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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Men in Black: The Condor Incident Part 1

Life often teaches us to keep quiet about some stories that should be told.  The looks of disbelief, the expressions of disdain, and the relationships that fracture or sever when faced with the seemingly impossible, have led me to keep my silence.  But Condor, my local science fiction convention, invited Lowell Cunningham as its guest of honor to last year’s convention.  At the time, I dared to hope that he might shed light upon an incident in my past that limited my career prospects, and has separated me from my fellow man. 

Lowell Cunningham is one of those brave souls who dared to write about the Men In Black.  While he claimed, at last year’s convention, that his stories had no basis in fact, we all know that the government wields innumerable secret operations.  The fact that covert agencies sometimes allow writers to fictionalize their exploits further obscures their existence.  While he refused to discuss any real-life incidents, such as the one I was involved in, he asked us a simple question.  How better to dispel popular belief in a covert agency than to allow Hollywood to make a Sci-fi comedy that parodies its activities? 

This year, as I contemplate my renewed outlook and goals, I made a decision.  If Lowell Cunningham dared to tell the world about the Men In Black’s various operations, albeit in a fictional context, at least I could relate my story.  It may seem incredible.  You may not believe what follows.  But if any of you have endured a similar experience (and worse, the uncertainties, fear, and isolation that inevitably follow), I hope my story will help you feel a little less alone.

Several years ago, I volunteered for a group that monitored the endangered California Condor.  My last weekend of scientific observation started like any other.  Turk and I established a campsite in a grassy clearing sheltered by tall pine trees.  (I’ll share with you my then-partner’s nickname, but not his real name.  Nor will I say where exactly we camped, for legal and environmental reasons.  Let’s just say we were in a remote, mountainous region, and we needed Turk’s four-wheel drive truck to get there).  After bolting down some protein bars, we made some initial readings, then picked up our cases of equipment and headed off in the direction indicated. 

Turk and I passed a pond in which ibis and ducks frolicked.  We spotted what looked like some young deer or antelope.  Our footsteps eventually led us to a cliff, and we took another reading, and then headed south.  Our progress slowed as we lugged our equipment through tall, wild grasses and shrubs.  When Turk signaled a halt, I peered over his shoulder.  My jaw dropped.  A female Condor guarded her nest in an indentation among the rocks.  Two males competed for her attention with their sexual displays, while another, this one a little larger than his fellows, watched the others dispassionately. 

This might not constitute the strangest activity we had ever witnessed, but it was certainly worth recording.  As the birds hadn’t yet noticed us, we snapped a few photographs, Turk with his cellphone and me with my Nikon.  Then we left the cliff area as quietly as we could, and backtracked through the scrub oak, until we selected an observation site among the bushes.  We pushed aside the shrub oak bushes, set up our monitoring equipment, and settled in to watch the birds interact. 

As everyone knows, the San Diego and Los Angeles zoos captured the surviving California Condors in 1987.  After raising their numbers, they slowly released them back into the wild.  Each bird, whether hatched in captivity or the wild, was tagged with radio transmitters so scientists and volunteers could individually chart their life journeys.   But try as we might, Turk and I could only pick up three transmitters with our tracking equipment, not four as there should have been. 

This entry will continue in Men in Black: The Condor Incident Part 2.

Dragon Dave

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