In 1980, I enjoyed my first season-long summer in the country, having moved the previous winter from New York City to the upstate area of the Catskills. I had always been very fond of visiting the countryside but I was a city man at heart, being a Londoner by birth and a New Yorker of nine years by choice. Still, I was getting used to rustic living to some extent and very much enjoyed the freedom to roam that came with the acres of land adjoining the rented country home.

One hot and sunny afternoon, I was inspecting the tomato vines behind the house in what landscapers call high shade, meaning indirect sunlight. Into this picturesque, idyllic tableau came gliding a phenomenon that was about to literally terrify me.

I must describe this event as I perceived it then: As I stood some ten feet or so from the vegetable garden laden with thick green pea pods and heavy “beefsteak” style tomato vines straining against the weight of their own fruit, I caught a blurry, flitting movement in mid-air, out in the dazzling light of the sun. The bright light flashed on the moving object that was seemingly making a line directly toward me. Its movement was exacting and controlled. Eerily, it appeared to be flying without the aid of wings and also perpendicular to the ground.

It flew into the high shade and hovered about the tomato vines, moving from one deep crimson fruit to another with a blurring speed and in a fashion that was so unnatural as to be supernatural. I could not recognize or understand what I was looking at and my heart rate shot up as I cautiously walked toward the unidentified flying object, squinting against the bright-light background.

Now within six feet of it, I could physically feel, not sense but feel, my electromagnetic-chemical brain systems scrambling in overload, attempting to recognize and deal with this enigma that was way too big to be an insect and, in the absence of wings, could not be a bird.

Here was a classic example of fear of the unknown and I was living it right there and right then. My supposedly sophisticated brain was reduced in seconds to the adrenaline-shot animalism from mankind’s most savage days of prehistory. And worse even than this, I think, is that in the absence of a spiked club or some other stone-age weapon with which to attack this unaccountable invader after my food, my brain was reeling with reckless assumptions in its effort to comprehend it.