If a tree branch falls in the forest …
Sunday, July 8, 2012, at about 7:30 PM, I decided to take a short hike in a little area of southern Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine area that I’ve walked for about 19 years without incident. While strolling along next to a deep kettle, a huge bowl-shaped depression left by the last glacier, I noticed three young saplings had been bent over by someone or something to form a perfect rainbow-styled arch. I know this sort of formation can happen naturally, but some people believe Bigfoot creates these tree sculptures for various reasons. Anyway, it made me start wondering if this could be a good habitat for a Sasquatch.
That gave me the idea to pick up a stick and bang on a nearby tree a few times, just as a lark. I’ve never been sure about the efficacy of having a crowd of Bigfoot hunters pounding trees en masse, but I think it might not seem so much of a threatening invasion if there are only one or two people hitting a tree – keeping in mind that we still don’t know for sure what such knocks might mean to a ‘Squatch.
I knocked three times. Nothing. I tried several more rounds of three knocks each and then suddenly I heard what sounded like a return knock coming from down in the kettle. I knocked several more times and received responses. While there are homes dotted around this area of the Kettle Moraine, there was absolutely no one else around and the kettle was on private land too overgrown for even diehard hikers. The slopes of many of the kettles are also very steep and quite treacherous for humans to navigate, so I thought it unlikely some jokester was down there.
After a few more knocks I heard the unmistakable sound of something very loud crashing through the underbrush toward me. I couldn’t see anything, however, and the sound then stopped at least 50 feet away from the ridge where I was standing. I probably should have run but I was in denial that it could be anything dangerous and instead I whacked the tree again. I heard another crashing charge toward me. Again – idiotically — I hit the tree. There was a period of silence accompanied by muted scuffling sounds that seem to be getting farther away from me, and then I heard another knock from down in the kettle. I answered and it did too, except this one was accompanied by what sounded like wood tearing. I thought that was strange but I answered anyway and then there were two knocks again accompanied by the sharp sound of splitting wood. I gave my tree two sharp thwacks, reasoning that I was still close enough to the public pathway that I was probably safe, and then it happened.
I heard a deafening crack and watched in disbelief as a huge branch that I later measured to be over 20 feet long and at least 8 inches in diameter seemed to tear itself free from a giant old oak tree rooted in to the bottom of the kettle. The branch was at least 30 feet above the base of the tree but because I stood on a ridge it was directly at my eye level. I could not see anything moving the branch before it fell horizontally and thudded on the forest floor below. One end of the branch was covered with fresh green leaves and there was fresh wood on the tree where the branch of cracked off so I knew this was not a dead or hollow tree ready to shed its limbs. There was almost no wind and it was a blue-sky-white- cloud kind of day with great visibility, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I could think of no plausible reason for that healthy limb to have cracked off the tree at that moment, and that’s when I realized that only some truly massive force could have done it. That’s also when I dropped the stick and ran.
I wanted to go back before dark to have a look at the tree limb and reassure myself that it really happened but I was not going in there by myself. I called my friend Sandra Schwab, an experienced investigator, and she immediately grabbed her 21-year old daughter, Natalie, and drove to meet me. Although I was still in shock, the three of us plunged in and made our way down to the bottom of the kettle where it was easy to find the torn branch. We were astounded by the size of it and by its obvious freshness. We confirmed it was easily 8 to 10 inches in diameter and over 20 feet long, counting the smaller branches at the end of it. We peered up at the tree and could see a freshly broken spur where the branch had been only a half-hour earlier. It was at least 30 feet above the ground.
The tree split into a fork about halfway between the ground and where the branch had been, but it still looked like a really tough climb even for Bigfoot. But when we walked around behind the tree, we saw a pile of logs and small branches that seemed to have been deliberately collected on the ground to use as a stepping stone to a higher perch where it could’ve sat unobserved to tear the branch away from behind.
As it happened, we found an oval patch of bark that had been rubbed off the branch leaving very fresh wood underneath. It was about the size that I imagine a Bigfoot hand would be based on many witness observations. Moreover, Natalie found the piece of bark that had been rubbed off lying not far from the branch. It was buckled in two places and had shred marks as if something with very strong nails had dug in and applied great force to it. It also stank strongly of musk. Since Natalie had already handled it and there did not appear to be any skin shreds or hair that would be useful for DNA, we each inspected it in turn; I smelled that musk odor on my own hands the rest of the night. We also found bare spots of ground that reeked of musky urine. Whatever the massive force was, it was rank.
The ground was too hard for tracks but we saw various places where the wild ginger and other plants were strangely flattened. And our adventure was not over.
We climbed the ridge behind the tree and looked down into the adjoining kettle. Suddenly, Natalie gasped that she saw it! Sandra and I both turned toward where she was pointing. But it was too late — it was out of our view. Natalie did not see the entire body but said she saw what looked like a tall biped covered in tan fur that was lighter than the numerous deer in this area. She said it was moving quickly but not running and not walking like a human exactly, either. The word she finally settled on was “striding,” in very long strides, as it disappeared into the brush. I should add that Natalie had been a skeptic on the idea of Bigfoot, but is no longer.
We stood there staring and hoping to get a glimpse of it again when we heard a very menacing growl from somewhere in the kettle below us that was like nothing any of us could recall. If only I would have turned my camera on and switched the dial to video I could’ve recorded it, but the sound was over before I could come to my senses and make my move. (If I had been smart, I also would’ve brought my digital audio recorder.) We all felt that the growling was a warning to leave and decided that was the prudent thing to do since it was fast getting dark and we did not want to be lost in those woods with a creature strong enough to tear an 8 inch branch off a live oak tree.
We returned the next day to have a better peek at the back of that tree. I was looking for fur tufts or other clues that we might have missed. We didn’t see any but did notice much of the top surface of the branches piled behind the tree had been rubbed smooth on top as if it had been used often. There were no other sounds or incidents, and the musky smell was gone.
Ironically, my plan for Sunday evening had been to take a drive over to Rock County to some other active sites. Instead I ended up being where – and when — something was actually happening. This illustrates the point I often make that both Bigfoot and the Dogman have large territories to roam and are just as likely to be seen in any favorable habitat — whether someone else has seen them there already or not. The key is to know what kind of places they prefer and to be alert to subtle clues. And then it still takes luck.
Because Natalie actually saw some kind of tall, furry creature and the three of us heard that strange growling, I feel a lot more confident thinking that this may have been a Bigfoot rather than some other unknown phenomenon. I don’t believe it was a Dogman because I think that a canine would have a very difficult time scaling a tree like that much less use its canine arm structure to tear off a giant branch. Bears can climb but can’t knock on trees with sticks. And it would’ve been next to impossible for most any human to have done what I witnessed without using an axe or other equipment.
And I may have had a previous glimpse. In May of this year, I was walking in the same area when I heard a medium-sized branch crack off a tree at the top of a kettle just behind the side yard of a nearby home. I looked just in time to see it drop as something very long and covered in light tan fur also descended quickly into foliage below. The only thing I could think of at the time was that it might have been the tail of a mountain lion that had just alighted from its perch, breaking the limb as it did so – rather a stretch in itself. Now I wonder if it was the arm of a Bigfoot that had just snapped off a tree branch while standing hidden below! There just aren’t many critters around here with light-colored fur.
I’m still rather in awe of the experience and I think that I will see and hear that giant branch falling off the oak tree for the rest of my life. Was it Bigfoot? I can’t prove it, but I can’t come up with any other explanation other than that it was the most extreme coincidence imaginable, considering the way everything happened. And Natalie did see something. I will let you all know if there’s more to the story!
(Location must remain confidential since the kettle itself is on private land and owner does not want disclosure of the site)