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  • Title: In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch
  • Author: John Zada
  • Genre: Non-Fiction
  • Publisher: Greystone Books
  • Pages: 336

As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, John Zada read Sasquatch books from the library, such as On the Track of the Sasquatch and The Sasquatch File, and played in the forested ravines behind his house. As an adult and a respected journalist, he organized a B.C. Sasquatch quest of his own, which became the subject of his book, In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond. This seems a silly book premise at first. Certainly, I got smirks at the dining table when I brought up the possible existence of a Bigfoot (a term Zada uses interchangeably).

In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond delivers, though. Zada eschews the blurry black-and-white photos of hairy silhouettes. He gives us instead an adventure travel story in the tradition of Paul Theroux and, in parts, Jon Krakauer. “Few, if any, seasoned travellers or explorers think the planet has been comprehensively probed,” Zada writes.

The Sasquatch becomes a handy trope to explore some of the most glorious forests on earth. The book also fits into an emerging sub-genre of Pacific Northwest deep woods non-fiction, along with the tree-planting odyssey Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill, where black flies and grizzlies loom constant. This genre speaks to our yearning for an antidote to climate crisis paralysis and urban ennui. Zada is a latter-day Henry David Thoreau or John Muir, tromping tirelessly and with great glee through “thickly forested slopes that seem to respire magic.” His open-minded views on Sasquatch inject surrealism and eco-spirituality into the mix. We meet a series of indelible characters from First Nations whose names you wish would be legal to spell in Scrabble: Q’umk’uts’ and Nuxalk and Q’vuqvai and Wuikinuxv.

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Zada visited the Great Bear Rainforest initially to write a magazine story about the area as a new travel destination. A resident in Bella Bella told him of a sighting of a “monstrous humanoid.” Months later, Zada returned to track the elusive primate, whose name, “Sasquatch,” according to Zada’s meticulous research, originated in a story in Maclean’s magazine in 1929. Early in his quest, in Bella Bella on B.C.’s central coast, Zada meets with derision from a Heiltsuk man at a campfire. The man notes local poverty, and thunders, “You come from the big city, and all you can do is ask about Sasquatches?” Others later take a racist poke at Zada’s Middle Eastern origins and label him “Mr. Sasquatch Terrorist Man.” Zada persists and traces the origin of Sasquatch lore to the First Nations people. Many communities speak of an unruly ape, often female. People in Wuikinuxv and among the Kwakwaka’wakw call the ape Dzonoqua. Heiltsuk speak of Thla’thla. A Nuxalk man gives Zada the name Sninik.

The adventure hits its stride when, after criss-crossing the tiny communities of British Columbia’s rugged central coast, Zada catches the ferry Queen of Chilliwack for the epic ghost town of Ocean Falls. “The slow-rolling vistas and the sense of impending arrival set to the smell of oily grime on metal, sea breeze, and engine exhaust can, strangely, have an almost soothing effect,” he writes. In the 1950s, when this was B.C.’s largest pulp mill town, the local high-school football team was called the Ocean Falls Bush Apes. But none of the town’s two dozen residents has seen a Sasquatch around here lately. Even so, the comic bar scene in Saggo’s Saloon – only open three days a week from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. – is worth the detour. The rug is burgundy shag. The beer is Lucky Lager. We meet Bartender Bob and “Nearly Normal” Norman Brown. Searching for an elusive ape, Zada has a knack for meeting unforgettable humans. These breezy interludes lighten the book and keep us turning pages.

Zada doggedly resumes his search, and his enthusiasm lends his story resonance. He, and many he meets, wants to believe. One one side of this debate are Bigfoot trackers with collections of plaster casts of huge footprints. On the other side are scads of skeptics. Zada travels between them, through what he calls “an ether of subtler possibilities.” He surveys psychology and quantum physics, noting, “objects ... are in fact made up of transient particles that are continually appearing and disappearing.” Early in the story he writes, “We want to believe in a noble Sasquatch who is more perceptive, and freer, than us.” Later, he muses, “When people who see a Bigfoot in a transcendental way then choose to search for the creature afterward, they are really looking to relive, or recapture, a moment of expanded awareness that has long since vanished.”

But just when Zada turns too metaphysical, we are back in an old wooden rowboat, using two-by-fours to paddle against the wind with a legendary bear tracker and his cynical teenaged son. We leave the woods, back to the city – what a First Nations man Zada meets calls “The Noise.” It’s been a fun trip.

Journalist Peter Kuitenbrouwer holds a Master of Forest Conservation from the University of Toronto.

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