You may have seen these little masks laying around the trails of the Pacific Northwest, they're seemingly everywhere these days. It's almost as if the more hikers we get the more of these leaves/masks are found. Could it be a message of some sort? Maybe even a warning? There is plenty we do not understand about the "leaf people" who make these masks. That's right, these are not caterpillar formations, they are masks. And we've been hearing stories of them for generations now.
The masks were first noticed by the early settlers of Washington state. It was just one of the many mysteries of this bold and beautiful new land. Being that we were new, much of the Native American culture was not well understood. Things out of our comprehension were just assumed in some way to be part of a Native American story and were dismissed. The legend of the Leaf People was one of these dismissed stories.
Recent history has shown more interest in the Leaf People though. This much we do know, these leaves look like little masks because they are. Little masks made by some sort of small person like creature that lives in the woods of the forested areas of our state and the entire west coast. And what a great place to hide in. We have thousands and thousands of unexplored acreage all around and enough vegetation to feed thriving populations of Leaf People. We also know this, if an animal as large as Sasquatch can roam these lands for over a century without being seen, then of course these little creatures could pull it off as well.
In fact, it's assumed that they have been here since the 1200's or possibly even earlier. The only amount of traceable evidence that Leaf People experts have collected are the leaf masks themselves. No genetic proof has been provided or confirmed. These masks, even upon the closest inspections, have never had DNA residue or any other measurable genetic material on them. Occasionally a hair or even trace amounts urine or feces can be found on the leaves but each time this rare phenomenon is found the "evidence" turns out to be related to our four legged hiking buddies, dogs of various breeds.
Often times Leaf People are even mistaken for snypes, but don't believe everything you hear. Snypes are very different creatures more closely related to a bird or rabbit than that of an intelligent humanoid type figure with thriving culture and tradition of its own. Snypes can be caught and have been known to even attack humans from time to time, just ask your hiking buddies and they can fill you in on how dangerous it can be. Snype hunts are scary. The Leaf People simply aren't. Some even consider that snypes and Leaf People are mortal enemies. Snypes are assumed by some to be the only predator of the Leaf People throwing them in an epic battle for territory that has gone on thousands of years. Could the masks left on and around trails be related to this ongoing battle? A claim of territory? Perhaps the Leaf People are marking the trails a safe and Snype free.
Although stories about Leaf People's origin are unclear, and various versions have echoed our trails from family to family, friend to friend, there is a similar breed of small forest person we should look to learn from. The local stories of Leaf People seem to be most closely related to the Hawaiian Islands' stories of the Menehune. The Menehune are also another mysterious breed of small forest dwellers thought to look like small humans, or have human like features. The stories of the Menehune are so well known on the Hawaiian Islands that Disney's Aulani resort included statues of them all over the hotel and waterpark. It's somewhat of a hide-n-seek game to try and find them.
In some circles the leading theory is that the Leaf People of the west coast may actually be related to the Menehune of Hawaii. And that when the Hawaiian island were settled by Polynesians in the early 1200's the Menehune who had been there for millennia felt threatened and something had to be done. This caused a dispute between the peaceful forest dwellers and some of them went into permanent hiding, and others attempted to find new undiscovered lands in order to escape the warrior giants who invaded their natural habitat. In their flee by sea they landed not on a small island like they were used to, but found a wonderland of epic proportions in the forests of the west coast. This allowed them to spread out over the land and over time form different tribes.
You'll notice while hiking that not all leaf masks are the same. Like any thriving culture comes diversity from tribe to tribe. The Leaf People may have formed unique cultural differences and religious ceremony regardless of their common origin. It's not clear whether these masks have religious or tribal importance but it is clear that while shy little forest creatures, they mean us no harm, and they don't exactly live by the outdoor code we do to "leave no trace", hence the masks found all over the place.
Since a capture has never been recorded, we know little about them. But from their stories we can assume this: They are curious little nocturnal creatures who hide during the day and are active vegetarians at night. Berries are they're favorite food and evidence of activity can be found during the blueberry season.
You'll quite often hear them at night investigating campsites at night looking to learn more about us visitors to their forest. From inside your tent or hammock it might sound much like a mouse or raccoon, but you never know what is crawling around out there. They've not been known to hurt any human on record, but are very curious about why we trek into their lands looking for adventure. We know they frequent our hiking trails often at night. They must consider these trails to be their highways around the mountains connecting tribes from miles apart. They are very skittish and shy by nature. Interested in observing but not interacting. Good luck if you're trying to catch one, if you're super lucky your kids may even see one. VERY few people can claim to have seen them with their own eyes but children seem to have the most luck. Perhaps the Leaf People relate to our kids the most and are less intimidated by their size and pure hearts.
Next time you're out on a hike and you find a mask laying on the trail be sure to stop, get your camera ready, look around and see if you can hear a rustling in the bushes. It's likely you just missed one.
If you happen to snag a picture of a mask or an actual Leaf Person, please post it in our Facebook Group and share it with the rest of us so that we can learn more of this mysterious species.