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
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.
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…
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.
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
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.