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Crop Circle Experts Doing the Rounds

by Ryan Parton

The Toronto Star, Aug. 10, 2002

The truth is out there. Maybe even in Ontario.

With the release of "Signs," the latest summer blockbuster brought to us by the Disney crew, director M. Night Shyamalan is set to shake the cobwebs off of the all-but-forgotten phenomenon of crop circles.

At least one Toronto man, however, has had his vigilant eye on the strange formations long before Mel Gibson's haunting gaze began taunting us with hints of the supernatural from the movie's suspense-filled trailers.

Drew Gauley, 33, is Ontario's co-ordinator for the Canadian Crop Circle Research Network, a loose network of amateur cereologists (crop circle researchers) that's been studying the phenomenon in Canada for the past seven years.

The group, founded in 1995 under a different affiliation and operating under its current name since 2001, has roughly 30 volunteers and co-ordinators in seven provinces. Gauley, with the help of the volunteers, is responsible for documenting and investigating all crop circle reports in the province.

"I'm just interested in the whole mystery end of things," says Gauley, who makes his living doing audio-visual work. "It just doesn't happen too often that very strange things like this go on and that you can actually go and check it out and see for yourself."

Ontario has had 35 crop circle reports, including four new ones this summer, since they began appearing in Canada more than 50 years ago, according to the CCCRN's web site.

There have been eight crop circles reported in Canada this year, the latest spotted last Saturday in a barley field in Quebec. The circles usually appear in corn and wheat fields.

Gauley has visited one site per year since he teamed up with the CCCRN three years ago, but he says that two of the formations were likely created by pranksters or wind damage. The other circle, seen in a wheat field in Hagersville, Ont., in July, 1999, left him baffled. He says the crop had been laid down in a complicated, four-way weave, almost as if braided.

"In order for something like that to happen, for someone to do it themselves, you would have to be really meticulous....You'd need numerous people pushing each of the sections down and getting them all to weave in four different directions like that."

Even more puzzling was what he saw when he returned to the site several months later, in November.

"New sprouts had all come up where all the crop had been laid down, that was really cool," he says." It was as if this area was nutrified or something and everything else was dormant for the winter. These sprouts had come up where the pattern was only...everything else was brown."

Similar boosts in crop performance have been reported in Alberta.

While the physical characteristics of crop circles create a captivating mystery in themselves, it's the allegedly paranormal occurrences centred around the formations that fuels the fire for information about them.

Paul Anderson, the network's Vancouver-based founder and director, can run through a laundry list of bizarre experiences he's had, from compasses and electrical equipment malfunctioning inside formations, to vivid dreams in which he sees formations that are reported mere days later.

"I'm actually quite skeptical about a lot of things in a sense," says Anderson, who's currently working on a book about the history of crop circles in Canada.

"But I've (seen) enough myself now that I can't explain, that there has to be something more to all this than just people out with planks (stomping on crops)....Almost everyone I know who's involved in this kind of stuff has had things like that happen."

Gauley says that he's never had any similar sort of paranormal experiences, but he quickly corrects himself. "Not yet,' he adds.

There are numerous theories out there about the source of the circles. These range from pranks to covert military operations to beings from another dimension trying to communicate warnings.

Gauley accepts the theory that many crop circles are probably nothing more than elaborate hoaxes, but says that doesn't detract from their attraction.

"It certainly has become an aspect of the whole phenomenon nowadays," he says. "If it is this worldwide phenomenon of pranksters, at least they're making really beautiful art work, you know? In a way it's a very interesting canvas and it's entertaining on a certain level for people to have an outing in a field."

As for the remainder, Gauley prefers to simply enjoy the mystery of the formations rather than side with any of the numerous theories.

"There's a million and one of these things," says Gauley. "I'm sort of neutral to the whole belief to the whole thing, you know? I don't know, but that's why I go, because I don't know , and nobody else seems to know."

So, until the truth is revealed, Gauley remains on the lookout, sort of a man in black on standby, ready to spring into action should the need arise in his home province.

As to when that truth will be discovered, the circle aficionado has a quick answer: "It's always right around the corner, and it's been like that for years."

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