For some people, life is just not mysterious enough.

Researchers at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., asked 2,500 people about their beliefs on a wide range of topics, scientific and nonscientific. The survey found that more Americans believe in UFOs than in evolution or that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and just over half of us believe in haunted houses.

The finding that caught my attention is that 20% of the people interviewed said they believe that Bigfoot is real, which is as many as believe that the universe began with a big bang.

Why did that catch my attention? Because a couple of weeks ago I came across a recent copy of the McDowell County News that had a two-page ad for the second annual Western North Carolina Bigfoot Festival. The centerfold promised “Bigfoot fun for everyone.” There would be Bigfoot exhibits, a Bigfoot calling contest, Bigfoot vendors, a Bigfoot Chase 5K and an expanded kid zone.

Local businesses advertised. “Only one thing can bring Bigfoot out of the hills . . . . Countryside Barbecue.” Blackbird Tattoo Gallery offered “Bigfoot tattoo designs,” for those who wanted to take a memento of the occasion home with them for the rest of their lives. The ad for Killough’s Music and Loan (yes, music and loan) featured Bigfoot smiling, strumming a guitar.

It was an invitation I could not refuse. I headed to Marion.

There were two festivals. The one that took place on the closed-off main street was a typical small town, family-oriented fall festival, replete with craft vendors and theme-related paraphernalia.

The other — the one I was there to check out — took place on the lawn in front of the county courthouse where several hundred people listened to speaker after speaker tell of their encounters with the mysterious, reclusive, elusive-despite-its-size forest creature.

Though a number of these creatures have reportedly been sighted in every state except Hawaii, most of the speakers were local. If you want to sight Bigfoot for yourself, McDowell County seems to be the place to go. Marion is the home of the Bigfoot Field Research Team.

The main attraction was Cliff Barachman, the host of “Finding Bigfoot,” which aired on the Animal Planet cable channel from 2010 to 2018, pulling in 800,000 to 1.2 million viewers.

Barachman claims these forest creatures are intelligent, though they have not figured out how to make fires or tools — or weapons, I suppose — for which I, for one, am thankful. Being chased through the forest by an 8-foot-tall hairy beast with an ax is the stuff of which nightmares and horror movies are made.

After the program, a young man took from an envelope several long strands of hair that he claimed were from Bigfoot. Barachman was interested, though in all fairness, he doesn’t believe every story he is told or accept every bit of evidence he is given. Still, he gave the young man his contact information.

“Why do so many people still want to believe in Bigfoot?” asked a 2018 Smithsonian magazine article.

For that matter, why did people recently travel from across America, as well as from Russia, Germany, Peru and Sweden, to an isolated desert Air Force installation in Nevada in the belief that’s where the U.S. government stores alien bodies and UFOs?

I think the answer has something to do with the need — stronger in some people than others — for mystery, the need to find “something science can’t explain.”

A T-shirt for sale at a festival booth challenged, “Just because strange things don’t happen to you doesn’t mean they don’t happen.”

Everywhere you looked there were signs that read, “Believe” or “We believe,” encouraging believers to remain firm. My guess is they have been subject to plenty of scoffing. Which may explain the message on the wooden key chain I bought: “Bigfoot saw me, but no one believes him.

Mystery need not be the last defense against encroaching science.

Some people worried that putting men on the moon would demystify the moon, reduce it to nothing more than a cold, dead rock. But a full moon, glowing brightly against a purple sky, is as poetry-inducing as it ever was.

When all the discoveries of science have been tallied, human beings will still be awed by the exquisite intricacies of the common dandelion.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience,” said Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two about science, “is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

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Richard Groves is a former pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church and former adjunct instructor at High Point University.

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