Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Things that go "bump" in the night

Do you believe in Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquatch? How about the Loch Ness monster? Now, before you scoff and hit the exit button and move onto the latest happenings of Brad and Angelina, or check out your favorite sports scores online, consider this: Everyone believed the world was flat before Columbus “took the plunge” and risked sailing off the end of the earth. His success began an era in which mankind has attempted to explore and conquer everything about the earth, an era that we are still living in hundreds of years later.

I have spent most of my adult life in the noble and disciplined study of science in a variety of fields. Biology, chemistry, zoology, animal science, veterinary science, horticulture: you name it, I have probably taken a smattering of courses in the subject. And I consider myself scientifically savvy enough to put my name on more than one poster, abstract or paper. But I’ll let you in on a secret – I believe. Again, before you reach for the "back" button, let me explain why I am amazed that more “scientific” minded people don’t believe.

Picture this: Fouak, Arkansas, population less than 900 in an area that is highly agricultural with a multitude of winding waterways and natural swamp. It appears to be a place where boys still hunt with a dog and a rifle after school, old men tell tall tales around the spittoon in the general store and women still hang laundry out to get that fresh smell you only get from the clothes line. Since the 1940’s, there have been sporadic sightings of what is known in those parts as the “Fouak Monster” - which if the eye-witnesses are to be believed is a hairy manimal standing between 6 and 7 feet tall, weighs more than 300 pounds and is bi-pedal (sci-speak for walking on two legs). It lives in the swampy regions of the countryside and has been sighted on many occasions along the banks of Boggy Creek, located about fifteen miles south of Texarkana. The late 1970’s seemed to be a particularly active time for the Fouak Monster, whose presence allegedly accounted for scores of dead chickens, dogs, and even a shoat or two (that is ag-speak for a young, weaned pig). The creature is alleged to have attacked only one man to date, but the attack was so severe that the victim was treated for shock and injuries at the local hospital.

The Fouak Monster was publicized in a documentary which I have held in high esteem since first seeing it at the age of ten - “The Legend of Boggy Creek.” This home-grown docudrama featuring many Fouak residents kept me up for the rest of the night after seeing it in the theatres in 1973, and it kept me up this past Saturday night and again on Sunday night when I felt the need to watch it a second time after receiving it from an E-Bay seller earlier in the week. If you are a non-believer (or if you just want to be entertained cheaply) rent - or better yet buy - a copy; it will make you sit up and think twice about the possibility of the existence of Bigfoot.

The area surrounding the Texarkana region of the southeastern United States is a Mecca of sorts for Bigfoot sightings, with Fouak right in the middle. It is an area that I would dearly love to visit and traipse around during a vacation, preferably in late fall when the leaves are off the trees and one might be able to see the creature from afar. Just like storm chasing and snake handling, this is one of those activities I have wanted to partake in since first seeing the movie those many years ago. And yet, a part of me hopes that the sightings remain privy only to those who live in the region: the ones who never have a camera with them or a tape recorder to record the “unearthly screams” in the night. The everyday guy who hunts the land, has grown up listening to the stories at granddad's knee or the housewife who checks the doors three times at night, her hearing tuned in to every sound her hundred-year old farmhouse makes. These are the folks to whom this legend belongs, not the scientists who seek to explain away every legend and urban myth that spooked so many of us into staring wide eyed into the darkness as children.

So maybe I will leave my “scientific” self at home and if and when I ever get to go to Fouak, I’ll just leave the camera at home. And when I come home to tell you about my adventures, you will all have to simply…believe.

Now go rent that movie!

--Oreta samples is the Lead Veterinary Technician in Fort Valley State University's Veterinary Science department.

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