I was born and raised in England—home to the world-famous agricultural “alien” graffiti known as crop circles (or, more accurately, crop formations). Despite being a lifelong UFO nut, I had never personally set foot in, or even seen a real crop formation. Every summer, the clear majority of them have been appearing in the fields of South West England, particularly in Wiltshire, a county steeped in myth and legend. Rarely do they show up outside of this region.
In 2016, I was living in the South East of England, not too far from London, approximately 100 miles away from all the crop circle action in the South West. As summer approached that year, I felt I might finally make the cross-country journey to Wiltshire and beyond on a sort-of crop circle pilgrimage. I didn’t believe that these impressive formations were the work of extraterrestrials. It is well documented that they can be produced quite easily by human hands (and feet). But I’d always been intrigued by phenomena reportedly associated with the formations. For years, witnesses have reported orbs and other anomalous lights near crop formations, and many of the circle-makers themselves claim to have felt psychically compelled during the design and creation of their elaborate works. Regardless of what forces may be at play here, crop circles often go hand-in-hand with high-strange experiences.
In any case, as a self-respecting, then-thirty-five-year-old UFO nerd, it was high time I went and found a crop circle. Little did I know, however, that a crop circle would find me…
Let’s back up a bit. In May of that same year, I’d publicly expressed on Facebook my desire to visit a crop circle that summer. It had been on my mind. I wanted to cross it off my bucket list. I was resolute: I’d visit the South West that year, I’d stay in a motel, and I’d experience a crop circle.
And then, I forgot all about it. Until around two months later when, during the afternoon of July 20, 2016, while scrolling the internet, I saw something that made my jaw drop—a report that a circle had appeared the day prior in a field not half-a-mile from my front door. I checked its location on the map. Surveying the surrounding farmland, I realized that the described formation in fact was in the closest crop field to my house. It literally could not have been more convenient for me. I darted out my front door and made my way, on foot, towards the location. It happened to be the hottest day of that year so far, but I still ran most of the way, excited and a little nervous at what I might find. I knew the formation had appeared approximately 24 hours earlier and, given that it was so far removed from traditional crop circle country, I figured I might have it all to myself. I also knew it was on private land; that destruction of crop was a criminal act; and that farmers are typically extremely protective of their property whenever formations threaten to bring in droves of curious visitors.
I was on my way, still running; sweating profusely. The route from my house to my destination was essentially a straight line. I turned left out my front door and simply followed one straight path up into the nearby woods. The field I was looking for was at the top of the hill, just off to the right and bordering the tree line. It took me 10 minutes to get there. The crop field was deserted. Not only that, I’d not encountered a single person on my way there. Although the field borders a busy road, the surrounding woodland is very quiet. Sometimes I’d see a few dog-walkers, but not that day.
I approached the field from a narrow dirt track leading out of the woods. My only way of entry was to climb over a locked iron gate. I looked around, 360 degrees. No one in sight. I climbed the gate and cautiously made my way into the field. It was a fair size and it sloped down towards its far end, obscuring from my view any hint of the circle. At this point, I was not entirely sure I was in the right field. Then, after following the tramlines for a couple of minutes, I saw it. I already knew the nature of the formation; it had been photographed aerially the day prior and documented online. It was, of all things, a giant alien face, adorned with a tribal headdress.
I stepped into it—a lifelong dream of mine, finally realized. I never doubted for a moment that this crop circle was manmade. Its design was simple and on-the-nose, and its size was modest. I felt no otherworldly sensation while inside it, only an increasing concern that the farmer might rumble me at any moment. I’d spent just a couple of minutes in the formation, snapping pictures on my phone, before I began to make my way back to the top of the field.
Then, I stopped dead in my tracks, as if compelled to do so by some external thought. Instantly, I knew I had to go back; to truly savor the formation before it was gone. I’d expressed a desire to see a crop circle, and one had appeared just a stone’s throw from my home. It was the only crop formation to appear that year in the entire county of Surrey. Indeed, it’s rare for formations ever to appear in Surrey. I had to acknowledge this. I made my way back into the alien head and began to slow my breathing. I looked skyward and said aloud, “thank you.” I was speaking not to any space brothers who might have been watching from afar, but to the universe itself and the magic of its synchronistic symphonies.
Calmer now, and still totally alone, I lay down between the alien’s eyes and I let my mind wander. In the 12 months or so leading up to this moment, I had been seriously questioning whether I’d been wasting my life in pursuit of the UFO mystery. I’d reached an existential crossroads. I thought I might walk away from the UFO field altogether; it was only my then-current book project, UFOs: Reframing the Debate, that was keeping me from doing so. My ego was prodding me to receive the crop circle in which I now lay as a “sign” from the universe: perhaps I was on the right path, after all. I would usually reject outright such airy-fairy thinking, but in that moment, I succumbed to it. After a few more minutes, I left the crop circle and made my way—for the second time—back up the tramlines towards the top of the field.
It was then that I noticed something—a male figure, leaning against the iron gate over which I’d made my entry into the field. As I got closer, I saw that he was looking directly at me. Around his neck hung what appeared to be an expensive camera with a large telephoto lens. I was perhaps 30 meters away from him now. He raised his arm in a gesture of greeting. Who was he, I wondered. The farmer? No. Given the camera, he was more likely a fellow crop circle hunter. Or perhaps even one of the circle-makers? I approached to within a few feet and could see him clearly now. His appearance was completely innocuous. He was of medium height; he wore glasses, a polo shirt, and slacks. Early 4os. He appeared to be of Indian or Pakistani heritage, though his accent indicated he had been raised in the UK.
Without any prompting from me, he offered: “I’m just taking in the scenery.” It rang immediately as false. His tone. His body language. Something seemed not quite right. Like he was making an excuse. I replied, telling him there was a crop circle just out of view in this very field. Naturally, I assumed he’d jump at the chance to photograph it. His reaction struck me as curious. He seemed genuinely oblivious to the fact that he was stood, camera in-hand, just a couple of hundred meters away from the only crop circle in Surrey. One doesn’t have to be a UFO buff to find such things of interest. And yet, he seemed completely uninterested.
I started to climb back over the iron gate against which the man was still leaning. I told him again that if he wanted to see the crop circle, it was just beyond the slope in this field. All he had to do was hop over and stroll down the tramlines. He then asked, somewhat reluctantly, “how do I get into this field?” A strange question, considering he was literally watching me climb over the gate at that very moment. “Um, you just climb over this gate, I replied.” He looked at the gate, clearly confused, before cautiously stepping onto its lowest bar. It was as if he’d never climbed a gate before. He balanced himself, raised his camera with one hand and snapped what appeared to be three completely random pictures of the general area—click-click-click—none of which would have even partially captured the crop circle—it wasn’t at all visible from this vantage point.
Without averting his vision from the field, the man said, “I hope the police don’t come.” Not one second later, a police car appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, directly behind us, crossing my vison from left to right on the narrow dirt track. It cruised past, no more than 10 feet away from us and at no more than 15 miles per hour. It gave me the fright of my life—I was still sat atop the gate at this point. I was convinced the police car was there for us—the officers inside looked directly at us—but no sooner had it appeared than it had gone; lost almost instantly from view behind the parallel hedgerow. I didn’t see it coming, nor did I see where it went, but it seemed in that moment that the man had magically manifested that car. He too turned to watch as it drove by. Despite having just expressed his concerns about the police showing up, he seemed not at all worried about the cops’ sudden and seemingly miraculous appearance. He didn’t bat an eyelid.
Feeling more than a little perturbed, I said a quick goodbye to the man and headed swiftly back into the woods and onto the trail that would lead me home. I’d been walking less than a minute before I noticed that the man was following me, and he was gaining pace. Soon, he was walking alongside me. Just the two of us in the woods. Still no sign of any other walkers.
We continued, side-by-side. It was awkward. Then, the man asked me, “Do you believe in life on other planets?” I replied in the affirmative—“we are not alone” is pretty much a scientific consensus nowadays. But I added that aliens “out there” and aliens “down here” are two very different debates. I assumed that since the man exhibited absolutely no interest in crop circles, he probably had no interest in UFOs and other related topics. Nonetheless, I returned his question. His reply came as a surprise: “Not only do I believe in life in the universe,” said the man, “I believe that other lifeforms are here now and interacting with us.” He then offered his knowledge of Nazi flying saucers and other UFO types: “Most of them are manmade,” he said. He added that he was a Muslim and began to talk about the legends of the Djinn; of entities benevolent and malevolent, quoting passages from the Quoran that reference other worlds and dimensions.
This was all seeming a bit weird to me by now. And then it got weirder. While talking to me about life in the universe, the man stopped mid-sentence and came to an abrupt halt on the woodland trail. He was staring at something directly in front of him—a leaf, suspended invisibly in a spider’s web from a branch high above, twirling lightly in the summer breeze. A mundane sight for anyone who’s ever taken a woodland stroll. And yet, the man reacted to it with genuine bafflement and concern. “What’s that?” he uttered, fearfully. I stopped with him and watched as he slowly and cautiously examined it. “It’s… a leaf,” I told him. He then began to circle it at what was presumably a safe distance, never taking his eyes off it. I explained to him what he was seeing, but he seemed not to understand.
As we moved passed the leaf, the man continued: “What’s your name?” I told him my name, and then I asked for his. “Hassan,” he replied. Or perhaps it was “Assan.” I couldn’t quite hear. He spoke very quietly. Before I knew it, we’d reached a crossroads in the woods. I told him I was heading straight on. He was going elsewhere. “Nice speaking to you,” said the man. I made a point of shaking his hand. Just to be sure he wasn’t a figment of my imagination. His grip was weak, but he was definitely of flesh and blood.
We said goodbye and he departed to the North West, off the trail and directly into the woodland. I watched him every step of the way, half expecting him to shimmer out of existence, or to be silently whisked away in a black Cadillac. But I lost sight of him in the trees.
I looked down at my forearm. The hairs were stood on end as if electrically charged, and goosebumps covered my body. I’d felt like this from the moment the man had engaged me in conversation until shortly after he’d left. I stood for a moment, alone once again in the woods, trying to process what had just happened. A crop circle, delivered almost to my doorstep, as if on demand. A camera-wielding man who watched me, followed me, and spoke to me about cosmology, alien life, and UFOs, but who had no apparent interest in the rare crop circle from which he stood only a few hundred meters away. His curious reactions to everyday objects like the gate and the leaf. Combined, it all struck me as incredibly strange. So strange, in fact, that I exclaimed loudly where I stood, “What the FUCK was that?”
So, what to make of it all? If they'd had this exact same experience, many of my friends and colleagues in the UFO and paranormal communities would, I'm sure, be inclined to interpret it as being the result of otherworldly influences: did I manifest the crop circle? Who was that strange man? Where did he come from? Where did he go? Statistically, what are the odds that he would accidentally find himself at the only crop circle in the region at that time? And why would he not take the opportunity to explore and photograph it with his expensive camera, despite soon after showing a clear interest in UFOs and related subjects?
The most obvious explanation is that the extremely close proximity of the crop circle to my home was pure coincidence and that the man I met was one of the circle-makers, returning to photograph his accomplishment. My presence in the field startled him and caused him to act slightly shifty ("I'm just taking in the scenery"). He then proceeded to follow me and engage me in conversation in order to gauge my intent. When he was satisfied I was just a UFO geek, he left.
This interpretation makes a lot of sense, but it doesn't account for some of the other strange flourishes I've described, particularly the police car appearing as if on cue. He was looking into the field--away from the dirt track--when he said, "I hope the police don't come." Just a second later, a police car drives slowly behind him, so close we could almost touch it, and so slow I actually made eye contact with the driver. Where it came from I don't know; it seemed to come directly out of the woods. I didn't see where it went. I was shocked. The man saw it drive by too, but he didn't react at all. If he really were the circle-maker, one might expect him to be jittery at the cops' sudden arrival on the scene. How also do I account for his weird reaction to the basic concept of a gate? And his reaction to the leaf? He seemed genuinely frightened by it. Such behaviour would seem odd in any circumstances.
The magical thinker in me wants to believe that my crop circle experience as a whole was a synchronistic orchestration of the universe in which I was the protagonist. But this interpretation plays to the ego, and one should always be cautious and dispassionate whenever that voice from within insists: "I'm special." Yes, yes, we're all special, this is true. By the same token, if all of us are special, none of us are. A synchronicity is, by definition, a meaningful coincidence. The appearance of a crop circle so close to my home after I'd expressed a desire to see one--especially in a region not known for crop circles--was certainly synchronistic... for me. And my encounter with a strange man during my visit to the crop circle served to heighten my sense that something quite profound was at work. In reality, however, it's probable that the man was indeed the circle maker and that the mundane interpretation of my experience is the correct one.
I wanted to share this experience publicly in an attempt to make sense of it. Regardless of how objectively unextraordinary it may have been; subjectively, it felt extraordinary, and it affected me quite deeply. I hope there's something in my accounting here that can be used as fuel in debates about the blurry lines between coincidence and synchronicity; magical thinking and rational thinking.