Spooklight

A gusty wind stirs tree branches along the country road where we wait this mild November night. We stand beside our cars, looking westward where the road takes a rising and falling course over the hills.

"There! Is that it?" We can't believe our good fortune; not everyone who comes here sees this mysterious glow. It's above the place where the road disappears over the brow of a hill, maddeningly obscured by near and far trees.

We are genuine adults in terms of years-myself, my husband Jim Mueller, who is a photographer, and Roger "Buck" Buchanan, a high school art teacher and accomplished amateur astronomer-and we're saying, "Wow! Oh, yeah! Whoaaaa!" We're bobbing and weaving, seeking vantage points, looking through binoculars and a six-inch reflector telescope.

What we watch for the next hour is a conglomeration of light that waxes and wanes, disappears and reappears. Full of surprises, it shimmers, or looks like a necklace of lights or shrinks to mere twinkles. Is its shape due to leaves in the way? And it's far away, but how far?

The experience renders us somewhat inarticulate. Buck, looking through the telescope, says, "It's really, oh, it just fills, it's like a bright star that, it's not clear, oh, come here, there's four. Hello! Good grief!"

This is exciting. This is just plain fun. We have seen the Hornet Spooklight. Or have we? Our experience is only one way this light phenomenon has been seen.

The Spooklight has a nomadic history that may go back over 100 years in an area on either side of the Missouri-Oklahoma line, about three miles west of Hornet, a small community south of Joplin.

The nocturnal light glows in the distance or moves up the road toward you as fast as a person could walk. At closer ranges, people have seen it as round, spherical or diamond-shaped, the size of a lantern light or large as a washtub. You can see trees and bushes through it, says one observer. It may float past you, dance around or split and shoot off in different directions. This itinerant mystery is in the road, in a field, in the woods, at the window of a house. It's golden or red, or it appears as multiple lights in various combinations of yellow, orange, red, green and blue.

Sterling Barnett had a surprise encounter with the light around 1979, when he was a teenager living on the Missouri side of State