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A new book for pre-teens explores Bigfoot through a scientific lens

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

I know the journalist Laura Krantz to be a science-trusting, facts-first person. So I was fascinated when in 2018 she put out a podcast called "Wild Thing" where she journeyed into the world of Bigfoot. That's right, Bigfoot. That podcast has now become her first children's book, titled "The Search For Sasquatch."

LAURA KRANTZ: This is partially a mystery. It's partially a little bit of science education. It is learning how to think about evolution and how we fit into the world.

MARTINEZ: Turns out Krantz had a relative who had done his own digging into Bigfoot.

KRANTZ: He was my grandfather's cousin. And he was a professor of anthropology at Washington State University. He was a scientist. And yet he also thought that Bigfoot was out there. And so, for me, it was sort of this question, how can you hold on to being a scientist and also onto this idea of Bigfoot at the same time?

MARTINEZ: And so Krantz went into the wilderness to find out for herself.

KRANTZ: I approached this from the standpoint of Bigfoot is a flesh-and-blood creature, the same as anything else on this earth. It's not magical. It doesn't have superpowers. And that's what I'm kind of hoping to encourage the readers to do, is say, OK, this is a really interesting idea. How can we look at this logically? How can we look at this through the lens of science?

MARTINEZ: I'm hoping Bigfoot had a little magic to it. I'm just hoping it has a little bit of mysticism to it. But I know. I know it probably wouldn't if it was real.

KRANTZ: Well, I mean, think of it this way. So people say Bigfoot vanishes. OK, so maybe Bigfoot doesn't turn invisible, but maybe Bigfoot is covered with so many twigs and leaves and hair that, like, if he stands really still, you can't see him anymore.

MARTINEZ: Ah.

KRANTZ: Like, there's a way to think about it like that.

MARTINEZ: But you know what, Laura? When I think about Bigfoot, it's never about whether I believe it's real, but more about how I want to believe that it's real. What do you think is at the bottom of that?

KRANTZ: Yeah. I think there are a lot of things. I think for some people, it's the idea of that the world is still wild enough and unexplored that something like Bigfoot could be out there. I think we all want that. I think we want that sense of mystery. I think, too, there's a sort of recognition that we need to preserve these wild spaces. It's almost an environmental mandate and desire to preserve the sorts of places that Bigfoot could exist in, even if Bigfoot doesn't really exist.

MARTINEZ: You wrote about people you spoke to who swear - who swear, swear, swear they've had an experience with something - either Bigfoot or at least something that they cannot explain. What were some of those stories that maybe started to convince you, Laura Krantz, that Bigfoot was actually real, maybe?

KRANTZ: The stories I heard came from people who were avid outdoors people that had spent a lot of time in the woods. They were wildlife scientists and wildlife biologists. They were hunters. They were people who really knew the environment and then had an experience that was so bizarre that they really couldn't figure out another explanation for it. And there's a really great story in the book from a guy named John Mionczynski. And I'm not going to tell it because it's just such a good story, and I want people to read it. But when he told this story, like, the hair on the back of my neck just kind of stood up. And it really gave me the creeps. And the next time I went camping after that, I was a little bit freaked out. I will be completely honest about that.

MARTINEZ: And it goes back to the poster that Fox Mulder had in his office...

KRANTZ: (Laughter).

MARTINEZ: ...In the FBI's underground that said I want to believe on the TV show "X-Files." I want to believe but can't take the dive unless I got some proof, some evidence.

KRANTZ: Yeah.

MARTINEZ: But that makes something like this difficult sometimes.

KRANTZ: Right. Oh, no. It totally does. But the way I was thinking about it from the standpoint of, you know - again, this is written for kids roughly between the ages of 8 and 12, 9 and 13 - in that range. And they are going to have all kinds of things come at them up through the news, through peers, through social media, all kinds of stories. And I'm hoping that this will help them learn how to parse some of that information.

So, yeah, this is a really great story. You want to know more, explore, ask questions, think about what the possibilities might be, but also stay grounded in, you know, the reality of the world. And part of this is trying to help kids maybe be a little bit more scientifically literate, be a little bit more critical in their thinking about these kinds of stories and yet still realize that they can have fun with it and want to believe.

MARTINEZ: Tell us about the nests.

KRANTZ: Oh. The nests are weird. So I was invited to come take a look at these Bigfoot nests that had been found on private timberland on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. And they were essentially huge ground nests. They were like birds nests that were 10 feet across that were big enough you could lay down in. And, of course, we don't know what built them. And there are people who are pretty sure that Bigfoot might have built them, which might sound weird, except that gorillas also build nests - in Africa, of course, not in Washington state.

But it does raise a lot of questions. And when I saw them, I was kind of like, these are really strange. Like, what built these? And that adds to the mystery of it. And, you know, there's all kinds of exploration into what's happening here. There is some DNA analysis, which I get into in the book. And this is one of these little tidbits that sort of keeps cropping up in the world of Bigfoot that kind of makes you wonder, well, maybe.

MARTINEZ: One of my favorite Laura Krantz-isms is this. Even if Bigfoot isn't real, we as a species need him to be. Why?

KRANTZ: So this is kind of an interesting phenomenon that I came across. But if you think about it, for as long as we've been telling stories, for as long as we've been sharing information with each other, there has been some sort of creature on the periphery, whether it's Grendel in "Beowulf," whether it is other monsters that we have sort of created on the periphery of our cities and in the - outside the line of vision around our campfire. There's always been something out there, and I think in some ways we have evolved with this idea of a creature, of an other out there, of something that is not us, that is not human and yet is drawn to us in the same way that we are drawn to it.

And I think that, you know, philosophically and emotionally and maybe even evolutionarily, like, this is something that has always been part of our existence. And so for it to not exist anymore - it'd be like losing a part of ourselves. And I think this kind of goes back to the idea of the world being wild enough and unexplored enough that something like Bigfoot can exist. If we lose that, we lose a fundamental part of what it is to be human.

MARTINEZ: That's journalist Laura Krantz. Her new book is "The Search For Sasquatch."

Laura, thanks.

KRANTZ: Thanks very much, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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