[cap]“H[/cap]ere’s a news flash: Bigfoot is real.” Autumn Williams leans forward, punctuating her echoing assertion with a silent, stubborn stare. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” The claim sounds absurd, its absurdity emphasized by the sincerity with which she says it. There is no tremor in her voice. There is no waste or want for words. There is no defiant hyperbole. She returns to her relaxed position, legs folded, back leaning against the arm of her couch. Resting her hands behind her head, she grins. Just the quiet expression of certainty, Williams need say no more.
Williams is a Bigfoot researcher. Dubbed a “cryptozoologist” by the scientific community, she has been for more than two decades. She has worked all over the country, from hosting Mysterious Encounters on the Outdoor Life Network in 2004 to leading a team of paranormal investigators on a three-day expedition for an episode of Sci Fi Investigates in 2005. That year, she also wrote, directed and produced a documentary, titled Oregon Bigfoot: In Search of a Living Legend. She built her website, Oregonbigfoot.com, ten years ago as a database of Bigfoot sightings, a framework for research and analysis. At the time, it was one of the first state-based websites for Bigfoot research. She has explored hundreds of miles of backcountry wilderness, examined thousands of eyewitness accounts, listened to countless unidentified animal recordings and watched hours upon hours of video footage.
Yet during her 20 years in Bigfoot research, Williams’ work has crossed seemingly every boundary but one: acceptance as fact, not fiction. Skeptics argue there is no fossil record supporting the evolution of Bigfoot. “There are plenty of fossils of robust bipedal primates,” Williams retorts. “Australopithecines. Gigantopithecus. It’s not like we’re talking about a horse with wings.” They argue that the Pacific Northwest doesn’t have the resources to sustain a large primate. “They aren’t taking into account the fact that this thing appears to be omnivorous,” Williams scoffs. “Plenty of food.”
If only such theories could settle the controversy, which unqualified skeptics dominate, according to Williams. But it persists, as ultimately the debate between believers and skeptics boils down to one simple truth: seeing is believing. Science – the institution, that is – cannot confirm the existence of Bigfoot, regardless of the empirical data that has accumulated over the years, without a dead, hairy, bipedal cryptid corpse on an autopsy table. Belief in Bigfoot is based in faith for those who aren’t eyewitnesses; around here, faith-based beliefs are a one-trick pony.
But Williams doesn’t need to rely on faith or science to explain what led her to her life’s work. Her family moved into a cabin near Orting, Washington, in the foothills of Mt. Rainier, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on their back doorstep. Their cabin had no electricity, only a wood stove for heating and cooking. It became daily routine that Williams and her mother would take the nearby trail into the woods to peruse for sticks and branches to burn. On a misty spring morning, their forage met an unexpected and abrupt halt. “We came around a corner on the trail,” she pauses.
Her voice has softened to the rise and fall of a calm but clear murmur. Her body has curled and her arms have wrapped around her legs as her eyes peer from behind her knees. “I ran into [my mother] because she stopped. I remember her reaching down and grabbing my hand, and me looking up at her, and then looking where she was looking,” she pauses again. “There was an adult and a juvenile there, standing on the trail. It all happened really fast, but it stuck in my head because it was so intense.” Williams voice begins to escalate in volume and intensity. “I remember looking at [the adult], and he was staring at her like this.” She breaks from her folded posture, leaning close, widening her eyes beneath a furrowed brow in an unwavering stare. “He wasn’t blinking.” She leans back, blinking dry eyes.
Williams, who was only a toddler when the encounter took place, says that she and her mother spent the rest of the day under the covers of their bed. Her youth brings into question the truth of her story, but she insists that the experience explains much of her childhood interest in Bigfoot. She checked out books on Bigfoot from her local library. She obsessed over their eyes, drawing them on bills or receipts, anything that was left out on her family’s table. She recalls her neighbors who didn’t believe that their son saw “giant monkeys” outside his window at night until they encountered a Bigfoot themselves.
Williams and her mother didn’t talk about the encounter again until she was 16, and she admits that during her childhood, the significance of what they saw never dawned on her. “The experience wasn’t labeled as ‘Bigfoot’ in my mind,” she maintains, “because I was too young to understand what a ‘Bigfoot’ was, or that it was something that was a more rare occurrence than any of the other ‘new experiences’ that I was having. Especially since the subject was mentioned many times in my presence as a child.” At 16 years old, Williams connected the dots for the first time. Her fascination reached its apex. She hasn’t looked back since.
Williams recounts her memories with such intensity, confidence and clarity of reasoning that it yearns for belief, were it not for the voice that chirps in the back of your head. Impossible. Unfathomable. Fake. The allegations occur instantaneously, reason rejecting the existence of something documented in mostly in hoaxes. “I blame mainstream media for that,” she says. “The way that information is disseminated–if you’ve ever watched a local Bigfoot report done by the local news-” she stops, beginning to mock the tone of a news broadcast. “‘What is it walking around Deschutes County on Highway 97 near Bend? This man says that he sighted a Sasquatch,’” she bellows, “and it goes on and on and on. ‘Back to you in the studio, Bob and Jill,’ and then Bob and Jill go, ‘Well, you know that might’ve been my Uncle Larry, he’s got big feet and he’s kind of hirsute.’ They ridicule it immediately. So who the hell’s going to want to talk about their Bigfoot sighting when the smartasses in the studio are just going to make fun of them?”
Tongue-in-cheek and misinformation plague Williams’ work, and she is consistently approached by people who discredit Bigfoot’s existence entirely, having never explored beyond the glut of hoaxes that are covered in the media more often than Bigfoot itself. In 2008, two men from Georgia claimed to have killed and frozen a carcass of Bigfoot. They later confessed to freezing a costume. The famed Patterson-Gimlin video, shot in 1967 and the crown-jewel of Bigfoot footage, was alleged a hoax in 2008 during a TV Land special titled “Myths & Legends: Bigfoot Phone Home.” It was further debunked by a Patterson acquaintance who claimed it was he who dressed in a suit for the film, not a Bigfoot, and it is continually scrutinized by analysts who parse the film into frames, claiming fabrication or forgery. No longer is Bigfoot a sensational story or even the story at all. The story has become the hoax: humiliating “discoverers” trying to cash in on a new species. For mainstream media and society at large, that Bigfoot could exist is an afterthought. Combined with the fear and the folklore, the hoaxers and hoaxed, the species has become a parlor room punch line, a cable news quip.
But the real conundrum for Williams isn’t proving that Bigfoots are real, or why the perception of them is, for lack of a better word, contrived. Expressing the protectiveness apropos of a researcher, she says it is a conundrum of human nature. “We destroy everything we touch. If I had the footage right here, right now, I have no idea what I’d do with it,” she relents, having had numerous unexplained encounters in the woods, though nothing definitive since her youth. “I’ve been doing this for twenty years. You would think that if it landed in my lap tomorrow, that I would’ve thought about this. But I have thought about it. I still do not know the answer to that. I do not know what I would do with proof if I had it.” She looks about the room, in search of the right words to say. Validating her work through proof of existence could butcher the being whose existence she worked to prove. Researchers with proof of Bigfoot’s existence must weigh the species’ survival against their own glory. Williams huffs, staring with wide eyes beneath a furrowed brow. “Would you want to be the person who potentially starts the wheels turning for the demise of this species that’s living out there, doing just fine on its own?”
Williams need say no more.
Williams lives in Elkton, Oregon. Her website, Oregonbigfoot.com, contains more than 1,000 witness reports in Oregon alone. In 2010, she will be the keynote speaker at a two-day Bigfoot seminar in Eugene, Oregon, tentatively scheduled for June 19th & 20th at Lane Community College. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.