I didnt really trust the woods after that. If my sister
could step on a hornet nest, what terrible thing could happen
to me? When my other brother Jeff encountered a badger while
playing at a favorite bank of sand, I vowed never to enter the
woods by myself. I had seen and heard enough about the dangers
lurking beyond that curtain of trees. Besides, I preferred
the safety of the car and the house. Unfortunately my parents
would disallow me any notion of personal safety when they chose
where the family home was going to be built, at the most thickly
forested center of our property.
Once work began on the house, it did become easier for me to
enter the woods. Dad cleared a road to the site where a basement
was dug and the concrete was poured into forms. After the floor
and walls were built my parents spent that winter completing
the inside with the help of my older brothers. My sister and
I spent the time in the relative safety of the basement, huddled
next to a space heater trying to keep warm bored with nothing
Soon there was a new path to the mobile home where we lived
during the house construction. Along the path were several
old stumps and downed trees covered with moss, lichens and small
woodland plants. Walking down this path every day seeing these
various microcosms, I began to invent stories about them. In
my mind they were small alien cities, inhabited by sprites or
air breathing sea monkeys.
One spring in order to accommodate my grandmothers move
from California, my parents had us boys sleep in a small travel
trailer parked across the road from the larger mobile home.
Unlike the painted yellow metal siding on the mobile home, the
travel trailer was clad in silver aluminum siding and looked
a little like someones idea of a space ship. Each night
I walked through the front yard of trees, into the car park
and across the road to the travel trailer. Crossing the gravel
road I would always look up to the vast Milky Way above wondering,
if the sky was so infinite, why were humans seemingly the only
intelligent life form?
This was a familiar idea espoused by fictional television shows
I watched avidly through my childhood like Star Trek
and the Twilight Zone. One summer I saw a television
movie special dramatizing the story of Betty and Barney Hill.
A famous account in the nineteen sixties, the Hills revealed
under hypnosis that they were contacted by aliens from outer
space. This TV movie featured re-enactments of their abduction
including some very spooky aliens with clear bubble-like eyes.
The imagery was compelling and terrified me although I tried
to convince myself that it was all fiction. But fears develop
from all sorts of childhood worries and aliments and I was not
entirely convinced this story wasn't true.
For example, I suffered from occasional bouts of tinnitus or
ringing in my ears, usually when I was walking home alone from
the school bus stop. After the raucous bus ride, the whisper
of the wind through the grass and the crunch of my footsteps
was a relief for my ears. When Id hear faint electronic
sounds, seemingly for no reason, I imagined they were telepathic
broadcasts by aliens and not just dust in my ear canal as my
father insisted. The ringing only happened when I was by myself,
so it was doubtful to my young mind that my father really knew
what caused it.
If Id been inadvertently listening in on these telepathic
broadcasts, it followed that the space aliens might eventually
find this out and come after me. This information from a fertile
young mind changed my nightly walks across the road to my bed
in the travel trailer. Now, having the idea of alien abductors
placed so dramatically in my mind I would nervously look up
for strange lights in the sky. Were they watching me? How
organized were they? Were they working with the government?
It didn't help that my grandmother told me she believed in
aliens when I asked her about it. She swore that she'd seen
lights in the sky moving at impossible speeds. I began to read
everything I could get my hands on about alien abductions and
so-called "U.F.O.s", but the books always ended speculating
on the possibility of fraud and emphasizing the government's
denial of any such things existing. So, was the television movie
truth or fiction?
One particularly bright and starry, yet moon-less night I discovered
I couldnt cross the road to get to my bed in the travel
trailer. My fear of abduction was so palpable my heart began
pounding in my ears and I was weak with fright. I could not
shake the notion aliens were about to land right that moment
and abduct me. I walked to the edge of the trees in the front
yard, but could not walk out under the open sky of the parking
area. Shaking and trembling, the image of the aliens
lidless and bulbous eyes haunting me, I raced back to the safety
of our mobile home.
I thought you were going to bed? My father said
from the living room couch, seeing me burst in through the front
Hanging onto the comforting familiarity of the doorknob, I
looked at my dad, not knowing how to begin. My fear was real
but the warm rational light inside our home was melting its
cold forbidding grip on my heart. I knew he wouldnt believe
my story of being abducted by aliens, but I couldnt lie
Im afraid of the aliens abducting me, I blurted
This brought an immediate chuckle from him, but stating the
truth revealed the ridiculousness of my statement. I couldnt
hide from the fact that I was being silly and letting my fear
run away with my imagination, like cruel mocking playmates might
run away from me suddenly on the school playground with no other
reason than to see me react. With a hug and some reassurance
that I was safe from harm and an admonition that my brothers
were already safe in their beds, my Dad sent me back to cross
the road by myself.
It wasn't easy but somehow I found the courage my father insisted
I had, once I'd walked out from under the protective cover of
trees into the parking area. Poised for a moment at the edge
of the dark dirt road, with the sound of grasshoppers singing
in the grass, I almost lost hope. The rasping in the grass could
be the voices of aliens whispering to each other beside the
road. Bolting across the road I ran to the travel trailer where
warm yellow light poured out of the back windows. My brothers
were talking before turning off the light, not ever suspecting
their little brother was frightened of alien abduction and finding
a great comfort in their presence. For the following two weeks
each time I crossed the road, I would tell myself as sternly
as possible that my fear was only fantasy. I was not going
to be abducted.
After that ordeal I found it much easier walking around the
woods by myself. In fact with my new found courage, I began
to walk through parts of the forest Id never been in before.
My family's fifty acre estate stretched from Pend Orielle riverfront
right up to the main county road and there was plenty of variation
in the landscape to explore. The access road framed only one
side of the property and the heavily forested part revealed
many natural wonders hidden away in its domain.
Once I discovered an old algae encrusted deer carcass, so old
that only the rib cage and some of the coat remained and oddly
smelling more like decaying leaves than the sweet sickly smell
of something dead. Another time I came across some very fresh
bear spoor in the middle of a clearing, riddled with blackberry
seeds. Thankfully I never ran into the bear face to face.
Eventually after years of exploring I encountered something
that to this day makes me question my own memory of it. On one
hand, I imagined I encountered something truly supernatural
and unexplainable, but on the other I can't say that my senses
weren't playing tricks on my mind at the time, just as my fear
and imagination had deceived my own sense of safety and comfort.
Perhaps what I really encountered was a true sense of myself
and an understanding of my place in this universe, but I'll
let you decide.
One late May afternoon, I was walking home after school through
a familiar part of the forest taking a short cut from my usual
path. The sky was bright and the woods smelled cool and fresh
from rain earlier in the day. An underlying musty spice of growing
fungus on decaying wood tickled my nose as I pushed through
the ferny thickets. The air was so still you had to stand quietly
before you could hear the faint rush of wind in the tree tops
or cars on the highway far away across the river.
My Adidas were soaked through from the damp undergrowth
and I was having to bend low to clear low branches from catching
at my school backpack with the appliquéd felt frog my mother
had sewed on the flap. As I stood up in one clearing I heard
a noise like someone breaking a branch. Turning towards the
sound, I saw something I cannot explain to this day.
Within a patch of sun shining through the trees, I saw a man
leaping through the air towards me. He was tall with freckles,
curly red hair and a beatific smile, but wearing a brightly
variegated dress in red, orange and blue with long sleeves and
no collar. He was wearing heavy work boots and around his neck
and on his wrists were jingling strings of beads sparkling in
Then as suddenly as he'd appeared, he vanished. There was
no one in that clearing with me but the trees, the sunlight
streaming down and the plants growing quietly around me.
I waited, expecting to see something that made more sense,
like a bird or animal crashing through the undergrowth but there
was no more sound. As if in a cone of silence I called out,
hoping I could scare whatever I really saw out of the underbrush
but there was only more silence. I began to reason, perhaps
my brothers or my sister were playing a trick on me as they
often did, so I called again, but there was no snickering in
the bushes or anything to tell that I was not alone in the woods.
Eventually I gave up and went home.
Many years later, I did see aurora borealis faintly
glimmering about the mountains far to the north while driving
home with my mother late one night. Somehow they didnt
seem so special any more. Very pretty and faintly lighting up
the sky, but not really much different than clouds at sunset
or stars circling around the north star. Another time over
the mountains to the east, I saw odd pink lights with long white
tails reaching up into the atmosphere, moving slowly south in
the twilight, so far away that they couldnt possibly be
airplanes. The news reported it was an unusual meteor shower
high in the atmosphere that had caused the lights. They had
been viewed from as far away as Maine.
Another summer for an entire week there were several meteor
showers in succession that lit up the entire sky unlike anything
I'd seen before. Radiating lines of clear white light, not
unlike the curtain folds of the the Northern Lights, filled
the sky cascading from directly above all the way to the horizon.
At the apex of this great curtain of light there was a small
dark circular void that looked like the pupil of a huge eye.
Everywhere you walked it would follow directly above like the
eye of God.