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There was a mysterious presence in the air over Shelby County last week.
It hovered over neighborhoods, flew low from one end of the county to the other, and landed in the field on the back of a farm, separated from homes only by groves of mature trees.
It seemed to hang in the air like one of Tiger Woods’ tee-shots used to do, and then sort of drift along the horizon like some oversized dragon fly.
It drew people from their homes and toward those trees and fields. It lit up the phone lines and fired up Facebook.
It actually worked one small miracle: Neighbors walked into the streets to converse with one another.
Its whirring sound could be heard over television sets, and its emergence from the quiet of a summer evening could be both startling and stunning.
There were thoughts of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or maybe ET needed to phone home.
But probably this military-sized and unmarked helicopter was flying with a fact-finding focus that its mysterious presence seemed to prelude.
The questions began about midday, when witnesses in western Shelby County saw this helicopter, its side doors open, literally hanging out over a farm on Todds Point Road.
They said it seemed to land for a while and then rise back into the air before eventually flying away. Later, it was seen in the sky above Clear Creek Park. Someone said it was hanging around Weissinger Hills.
But because this happened during the middle of a weekday, on the day when school resumed, there weren’t too many witnesses to what seemed a sort of volatile vehicular visit.
Then 7 p.m. arrived, and so did the helicopter again.
The whirring propellers brought the residents on the north side of Simpsonville rushing to their yards and driveways, spilling onto the streets, watching the chopper play vertical hide-and-seek behind the oaks and maples.
With each moment it remained hovering just above those trees, this dark-colored bird seemed to bring that much more speculation about why it was there.
Shouted across yards and driveways, up the block and via the characters on the Internet, there were all sorts of comments and ideas about why such a machine would be acting this way. No one suggested an invasion.
So after watching this go on for several minutes, the witnesses who live in my house did what we’re suppoed to do: We hopped in the car and went looking for a tree-free better vantage point.
Now this reminded me of days of my youth when a fire siren would wail and volunteers would go tearing across the countryside to fight the good fight for the community, roaring and careening down tight roads with lights aflashing.
Many of us less-brave but equally concerned citizens would be following right behind. Sometimes the spectators could get in the way, or get blocked by congestion in a dark place on a dark night. But you just had to see what was going on.
So it was Wednesday, when we drove not far, only about a half mile, and found that we had copious company. Trucks, SUVs and cars parked along the road, and others streamed slowly past us. There was even a kid carrying a boom box while riding a bicycle.
Our tracking vehicle pulled into the driveway of the farm over which the bird was flying, and we sat there and watched as it did, well, nothing but what a helicopter uniquely can do.
It moved a bit laterally but seemed to remain a hundred feet or so above fields, ponds, barns and a house, where cars were in the driveway but no one seemed to be moving about.
This was familiar land, a familiar horizon, a vantage all the way west into Jefferson County, and the falling sun offered an artistic and at times blinding backdrop for our observation.
The farm was in my youth a place of play, when the Dennises and O’Keefes lived there, and we would ride bicycles and horses and play basketball and baseball.
My uncle once roused a family asleep in a burning tenant house just below where the copter seemed to be ‘copting.
For several minutes we sat there, just observing, the primary activity, other than the ebb and flow of other onlookers, being the spinning of speculation in our minds, and finally we decided we had invested enough time in our in voyeurism.
We went home to mine other information sources, none of which panned out. Even city officials knew nothing of the phenomenon.
Finally, all became quiet and normal. Everyone went back indoors. The sun set.
And then, around 10 p.m., when we old folks were preparing to go to sleep, there was again that surprising but familiar whirring sound outside.
And onto our deck we pattered to see that helicopter emerge from behind the trees, soaring, lights on, hauntingly harkening to the rise of that spaceship that took ET home, getting its height and its bearings and then flashing south and east off into the dark of night.
We likely won’t ever know what was going on with that chopper, but for one odd August day, it was a mystery we all could embrace.