First let me say that I’ve seen a lot of strange things in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen a “flying saucer” or any other unidentified flying craft that was obviously a craft. Nor have I seen little gray aliens or large Nordic aliens (although I’ve wondered about a few tall Nordic types, who seemed pretty strange to me). But once upon a time, in a hot summer in the Badlands of North Dakota, I saw something that I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain. And I wasn’t alone at the time.

We’d been camped out near a cattle tank, miles and miles of bad roads from our main camp, to work on — you know, I really don’t remember. Might have been a road, might have been a pipeline — but that doesn’t matter. What does matter was that our tent, which was co-ed, was one of the ones we called the “Custer Tents.” University of North Dakota lore says that when the 7th Cavalry headed out of Fort Abraham Lincoln, there were some tents that were in such bad shape that they were left behind, to be scooped up later by the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at UND. And ours was one of those giant canvas tents, with no floor, that reeked of must and mothballs, and leaked on the (very) rare occasions that it rained. For those of you who’ve heard my story about feeling so dirty that we bathed in a cattle tank, this was the place.

It was one of the hottest times in the Badlands that I can remember. The tent was stuffy and filled with the extra scent of sweaty men. I, and my bff Jeani, could not stand it anymore, and took our sleeping bags out under the stars. For those of you who live in cloudy places, or in large cities, I pity you. You can’t really see the stars. In the Badlands, and in the New Mexico desert, the entire night sky is filled with stars, more than city dwellers can conceive of.

So we lay there, comradely, (and no, not drinking beer — we left that to the boys), talking about the work, our love lives, and whatever came to mind. The moon was full, and it seemed so close that you could reach out and touch it. Near the moon was a round bright light. When I first noticed it, I thought it must be one of the planets, or maybe a satellite, because it didn’t twinkle like stars do, as their little light makes it through Earth’s atmosphere. Jeani and I said to each other, at the very same time (great minds truly do think alike), “Look at that!” We agreed we were looking at that bright round thing that looked like it was next to the moon, and I said it might be a planet, and she said it was too late for that, the planets had already set, or hadn’t yet risen. “Maybe a satellite?” I asked. No, she said, those usually are moving. I think. Suddenly the bright round light sped to our right, and the stopped as suddenly as it had started. “Did you see that?” we chorused. How could anyone have missed it? It was big, and it was obvious.

As we watched, it appeared to make a 90 degree turn, and sped off towards and behind us. We sat up to watch. It stopped again, as abruptly as it had the first time. It was still for about a minute (Jeani had a watch with one of those green light features), and then it did a 180 and and sped over us and out of view.

We were baffled. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. The movement indicated that it couldn’t have been a star or a planet, and I don’t know of any satellites that do that, although it may be a possiblity (but bear in mind that this was pre-1980, and satellite technology has come a long way since then, so what they can do now may not have been possible then). I don’t know enough to say for certain that it wasn’t, but at the time, we didn’t believe it was. Satellites usually orbit, right?

So what was it? Not an airplane; no aircraft, with the exception of helicopters and Harrier jets, hover like that. And it was up much too high to be a helicopter, and the closest air base, in Minot, ND, didn’t have any Harriers. Besides, it was completely silent. Since it was an object, and it was flying, and we didn’t know what it was, we called it a UFO.

When we finally got back to our base, showered and dressed in clean clothes, we discussed it with the project manager, who hadn’t been with us in the Custer Tent. We (Jeani and I) wanted to report it; the question was, to whom? The county sheriff’s office would probably have laughed at us, so we skipped that option. We ended up calling the air base at Minot. A pleasant if slightly skeptical young officer took our call, and said he was making a note of our observation, and no, they hadn’t been doing any exercises in that area at the time. That was it.

We still talk about it from time to time. Neither of us have every seen anything like that since, although we’ve both spent plenty of time outdoors doing our different jobs. Was it a UFO? Well, yes, by definition, but was it an alien craft? I have no answer for that.

What do you think?