BEREA — The end of the world didn't happen here Friday. But then, it wasn't supposed to, if you believed the words of one author.
Lawrence Joseph, author of Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation into Civilization's End, wrote in the 2007 book that Jerusalem, Angkor Wat, the Vatican and Mecca might be natural choices to spend The Last Day, which, by some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, was to be Friday.
But, no, "of all the sacred sites in the world, none embodies the sacred Mayan values of service to humanity and Mother Earth like the town of Berea, Ky.," Joseph wrote.
Joseph visited the town in 1993 and became enamored with "this impressive little place" while writing a book on how uncommon common sense is.
For two pages, Joseph praised the work of Berea College and the region's seismic and volcanic stability. And so it only made sense that Berea would be the haven from super-volcanoes, mass extinction, you name it.
On Friday, Berea, like the rest of Central Kentucky, woke up not to panic in the streets or asteroids obliterating Boone Tavern but to a powdered-sugar coating of snow. (True, the sign at the DQ Grill & Chill advertised that the "BBQ Bacon Grillburger" would be available for a "limited time only," but it didn't say how limited.)
"Bereans who love this place are like, 'Well, of course, this is the best place to be,'" said Megan Naseman, who works for Mountain Association for Community Economic Development. "But I haven't really heard people taking the conversation seriously. It's just kind of an amusing thing."
Berea resident Craig Williams said he hasn't seen any recent influx of strangers.
"Actually there's been a migration out since the college ended its semester," Williams said. "But if all of a sudden the students show up very early before the break is over, I'll take cover."
Williams is the director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a Berea-based organization that monitors progress toward the destruction of chemical weapons stored at Blue Grass Army Depot north of Berea. A $1.8 billion pilot plant is under construction that will eventually destroy 523 tons of blister and nerve agent. One is a severe skin irritant that incapacitates, and the other causes convulsions and respiratory failure.
Nasty stuff, to be sure, but it wouldn't destroy the world.
And while he is aware of Joseph's comments about Berea, Williams said he hasn't heard any talk among residents about it.
"The only thing I've done about that, I emailed my Vietnam veteran best-friend buddy a Christmas (weather forecast) calendar that only went up to the 21st, and it had a big nuclear explosion pictured on the 21st," Williams said. "It said 'Happy Mayan Holiday!'"
But Williams said "it's not something you think about. Whaddya gonna do? Are you going to stop it? C'mon.
"I feel very comfortable in Berea," Williams said. "That's why I chose to live there and raise my family there. I think it's just a very enjoyable and comfortable and relatively secure place to live. We're all so vulnerable. ... So is Berea safe? Yeah, comparatively. Safer than Chicago."
Sgt. Jake Reed of the Berea Police Department said Friday was quieter, perhaps, than a normal Friday. Mayor Steve Connelley said he'd not heard much discussion about Berea as a safe haven.
"There's no buzz that I'm aware, certainly no concern," Connelley said.
Joseph's point was that Berea is concerned about sustainability, that is, how to live within the limited resources we have, and conversely, how not to live in a manner that acts as if resources are without end. In that regard, Berea has long been interested in conservation, the end of cheap oil and cheap food, rapid population growth, global climate change, and the destruction of ecosystems.
"Certainly there is a real awareness and interest in the limits of growth and the limits of a finite society," Connelley said. "We're not talking about going into a cave or someplace and hunkering down, but it's trying to be smart with the way we use our resources and plan ahead and try to be more like the Native Americans who lived with their environment rather than trying to compete and control and destroy it."
Berea has a municipal solar farm to capture energy from the sun, rain barrels to conserve water, and citizens who raise their own food, said Cheyenne Olson, a member of a group called Sustainable Berea. So Berea is preparing for dystopian futures of the human race's own making.
"When the going gets tough, we hope that Berea's ready," Olson said. "I just heard on the radio this morning that food security is going to be the biggest problem worldwide. So the age of cheap food is probably gone. So what is a town going to do to feed itself?"
Berea College has done a lot to promote "sustainability," too. The most recent example is the construction of a $16.5 million residence hall that will have a rooftop solar panel, a geothermal heat pump, high-efficiency lighting, low-flow water fixtures and other features to reduce energy consumption.
Most motels in Berea did not report greater-than-normal occupancy on Friday, according to a phone survey taken by the staff of the Old Town Welcome Center, in the heart of the arts and crafts district.
People interviewed for this story weren't aware of any end-of-the-world parties. But Gary McCormick, general manager of Boone Tavern, said he knew of a local family's desiring to start a new tradition on this date. The family chose to interpret the Mayan calendar as a new beginning, "so they made up a country, and it's the first day of the country. So they're going to dress up, come up with fake languages, and then next year they'll do it again with another country. They based today as a day just to have fun."
But McCormick said, "I haven't seen any people swarming to Berea above the normal Christmas shopping."
So, as you might expect, talk of the end of the world has drawn people and families together. On Thursday night, Olson said her husband, Richard, asked her what she would do if she knew Friday was the last day.
"I would take a long walk and say goodbye to the Earth," she responded.
And he said: "I think I'd go with you."