Rambling thoughts on Mothman, Animal X, and cryptozoological birding

So last night, I got stoned and did something I regretted.

I watched “Animal X” on Animal Planet.

For those who have been spared this horror, I will explain. It’s a…cryptozoology show. Not a good one. One of that crop of unbelievably stupid ghost-hunter shows, where people who would make the average three-year-old look like a beady-eyed skeptic run around with a shaky camera and say “There’s definitely something here!” They interview a handful of witnesses, many of whom would require a bath and anti-psychotics to be considered merely uncredible, and their idea of hard questioning is “Do you think you could have been mistaken?” “Um…no?” “WOW! That proves it, then!”

And then there’s the blue guy.

The narrator is this…elderly…gentleman…who keeps his eyes Very Very Wide at all times, and who has had a blue swirly glow digitally added, so that he’s constantly surrounded in a bad CGI halo. He addresses the audience as “my darlings!” and every time he comes to the end of a sentence, there’s a swooshing noise, he vanishes in the swirly glow, and reappears at a different angle a second later.

Sober, I cannot watch this show. But I had had a long weekend and decided to engage in the rare vice of stonership, which combined with general physical exhaustion, led to James and I hanging out on the couch and giggling a lot* at the Blue Dude. (When you’re tired, particularly if you’re more tired than you realize, marijuana, like practically everything else, can knock you for a loop. And since I smoke once in a blue moon these days, all the resistances I built up back in college are long gone, so it doesn’t take much.)

And they did a show on Mothman.

Now, as long-time readers, or people who remember one particular page of “Irrational Fears”, may recall, Mothman is my Achilles heel. I fear Mothman. I also fear those little gray aliens, for much the same reason–I don’t know what they want, and they don’t want to talk to me. Anything else, I am confident of my ability to out-talk, out-think, out-run, or simply die valiantly fending off (in the case of stuff like grizzly bears, if that whole playing-dead thing doesn’t work) but stuff that can’t be negotiated with, who’s motives are opaque and incomprehensible–those creep me out. I don’t know what Mothman is, I don’t know what it wants, and it gives me the friggin’ willies. (Yes, I saw that movie. Yes, it scared me.)

Animal X’s Mothman, however, would not give anybody the willies. If I had been beaten senseless and given an unlubed rectal exam by an enraged Mothman an hour prior, and he left me tied in a tarpaper shack with “Animal X” on tv, (the crowning cruelty) I would STILL not have found this version scary.

It was a guy. In a gray leotard. Wearing pink goggles, and big, cheap angel wings, of the bargain basement variety one tends to see in a school christmas pageant. They tried to make it blurry and solarized so that it was scaaaaarry, but James and I nearly ruptured our spleens laughing. He ran around a bit, jumped on the hood of somebody’s car (They screamed, presumably due to the leotard) and the camera darted wildly in and out. I wonder how many takes it required before the guy could do it with a straight face.

Let’s not even talk about the screaming goth witch wearing the black hang-glider. I’m hoping that was the result of the drugs.

By the end of the show, an exercise in pain, they had several working theories of Mothman. It was a government conspiracy. It was aliens. There were Men In Black roaming around the town after the Mothman sightings. (They tried to dress people as the Men In Black, thereby giving the impression that a small West Virginia town had been overrun with Blues Brothers impersonators.) Mind control had been involved. It was a supernatural manifestation of the great Thunderbird Spirit.

But wait! There was one more! A cryptozoologist came in, who denounced the occult and UFO people as crackpots. I sat up. (I fell over again immediately, but I made the effort!) Would this man be a voice of sanity? Were they really giving a moment to the skeptical side.

He had the answer. He knew what Mothman and all the other big flying things were. “Come on, mass hysteria!” I said. “Come on, owls and sandhill cranes!”

Mothman, he said, was–a teratorn.


Teratorns, for the non-geek, are giant birds of prey that went extinct sometime ’round the ice ages, having twenty foot wingspans and generally resembling the Eagles from Tolkien except that you probably couldn’t ride them and they would have eaten the hobbits. To the man’s credit, unlike the great Thunderbird or aliens or competent government cover-ups, we’ve got absolute proof that teratorns did exist. He got points for the least stupid theory on the show. To his rather less credit, he went on to say that people report seeing them frequently and just get ridiculed. To his absolute lack of credit, they then showed a film of turkey vultures flying, claiming that they were huge, huge, huge, which would have been really good evidence, had there been any reference objects of any sort for scale.

I considered this, in my stoned haze, and thought “That’s a load of crap.”

I base this, not on my knowledge of teratorn habitat, not even on the fact that in centuries of habitation, somebody would have noticed if there were GIGANTIC MAN-EATING EAGLES in friggin’ West Viriginia by now, but on my observations, in the last year or so, about birders. They’re obsessed, some of ’em. Gloriously, wonderfully obsessed, in a fabulous cause, but still. You could cause a hideous accident by screaming “OH MY GOD! Is that a Bachman’s Warbler!?” while they’re driving. These are people who back in the day maintained national hotlines to call in reports of birds. Not huge, enormous, holy-shit-you-can’t-miss-it birds, but tiny little buggers blown off course across the Bering Strait. Not breeding populations of monsters in West Virginia, but single transients wandering around obscure islands of Alaska. Somebody’d spot ’em. And these days, they have the internet.

So I don’t believe there are surviving teratorns. Because if there were, there would be fifty birders a day, standing around the teratorn nest with binoculars trained, checking off their life-lists and practicing their teratorn calls, and presumably occasionally being carried off to feed the nestlings.

Pleased with this exercise of stoned deductive reasoning, I went to bed, and dreamed of voles for no apparent reason.

*Just say no, kids! You might find yourself watching Animal X!

Leave a Reply