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Mysterious crop circles materialize near Fosston

FOSSTON -- The first reports of something amiss in the wheat fields east of here came early Sunday from barking dogs and bawling cows, but no livestock is missing -- no people, either -- so locals seem inclined to doubt that alien spaceships made a stop at Dean Sorgaard's place.

Still, after a UPS driver passing through the area relayed sightings of mysterious "crop circles" to Fosston Mayor Jim Offerdahl, the mayor drove out to check for himself.

"I'm no expert," Offerdahl said, trying to sound both skeptical and open-minded, "but either somebody was out having some fun or we were visited by someone from another galaxy."

Landowners in three locations within about 10 miles of Fosston reported finding circular depressions in wheat fields over the weekend, large, intricate and symmetrical patterns suggesting -- or designed to suggest -- the landing of alien spacecraft.

At the Sorgaard farm, about six miles east and a little north of Fosston, the largest circle in a steeply sloping field of wheat had a diameter of 150 to 200 feet. "Dead in the center, there's a little circle, a hole, like they could have had a rod or something in the ground as their center point," Offerdahl said.

Pranksters could have used that center point, lengths of rope and some grain-leveling boards to create the crop circles, he said.

Teenage pranksters, maybe? Inspired perhaps by the recently released X-Files film?

"The landowners told us that the dogs were barking and the cows were going crazy, braying in the middle of the night," he said. "That was about 2 a.m. Sunday."

But other evidence, or the lack of it, argued against the playful-youth explanation, according to the mayor.

"Nothing was left behind -- no beer bottles or anything," he said.

All the crop circles were left close to roads, allowing easy access (and escape) by pickup, spaceship -- whatever. By the time he got to the site, the curious had pretty well trampled the sidelines, obliterating any tracks left behind.

"Still, my gut feeling is this is someone out having some fun," he said. "But whoever did it put some effort into it."

Mary Jo Rud agreed. She was part of a steady stream of visitors -- human visitors, that is -- who climbed a hillside of flowering alfalfa and thistle on the other side of a county road to get a better view of the circles.

"If this was the work of pranksters, they should go into design, or art," she said. "They're really good! Everything is absolutely symmetrical, and so well laid out. You walk up there into the circles and the land tilts, but the impression that's there is still right on."

Josh Curfman, who drove out for a second look Monday with his family, decided the design was too perfect.

"Yesterday, when I first saw it, I was ready to get out my tinfoil hat," he said, meaning to thwart any alien attempts at mind control.

"Today, I'm thinking hoax," he said.

He wasn't wearing the tinfoil hat. And he didn't seem at all alarmed at the sight of his children, Isaac, 6, and Morgan, 8, laughing and waving as they skittered along the four-foot-wide passages of flattened grain that defined the Sorgaard circles.

If it was aliens, why land here? What would they be after?

"Well, I live just a quarter-mile away," Curfman said, with just a hint of a smile. "So maybe it was me."

Dennis Rud, who lives in Fosston and teaches biology at Red Lake High School, took samples from the site, including wheat stalks that had been flattened and some that hadn't been disturbed.

"I want to see if something burned or dehydrated or changed the kernels in some way," he said.

Whoever or whatever landed or partied here, they left the wheat changed in one way -- lowering the potential yield on these acres by a few bushels. That's vandalism, a crime.

"And with the price of wheat these days, it could be a felony," Offerdahl said.

Haga works for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald newspaper. DL Newspapers and The Herald both are owned by Forum Communications Co.