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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Encounters with Thom Cantrall

While in Oregon, I was fortunate enough to meet the author and sasquatch witness, Thom Cantrall.

Thom has graciously agreed to allow me to share stories with you of his encounters.

I will present these in a series, posting a new story every day. Please enjoy.

Winter’s Wonderland


Thom Cantrall

First off, let me say that I am pretty much a “live and let live: kind of guy. This is especially true of God’s small creatures. If I am out hiking and happen upon a rattlesnake, I’ll simply back up, tip my hat to him and wish him happy hunting. The fact that for the next hour or so I jump about a foot off the ground if even a small branch should happen to snap against my leg in no way compromises my calm demeanor in these matters. It’s simply that in some things
what the brain knows logically is not necessarily retransmitted to the reactive nervous system, let alone to the feet and legs that cause these leaps of unfaith.
Probably the worst case of this “Induced Reaction Syndrome” as I like to call it occurred in a good friend of mine who is now passed on. This latter fact making it much safer to relate the tale as it occurred without fear of reprisals or at least, a swift kick to the posterior.
Frank and I had decided to take advantage of the late elk season on the very north end of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The weather was ideal for this January outing… snow, snow and more snow. It snowed all day the day of our evening departure from our Port Townsend area homes. By the time our gear was loaded, the trailer attached and we were on our way, there was more than a foot of fresh, white tracking snow on the ground with more on the way. Frank, being from Missouri and unaccustomed to the rigors of tracking elk while ploughing through hip-deep snow, was positively jubilant at the prospect.
Throughout our four hour drive to the Hoko River country, normally about a two hour drive, sans snow, he regaled me with tales of his misspent younger years in the “Show Me” State. If I were believe one-tenth of the antics he related to be “gospel true”, his companions had to have had intellects such that, by comparison, an earthworm would be considered an over-achiever and a cucumber could graduate high school with honors. Some of these tales made Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox, Babe, seem absolutely plausible by comparison. All in all, though, it was a delightful drive through falling snow with Nirvana waiting for us at the end of our trek.
It was fully dark by the time we arrived at our planned destination, the end of a logging road that led to two clearcuts, one freshly logged and the other about three years old, affording perfect feed for many head of deer and elk. This little road wound its way up the mountain a mile (1500 m) or so to the older unit, then on through standing timber to the freshly logged unit at the end of the road. My original plan had called for us to drive in on this road past the first unit to a wide spot by a small stream where we would set up our trailer. Clallam County Road Dept., being reluctant to expend time and effort clearing private logging roads, forced us to alter these plans and camp just off the paved road, blocking all access to the snow-choked logging road. After setting up camp which, for us, consisted of unhitching the trailer, making it somewhat level fore and aft, turning on the gas and lighting the pilot lights on the stoves and refrigerator, the work of about twelve minutes flat, we retired for the night.
I should note at this point that the reason for choosing this particular area was that a good friend of mine had logged that back unit and had seen elk nearly every day feeding in the front unit just at daylight. Our plan was to be in that unit just above the Hoko Road well before first light and see if we couldn’t ambush one of the big Roosevelt Elk that live there. To that end, we were up well before daylight, had a bite to eat and were headed up the road, climbing the mountain in the diminishing snowfall. Just about the time we were leaving camp, our bowstrings safely tucked into an inside pocket where they would stay warm, dry and serviceable, the falling snow changed to rain. It was not a heavy downpour like that ultra-wet country is capable of generating, but a soft, steady drizzle. It soaked everything… Snow… Trees…. Hunters….
On and on we slogged through the white expanse, climbing the steep grade that led to our goal. Although there was no moon out, the glow off the now melting snow afforded us ample light to see into the dark night without the use of flashlights. Careful we were to not get off the edge of the roadway for a fall into the adjacent canyon in the gloom of night could prove fatal. We were reluctant to show any light lest it be visible ahead of us and into the clearcut.
About thirty minutes before dawn, we reached the edge of the clearcut and decided to wait there where we could see the entire unit and await daylight. There were no tracks on the road, but we had expected none as we had the end of that road blockaded by our camp. The light, steady drizzle was doing its very best to work up into a full-blown downpour and the temperature had risen to well above freezing. That alone would make any tracks encountered to be very recent, indeed. In fact, I don’t believe a track in the open would be at all crisp and delineated after as little as a half-hour in these conditions.
Slowly, the skies began to grow brighter with the promise of a new day, a new creation, even. Stumps began to emerge from the black of night to belie Frank’s profound belief that they were a herd of elk feeding in the pre-dawn air. Just as one particularly majestic six-point bull disintegrated into its component parts consisting of a very nice Western Hemlock stump, a short length of cull log left as useless by the loggers and now sticking out of the snow at just the right angle to make a beautiful elk body topped with an advantageously placed branch pointing skyward in just the right place.
While watching the disintegration of the nice bull, a deer came off the bank behind us and walked slowly and quietly between Frank and I at a range from me of less than thirty feet (10 m). It was as if this deer knew that his season was closed and, hence, he was safe. More likely, the heavy air and falling rain did not allow our scent to travel far and I doubt he ever knew either of us was there.
He was not a large buck, merely a forked-horn, probably a two-year-old that weighed not more than a hundred pounds (45 kg) soaking wet, which he certainly was, along with everything else in these environs. These Columbian Blacktail Deer are not large deer under the best of circumstances and this particular animal was a youngster to boot. Slowly and cautiously he ventured step by precarious step past us and into the snow covered brush that was the clearcut. He was being extra cautious in his trek. I assumed then it was because of the poor conditions. Many times I have seen animals in similar diminished conditions behave in a like manner. When scenting and hearing conditions deteriorate, they become ultra-wary and extremely reluctant to trust their usually keen senses. Often they will lay up tight and not move until conditions improve for them.
When this little buck had placed enough distance between us that he was beginning to blend in with the stumps, he suddenly came to a stop, his head up, his ears erect as he stared into the darkness before him. What he was seeing, I had no clue. But, seeing something he certainly was. As he peered intently before him, he slowly raised one front foot then quickly stomped the snowy ground before him while emitting a quick snort through his nose. This is a behavior I have observed many, many times when a deer has spotted something out of place before him, but cannot decipher what he is seeing. Personally, I believe it to be one of two things… either it is an attempt to get whatever it is seeing to move, the easier to identify it… or, it is a warning to other deer in the area that something is amiss. This would be similar to the stotting of the Mule Deer, the stiff-legged bounce that can be heard for a considerable distance, putting every deer around to flight. Perhaps it is a combination of the two, but whatever it is, it was effective in this case as there came a “woof” out of the night sounding like, but not precisely the same as the huffing of a bear as he feeds his way among the rotted logs and such. I heard it quite clearly and I have heard the wuffing of many bears and the point must be made that, while it was reminiscent of that, it was not that! It was enough different that I immediately shot straight up off my stump/seat. The deer, too, was alarmed as he wheeled quickly and sped back towards us, passing so close that Frank had to dive behind a stump into the snow to avoid being hit by the escaping deer.
Frank hurried over to my position as fast as he could negotiate the snow. “What in Holy Hell was that?” he yelled loudly with his eyes approximately the size of dinner plates.
“Shush,” I admonished him. “I don’t know what it was, but I do know that deer didn’t like it, so I think we should stay right where we are. It will be light enough to see within the next thirty to forty minutes to possibly an hour, depending on the density of the cloud cover. We can see what’s up then.
Reluctantly, Frank retraced his steps to his stump and resumed his vigil. It was a vigil, he later related to me, “that took so damn long that I was sure I’d have a beard down to my belt line before it ever got light!”
When light covered the land sufficiently, I whistled to him to come to my position. When he got there approximately one and a half seconds later, I was moved to ask if he had been shot there by a large rubber band. Frank was shaken, I could see that. It was so much so that I asked him if he wanted to go back to the trailer. His head bobbing up and down so hard that I thought his wool stocking cap was going to shoot right off his head told me that he’d done about all the hunting he was up for on this morning. I told him to just follow the road right back down the mountain and he’d run right into camp.
“You’re not coming?” he asked plaintively.
“Oh, heavens no,” I answered. “I came out her to arrow an elk and the conditions are almost perfect for hunting, so I’ll be danged if I’ll quit now. Besides, I want to find the tracks and see what it was that made that sound.”
“Damn it, Thom,” he pleaded, “don’t do that! It’s just too spooky. Let’s go back to camp now.”
“Go ahead, Frank,” I suggested, gesturing down the trail, “but I’m going on. There are elk here. I’ve caught their odor a few times this morning and I want one.”
With that, I simply turned and started walking up the road, intending to cross the cutting unit and then glass it from the far side. Also, if my deductions were correct, whatever had made that noise should have crossed the road either coming or going. I was a bit amused to hear a thoroughly exasperated Frank immediately behind me… so close that if I’d have reached into my hip pocket for a handkerchief, I’d have shaken hands with Frank!
We had moved less than a quarter-mile (400 m) further into the snowy expanse when I spotted something on top of the snow just ahead. As I made my way to it, I wondered what it could be. What I discovered amazed even me. What had caught my eye was fresh mud on top of the snow. And, what had been the source of the fresh mud were fresh tracks in the snow… Humanoid tracks… approximately seventeen inches (43 cm) long and a third to a half as wide. The distinct impression of five very human-like toes so clearly defined told me that these tracks were no more than an hour old, probably less.
Investigation told the story. This humanoid creature was carrying/dragging something with him. The hairs I found indicated it was, most likely, a deer. At the base of the fill over the culvert at the intersection of his trail with the road, he had stepped into a muddy spot, sinking deeply into the slushy muck found there. Obviously, he had stopped on reaching the level surface of the road, placed his burden on the ground and had taken time to clean some of the mud from his lower body. It was this mud he had cleaned off himself that had drawn my eye. He then recovered his load and, stepping off the road, continued on to the south from that point. His stride was tremendous, nearly twice mine and I am six feet four inches (193 cm) tall and cursed by those that hike with me for my long strides. Yet, mine were as a child’s when compared to his.
I had been talking softly to myself while working out this scenario as is my wont at such times. Finally, satisfied that I knew all there was to know about this, I turned to Frank. The specter that greeted me was absolutely hilarious and told me that he, too, had a good idea what had transpired here. He was as white as the snow itself. His mouth was opening and closing seemingly of its own volition, with no discernable effort on his part. Poor Frank looked very much like he was trying to articulate great words and thoughts but nothing was coming out. It was as if his mouth had been disconnected from the rest of his being and was left on its own. The poor guy looked very much like a goldfish without the bowl! I’m sorry now that I did it. At the time I had no real choice… it was all I could do… I laughed… Oh, how I did laugh. My sides hurt and my eyes ran with tears. It is a small wonder that I did not wet my pants, such was my laughter… I was totally beyond control. I have never in my life, before or since, seen such a sight.
When I finally calmed enough to control my mirth, I said, “Well, Bud, there is the source of our “woof” from earlier.”
He just looked at me, his eyes wide. Finally, at long last, he found words and uttered a shaky, “I-is t-t-that what I t-think it is?”
“Yes,” I responded with a grin, “It certainly is! Exciting, isn’t it?”
With a look of sheer dread in his eyes, telling me he knew the answer to his question before he asked it, he said quietly, “Can we go now?”
I explained to him that he was free to go if he wished, but I was following those tracks. I simply wanted to learn more and this was the closest I had ever been to one of these creatures. I was not about to lose this opportunity. I had him close and had perfect tracking conditions. This was my best opportunity to get much closer to the creature we knew as Sasquatch. While this news did not seem to rank among the top ten things Frank wanted to hear just then, he was not about to go off by himself any time soon, so I was blessed with a partner in my quest… at least for the near future.
As I could see the direction of our creature’s travel led back to the standing timber very near the point where our road entered that timber, I chose to follow the road to that point, intending to leave the road there and enter the dark timber on his track and see where it took us.
One positive aspect of this state of affairs, I suppose, was that at no time did I ever have to wonder where Frank was or to where he had wandered. I don’t believe he was ever more that six feet (2 m) from me and this was on wide open ground. It was to be expected then, I guess, that when I stopped suddenly he would ram me from behind.
This is precisely what happened when, just at the edge of the timber, I spotted a cougar track and stopped to point it out to Frank. In retrospect, I probably should not have further burdened his already over-taxed central nervous system with this rare and chance find. He did not take the news well. I never thought, however, it would cause the reaction that followed for the track was hours old… only still there because it was back under the protection of the canopy of snow-laden trees, safe there in a pocket away from the falling water. Already, nearly all of its mates were gone. A few were mere smudges in the snow, recognizable for what they were only because of the presence of that one clear print. As I started to explain to Frank, this was a younger cat, not yet full grown… probably just on its own away from its mother.
All this logic and calm thinking was lost on poor Frank. That the track was many hours old did not even register in his over-fevered mind. All he could do was begin muttering, “GET me out of here…Get me OUT of here… Get me out of HERE…” The volume rising with each iteration, of which there were at least ten.
At this point with a half-crazed man in my care, I had no choice but to abandon my search and see to Frank. Besides, by now, he was shouting at the top of his lung capacity, causing snow to fall from the branches of the trees around us. He had obviously reached the limit of his endurance. To continue further could have been dangerous, if not to me, at least to him.
“OK, Frank,” I smiled calmingly at him, “let’s head on out. You stay close behind me (some of the most superfluous instructions ever uttered… somewhat akin to ‘take cover’ on December Seventh in Pearl Harbor…) and we’ll head back for breakfast. I think every critter within five miles (8 km) knows exactly what and where we are after that outburst.
By this time it had rained sufficiently that the snow load on the brush and trees was beginning to slip off, allowing the weighted down shrubs to spring back to their “pre-snow” positions. Each time this happened there was the sound the snow falling off and the whoosh of the branch popping up. This is what triggered that involuntary reaction in poor, overwrought Frank… With each release, he would utter a loud, sharp yelp… somewhat like what one would hear upon inadvertently stepping on the tail of small dog… and he’d jump straight into the air while simultaneously executing a perfect 360 degree spin while airborne.
“At least,” I smiled to myself and thought silently, reluctant to share negative thoughts concerning his demeanor with Frank just now, “I don’t have to worry about anything sneaking up on us from behind!”

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