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Posts Tagged ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’

G, A, F, (octave lower) F, C? B flat, C, A flat, (octave lower) A flat, E flat!!

In 1977, I was twelve years old, smack-dab right in the middle of the target audience for a blockbuster movie. A movie about two people whose mundane lives are interrupted by visitations from extraterrestrial beings and the government conspiracy to cover it up. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a huge experience for me back then. Mega-huge!!! I was all over those ads with the bright light at the end of the deserted highway. “Close encounters of the first kind: visual sighting. Close encounters of the second kind: physical evidence. Close encounters of the third kind: CONTACT!”.

Close Encounters Poster © 1977 Columbia Pictures

Oof, cue the chills down the spine! The posters, the collectible cards, all that sweet, sweet geeky goodness. Ambrosia! It’s almost as if Steven Spielberg woke up one morning and said “Hmmm, I think I’ll write a movie that’ll appeal to that scrawny kid with the Coke-bottle glasses from Western Massachusetts.”  I was all over that film like stink on roadkill. A couple of years later, we were one of the first houses in town to get cable TV, and my dad bought all the pay channels. I watched Close Encounters 18 times in one month, and was damned proud of myself for it!

You can be damned sure that visiting Devils Tower (no apostrophe, contrary to popular belief) was high on my list of must-see sites in the National Park Service. And when I rounded that corner of State Highway 14 and saw that great monolith sticking out of the low eastern Wyoming hills, I was as giddy as a 12-year-old boy in a movie line the night of the big premier (after months of soaking in shameless & targetted Hollywood promotion). I’m actually glad I was alone, I could just revel in the giddiness without apologizing to anyone. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it was a pure geek fantasy come to life, and I was enjoying every rapturous moment of it!!

Tower and Clouds © 2009 America In Context

Devils Tower is truly a wonder to behold, even if you’re not into movies. It’s an enourmous volcanic extrusion that not only towers above the surrounding countryside but seems so alien to that landscape. It looks like it doesn’t belong, it’s like those Sesame Street clips: “one of these things is not like the other ones…” It’s almost as if those extraterrestrials placed it here millions of years ago as a signpost: “Gateway to the Stars — Free Anal Probes to the First 10,000 customers.”

A Shadow Passes © 2009 America In ContextIt’s easy to see how mankind has marvelled at it since the Bering Land Bridge first allowed humans to cross into North America. It’s held special significance to Native Americans for hundreds of years. The Cheyenne, the Arapaho, the Lakota Sioux, the Eastern Shoshone, and many other plains tribes revered the spot, and gave it names such as “Bear’s Lodge”, “Tree Rock”, and “Mythic Owl Mountain”. To this day, their descendants return to Bear Lodge for ceremonies and to tie prayer offerings to the trees.

Later, when European settlers and their descendents crisscrossed the west looking for furs, or gold, or a path to the Pacific, they gave it the dramatic name “Devils Tower”, and eventually the greatest environmental president, Teddy Roosevelt, signed the law protecting it as America’s first National Monument. How could you not?? To this day, I have yet to see a natural wonder of such singular, unique stature in the United States.

rock-scrambleNowadays, people think of Devils Tower and think of Spielberg’s film, and I guess that’s OK too. A nation’s culture is defined by its arts, and in America’s case, our arts is really defined by our films. So I’m cool with the fact that this great wonder of nature has been immortalized by a blockbuster movie and not by the simple fact that it’s so fascinating.

Of course, some people can’t separate film from reality: when I came back to tell folks of my visit, a lot of people asked “did you see any aliens when you were there?” Um, well, no, that was a movie. But I did dream up a sequel to Close Encounters called Close Encounters: The Return, wherein the extraterrestrials come back to Earth and return Richard Dreyfuss. “Please, take him back. His liberal politics and sappy, pedantic movies are ruining our culture!”

I don’t see that appealing to any 12-year-old kids.

Departure © 2009 America In Context

[All photos, except the Close Encouters poster, are mine and thusly copyrighted. Please do not use without my permission. More of my Devils Tower pics are here.]

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Links:

Devils Tower National Monument

Close Encounters of the Third Kind on IMDB

Lakota Archives: Bear Mountain

Google map to Devils Tower

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