Somewhere along the line, within the last year or so, I’ve begun watching X-Files reruns while Helene is out or otherwise engaged, following the close encounters of FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they wade through the vast gulf of unexplained phenomenon that has forever inundated earthly dreams and nightmares. Having never watched the original show, I’m nowhere near done — nine seasons, lots of catch up — so the series provides me with some delightfully escapist fun, until recently that is, when the lines between fantasy and reality blurred considerably, rendering our skies — if not unfriendly — then certainly suspicious.

Is the invasion we’ve all secretly feared since childhood finally underway? UFOs — unidentified objects that fly — or drift, depending on whether they’re solid material, balloons or something else, have invaded North American airspace, their ominous presence further mystified by a series of official cliches, explanations and euphemisms designed to transpose language into something meaningless. From “radar anomaly” to “neutralize” any perceived threat to “domain awareness gap”, crafty attempts all, to express ignorance without sounding ignorant.

While I can probably assure you, at midweek anyway, that a full-blown invasion appears unlikely, the vapid military explanation of what’s going on does not engender confidence, offering instead recollections of the Air Force’s “Project Bluebook”, which devoted 17 years to collecting, analyzing and reporting thousands of UFO sightings, ultimately coming up empty: No evidence of “extraterrestrial vehicles.” The world though, begged to differ with their conclusion, as UFOs and especially Area 51 became a fascination for true believers everywhere, pinpointing Nevada as the ultimate destination of the very foreign spacecraft supposedly recovered at Roswell.

Vermonters needn’t travel cross country to fuel our fantasies or confirm our convictions. Crossing the Connecticut River into New Hampshire’s White Mountains should suffice, bringing believers to the site of the first widely publicized report of an alien abduction near Franconia Notch in 1961. According to Yankee Magazine, Betty and Barney Hill of Portsmouth were driving home at 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 19, stopping for a closer look when they saw bright lights in the sky assuming it was a shooting star.

What they later described as “humanoid figures” through the illuminated windows, prompted their speeding away but the craft followed, swooping so low they stopped the car. Waking up 35 miles south, they were unable to account for two hours of “lost time” aside from vague recollections under hypnosis of being brought aboard the ship and examined by the occupants.

The Hills’ story fueled early speculation of whether we were alone in the universe and what it all meant, teasing a measure of credibility for a number of 1950s movies ranging widely from unintentionally funny — “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” to thought provoking — “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” to downright frightening — “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Considering the uptick in sightings the last several years from dependable observers such as airline crews and fighter pilots, it’s no wonder a 2020 study out of the UK revealed half the adults surveyed are convinced we’ll make contact with aliens in the next 50 years with one in five worried for their lives, fearing that contact will be in the form of an invasion. The most rationale fear expressed by 71 percent of respondents was that of their fellow humans, panicked and dangerous amid the expected chaos.

Amid U.S. fighter jets having downed four still unexplained “objects” the past two weeks, while China spins the entire issue as evidence of America’s decline, CNN reminds us that an intelligence report released in January — before any of this happened — found a significant increase in UFO sightings, mostly by Navy and Air Force pilots and personnel, almost double those reported in the previous two decades.

The later investigation was able to identify many of those objects as balloons or “balloon-like entities,” unmanned aircraft such as drones, with an unspecified number listed as “sensor irregularities” or failures by either people or equipment. However, at least 171 sightings remain mysterious according to another word salad of an organization: The “All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office”, established last summer by the Pentagon. Whether or not any of this is a cause for worry is basically immaterial considering the utter nonsense millions of us worry about already.

Although given our national personality, protecting our right to out-of-proportion panic as though it’s an emotional bank vault, it’s implausible these fears will ever be put to rest, but author Fred Kaplan, writing on Slate this week, comes close. Suggesting that while questions remain, particularly about the last three eliminated objects, Kaplan writes that a couple of things are quite possible: The Chinese have been doing this for quite a while and, until this month, radar operators haven’t been looking for these things.

While we assume military intelligence picks up everything passing through our airspace, that’s neither remotely true, nor is it a sign of incompetence. “Thousands of objects are passing through the lower regions of outer space” Kaplan explains, including satellites, meteors and various debris, “and if NORAD tracked them all they might be overwhelmed, perhaps taking their eyes off the truly plausible dangers.” Balloons flying at the speeds they do, simply don’t fit into the detection algorithm.

Walking down a muddy road on a sunlit afternoon I wonder how Mulder and Scully would handle this high-altitude dust up or if they’d even consider it worthy of becoming an X-File since no alien abductions have been reported. Ostensibly, I’m scanning the trees, wires and the near violet skies for the barred owl I suspect is keeping squirrels off my bird feeders but as my gaze drifts slightly upward — who knows, right? — I realize that our physical bodies don’t need to be abducted at all to jump start a frenzy.

Our minds will do just fine.

Walt Amses lives in North Calais.

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