End Times, Montana
Have you ever met a group of people who not only believed the world was going to end, but made serious preparations for it’s imminent arrival? Me, my wife at the time and our two-year-old daughter were living in Missoula Montana when we joined such a group. The year was 1999.
Heidi had been teaching belly dancing and doing astrology readings and lectures at this facility where like-minded and like-skilled people would gather. Most of her friends were reiki practitioners, palm readers, psychics, astral projectors, cranial sacral therapists, you name it...We were throat-chakra-deep in the new age community. She came home one late July evening from a yoga class and informed me about a secret meeting that was to take place soon; she didn’t know what it was about, it seemed like a big deal, and we were among the few privileged people to be invited to attend. The only stipulation being that we mustn’t tell anyone else about it. Oooo, I thought, sounds intriguing.
That first meeting around twenty people showed up. At that point only three core individuals knew the real reason for the meeting, with the rest of us being kept in the dark. It took place at a wealthy woman’s house. I’ll call her Barbara. She had an old-school matriarch appeal to her and unlike everyone else, she shimmered with class. She wore lots of makeup, expensive clothes and adorned herself with glittering jewelry. She led the vegetarian pot-luck round table discussion, where we sat in a circle and took turns telling our life stories, with emphasis on our respective spiritual beliefs as well as practical skill sets. Most of the men in the circle had lots of experience with using their hands and I felt very much out of place, as it became more and more apparent that this meeting was about culling out the useless individuals, and as someone who held a masters degree in English literature and who taught middle school children the significance of iambic pentameter, it sure felt like I wasn’t going to be invited back to meeting number two.
Turns out I had a couple things going for me. Firstly, I was the youngest of the group at 29, fit and eager to learn. Secondly, Heidi was a leader in the new age sector of Missoula, whom everyone looked to for advice on planetary alignments and all matters horoscopic. So whatever this group was planning, we were probably going to be a shoe in. We were indeed invited to meeting number two. The group was considerably smaller and we finally got the scoop of what they were planning. Barbara told us that through dreams and visions and from a channeled reading she received from a professional and very expensive psychic, that the end times were near. The harbinger of the End Times was staring us in the face: Y2K! The new millennium was only five months away and much work needed to be done. It seemed I was the only one who felt immediately unsettled, while everyone else nodded and chattered among themselves about all the ways the end times were going to manifest. Even Heidi was all about it. There was a reason why they called it the end times and not the apocalypse or Armageddon or the rapture. The idea being that the end would take some time in unraveling and those who prepared for it could live to see the other side, aptly called: The Beginning Times. If you could live through the End Times and make it to the Beginning Times you wouldn’t be going up to heaven so much as heaven would be coming down to earth. Utopia would finally be realized.
Barbara, who had lived most her life in Southern California and moved to Montana when the visions started, had subsequently divorced and had loads of money to spend on needed preparations. Although we didn’t know the cause of the divorce, it was assumed her husband didn’t share her beliefs, thought she was crazy and refused to take part in any End Times shenanigans. The first thing she did was purchase a several-acre plot of land in the wilds of Northwestern Montana, just five miles from the Canadian border. The nearest town, Polebridge, was miles away and could only be arrived at by driving a windy, severely neglected dirt road. After the meeting was over I finally got to speak my mind to Heidi on the drive home: these people are crazy! I told her. The End Times? Seriously? Do you actually believe that crap? While Heidi didn’t full-heartedly believe it, she did trust the community of new agers to be a stable, intelligent and resourceful lot and if they needed help to build a sanctuary in the wilderness, what harm could it be in helping? If they were wrong, then we got to spend some time doing good work, if they were right, then we would have a place to live and a group of like-minded folk to share the Beginning Times with.
I reluctantly agreed and days later we made the trip to the site, meeting up there with five others. There was Daryl, a man who reached his prime in the 50’s and was stuck there, complete with greased back hair, blue jeans and a white t-shirt, the left sleeve of which perpetually housed a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Daryl was responsible for making all supply deliveries and fixing small engines. Audry and Nick were two Light Workers. They were responsible for what they termed “keeping the energy” through constant prayer and meditation. Their diet consisted of nothing but pastries and candy, explaining to anyone who asked that through their Light Work they could turn any junk food into highly nutritious Light food that fed the soul as well as the body. Tom, a retired contractor, was a giant of a man, a Vietnam vet who wore his PTSD wounds on his almost-always grim face. There was nothing new age about him, but he hated the government and he could fell an acre of trees quicker than Paul Bunyan and haul a wheel barrow filled with rock up the steepest of slopes. Cheryl was a half-German, half-Lakota woman with beautiful skin who wore her raven black hair in long braids and had a killer sense of sarcasm. She helped with all the manual labor but her real talent was in identifying wild edibles and growing all kinds of food. She was to be our herbalist and gardener.
Since I was the youngest with no opinions or experience in anything relevant to the grand task at hand, I acted as the gofer. I gathered fire-wood, cooked meals, washed dishes and did whatever Tom told me to do. As the days passed, it was soon discovered that I had a penchant for story telling. With no electricity, after dinner we sat around the fireplace in the old two-story cabin and I strummed my six-string Yamaha acoustic guitar in the candle-lit living room and recited stories from Greek and Norse mythology. Heidi would add her astrology forecasts. And Sianna, our daughter, would laugh and dance and served as a reminder to everyone that she represented the reason why we were doing all this: for the future.
Something happened to me out there in the wild with those crazy characters planning for a future that most likely wasn’t going to transpire. I started to believe in the End Times. Not only did I believe in them, I desperately wanted them to happen. I would fantasize at night before falling asleep about all the computers around the world shutting down at once. The world’s grid failing, and chaos consuming the majority of the earth’s cities and towns, but not us, because we were ready. We had done the work, we had planted the seeds for a peaceful Beginning Times bounty. My attitude change had nothing to do with propaganda, it had more to do with falling in love with the simplicity of the environment. In the “real world” there was lots of driving around and paying bills and shopping and all that blah blah blah. But here, in the wild, sharing a log cabin and building structures for the future, it was so easy to be real, to be true to yourself. Although Daryl was periodically bringing us food that wouldn’t exist after the End Times, it was easy to imagine a garden that would feed us all. It was a fantasy that anyone could visualize. Survival, after all, doesn’t take a whole lot. Food and shelter. That’s all anyone really needs. It was a fact I had long forgotten, and being in the woods, working the land every day, it dawned on me, the brilliant simple truth. Food and shelter. That’s all we need.
The major project for the group was building a dome house. Barbara and Daryl had researched dome houses and had the blueprints for us. The reason for a dome house had to do with the coming pole shift. That’s right. Barbara’s visions had informed her that within a few years after Y2K, the earth was going to experience a shift on it’s axis. A major shift. This would result in all kinds of crazy weather, tornadoes on steroids, major earthquakes, volcanic chaos. And all the rest. In her vision, she saw a land dotted with domes and people safe within them as the destruction waged all around.
After the major excavation for the dome was complete and the foundation built, I had nothing more to do, as more experienced hands were hired to do the rest. So Barbara gave me the task of building a teepee. It would serve as a temporary home for my family and me before the pole shift occurred. She gave me a book called quite simply: The Teepee Book, by H. Coffen. It turned out that the woods we were inhabiting in Northwestern Montana were perfect for making teepees, as the primary building material were lodge pole pines and they were the single most prolific tree in the area. Following the book’s instructions, I chopped down 12 dead standing lodge pole pines, removed the bark with a large knife, took down a larger live pine to use as the entrance pole, tied them all together and within a week I had my structure. All I needed now was the tarp.
But the tarp never came.
The eight of us had been living and working on the site for almost a month when things began to unravel. Heidi and Sianna had to leave because the mosquitos were too aggressive and Sianna suddenly became allergic with huge welts on her face, arms and legs that refused to heal. The Light Workers, Nick and Audry, took off in a huff because they felt that their work with keeping the energy wasn’t being respected by Tom, who would mumble under his breath derogatory words whenever he passed them by. Tom was becoming more difficult for everyone to work with in general, as he demanded from others what only he himself was physically capable of performing. And I have to admit, when the Light Workers were no longer there to “keep the energy”, the energy diffused to all kinds of discomfort. Cheryl failed to return from her seed-gathering mission in Helena and so there I was alone with Tom, who began getting drunk on cheap whisky at night and shooting his shot gun at the sky and screaming like a wild man. Then one day Barbara came from Missoula with Daryl and a crew of new people to take the place of the departed, only this time she had contracts with her that she wanted us all to sign. Contracts that basically stated that we were to leave our past lives behind and commit fully to the task of preparing for the End Times. I read the contract, smiled, handed it back to her and asked Daryl to give me a ride back to Missoula.
I missed my wife and my daughter. I knew that I would miss the forest and the work I was doing and the dreams that had sprung from such work, but maybe that’s all that the End Times provide any of us any way. Dreams.
We kept somewhat abreast of what was going on with the sanctuary. Turns out nothing got finished, not because of turmoil between the people involved necessarily but because up in Northwestern Montana, the winter comes early and it comes hard. Snow blocked all entrances and so the work stopped. The new year arrived and nothing happened. No international grid shut-down, no satellite malfunctions. No End Times. We never saw Barbara again. Rumor had it she ran back to her husband, humbled, wanting to start her marriage all over again. We did see the Light Workers, but we never talked about the End Times and the whole adventure. It was like it had never happened. But for me it was real. When I think back on it I imagine those lodge poles, tied together in a happy naked triangle blanketed by soft pure snow, thinking how silly and how brave and how profound is the desire to return to the simple wonders of the wild. Our ancestors lived that way so many centuries ago. They knew of no other way because there was no other way. So they did it right. They finished the teepee, they furnished it with hides. They slept beneath the stars while smoke from the fire spiraled up and through the vent hole to merge with the night. No beginning, no end.