When I was a kid, my family would visit the library once every couple weeks, and more often than not, I left with at least one cryptozoology book in tow. Books about Bigfoot and Nessie and Thunderbird (the kind with a seventeen-foot wingspan, not seventeen-inch rims of course). As long as it existed somewhere between the mythological and the plausible, I ate it up. My motto at the time – borrowing from The X-Files – could have been, “I want to believe.” I wanted to believe that a plesiosaur-like creature could be lurking deep under Lake Champlain, appearing only to those with the grainiest of video recorders. Hell, I still want to believe that’s the case.
I have changed so much between elementary school and now. But, at the same time, not really. I still love me a good cryptid. And this past week, just like the Lake Champlain monster, my interest in these beasts bubbled back up to the surface.
It happened when the local newspaper published an article about the Nebraska Bigfoot Conference. I initially thought it was a joke, given that Nebraska isn’t particularly known for its cryptids unless you count our giant shaved owl of a governor (joke credit to John Oliver). In fact, it was because of this absence that – as a college sophomore – I invented and wrote a story about a new Nebraskan cryptid, a fifty-foot sea serpent named Boat Tipper that lived in Johnson Lake. It was an attempt to inscribe my state with a little mythology. Something to spice up the middle-of-nowhere vibe. Who can blame me?
In any case, the Nebraska Bigfoot Conference seemed like an attempt at the same. All we had before was corn, but now we also have strange, lumbering apes. Hello, tourism!
Or, more importantly – hello, magic! Magic is essential to good living, and unfortunately, our cynical world often stamps it out. Preserving magic – even if we don’t actually believe in it – is a way of preserving wonder and joy and imagination. We don’t give ourselves over to these feelings nearly enough.
So earlier this week, when someone sincerely told me she’d seen a “dino bird” in Texas as a child, I had to make an effort not to get cynical and smug. Yeah, right! was my first thought. And my second was, Well, how about I just enjoy the story? So I did.
This woman and her sisters had been riding horses through the woods when the dino bird descended looking massive and prehistoric. The horses skittered and huffed, terrified. And each sister, still to this day, maintains that it happened. They even saw the creature a few more times after that, further solidifying its place in reality.
As I listened, it was hard to shake my skepticism, but it was easy to give myself up to a good story. If nothing else, it made me wonder at the strangeness of the Deep South and the bizarre manifestations of nature that exist there. Could the dino bird have been a huge mutant vulture or an exceptionally ugly condor? Of course, it could have also just been made up. But did that really matter?
If it were a lie, it did not harm me. In fact, it made me smile. It stirred my imagination. It made me fall further in love with lore. And that is a lie worth spreading.