A week or two ago, a suspiciously happy circle cropped up on a hillside near my home. This constitutes my only first-hand experience with a crop circle so I was delighted to discover that in the great state of Oregon where I live, this is not a terribly uncommon occurrence.
Though the vast majority of crop circles in the 20th century have been located in southern England there are examples from 26 nations throughout the world. Circles have been reported in forty-seven out of the fifty US states. And yes in 1991, Puerto Rico even got into the action when a group of concentric rings turned up on a rocky plateau near the city of Ajuntas.
Oregon ranks 11th among the fifty states with 19 reported circles by 2008 (Not quite as impressive as the 23 boasted by my native home state of Illinois, but not too shabby). Ohio claims the title for most reported crop circles in a single US state with a whopping 42, confirming what researchers have long suspected: there really is very little to do in Ohio.
This data comes from the Independent Crop Circle Researchers’ Association (ICCRA) which describes itself as a cooperative of researchers with a wide variety of interests in crop circles dedicated to objective data collection, independent of individual theories about crop circle formation. And it’s a good thing it exists because it’s a heated debate, contributed to (according to Wikipedia) by paranormal enthusiasts, ufologists (I can’t help but wonder if this field of study requires post graduate work), and anomalistic investigators. For some reason practical historians didn’t make the list.
Many of these enthusiasts, investigators, and ‘ologists have come to different conclusions as to the cause of crop circles. Which makes me wonder how exactly the large happy face appeared because there are a number of possibilities to consider.
The first good picture we have of crop circles comes from a 17th-century English woodcut pamphlet entitled Mowing-Devil on which appears the story of a farmer who said he’d rather have the devil himself mow his field than to pay the high price demanded by a laborer. Apparently no one ever told him to be careful what he wished for because that night, his field appeared to catch fire and the next day it was perfectly cut (at a rather higher price I assume). The accompanying picture includes the image of the devil cutting a circle into the field with a scythe. Of course, since he went on to cut the entire field, and because I don’t usually think of the devil as a particularly happy chap, I don’t think this explains my mystery circle.
The more modern crop circle phenomenon took off a few years after a curious event near the city of Tully in Queensland, Australia. In 1966, a farmer by the name of George Pedley reported hearing a strange hissing noise. Looking toward the sound, he saw a saucer ascend from the nearby swamp. When he investigated the area, he found a circular depression in the vegetation, about 30 feet in diameter. Officials determined the cause to be vaguely related to a dust devil. The saucer sighting was “officially” overlooked.
Then in the 1970’s, circles began popping up all over the English countryside. Most of these would turn out to be the handiwork of pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley who patterned their initial circles on the Tully “saucer nest.” The two later claimed over 200 circles, many of which sparked at least a little bit of serious scientific study.
In 1980, a meteorologist and physicist by the name of Terence Meaden weighed in with a complicated theory that the circles were caused whirlwinds bouncing around the unique topography of the southern English countryside. The theory gained some momentum, even garnering a tentative endorsement from Physicist Stephen Hawking who said that it was a plausible explanation if the circles weren’t just part of some elaborate hoax. When Bower and Chorley finally came clean, I imagine Meaden’s response was something like: “Or it could all just be part of some elaborate hoax.” It is, however, worth noting that a lot of cereologists (one who has a post graduate degree in the study of crop circles, or maybe Cheerios) claim that crop circles which can be attributed to hoaxes are in fact promoted by governments as a way to discredit the true origin of others.
My favorite explanation for the appearance of crop circles, though, comes from Lara Giddings, then Deputy Premier of Tasmania, whose theory appears in a June 2009 article from the BBC. To give a little background here, Australia produces about 50% of the world’s legally grown poppies for use in the pharmaceutical industry. Australia also has wallabies. Giddings apparently said the following: “We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting high as a kite and going around in circles. Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.”
So I guess that explains it.
Except as far as I know, there are no wild (high as a kite) wallabies in Oregon. And while I can’t completely discount alien visitation, this particular hill is highly visible from a pretty busy road and I haven’t heard any reports of UFO sightings in the area. So maybe, just maybe, there’s a mystery artist or two out there having a little fun and spreading a little joy. But I should probably report it to the ICCRA just to be safe.
Note: I know that some of you are probably still thinking about the Mowing-Devil and just can’t let it go because technically a crop circle is created by bending crops and not mowing them. I understand your concern, but the way I see it, if visitors from another planet decide to use lawn mowing equipment to communicate with us then who are we to cry foul? Just to be clear, though, I don’t think it’s a good idea for gorked wallabies to be operating heavy machinery.