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2021…Strange Days

Strange days are coming… strange days are here. It might have been the Doors singing that about 50 years back, but it sure does seem like it applies more than ever now, doesn’t it? If you’re not convinced, take a look at a couple of news stories that you might have escaped your attention this week while you were making rather merry.

First, let’s go to Illinois. The heartland. The farm belt. Think Illinois and you might think of the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field and a lot of corn farms. Making it more surprising that a sasquatch was reported there recently. According to the Chicago Tribune, University of Illinois and others, an engineer recently reported one crossing the road not far from Springfield a few nights back. The man said he was driving out of Cass County, near the state capital, around 10:30 PM when “I saw a large animal jump into the road about 40 yards ahead. When it hit the road, I could see the large legs spread wide and …large swinging, hairy arms. The arms swung back and forth, close to the ground as its body was leaning forward. It leaped across the road in two jumps… I said to myself, out loud, ‘F***ing bigfoot!” . It was about two seconds before it disappeared into the darkness. He described it as a tall as his car windshield, even when hunched over and big enough to block out the lights of an oncoming car.

A photo published from Google Earth from the area he said it occurred looked… Midwestern. There is a woodlot, but the scene is dominated by a large farm field. However (there’s always a “however”), as one local radio station posted up there “if you know any engineers, you know it’s highly likely this is a highly educated guy.” And, a look at a satellite map does show an extensive band of forest only a couple of miles away. More surprising yet, a search shows that Illinois has sightings of Sasquatch almost annually, with another “good” visual sighting in a state forest near the Kentucky border this summer. There was even a report near Chicago in 2010, a daytime report which prompted a woman to stop her car on a busy road and follow the creature into the forest, noting its “musky wet dog odor.” Again, a large area of forest lay nearby.

When I think of “bigfoot”, I usually think the dense, huge rainforests of the Pacific northwest … Oregon, Washington, British Columbia. Not the land of wheat and Cubs hats. But, I know from personal contacts that stories of them abound from the southern Appalachians, with many locals claiming to have seen and heard them. As I’ve said before, it’s frustrating there isn’t any concrete evidence of the species…but where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. And there seems to be some smoke over Illinois even. Let’s hope some people got dash cams for Christmas there! Strange days…

Critters which we think probably exist but have no proof of. Which leads us to the second item. NASA, that great scientific division of the U.S. Government that explores space and puts men on the moon (“if you believe…”) has recently hired 24 noted theologians, including a British bishop, to “assess how the world’s major religions would react to the existence of life beyond earth,” or as other reports put it, “to prepare humanity for alien contact.” The team includes a noted rabbi and Islamic imam as well, and initial reports are “”Christian, Jewish and Islamic teaching would not be affected by the discovery of alien life.” NASA spokesman Carl Pilken went as far as to suggest the idea we were alone in the universe is “just inconceivable. When there are 100 billion stars in this galaxy, and over 100 billion galaxies…”. Quite a long way removed from the famous military Project Blue Book, which basically declared all UFOs were either swamp gas or hippies on acid trips seeing things and aliens only exist in bad Hollywood films, isn’t it? By the way, the Vatican has studied the topic itself and in 2008 declared “no conflict between believing in God and the possibility of extraterrestrial brothers” exists.

Strange days… Those two stories of hypothetical species makes the third one more of a head-scratcher. And actually sparks some conspiracy theories in the ornithology world. The US Fish & Wildlife Service recently declared over 20 species extinct, with little notice. Those included two American birds, the Bachman’s Warbler and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Both species were known to inhabit the dense, flooded swamplands of the southeast. The warbler, a little yellow bird with an inconspicuous song, was last recorded in the 1960s. The woodpecker however, is a different story.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is perhaps the most fabled of all American birds. The largest woodpecker on the continent, bigger than a crow, and very showy. The cartoon Woody Woodpecker was apparently based on its look. But unlike Woody, the Ivory-billeds are also very shy, by all accounts. It eats beetles in dead trees, and occasionally wild fruit, and was hunted by the natives. It was hunted more by settlers. By the 1910s, it was declared extinct. Then in 1939, a respected scientist and his team found a family in Louisiana and studied them around a nest, taking the only good photos and movie footage existing of them. Unfortunately, Singer sewing machines owned the land, and when they found that rare birds lived on it, they doubled down on cutting down the forest in case the government tried to turn it into a wildlife preserve. It wasn’t long before they were declared extinct yet again.

But, that notwithstanding, almost annually, reports came in of them, from the dense swamps of the Florida panhandle, and southern Louisiana. Occasionally elsewhere from the South. Good photos were taken of one in 1971; scientists scoffed and suggested it might have been an antique specimen nailed to trees high up. Later computer study showed the bird was actually in different positions in the two photos, making that all the more unlikely, but illustrating the Catch 22 with the bird. Get a good photo of one, and people say it’s staged and fake, get a bad photo or video clip of one, as has happened recently, and people say “inconclusive.”

The bird lives in dense woods, where some say you can’t see more than 75 feet in any direction due to the vegetation. Poisonous Cottonmouth snakes abound, as do alligators frequently, and more bugs than you can shake a stick at. And the birds are notoriously shy after centuries of being hunted by humans. Not many people, even serious birders, go looking for them where they are likely to occur. Yet a few do, and from time to time, they find Ivory-billeds. A group found at least one in Arkansas in 2004; they got decent enough video to be accepted by the scientific community. The Ivory-billed lives!

Since then, there’ve been a number of other good sightings, in Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi, with a few photos to show for it. Rather pixelated ones, alas, distant shots from a trail cam in woods; video of one flying through a swamp in Florida taken from a kayak. I recently read the book Taunting Extinction, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, in which the author goes to great lengths to analyze and prove a photo taken in 2009 was in fact one of the rare birds. It’s convincing, but not helped by things like his use of beer cans to visually demonstrate comparative neck lengths of different birds. It makes the point, but loses points among the professor crowd when you’re evidence is that the bird in the photo has a neck like a full tallboy beer can and the closest type of bird has a neck less than half a beer can long! (I do note, he offers more scientific data than just that and was a professional scientist himself).

So with apparent evidence of the bird still existing only 10 years or so back, and with a confirmed history of “coming back from extinction “ – an impossibility if one thinks about it – why is the government so quick to declare the bird gone? All the more odd – a species which is similarly rare, the Eskimo Curlew, has not been labeled extinct, despite not being seen since 1963, and not in the U.S. since one landed in Galveston in 1962. This was a bird which migrated right over the Great Plains from its arctic home and liked to spend time standing in grassy fields. How hard would it be to see one of them, a bird standing over a foot-tall with a long bill, if they landed…especially near a large city like Houston or Omaha which used to have them? But the government has yet to consider it extinct. It makes you wonder. But as Fox Mulder used to say, “the truth is out there.”

So to summarize, a big species we think exists keeps showing up and reports are being taken seriously; species from outer-space that until recently authorities refused to acknowledge as even being possible are being looked at by focus groups sponsored by the government, but a well-loved bird which is highly elusive but keeps showing up is suddenly declared officially gone. Strange days indeed!

May your 2022 be full of wonder and mystery and times as happy as a mosquito-bit kayaker taping an “extinct” bird!

Stimulus Cheques Aren’t The Only Thing That Will Be Out There

Fox Mulder must be grinning because, it seems, within six months the truth will be out there, to paraphrase The X-files skeptic.

Seems like it’s good not to tempt fate by suggesting “well 2021 can’t get any weirder than the one we just went through”. Because lost in the news static about the pandemic, the election passed and the one which was coming up (which is to say the Georgia senate) and all the other things, lost in almost 5600 pages of government snooze-talk was a little item which might just vindicate Mulder. And the real life champions of his TV cause. Because in those 5000+ pages of the Pandemic “Stimulus” bill designed to extend unemployment benefits and give taxpayers those beloved $600 cheques, there’s a directive to the Pentagon and “spy agencies” to spill the beans about aliens.

Nope, I’m not making that up. News agencies from Fox News to Yahoo all have confirmed there’s a bit in there telling the military and the “spy agencies” as well as the Director of National Intelligence to report within 180 days to Congress and the Armed Services. They are to basically tell them everything you wanted to know about UFOs but were afraid to ask. It should contain “detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomenon”, the current preferred term for “UFOs” or “little green men.” Apparently it managed to do what nothing else in the public forum these days did – namely have full “bipartisan support.” Wait – they can’t agree on the wording for relief payments to out of work people they both agree should happen, but they are all now A-OK with the story behind Roswell, the Phoenix lights and other things like that being revealed? 2021 can’t get any weirder? “Hold my beer,” the government says.

This perhaps should come as little surprise. In the past few years, the U.S. military has verified some videos taken by fighter pilots of UFOs deftly out-manueovring them, albeit still declaring them inexplicable. And already this year a senior Harvard professor put out a paper stating that our galaxy was visited by alien life recently when a large object at first thought to be a comet went for a fly-by and defied gravity by zooming at, then speeding away from the sun. The old “weather balloon” or “drunk hicks seeing swamp gas” explanations are wearing thin even for the types more like Mulder’s partner, Scully, denying anything’s out there to the moment she’s beamed into one of the spaceships.

Will it happen? Who knows? The government is great at few things, but stonewalling is one of them. And even if it does issue some sort of report, there’s no saying it will be made available for public consumption…. although its equally true that these days, if hundreds of politicians have access to the papers, one might expect at least one will leak them to a friendly media type.

Personally, I’ve been fascinated by the subject for a long time. I think a lot of “UFOs” are actually identifable – high altitude planes, military tests, shooting stars and what have you. I also think some are very impossible to explain any way other than mechanical devices controlled by intelligent life. Probably more intelligent than ours as humans. I figure when you go out in the country and look up at a clear night sky, and see those thousands of stars, each one might have planets circling around it, just like our sun, and for each one of those that we see, thousands more are beyond our eyesight or telescope range. It actually seems like some pretty big amount of hubris to think that we are the one and only lifeform out there.

Expect the unexpected. That might be the best bet if you are looking for a 2021 slogan. And, “the truth is out there.”