My grandma and grandpa lived near Peckwan when I was a toddler. If you aren’t one of the lucky folks who live in the far north of California, you’ve got no idea where that tiny community is. Unless you’re a fan of Finding Bigfoot, in which case you’ve watched Bobo and the team tramp through manzanita and salmonberry bushes, ford the jade-green Trinity River, and wade through primordial forests in search of The Big Guy.
In the early 1950’s, Peckwan was a tiny community in the mountains populated by local Indians and by my white grandma and grandpa who were there because local Indian Bud Ryerson was Grandpa’s logging partner. If you’re A Believer, you’re ears ought to be pricking up about now. Ryerson reported the first recorded Bigfoot sighting in the area and his wife, Vera, famous for her woven baskets, reported sightings no less than six times. She was also my grandma’s best friend.
I spent a month or so each summer in the mountains near Peckwan. Grandpa was rarely home, he and Bud living mostly in the woods, building logging roads and harvesting trees. It was mostly just Grandma and me in an old cabin on the side of a mountain. Vera lived just around the bend of a short trail, walking distance even for my short legs except for the sows that roamed free, rooting up acorns and occasionally eating some unwary child who got too close to their piglets. That’s the way Grandma told the story anyway.
I grew up hearing tales of Bigfoot the same way I heard stories of black bear or cougar or wild hogs. One summer–I must have been four that year–a young male Bigfoot hung around and spied on the women as they worked in the community garden or hung up their clothes to dry in the hot, dusty air. The women whispered of “desires” and “kidnappings” and occasionally of “rape”; the atmosphere titillating and ripe as they giggled and compared notes of sightings until Grandma reminded them that, “Little pitchers have big ears.”
The local children and I rode bareback through poison oak on stolen piglets, picked berries and even gathered acorns to store in wooden chests and bury in the creek for the cold water to filter so the women could make acorn flour. But, I understood, even as a toddler, that the Indian world of my summer friends was different than my white world. Indians saw things I could not. They knew what roots to gather to make baskets, which mushrooms were delicious in stew and which gave you daytime dreams. Their world was both deeper and more narrow than my own. I don’t believe Grandma ever came right out and said so, but I understood that Bigfoot belonged to the Indian world.
So, when my level-headed, German Grandfather returned wide-eyed from a logging trip with stories of road building equipment strung all over a mountain side and dozens of giant footprints – it made an impression on me.
My newest novel, Bigfoot Blues, is the result of that impression.