It was only later, after he saw the golden orb he had captured on his smartphone camera, that Scott Vierck got to thinking about the odd feeling he experienced on his drive into the forests of southwest Oregon in search of elk.
Vierck, a 54-year-old cranberry farmer from Bandon, was hoping to fill a late-season archery bull elk tag as he drove into that area's Tioga game management unit in the pre-dawn darkness of Dec. 14. It was an area he hadn't hunted in two decades, the road rutted and gravelly, the terrain rugged. "It's really steep country," he says. "Just straight up and down, basically."
The steepness wasn't making him feel queasy. But something was.
"I had this really weird sense," he says. "I kind of got scared. As I'm driving in, I had this really weird sense, like 'Boy, you better be careful.'
"That stuff never bothers me. I'm never, ever scared."
He parked his rig and was walking a clearing between a pair of ridges, "glassing" for elk through his binoculars, just as the sun began to peek over the high crests to the east. No longer able to glass through the glare in that direction, he turned the other way — and saw what appeared to be a globe of light, apparently reflecting off the valley fog, with a shadowy figure in the middle of it.
"I thought, that's strange — my shadow is right in the middle of this orb," he says. "I'd never seen this (type of) orb. Mainly golden, but had maybe a few rainbow colors, but mainly a bright golden color.
"I thought, what the heck is this?"
Assuming the glowing circle to be a reflection off a bottle or something else metallic around him, Vierck moved a few steps in either direction. "But when I moved," he says, "the orb stayed with me, staying perfectly around my shadow."
Thinking then it might be a reflection off something metal on his clothing, he tried covering up anything remotely reflective on his person. That didn't work. He put his binoculars under his jacket. The orb was still there.
"I walked 50 or 60 yards in either direction, and the orb stayed perfectly around me. It seemed about the size it was in the picture," Vierck says. "After about a minute, I got extremely ... to tell you the truth, I was kind of freaked out by it."
Still, though, he says, "I thought there had to be some kind of explanation."
He pulled out his phone and snapped two photographs, just to see if the orb was simply his eyes playing tricks on him. But the orb was there in each.
When Vierck left the clearing between the two ridges, the odd visual phenomenon disappeared and he continued glassing for elk. In early afternoon, having had no success, he went home, ready and willing to forget about his odd experience.
"I didn't want to tell my family about it," he says, "But then I thought somebody would have an explanation, so I showed my daughter."
His daughter, Kate Gonzales, also a Bandon resident, uploaded the photo to her computer, with the larger image revealing something Vierck hadn't seen on his phone's small screen: The shadow in the orb seemed to have arms out, almost like wings.
Vierck's response: What the heck?
"My left arm was down and I'm taking (the photo) with my right hand in front of me. But if you look at that picture, it looks like there are actually arms," he says.
OK, Photoshop being a pretty amazing thing, did somebody get cute with the photo?
After laughing out loud at the question, Vierck says, "It's not doctored at all. I actually didn't want to show it to anybody, but my daughter was interested.
"Why there would be an orb, I have no idea.
"I believe in God and I'm religious, but I don't go to church. I say grace only at Christmas dinner and Thanksgiving dinner."
Vierck's wife suggested that perhaps the orb was the spirit of someone who had died in his family, perhaps the grandfather who had taught him to hunt and fish and had cut timber in that same area.
Vierck wasn't buying that. "I kept trying to find a more plausible explanation, like the heat off my body or the moisture in the air, something like that," he says. "But I haven't got anywhere."
As for how this story reached a media outlet, it wasn't because Vierck called anybody. Rather, his daughter mentioned it to her husband, who mentioned it to his mother, who mentioned it to a co-worker who just happened to be married to a reporter, who was intrigued enough to chase down Vierck ... who was surprised at the call and clearly not looking for publicity.
"My wife thinks it's an angel, and if she wants to think that, well, I guess that's fine," he says. "I don't know what to think about it myself."
What do you think?