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Searching for the Unknown,
one Saturday Night at a Time

The Watchers in the Woods
Burlington, WI
October 30, 2009

See the new photos taken on Halloween night 2010

Haunted woods
A misty skull profile over
the woman's head?
Haunted woods
Light bends here in unusual ways
Haunted woods
Can't explain the face split
and the double glove

Story by Jessica Franzene
Photos by Phil Bonyata
Photos of woman with "skull" and split scene by Mary Sutherland

There's something out there.
Or it's all in your head.

That's the range of possibilities, right? There's either something in these woods - or the watchers are imagining there is. They are either experiencing something, and it is extraordinary - or they are not, and it isn't. Portals leading to another world - or just a series of arched trees? Psychic dimensional shifts - or photographic double exposures? Ectoplasm surrounding the watchers - or fog made visible by a camera flash?

The watchers come to the woods on Saturday nights. Some are new to the place, and one visit is enough for them. But some come back time and again, to experience phenomena that are the stuff of science fiction. Time shifts and bends in these woods, they tell you. People leave their bodies and visit the past, the future. Other beings use the dimension portals to jump to this time, these woods. Guardian spirits. Ghosts. Ancient shamans. Archangels. Aliens. Sometimes these phenomena are visible to the naked eye. Sometimes the watchers can smell, hear or feel them.

The temperature drops. The air is suffused with a startling new scent. Someone feels cobwebs but there are none apparent.
Sometimes it seems like nothing is happening. The watchers take photographs anyway. Later, they study the pictures and look for evidence that something is out there. They often find it. Of course, you could explain most of it away. The photographs are evidence only of the trickiness of shooting at night with other camera flashes going off, with flashlights streaking across the path in the woods. The temperature changes are microclimatic variations. The scents are typical forest plants making their presence known. The cobwebs are...well, cobwebs. There's something out there, or it's all in your head. It's a stark black-or-white proposition. Except when it's not.

"How do you activate the portals to other dimensions? You have to open your mind. You have to be willing to believe. The energy inside of your mind is connected to the energy in these woods. You are part of the All. You have the energy, and if you have the intent, you will open up to the possibilities. And then you'll see and believe." Mary Sutherland, admits.
There's something out there... but that something's all in your head, too.

Mary Sutherland didn't mind that last Saturday's group cancelled their reservations: everything happens for a reason. We weren't meant to go to the woods last week. We are on for tonight, though. The group of about 20 has gathered in her downtown Burlington business, the Sci Fi Café. Some of the people are regular watchers in the woods; they know what to expect. The new visitors might be nervous, but that doesn't dampen their enthusiasm.
Two neutral observers in this crew are myself and Phil, our staff photographer. He's excited about the photographic prospects for this night. He'll take debunking or confirming, doesn't care which; he just wants something to happen. I want a good story. Which I guess means I want something to happen, too.

The group gets ready to leave. Mary, her husband Brad, their "extended family," Peter and Kat, and the other watchers are enthused and open; these people are psyched. Mary explains some of the science behind what we might experience tonight. String theory and quantum physics pass my understanding; still, it's neat to know that if there is something out there, science is slowly, but surely catching up to the possibilities. Mary gives details about what unusual phenomena to expect on our journey tonight. We might feel cold. We might feel a cobwebby sensation. We might feel disoriented. We might see things out of the corners of our eyes. We might hear something moving alongside the path. It's 40 degrees out. The woods are filled with spiders that make webs. Darkness, punctuated with camera flashes popping fast as strobes, is a recipe for disorientation. Animals live in the woods and they make noise when they move. (The voice in my head does not count as an unusual phenomenon).

Mary shows us photographs. Orbs hang suspended among the trees. Misty, tinted apparitions hover in the sky. Sharp lines of light streak in or out of people's bodies. "Wow, that's beautiful," a woman says.

We caravan to the parking lot outside of the wooded site. As we gather, Phil snaps his first exterior shot of the night. On the camera screen, mist fills a distinctly unmisted parking lot. Dust from the cars pulling in? Except the parking lot is a muddy bog. There is no dust. Phil shoots another picture from the same spot, five seconds after the first: no mist

Everyone lines up and we march into the black. Most people clutch cameras, flashlights or both. Mary stops and points out a series of arched tree branches, one after another, leading into the woods beyond the path. "When you see this kind of growth, it's a portal to another dimension. Sometimes you can just make out the world within a world." We linger, then move on. Mary again mentions that we might feel disoriented. Our group's total lack of flashlight etiquette, constant camera flashes and a narrow, rocky, hilly path. Disorientation: check.

Mary encourages the watchers to connect with the site any way they see fit. She invites us to touch certain "guardian trees" and exchange energies with them. She asks us to hold a rock she has found. She encourages us to reach to the sky to make a shamanic connection. People run their hands over the trees. They clasp their hands prayerfully around the rock. They reach their hands to the sky. One watcher drops to a crawl and feels his way further into the forest, the better to commune with whatever is out here.

Kat, a regular on these tours, is assisting tonight. She wields a thermosensor, which gauges the temperature of whatever she points its laser at. She takes constant readings and at one point registers 40 degrees below zero, at a spot where a female spirit has been sighted multiple times. Did someone test this device to make sure it's calibrated? Someone feels a touch when there is no one there. Someone else notes how cold the whole area is. We stop at a clearing and regroup for the next segment of the journey.
We will travel into the shaman's woods and if we're lucky, catch a glimpse of him guarding the path. Everyone's tightly grouped, including Phil. I am behind the cluster of people, watching and looking past them into the night. It occurs to me that if I was to see something out there - or even say that I saw something - the entire group would believe me. No one would say that it was my imagination, no one would call me a coward or over-reactive. I don't see a thing.

Phil walks over. "Why are you standing in the dark, where something can grab you?" It's a good question. I don't have an answer, except that I'm not scared. I'm not scared. As soon as I realize this, I'm instantly scared.

Why am I not afraid out here? I'm always afraid. I can't go to the basement laundry room at night without quickened breath and racing heart. I read "The Beast of Bray Road" and was scared to walk from house to car after sunset. I'm even sort of afraid of my guardian angel. I should be afraid - and the absence of fear out here makes me wonder. From this point on, I stay with the group.

People take pictures nonstop and if something shows up on their screens, they show the others. They're getting mist and streaks of light in their photos. Some people report hearing noises but, a lot of these are false positives, because that one guy keeps crawling away from the path into the trees.

We cross a bog, a narrow bridge and walk along a bluff. Eventually, we reach the site where dimensional shifting will occur, if it does occur tonight. A small clearing holds a circle of boulders, where everyone gathers. Mary tells us to relax and talk amongst ourselves. If we open our minds, then we might see the shaman, might have out-of-body experiences, might travel forward or backward in time, might see ourselves from a distance. People sit and talk and wait to be transported. They wait for the shaman to show himself. Most stand in the circle and raise their hands in the air, eyes closed as they concentrate. Phil gets in the circle, starts shooting and gets the first dual-image photo of the night. He shows it to Mary, who hasn't captured any "shifter" images yet. "Oh, you made my night," she says. The watchers in the woods continue to meditate.

My eyes stray over to Mary, Kat and Peter, who are concentrating on the thermosensor. As I watch them, I experience the only unusual feeling I will have all night. When it's over, I think about telling Mary but, decide not to bother her.

We stay until it's seriously cold. Mary leads a healing prayer while we hold hands in a circle. On the walk back, no one says they feel, see, hear or sense anything unusual. At the parking lot, we get ready to head back to the Sci Fi Café, where the photos will be projected straight from camera to movie screen to rule out any Photoshop shenanigans. After that ... well, each watcher's future is up to him or her.

They will be affected by the experience as much as they choose to be, in the ways that they choose. They can incorporate what has happened with what they've already been taught about the spiritual world: "'Dimensions' is just another word for the biblical word 'Heavens,' and what people experience out there is what the biblical prophets experienced," Mary said. Or they can reject that anything otherworldly is happening: "If the time is not right, they will not be open to believing," she said. Or they can apply science to the phenomena: "String theorists and quantum physicists are studying this place. The science is catching up to it." But no matter what they take away, "When it's 10 o'clock and you come out of the woods, you think the tour is over. But let me tell you, it's just begun," Mary said.

During a follow-up interview, I tell her about the sensation I had while watching her talk with Kat and Peter. The déjà vu is abrupt and it is overwhelming. At first I think: I've seen this in a movie or something. As the feeling continues and gains strength, I reject the movie theory. There's no way this scenario could be similar to a movie for this length of time. Did the three of them have a discussion like this on the path out here? No, I would have remembered that right away. The déjà vu only stops because I tear my eyes away from them and focus on something else.

"You were in a time loop," Mary explains matter of factly. "You went out to the future and came back around again." She certainly doesn't shrug my story off, but she doesn't dwell on it either. She hears this kind of thing all the time.

The science of photography and the signs of faith

By Phil Bonyata

Started almost as soon as the invention of photography itself, paranormal photography has been a controversial subject. The photographer's goal is to capture paranormal phenomena on digital or film images. In most cases these would be ghosts, orbs, flying rods, ectoplasm, vortexes and other apparitions. Many of these otherworldly images can be explained through in-the-camera photographic techniques. But, there are some that bare no explanation and have the nonbelieving photographers scratching their heads (and sleeping a little less soundly at night) and the believers who say "gotcha" and "I told you so."

As a professional photographer I'm surprised by the content of some of my images taken at the Haunted Woods in Burlington. All of the published photos here have not been manipulated in any way. The only post-production I did was standard for finishing a photograph for print - color correcting and slightly adjusting the contrast and density of the image. Other than that, there were no manipulations in Photoshop or unusual in-the-camera techniques.

For the two photos with a "ghostly mist" or "ectoplasm," I have no reasonable explanation why it appeared in some images and not in others. In fact, in some cases I would shoot a flurry of three to five images standing in the same spot while the subject(s) also stood in the same spot. While comparing the series of shots one would contain the "mist" while the others were absolutely normal. I suppose that moisture in the air may not be visible with the naked eye and may actually appear as a mist with the reflection of the flash. But, if this were the case...why wouldn't all of the images in the same series of shots have shown the mist?

If you also look closely at two of these photographs you might notice skulls in them. You can see a profile of a skull above the woman's head in the photo at left. If you look to the right of the parking lot photo, you can see what appears to be a skull as well. Also, I can't explain the black mass in the upper left corner of the same photo where the trees should be.

In the photo of the two men that appear to be leaving their bodies and the one where a section of the man's face appears to be floating off - could have happened in the camera possibly with a slow shutter speed followed by a flash (the movement of the camera during a slow shutter speed might produce these results). I didn't do anything out of the ordinary when shooting these photographs. But as Mary Sutherland describes, "When you make the shamanic connection, the phase-shifting will be visible in the photographs."

In the split image (taken by Mary, who says that there were no manipulations in the camera as the photo was taken and no unusual post production) it appears to be a multiple exposure (is when two or more individual exposures are made to create a single photograph. The exposure values may, or may not be identical to each other). But, if Mary didn't intentionally shoot a double exposure (I'm not even sure if her digital camera is capable of such a technique) then I have no explanation on why this picture turned out the way it did.

The last week has opened my clouded eyes (see my other ghostly adventure in last week's Resorter) to things that we simply don't understand and to accept them is having to break through that barrier of fear...a fear that is actually innate in all living things. There is the dichotomy of "good and evil" that pervades our waking moments as well as the surreal paths we travel at night in slumber. There was a time long ago when we were the hunted and the cries outside would chill our bones to its marrow, but we were forced to understand those challenges in order to survive. As Mary said, "The answers come to you only when you are ready to absorb them."
Haunted woods
If you look closely you can see faces and skulls
Haunted woods
Two universes or a multiple exposure?
Haunted woods
A magical stone
Haunted woods
A woman opens up to the spirits
Haunted woods
In the Haunted Woods
3 Haunted woods
Shape shifters or slow shutter speed?
Haunted woods
Mary Sutherland explains paranormal photography
Haunted woods
Letting the spirits in
Haunted woods
Conjuring up the spirits

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