Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sasquatch seeker Cliff Barackman on the good, bad, hairy of 'Finding Bigfoot'


Like many hikers and campers, Cliff Barackman enjoys spending his free time in the forest, trudging through trees and listening to the surrounding sounds of nature. Unlike most hikers and campers, Barackman isn’t seeking tranquility so much as he’s pursuing a monster that is either an enduring myth or a missing link. Barackman is a sasquatch hunter on Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot.

With its second season premiering Jan. 1 at 10 p.m., the show follows the Bigfoot Field Researcher’s Organization (BFRO) as they chase down leads, examine supposed evidence and attempt to track down the most famous cryptid. Produced by Ping Pong Productions (the same company behind Destination Truth), the show stars BFRO founder Matt Moneymaker, research biologist Ranae Holland, commercial fisherman James “Bobo” Fey and Barackman.

But Barackman isn't an eccentric monster hunter type. Originally from Long Beach, Calif., he's a career educator with a music degree who has taught fourth, fifth and sixth graders. He's also a jazz guitarist and teaches lessons, but has always maintained a passion for science. But Barackman's interest in Bigfoot came more from pop culture than from science. He says, like all little boys, he grew up loving monster movies with Godzilla and werewolves, but it wasn't until he saw documentary shows like In Search Of in the 1970s that he became excited about the possibility of a "real" monster in the woods. He says it hooked him "pretty deep," and when he was in college he would spend time between classes reading up on the sasquatch. The research led to Barackman becoming interested in the creature on a more cerebral level and he began to think of Bigfoot as not just "fun and quirky and weird," but also as real and believable. This research also led to him making a name for himself in the field, and attracting the attention of the show.

Barackman spoke with Paranormal Pop Culture’s Aaron Sagers about Finding Bigfoot's second season premiere, which has the team visiting the source of a well-known video (within the Bigfoot community) that might show a baby sasquatch climbing a tree in the background. Instead of just taking the video at face value, the team attempts to recreate the footage – which involves a dedicated Barackman attempting to climb a tree with just his arms, along with bringing a baboon into the wild to test whether its calls will be met with the cries from a ‘squatch. Barackman also discussed how Bigfoot has impacted his personal life, and shared his thoughts on other paranormal phenomena and how his work might also mean the downfall of the beast he’s pursuing. (After the jump)

Q: Do you consider this a paranormal pursuit?

A: No, absolutely not. In fact, in my opinion, there is very little in the world that is 'paranormal.' Paranormal, as far as I'm concerned, basically means stuff that we haven't explained yet. Ghosts and UFOs and stuff, there's probably some sort of explanation for those. I don't know anything about those because I found out a long time ago that the more diverse my weird interests are, the less credible I become. So I'm only a Bigfoot guy.

Q: You don't believe in UFOs or other stuff like that?

A: Do I believe in them? I think extraterrestrial life is - statistically-speaking - they're there. Somewhere. I will say, I don't look into it, I don't study it. I listen to people a lot who don't study Bigfoot telling me all sorts of things about how Bigfoot can't possibly be real because of this or this or this. They don't know anything because they haven't been looking into the subject like I have for 20 years. That's me when I talk about ghosts and UFOs and stuff. I'm not going to tell them if they're real or not real because I don't have the information. And they shouldn't be talking about Bigfoot like that because, frankly, they're ignorant of the data that is available. They ignore it. They're ignore-ant. I wouldn't speak out of my ass about something I don't know anything about. 

Q: Have you ever had an experience where you are pursuing Sasquatch and you see something unexplained in the sky or hear something that seems somewhat ghostly?

A: Back in the late 1990s sometime, the day after the first encounter I had, I said, 'There absolutely cannot be anything but Bigfoot.' That was in Northern California. My ex-wife and I - and she's an ex-wife because of Bigfooting, by the way - my ex-wife and I went to Eureka, California the next day and I remember I was getting something out of the car and happened to look up. It was one of those rare, beautiful nights in Northern California without fog. And I did see something I couldn't explain in the sky that night, but I don't know what it was. To describe it, I would just say that it looked like a shooting star that changed directions in mid-flight. It was very brief, lasting a second in duration. The day before I had a very close encounter with something on two legs that was breaking trees very close to me, then the next day, I saw a shooting star that changed directions. I suspect there's probably no connection except for a time connection, but I don't know. I have learned that when you put your weird antenna up, weird things come. Obviously, this is kind of a weird subject in some ways. A lot of weird things come into my life. Whether it's people or coincidences or whatever else. That's kind of the way I like my life – full of novelty and weirdness. 

Q: You can't put it out there that she is your ex-wife because of Bigfoot without me following up on that. What is the story there?

A: We're still good friends. The bottom line is basically, I was married for about seven years. And, to oversimplify, we started pursuing divergent interests. Sasquatches being one of them. For her it was Brazilian martial arts. It actually started with that encounter in Northern California where we had that bipedal thing walking very close to us, breaking giant tress at us. That scared her so bad that she kind of stopped going Bigfooting with me after that for quite a few years. And once you start taking different vacations, it's only a matter of time. 

Q: So was that your most compelling experience?

A: No, that was just the first one I had that there were no explanations for. I've heard them very close to me on many occasions. I've had very large rocks thrown very close to me to get my attention - like, head-sized rocks. I've heard splashing in the river very close to get my attention. I've had them 40, 50 feet from me, screaming, in the dark, waking me up at three in the morning. I've found footprints before. I've found trees snapped. I've found hair samples. I have numerous vocalizations on my website. That was just the first of many encounters I've had since. Although I have yet to physically lay my eyes on them. Unless that thing I saw in North Carolina that Matt swears was a person [in Season One], was a Bigfoot. And I'm kind of inclined to think it was Bigfoot instead of a person.

Q: What do you do when you're out in the woods and you encounter this thing? What happens next? Do you capture it?

A: I’m going to say when I’m not with the camera crew because the more people there are, the more devices and electrical do-dads and lights and stuff, the less likely you are to get a close approach. So in my real life Bigfooting circumstances, when it’s just me alone out there, or maybe me with one other person, if one comes close, it depends on what they do. The things is, Bigfooting is not a situation for the mind-state of most hunters with their super awesome guns, wearing camouflage and all that other stuff. Because that kind of person, that kind of mentality is the kind of mentality that tries to gain control. And when you are with Sasquatches, in the woods, you are not in control. These things are super ninjas. That’s the best analogy I have. They can literally be 50 feet from you and you won’t even know. They’ll be belly crawling, they’ll be using their cover. They are intelligent. Probably almost as intelligent as we are. That’s the level of thing we’re dealing with. So when you’re in the woods and they’re nearby, you need to actually let them retain control if you are to have any success, at all. When they’re around and they come in close, they stand off in the woods, 50 yards or so and watch you. And if there’s more than one around, maybe they’re going to knock into each other or clap or whatever they’re doing to make that popping noise that they do. You can hear them. So I think the best you can do is sit tight, look interesting, maybe talk to them even, maybe throw some food out into the woods. And try to record them with a digital/audio recorder. Or if you have a thermal imager, try to catch a glimpse of one in between trees as it darts around. Again, these things are super ninjas. They’re onto us. And they don’t want to be seen. They’re hiding from us, even in the dark. 

Q: Is the goal to capture it? 

A: No, of course not. How do you capture an 1100-pound primate with hands that’s as smart as you are? You just don’t do that. I think, as far as Bigfooting goes, everyone has their own personal goal. A lot of people’s goals center around ego, in my opinion, and they hide it under things like, ‘Oh we want to protect the Sasquatch.’ Or, ‘We want to prove it’s real to protect it.’ That’s actually ego in my opinion. They’re doing a dandy job protecting themselves now. They don’t need our help. I personally think discovery is the worst thing to ever happen to the species. They’re doing just fine without us. My personal goal is to learn about them as much as possible. Because when discovery does happen, like I said, it’s going to be pretty bad for them. People are going to go out to the woods. Fools are going to go out and try to hunt them. My personal goal is to soften the blow of discovery by learning as much about them as I can now, and then hopefully use this platform that I’ve been given by Animal Planet to educate the public. People are going to be thinking, "These things are covered with hair, so hunt them." But these things are covered with hair and speak to each other in this weird proto-language that they have. I think like this a lot. You only get one first impression. Do we want that first impression of the general public realizing that Sasquatches are real, do we want that first impression to be a bloody, corpse on a slab - or an extended video of a female interacting with its young? What would be better for the species? Clearly, the female. 

Q: You say that discovery is the worst thing that could happen to them. Do you worry that you and your show are contributing to that, and part of the problem?

Absolutely. Absolutely. But, at the same time, if the opportunity is given to me and I refuse it because it’s going to be bad for them, it’s going to be given to somebody else. I feel that my heart is in the right place. I’m actually interested in Sasquatches whereas other people - known hoaxes and charlatans that are out there - they are just doing it to further themselves and earn money and fame and all that other junk. I’m a professional educator. I look at this as an educational opportunity. My classroom is 1.3 million people a week. Maybe I can do some good with that. 

Q: What is the timeline to discovery? Five, 10, 20 years? When will the really solid proof emerge?

We’re closing in on it. I know there’s at least one DNA test going on right now. I’ve heard that there are two independent studies. There’s lots of samples of DNA out there, and there’s new techniques to extract mitochondrial DNA from hair. That job is being done right now. The DNA proof will be here within a year or two probably because those studies have been going on for a few years now. There’s a really large body of video evidence that the owner has been sitting on since 2005. I heard, rumor has it, that there’s up to a dozen, maybe two dozen pieces of footage that show these creatures that he’s going to release in conjunction with the DNA study. Now, of course, the DNA and the movies are not going to convince everybody, but it will help a lot. I think there’s going to be a rising tide of acceptance where more and more academics step forward and start studying this thing until eventually some cold-hearted person would go out and shoot one of these things. Or a trucker would just run one down on a freeway somewhere and we’d just have a body. Actually, a hunter brought down two of these things last year. I think it was last year in the Sierras. People I know have actually interviewed this guy and think he’s on the up-and-up. The bodies aren’t there anymore; what happened to them, we don’t know. But his story seems to check out. It’s really only a matter of time until that happens. I know that’s a long answer but I don’t think it’s going to be two years from now. I think there’s going to be a rising tide in acceptance. Until somehow or another, a dead one is brought in.

Q: How do you view the news media's relationship with Bigfoot and your community?

 I think it’s left for slow news days, honestly. Remember what I said earlier: Everybody loves Bigfoot. That’s why our show is so successful, and they know that some sort of Bigfoot thing on the news is going to garner a lot of attention because there’s a frightening large number of people know these things are real. So as far as what the news hopes for? I don’t think they care. I think it’s more of a, 'Good, there’s a Bigfoot thing? Let’s put it on the air, we know that gets ratings.' On a slow day, they’re going to put the sort-of Bigfoot thing on because Bigfoot specials get a lot of viewership. So I don’t think the media cares, fake or real. For most of the people in the media Bigfoot is fake and it doesn’t really matter.

Q: Do you ever cringe when you see news media running what you know to be fake Bigfoot stories, or relying on the drunk redneck-type to tell his Bigfoot story?

I’ve been doing the Bigfoot thing a long time so I guess I’m a little callous in that way. Like, when that whole Georgia hoax came out, I was following that for months. When I heard a couple of the names in involved, I was like, 'This is fake; I’m going to see how this is going to play out, but it’s fake.' As far as the guy who seems to drink a lot in North Carolina, you know what? People who drink a lot see these things, too. I’m not exactly sure, even though he was great for TV because he was a really colorful character, I’m not sure that he did not see one because he lives in an area with a lot of activity. He lives out in the rural area. Again, I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. I deal with a lot of rural folks. They do seem a little strange on the surface, especially the people who live in cities, but generally speaking, they are good, honest folks. That’s generally my impression of most people: Good, honest folks. Do I cringe when I see the falsehoods coming out? A little bit, but I’m used to it by now. I just chalk it up to they’re just looking for ratings. Everybody loves Bigfoot. Everybody knows it. They’re going to go for it.

Q: Finally, 
what are some dream spots that you want to investigate?

A: I’ve always wanted to go to the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. There’s a lot of Bigfoots in that general area. That northern coastal British Columbia. I have never been up there and would love to go. Other than that, I wouldn’t mind going abroad to a few, various places. Really, I live in Portland, Oregon. I live here for a reason. This is where I used to vacation. I live where I used to go Bigfooting. I think everyone should design their lives like that.