Shiralkar: Why Bigfoot won’t come to Ames

Columnist Parth Shiralkar discusses the discourse concerning Bigfoot and his lack of appearances in Ames. 

Parth Shiralkar

In 1811, an explorer from Great Britain stumbled across a set of footprints somewhere in North America. David Thompson, who lived his latter years as an astronomer and surveyor along the U.S.-Canada border, is one of the few individuals generally credited with the first sightings of Bigfoot. The owner of those footprints — almost 24 inches (60 cm) long and 8 inches (20 cm) wide — Bigfoot, is an urban legend, also fondly referred to as “Sasquatch.” The name comes from the local word se’sxac, meaning “wild men.” Bigfoot is, indeed (on paper), a wild man.

Described using an expansive array of synonymous adjectives, Bigfoot is typically known to be a huge, hairy, human-like primate creature. He uses both feet for locomotion and is loosely somewhere between 6 and 15 feet tall. Shrouded in a foul stench, Bigfoot can be sighted either creeping about silently or screaming a shrill cry up in the mountains. This is an important note for further inquiry. Genealogically, the Sasquatch is assumed — in the rare academic setting — to have descended from the Neanderthals.

So why won’t he come to Ames? Why would such a legendary creature miss out on mercurial weather and beautiful sunsets? The answer is simple and long. Most of it has to do with climate and geography, but some pieces of the puzzle lie in its culture and history. In 2007, Baylor University carried out a survey under its Baylor Religion Surveys banner. Creatures like Bigfoot were in an auxiliary section of the survey, but according to the numbers, only around 16 percent of Americans believed in them.

It would seem, then, that these believers are scattered mainly along North America, with a strong foothold in the local legend. This is the cultural and historical aspect of Bigfoot’s indifference to states like Iowa. The Midwest is left to its other local horrors, simply by virtue of its structural position relative to more hilly areas. And Bigfoot has several cousins — too many, perhaps, to count. The Himalayan Abominable Snowman — the “Yeti” — is one of them. The mountains of Mongolia have their own creature called “Almas,” a Native American mountain tribe has “Ts’emekwes,” the list goes on. Ergo, mountainous (and densely forested) areas are these creatures’ only known haunts.

In soft contrast, Ames is a lovely little land in the middle of somewhere. I tried to look up Bigfoot-like creatures in the local folklore, but the only scary bipeds I found were human — mostly politicians. Even Illinois had its share of sightings. Ames, again, a relatively laid-back college settlement with some lush meadows and a dreamy downtown, has virtually no selling points to a creature famous for subtle, anonymous havoc. There’s simply not enough hiding spots, no sturdy seed for its folklore, plus it’s the entirely wrong demographic.

And thus, with an average topographical elevation of less than a 1,000 feet, we have practically a very small chance at an encounter with this mythical mad-lad, this creature of churlish endeavors, this weird Wookie rip-off. Why, you might ask, believe in such certain hoaxes? Because these ideas are cool. According to ecologist Robert Pyle, this need for a larger-than-life creature is completely natural and, often, precious. And what with Halloween around the bend, talk of these tales is nothing if not in vogue. Wash your hands and wear a mask.