Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Please allow me to wish all of you out there a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Wisdom of John Burroughs

“For anything worth having one must pay the price; and the price is always work, patience, love, self-sacrifice”

- John Burroughs

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Humbling Day

I made a trip up to the Waxahachie area to check on my game cameras this past weekend. You may recall that this is the area where several large cats, of various colors, have been seen by the property owners. It is also the property where several horses have, seemingly, been accosted by some sort of predator. I was long overdue to check on the cameras. Severe winter weather, or what passes for it in Texas, has kept me off of the road for several weeks. This weekend, while cold, dawned clear and gave me an opportunity to make the trip.

It was to be a day of disappointment; however, as I discovered both cameras had been stolen. You may be thinking, “Why didn’t you secure them?” I had secured them with steel cables and padlocks. The Reconyx was actually in a “tamper-proof” steel box that was secured to a tree. As we all know, locks and such are really only a deterrent to honest people. Once found, the thieves had ample time to retrieve whatever tools they needed to remove the cameras. My guess is that with the onset of fall, and the subsequent loss of leaves on the foliage, the cameras became easier to spot. Once seen, it was only a matter of time before they were gone. The only thing that really keeps this from being painful for me is that both cameras appeared to be on their last legs. The Wildgame Innovations model had failed to trigger at all the last time I checked on it and acted really squirrely when I tried to reprogram it roughly two months ago. The Reconyx had also been acting up. Daytime photos were hazy and indistinct, though nighttime shots were still of high quality.

The property owners were far more disturbed about the theft than I was. It hit them on several levels, I suppose. First, they were upset that I had lost my cameras. This has happened to me before and the property owners always feel responsible for some reason though they should not. I think the aspect of the whole deal that upset them the most was the thought that trespassers have been skulking about on their property either in the dead of night or times when they are not home. Who knows what kind of people we’re talking about here? We know they are thieves and, likely, poachers. Who knows what else people like that might be capable of?

I assured the landowners that this sort of thing happens from time to time. It is the cost of doing business. My cameras would be safe at home in the garage but I’d never get a photo that way. It stinks but it is the chance you take when you leave expensive electronics bolted to a tree in a remote area.

I was a bit deflated after finding out the cameras were missing but decided to try and make the best of things and go hunting. I played the call of a distressed cottontail rabbit in an effort to call in any predator that might have been nearby. I had no luck whatsoever. I didn’t see a thing. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t see a cat but was a bit surprised that no coyotes showed up as they are thick in the area. About dusk I called it a day and headed in. I said goodbye to the landowners and started for home. Little did I know that a disappointing day was about to take a dangerous turn.

I was less than an hour from home when I received a text from my wife. I need to answer her but didn’t want to try and text while driving. Nature was also calling pretty loudly at that point so I decided to pull over and kill two birds with one stone. I was traveling a farm to market road (I loathe interstates) and pulled off of it onto an old country road to take care of the business at hand. I stopped the truck and answered my wife. I then decided, as I was in the middle of nowhere, to get rid of some of that large Diet Coke I had consumed while traveling the road home. This is the point where things took a very nasty turn.

I stepped out of the truck and my left foot immediately when out from under me and slid to my right underneath the open driver’s side door. I thought I had stepped on a patch of ice (it was very cold). My foot continued to slip up under the door and the next thing I knew, I was lying in the road. I landed hard on my hip and left side but still didn’t understand what was really going on. Though I didn’t realize it until later, I had not slipped on a patch of ice; rather, my truck was in reverse and moving backward.

I KNOW I put the truck in park when I first pulled over because I sat there for 3-4 minutes as I texted my wife. I did NOT sit there with my foot on the brake for that length of time. Whether the truck slipped out of gear or I bumped the gearshift while exiting I cannot say. What I do know is that I was very close at this point to getting seriously injured…or worse.

The truck continued to move backwards. As it did so, my right leg, suspended in the air from my fall out of the cab, was struck by the backward moving open door. Two things occurred as the door moved over me. First, I was folded over at the waste like a taco shell (except for my left leg which remained extended as it was underneath the door). The second thing that happened was that I was spun, my upper back and shoulders acting as the pivot point, as the truck moved over and past me. The spin caused my extended left leg to come underneath the truck and in the path of the now oncoming left front tire. The momentum of the spin, induced by the door pushing on my right leg, kept my ankle and foot ahead of the tire momentarily but it quickly caught up and ran over me. Very briefly, I felt a lot of pressure on my foot and ankle but it was over quickly as the truck didn’t even appear to slow down.

At no time did I have any idea what was going on. I was completely disoriented until I sat up and saw my truck backing away from me and back toward the farm to market road. Without thinking, I jumped up and sprinted after the truck. No doubt, adrenaline had kicked in and allowed me to run, pain free, and catch the runaway truck. I managed to jump into the cab and hit the brake. The truck stopped less than a foot away from a fence line and power pole. I put the truck back into gear and idled back to the general vicinity of my original stopping point. It was only then that I began to realize just how bad this could have gone. I easily could have fallen in a slightly different position and spun in the opposite direction which would have placed my head and upper body in the path of the oncoming tire. I shuddered and rested my head on the steering wheel to catch my breath.

After triple checking to make sure the truck was in park AND engaging the parking break, I tentatively stepped out on to the road to test my left foot/ankle. I was shocked to find that it really didn’t feel bad at all. There was little to no pain and there didn’t seem to be any swelling. I have absolutely no explanation for how this could even be possible. I then finished the business I had intended to take care of originally and stepped back into the truck and began the last leg of my drive home.

During the drive my body began to ache and my foot started to throb a bit. After arriving at the house, I gave myself a thorough going over. Other than a few scratches and just a bit of swelling on my foot, I was fine. My entire body began to get stiff and sore within the next hour or so but it was no worse than I might have felt after a hard workout. I was very, very lucky.

I debated whether or not to even write about this. It doesn’t paint me as a very intelligent person. I decided to go ahead and share it, however, as it is a reminder on just how quickly things can go south on any of us. Whether in the wild or in the suburbs, pay attention, not only to your surroundings but, to what you are doing as well. It doesn’t take long to get yourself hurt.

So, you can see it was a pretty humbling day. After thinking about it, though, I’m not going to call it a bad day. I got to visit with good people, spend some very peaceful time in the great outdoors and narrowly avoided getting myself severely injured. The more I ponder it, I realize the fact that I’m walking around with scarcely a limp means it was a pretty good day after all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Black Lion Photo Hoaxes

There are a couple of photos making the rounds on Facebook and via email that feature what appear to be black lions. The photos are quite striking and the animals in them are beautiful. Unfortunately, they are not real. The photos have been digitally manipulated to make normal tawny-colored lions appear black. Dr. Karl Shuker does a great job of debunking these photos here.

Stories of melanistic lions are not new. They go back for centuries. In fact, the great explorer Marco Polo claims to have observed a black lion during his travels (most people today feel Polo likely observed a melanistic leopard). The problem is that, much like the North American cougar, no melanistic lion has ever been documented by science. Many cats have the melanism gene but lions are not thought to be one of these species. There are several possible explanations to the black lion sightings. The video below does a very good job of outlining them. It is worth the time to view this short video to the end.

If you’ve been reading this blog for very long at all, you know that I strongly believe there is something to the black panther reports that are so often reported here in the southern United States. That being the case, you may think it strange that I’m spending time debunking photos of another possible cryptid big cat. Let me be clear on this; I’m not dismissing the possibility that melanistic lions could exist. I’m dismissing the two most commonly circulated photos being presented as evidence of their existence. There is a difference.

I do truly believe there is a real animal out there responsible for the black panther sightings here at home. I’m less convinced of the existence of black lions but remain open to the possibility, hopeful even. Anecdotal though the evidence may be, there are many more, what I consider to be, credible sightings of large melanistic cats here in North America than there are of black lions in Africa. I will freely admit to not being an expert in regard to African cryptids but do follow these types of things pretty closely and feel there is not much evidence to back up the possibility of melanistic lions.

Like it says at the end of the video, “Nature has thrown us bigger curve balls than this.” Certainly that is true; however, these photos making the rounds don’t prove it. Maybe one day a melanistic lion will be documented.

That day just hasn’t come yet.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Port Neches Wood Ape Sighting Revisited

I trekked back to my old stomping grounds in SE Texas for the Thanksgiving holidays last week. I had not been back for several years and really enjoyed visiting with family and driving around my old hometown. It is always fun to see what has changed and what has not and to visit people and places that were very important to me as I was growing up.

Another good thing about the trip is that I was able to visit the location of an alleged wood ape sighting that was reported back in February. The sighting was reported by a Nederland man named David Arceneaux. He claimed that he spotted two wood apes across from Block Bayou while he was visiting Oak Bluff Cemetery in Port Neches in December of 2012. Arceneaux said he visits the cemetery roughly once per month to tidy up the graves of a friend and a family member. He claims he has done this for years without incident. This December day was destined to be different. The account of David Arceneaux is below as it appeared in the Port Arthur News:

“I heard a blood curdling scream and a lady nearby asked me if I was OK. I told her it wasn’t me,” Arceneaux said as he stood, uneasily, at roughly the same spot where he saw the creatures. “We walked over to the water and looked to the left then straight ahead.”

What he saw next amazed him. Two Bigfoot-like creatures that had been throwing rocks in the water looked across at him and the unknown female. One was standing next to a tree, arms around the trunk and the other was squatted down. As the second creature rose from the crouching position Arceneaux estimated the creature was about eight-foot tall. So he snapped a photo with his phone, he said.

“All of a sudden they started walking then running through the woods,” he said of the bipedal creatures. “When they began to run, the lady said ‘I’m leaving’ and left. I stayed a few more seconds and then thought there may be a way for them to cross here so I left, scared.”

Arceneaux said he could see the face of the creature “clear as day.” There was hair from the mouth down like a man and when the creature turned he could see hair hanging down its arm.

Disturbed by what he saw, Arceneaux went home and watched an episode of “Finding Bigfoot” but had to change the channel when they played an audio recording of Bigfoot — it was too real.

“This is my first time back here since December,” he said.

Arceneaux said he spoke to a game warden, describing the situation, and was told there had been other sightings along the Neches River. Calls placed to a local game warden were not returned by Tuesday afternoon.

Arceneaux said he did not come forward with his story sooner because he worried about what others would think of him. He has shown this photographic evidence — which was taken at a far distance with a cell phone — to friends and family and only had one person scoff. He will continue to research Bigfoot, he said, but remains wary of returning to the spot where the encounter occurred.

The cemetery the witness was visiting is well known regionally as it is the final resting place of country crooner Tex Ritter. The area used to be a popular "parking" spot for teenagers back in the early 80's. Just back to the east is the allegedly haunted Sara Jane Road (E. Port Neches Ave./Atlantic Rd.) where all manner of odd things seem to occur. The area is not the first place I would think of when it comes to sasquatch sightings. Still, there have been a few reports along the Neches in this area (though they've occurred on the north bank) and it is not far from Orange and Newton Counties, which do have a rich history of such sightings. The photo is interesting but, like almost all the others allegedly showing these creatures, too fuzzy and indistinct to be proof of anything. That being the case, I needed to visit the location myself.

I made the trip out to Oak Bluff on Saturday before making my way home to Central Texas. I was going to try and stand in the exact spot from which Mr. Arceneaux took his cell phone pictures but was not able to quite get there as there was a burial service taking place nearby. Not wanting to intrude or to be a distraction, I kept a respectful distance from the service. While I did not get to the exact spot, I was pretty close. I think my photos show that. I also know I must have been close as there were at least a half a dozen “No Trespassing” signs up in a very small area that I had never seen before. No doubt, these signs were posted to keep bigfoot enthusiasts away from the area.

Being able to visit a sighting location in person is always helpful. It brought several questions to mind regarding this alleged sighting. First, Mr. Arceneaux mentions that the creatures had been throwing rocks into the water. This concerns me a bit as the bayou is very close to where the witness must have been standing. He would’ve clearly heard the rocks hitting the water from this spot. Why did it take a “blood-curdling scream” to get the witnesses to look up? The second problem I have with the rock statement is that there just aren’t many rocks around. This area is a marshy bog or “gumbo” as we used to call it. There just aren’t any rocks out there. Anyone who has spent any time in a swamp can tell you that rocks are hard to come by.

The next detail that causes me some concern is the statement, ““All of a sudden they started walking then running through the woods.” Mr. Arceneaux doesn’t say that ran back toward the woods; rather, he said they “started walking then running THROUGH the woods.” This is an important distinction. The tree line is only about 100 yards from where I stood and took my photos. I don’t think it is unreasonable that Mr. Arceneaux could have seen the figures from that far away; but they must have been right at the wood line when he saw them as there are no trees between Block Bayou and the forested area. Mr. Arceneaux even claims that one of the figures was “standing next to a tree, arms around the trunk,” when he first spied it. This is all well and good except for two things. Supposedly, the two apes were throwing rocks into the water when he heard one of them scream causing him to look up. There is no water near the tree line that I could see. So, were the apes in or near the woods or 100 yards away from the trees out near the water’s edge and VERY close to the witness? There seem to be some conflicting details here. The second problem with the figures being in or near the woods is Mr. Arceneaux’s claim that he could see the face of the creatures as “plain as day” as they walked, then ran, through the trees. I have a very hard time with this. Again, the woods are approximately 100 yards from the bayou’s edge. IF the apes were near the tree line there is no way anyone could clearly make out facial details.

The final factor that casts a shadow of doubt over this incident is the location itself. The area in question is surrounded on three sides by heavily populated areas. The Neches River creates a substantial barrier on the fourth side. I suppose it is possible that a pair of apes could make their way to this area but they would, in my opinion, have to swim to get there. I don’t see how they could traverse that side of the river without running into substantial obstacles and a large number of people. Why would a pair of intelligent and amazingly elusive creatures choose to pen themselves into an area like this? It seems an unlikely scenario.

To be fair, I have not interviewed Mr. Arceneaux. Maybe some details were misrepresented by the reporter who wrote the story. Lord knows it has happened before. It is possible he could satisfactorily address the questions I have if given the opportunity. His photo seems to show something though it is far too fuzzy and indistinct to draw any hard conclusions. I must say, though, that I have some serious misgivings about this alleged sighting. There just seem to be a lot of things that don’t add up.

In the end, I guess we’ll never really know what, if anything unusual, was roaming the banks of the Neches River and Block Bayou that day. If I had to wager though, I would guess it wasn’t a pair of wood apes.