My daughter and I are standing in the middle of a one-lane dirt road deep in the woods. Locals call it the Coal Road, the story being that generations ago coal from the mountains was transported through here by some sort of rail. I’m not sure if that’s true or not—something about that doesn’t seem right—but it’s the Coal Road nonetheless, maybe like big people are often nicknamed Tiny or Slim.
It’s peaceful here on the Road, though during summer nights and autumn weekends the local teenagers come here to drink and, in words my grandmother would once whisper, “Know each other in the Biblical way.” The thirty thousand acres leading from the Coal Road into the mountains are both unspoiled and wild. Mysterious, too. There are plenty of stories about this wood and the spirits that are said to inhabit it. And as someone who’s tromped and trampled through much of it over the years, I can say at least some of them are true.
But those are other stories for other times, because at the moment my daughter is on the prowl. On a mission. Strapped to her narrow waist is a fanny pack that Scooby and the gang might call a Clue Kit, and right now she’s using a magnifying glass to inspect some rather strange footprints in the dirt.
“This is something, Daddy,” she says. She moves the magnifying glass from the ground and stares at me with it. One of her eyes looks like a giant brown golf ball. “This might be him.”
I offer a serious and grave nod as if it might just be him, even though I’m pretty sure what my daughter is looking for would not be wearing a size eleven hiking boot. She takes the small digital camera from her fanny pack and snaps off a couple pictures. “Okay,” she says, “let’s keep going.”
We move from the Road to the trail—this one about three miles and leads to a large reservoir, but I don’t think we’ll go that far. The day is hot and she knows there are snakes. My daughter doesn’t like snakes. I figure if I can come up with a few more clues, that will satisfy her.
Included in the fanny pack is the book that started all of this. I can’t remember the name, Monsters of the South or Unexplained Monsters of Virginia, something like that. My daughter likes her ghost stories, so any book that includes Monsters or Unexplained in the title is fair game. Her grandmother says such reading material is a little too Devil-like, but I don’t mind. I like Monsters and Unexplained, too.
That book led to another and then to another, and then finally to an internet search that lo and behold revealed that Bigfoot himself—or at least one of his kin—had been spotted here in the unspoiled and wild and mysterious wood along the Coal Road back in the 1980s. I don’t remember hearing such a story, but I’m inclined to believe that anyone could see anything here given enough moonshine. I didn’t tell my daughter that when she suggested we take a lazy Saturday afternoon and turn it into an Unexplained Monster hunt, I just said okay. I’d never hunted a monster, and we were due for some daddy/daughter time. Besides, there wasn’t much else going on.
“Look at that!” she says. “There’s a clue.”
And it is, though the marks on the old oak in front of us are a clue that a bear has been by rather than a Bigfoot. I tell her to take a picture. She does. I leave out the part about the bear. That would scare her more than a Bigfoot.
We find other things on our walk—deer hair that is really Bigfoot hair, the chatter of squirrels that are really Bigfoot giggles, and a small hole in the rocks that just might be a Bigfoot home. All are studied and pictured and cataloged in the small notebook in her fanny pack. By then it’s noon. We’re both getting hungry and we’re both sweating, signs that it’s time to head home.
We drive the old truck over potholes and washed-out dirt road, the sun shining through canopies of leaves. It’s been a good day. A great one. We’re making memories.
“Daddy,” she says, “I really don’t believe there’s a Bigfoot. But I like to believe in maybe.”
I nod and smile and rub her head, satisfied that our trip here to this ancient and (some would say) haunted wood has revealed something to us both.
Because she’s right, my daughter.
It’s always good to believe in maybe.