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Crafty cows at work? ‘Crop circles’ take root in Fosston

FOSSTON, Minn. — The wheat is beginning to turn a lovely golden brown alongside a country road a few miles east of this northwestern Minnesota town, and the signs left by recent visitors have faded some into the waving grain.

FOSSTON, Minn. — The wheat is beginning to turn a lovely golden brown alongside a country road a few miles east of this northwestern Minnesota town, and the signs left by recent visitors have faded some into the waving grain.

But the speculative talk continues, the curious still drive by to look for themselves, and locals still wonder, if only playfully: Just how far did those visitors travel before leaving their marks in Dean Sorgaard’s field?

The large, precise “crop circles” appeared in late July on three separate farmsteads within 10 miles of Fosston, including a series of connecting circles on Sorgaard’s field. There, they ascend a gentle slope and offer passersby a startling image of — what? Messages from outer space? Ball lightning? Wheat graffiti?

“There’s not even any gossip going around about who did it, and that tells me it probably wasn’t local kids,” Fosston Mayor Jim Offerdahl said. “You’d think they’d be bragging about it, but there hasn’t been one whisper along that line” in the nearly three weeks since the images appeared.

“My own personal thought is it was somebody from out of the area.”

The mayor paused for a moment then added: “But not from out of the planet.”

Offerdahl, a radio engineer in Fosston, was one of the first to inspect the mysterious designs, and he has since fielded calls from all over the country, including eager inquiries from “some of those so-called crop circle investigators” who wanted to know such things as whether the flattened wheat lay clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Nancy Talbott of the BLT Research Team in Cambridge, Mass., said that she was dispatching a researcher to Fosston for a first-hand look. And she noted “that there have been several scientific papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that suggest other possible explanations [for] the crop circle phenomenon than ‘aliens’ or pranksters.”

Her team has examined crop circle plants and soils since the early 1990s from about 15 countries, and “certain plant and soil abnormalities have been found consistently,” she said, “most of which indicate exposure of the plants and soils to microwave radiation, unusual electrical pulses and strong magnetic fields.”

‘The Fosston Files’
Other theories offered since the Fosston area discoveries: The Air Force testing new weapons. Farmers with playful (and really smart) cows. Heat or wind vortexes.

Images of what some are calling “the Fosston Files” have been posted on the Internet, including this YouTube entry.

According to the debunking website, most crop circles “are probably due to hoaxes,” and the site refers to two men who it says have admitted to staging about 250 circles over several years.

Still, “Some believe that the crop designs are messages from alien spacecraft,” Skepdic notes.

“Some maintain that the aliens are trying to communicate with us using ancient Sumerian symbols or symbolic representations of alien DNA.”

People who get really serious about crop circles are known as “cerealogists,” according to, “after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility.”

Or you can call them croppies.

Origins aside, the Fosston Dairy Queen and other businesses have enjoyed a summer taste of Roswell-like tourism.

“The restaurants did a good business,” Offerdahl said, “and the guy at the gas station on the corner says he’s had a lot of people stop for gas and directions.”

Nobody’s taking credit yet
Though nobody has stepped forward to claim credit for the designs (or responsibility: think $9-a-bushel wheat), and nothing was found that definitively points to agricultural vandalism, any references here to alien visitors are accompanied by winks or grins.

“The landowners told us that the dogs were barking and the cows were going crazy, braying in the middle of the night,” Offerdahl said, “but nothing was left behind, no beer bottles or anything.”

All the crop circles were left by roads, allowing easy access or departure, whether by pickup or spaceship, but the early crush of the curious made it impossible to divine any clues from the scene. Landowner Sorgaard said he had no reason to embrace or dismiss any theory. All he knows for sure is that something got his dogs and cattle riled about 2 a.m. on a Sunday in late July and his wheat yield will be a few bushels shorter than he planned.

One thing just about everyone agrees on: If this was the work of pranksters, they’re good.

“They should go into design, or art,” said Mary Jo Rud, who climbed a nearby hill covered in flowering alfalfa and thistle to see the circles shortly after they were first reported.

“They’re really good,” she said. “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 brought his children along when he drove out for a second look.

“When I first saw it, I was ready to get out my tinfoil hat,” he said. “Today, I’m thinking hoax.”