Monday, April 30, 2012

Field Research Strategy: Using a Vehicle as an Observation Blind

In my own personal quest for the observation and documentation of sasquatches, I am always trying to employ simple and consistent methods that will allow me to more easily see (and potentially film) sasquatches in various contexts.

While it's much more exciting and dramatic to enter wilderness areas and back country in pursuit of sasquatches, I personally believe that better opportunities for documentation await in areas where sasquatches approach areas of human habitation/occupation; especially places where sasquatches have been habituated to humans and exploit human food. (For further information on that subject, please read my article about "Established Habituation Scenarios".) 

Sasquatches will approach camps, lone vehicles, etc. in very specific scenarios; usually in search of food. Many people (witnesses and researchers alike) have heard them moving into camp in the wee hours of the morning to investigate human "stuff". Often, they'll even hear the sasquatch(es) touching/examining tents with human occupants. This occurs frequently, and offers a great opportunity to document sasquatches. However, at the first sign of human movement (unzipping a sleeping bag, unzipping a tent, etc.) the sasquatches typically vacate camp immediately. Dr. Jeff Meldrum experienced this during an expedition in the Siskiyou Wilderness of northern California. Many people have heard sasquatches doing this, but only a few people have seen them in the act. Most tents don't allow you to see much through their walls or mesh windows in total darkness.

Artist Scott Davis' impression of a sasquatch visiting a camp.
There are numerous reports from witnesses and researchers that support this theory, but a select few have greatly influenced my thinking and strategy with regard to this type of attempt.

BFRO Director Matt Moneymaker wrote about setting up surveillance systems inside vehicles for documenting camp approaches. He states: "The most passive camera traps are ones requiring no installation, testing or camouflaging at the site, such as when cameras are already set up inside vehicles. Rigging up surveillance cameras inside vehicles is a much bigger project than one might assume, and needs to begin long before the expedition. If it succeeds at a given spot then it can succeed repeatedly there. If it does not succeed, it can be relocated to other spots as quickly as the vehicle can be moved."

Dennis Pfohl (Colorado BFRO investigator and Erickson Project member) recorded this example of a sasquatch walking through a small camp during a field excursion in Oklahoma. From this BFRO article: "The night this clip was recorded, a search and rescue professional (Rob B.) attending the expedition said a tall massive figure came up to the vehicle he was sleeping in (a 4x4 pickup). The animal pushed up and down on the tailgate with tremendous force. It then walked around to the door of the pickup. It leaned over the hood of the raised 4x4 from the side, to look down through the front windshield. It then it grabbed the door handle and rocked the vehicle a few times. It pounded lightly on the door a few times before walking away. Rob couldn't move while it was happening. He was laying on the seat, in his sleeping bag, looking up through his slightly fogged windows. He could see the figure's size by its silhouette against the starry sky, when it leaned over the hood of the raised vehicle to look through the windshield."  

Veteran researcher (and friend) Tal Branco often used his vehicle as an observation blind. In addition to trying to observe a sasquatch approach his camp from within a vehicle, Tal would mount a parabolic dish on the roof of his vehicle and listen with headphones, anticipating an approach. This method yielded several recordings of approaches and vocalizations for Tal, as well as one sighting.

Kansas-based bigfoot researcher Randy Harrington had an extended observation in southern Oklahoma from the cab of his truck. After devoting time to researching various "hot-spots", Randy decided to set up a small camp in an area where the resident sasquatches had a reputation for taking human food from campsites and trash bins in a heavily used recreation area. He was also monitoring the area with a microphone mounted to the roof of his vehicle. He was able to hear the sasquatches approaching his camp, and therefore was able to anticipate their movements and observe them.

Randy Harrington

In an attempt to replicate the results of other researchers, and also to modify and adapt the methodology, I have been using similar techniques.

I am currently using the Zoom H2 Field Recorder. It's a decent unit with sensitive on-board microphones, and will support large SD cards and multiple file formats. The benefit of this unit is that you can use a large SD card and lithium batteries and it will record high-fidelity audio for an extended time. For sasquatch researchers, that's a major benefit.

The Zoom H2.

Now, when I camp with a small group of researchers, I will sleep in my vehicle. I have a 4Runner, so I can lay the back seats down and create a nice surface to sleep on. I'll lay down a Ridge Rest and sleeping bag and have all of my optical gear at the ready. I mount my H2 on the roof or side of the vehicle with a magnet (at a safe distance from the unit, so it doesn't affect the SD card). I crack one window slightly and run a pair of headphones into the vehicle.
My sleeping setup.
The Zoom H2 has a few different microphone settings, one of which splits the front and rear microphones into a stereo pair. Once you're using that setting, you can orient the unit to direct attention to a given approach or two approaches. I orient it in such a way that I could anticipate the most likely approach routes, and assign them a channel (left or right). Once I'm in the vehicle, the recorder is rolling and I'm monitoring in real time. On the high gain setting, the unit is really sensitive, so I am able to hear subtle sounds extremely well.

If we are able to successfully elicit an approach from a sasquatch to our camp, I'll be able to hear it slowly approaching. If my H2 is oriented correctly, I will also be able to tell which direction it's coming from, and point my optical gear that way. My windows are tinted, so I have the advantage of being able to move around slowly without giving myself away. Moreover, the vehicle really helps contain any small sounds that I make.

Being in a vehicle also offers you a nearly 360 degree view of your surroundings; it gives you much better odds of seeing one approach.

I have been using this method for the last several outings, and I am absolutely convinced that it is one of the most viable ways to see or document a sasquatch. I would highly recommend this method to other researchers and enthusiasts hoping to have an observation of their own.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Radio Appearance on the Charlie Langton Show (CBS Radio, Detroit, MI)

I made a brief appearance on the Charlie Langton Show this morning to talk about sasquatch field research.

You can listen to my interview HERE (left click to listen, right click to "Save As").

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mary Green, the "Tennessee Bigfoot Lady"

[Preface: Beyond detailing my interactions with Mary Green, this is a story about the rewarding experiences one can have when they make the decision to get to know someone personally, rather than make ignorant assumptions based on internet gossip. Mary doesn't have the most stellar reputation on many of the more frequented forums and websites, so this will undoubtedly be an unpopular post. My hope is that people will read about my experiences and rethink their opinions, especially for those people who haven't met Mary.] 

When I first began spending time in the field trying to encounter a sasquatch, I was utterly alone (in every sense of the word). I had already reconciled my own experiences, and had been gathering information from various sources and witnesses for nearly two years, when I realized that it was indeed possible to encounter a sasquatch in the field. So, in 2004, I began visiting locations in Northeast Georgia where sightings had occurred. I was armed with a cheap first-generation night vision monocular and an even cheaper camcorder (with no night-shot capabilities to speak of). Most of the time, I would wait patiently and listen. After a full year of spending time in the field with no direction or success, I decided to try and make contact with other enthusiasts and researchers on the internet. I really wanted guidance; the assistance and experience of someone who knew more about these things than I did.

In January of 2005, I submitted a rather lengthy report to the BFRO, detailing the experiences that had become the impetus of my own research. At that time, there were really no BFRO investigators in the state of Georgia. My report sat in the internal database untouched, and I was never contacted.

I reached out to other bigfoot websites as well; including one that focused solely on Georgia. I never received any responses from those websites, either.

Finally, I reached out to Mary Green via her "Tennessee Bigfoot Lady" website. I was familiar with her research, and had been reading everything I could about the Janice Carter-Coy habituation case that Mary was associated with. I had ordered and received her book 50 Years With Bigfoot.

Cover image of 50 Years With Bigfoot
I emailed her to introduce myself, and to ask about habituation research. She promptly responded to my email, and gave me some direction with regard to making contact with sasquatches. Moreover, she sent me the name of an independent bigfoot researcher in Georgia (John) who was also trying to foster and cultivate ongoing interactions in the central portion of the state.

Mary Green, State Park Ranger, and Igor Burtsev
Her message was simple: Sasquatches were elusive, but curious. The key to initiating interactions required patience, consistency, and a gentle approach. They are especially responsive to people who feed them routinely. I was encouraged to utilize curious and non-threatening sounds when entering an area and leaving food; children's toys, whistles, etc. Keeping a playful attitude would ensure that the sasquatches wouldn't perceive me as a threat. She told me that their intelligence level was comparable to that of aboriginal humans, and that most researchers greatly underestimated their cognitive abilities. Mary also said that I didn't have to go very far to locate these things. Oftentimes, they occur just at the edge of rural populations, and in rural agricultural communities. Above all else, she told me that if I could just be patient, consistent, and compassionate, I could potentially cultivate interactions with these creatures.

It seemed far too easy from my perspective. I was a 23 year old guy who was enamored with the concept of seeing and documenting a sasquatch in a remote area. I envisioned myself as an intrepid explorer, who was something akin to a modern-day Indiana Jones; I would enter the heart of a dark forest at night with cutting-edge technology and come face to face with a legendary beast, barely escaping alive; ya know, that kind of thing. Now I was being told that I didn't need to be well-equipped, well-camouflaged, or in the interior of some remote wilderness area to see a bigfoot. I only needed patience, some sweet food items, perhaps a toy whistle, and a good attitude. It certainly wasn't the adventure I had imagined, but her kindness and willingness to share her experiences and insight was invaluable to me.

In the field in 2006.
Upon Mary's advice, I made contact with John, and in May of 2006, he and his wife Amy drove up to my favorite location in the Northeast Georgia mountains to camp. That was the first of many nights we would spend in pursuit of an encounter. That camping trip was the first time that I had ever spent any time with another "bigfoot researcher", and it was great. As most bigfooters know, it's hard to find others who share your passion and interest. It was especially hard back then, as there were fewer websites and forums, and the social media network was in it's infancy. It was like a floodgate had opened inside me. We spent the whole night staying up by the fire and sharing stories. I listened intently as John told me more about Mary's research, and the concept of habituating sasquatches.

On August 12th of that year, I traveled with John and Amy to meet Mary at her home in Tennessee. I found her to be very caring and friendly, with a warm, motherly quality. She is a mother and a grandmother, and that certainly showed in her disposition and interactions with me. I was given a copy of her other book, Night Shadows, and brought up to speed on the current status of the Carter case. She also told us about an ongoing study being conducted a wealthy Canadian researcher. She had been contacted by that particular project and was shown some pieces of footage that they had obtained in a neighboring state. Mary openly spoke with me about her research locations, and the methods that she used to establish a trust with the resident sasquatches. She told us what foods to use, what sounds they would respond to, and what to expect if we tried those techniques in her locations. Finally, she showed us a bit of video that she and another female researcher had recently obtained in one of her sites that was very impressive. To this day, I do believe that the clip of video I was shown was a legitimate documentation of sasquatches in northern Tennessee.    

That night, John, Amy, and I followed Mary's instructions in one of her research locations. I won't go in to great detail about that night in this post, but it was a very significant night for me, as we had a close encounter that really impressed and unnerved me.

I made several subsequent trips up to see Mary that year. Most of the time, I went with John and Amy. We usually stayed in or near her primary research location, and I spent many nights trying to elicit an encounter in those woods. I eventually met Janice Carter during one of our visits, and was able to spend a few nights in the field with her as well. 

John, Amy, and I also made the drive up during the Thanksgiving holiday, and had Thanksgiving dinner with Mary, her husband John (who's since passed away), and her son. Late that night, we had another impressive encounter while putting out food for a particularly bold sasquatch in the area. That was the last time that I saw Mary, although I spoke with her via telephone several times after that.

Mary had a great deal of disdain for most of the online bigfoot community. After writing her book about the Carter habituation, she became a lightening rod for the doubt, disbelief, and anger of bigfoot enthusiasts on the internet. People attacked her credibility, integrity, intelligence, financial well-being, health, etc. She told me more than once that she was certain that her association with the Carter case had taken a huge toll on her health, due to the stress it involved. It seemed a fairly heavy price to pay.

She also harbored a grudge against most organized bigfoot research groups, including the BFRO. I think she felt that they represented something that was harmful to the sasquatches in some way. Mary never liked the idea of groups of people pursuing sasquatches. I know that she felt betrayed by other loosely-knit groups of researchers who had broken promises to her and exploited many of the locations that she had shared with others. It seemed to hurt her feelings when I joined the BFRO in May of 2007. I have thoroughly loved every minute of being involved with the organization, but even still, I am frustrated by the fact that it upset Mary. I felt that she had given me a lot of invaluable insight, and had allowed me to have unforgettable experiences that I wouldn't have had if it weren't for her diligence and devoted consistency at those locations for years prior. I am forever grateful for that.  

I have spoken about my experiences with her to other researchers who have asked about them, or who have brought her name up. I will admit, at times I have been reticent about my early involvement with her, as my own selfish fears about being associated with her reputation crept in time and time again. I haven't spoken with Mary in a few years, and I regret that. Having been fortunate enough to work closely with several habituators and long-term witnesses in the past two years, I can confidently say that Mary's approach to sasquatch research (patience, consistency, and compassion) is valid. I have seen confirmation of many of the things she shared with me time and time again in the last few years. I hope that one day she will be remembered as one of the first investigators to really research habituation claims, and to have the courage to write about them. 

I recently heard that Mary was admitted to a hospital for reasons unknown to me. When I first met her in 2006 she was in poor health, and often spoke openly about it. I decided to write this post this morning in hopes that she will read this and understand how thankful I am for the kindness and generosity she extended to me. In writing this post, I am reminded of a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King:  

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." 

 I apologize for my silence, and I hope that my words will help to give readers a slightly different perspective of Mary.

I also sincerely hope that any bigfoot enthusiast or researcher who reads this post will realize that the only way to really understand someone is to truly spend time with them. Please don't become complacent with merely reading the often ignorant and negative things that people say about each other online. If you're interested in learning more about a person, or an incident, do your due diligence and research it yourself. Never be satisfied with other people's perceptions; always forge your own. I have met many amazing people associated with this subject. Most of them are much different than their online reputations would have you believe. I am so very glad that I didn't settle for those opinions. I was lucky enough to learn that lesson early on, and I have Mary Green to thank for that.