A trip that began with watching Roy Neary play with his mashed potatoes and ended on a wind blown plain in Wyoming was 25 years in the making and with the help of three little birds it is one I will spend a lifetime remembering.
I am by no means ancient but today’s Sci-Fi fans have no Idea how lucky they are that they live in the age of computer-generated effects. Lets face facts the original Star Trek was pretty lame but it was all that we had. That was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The space ship on the Devils Tower scenes were cool enough to make up for the corn, in addition I did develop a crush on Teri Garr. As with everything Spielbergian it is too schmaltzy for me, he ruined Jurassic Park by not getting the book but that is a separate matter.
The lingering image of the Devils Tower stayed with me as it stayed with Roy and when the chance came I took a day and watched the clouds race across the face of one very unique landmark.
The geologists call this type of formation an igneous intrusion. Magma crystallizes underground forming a Pluton, (named for the god of the underworld) and when the softer sediments erode around it you are left with one ancient hard on. The oldest rocks date to the Triassic period. While the details of its formation are still being debated it is undeniably cool.
The landscape approaching the Tower is straight out of a western film. It sits in the northeast corner of Wyoming near Sturgis S.D. and in the days of the cattle drives
This area was one of the largest shipping points for livestock in the country. Lots of grasslands and Ponderosa Pines the Black Hills are the homeland of the Lakota Sioux. They have some legends about the forming but for me sitting there watching the shadows of clouds drift across the face imagining the millions of years it took to emerge from the earth is much more awe-inspiring. For me the truth of nature is more wonderful than superstitions and legends.
I approached from the south about midday stopping in a large turnaround approximately 10 miles from the base. Had the place to ourselves as in November the tourists are nowhere to be found. The wind blows all the time or so it seems, wind power should do well there and cold. man it was cold.
After fixing a beverage I stepped out to stretch my legs in the sun and take the measure of the place. It was loud; I am talking hard to stand up to rushing past your ears driving rational thought out of your brain loud. The long grass was rippling and the tree branches swayed as a few isolated clouds cast fast moving patches of blackness against the green and grey. Writers throw the term azure blue sky around but that is the only phrase that fits that day. Eventually the wind drove me back inside and the silence was a relief but it was also a disconnect cutting the line to ET so to speak.
No army helicopters with sleeping gas flew over, not a single saucer with flashing lights and sounds like a Simon game landed on top and the few cows and sheep in the fields were immune to the nerve gas if it was around. These were the thoughts running through my mind as my wind chapped face warmed in the gentle rocking of the RV.
A movement caught my eye off to the west as a large majestic bird drew my attention away from the tower. I was expecting a hawk or crow but the white crest and dark brown body screamed eagle at me. I followed his path westward a second bird came into view and then I spotted a third much higher in the sky.
The two lower birds began to circle alternately flaring their wing and tail feathers to catch the wind. They rose 100’s of feet with barely a flap of those graceful wings over several minutes. I thought they were going to join the third and drift off into the heavens but that was not the case. The two stayed about the same level as each other as they rose but always kept a respectable distance from each other. All at once they both folded their wings ducked their white heads and dove at the central point created by their circling. It was so sudden and utterly unexpected that I let out an audible gasp.
After passing within what appeared to be an inch of each other at breakneck speed they spread their wings into the wind and began to climb once again. As the dance continued for pass after pass eventually one bird emerged higher than the other after each run and the two were gaining altitude over time.
As I watched in awe at the power and majesty of their ritual it ended as abruptly as it began. One of the two finally came level with the third and those two flew off together as the laggard turned west and sailed away alone.
I felt a twinge of sadness for that lone bird and wonder how the other two faired. Were they going to mate? Did they nest and start the next generation? I like to think so just as I like to think Roy found happiness on that alien world.
While writing this I learned that Teri Garr has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This is the same horrible disease that claimed my wife Cary. They have a few treatments for it now but still no cure. If you are so inclined drop by here to learn more or possibly help out with a donation.