My friend Lisa sent me a Sasquatch Field Guide published by the company she and her husband own in Northern California. It’s perfect– sturdy and pocket-sized, easy-to-to fold and fit in a backpack. Across the top margin: a nice long ruler for measuring footprints. Loaded with anthropology, examples of sign, tracking advice, notes on distribution and habitat, pictures of the creatures stride and gait. I looked eagerly for the “Communication and Vocalizations” tab and giggled quietly.
“I knew it,” I whispered.
Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) are known to scream, whoop and whistle. But it was the wail I was looking for. That’s what my kids and I heard from our tent on the Teanaway River in the Cascade Mountains. Lisa’s little guide nailed it: “Mournful wails or the sound of a woman in distress are attributed to Sasquatch.”
It came from high up on a ridge where there were no trails or roads. We didn’t know what it was, only that it was spooky as hell, and it made the night darker and more bracing.
I don’t know what the wail up on the mountain was and I like it that way. I’m not invested enough in Bigfoot lore to get too passionate about his existence, but I’m just invested enough to read a field guide with a big grin on my face.
I don’t get enough of these little thrills in my life any more. Moment’s where I fall in love with mystery. Or I’m surprised by an unexpected skip in my step. Or I’m suddenly unconcerned with how the world sees me. Or better yet, I’m delighted by random pleasantness.
It happened last week on D Street in Petaluma, California, with my iPod pumping an old, old country song on into my bones. The deep whine of steel guitar made me smile. That a musical instrument and a long dead musician could make my heart feel sad for no reason at all was the most alive I had felt in weeks.
It’s that rush I felt as a kid before jumping off the roof with a cape around my neck. Or the thrill of scientific exploration as I raced my bicycle across the front lawn with every intention of driving it up the trunk of a tree. That experiment did not pan out.
Too often my adult version of surprise is being startled by a motorcycle roaring between the cars when I’m stuck in traffic on Highway 101. And sadly I don’t daydream about the rider’s freedom, but rather grumble parentally, “That kid’s gonna get himself killed.”
I heard on the radio this morning that some guy wrote a book about the ’85 Chicago Bears, the outrageous team that made Super Bowl run when I was senior in high school. Walter Payton, their leader, was hero to me. Rick Cohen, the author, is a year younger than me. The journalist interviewing him was born the year after Bears’ magical season, when I was 18. I immediately started searching for reasons not to feel inadequate. I wonder often if I should be making more magic with my life, perhaps writing books about my heroes.
Like so many people the biggest mystery in my life is where my money goes. The greatest magic trick I have witnessed lately is how suddenly 46 years have gone up in smoke.
It’s not too late for magic. I can still occasionally descend into a forested valley and block out enough of the outside world with my imagination that for a few seconds I believe I’m the first person to lay eyes on it. Then civilized thoughts of responsibilities and what lies over the next hill swirl back in and I have to set off looking for the next speck of magic.
I don’t have to look far for mystery, if I only pay attention. What is that mixture of grasses, flowers and herbs that gives a Northern California morning a distinctive smell? It is light and fresh, sort of has a vegetarian scent to it. It is different yet not more pleasant than the scent of morning back in Missouri where I grew up. Just different. The morning aromas there are heavier with dew. Sweeter smelling. Hay and black dirt hang in the air. Perhaps someone knows what elements give the air of a particular region its distinctive smell. But I’ll just settle for a nice deep breath that stops me still.
When you’re a kid you seem to hop from magic moment to magic moment unaware that you’re doing so. It’s what kids do.
You lay down in a field looking at clouds until it’s time to not do that anymore. Then you figure out how to get where the cute girl down the street can see you. Then you throw rocks at a pond. Then you pick your nose. These events happen without any thought at all.
Now I find I have to be intentional about such things. I have to stop and think about throwing a rock. Getting where my wife can see me isn’t enough. I have to think about how she sees me (those darn insecurities). I have to pause to look at a cloud. And I have to remind myself NOT to pick my nose.
I used to have a coon skin hat that my Aunt Carole gave me so I could play Daniel Boone. Then I grew up and learned that Daniel Boone never actually wore a coon skin hat. I used to find amazing hiding places and nobody could find me. Eventually I had to come out because I had to pee. Today, when I find an awesome place to hide, my wife asks me if I’m depressed.
I used to make a microphone out of aluminum foil and turn a tennis racket into a guitar and I would rock out in front of the living room mirror in my underwear. But yesterday we ran out of aluminum foil.
I slip on the coon skin cap and hike off into the Sierra Mountains in search of Sasquatch. It is 18th Century America and I follow deer trails in my buckskins moccasins. I spot scat and Bigfoot sign. I discern a wail across a foggy canyon. The ancient beast eludes me and I will drift into ignominy.
Perhaps someday someone will stumble upon a skeleton of Bigfoot– proof. The skeptic in me is pretty sure that won’t happen.
The kid who tried to ride his bike up a tree hopes it will.