Thousands gather for the Hodag Country Festival, fans, vendors, bands. It’s noisy, lively, fun, a rich landscape of blending sounds. I’m just here to catch up with Berit. Most cryptids I visit usually find their encounters with people to be negative, rife with misunderstanding and prejudice, so they stay hidden as a protection against being killed. I support those decisions because people are unpredictable. Safety and survival first. But then there’s Berit. Resurrected from the ashes of hundreds of oxen, brought back as the avenging spirit of both the abused oxen and decimated forests, Berit is out to bring justice—and he aims to do that through music. He is one of the most recognizable creatures I know. He’s the Hodag. The festival is named for him, the school mascot, with statues of him in front of the Chamber of Commerce. It’s a very interesting way of being Cryptid.
He closes his set with “The Roots Remember (You Lousy SOBs)” and his voice is rough, and hoary. Lots of cheering. He comes over to my table, we hug, and I’m careful of his back spines. “How’s Bumble?” he asks, and is immediately swarmed by children with his CDs, asking for autographs. He gladly signs them as they touch his horns and giggle. I tell him Bumble’s good, would have loved to see him but he’s doing a mural. “Oh, I love his murals!” he says. Bumble and I did a circuit of concerts with Berit around the Great Lakes back in the day when we were doing gigs for food and travel money. Bumble can’t sing words, but he’s got a pitch perfect growl. I ask him how he’s doing, and he always interprets that as How is the Mission Going. “I think we’re getting through. We’ve passed some good forestry laws because we spoke at the legislative assembly.” I told him that was great, and he must be proud. He looked away, “It’s not enough. I get hopeful though.” He smiles and his tusks cross. “I’m up there calling them all out on their environmental inaction, and they cheer louder the angrier I get. They like it when the Hodag “gives ‘em what for” ––they always assume I’m talking to someone else.” He leans back on his stool, his tail giving him balance. “Am I just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?” I told him that these forests and animals will benefit. He asks, “How’s your work with all the rest of us Monsters? Are you working the government/law side—.” I shook my head, “More of the personal care side. I think the conversation about full acceptance and change is too hard right now.” He advises me to form a foundation or groups, “Friends of the Monsters!” he says. Get funding. “You can’t do this alone, Yuke.” I tell him I’ve formed some small groups who are helping out their local cryptids, but community organizing for something people are scared of and can’t see—that’s not easy. “Tell them all to come out! If they all came out, people would see that we’re everywhere—forests and swamps and downtown and suburbs—and hey, we haven’t hurt nobody.” He slaps the table. “We’d have numbers.” We have this conversation every time I come, and it frustrates me. He’s been out for more than a hundred years. They’ve been hidden forever. It’s taken him 50 years to gain this kind of popularity—a mass outing would frighten both sides. They are inching out into the light, but there’s a difference between the fighters and the wounded. They have no protections if they reveal themselves. Some find it hard enough just to survive. This city, his fame—I can’t tell him that maybe they let him perform because they don’t want him to choose another more violent way to do what he came to do. They let him have a stage, but they know they don’t have to listen. He says, “Ah, I shouldn’t tell you what to do. It’s not like I took up the ‘Love the Monsters’ cause myself.” I say, “It’s okay. You were commissioned with another job already.” He laughs in Avenging Spirit of Justice.
We catch up a bit more before someone tells him that he’s got five minutes. He looks at me. “Wanna play a song with me?” I wave him off, but I can tell he really wants to. It’s been years since I touched a guitar. He says, “Why don’t we play “The Moon in the Pines”—the love stuff? They’re tired of hearing the angry stuff. They aren’t listening.” He’s already borrowed someone’s guitar for me, and there I go up on stage to jam. The lights are blue and white now, falling on us like the moon and we are the pines. Those intense orange eyes connect with mine, he smiles and looks genuinely happy. He sings right to me as I take up the harmony, and then we start the counterpoint melodies on the guitars, competing, blending, working together somehow with different notes, different paths. We each cover half the notes. It still creates the melody. I know the Hodag’s visibility helps people get ready for all the hidden ones, and he knows he can’t stop his mission to care for everyone individually. We both have good work to do, and a lot of it. We’re already working together. The chorus finds us both on the same notes, and we ease into it, the crowd joining us. “And they sway/ and the light with shadows play/ and the night becomes another way/ we speak about love.”