I. A slice of paradise
For 15 years, Kristen Sobanja has lived in a secluded house in the woods off Highway 61 in Grand Marais. Stalwart pines flank the gravel path to the front door. Her backyard is a rocky shore overlooking Lake Superior’s white immensity. The center of “America’s Coolest Small Town” is but a short drive away.
North Shore summers aren’t long, but they are sweet. Sobanja and her sister spent those precious months last year tending their garden and staining the deck, where they’d watch for eagles and play board games.
One day a howl rang out from the house next door. It was a low, full-throated bellow so loud she could hear it over the television. Somebody’s being killed, Sobanja thought with a start, rushing to the window.
She found a train of cars parked in the neighbor’s yard. Down on the beach, a large assembly of people were crying, chanting, and hugging trees.
The neighbor was Christine Day, a motivational speaker who moved to the neighborhood in 2013. The women never got to know each other, as tentative plans to get together for a glass of wine always fell through. Day was polite but somewhat brusque, giving the impression of forever rushing off somewhere to attend to more important matters. She spent three-quarters of the year away, teaching self-improvement classes around the world.
If they’d struck up a conversation, Sobanja might have learned that Day called herself the “Pleiadian Ambassador,” and that her work involved channeling the energy of Nordic aliens from distant stars. Last summer, Day booked five weekend retreats for groups of 50 to commune with extraterrestrials inside galactic portals constructed on her property. Each person was charged $450 to partake.
“I do believe in life other than on earth, so that aspect doesn’t bother me at all,” Sobanja says.
But tipped, overflowing garbage cans do. Beeping cars, wailing as early as 6 a.m., and the traffic of dozens of people on the boat path ruined her solitude. Their residential district wasn’t zoned for business.
And then there was the more baffling transgression: Day had neglected to inform her human neighbors about the imminent arrival of aliens—and their adherents.
II. Visions on the Gunflint Trail
Christine Day is an energetic 65, with a smooth face, sharp violet eyes, and a shock of silver hair cropped short, which gives her a monochromatic, slightly futuristic look. She speaks in gently coursing tones with a soft accent courtesy of her native Australia.
Two decades ago, Day traveled to California and lived at Mt. Shasta, a volcano near the Oregon border so striking that people have conferred spiritual meaning on it for centuries. A sacred site for Native American tribes turned New Age tourism hotspot, it’s now a mecca for believers in Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, and UFOs.
Day studied healing touch—the homeopathic concept of transferring wellness energy from one person to another through laying hands—before becoming a shaman and leading vision quests.
One day she encountered a spaceship while walking in an open meadow, Day says. Nordic aliens emerged, telepathically bestowing universal truths meant to help humans attain a higher state of self-awareness.
She claims descendance from these Nordic aliens, a.k.a. Pleiadians, who are tall, blond, and beautiful. They’ve existed in popular culture since the 1950s as benevolent visitors who hail from the Pleiades, a brightly burning clutch of stars in the constellation of Taurus. Day is one author among many who writes books about them, and considers herself a conduit.
In her telling, Pleiadians have cultivated humanity’s progress since the dawn of time, building the Egyptian pyramids, and transmitting teachings to indigenous civilizations worldwide. Minnesota’s Native Americans inherited their star knowledge from Nordic alien astronauts, she says.
“A lot of the Native people say only Natives can do these ceremonies, but the Pleiadians would say it was important that the pure teachings went out.” She describes Native practices as “broken down” derivatives of Pleiadian tradition, “twisted” by the erosion of time.
In 2013, Day spent 10 days holed up in a remote cabin on Minnesota’s Gunflint Trail, working on her second book. Once it was done, she says, Pleiadians guided her out of the wilderness and down a long driveway to an unkempt house on three acres of land beside Lake Superior. It happened to be for sale.
With spaceships allegedly in attendance, Day set about arranging large stone circles on the beach. She describes a transmission of light emerging from beneath Lake Superior as the portals with the circles opened, activating what she calls one of Earth’s most powerful receiving stations for alien entry.
But what eventually emerged was a purely utilitarian business model.
Pleiadian teachings aren’t religious, but rather a for-profit spiritual service. Students come in search of guidance on how to live in this time, which is “pretty intense,” Day explains. They pay thousands for online coursework, seminars, and immersive retreats in Grand Marais. Families with children as young as 10, groups of girlfriends, and people of all ages are drawn through her website and word-of-mouth.
Of course there’s money, she says, qualifying that although she isn’t attached to profit, business happens to be robust.
III. Cook County debates alien determination
Kristen Sobanja wasn’t the only neighbor who took issue with all of this.
On Day’s other side is a vacation rental owned by Kevin Butcher, an Edina realtor who hopes to retire to Grand Marais. His industry newsletters are full of statistics about land uses that diminish property values by proximity, such as funeral homes, hospitals, and churches.
No one’s studied galactic portals before, but he doesn’t want to have to disclose any supernatural entity to potential buyers someday.
Artist Jan Attridge, who lives up the road, believes Pleiadians pose a spiritual invasion. She’s an astrology enthusiast and a self-professed “empath” proficient in Day’s lexicon of energy modalities and frequencies.
She can’t hear the retreats from where she lives, but she says she can feel the energy emanating from Day’s interdimensional depot, which rattles hard against Grand Marais’ sheer bluffs, giving her migraines.
“Does this high-frequency grounding point involve those of us who are living close by?” she asks. “It is one thing to have a fancy self-definition, but another to be a member of the community where one lives. Clearly, a situation in regards to galactic travel such as this needs to be approved of first by Cook County and its inhabitants.”
Like most places, there’s some wiggle room in the county’s zoning code. Even in residential neighborhoods, cottage businesses are allowed as long they’re consistent with rural life. And if anyone expected Day to have a less than astute grasp of local government, they were proven wrong.
Near the end of last summer’s peak tourism season, she requested a five-year permit to facilitate close encounters on her property.
Her students—wealthy people with disposable income—would lodge in town and take their meals in local restaurants, Day pointed out.
The argument resonated with the county planning commission, which granted her a probationary permit to renew her retreats this summer. In the meantime, she would need to soundproof her gathering spaces and show she could be respectful of neighbors.
For Day, who’s dedicated her life to helping people enlist in a galactic community, this meant she would have to make an effort to coexist with her neighbors on Earth.
IV. Mysteries of the Arrowhead
Cook County has a longstanding reputation for free thought. Its government center, Grand Marais, is home to artists and conservationists who value the freedom to live as they see fit, to detach from the material constructs of urban life, and be immersed in an unmolested state of nature.
Rainbow flags fly atop churches and roadside taverns. A Scandinavian majority elected John Lyght, Minnesota’s only African American sheriff, with 97 percent of the vote back in 1974.
Each summer weekend, a caravan of cars strapped with canoes jams I-35 north. Visitors find that sensitivity to the paranormal is hardly required to discern the staggering gravitas of the area’s boreal landscape. Many express their appreciation by littering the beaches of Lake Superior with cairns.
At a Caribou coffee shop in Minneapolis, where she owns another house, Day envisions having the neighbors over for tea and a tour once she returns to Grand Marais this spring. There’s hostility, she says, because despite the small town’s liberal reputation, certain anonymous people exaggerate, and some churchgoers are prejudiced.
Nevertheless, she’s certain that Grand Marais is the most pristine place the Pleiadians have ever taken her. The energy is incomparable due to its ancient bedrock and distance from urban clutter, she says. “It’s very superior in its purity and its clarity.”
Her claims aren’t totally unfounded.
Minnesota’s oldest, densest bedrock is located in the state’s northern reaches, says Minnesota Geological Survey’s Mark Jirsa. A billion years ago, that’s where magma swelled forth from the earth’s molten mantle as the North American continent split. Along Superior’s agate-strewn shores, the terrain is a rugged expanse of exposed rock with thin soils, where trees grow straight out of boulders.
From Duluth to Grand Marais, the Federal Aviation Administration warns pilots of a significant magnetic anomaly of 18 degrees, caused by magnetite-rich iron deposits. Pioneering surveyors attempting to partition the state into a neat grid were foiled by northern Minnesota’s penchant for throwing compasses off course. Early maps show seven-sided parcels where there should have been squares.
In the Superior National Forest stands the “Magnetic Rock,” an enigmatic black monolith with the aspect ratio of a tombstone. And at the end of the Gunflint Trail, scientists have found extremely rare traces of another extraterrestrial visitor—the Sudbury meteor strike in Canada, which was the world’s third largest.
The darkest skies east of the Rocky Mountains can also be found in the Arrowhead, and the Pleiades cluster does feature in creation tales of the Dakota.
But while Day ascribes the link between Native Americans and modern-day Pleiadians to alien primacy, tribes don’t mince their words when it comes to outside revision of hard-fought traditions.
In 1993, some 500 tribal representatives declared war on “non-Indian wannabes, hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers, and self-styled New Age shamans” blending Native spirituality into a “pseudo-religious hodge-podge.”
V. The North Shore’s UFO magnetism
Christine Day’s neighbor across Highway 61 is Chris Skildum, who knows her better than most. When Day arrived in 2013, he put a new roof on her house and remodeled a pole barn into a heated meditation room.
They had a brief chat about the healing power of crystals. He gathered that she made her living as a mystic. Such beliefs weren’t necessarily out of place in Grand Marais. She seemed both intelligent and sincere, with a pragmatist’s ability to digest construction plans.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, that sounds cool,’” Skildum recalls. “‘That makes sense. Go get it.’”
He didn’t realize Day channeled aliens until it was revealed in the Cook County News Herald. But he was unfazed, considering the miraculous elements of better-established faiths.
“If any one of them had a problem with me running chainsaws, I hope to god they would just come and talk to me,” Skildum says of their neighbors. “People circumvented the age-old tradition of knocking on their neighbor’s door and going, ‘Hey, that’s pretty loud.’ And that to me is just way weirder of behavior than any sort of belief system.”
While he’s no extraterrestrial enthusiast, Skildum says he too has seen inexplicable lights in the sky above the wilderness, across the lake.
Brian Larsen, editor of the News Herald and town crier for more than 30 years, is willing to entertain the idea that Grand Marais might be some kind of alien hotspot. Most people who’ve lived in Grand Marais long enough have seen UFOs, he explains.
“And when you see them and they fly in straight lines and they go as fast as you can see... I’m not saying they’re from outer space, but when you’re 17 and you’re on a skating rink and you’ve got 50 people all looking at the same thing, you’re going, ‘Ahh.’”
Larsen recalls that in 1982, a St. Paul couple spent a month-long UFO vigil parked at the bank of Loon Lake, near the end of the Gunflint Trail. As snowfall intensified, they refused to evacuate without further instruction from higher powers. One froze to death. Her partner crawled a quarter-mile through the woods before coming across hunters.
This was America’s most famous UFO-related casualty, aside from the 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult who killed themselves on the heels of the 1997 Hale-Bopp comet in order to board a tailgating spaceship.
People report so many strange lights around the country—ball lightning, mountaintop glows, and luminous earthquake ephemera—that geologist and media watchdog Sharon A. Hill runs the website Spooky Geology, dedicated to chronicling them.
These phenomena lack satisfying explanations because it’s difficult to study bursts of light in the sky, she says. And while many flying contraptions could be mistaken for something paranormal, uncertainty gives ufologists an excuse to present their speculations as legitimate science to people who may not know the difference.
Government-run programs scour the atmosphere for advanced aerospace technology, and scientists listen for electromagnetic radiation in deep space. Despite these efforts, there’s a deafening paucity of evidence for the humanoid aliens of ufologists’ yearnings.
Conspiracy seems to be the main thread connecting ufology, flat earth, and other doctrines that rank evidence behind individual perception, Hill says. “It’s all leading into these anti-authoritarian ideas of, ‘I’m going to experience it in order to see if it’s true.’
“People go to these paranormal sites to have this sort of special spiritual experience with the land, or just to connect with something beyond themselves. It feels like there’s something missing in our society these days that makes people want to reach out for things like that.”
VI. Waiting for utopia
In the dead of winter, icy winds snarl Lake Superior, lifting fog off the surface of the water like smoke from a cauldron.
At a cabin in the woods, artist Jan Attridge receives friends on a snowed-in Saturday morning. Outside the windchill is 35 below, but the sun soaking through a lattice of window-climbing vines is warm. A Maine Coon scratches its reflection bouncing from a glass.
“I mean, we’re trying to find another place to live, another planet, because they’re ruining this one,” muses Caroline Sevareid, who lives up the Gunflint Trail. “But I’m not sure anyone would want to come here.”
These days the whole town feels tense, Attridge explains.
To the west, sulfide ore mining proposals overshadow the Boundary Waters. The Department of Transportation wants to tear a 10-foot trench through Highway 61, Grand Marais’ artery to the rest of the world, for a two-year reconstruction project. Everyone knows someone in the Forest Service who was furloughed during the government shutdown. Raving polemics over national policy have even infiltrated the YMCA sauna.
In January, Seth Jeffs, a leader of a polygamist sect charged with forcing children into marriage, was exposed in Grand Marais, where he’d quietly purchased 40 acres to build a 6,000-square-foot compound. Permits were approved before anyone realized who he was. Townspeople can only hope a lawsuit alleging Jeffs aided in the ritual sex abuse of girls will interrupt his plans.
It’s a strange flavor for a place people visit in summer just to lie down on the rocks near Coast Guard Point, listen to the waves coming in, and think of nothing.
Both Sevareid and Attridge grew up Catholic, and quip that they’ll spend the rest of their lives recovering. It forms the basis of their wariness of Christine Day.
Joanne Wakefield of Eagan, a clinical scientist retired from United Hospital, is a Day student. She knows the idea of Pleiadian patronage sounds strange.
But 20 years ago, when her teenage daughter suffered from mystifying headaches, Wakefield turned to Day’s healing touch course. It seemed to produce results. She didn’t dwell on the fact that these practices were supposed to be alien in nature, and has followed Day ever since.
“I mean, you still try to put that on the backburner and not think about it. I’m still in a process, like recently I’ve realized I still need to open up to my connection with the Pleiadians, my spirituality, and just that aspect of me that probably has a Pleiadian base.”
She chuckles. “It’s interesting. It’s not like I’m really out there.”
Wakefield was also raised Catholic, distanced herself until she had kids, then became disillusioned when the church covered up child abuse. She found solace in Pleiadian teachings, learning to hold space for herself within a lifetime of caring for others and to say “No.”
Others don’t understand why she should take so many courses and then fly to Israel for more. Her son tolerates her beliefs, but prefers she not work any energies on him. A neighbor with whom she plays tennis recoiled at the offer of healing touch.
“It’s more experiential I guess, that I’ve done this and it’s affected me this way, and I’ve seen these results,” Wakefield explains. “The work I’ve done with Christine and the Pleiadians has just helped me to become a more balanced, stronger person.”
In ufology, there’s a prevailing mythology surrounding Nordic aliens, other famous races like Greys and Reptilians, and their dramatic entanglements. It can be a busy network of contradictory ideas.
Far-right conspiracy theorists such as British lecturer David Icke and American radio host Alex Jones promulgate the idea that the world is run by a cabal of Lizard People in human skin, deceiving humanity about vaccines, global warming, and the Holocaust. Reptilians have also been accused of running a child trafficking ring out of the basement of a D.C. pizza parlor.
Bedfellows like these pose a tricky dilemma. Day believes contactees who preach about evil extraterrestrials have been led astray by fear.
Instead, her cosmology is that of a cohesive and consensual universe. Pleiadians honor humans’ free will, seeking permission to provide assistance. Day says Greys abducted people until a galactic federation outlawed it 10 years ago. Reptilians may have warred with the Pleiadians in the past, but that strife is over.
Day will resettle on the North Shore in April, shortly before groups arrive for six fully booked retreats spanning May through August. That doesn’t leave much time to parlay with neighbors, but she hopes they’ll be pleased with several concessions. Groups have been halved to 25. Business hours are set from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A soundproofing wall will be built alongside the meditation room.
She’d like to assure more spiritually attuned neighbors that the galactic receiving station is bounded by two portals located within her property, and a third moored about a mile into Lake Superior. It doesn’t encroach on anyone else’s land.
The experiment in Grand Marais has been a welcome opportunity to learn about human government and relationships, Day says. But she doesn’t feel compelled to assimilate in other ways, such as joining the business council or the YMCA. There’s too much work to be done.
“I haven’t been confronted, but when we go back in April, I might be,” Day says. “I’m not threatened by that, and I’m not threatened by other people’s opinions or what they might consider me to be, because I don’t have anything to prove. So it makes it very easy and very simple, you know.”