Robert Michael Pyle is a consummate scientist, writer, and storyteller. Even sitting for two hours in a well lit public library in the afternoon felt more like listening to ghost stories around a campfire in the woods (replete with discomfort at the length). But Bob wasn’t here to tell tall tales and convince us of the existence of Bigfoot with the revision and reprint his book, Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide. He was here to challenge all those notions of what we think is true and how to keep our real imaginations active. To stare at the Dark Divide, as he tells it, between how we can find evidence and not know what that means and how to keep our minds open from the darkness of narratives made too certain. He says, a rational person would keep the mind open, and we so seldom do, mistaking the narrative of that rationality for reality.
The difference between looking into Bigfoot and not looking for Bigfoot is important.
The Dark Divide does a lot of work though. It is Bob’s name for the place most saturated with Sasquatch lore and an inaccessible, mostly ‘wilderness’ land. It characterizes a region, part of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and other nearby reserves with a long and troubled Federal protection history. So named from John Dark, a prospector first to the area and handing out racist names for many spots. It was dark too from lack of roads, even logging ones trying to access its old growth. It is the break between the Cispus and Lewis River drainages, surrounded by mountains named by the residing tribes, most notably the Klickitat and Yakama: Tahoma (Rainier), Pahto (Adams), Wyeast (Hood), and Loo Wit (St. Helens). Those tribes often recognized the big hairy ones as part of the local fauna, hidden peoples in the mountains.
It is here that Bob’s investigations of Bigfoot are focused. Whether named as Bigfoot or Sasquatch, or from some of the pacific northwest tribal traditions as Windigo, Witiko, Stoneclad, WoodMan, Natiinaq, Neginla-eh, or from Asia as Yeti, Almasty, Yeh Ren, Chuchunaa, or in Europe as Grendel, or Hollywood as King Kong—the tradition has an extensive history worldwide. What is it about these stories we must continue to tell? What about our relationship with wilderness and nature, our distant hominid brethren, or our ethics of land and societal management that these stories evoke? These are covered better by him in the book, still quite lengthy.
Keep in mind, I’m a chemist and science-minded person by training. I think a healthy amount of real skepticism is important (not that so-called ’climate change skepticism’ that gets passed off as real skepticism): analyzing evidence and data, examining our rhetorics, money trails, and the stories behind what we think we know. To that end, I had already dismissed much of what the conspiracy community had to say about Bigfoot. Bob is similarly wary of the ‘gold fever’ existent in many of these true believers and conferences. I can love the stories for their own merit, but never actually believed that Bigfoot could exist.
Two hours in a room with Robert Michael Pyle can open your mind.
Bob wasn’t there to convince anyone, let alone himself, of the true existence of Bigfoot either. But the evidence: the footprints and castings, the contestable Gimlin video and his advocacy, knotted twigs, and true experiences of wails in the night, serve as present enough evidence that we should at least allow our preconceptions about Bigfoot to question our actual references and narratives. The evidence is astounding, and yet.
We still don’t have a Yeti in the room, and so the evidence speaks just enough to show a tiny gap, perhaps convincing few, but enough to keep our minds open so other voices get heard, and questions still flowing. Knowledge and belief exist as a tree, different branching perspectives and modes of existence: science, traditional, intuitive, narratives, and others still. All are there to serve the development of how to know the darkness. And, as Bob says, “Perfectly good myth should not be dismissed.”
I still don’t ‘believe’ in Bigfoot, but I’ve become sufficiently, welcomingly agnostic towards Bigfoot and to the heritage of other’s beliefs and the possibility of making kin with those unknown, dark places. I think we need more cozy uncertainty than the absolutist affirmation or denial of all sorts of notions if we hope to move forward as a collective people, challenging what we think we know about people and how this world works, and what lives in the Dark Divide.
We still don’t know things about our world, and that’s a good thing.