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Shaffer: Aliens reported in Wilson County; search fruitless

By Josh Shaffer
josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com

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WILSON The news hit me like an asteroid: “Crop Circles Discovered in Wilson County. Space creatures probe rural wheat field.”

It had to be true. I found it on page 3 of The Grey Area – a free weekly digest of unusual happenings in Rocky Mount, Nashville, Tarboro and Wilson.

The Grey Area directed me to MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, an online catalog of alien encounters that included these mysteries from the Triangle:

• On June 11, a ship with three half-globe lights appeared over Raleigh.

• On June 1, an unknown craft abruptly changed direction and speed over Apex.

• And on May 23, extraterrestrials landed in an unspecified patch of Wilson County grain, squashed the crops flat in the center and left an M-shaped impression to terrify the farm folk. In the photographs, I could barely make out the number 301 on a highway sign.

So I drove east to Wilson in search of contact – some evidence of space life as tangible as a dinosaur’s footprint. I imagined a delegation of Martians standing waist-deep in the waving wheat, introducing their king to a John Deere tractor. This was history of the Plymouth Rock variety.

The trouble is that U.S. 301 covers roughly 30 miles of Wilson County farmland, and there’s no shortage of wheat fields out there. The pictures on MUFON offer few details: a low-slung silver barnlike building, a cell tower.

“It’s amazing some of the things that happen right here in River City,” Kay Whatley, an editor at the Zebulon-based Gray Area, said when I called her about the item.

Whatley had learned about the mysterious sightings from the UFO network, and she was similarly intrigued. However, she had no independent details on where the aliens described in the account might have touched down.

I’d have to hunt down the whole stretch.

If you’ve ever driven on 301, you’ve seen the landscape frozen in a 1950s postcard: the rusted Studebaker with weeds grown up to the dashboard, the low-slung brick motel with the plastic lawn chairs perched out front, the diner advertising today’s meatloaf special.

If aliens landed here, their first glimpses of Earth would have revealed an abandoned skating rink, a Vollis Simpson whirligig and the Bittersweet Biker Saloon.

So I tried the biker bar first, a cinder-block hulk the size of a tool shed, open for business every day at 1 p.m. Wasps circled around the front door, and the interior was darker than the inside of a cow, but I walked up to the bar and announced to the Natural Lite-drinking patrons, “This will seem kind of strange, but I’m looking for some crop circles. This newspaper here says aliens landed in a wheat field nearby.”

The bartender wore a Nahunta Pork Center T-shirt, and he glanced at my copy of The Grey Area. “That could be anywhere from here to Nash County,” he said, dismissing the news.

A bearded patron spoke up, “The way the wind’s been blowing around here, maybe folks mistook them for a crop circle.”

No tin-foil hats in this crowd. I moved on.

My next stop was in Wilson itself, which had no wheat fields to speak of, but caught my eye with its huge billboard advertising Madame Bogart, the palm reader. I parked in her driveway and noticed a sizable statuette of the Virgin Mary – and a Dixie cup filled with floating rose petals.

I knocked, rang the bell and dialed her number. But I got no answer. All I can figure is that Madame Bogart left with the spacemen.

At this point I was feeling pretty ridiculous. I’d even walked into a stranger’s field, looking for signs of landing gear.

So other than a pleasant Friday afternoon drive, here’s what I got out of this misguided search for intelligent life beyond the stars.

I’m not looking for it anymore. If it wants me, I’ll be at the Bittersweet Biker Saloon, enjoying pleasures of the Earth.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818
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