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Then I painstakingly applied no-makeup makeup: professional grade mascara, concealer, tinted SPF and bronzer — camouflage to the untrained male eye. I hit the road late. No matter, I could make up the time on the five-hour drive. I climbed the precarious switchbacks, well-known to wilderness junkies and location scouts, into the mighty Sierras, youngest mountain range in the United States.
Impossibly young, like me. I shout-sang to the radio until it fuzzed out. My ears popped as I dodged fallen rocks with one hand and called Mountain Man with the other. There were no guardrails and the road narrowed to a blind turn, above a thousand-foot drop-off. It went to voicemail. I arrived at the sprawling parking area, dotted with dozens of trailheads.
Goldmember quickly found the right one. Mountain Man and the alumni had departed. Fresh burro tracks crowded the trail. Fair enough, I was 20 minutes late. The midafternoon sky was hard and bright as a marble. I reapplied no-makeup mascara and started down the trail, recognizing trees and streams as I passed. Cocky about my sense of direction, I stopped to meditate on a felled trunk, freebasing sunshine and alpine air.
H ours later, I climbed a grueling series of switchbacks as sunlight narrowed to a thin ribbon over the saddle. My mascara had fallen into racoon eyes. I distracted myself from my gnawing hunger by rehearsing my opening line to Mountain Man.
Sweat-drenched and huffing, I made it to the saddle and looked out upon the long-shadowed wilderness. No Langley. The trusty burro tracks were still there. I scurried down the opposite slope into the gloaming. Raindrops pinged my bare arms but there was a lake up ahead that I recognized.
Just a little farther. Night ambushed me. Total blackness. I balanced my pack on a rock, hands trembling as I fumbled with an ancient headlamp mummified by duct tape. Was I shaking because of the cold or my nerves? The rain intensified. A mountain lion pounded down the ridgeline behind me, jumped with jaws wide, ready to rip into my flesh — I whipped around, hiking poles braced. It was only the sound of my own heart, trying to beat its way out of my ears. Nausea washed over me.
I knew the hypothermia risk of sleeping out in precipitation. I was at the tree line, 12,foot elevation, which meant near freezing temperatures, even in August. Is this a joke? Donner, party of one? I wandered aimlessly now. My story mind grew emboldened. Maybe Mountain Man can hear me from here. I released a high-pitched cry into the wild dark.
Then I heard it — a faint, deep voice across the lake. Relief, pure and sweet, dropped through me. I was already in that warm cabin, laughing it off—. Should I shout again? Weary, I hunkered down with my wet sleeping bag and used my dirty sneaker as a pillow. Dankness soaked into my bones.
My knee throbbed. I began sit-ups to generate body heat as hail pummeled my face. I closed my eyes for short, drowsy intervals, and opened them mechanically, as if triggered by the slow, audible click of a lever behind my ear. The view changed a little bit each time. Hazy, no stars. Then a low, drippy moon.
Then faint white pinpricks everywhere. I opened my eyes again to find a clear-eyed moon bearing down on me like an interrogation lamp. I threw myself upon its mercy. I confess. I understand the story now. I opened my eyes wide to take in thousands of stars, a dusting of cosmic sugar that extended beyond my periphery, brilliant and twinkling. Revelation punctured my woozy delight. I shook myself upright and pinched my arm. Snap out of it, Johnson! Deep cleansing breath. I locked my eyes shut.
A frantic sparrow was trapped inside my head, flying room to room, bloodying itself against every window — looking for the way out. I t was a long sleepless wait before I dared to open my eyes again. The stars were gone now, and I watched the sky change from black to indigo to pink, like a bruise healing. I rose, quaking as a colt. Everything hurt. The muscles around my knee spasmed.
My lungs worked for every breath in the oxygen-depleted air. On the far side of the lake I spied campers packing for departure. I shuffle-ran toward them, legs screaming, desperate to make it before they left. They were just below me when I realized this must be Serial Mountain Rapist and friends. My survival instincts had turned thespian. Six grave, bearded mugs turned to face me in unison.
They were hiking out today and encouraged me to join them. Their map showed that I was nine miles and 2, feet up in the wrong direction. I toed the back of the line with the eldest father. We settled into a meditative cadence. The others got farther ahead. Misty-eyed once, when his sister died. But never cry. While Sarah and my older sister, Toby, fell apart next to me at the lectern, and my mom sobbed in her pew, I held steady.
My tribute. Be cool. T he day was late back at the trailhead parking lot. Hair ratty, makeup frightful, I was downwind from the public toilets and too spent to move. Portrait of The Uncool. He sounded pissed — his voice, low and even.
The unflappable guy, flapped. He had waited for me at the correct trailhead, five minutes away, until nightfall. State troopers were looking for me on the highways; park rangers were searching in the mountains; student workers from the camp were scouring the trails — a full-scale search-and-rescue operation. His backpack held an emergency oxygen tank. My tongue was thick with shame. It was worse than the search for me in the White Mountains, because she knew I was alone.
M ountain Man and I walked to the camp from the correct trailhead. It took 45 minutes. I looked up at Mount Langley — eternal and unchangeable to a small human. All this hard stuff was happening. You were a real shit. Mountain Man neither possessed nor could tolerate weakness.
But his real name was Gabe. He was born in Reno with a clubfoot to parents who got divorced. He was self-conscious about his hairy back. Clean arcs resist messy details. It was a pillar of my story. But then he opened up about his own bone-crushing loneliness after his last breakup. It had been drawn out, ugly, emotional — an altogether human affair. I felt the hurt radiating off his body. The words sat heavy in my mouth.
I ached to say them, to drop the Cool Girl mask for good. Vulnerability is death. Yet lack of vulnerability is also death. What a rotten trap! I wanted to shout back at the voice in the wilderness that had told me to shut up. I wanted to sob at the lectern. I wanted to be messy and real and loved for it all.
L ater that evening, I lay snug in the open meadow under bountiful stars. Andromeda was about to be eaten by a sea monster. Callisto was transformed into The Bear so Zeus could hide her from his wife. Virgo, daughter of Demeter, was stolen by Hades. Ancient poets and wandering minstrels flung these stories about women upon flaming balls of hydrogen and helium — so they could feel less alone in the dark night.
Our toy swords against the dragon. T he rest of the weekend was full of hikes, hammocks, and music around the campfire. What if neither of us was right? What if both of us were right? What if all the stories were true and untrue? What if we could experience the multitude of competing narratives at once — and enter the Spider-verse like a god, like Jupiter? And his beard was gross. GABE She came back to see the mountains.
W hen the time came for me to return to L. They were bringing homebrew and a yeti costume. All creatures in his gravitational orbit bent toward him. I felt the pull and leaned away. I could hold all of the stories at once, devour them in a mouthful. They swirled together in my magnificent round belly.
There was no past and no future here. Nowhere else to be. I felt my life force expanding in a primordial storm. I was the descendant of supernovas. Is he a lost soul deserving of mercy, or a cold-blooded war criminal who must face justice? He stared at the edge of the table in front of him, holding his hands in his lap as if he was praying, visibly tense as this small woman with dark blonde hair spoke in a confident, cool, posh English accent. Mezey, a professor of psychiatry in London, was testifying because nothing was more important and more controversial in this trial than the mental state of the accused, a former child soldier.
Ongwen sat between two grim-faced guards. His skin had become lighter after more than three years in prison in Scheveningen, a suburb of The Hague. He had gained weight, but you could still see his handsome high cheekbones, square face, and a deep frown between the eyes that got deeper and deeper the longer Mezey held forth.
Ongwen listened to this psychiatrist, who had never personally met him, talk about his mental state for almost three hours. But he lost his composure shortly after lunch break. He got up. He pressed the button that turned on his microphone, got tangled up in his headphones and ripped them off his head in a quick, fluent motion.
Thank you, madam witness. But were you in the LRA? He raised his voice more and more with every sentence. The guards on his left and right jumped up and grabbed his arms. His lawyers turned around, trying to calm him down. Then the green curtain of the visitor gallery closed. Muffled screams could be heard through the glass. And then the sound of something heavy being thrown to the floor. The U. The warrant for his arrest was almost 10 years old. No one had expected him to turn up just like that.
In the months before, his relationship with his boss had collapsed. Joseph Kony had thrown him in prison and threatened him with execution. He said that he had wandered around in the wilderness alone, for more than a month, surviving, among other things, an attack by a pack of lions. He seemed to believe that a higher power had helped him. A cloud, he said, had guided him on his way. He was obviously happy to be alive at all.
His body bore the scars of 11 bullet wounds. After eight days, the Americans brought him to a Ugandan army camp, where the officers gave him fresh clothes — a blue shirt, light trousers. Instead, after 10 days in Obo he was extradited to The Hague. The French-American author Jonathan Littell happened to be filming a movie in Obo on the day that Ongwen was extradited. Ongwen gave him a rare minute interview before he was put on a plane.
But Ongwen did reveal something in that short conversation. This was the only thing in this world. Ten days later, on a cold January day, he appeared for the first time before a judge in The Hague. He had nervous eyes. He was wearing a suit for the first time in his life. Someone had helped him put in a checkered tie.
It is hard to imagine how strange, odd and inscrutable the world must have felt to him during those first days in The Hague: his aseptic cell, his fellow inmates and guards, none of whom spoke his language. He understood neither English nor French, only a few words in Swahili, which one other inmate spoke. He was as alone as a person can be. I t was a cool morning, sunny, with a light breeze, when I visited Coorom. A few days later, the heat would return with the dry season. Fields would be scorched, streams would disappear, green would turn to yellow and brown.
A small group of huts emerged as we approached in our car, just behind a high field of sorghum only days away from harvest. The compound where Ongwen was born is a quiet place. His uncle and aunt still live there, as does one of his cousins. His relatives were polite and reserved. The compound had been swept just before I arrived.
A tall papaya tree, with big green fruits, stood in the middle. His uncle, Odong Johnson, has the same, somewhat angular face as his nephew. He is missing three teeth in the top row and four in the bottom. At 67, he looked frail, melancholy, his body transformed by a life of hard work, war, displacement and loss.
Johnson told me that, when Ongwen surrendered in , they had just started arranging a funeral for him. They had all thought he was long dead. It had taken them a long time to save enough money for the burial. As a boy, Ongwen had been the best in his school of more than a hundred children, Johnson said. He had always learned quickly and easily.
And he had been eager to please. He never complained about his household chores: fetching water from the river half a mile away, tethering the goats in the evening, lighting the fire for the night. Ongwen often stayed overnight with his grandfather, who lived in a hut surrounded by mango, banana and orange trees a short distance away from the others. In the evenings by the fire, Ongwen told jokes and riddles that his uncle still remembered more than three decades later.
They fought for the losing side. Thousands of defeated Acholi soldiers fled north, trying to hide in their home villages. Ongwen was about 8 years old when the war arrived in his district. Acholi land was enemy territory for the soldiers from the south, and they behaved accordingly. Hundreds were summarily executed. As a reaction to the violence from the government troops, several rebel groups emerged.
Their founder, Joseph Kony, was an ajwaka , a witch doctor. Spirit worship remains widespread in northern Uganda to this day. Witch doctors get in touch with an invisible, transcendent world, which often serves to explain what cannot be explained: illnesses, deaths, bad harvests.
The Acholi also believe that spirits haunt those who have killed. They call this phenomenon, which we might describe as post-traumatic stress disorder, cen. Kony, however, invented spiritual beliefs and practices that went far beyond Acholi tradition. He claimed to be in contact with powerful new spirits. When Kony communicated with these spirits, he went into a trance.
His voice changed. The ghosts, he said, ordered him to overthrow the government. They were ghosts for a rebel leader. Kony left his home village, Odek, in spring , with only a handful of followers. The soldiers taught this strange new prophet how to wage a guerrilla war. The LRA became a hybrid between an army and a religious cult. What the LRA lacked, initially, were soldiers.
Too few volunteered. The belief system of the LRA was too foreign, too strange, too radical to attract widespread support. So Kony soon reverted to an old strategy, one that had been used in the civil war in Angola, by other military groups that lacked public support: He started kidnapping children. Children were more malleable than adults. When I visited his home, the table in his hut had been set with an embroidered white blanket.
A Bible lay open on top. The worn pages and frayed seams suggested that it had been read over and over again. Kakanyero had been reading the Gospel of John, the pages about the first appearance of Jesus Christ. They had guns. They ordered us to follow them into the bush. Their school uniforms, the white shirt, the dark blue trousers, were torn up by tree branches, bushes and thorns. In the evening, the rebels smeared shea butter, a creamy, light oil, on their chest and back, he recalled.
They had been told the paste was sacred. In the LRA, many believed that shea butter, mixed with water, protected them from material and metaphysical threats alike —bullets and evil spirits. At some point in the first three days, the rebels caught an abductee who had tried to escape. Kakanyero remembered the total silence afterward. Three and a half months later, the cousins were separated by the LRA. Kakanyero said that he managed to escape from the rebel group after four years.
The two cousins would only see each other again more than three decades later, in , in a courtroom in The Hague. T he International Criminal Court was established on July 1, , and its very first warrant of arrest, in , was for five LRA commanders.
Of those five, only two are still alive: Kony and Ongwen. Once he was in The Hague, the prosecutors charged him with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges included murder, torture, robbery, kidnapping of children and adults to turn them into soldiers, crimes against human dignity, and rape and enslavement of young women and girls. The list of charges is so long that it took the court clerk more than 26 minutes to read them out at the beginning of the trial.
Bad childhood experiences alone, though, no matter how horrific, would not be enough to spare him. He is the only former child abductee who has ever been tried in the International Criminal Court. O n the day that Ongwen was taken, his mother was killed, according to his uncle and aunt. She had run after the rebels to reclaim her child, they told me. The family tried to hold her back, but she could not be dissuaded.
The next morning, the family found her body on the riverbank. She had been beaten to death with bricks. Ongwen found out about their deaths, at the very latest, a year after his abduction when one of his cousins, Lily Atong, who was slightly younger than him, was also kidnapped.
They met and she told him everything. He may have already suspected it, but at this moment it fully dawned on him that he was an orphan, hardly 10 years old, completely abandoned in a cruel, indifferent world that did not seem to care whether he lived or died. Achellam walks with a limp, the result of an old bullet wound. He is tall, thin, and straight as a stick. He speaks English with a slight lisp, which makes him seem more innocent than he is. Achellam was for a long time the third in command in the LRA, their chief diplomat and organizer.
In he surrendered to the Ugandan army. He has never been indicted by the International Criminal Court. Instead, he received amnesty from the Ugandan government. In recent years, he has been living in a small village just outside of Gulu, the largest city in northern Uganda. They all died. He was loyal, obedient, disciplined. I protected him like my younger brother. Our strategy was based on surprise attacks, on ambushes. We often sustained heavy casualties.
I have seen many men who faltered in these situations. People who were much older than him and who turned out to be cowards. Not him. The Sudanese government, under the dictator Umar Al-Bashir, permitted Joseph Kony to set up camps near the border and also procured weapons and rations for the Ugandan rebels. Small troops of fighters set off regularly to kidnap more children in Uganda and bring them back to the bases in Sudan.
At one point, these camps housed about 5, abductees, many of them adolescents. But that invasion never happened. Former fighters who went on raids with Ongwen into Uganda in the s remember him as a young man whose fearlessness had an almost suicidal edge. He was shot several times, in the chest and leg; he survived a cholera epidemic in the Sudanese camp that killed hundreds, and a famine that lasted for months. At one point, people started eating soil and grass.
Ongwen told his psychiatrists in prison that sometimes he only ate 10 bean seeds a day. Ongwen was made an officer at the age of about 19, said Achellam. He had shaved off his hair. As the trial neared its conclusion, his depression seemed to deepen week by week. His movements got slower and slower, until they looked like a video in slow motion. He told his doctors that he felt that God hated him. Once, he asked the prison staff to perform Acholi cleansing rituals on him, to lift the curse that had been put upon him.
Ayena told me that Ongwen had tried to take his own life more than once in prison. In one instance, he drank laundry detergent. Another time he bashed his head against a bare wall. He also started a hunger strike, which he broke off after just five days. The LRA killed people in northern Uganda. O ngwen was a young man, between 24 and 27 years old, when he allegedly committed the crimes for which he is now in prison. During the early s, the war in northern Uganda entered its final, most brutal phase.
Instead of surrendering, thousands of LRA fighters infiltrated Uganda. LRA members started a new wave of kidnappings, far worse than what they had done before that. In , the LRA abducted 6, people, most of them between 11 and 17 years old. It was during this period that Ongwen distinguished himself as an officer. From summer to autumn , he was responsible for at least 28 attacks, according to the records of the Ugandan intelligence service and the army, who intercepted radio calls by the LRA.
He set ambushes, attacked army patrols, overran remote barracks, burned down entire villages, raided Catholic missions to steal their radios, and was an unrelenting kidnapper. He was always on the move, often marching in a group of 50 fighters, all of whom spread out around him within shouting distance. Wherever he went, former LRA members said, he had bodyguards with him, many of them minors. At night they slept in a circle around his tent.
T he village of Odek, the birthplace of Joseph Kony, is set in a flat, fertile landscape, by a small river. Like most tyrants, Kony loved grand, dramatic gestures. In he ordered his fighters to attack the refugee camp that had sprung up there, in the place where he grew up. As commander for this mission, he selected Dominic Ongwen. Three former LRA fighters testified in court that they saw how Dominic Ongwen gave instructions for the attack.
The fighters arrived at the edge of the camp just before sunset. It was April 29, About 3, people were living in Odek at that time, most of them refugees who had been forcibly displaced by the Ugandan government during their war with the LRA. The massacre barely lasted an hour. The court transcripts give the impression that the main purpose was not necessarily to inflict as much harm as possible, or to kill everyone in sight, but that the violence was deliberately chaotic, to spread the kind of fear that would stay with the survivors for the rest of their lives.
One LRA soldier led a schoolboy through the camp on a rope. They fired through closed doors. The next day, Ongwen got on the radio and reported back to Joseph Kony. The call was intercepted both by the Ugandan army and intelligence services. Around 60 people died in the attack on Odek. On the morning after, an elderly couple was found lying in a pool of blood in front of their little shop; a newly married man was discovered dead with a bullet wound in his back, executed, like many others, at close range.
A young mother had fallen, her face buried in the mud, her baby still alive, tied to her back. There were many times when he was hundreds of miles away from Kony, alone with his troops in the bush. There were times when Kony could not reach him over the radio for weeks on end. At what point did it become his own decision to stay? Did it ever really?
Whatever drove him, Ongwen was steadfast in his loyalty to Kony for many years. He was the last LRA commander to leave Uganda after the group retreated in the face of mounting military pressure from the Ugandan army. He crossed over the Nile into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Later, he moved with a small number of troops through the Central African Republic and Sudan. He committed further, even more violent massacres. The people that were with him during that time told me that he became desperate and hopeless, that he spoke with increasing frequency and openness about defecting. But he only left after his relationship with Kony broke down.
Kony was notoriously paranoid — always anxious that his commanders might betray him. He was eventually placed under arrest. It seemed only a matter of time before he would be executed, like so many commanders before him. After his surrender in the Central African Republic, he agreed to record a message addressing his former fighters.
If even I decide to come out of the bush, what are you still doing there? I t is not easy to reconcile the accounts that different witnesses have provided about Ongwen. They seem incongruent — full of conflicting, contrasting character traits. Ongwen himself provided an explanation that might seem like a solution, but possibly one that is too convenient.
He told his two Ugandan psychiatrists, Dickens Akena and Emilio Ovuga, who testified on his behalf in court, that two distinct personalities inside him are constantly fighting for control. He calls them Dominic A and Dominic B. One is good, friendly, helpful.
The other one is angry and aggressive. At other times he has described Dominic B as somebody who walked next to him or pushed him forward into battle, preventing him from retreating. Ongwen has even said that he could sometimes see Dominic B, his angry self, alongside him.
S everal of the women whom Dominic Ongwen once called his wives live just a few hundred yards apart on the outskirts of Gulu. They have built small thatched huts in a tightly packed settlement. Most of them have no land on which to grow vegetables. There is no running water. Malaria is common. They live here because they have no other place to go.
But for these women, traditional customs do not apply. Their children were conceived in the LRA, under the constant threat of force. The father of their children is in prison, and many of the women do not see Ongwen as their legitimate husband anyway, but as their tormentor. Others, however, still say that they love him. Dillish Abang, 26 years old, has seven children with Ongwen. Her youngest son was conceived in The Hague conjugal visits are permitted in Dutch prisons and is now 2 years old.
Abang said that she speaks to Ongwen almost every week. He tells her about his nightmares in prison, his new friends — all fellow inmates also accused of war crimes — and his hobbies: He has learned to play the piano and developed a passion for baking in the prison kitchen. According to Abang, he is a loyal, caring, attentive father, eager to find out how his children are doing in school. She told me that he has always treated her well.
Irene Fatuma Lakica, 30, lives less than a minute walk from Abang. When I met her, she was wearing a green T-shirt with winged horses on it. She cried briefly, two or three tears, which she wiped away quickly, while she talked about Ongwen and how he had raped her, once every few weeks.
How he had threatened her with a machete if she refused. Six women have described similar attacks in court in The Hague. One said that she was about 10 years old when Ongwen told her he wanted to have sex with her. That she was beaten every day for a week by his bodyguards until she could not resist anymore. That she had been so small that she had to be lifted onto his bed because it was so high. And yet, while the women have agreed on little else about him, their perspectives converge on one issue: None of them think that he was insane.
E milio Ovuga, professor of psychiatry in Gulu, is a small, gray-haired man. When he testified on November 22, , it was a cold day, and he was wearing a coat over his suit, even in the courtroom. He spoke slowly, with a frail voice and dry wit. Ovuga was the last witness in the trial. He was also, perhaps, the most important. The lead prosecutor in the case, Benjamin Gumpert, took on the cross-examination. Gumpert is a year-old Brit, educated in Cambridge. He has a scar on his chin, and dark, dense hair that makes him look much more boyish than his age would suggest.
Gumpert is a tough, aggressive interrogator, whose only weakness on the stand seems to be that he sometimes enjoys his work a bit too much. The question that day was a difficult one: How exactly did Ovuga come up with the unusual diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder previously called multiple personality disorder?
Many psychiatrists say the illness is extremely rare. People who do not suffer from severe mental illness cope with their disability, so that those around them will not notice that something is wrong. In most cases they will not notice it. Gumpert later had to apologize for that last, discourteous word.
But he was not alone in his assessment. It was March 12, Ayena was standing behind his desk, in socks, his feet sticking out from under his black robe. He is capable of delivering points forcefully. He could not remember the words. He had to stop, again and again. Several times he went quiet midsentence, not remembering the end. Ayena had already started to look out of his depth during the last months of trial.
He had dozed off multiple times while his colleagues were questioning key witnesses, including some of the psychiatric experts. In the rows behind Ayena, his colleagues on the defense team started collecting their documents and putting them in their bags.
Whatever verdict you come up with, the sentence should be so mild. I mean, of course, I know that we have been reading from the same page … and we pray that you acquit him. O ngwen remained still, almost motionless, while Schmitt read out the verdict. He wore a dark suit, a blue shirt with a gray tie, and a surgical face mask. Only his eyes were blinking constantly, quickly and nervously.
The presiding judge took his time. Schmitt went over each of the attacks, named victims one by one, described events in detail: the murder, the pillaging, the rape, the abductions. However, this case is about crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen as a responsible adult. Guilty of war crimes, guilty of crimes against humanity, guilty of murder, guilty of pillaging, guilty of rape, guilty of torture, guilty of forcing women to marry him, guilty of forcing them to have his children, guilty of conscripting children into an armed group, guilty, guilty, guilty.
In the end, Schmitt had convicted him on 61 of the 70 counts. The only thing left to decide was the prison sentence, which will be announced at a later date, in a separate hearing. The maximum sentence at the International Criminal Court is 30 years. The judges left quickly. Dominic Ongwen, however, lingered for a moment. Then he limped toward the door, his body looking heavy, burdened.
He exited into a brightly lit hallway. A humble Scotsman saw something strange in the water—and daringly set out to catch it—only to have lecherous out-of-towners steal his fame and upend his quest. S andy Gray was fishing in the peat-black waters of Loch Ness when he discovered an unusual animal. It was a sleety Saturday in March , and the animal was a large, elaborately colored bird with a glossy green head, a fan of coppery-red plumes, and a dark-metallic breast.
The bird was badly injured; it appeared to have been shot or trapped. Sandy, a bus driver from the tiny loch-side village of Foyers, attempted to save it. He took it home but could only keep it alive for a few days. After it died, Sandy took it to the nearby town of Inverness to have it identified.
The bird, according to the Inverness librarian, was a mandarin duck. It was native to Asia and entirely alien to Loch Ness, which carves a glaciated furrow through the rugged splendor of the Scottish Highlands. It seemed that the duck had escaped or otherwise been released from captivity into an unfamiliar habitat. It was not the last time Sandy Gray would be in the papers for an unusual encounter at Loch Ness. He grew up in Foyers, midway along the southeastern shore, in a secluded home known as the Bungalow.
His father, Hugh, was a foreman at the British Aluminium Works smelting plant, which was hydroelectric-powered by the dramatic foot cascade of the Falls of Foyers. The stone gable—fronted plant employed several hundred workers, and since opening in it had transformed Foyers from a tiny sheep-farming community, where many residents spoke the Scots Gaelic language, into an expanding industrial village.
The Bungalow was a large green-painted wood and corrugated-tin structure surrounded by well-kept lawns, rose beds and vegetable patches. Set in trees behind the plant, it had separate dwellings for family and for lodgers, and it became a hostel for plant workers.
Sandy and his younger brother, Hugh Jr. Foyers was an idyllic place to grow up, where the local children enjoyed adventures in the forests, by the shore, and on the water. The boys had three young sisters, Bessie, Anne and Mary, though Anne, the middle sister, died in infancy in There were other tragedies in Foyers. Aluminum smelting was a new and dangerous process, and an explosion killed one young man and seriously injured several others at the works. And inside the rubble-stone plant, amid the volcanic heat of the smelting furnaces, the then-underestimated threat of toxic aluminum dust lingered in the air.
Many of the villagers were keen shore and boat fishermen. When he was a very young boy, Sandy heard a peculiar story from his uncle. Donald Gray was a fishing tackle maker who ran a bait and tackle store in Inverness and often fished in Loch Ness. According to his story, Donald and several other men were drawing in a salmon net when it suddenly resisted and their hauling ropes were wrenched five or six feet back into the water. The startled men held onto the ropes for a few silent moments.
Then a huge force ripped the ropes from their hands and dragged the net off into the loch and under the surface, never to be seen again. Other locals had similar tales, although insularity and superstition meant that they were rarely told outside of their communities. Like many kids from the banks of Loch Ness, Sandy grew up with an ingrained belief that there was something strange in the water.
Sandy fished on the loch from an early age. It was while he was fishing in , as a teenager, that he first saw what he believed to be an extraordinary creature in the loch. He was in a small fishing boat off of Dores, a little way north of Foyers.
He recalled seeing a large black object, around six feet wide, protruding above the water. When it sank, it left a swirling vortex on the surface of the loch. There were porpoises in the loch in They had entered from the Moray Firth along the River Ness and were a rare spectacle that might have confused those who saw them. But even with hindsight, Sandy was very clear about what he had seen.
In subsequent years, Sandy spent much of his time on the water fishing for salmon that ran from the rivers into the loch. He became an accomplished fisherman, with his notable catches reported in the angling columns of Scottish national newspapers. Sandy decided not to follow his father into the aluminum plant, and instead became a bus driver, carrying passengers from Fort Augustus, at the southern end of the loch, along the shoreside road to the villages of Inverfarigaig and Dores and up past Lochend to Inverness.
As the eldest child, Sandy was now responsible for looking after his mother and siblings by bringing home a wage and catching enough fish on the loch to feed the family. It was while fishing on the loch, probably in , that Sandy had another inexplicable encounter. He was with two other fishermen when they saw a large salmon leaping through the air toward their boat. It was unusual behavior that the experienced men had not seen in the loch before, and they agreed that the fish must have been being pursued by a large predator.
As it approached the boat, the salmon disappeared below the surface. A Strange Experience on Loch Ness. There was a brief flurry of local interest but the story did not make it outside of the Highlands, and the creature remained a local legend. Sandy and Catherine settled into a quiet life in their peaceful surroundings. Sandy continued to drive his bus around the loch and fish from his boat on its waters.
Then, six months after his wedding, Sandy reported seeing the strange creature in the loch again. This sighting would turn his quiet life upside down and help change Foyers and the loch forever. It was late May , and Loch Ness was experiencing an early glimmer of summer, with lilac heather blooming across the craggy hillsides, the fresh scent of Scots pine hanging crisp in the air, and the warm sun casting a shimmering glow on the loch.
L och Ness is more than 10, years old. Today, it is the largest lake by volume in the United Kingdom, containing more than twice as much water as all of the lakes in England and Wales combined. It is 23 miles long and, at its broadest point, 1. Its freshwater is inky black and opaque, due to the leaching of tannins from the peat-rich surroundings. In the s, there was no accurate measure of its depth.
Modern sonar equipment has since measured the deepest point of the loch at feet, although that measurement is disputed. Even today, it is impossible to know all of its secrets. Fishing, boating and swimming were popular at the loch long before monster hunting.
Tourists were yet to outnumber locals, but that was soon to change. Some locals said that they feared the blasting might have awoken something from the depths, something they believed had inhabited the loch for centuries. The first recorded sighting of a strange creature in the loch appeared in the sixth-century A. Regular sightings of something strange in the water convinced many that the superstitions were based on fact. Sandy made his attempt to catch the monster during the last weekend of May , fueled by his three decades of strange tales and experiences.
His usual catch was Atlantic salmon, a species with an average weight of around 10 pounds. By his own reckoning, the Loch Ness Monster weighed more than 30, pounds. This special tackle, rigged for him in Inverness — likely by his Uncle Donald, whose story had first implanted the legend in his mind as a small boy — consisted of a sealed barrel attached via 50 or so yards of strong wire to heavy-duty treble hooks, which were baited with dogfish and skate.
Sandy placed his rig into the water off of Foyers and followed the barrel as it drifted southwest toward Fort Augustus. It was a cloudy and cool day, and the loch was calm and still. After several miles, the barrel changed direction and began to move back up toward Foyers. Eventually, the barrel came ashore. Sandy hauled in the wire and examined the hooks.
The bait was untouched. His attempt to catch the monster had failed, although Sandy said he planned to try again. But the coverage generated considerable interest. News of this strange creature lurking in a mysterious loch spread nationally across Scotland. The Loch Ness Monster, as the newspapers now regularly called it, was no longer a local curiosity. Sandy had lifted the lid off of a legend, and a flurry of new sightings began to spill out.
Inverfarigaig resident Alexander Shaw, who had previously been a nonbeliever, watched a fast-moving dark hump for 10 minutes through a telescope. Spicer had been vacationing at Loch Ness when, on July 22, he had an unusual encounter while driving between Foyers and Dores.
The creature had a long neck, a large body and a high back. He admitted that he could not give a better description, as it had moved so swiftly. He would be dragged back into the hunt for the creature following an extraordinary announcement from his brother: Hughie said that he had also seen the monster — and had a photograph to prove it. H ughie Gray was a year younger than Sandy.
He had been employed at the aluminum works as a fitter since the age of 15, and he now lived at a residence known as the New Hut, right next to the Bungalow, along with several other workers. Every Sunday after church, Hughie took a walk by the loch with his camera. Forgot Password? Click here. Not a Member yet? Register here. Find friends or seek romantic relationships knowing that everyone on this site has some form of mental illness.
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