Adopted We’re in Sasquatch Country Now
How the Bigfoot legend helped me reconcile unanswered questions about my adoption
My dad got up early on Saturdays, pressing my feet into tiny rain boots, throwing wool mittens and Ziploc bags of peanuts into his knapsack. Across the street, the woods were calling. Into the forest we’d slip, leaving behind the ranchers on our cul-de-sac, rusted kids’ bikes lying on the wet pavement. On Vancouver Island it’s always either raining or has just finished.
My dad hoisted me onto his shoulders, his blue parka rustling under my legs. As we descended further, branches brushed my face, wet and green, smelling of cedar. The trees closed over, shutting out the daylight, so it was just us, squelching through the black earth, winding our way through towering fir trees, thickets of salal bush, lichen dense as carpet.
There was something ominous about the woods no matter how many times we hiked them. The thing I remember most about the woods is their silence. Sounds seem swallowed up completely when you’re deep in the forest, which makes the odd snapping twig, or the rustling of a small bird in flight, a thousand times more startling.
From atop his shoulders, I bounced in time to my dad’s steady gait, watching the dark foliage flash past. Sometimes he would sing under his breath: “If you go into the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.”
Then he’d stop abruptly. “What’s that? Did you hear that?”
I’d whip my head around, seeing only gargantuan trees and a slight mist in all directions, hearing nothing. “What? What is it?”
“I think I heard something. I think I heard . . . a Sasquatch.”
In my stomach, a cold clang of fear. But something else too—just a sliver of thrill that there might be something watching from the stillness of the forest. Part of me could lean into this thrill because I knew I was safe up there, my tiny boots resting against my dad’s shoulders, cheeks pinkening in the cool air.
“I didn’t hear anything,” I’d say meekly.
“Ah,” he’d say, clapping his gloved hands together as we started back up the trail. “Maybe I’m wrong. But you never know. We’re in Sasquatch country now.”
Though evidence of Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, as he’s also known, is highly speculative, the legend is deeply ingrained within the culture of coastal British Columbia. One third of all alleged Sasquatch sightings have occurred somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, including many islands off the BC coast. My dad loved to talk about the clues supposedly spotted by wayward hunters: footprints eighteen inches long, pressed into the loamy earth of creek beds; shadows lumbering through the woods with strides larger than humanly possible. Others reported hearing thunderous footsteps, panting, a deep and mournful wail, unlike any sound they’d heard before. Sometimes, when my dad whispered about the Sasquatch, I felt he wanted me to be frightened of the unknown, if only so I knew he could protect me from it. I desperately wanted Bigfoot to be real, despite the tinge of fear I felt every time we walked in the woods.
I’m adopted, and growing up, my parents told me stories about this too. While they were not nearly as ominous as Bigfoot stories, they held a similar thrill of the unknown: Who were these strangers that brought me into this world? What did they look like? Why did they give me up? My questions were endless. Even when I knew the answers, I asked over and over again, as though hearing the words would somehow make them more real. I pictured my birth mother as the heroine of an ’80s teen movie, a crunchy perm and acid-washed jeans. Smart but sassy. My birth father I was less clear about. I had only hastily scrawled teenage answers glimpsed from my adoption papers: Why are you placing this child for adoption? Too young to provide her the lifestyle she deserves . I hoped he was kind. I hoped, at the end, that he’d held her hand.
Even as a child I understood there was nothing I had done personally to warrant being placed for adoption. It was, as is often the case, a matter of competing desires, of young people choosing narratives other than parenthood for themselves. Still, this did not stop me from feeling as though I had been plopped into a different storyline, one I could never fully inhabit. I dreamed of finding answers to my questions, of unearthing a parallel narrative that would make sense of my personality quirks, my deeply rooted values, everything from my hatred of sports to my unbearable itch to flee the bountiful vegetation of Vancouver Island for congested city life, a dream I’d had since childhood.
I’ve heard it said that humans are drawn to myths and legends because we’re inherently meaning-seeking. We strive to make sense of our purpose and place in the world through stories of the people—and things—that came before us. As an only child with a vivid imagination, I was not immune to this. I desperately wanted Bigfoot to be real, despite the tinge of fear I felt every time we walked in the woods. Each time we watched a newscast or read an article about a sighting, my heart caught in my throat. Despite the fearful-sounding traces people reported—inhuman roars, an eye-watering stench, the strange, almost supernatural silence that precedes a sighting—I’d heard the Sasquatch wasn’t a monster at all, that some Indigenous cultures believed it showed itself to those who needed guidance, that it was frightened of humans and only wanted to protect the fragile ecosystem of its home. I wanted the Sasquatch to be found so that we would at last know the truth: that this shadowy fragment wasn’t to be feared after all. Yet the lack of certainty also meant I would never have to confront the possibility that the truth was more disappointing.
In the way of the Sasquatch legend, I’ve pieced together my origin story in snippets of evidence too: a transcript of a social worker’s interview, sparsely worded adoption papers, questions my adoptive parents answered as honestly as they could. Occasionally I had gut feelings, which sometimes turned out to be true and sometimes did not. At twenty-one, I finally made contact with my biological father, Chris. Shortly afterward, he landed a work contract in Toronto where I now live, so we met for dinner. We agreed on a pub along the Danforth where I sometimes bring visitors because of its back patio, which is built around enormous weeping willows that bend like benevolent butlers, leaves trailing against the rough-hewn tabletops. But there had been thunderstorms earlier that day, so the patio was closed. Instead they gave us a dim window booth, red streetlights glinting in the puddles outside.
“Oh there you are,” Chris said, holding his arms out for a hug. “There you are.”
Chris has a wide grin and an affable ease. Watching him across the table, I could see exactly how my own face might age one day, which shocked me. My older, adoptive family members didn’t resemble me much, so I hadn’t thought about how my own face would progress over the years. But there it was: crow’s feet reaching toward high cheekbones, well-carved lines around an expressive mouth. The same clear blue eyes. I was startled by how natural our conversation felt, but I couldn’t tell if it was because we’re biologically related or because he’s just the kind of guy who makes people feel comfortable. He told me about a brief career in stand-up comedy; my three small half sisters; my grandmother, who is a romance novelist. Life in suburban Arizona, all palm trees and smooth pavement.
“In your letter, you said we hadn’t met, but that’s not true,” he told me. “The day you were born, I got called out of math class to the principal’s office. I thought I was in trouble, but it was your grandmother calling to tell me that you were fine, your mother was fine. So I got in a car, skipped the rest of school, and drove up to see you. I even got to hold you. You were nice—you didn’t pee on me or anything.”
So much of my identity is still a mystery to me. Not just the factual parts, but questions I know are completely unanswerable.
It feels ridiculous, but this story thrills me. Like a flicker of a past life I’ve managed to grasp, just for a moment. I met Chris a few more times for dinner in the following months, but his contract ended and our contact subsided to just a few emails a year. We stopped discussing the possibility of introducing me to his parents or my half sisters. I know from my time lurking on adoption-related web forums that I’m luckier than most, not just for having made contact with a biological relative but for having it go well, enjoyably even. Compared to the tersely worded email exchange with my birth mother that went nowhere, I feel especially lucky. Still, I sometimes feel my dinners with Chris left me with more questions than answers. For the first time, I realized my questions were too big, too existential to be satiated by something as simple as knowing why my eyes are the shape they are, or whether I come from a line of professional writers. Like a Sasquatch sighting, these answers were bursts of clarity that ebbed, leaving little that was tangible in their wake.
Years of alleged Sasquatch sightings and research haven’t brought us much closer to the truth, but the allure of Bigfoot persists. In California and British Columbia, museums dedicated to Bigfoot support research and educate the community about the legend. Bigfoot sighting groups exist across the globe, connected more than ever by social media and other digital platforms. Researchers still dedicate significant parts of their life and work to uncovering proof of the shadowy primate. Last Christmas Eve, a group of people driving after dark along British Columbia’s Highway 6 reported seeing a Sasquatch on the side of the road. I read this in my downtown Toronto apartment, sitting by the window with a glass of Riesling, a bank of condo towers glittering in the fading sun. No Sasquatches here, so far removed from the old-growth trees and damp air of my childhood. I once read that the problem with proving the existence of the Sasquatch lies in the scientific concept of null hypothesis . While we haven’t been able to prove that it does exist, we can’t rule it out until we can definitively prove it doesn’t exist. The question will always remain open, beckoning to us from the unknown, a connection to a world we may have been part of once.
So much of my identity is still a mystery to me. Not just the factual parts, but questions I know are completely unanswerable. What would I be like if I had grown up with biological siblings? Would I relate differently to people if I hadn’t grown up self-conscious about the differences between myself and my adoptive family? Which parts of me do I truly possess, and which have been mashed together in a collision of nature and nurture? Lacking the fervor of a dedicated research scientist, I’ve made a kind of melancholic peace with the reality of unanswered questions. Like beach pebbles, I’ve rubbed them through my fingertips so much they’ve almost become smooth.
I think about the people on Highway 6 who thought they saw the Sasquatch. A lonely stretch of concrete, flanked by impenetrable forest. Weak headlights slicing through the darkness, maybe a dusting of snow on the treetops. A sudden, sharp curve in the road and there it was: a glimpse through the trees. The closest to it we could ever be.