It was 1993 or ’94. A few years out of college, I was living with my then-boyfriend in our rented house in Boulder, Colorado. We had just made a road trip to Roswell, New Mexico and visited the UFO Museum. It was the inception of my interest in the subject and I’d amassed a small UFO library from a traveling friend who was living in his car and giving up all possessions, one of the many wayfaring punk kids and band members that came to sleep on our floor while on tour. His name was Sprout.
One night we decided to rent Linda Moulton Howe’s 1980 documentary “A Strange Harvest” from the local video store. I hadn’t heard of her before, but it looked intriguing from the label on the video box. We popped it into the VCR. Such was my initiation into the mystery, the enigma of cattle mutilations and the bigger picture of UFO and anomalous phenomena at large. I was hooked. It’s hard to recall the details of that night, but I think we discussed the documentary afterward. There was no Internet, no reviews, no links to further reading.
The next day, I clocked in at my job as a one-hour photo developer in a small lab in a strip mall on the outskirts of Boulder. I didn’t mind the job as I got to see all sorts of random photos, I could work alone and I didn’t have to interact with the public much. It was a normal day and I chugged along, pulling the long negative strip through the machine, punching buttons and sorting the 3×5 prints as they came out. I had been working in photo labs since I was 16 years old, so I had seen just about everything there was to see. In the days before digital photography, people shot the same subjects they do today, the difference is I got to see it first. One particular roll of film caught my eye. It was about 24 photographs of a dead cow and some strange indentations in the grass next to the cow. I realized I was looking at a photo of a cattle mutilation. I don’t remember the exact details, but portions of the head were sharply excised with the muscle beneath revealed in a clean cut. The jaw was missing and the teeth exposed in a sick grin. It was just like the movie I had seen only the night before, which was of course still fresh in my mind. As I thumbed through the photos, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Whoever took the photos knew what they were shooting. Because they noticed a perfectly circular patch of tall grass next to the animal which was tamped down flat, as if something round and heavy had sat there. There were three perfectly small holes in the earth right in the middle of the circle which looked like they’d been bored with poles. It was all consistent with footage shown in the film and all so very strange.
What a coincidence I should develop this roll of film the day after renting the documentary! It was so weird. I reeled at the thought that I was looking at a brand new, freshly killed and mutilated cow. But this was Colorado and we were not far from ranch land and open prairie. As I did with any interesting photos, I made copies for myself and quickly secreted them away to the back room to take home.
When the customer came to pick up his film, he was an ordinary man in blue jeans and a flannel shirt, he could have been any farmer or rancher. I didn’t ask him about the photos and he left quietly with his envelope. Of course I ran home after work and told my boyfriend all about it. We both agreed it was creepy on many levels – the upsetting phenomenon itself, the creepiness of it happening close to home and just the chilling coincidence of it all. For the first time, I found myself a not-so-innocent bystander, with the phenomenon looking right back at me.