Welcome to my new web column. I have been writing for journals about the crop circles for over 10 years now, first in The Cerealogist and then SC, and I have received both love letters and hate mail. The latter comes from those who find my respect, awe and curiosity in some way unacceptable. Bless them! The haters are always deluded hoax apologists: liars, fools, visually challenged or often all three. Whatever. Those who have been delighted and those who have been enraged will be getting more of the same.
THE FIVE WILTSHIRE WEIRDNESSES
As I had given my life over to the study of crop circles, there seemed to be an unquestionable logic in my repatriation from California last year to the heart of the phenomenon. There is a tangible satisfaction in living here and, though I have visited and spent time in the area for many seasons, a close and permanent proximity brings increased awareness. This spring, right on the edge of the 2001 season, five oddnesses and peculiarities have arrived and overlapped. They are portentous.
THE FIRST STRANGENESS - WILTSHIRE ITSELF
It takes only a little imagination to recognise that, even before the circles, this was an area of densely layered strangeness. Stone circles and monoliths, barrows and the enormous conical mass of Silbury Hill, white horses, the Wansdyke and the Ridgeway; all of these fold exquisitely into a pattern of hills and woods, valleys and villages which murmur mysteriously of old secrets, of ancient habitation, and, above all, of a rare kind of beauty. Whatever is happening here, it is surely taking place on the most appropriate of enchanted stages.
THE SECOND BIZARRENESS - THE CROP CIRCLES
And then - in this most particular of landscapes - the circles appear. World-views are toppled and lives are changed forever. Marriages break down and others are made. People go mad. Enduring friendships are formed, while earlier ones suddenly become totally irrelevant and are abandoned. Books, magazines, videos, lectures and conferences manifest and disappear, as - equally quickly - do certain people. Pubs & hotels, restaurants & B&Bs lurch from the fashionable to the undesirable and back.
We are all struggling to make sense of this. Some of us work to make our own little brick to add to the communal wall of information, while others view this chaos as little more than a chance to polish their careers or egos.
This contained and lovely area has been selected (By whom? What for?) as the main annual venue for a bewildering, and inexplicably huge display of land-art. The tribe committed to visiting and studying this exhibition is as strange and varied, irritating and charming as any group in history.
The first formation of the 2000 season was the Cherhill triangles in oil seed rape. As I write, we are less than a week from the anniversary of that date and the first tentative little yellow flowers have only just appeared in the fields. The wet spring has delayed things substantially this year.
THE THIRD ABSURDITY - FOOT & MOUTH DISEASE
The Third Absurdity is not particular to this area, but it is hard to ignore. Foot and Mouth disease, or at least the incomprehensible legislation that has been put in place as a result of it, has brought a transformation. My village stinks of disinfectant. All the gates and pathways bear red warning notices. In certain locations you are asked to drive slowly over soaked matting or straw. Last year's delight at seeing tiny lambs suddenly make vertical leaps as one passed is turned into an aching guilt at their probable imminent death.
The media treats it as a political/economic problem. Nobody mentions the incalculable burden on the national psyche, the group consciousness, of the daily awareness of the slaughter, the horror of the plumes of black smoke over the fields, the image of bulldozers and engineering equipment handling tens of thousands of carcasses. How do we calculate the cost of such an assault to our feelings?
And our tribe is thrust into a kind of limbo. Access to the fields was always questionable. It is possible that many of the farmers - already having a hard time - will treat the formations and those who wish to visit them with bitterness and aggression.
THE FOURTH INCONGRUITY - SILBURY HILL
The Fourth Incongruity is the Silbury Hill collapse. When the 1726 shaft opened up in May last year, it was possible to see this as an uncorking of the mysterious earth energy that the hill seems to represent and contain. The unfolding of the 2000 season, the repeated sightings of lights and luminosities and (for me, at least) the reiteration of specific numerological references around the hill supported this view. Of course, for English Heritage, the nominal caretakers of the monument since it was donated to the nation by Lord Avebury, all this was crankiness and not worthy of the slightest attention. For them, the opening of the shaft was simply the mechanical and entirely explicable result of an unusually wet spring. Why then did they do nothing about it? True, they acted promptly to keep people away in the manner of government and public agencies. Totally ineffectual guards were posted in a small van at the base of the hill to read the papers and smoke for an hour or two, a high wire fence was constructed around the top and a metal lid was built to cover the hole. English Heritage then went into interminable conference with an assortment of historians, curators, archaeologists and engineers. Early in December, the shaft collapsed inwards from the side and since then it has continued to do so. The result is that a vertical hole, about eight feet in diameter and exactly 33 feet deep has eroded further. Soon the area of collapse was bigger than the metal lid, which had to be removed, and a gigantic, unstable bowl was formed at the top of this noble monument. This acts as an efficient funnel to collect rainfall, which it then focuses to saturate the heart of the hill. The size of the crater is such that it is now approaching the edge of the top and threatens to transform the profile forever. Even the local paper, the normally staid Gazette and Herald, has expressed its anxiety. English Heritage continues to sit, and whinge, and watch!
This seems to be the worst kind of vandalism by neglect. Silbury Hill will preside wounded over the coming season.
THE FIFTH WEIRDNESS - THE ODDNESS OF KING COLIN
The Fifth Weirdness is so grotesque and outlandish that it is beyond understanding. The greatest publicity the crop circle phenomenon has had in years came last summer. Colin Andrews, widely identified as "Dr" Andrews or an "American scientist", pronounced with an air of Mussolini-like certainty that 80% of formations were man-made. His "detective agencies" had proved it and the evidence would be presented in a "paper" which he was producing with "PhDs" and which would be published in a "peer-review" journal later in the year.
Many of us who are close to this phenomenon are bored by Colin's annual posturings, by the predictable absence of supportive material, by the repeated unfulfilled undertakings and promises, by the refusal to stoop to contemplate the often considerable work of other researchers, by the relentless self-promotion and the failure to take responsibility for past and present (and by implication, future) assertions. None of this is a surprise. It continues to be heart-breaking to see such an important pioneer researcher choose this route.
Of course, 10 months later, 10 MONTHS, he has offered no solid support for his fantastic claims (see separate review of his CD-ROM) and, to be honest, few expected it.
Colin Andrews is a skilled practitioner of the "loudest-kid-in-the-playground-wins-the-game" school of discourse and has had many successes by simple and relentless repetition. The real weirdness is this. With barely an iota of evidence, hardly a shred of documentation, without a hint of substantiation, many people actually do believe him!
Fasten your seatbelts. This season could be a bumpy ride…