Squonk Season

It’s Squonk season in northern Pennsylvania, in the great forests near Cedar Run where I’ve been fishing of late. The Squonk was first discovered in the hemlock woods of the region in the late 1800s when exhausted lumberjacks would sit around the fire on cold winter nights, drinking what ever made them feel good, and then conjuring the likes of a Squonk for their own pleasure.

It’s Squonk season in the northwoods where this shape-shifter is known to have various forms and personalities, from monstrous and pathetic to silly or downright frightening.

The Squonk has certain character traits no matter what it looks like. It’s said to be

a dam builder at the "pool of tears"

a dam builder at the “pool of tears”

secretive and shy, so ugly that it often weeps endlessly about its own appearance. It’s been known to resemble a small bird with a long bill. It’s been depicted as a clumsy warthog* with blemished skin, and Squonk devotees describe it as an insecure spirit, a loser, if you will, ashamed to show its ugly face and to snivel through the long nights of fall and winter. *[Listen to folk hero Michael Hurley’s “Hog of the Forsaken,” below– He is the pork of crime].

There’s a hunting season for it in the woods of Pennsylvania running from October 1st to the start of the firearms season for deer and bear. A hunter is allowed one Squonk per year, and the creature must be tagged and reported to the state game commission.

a white-tailed squonk... see the horns?

a white-tailed squonk… see the horns?

I have never hunted for Lacrimcorpus dissolvens, but according to reports I’ve read, the Squonk, in any of its hideous or ridiculous forms, is an easy prey for hunters. One brochure issued by the game commission states that, for success, a hunter simply has to follow a tear-stained trail along a stream or through the forest.

Apparently the greatest challenge for a hunter is to bag the creature before it’s cornered and the tears start to flow… A failure to do so may result in the Squonk’s dissolution in a pool of tears.

J.P. Wentling, an early 20th-century lumberman, captured a live Squonk at Cedar Run and stuffed it in a bag. Hiking toward his camp near Leetonia, Wentling felt the bag go suddenly weightless. Untying the rope that enclosed the bag, he peeked inside… Imagine his shock, discovering that the Squonk had dissolved into briny fluid.

Before I divulge my recent experience with this thing, I should mention its renown beyond the boundaries of the former lumber camps…

I never trusted Squonks...

I never trusted Squonks…

The Squonk first appeared in print with Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods… (1910), by William T. Cox. The great contemporary novelist, Jorge Luis Borges, featured the Squonk in his Book of Imaginary Beings (1969?). The rock band, Steely Dan, included a Squonk reference in one of its songs, and the band Genesis actually sang about the creature in “Squonk,” an album cut appearing in 1976.

The Squonk really gets around, like the feeling of a nation that collectively sighs and bellows the morning after Election Day. Like, “What the #@%! did we just do?”

I encountered the Squonk on a cold October morning along Cedar Run, in a moment when (naturally enough) I least expected it… I was casting, wading gingerly through a riffle, when I heard a sobbing noise that I first mistook for the babbling of water over stone.

I saw a fat gray bird, the size of a chicken, stumble into the streamside grasses, crying uncontrollably and disappearing from view.

a video of this undulating image is convincing, but I couldn't load it

a video of this undulating image is convincing, but I couldn’t load it

Curious as hell, I approached the point of disappearance. Before I got there, however, the crying stopped, and a long brown serpent appeared on the surface of the run.

When I say “long,” I mean 20 to 25 feet in length. The huge snake slithered toward me with a tail-first, serpentine motion that took me a couple of seconds to recognize as one of the best hallucinations I have had in years.

What had likely been my first genuine sighting of a Squonk was now a long vine tethered to the alders. The Squonk had done more than simply dissolve into a pool of tears. It had morphed into a great rope of tightly bound leaves and grasses swaying like an anaconda

a squonk, u say?

a squonk, u say?

on a tropical stream.

I don’t know why it would do such a thing. Did it think that I would shoot it? All I carried was an innocent bamboo rod.

The damned vine danced away as I resumed my fishing, but it would always be a link to the whiskey minds and to the long cold evenings in a lumber camp of long ago.

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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11 Responses to Squonk Season

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    So THAT’S what a squonk is! I’ve only ever caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye or heard a strange simpering, mewling call that I couldn’t identify. I’ve remained a sceptic, doubting the veracity of sightings and reserving acknowledgement of the species until somebody somewhere produced some sqounk DNA. Or until I’d got enough whiskey in me to see one for sure. Sqounks and ‘squatchs and painters, oh my!

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Sqounk? That’s not even the same thing. I meant squonk!

  3. Rest assured that we can Do the Sqounk. Squonk. Now you’ve got me spelling it wrong. But I have seen the light, brother, and I know a sniveler when I hear one. Whiskey may have helped me get a clearer view, but this was almost as good as stumbling on a non-existent panther in these woods. DNA need not apply. And Bob, now that you’re a believer (sort of), I have no doubt that you also will be seeing a Squonk in some enchanted forest near your home.

  4. How squonked up do you have to be see one? And is there a preferred time of day for squonking? Also “Hog of the Forsaken” is hilarious!

    • Jim, the way I’ve heard it, squonking is best after dark late in the year when Squonks apparently weep out loud and can be heard for considerable distances. Also, I’ve heard, it helps to be REALLY squonked to see one, although I was really sober when I think I saw one on Cedar. And I’m pleased you got a kick out of “Hog”– I’ve been a Hurley fan for many years and enjoy spreading the fun.

  5. Brent says:

    This is a cool post! A nice blend of folklore and humorous anecdotes, with a literature review thrown in for good measure. Maybe the squonk appeared differently to each drunken or lonely lumberjack, depending on what that man feared or found ridiculous or sad.

    • Yes, yes, thank you. My take on the Squonk is that it does appear differently to whomever apprehends it, as you say, depending on sobriety, personality, fears and desires, etc. Perhaps most interesting to me is the fact that the critter really did originate in the lumber camps of this area, as far as anyone knows.

  6. kengortowski441 says:

    Whiskey minds and hallucinations. That pretty much sums it up.
    I’ve always been fascinated with what humans will conjure up to explain those mysterious bumps in the night. A little whiskey would be helpful.

    • Right Ken, it would be helpful, especially when you consider how tough those 19th century lumber camps must have been after a long day in the forest. With a bunch of grubby others, probably all complaining about their lonesome lives. Whiskey and Squonks helped the night fly by.

  7. This post made me think of how many times you’re on a stream and you think you see something that just isn’t there. A downed tree stump has the shape of a cougar head. Or a barren tree has the silhouette almost like a bear standing sniffing the air. When you first glance at it you swear it’s what you’re thinking. Then as you get closer you wonder how you ever could have thought it was something alive.

    • Thanks Kevin. I agree, there’s a lot of that visualization and suggestiveness occurring when we step beyond the realm of everyday experience, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy entering the wild places where the quiet and solitude keep us on the edge of life and open to experience. Glad that you’re seeing some of those things that could be… but maybe aren’t.

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