The Difficulty of Crossing a Field - Evidence for alien visitation?

In this little bonus episode, we'll listen to a reading of Ambrose Bierce's short story "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field." It's about a mysterious disappearance, so it might fit well with the month we're in now. Also, according to Ancient Aliens proponents, this work is one of the best examples of alien abduction in American literature.

So pull up a chair, get cozy, and we will have Dizzy tell us a story. Then we will attempt a small literary analysis of Ambrose Bierce.

The outro music is written and performed by a band called Trallskruv, and you should check them out.

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Hello, I didn't see you there; välkommen to Digging up Ancient Aliens. My name is Fredrik, and I'm your host for this bonus episode and the other ones so far. Usually, we examine the TV show, Ancient Aliens from an archeological perspective with the help of critical thinking and skepticism.

In episode 22, we encountered a short story by Ambrose Bierce that the show was a great example of alien abduction. Let's sit down for a moment and listen to it. So make yourself comfortable, and we'll let Dizzi bring us back in time.

First published in the San Francisco Examiner, October 14, 1888.

The Difficulty of Crossing a Field by Ambrose Bierce

One morning in July, 1854, a planter named Williamson, living six miles from Selma , Alabama , was sitting with his wife and a child on the veranda of his dwelling.  Immediately in front of the house was a lawn, perhaps fifty yards in extent between the house and public road, or, as it was called, the “pike.”  Beyond this road lay a close-cropped pasture of some ten acres, level and without a tree, rock, or any natural or artificial object on its surface.  At the time there was not even a domestic animal in the field.  In another field, beyond the pasture, a dozen slaves were at work under an overseer.

Throwing away the stump of a cigar, the planter rose, saying: “I forgot to tell Andrew about those horses.”  Andrew was the overseer.

Williamson strolled leisurely down the gravel walk, plucking a flower as he went, passed across the road and into the pasture, pausing a moment as he closed the gate leading into it, to greet a passing neighbor, Armour Wren, who lived on an adjoining plantation.  Mr. Wren was in an open carriage with his son James, a lad of thirteen.  When he had driven some two hundred yards from the point of meeting, Mr. Wren said to his son: “I forgot to tell Mr. Williamson about those horses.”

Mr. Wren had sold to Mr. Williamson some horses, which were to have been sent for that day, but for some reason not now remembered it would be inconvenient to deliver them until the morrow.  The coachman was directed to drive back, and as the vehicle turned Williamson was seen by all three, walking leisurely across the pasture.  At that moment one of the coach horses stumbled and came near falling.  It had no more than fairly recovered itself when James Wren cried: “Why, father, what has become of Mr. Williamson?”

It is not the purpose of this narrative to answer that question.

Mr. Wren’s strange account of the matter, given under oath in the course of legal proceedings relating to the Williamson estate, here follows:

“My son’s exclamation caused me to look toward the spot where I had seen the deceased an instant before, but he was not there, nor was he anywhere visible.  I cannot say that at the moment I was greatly startled, or realized the gravity of the occurrence, though I thought it singular.  My son, however, was greatly astonished and kept repeating his question in different forms until we arrived at the gate.  My black boy Sam was similarly affected, even in a greater degree, but I reckon more by my son’s manner than by anything he had himself observed (This sentence in the testimony was stricken out).  As we got out of the carriage at the gate of the field, and while Sam was hanging the team to the fence, Mrs. Williamson, with her child in her arms and followed by several servants, came running down the walk in great excitement, crying: ‘He is gone, he is gone!  O God! what an awful thing!’ and many other such exclamations, which I do not distinctly recollect.  I got from them the impression that they related to something more - than the mere disappearance of her husband, even if that had occurred before her eyes.  Her manner was wild, but not more so, I think, than was natural under the circumstances.  I have no reason to think she had at that time lost her mind.  I have never since seen nor heard of Mr. Williamson.”

This testimony, as might have been expected, was corroborated in almost every particular by the only other eye-witness (if that is a proper term) - the lad James.  Mrs. Williamson had lost her reason and the servants were, of course, not competent to testify.  The boy James Wren had declared at first that he saw the disappearance, but there is nothing of this in his testimony given in court.  None of the field hands working in the field to which Williamson was going had seen him at all, and the most rigorous search of the entire plantation and adjoining country failed to supply a clew.  The most monstrous and grotesque fictions, originating with the African American, were current in that part of the State for many years, and probably are to this day; but what has been here related is all that is certainly known of the matter.  The courts decided that Williamson was dead, and his estate was distributed according to law.

Now, a couple of things are going on in the story. But it differs from what was told to us in the Ancient Alien program—no strange circles or voices coming from the beyond. 

Looking at it closer, we start to see that it might be about different experiences of a singular event. While some looked away and didn't see anything, others saw different things and had different ideas about what had happened. It's as if Ambrose is trying to explore the fallibility of memory and how unreliable our understanding of our surroundings can be.

I think it can be good to highlight how Ambrose Bierce pictured the African Americans in the story as easily spooked and spreading grotesque superstition. 

Ambrose Bierce has, in other stories, tried to explore different viewpoints. Take, for example, the short story "Chickamauga," in which we explore a battlefield from a six-year-old child's perspective. The age makes it more complicated for the child to comprehend the horrors. To render the child more of an outsider, he is also deaf. It is an exciting exploration Bierce sets us in during the story. 

He is also exploring fleeting perspectives of characters in "The Death of Halpin Frayser."

Ambrose might not have been a skeptic, but reading his works indicates that he was not into mysteries and esoterism, even if he is mainly known as a horror writer. For example, "The Devil's Dictionary" defines ghosts as "the outward and visible sign of an inward fear." About Freemasons, Ambrose writes that their sign is strangely found worldwide but only by Freemasons. And lastly, esoterism is known as  "Very particularly abstruse and consummately occult."

If you want to hear more about Ambrose Bierce, we discuss his disappearance and claimed Ancient Alien legacy in episode 22. Please go and check it out! 

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Until next time, keep shoveling that science!