thoughtforms. In short, enough people believing in an entity seems to create it on some level, such as with Alexandra David-Néel and the Philip experiment. It would account for their apparent evolution into psychic, teleporting beings who are immune to gunshot blasts. It would reconcile sky-borne ships what seem to playfully obey the silent wishes of repeat experiencers. These phenomena become what we presently want them to be. They are merely responding to the thoughts of the individual and collective, changing based on what we need them to be. In Ann Druffel's book How to Defend Yourself Against Alien Abduction (which is better than how the title makes it sound), she discusses how mentally surrounding oneself with white light is occasionally sufficient to dissuade aliens from abducting (which does not imply savory things about their character). The same method is apparently used by people who are plagued by sasquatches and to equal effect. Why would an ape man or alien race be bothered by focused visualization unless they originated in the psyche?

It does seem that, at the risk of supernaturally victim-blaming, one has to be open to the continuation of the experience. If one is theologically promiscuous, the visitations are more likely to persist through one's life.

This tulpa theory also combats, simply from a storytelling perspective, something that has always bugged me about UFO experiences. The initiation of the modern interest in UFOs comes from a pilot who saw several objects near a mountain, skipping like saucers on a pond. Immediately after this was reported, people began to see and photograph saucer-shaped objects. It's easy to call them inexpert hoaxers, but people with no ostensible reason to hoax were also witnesses. Why would human belief and misunderstanding have the power to alter the shape of alien space crafts?

In a sense, aliens were the monster that our culture needed when dealing with the idea of communists invading, just as vampires helped sexually repressed Victorians vent their erotic needs in a more sanitized fashion. What need would a yeti serve for our culture at this point?

I also grant, purely from a storytelling perspective, that we are likely not hearing the weirder cases that might, in their profusion, make some sense of these phenomena of teleporting, orb-juggling ape men.

A member of the audience mentions that Dr. J. Allen Hynek, astronomer assigned to Project Blue Book and collaborator with Phil Imbrogno on Night Siege, began as a skeptic before being convinced that something more was occurring in the Hudson Valley. I immediately retort that this is exactly the sort of person one wants as a researcher, though I feel I am on the other side of the coin: I used to believe and, gradually, I accumulated sufficient facts that forced me to question and attempt to justify what I thought. I know the language, I know the arguments, and I know how "evidence" can be deflated to misunderstanding and hoaxes. I know that the most famous pictures of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are intentional frauds, however much these are the bedrock of some people's searches.

I hate people being made fools of and am keenly aware how easy that comes when talking about the paranormal. I don't want to hear researchers talking about orb photos from dusty and cold basements, EVP where the static needs an hour of audio enhancement to sound like a threatening two-word phrase, psychic intuition that is needlessly vague or unverifiable. I fully acknowledge there are cases that are not easily explained and are owed more critical and scientific scrutiny that the cast of TAPS can or will provide. These cases are buried beneath a constant avalanche of laughable dross. Most researchers do not deserve being the object of mocking because they want to know, want to discover, want to back up their beliefs with hard evidence, however squishy and porous we may find their hopeful discoveries. Smooth rocks and sticks in fields are a bit more admirable than accepting blindly, but they aren't going to suffice when face with someone who doesn't believe as you do. To me, as with many people in the audience, a stick stuck in the ground proves nothing aside from that something may have stuck it there.

After I am done being mortified that my mouth is capable of making sounds, Gayle finishes out the night by giving an overview of her findings. Unfortunately, the television on which she means to play her video does not work, so she is reduced to describing what she has seen. The audience does not seem overwhelmed by this, having been promised evidence that would recalibrate their reality, but they politely listen.

A woman approaches me after the talk, when I thought we as a panel would field questions from the audience, and tells me that she once saw a UFO while attending a concert at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds and had I heard about that? I say that her experiences seem consistent with the Hudson Valley UFO flap, though I do not mention that I was twelve when she had this experience and not quite as active a researcher as I am presently painted to be. She, however, wants to know if I have the details of her specific experience or if I know where one could get them. I mention that there ought to be a website, knowing full well that there isn't because I once tried to verify my own nebulous, childhood UFO sighting and could find nowhere online that had usefully compiled the sightings. She says she once had the newspaper clippings hidden away in a coffee can in her backyard, but that they went missing, as things buried in coffee cans in backyards tend to. I get the feeling that little of the uncertainty I expressed in my talk could matter to this woman. I don't mind. There is something admirable in holding fast to the questions twenty-odd years later, continuing to look to the sky in hopes of finding an answer.

Soon in Xenology: The perils of poverty. Biking to enlightenment.

last watched: Room 237
reading: In the Mountain of Madness
listening: Mindy Gledhill

What Big Feet You Have | 2014 | Biking to Enlightenment

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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