Sasquatches I have known

In vacationing at Harrison Hot Springs with the family this holiday season I hadn’t realized we were venturing into the heart of Big Foot territory until I learned that the info center had a little “Sasquatch Museum” attached to their bungalow. I had assumed this would be a delightful trip into kitsch and looked forward to buying the kids some Big Foot-related swag. I was delighted when the visitor center even suggested they’d open the place for us since we were coming to town during a time it is normally closed! That’s a small town that knows how to cater to visitors.

As often happens to me when it comes to the reality of First Nations in the modern world, I realized this was about a lot more than tacky fun.

Kitschiness is often something cheap that is repeated so often in a motif that it can develop soul by sheer force of will. Big Foot lore is certainly that as it is everywhere in this small town. Sometimes in a form with flowing locks and intense gaze reminiscent of Jason Mamoa:











Or sometimes in its goofier child-friendly version:

I’m still learning about this part of the world and despite my secret love of cryptozoology and a general understanding that Big Foot is a thing here — why don’t we say the Pacific Southwest when we’re in Canada? — it just hadn’t twigged for me that this was a First Nations legend. The word Sasquatch is probably from a Salish word Sasq’ets, meaning “wild man” or “hairy man.” The First Nation of Harrison Hot Springs is the Sts’ailes (Chehalis).  They had a special relationship with Sasq’ets and believed the wild man had the ability to move between the physical and spiritual realm. There are legends like this from pockets of isolated people all over the world. Most of the time is smacks of myth, but sometimes you actually find a “forest person” such as the urang-outang in Indonesian.

It makes me wonder if perhaps there were pockets of rare giant apes that coexisted with the First Nations people before they went extinct, perhaps even thousands of years ago. Is that less likely than the existence of mastodons or giant sloths?

The problem with Big Foot, of course, is that there’s basically no physical evidence, unlike the mastodons, and no “sightings” in recent memory except by people who tend to benefit from the legend. I’ve said before, I’m naturally a credulous person and it took many years of training to become a skeptic who takes a beat to consider evidence before diving headfirst into a story.

But still. I was thinking in terms of white men giving guided tours and speaking in hushed tones in a rain forest making us all feel like eyes were on us.

I had not expected to learn that the Sts’ailes had incorporated their forest man into seasonal dances. Is this a more modern addition to their dancing?

Modern at least for the last one hundred years as an old mask that was missing for a while only recently repatriated to their nation. Is it their Big Foot or is it a bear mask?

“After 75 years missing, a piece of Sts’ailes First Nation history has been repatriated to the community. The Sasq’uets mask disappeared from the Sts’ailes in 1939, believed to have been taken by JW Burns; the man often credited with having anglicized sasq’ets into sasquatch. Burns is rumoured to have become obsessed with the sasquatch legend while teaching at the Chehalis Indian School near Harrison Hot Springs BC.

Harrison Hot Springs and the shores of Harrison Lake have a long history of bigfoot activity and the elusive sasquatch is an important part of Sts’ailes culture. The Sts’ailes people believe that the sasquatch is the protector of the land. Because of this, a Sts’ailes man– James Leon– has spent the last 16 years of his life searching for this piece of lost history. After scouring North America, Leon discovered the mask was a little closer to home than first thought. Leon discovered that the mask was at the Vancouver Museum, and when he explained the story to museum staff they confirmed it was there.

The mask has now been returned to the Sts’ailes First Nation. Interestingly, the Sts’ailes people believe that to see the sasquatch is a great honour, and it will bestow a great gift on you.”

Harrison plays up the relationship between First Nations and this creature of legend in this tiny town, and between that and the natural hot springs, they appear to have a booming tourist trade.

Certainly, were I a giant hairy forest ape (and aren’t we all really?), I would choose a spot on a lake with a hot spring where I might float like a tea bag and regard the night sky and the snow-flecked hills around me, reflecting on in the majesty of the natural landscape.


A view of holiday lights from across the Lagoon.

A view from our hotel room at sunset.

So I’m taking the legend of Big Foot a bit more seriously now as I did many other indigenous stories that turned out to have a good practical reason for existing. My children, however:

EDIT: Was just told of this fun dance tune, The Sasquatch Funk.

In praise of Star Trek

There are certain TV shows that became a part of my core personality when I was a kid and watching my eldest totally glom on to Brooklyn Nine-nine this past year made me think about those shows that shaped me. I wonder if we are attracted to them because they already reflect our inner selves? Or do they do more than that and actually work to shape us the way a mentor might?

Social media was passing around a thing asking people to list their top five shows to indicate their personality and it prompted me to think about mine: MASH, Star Trek: TNG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Northern Exposure, and something British but I haven’t decided which one.

But listing the shows made me realize that I haven’t watched any Next Generation episode since they first aired. Yet the episodes made such lasting impressions on me that to this day I remember them clearly and can even head off a panic attack by putting on some Enterprise background noise. I am clearly not the only one if the 24-hour channel is any indication.

I have yet to find another television series that explores mature concepts of philosophy in a family-friendly format. I’ve started forcing my girls to watch some of these episodes.  It’s prompted interesting discussions. They seem to enjoy the show and interrupt less often than when I usually try to foist something on them. Ann of Green Gables (’80s series) didn’t even hold their attention so completely.

Back when I first watched the series I remember being irritated by Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troy. I realize now that I like them a lot more because I’ve learned to disregard the beauty pageant levels of hair and make-up. Apparently, as a kid this was enough of a surface presentation for me to stop taking them as seriously as their male counterparts. Internal bias is interesting.

I’m grateful that the show had a large budget and filmed directly to 35mm so that even rebroadcast on our current hi-def screens it looks surprisingly modern. The decor not so much, but at least the kids don’t complain that the show looks cheap. And our current screen fidelity means certain things like stunt doubles or the noodles used instead of maggots in episode Conspiracy are now plainly visible. I enjoy spotting moments where the film is overexposed for the lighting or the Steadicam got bumped during a tracking shot.

EDIT:  friend wrote to tell me this and I am sharing so as to give credit where it is due!
As for how good TNG still looks, that’s a direct result of the painstaking remastering process that was done on HD several years back–in which the entire edited-on-video(!) series had to be re-edited, and all effects redone from scratch, using the original 35mm raw footage. It was so laborious and expensive that the subsequent repackaging on Blu-ray made far too little money for Paramount/CBS to justify doing the same for the remaining ST shows, and it’s probably the biggest reason the same hasn’t been done for the long-neglected Babylon 5 (which is in even worse shape than TNG was).”

There was a time in my twenties when I worked for a producer who would eventually become the head of the Scott Bakula iteration and I almost got to work on that show. I had a surreal holiday party experience where I skated with Bakula and his daughter on an artificial rink at Paramount. Or late one night wandering the backlot and stopping to watch Michael Dorn have his forehead make-up applied. These were the fangirl moments that made the long hours and insanity of Los Angeles worthwhile.

It saddens me that few shows still address the deeper probing topics that TNG and other Star Trek shows tried to examine. The closest we seem to reach now is BBC’s Black Mirror, but that lacks the optimism and spirit of adventure that I look for in TNG. And I think it would freak out the kids.

And then the revamped Star Trek movies are widely regarded as a warmed-over rehash of any generic “adventure” movie that bears little resemblance to the concepts of the original Star Trek vision.

But  my original question remains. Did I love it because it reflected a core part of my personality that thrives on civic engagement and civility in the face of crisis? Or did it teach me to be that kind of person?  Was it this guy who taught us how to be a boss?

(Interestingly, these days I am reading his distaste for children as a character flaw instead of as an endearing quirk. But that’s because I know how to be a Boss with two kids and a cat hanging off my elbows. He’s not good at multitasking.)

I don’t know. I don’t know if it reflected me or shaped me. I don’t know.

The show does support my observation of a uniquely human tendency that runs across all cultures where we decorate our interior spaces with images of what’s happening immediately outside. You don’t find photos of a Vermont winter in an adobe in Santa Fe, you find more images of adobes.

So of course you will have pictures of bleak planets and space stations to decorate your quarters on a spaceship. Because humans will be humans even three hundred years from now.

Urgh, that early ’90s decor in mauve is nauseating.

And just to tie it all together, I’d like to one day perform in a Klingon opera. This is fabulous, honest! Have a listen. It’s all the dissonance and belting you could ever want.

Culture city

Certain cities ooze an ephemeral quality of “culture” and it can be tricky to explain exactly why. But then other times it’s clear how artistic expression is woven into the fabric of the urban landscape. Montreal is a city that provides a full sensory cultural experience.

From murals in every corner to music in every neighborhood, it’s teeming with art.

A number of musicians and dancers will be scheduled for outdoor events during the rush hour, which means that all sorts of people will get to see snippets of beauty and art during their commute. It’s refreshing to see well-heeled locals sitting next to folks sleeping rough, all enjoying the same performance in any kind of weather.

Or a number of public spaces with shared instruments that provide an opportunity to show off and shimmy.

Although I’m not certain who pays for these artistic expressions, I’m sure the city gets it back in the form of tourism and internationally-renowned reputation for creativity.

A room of one’s own

It was a stressful day and I needed respite. As is my wont, I chose a dark movie theater even though it was a beautiful sunny summer afternoon. I wish I could be the sort of person who can relax on a nature walk but I can’t. It would certainly be better for me than pounding popcorn and soda in a dark room.

My partner wondered why I couldn’t go for a relaxing walk instead of a movie I didn’t particularly even want to see. A question I hadn’t really considered before. Why is a movie or live theater the only space where I can truly relax? Whether I’m on the stage or viewing from the audience. I can also manage it in a dance class or some other fitness-related activity, so it’s not laziness at work here.

Where do you go to relax? I asked him.

A long bike ride.
A bus trip around the city.
A pub with the crossword puzzle at hand.
Sitting by a public fountain reading the newspaper.
A solo walk in the woods.
Going to sit on a beach.

I like being on my own but all of those options are not open to me. If I am alone in those spaces for more than ten minutes a dude will try to chat me up.

“Aw, shit,” he commiserated.

Unless the rando dude is at a theater to see some entertainment will I be sure to be left alone. In the darkness I can rest and know that I will not be bothered.

I thought back to participating in an opera competition and sitting in the wings with my friend, a pretty lass who had a tendency to also attract unwanted male attention. She was doing some stretches backstage and said, “I just feel so safe in a theater, I don’t know why.”

This was despite our conversation about handsy male directors and costars and what pests they so often turned out to be. Even that was less of a threat than just existing as female alone in a public space.

How many times had I worn a wedding ring in public as a woman traveling the world alone simply to try and fend off some of the aggression? Had it even worked? You’ll try anything to get some peace. Most often I would chat with a dude for a few minutes and try to turn him into a friend instead of an aggressive stranger. That doesn’t always work either.

Retreat into the dark theater and have a breather.

American bully

I was listening to a political discussion and there was a hypothetical question posed of why so many bullies and aggressive men seem to be endemic to New York politics and the people in the discussion had no answer to this. I believe that like the proverbial frog it is because they’ve been in the heated water so long they can no longer recognize dysfunction, but their question brought me back to my childhood and my early days as a European girl in a New York school.

The first thing you notice about the USA as a newcomer is that aggression is rewarded not diminished. Bullies are rewarded with laughter and social capital.

The basic tenant in New York and many parts of the USA seems to be: You either eat or get eaten.

In my family, too, there is a bit of this ethos at play. It doesn’t come naturally to me but I was able to give over to a certain veneer of toughness that is necessary to surviving live in on the New York playground as much as a Wall Street office.

There is a language that comes along with the way we raise children in America. Language that the late Marshall Rosenberg breaks down as Jackal versus Giraffe.


I’d further gotten a distance from my culture of origin when I first became a parent in another unexpected place. This was reading the illustrated book designed to help parents communicate with their teenagers, but it was a real eye opener.

It changed the way I view communication among everyone. And although I still fall easily into my Jackal-speak, I’ve become far more attuned to how we speak to children. I think the awareness has helped me in every facet of life. Now, when I see grandparents in particular emotionally negate children it is risible how unaware I was of the tendency before.

On a recent field trip a little kid started crying and the older grandmother literally said, “You’re not sad, it’s just a stick, you don’t need to cry.”

Well, but damn it, maybe her stick breaking did make her feel sad!

So back to why this relates to New Yorkers.

Growing up it is clear that it’s eat or be eaten and the boys who were tough guys got a lot more respect. Yeah, people will call him an asshole, but they’ll stay out of his way or he’ll get what he wants in the short term. His whole life, he’s learned that trampling on feelings and bullying gets him what he wants.


This is the atmosphere of hostility we all live in and we’re unaware of it as hostile as a baseline because it is so pervasive. It’s all over TV, radio, daily interaction at home, school, and work, it is online and in person.

When the baseline hostility overflows into persona aggression no one is surprised. School fistfights were an almost daily event at my elementary school and I didn’t even think it was weird after a couple of years there. Now, I’d be shocked if there were fights breaking out among kids almost daily at my daughters’ school. But then we moved to other countries like New Zealand where bullying is a problem but it’s not celebrated the way it is in New York.


Where he was once the child.

He is now the adult.



Body positive

So I’m leaving dance class and an older woman of a certain plush size says to me:
“I wanted to quit when I started but I saw how amazing you look dancing even though you’re keeping it low impact and it kept me going this whole year. Thank you for being brave enough to be at the front of the class.”
And I said:
“Us big girls have more to shake.”
And I did a bit of a belly dance in the lobby of our gym which made her laugh and that made me happy.
This was the second hula of the day as my eldest had already observed that morning:
“The way your stomach hangs over your pants reminds me of something.”
“People call it a muffin top.”
“That’s it!”
Hula hula and twerk twerk and jiggle belly until she begged me to stop.
So if you’re going to comment on my body please know you’re risking me dancing at you aggressively. Comment at your own risk.

Sound design pet peeves

An interesting side effect of this switch to streaming services on our phones and tablets is that I watch TV with headphones on a lot more than I used to.

Perhaps for this reason, and also the tendency to watch a few episodes of a series in a row, I’ve become much more aware of sound design and sloppy sound cues. It reminds me of the unusual laugh that sticks out in a laugh track so you notice when it is looped.

Here are some examples from a variety of TV shows as I spot trends:

When show cuts to the same countryside location they always start the scene with the sound of a crow cawing.

When characters enter a lower class apartment building the muffled sounds of a baby crying.

When characters are in an office scene there will be the same phone ring sound at the same point in the scene, usually twenty seconds in.

Gritty scene always entail wet streets and honking cars.

Have we become more savvy in our viewing or will our viewing push creators to change how they package their shows? Or maybe I’m the only one who gets distracted by this stuff. What are  your auditory pet peeves?

The look of love

I was on public transit when a man only a bit younger than myself sat across from me. He looked very much like a boyfriend I had in high school. Same body type and coloring of hair and eyes, similar way of moving. He even sort of dressed like that teenager I used to know who no longer exists.

He must have noticed I was staring at him in a weird way and when he looked up I smiled at him as though we knew each other, I gave a nod, and went back to my reading.

And realization hit me.

The smile I just gave him. That’s the smile so many older men and women have flashed at me in public spaces over the years when I noticed them staring at me.

I understand now. I reminded them of someone — a daughter, a sister, a friend — I look like someone they used to love.

I think this was the moment I officially turned the corner from young to old.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you. Find love anywhere.

On alternative medicine and its appeal

Guys, I get it. I really do.
Science and medicine are not comforting. Interacting with medicine is often emotionally cold and physically unpleasant.

I was thinking about the appeal of all those “alternative medicine” and “holistic treatments” and how often I’ve been suckered into trying them because the trappings are so cozy and appealing.

I have some dry feet and over the years I have amassed a collection of attractive tins full of sweet-smelling salves. They’re pretty on the bathroom counter and they have a lovely odor and feel soothing.

However, they don’t work. They’re pleasant to use and not a huge waste of funds in the long run, but they don’t work.

I did end up seeing a podiatrist. He was curt. I thought perhaps I was having recurring tinea pedis but he told me I merely have dry skin and that my shoes were bad. He didn’t comment that they were cute or useful on a hot day or maybe the only pair I have that are easy to slip off for a podiatrist appointment — just, “Those shoes are bad.” His office was as cold and clinical as you might imagine with big charts depicting unattractive foot problems all under unlovely lighting. In a word: harsh.

He gave me this bad-smelling cream. The main ingredient is urea — that’s the crystal you get from pee. The label is uninspiring and the texture is gross. I do not enjoy applying this cream.

It works. Even though I hate using it. Much like going to see a curt doctor. I mean, of course I’d rather go to a bullshit spa where someone burns sage and tells me how lovely my chakras look today. Any reiki studio is likely to be more pleasant and gentle than any given podiatrist office. And I do wish actual medicine would catch on to this divide and understand that people want care as well as healing. They’re even willing to pay for bullshit treatment just to feel like someone is listening to their needs and helping them feel more calm.

I’ll even contend that the the popularity of the mani/pedi as a mini-break for busy women (regardless of the socio-political implications of the underpaid workforce at these places) is an extension of this desire to be taken care of. When we say pampered what we actually mean is we want someone to take care of us for a while. The pedicure place is a semi-medical space where items are supposed to be sterilized and feet are treated in a pseudo-medical way. But at the same time there is soothing music and a massage chair and a nice lady tending to you and getting you a cup of tea.

Yes, we’re susceptible to snake oil but particularly when the snake oil smells, looks, feels, and is presented in a much more attractive way than the actual evidence-based medicine. It even turns out that all of my pretty lotions were contributing to the problem of dry skin as the essential oil in it was too harsh. So some things that feel nice are actually hurting us. But still…

This looks like more fun…

Than this.

The acupuncturist I used to see served an amazing tea that made her studio smell fantastic and it was full of potted plants and pretty pictures and salt lamps casting soft glows with gentle music playing in the background and we sat on silk cushions and people smiled at me when I arrived. Doctors too often work in depressing spaces full of stressed out people who only get ten minutes with their patients and exam rooms rarely get natural light.

It’s really not a fair comparison, but only one of them works to solve your health problems. Unfortunately, it’s not the one that’s enjoyable.

A post about my kids but also science and society

[The almost-11 stops her drawing and comes over to me to ask a question.]

Mom, can I ask you something?

I saw a thing on a a computer and there was a word that the boys told me it was bad when I said it out loud. They were all, whoooa.

What was the word?

Promise you won’t get mad.

Don’t be silly. It’s words.

It was N-G or N-I or something.

Ohhhhh, I know what word that is.


This requires some explanation if you want to understand it.


Okay. So. You know how brown-skinned people in some places like North America get told they’re not as good as pink-skinned people and how some people believe they’re not as good, right?


You remember how that’s because there was a time people with power wanted to keep slavery around even though it was wrong. So they said to everyone, these brown-skinned people are more like cows anyway, they’re not as good as real people, and they said that just so they could treat them like property, right?

Right. So stupid.

I know. But anyway, back then, there was this word people used — lots of words, actually — that we don’t use anymore, like saying they were colored or that word you saw on the computer, which is spelled N—–, by the way. But if you use that word now it’s like telling a brown-skinned person you want them to be a slave or you think they’re not as good as a pink-skinned person because you’re using the old words. It’s like saying you want to go back to the old ways when society thought they weren’t as good.

Oh, okay.

Here’s where it gets complicated though. That word is called a slur word and there are lots of them. Slur words exist for any group of people that someone thinks is inferior to them, not as good, not as worthy.


Right. So but, like, you know if you call your friend a female dog, the b-word, but you’re using it like a joke, like, you’re such a stupid B, I hate you, but you’re laughing and it’s a joke? Don’t worry, I know you’ll say that sometimes.

Yeah. *laughs*

That’s okay, right? You’re laughing, right? But now what if a boy or a teacher called you the b-word?

Whoa. Not okay.

Exactly. Well racial slurs are like that, too. So sometimes a brown-skinned person might write it into a song because they’re calling each other that as a way to identify their own group. So it might be okay to listen to a song with the N-word, and may be even to sing along with it by yourself in your room but yet it’s still never okay to say the word to each other. Isn’t that weird?

Yeah, the thing I read on the computer were words to a song actually.

See, that makes sense. Slurs are weird words. They change depending on context and the person saying it.

What are the other slurs?

I’m not going to tell you but you’ll hear them sometimes so just pay attention to who is saying it and why. If there’s a slur then it probably means that group of people were or are being oppressed for some reason. That means, society is keeping them down for some reason — usually because they want to use them for labor or money stuff. Use them for cheap labor.

Why did girls have those words when they weren’t even allowed to have jobs?

Well, but they were being used for labor, weren’t they? You can’t get a job for money but you do have to stay home and cook and clean and do all the housework.

Oh, yeaaaaah.

See, those words mean that a group of people were being used in some way.

It’s so stupid that they think brown-skinned people are bad.

I know, right?

All people are terrible.

Ha! You’re not wrong.

Okay. …. Thanks, mom.

No problem.

[The just-turned-5 refusing to go to sleep because of big thoughts with big pauses in between the big questions.]

Mom, I have a question.

Oh, boy. Okay.

Why is there night?

Because we’re in the shadow of the Earth with the Sun on the other side of us.

How does the Sun make light?

It’s burning with lots of big explosions. You know how a fire in the fireplace makes light and heat by burning wood? It makes light and heat by burning itself. Tiny atoms splitting and creating huge explosions. It’s pretty wild actually.

Will it burn out?

Eventually. But not for millions of years. All stars burn out eventually.

How do the trees make the air we breathe?

They absorb gas from the air, that means take it through their leaves, and they turn the things they absorb through their leaves and roots and turn it into new things inside themselves, and then they expel other gasses, sort of how we breathe out a gas called carbon dioxide? Only they breathe out oxygen. Oxygen is one gas we need that is in the air we breathe and the trees make it.

How did the trees get here? Wait. But how did people get here?

Well, first there was a planet. Then, there were plants. Then, there were trees. Then, there were flowers. But before that there were tiny life forms called bacteria, you know the little guys that we can’t see that are everywhere that some can make you sick?


Well, they can become new stuff after a long time. They can change and grow and change. The bacteria can be something new, like fish. Fish became other animals. Insects. Reptiles. Other new animals. One looked like a lizard that eventually its babies started to look more like a mouse. The little mouse one started to look like a little monkey. The monkey-looking ones lost a tail and walked around a bit and looked more like an ape. Then, the ape started walking on two legs and lost its hair. Then, it started to look more like people. Then, it started to act like people. And eventually its babies started to be people.

Are you telling me that people are monkeys with no hair?


But people make popular things like candy and emojis and posters. How do they do that if they’re monkeys?

That’s true. And actually popular things is one of the ways you know a human from an animal. We’re animals, too, but we’re more creative than other animals. That means we create things out of nothing and share it with each other. Drawings and stories and music and nice food and things like that. Like candy and posters.

Mom, I have a question.


How does the air we breathe stay on Earth. Why isn’t there air in space?

Well, okay. *sigh* So you know the planets are big and they spin, right?


Well, that spinning and size creates something called gravity. That’s the thing that pulls everything to the center of the planet, it what keeps all things from flying off into space. It’s why things falls when you drop them, they’re being pulled in by gravity. Well, so, we breathe an atmosphere. Our atmosphere stays on Earth because of gravity. But you know how when astronauts go to other places they have to wear a space suit?


Well, they do that also to give them air to breathe, right? If you went to another planet you couldn’t breathe the air there because you didn’t evolve to breathe the air there like humans evolved to breathe the air here on Earth.

*excited* Oh, that’s like (says incomprehensible name of some Pokemon).

Eerrr, yes, Pokemon evolve into new forms like how the monkey-looking animal evolved into being more like a human.

Mom, I don’t need to be an astronaut.

You don’t have to be an astronaut, honey.

I don’t need to because I’m already an astronaut. We’re flying in space on Earth and its flying in space very fast like an astronaut and its like our space suit with air we can breathe.

That’s… yep, that’s true.

Rocket ships scare me. I don’t want to be an astronaut.

That’s okay.

I want to be a Lifemaker.

Is that a Pokemon thing?

No, it’ll be my job to make life grow. Make new trees and new animals and new things on planets that don’t have them. Then, I will give them candy.

Okay, well if you’re going to be terraforming you should probably study to be a geneticist or something like that. That’s a kind of scientist that will know how to make life stuff happen.

They should call it being a Lifemaker.

You’re much better at naming things. I agree. Do you think you can sleep now?

Oh, mom. I told you. I only fall asleep when I’m bored with my thinking. I’m not bored right now.

Yeah, but I’m really tired and you can think about this stuff tomorrow. And your brain needs sleep to grow.

You go to sleep mom, it’s fine. *pats my arm* I’ll keep thinking for a while.

[And, so, dear reader, I did.]