Excerpt from: Dispatches

Startling Evidence of Bigfoot Found In Northern California

 Obsession never takes a vacation, even when you’re on one.

This was today’s mantra, clicking in precise pitch and rhythm to the grooved, fat tires on my Forerunner as it wheeled irreconcilably northward, taking me further from my hometown. Three hours into a month-long writer’s road trip and the only two thoughts I could recall were this damn, two hundred mile humdrum mantra that bounced relentlessly between my ears, and being obsessed with worry about my obsession with it.

I’ve been told by a few friends, who are also writers, that this kind of thing is a natural part of the trade. It’s like fingers on a hand. Bus drivers get calluses on their behinds, lifeguards all have sandpaper forearms, and writers are plagued by obsession. It’s the inevitable, unforgiving way of the Cosmos, and there’s no point in becoming fixated about it, they say. It’s actually a blessing in disguise, they say; the sticky glue that holds your nose to the bumpy course when you’re skewered by exasperating deadlines, or trying to placate infuriating publishers, or being sniped at by hostile critics, or being banished to the privy house of your private feelings of artistic inadequacy. It’s all in the nature of things, these friends advise with an impervious certainty. Just don’t worry about it.

Obsession never takes a vacation, they say.

No, it doesn’t. That’s certainly what I say. The real question, though–the one they haven’t thought enough about–is even more fundamental and worrisome: are these friends telling me the truth? Are these other writers really so obsessed with the inexplicable? Are they really just like me?

I think there’s another possibility. My theory is more straightforward and simple, more like a good plot in a one-act, one-man play. Yet, it is something so dark and intimate that no writer worth his or her salt would ever carry it to even a brief whisper at the threshold of their thoughts: maybe we’re all just paranoid. Maybe this ethereal thing that relentlessly tracks us through life isn’t obsession at all! Perhaps it’s just vanilla paranoia that crawls along the backwater of a writer’s mind the way sweat runs off the temples of Arizona bricklayers. After all, a mild but steady diet of paranoia would explain much in the lives of most of us, especially writers.

Three hours and ten minutes north of my hometown, somewhere along the Avenue of the Redwoods, I think. If I slow down right now, say to fifty or so, will the mantra also slow down? If I do slow down, will the guy behind me in the 1976, rust-riddled Ford pickup with the two sighted, ominous looking rifles mounted on his back window smash into me from behind? Is he obsessed with getting somewhere up the road before winter sets in? It’s only August now, so what’s his hurry? I think I can see his pale beady eyes and the tight curl of his undernourished, straight mouth in my rearview mirror. He doesn’t look happy. He doesn’t look kind.

Obsession never takes a vacation. Neither does paranoia. So, I think, slow down, take a chance. Do it gently, deliberately. Listen to the mantra. How’s the rhythm now? Has it changed? Is it slowing? What about the guy in the pickup? Did he see me?

He blasts by on the left, crossing recklessly into the oncoming lane as I pull over. God is with him this time. There’s nothing in sight on the road ahead.

I think he scowled as he went by, turning his head to glare at me. He’s in a hell of a hurry.

I pull to a stop, still listening to the cacophony in my head and coughing up his dust from my open window. No. No change. It still has the same, monotonous beat.

It’s time to stretch my legs. I’ll get out and stand by the road, safe on the far side of my car. I won’t nervously shift my weight from foot to foot, bouncing and hobbling in place to the secret, senseless prayer bellowing from behind my eyes. I won’t let any passersby know about the chaos inside my head. No. I’ll stand calmly by the road, just another stiffened traveler walking off the cry and creak of aging muscles and bone. At best, I’ll be an ordinary, perhaps even sympathetic figure. At worst, they’ll think I’m looking for a secluded, bushy spot on the cut bank to relieve the pressure of two large glasses of tea from lunch an hour ago. Nothing untoward in any of this, I think, if one looks at it in the right way.

I unbuckle the seatbelt and slide from behind the wheel, counting the syllables of the mantra with each movement. In my secret heart I know they don’t know, the passersby. They just glance my way as they speed along, most of them apparently unconcerned. Most of them seem focussed on what lies ahead, or what they hope might lie ahead.

One of them, a pear-headed, seventy-something fellow in a sallow, deranged straw hat drives by slowly. Too slowly, I think. He moves by with such pained determination that I can see him drumming the pudgy fingers of his left hand on the top of the gray Cadillac’s padded steering wheel. It’s a sure sign of obsession. I’ve seen it before.

It’s good he didn’t stop. If he did, well, we would both have been forced to senselessly dance the obsession dance in the crusty dirt by the side of the road, never admitting to each other the real problem. It would have been a silly sight. I’ve seen it before.

Around the back of the car now, moving as casually as I can and running a finger along the mottled layers of beige dust that have copiously collected on the Forerunner’s white sides. Unexpectedly, a rectangular structure forces its way across my field of sight. I hadn’t noticed it earlier. It just seemed to explode from the muted background of the forest and surrounding bank. That’s the thing about paranoia. It doesn’t creep up on you like the family cat or a banana slug. It assaults you when you least expect it. It likes to take you by surprise.

I can see that it’s a very old structure, made from thick redwood timbers, now baked and blackened by the decades, perched atop the nearly vertical bank overlooking the Eel River. It leans jauntily away from the road, an apparent slow casualty to the slippage of the land over time. I move closer to the malformed rectangle, straining to see if it’s still inhabited, taking deliberate, rabbit-like steps in perfect time to the mantra.

Yes, someone definitely lives here. There’s a pile of drab clothes pushed up against the outer wall at the far end of the stoop. A few hand tools are strewn next to them; tools that a carpenter would use. The mantra pauses long enough to be overtaken by a flash-picture of a carpenter’s hands, the man whose hands belong to those clothes, I imagine. They are rough and scaly. They are weathered and worn, like his home. It’s the wen and way of a hard life. My writer friends have told me about these things.

A lumber truck rockets by, dragging a long plume of fine dust behind it as it negotiates the shallow bend in the road. He tugs needlessly at the hundred-decibel airhorn set high on the cab. Its shattering sound blasts a cadre of fluttering yellow and black birds from the stand of redwoods behind the cabin. To finish it off, the driver leaves me with a taste of his muffler. A very bad, smelly, unfriendly muffler. I follow the rig with my eyes for a few seconds and then look back toward the old cabin. There’s something here that I hadn’t noticed before.

An enormous, carefully carved statue of Bigfoot sits only a dozen feet away. Its wooden skin is aged and dark, just like the cabin that sits another dozen feet beyond. I creep uneasily to the foot of the beast and stare upward. It’s a good ten feet tall. The oblong, carved head is gigantic; the arms even more so, obviously cut from once stout trunks of mature redwoods.

I stand next to Bigfoot’s left leg. It’s nearly as thick as my body and obviously far more sturdy. Reaching out, I run my hand along the neat, precise workmanship in front of me. Its surface has been made glassy and sensuous by uncounted years standing alone in this wooded, roadside cutout, ever watchful over those who claimed ownership to the cabin behind. It is an exceptionally beautiful piece of work, if you don’t think too much about the sacrificial trees that now comprise its huge torso.

Beyond its other magnificent features, I am drawn to the face of the beast. It is oddly placid, peaceful, and pillowed in wood-fashioned fur that is as thick as the forest it is said to inhabit. There is no discernable fear in these eyes, small and narrow. No concern. Its gaze is constant, distant and serene.

For several moments I stare at his stoic countenance. Or is it hers? It makes no difference, I decide. The beast is obviously happy, at peace, and will likely outlive the inferior construction of the cabin behind. It is a chicken and egg question, I muse. Was it the cabin or the beast that came first? Who is the rightful heir to this forgotten acre in the redwoods?

My gaze falls away from his face and moves inexplicably over his left shoulder, drawn by something I can only vaguely feel, back to the corner of the old cabin. Harshly poking my glasses back up on the bridge of my nose, I squint to read the hand-lettered sign that covers the weathered crevice where the warped, planked roof meets the uprights of the stoop. Like the cabin and the beast, the single-piece, redwood placard has been blackened by age. But, the lettering is fresh and white.

“Carvings for Christ,” it reads.

My jaw drops involuntarily and a light, unexpected gurgle flashes upward from my stomach. It’s the beginning of a chuckle, the unexpected birth of a welcome, coughing, laugh. Quickly, I snap my eyes back to his seasoned face, then once more to the sign of pronouncement behind the beast. An unrestrained, unquestioned, rolling laugh rattles the plentitude of my sides.

It’s a writer’s question that crosses my mind. A wonderful conundrum. What is the meaning of this thing before me? Am I looking at an image of Bigfoot, an icon of mysterious North America, unapproachable Tibet, and countless other venues? Is this the carving-cum-offering of a mythical monster, relinquished, for now, to the airless realm between fact and fantasy? Or, is this magnificent work actually the artist’s vision of The Carver? It’s impossible to know, and both possibilities are worthy. Like the work of so many writers, the words of the pronouncement are ambiguous, symbolic, and uncertain. They beg the real question.

Still, these words are art. The alliteration is strong. They possess a natural, captivating rhythm. The phrase is tight and pure, just like my mantra.

“Carvings for Christ,” I repeat softly to myself, climbing back behind the wheel.

It makes for a nice mantra.



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