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November 10, 2011

From Fly Creek: Keep this to yourself . . .

— First, a public-service announcement: The Clark Center’s Senior Indoor Walking Program has started and will continue through till spring. Anyone older than 55 is eligible to join the group that circles the track above the basketball courts in the  sports center. The informalprogram begins at 10 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. No special attire, though wear soft soles for traction on the carpeting.

Come join us! We don’t compete, but just have a lot of fun.

Now, as to the following information: I’m comfortable sharing it with you; after all, we’ve been visiting through this column for 18 years. But I’d really rather you didn’t spread it around. People who don’t know me as well as you  do might misunderstand. I’lladmit that it does sound a bit strange: I’ve been eavesdropping on UFOs. Hearing alien chatter.

I said it would sound strange. (“Oh, dear!” you’re thinking. “Have they changed the poor man’s medications? Did he whack his head on the mail box or the newel post?”) Thanks for your concern, but nothing like that has happened. Circumstances are less dramatic and just involve my earmuffs.

I mean my ear mufflers, the sound mufflers I sometimes wear when I nap. They’re meant to dampen sound when one’s ripping big boards or chain sawing logs. I can’t do either any more and now keep the mufflers in my study.

In summer, when lawn mowers roar or in winter when the snowplows (bless them and their crews!) have to bang and scrape their blades, the mufflers make for a quiet afternoon nap. I lay me down on my couch, clap the mufflers on my ears, and sink into blessed quiet. Until lately.

Inside the muffs, I’m been picking up faint, highpitched sound. “Drat!” I first thought. “I’m getting tinnitus!”

My friend George has borne with that all his adult life: a constant sound like a dial tone, always precisely at D above high C. George himself has perfect pitch, and that relentless tone is a curse. He loves classical music; and if he’s listening to, say, a cello etude in B flat, that high D, just a grating half step below the tonic, drills right through etude’s beauty and largely wrecks it. Poor George.

Mine’s not a steady tone, though. The sound rises and falls, the way voices do. And I’ve learned to recognize when phrases and sentences end, when increasing  volume suggests argument,and even when odd rises and drops suggest questions and answers. But, you say, what good’s that, if you can’t understand the words? I can. Well, not exactly.

But I’ve realized that, as I’ve strained my brain (lying there, covers tucked under my beard), I’ve begun to draw meanings from the chatter. First it was brief snatches, but now I’m following conversations.

Friends, it’s grim stuff they’re talking about. It seems these “Whoevers” have been circling Earth for millennia, studying our particular species and sending reports to “Big Boy,” as they say.

The study’s goal is to decide if there’s still a chance we humans can pull it off: if we can shake off the egoism that’s making us trash one another and the planet itself.

And I’ve also figured out that other studies are under way elsewhere in the universe. They’re watching thousands of planets that have intelligent life, and we’ve come out looking really bad.

Other rational species’ tribes and nations have got past mayhem to get goods, turf and power, and evidently their individuals live in serene happiness. Imagine! But reports on us have grown steadily grimmer, and the Whoevers seem close to sending a recommendation up the chain: Wipe out these housewrecking humans before they do more damage.

They project optimistically that, with us gone, a few thousand years will find the planet finished with cleaning up our messes. Air and water will be pure again, and the wounds to hills and plains will have filled in and grassed over.

The other living species will increase and multiply, and in time one of them may evolve to consciousness and rationality.

Earlier reports to Big Boy had suggested temporizing, holding off till our sick species wipes itself out with its own weapons and pollution.

But now the high-flying observers have turned more pessimistic. I’ve heard them close to agreement on recommending that a particular nanosecond be chosen, and in that instant the whole seven billion of us be “humanely put down,” as we might say.

No, not transported elsewhere, where we’d be saying, “Yikes! Where are we? What’s happened?” Nope. No one to say that. No us, anywhere. These bozos are talking annihilation.

And another strain has entered this reasoning, one that may speed up any timetable. The aliens have noted that the planet itself seems to be making first signs of ridding itself of us. It’s stirring in its dreamless sleep, wrinkling its surface with earthquakes and eruptions, provoking tsunamis, droughts, floods, volcanoes and rivers of lava. All this terrifies humans crawling on that surface, but not enough to change.

Maybe the planet’s deep sleep has been troubled by the sting of pollution in air and water, and it’s begun blindly to sense the land ravaged and scarred, and other species dying.

And, mumbling in its sleep, maybe the planet is gathering to swat away the source of irritation, like a mosquito.

That possibility worries the Whoevers. For such a move by the sleeping giant (their term, not mine) would also mean collateral damage: destruction of other, innocent living species, too. (These Whoevers seem actually to live, you see, by the morality we pretend guides us.)

And so their strong recommendation to Big Boy may be to speed up the sequence. Bring on that nanosecond! Put us out of our misery and let the planet heal.

Of course I’ll keep listening in. But please, keep this stuff to yourselves. You understand me, but others could write me off as a wacko.

Worrisome stuff, isn’t it? I’ll report back.