Though Salt Spring Island writer-artist Briony Penn has never had a run in with the Sasquatch, she suspects one experience she had northwest of Bella Coola, B.C. could be attributed to the legend that covers British Columbia like the Cordilleran forest.
While leading a small group around the Kowesas River, she had a “Whoa” moment.
The naturalist knew there were plenty of grizzlies in that area, but she was also knowledgeable about the works of John Bindernagel, renowned wildlife biologist.
“Suddenly dead trees started getting pushed down, ‘Bam and bam’ and I just assumed it was a grizzly,” she recalled, via a Skype interview from Colorado. “But I’ve been on the coast all my life and I’ve never seen a grizzly doing that. It felt deliberate.
“And I was like, ‘Okay, everybody there’s something here telling us we shouldn’t be here. Let’s just get out of here’.”
So, Penn took her fellow hikers and moved away from the area of fallen trees.
Her new book, A Year on the Wild Side, released in March, doesn’t fully immerse itself in the uncanny, however, it does allow her and the reader to reconnect with the natural world. With the rise of climate change and a growing concern over flora and fauna, the journalist has penned a naturalist’s almanac to help naturalists known when to pick the right berries, learn about the snowy owl and the giant octopus.
That’s naturalist, not naturist. Both love the raw, however, one group loves it in the raw. Penn is sure to lay those bare facts out there and to identify with the former.
But the most important item is connecting with those who are in tune with the environment, such as the Xenaksiala people of the Kitlope. To them Sasquatch is called Bekwus and very much a part of the environment.
“The thing about the coast is that we spend a lot of time with like the local people, there’s a lot of synchronicity in the coast – a lot of things happened,” she said. “That little veil between the Western scientific world view and an indigenous world really starts to get blurred.”
Her first brush with the legend of Sasquatch was through an interview with the late John Bindernagel. There had been a sighting in Opitsat, near Clayoquot Sound, just north of Tofino, B.C.
Penn admitted she found him compelling in his argument that there is such a hominid. While on a story, she went with him, interviewed five fishermen that witnessed the primate, and realized there was a story to uncover.
“[Bindernagel] is one of the few biologists – well, there are a lot of biologists – that will say there’s stuff that we don’t know,” she said. “There was no reason to not believe these five fishermen. I mean, why would some guy, you know, want to draw attention to himself when there’s nothing to gain except being discredited and ridiculed?”
Her next book, Stories from the Magic Canoe of Wa’xaid, will focus on the Xenaksiala legends and myths. It will share the stories of elder Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul). There may be a few stories dating back to the ice age where animals that have disappeared from our planet will be injected into the narrative.
Rest assured, Bekwus and the Thunderbird will be part of that.
Photo courtesy Billie Woods