In the summer of 1981, when I was fourteen years old, I saw something that was more than my imagination or any willingness to misinterpret events and delude myself. I remember it vividly, though perhaps with many distortions by now… but it remains the event that marked me at a time when I was ripe for it, needed it, and it has shaped me indelibly and suggested a deep sense of purpose, though that purpose has always been at best rather vague. At worst, I’ve felt its seeming lack. I’ve still to this day never heard anyone else quite describe the thing or things that I saw that summer night, despite the immensity of it, and partly for this reason I’m left to feel that it was meant for me, as something intensely personal. I’ve since seen how these events can seem to communicate very specific if symbolic messages to different people at the same time, with tremendous economy – which suggests a vast intelligence, among other things – but this seems to have been for myself.
We would’ve had the vacation house on Whidbey for only a short time then, a year or so, and I don’t think I’d had yet the alienation from my childhood friends that would make me want to avoid them. Yet on that visit, I didn’t bring any of them along; I went with my parents and their friend Stu. My sister, then nineteen, would have distanced herself from the family, so she was not present either. I remember little of the daytime: I could have spent it rowing our small, plastic dingy over the nearby body of water we called the “lagoon” or walked alone along the beach, or spent the day reading quietly in a corner of the house. We had (and still have) a telescope on a tripod kept near the front picture windows that look out over the Puget Sound, across to the small city of Port Townsend and beyond that, the Olympic Mountain range.
At some point not especially late in the evening we all went to bed. I was sleeping in the loft above the master bedroom and its adjoining bathroom, which was the only bathroom in the house. When I woke up in the middle of the night and needed to urinate, it meant that I had to climb down the set of steep steps to ground level and skirt along the edge of the main living area, with its picture windows. This night, something caught my eye outside. I went to the window and saw across the water, far in the distance, yet so immense that it stretched seemingly as long as the entire length of the far-off mountains, a dully luminous orange-red “cloud” hanging in the sky. It would have been miles across. It didn’t have any sort of mechanical structure, but it wasn’t exactly all that cloud-like either. Rather, it had the appearance of a wide, flat paintbrush stroke slapped against the dark sky as though it were a two-dimensional canvas, and had a variety of tones within it of deep orange to red, perhaps amber. It was a wide, bent line, down at its edges, and the edges had a sort of stylized feathering to them, while the top and bottom lines of this shape was clean and distinct. These colors glowed, but not brightly. It almost seemed wet. They were the only light visible in the sky.
I stood at the window for a time and watched this thing, not especially astonished but curious. Mildly curious. I remembered the purpose that had gotten me out of bed, and so went into the bathroom, then came out afterwards into the kitchen area for a glass of water. I should add that this, getting a glass of water in the middle of the night, was something unusual for me at the time; it is something I almost never did, and so to do this on this particular evening is significant. It was as if something were directing me to do this, and for a reason that became apparent later. When I went back to the window to look again at this strange thing outside, it had changed, just in the time while I’d been the bathroom. The large cloud/paint-splatter shape had been replaced or changed into a discreet, much smaller shape, one that was geometrically regular and clearly of intelligent design. This was an L- or boomerang-shape made of the same dull orange-red light, consisting of two circles at one end, an angle of the same width as the circles and rounded at the ends and outer corner, as though drawn from the curve of these same circles but extended, and then terminated by two more circles, also the same size. With my glass of water in hand, I though to look at this shape more closely through the telescope, and so trained it toward the light with my eye to the eyepiece. I saw through its lens the same shape, enlarged, and noticed that it was moving, drifting very slowly to the right, more or less the north, its lowest edge just beginning to disappear behind the foothills of the mountains. Clearly, though much smaller than its earlier incarnation, this thing was huge, conceivably a quarter-mile or more to each of its “arms”, as the foothills behind which it was descending were perhaps fifty miles away. Like the first shape, this one also appeared completely flat – and not only because it was so distant. To it, the sky seemed like a page of drafting paper, facing me, showing me its perfect geometry without the distortion of perspective.
What is both unusual and distinctly common of experiences like this, so I’ve read, is the mildness of my response to it at the time. Though I was curious about this thing that I was seeing, knowing it to be unusual, my response was tepid, lacking any of the astonishment or fear or disbelief that might seem called for. After watching this new shape for a minute or two, I set my half-finished glass back on the kitchen counter and went back up to bed, where I fell immediately asleep.
In the morning I found the glass where I’d left it and knew that I’d been awake in the night. I’d not been dreaming. I’d seen this object through a lens, and the lens had magnified the image. What I’d seen had therefore had the properties of light, and behaved consistently as light would. It was as if these small tests of the reality of the thing had been determined beforehand and fed into me, so that I would perform them and know that this had actually happened, and that I had seen something that was actually there. But I’d not thought of this at the time; I had only done what it occurred to me to do, though these actions at the time had an odd significance, as though I were responding to suggestions of deep meaning. It was only then that I began to think of how strange this whole thing had been. I remember telling my parents and their friend over breakfast that I’d seen something very odd, and described it to them. I don’t think my parents had any reaction to this whatever, though I remember Stu looking at me, her mouth hanging open, eyes wide and alarmed, though but for only a moment. The subject was immediately dropped and I knew better than to make any further mention of it.