For decades, people have grappled with the myth and mystery of Bigfoot, with some seeking their own explanations through grainy video footage, campfire stories, and wilderness expeditions.
The journalist Laura Krantz takes a more scientific approach. She is the host of the Wild Thing podcast, which explores the relationship between science and society and whose first season focuses solely on the legendary beast.
Krantz attributes her own interest in Sasquatch to the discovery of a long-lost relative: Grover Krantz, her grandfather’s cousin, an anthropology professor who firmly believed in the existence of Bigfoot – a notable outsider in his profession.
“And so for me it was this question: How can you hold on to science and at the same time to this idea of Bigfoot?” Krantz recalls. “And that was really the catalyst for this exploration. What kind of evidence do we have? What kind of information is there? Does anything stand up to rigorous scientific inquiry and investigation?”
A scientific approach to the Bigfoot myth
These are some of the questions Krantz seeks to answer in her new book, The Search for Sasquatch, which is aimed at middle-aged readers (ages eight to 12) and is rooted in the language of science.
Krantz tells Morning Edition’s A Martínez that the book is an opportunity to take a mythical subject with a lot of lore behind it “and see if there’s anything real about it.” That means examining things like whether Bigfoot existed, where he would live on the evolutionary tree (including relative to humans), and what his DNA would look like.
For her research, Krantz traveled to “Sasquatch hotspots” in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, including 10-foot-wide Bigfoot nests in Washington state. She also interviewed wildlife experts and delved into DNA analysis.
“I approach this from the point of view: Bigfoot is a creature of flesh and blood, just like everything else on this earth. It’s not magic. It doesn’t have superpowers,” she adds. “And I hope to encourage readers to say, ‘OK, that’s a really interesting idea. How can we look at this logically? How can we look at this through the lens of science?’ ”
There could be some logical explanations for even Bigfoot’s most magical supposed properties, says Krantz. For example, some devotees say Bigfoot is disappearing—but she doesn’t necessarily think that means he can become invisible. Maybe it’s covered in so many twigs and leaves and hair that it’s impossible to see when it’s standing very still.
Still, Krantz has heard some anecdotes that she finds harder to rationalize. She spoke to scientists, wildlife biologists, hunters, and avid nature lovers who spent a lot of time in the forest and were familiar with the area, but “had such a bizarre experience that they really couldn’t think of any other explanation.” One such story made the hairs on the back of Krantz stand up when she heard it (avoiding spoilers since it’s in the book).
In addition to asking about Bigfoot’s existence, Krantz also wants to know why people are so fascinated by the creature. She offers two key takeaways from her reporting.
Why is Bigfoot still a magnet for the curious?
“I think for some people it’s the idea that the world is still wild enough and untamed and unpaved and unexplored that something like Bigfoot could be out there,” she says. “I think we want that sense of mystery and sense that there’s still things out there to discover, because if we already know everything, what’s the fun in that?” … I also think there’s a kind of recognition that we need to preserve these wild areas. It’s almost an environmental mandate, a desire to preserve the kind of places where Bigfoot could exist, even if Bigfoot doesn’t actually exist.
Krantz hopes her book will inspire readers to embark on outdoor adventures of their own, from hiking to exploring the great outdoors to trying to “lure a Sasquatch to his own campsite.”
And while she thinks the intrigue and folklore surrounding Bigfoot will draw young readers into the book, she also hopes his approach will teach them how to make sense of the deluge of information they deal with in everyday life , whether from peers or through news headlines or on social media. In other words, explore possibilities and ask questions, but keep your feet on the ground.
“Part of that is trying to help kids maybe get a little bit more scientifically literate, be a little bit more critical in their thinking about these kinds of stories, and still realize that they can have fun with it and believe and want to have a lot.” Have fun with it,” says Krantz. “I think the phrase is, keep an open mind without your brain falling out.”
The audio for this story was produced by Shelby Hawkins and edited by Reena Advani.
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