JACKSONVILLE — The naked eye wouldn't even have blinked if it had caught Cheri Perkins strolling through the cemetery at dusk back in July. It would have just seen her, two leashed dogs, the silhouettes of trees and gravestones.
But sometimes a camera lens captures what the naked eye can't see. Her cousin's Sony point-and-shoot captured several images that show Perkins wading through hundreds of seeming galaxies that salt the frame.
Dust suspended in the air? A cloud of pollen? Perkins doesn't think so. She and her cousin, 16-year-old Heather Newby of Laton, Calif., tried to recreate the look several times by tossing dirt into the air. Then they checked and cleaned the lens. No change, and the shapes did not reappear in any of the other thousands of pictures they shot collectively over the summer.
So ... ghosts?
Perkins, whose home is a five-minute walk from the Jacksonville Cemetery, isn't saying yes or no to that question, but she's fairly sure the resulting photos do not have a simple explanation.
"There are definitely other energies here that we don't see with our naked eye," Perkins says.
Newby had been walking back from a quick ice cream trip at dusk when she decided to take the first picture near the cemetery. Amy Grant was performing at the Britt, and the concert echoed in the woods. The day's final remnants were burning out, and Newby wanted to capture the resulting sunset. She snapped a picture and looked at the result in her viewer. That's when she saw the circles of light for the first time.
"I just saw these weird-looking light things in the picture," she says.
The presence of the lighted orbs came and went. They would be absent, then reappear in less than a second's time. One such photo shows a gravestone with none of the lighted circles, followed by a photo taken less than a second later in which they flare up like fireflies.
"That tombstone picture really makes me iffy that they're actually some orb pictures of some spirits," Newby says.
Al Ingersoll, president of the Southern Oregon Photographic Association, doesn't know what to make of the photos. Short of dust, it's a head scratcher, he says.
"It's definitely weird," Ingersoll says of the photos. "I've never come across anything like that myself."
Local paranormal investigator Scott Triem doesn't think the lights in the pictures are paranormal. When it comes to orbs in pictures, he says, there are basically two schools of thought: they're either dust particles or precipitation drops that glint in the light, or energy that doesn't register to the normal human eye.
"The theory is it's spirit energy just starting to manifest," says Triem, of the Oregon Paranormal Society in Medford. "It's taking the energy, so it can manifest."
He adds that's where the phrase "cold spots" — heard frequently on paranormal investigation TV shows such as "Ghost Hunters" — comes from. The spirit swipes the energy and leaves a chilly point of withdraw behind.
When it comes to Newby's photos, Triem's money is on dust. He says there are just too many orbs in the photos and the color is off, as paranormal orbs are typically a more brilliant, snowy color.
"There are a few that are really, really white," Triem says, adding he's still sure there's plenty of paranormal activity at the cemetery worth looking into.
Dirk Siedlecki, Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery president, says he's never heard reports of supernatural goings-on there, though. He says the 6,000-plus people buried at the 30-acre historic site seem to be staying put.
"I'm there quite a bit with volunteer work, and I haven't had any strange or bizarre incidents or anything like that," Siedlecki says. "We just haven't had any problems at all."
Either way, the photos and the pinpoints of light within them remain, as does Perkins' curiosity about what they could be. Explanation or not, they fascinate her.
"I think it's exciting," Perkins says.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.