On-line I had read of the lodging situation around these parts, and it wasn’t good. Every comment and Yelp-like remark concerning hotels, motels and resorts, all said the same thing; check the room out first.
As I drove north from Area 101 most of the closer properties were sold out due the upcoming Kate Wolf concert in a day or two. When I arrive in Garberville, it looked like there was a Biker Run already in progress with Harleys, cars and trucks with trailers filling the parking lots of the more major hotels and motels in town. I looked at my sleeping bag in the back seat like we might possibly have a date later.
A little worried that my luck had run its course with the town being sold-out or, worse, I would be paying $250 a night for the luxury to spend the night in some crack house that any other night would have gone for thirty-nine bucks at the most. Luckily, as luck would have it, I found a place that I could afford. The last room he had.
Right away Garberville reminded me of the small town in the Mid-west that I grew up in. There was the gun shop. One single story clothing store had summer sales for Men and Women. There were two or three restaurants on corners opposite from each other. One of them displayed proudly the title of ‘Fine Food.’ If this was like the town I grew up in, this is where you’d go for Proms and anniversaries or when someone won the big fishing tournament.
The Sun was starting to set. I went into the more hamburger-friendly looking diner. Most of the patrons looked local except for a loud table of obvious out-of towners with their lack of volume control and fast-talking ways. Not to mention that jeans, overalls and old Grateful Dead T-shirts were the dress code. The two tables pushed together full of the City folks were easily identifiable by their bright colors and fake safari-backwoods Eddy Bauer I’m-really-just-one-of-you apparel.
I joined the locals by voicing facial displays of discontent towards the loud noise and general mayhem being caused by the disruptive table. What’s worse is they’re ignoring the rest of us while they’re having their good time.
One of the easiest ways to ingratiate yourself to the locals I’ve learned is to not like the new people. I was trying to fit in the best I could.
Paying six dollars and forty-eight cents for a burger, fries and small green salad had me smiling a local grin as I sat outside inhaling my food, watching the world go by.
Every summer as a kid, my family and I spent from the day after school got out until the Minnesota State Fair at the end of August, at the lake house in a small town like this. I was eyeing the three-block town thinking it was almost exchangeable from the Mayberry of my youth, except what is this place? The ‘Hemp Connection.’ Okay, that’s different.
Right there on the corner of Main Street was a store called the Hemp Connection. We didn’t have a store like that growing up. Being the burger had disappeared minutes ago, I was free to roam.
Looking in the closed shop, it was hard to tell what it exactly was. Was it a dispensary? A Clothing store? A place to buy industrial hemp?
I was leaving early the next morning, but on the flip-flop, I knew I had to check it out.
My overall feeling of being in Northern California or the Emerald Triangle is, it’s a mash-up of the ‘Old’ colliding with the ‘New.’ I’ve spent time with folks that milk their goats or cow for milk for their coffee while they peruse the Internet from their mountain home. Most of the homes I went to used solar power or generators to power their flat screen TV’s and hot-tubs. Most of the conveniences of the city are here in one sense or another.
It’s really hard not to want to move here when you first see the place. The beauty of the country, knowing that in some places you can get hi-speed broadband delivered to your cabin. Or how about organic WEED 24/7. Boom. Done deal.
But then you have to remember that it is serious business up here in these hills. And I might as well be a revenu’er trying to collect taxes from the money you’ve made from your still driving around in this bright red rental car. There is something scary about driving alone in the North Country when you’re never sure if you’re going to run into a campsite or a growhouse by mistake. You don’t want to get off the main roads if you don’t have to.
Of all the parts of my journey, this leg was the most secretive and challenging. Mostly because where I was going was a secret and not having directions were a challenge. In advance I had been given the address, address? More like GPS coordinates with some longitude and latitude thrown in for good measure.
Back in the Bay Area after a lengthy vetting process, I was given the confidential local of a house hidden up in the mountains of Humboldt or Mendocino that friends thought I should see. Also, I was allowed access to one of the more enlightening people I met on my journey, Dalena, short for Magdalena.
When I left Garberville the rising sun followed me over my shoulder as I drove north. As soon as I left the main highway, so did the light. Traveling through the dark forest on zigzagging single lane road sheltered by the redwoods and equally imposing thick trees for what seemed like miles and miles. The speedometer never reached more than twelve. It wasn’t until I arrived at Dalena’s some hours later that I saw the big fireball in sky again.
It’s easy to see why most of my friends in the Bay Area who I told about my quest to rediscover the Emerald Triangle, made sure that I met Magdalena. Apparently not only being a living legend among the people of the area, she was part historian, part mountain Goddess.
Right now in this beautiful coastal morning, Dalena and I sit on her wooden deck over-looking the hills and the Pacific, sharing her Volcano Vaporizer.
She lives in a two-story, I’d say 2,000 sq. ft. circular cabin from trees cut from the property. It is clean and spacious. Windows mostly surround the first floor. Her bath tub is submerged into the redwood deck next to us on the outside of the house.
“I guess neighbors aren’t really a problem,” handing Dalena the huge plastic bag of smoke back to her.
“You mean the tub? The windows?” She laughs. “I have one neighbor who lives at the bottom of the hill. She comes up here for cell service, nobody has cell phone connection here, and in return, she allows my driveway to cut through her property.”
“What about water and electricity?”
“Like most people, solar handles most, then we have generators for backup. For water, I have four natural wells.”
“Lucky,” I say wishing I had some water wells.
“The first years here were pretty hard. I camped right over there,” Dalena points to a sloping area next to a small building a hundred feet or so from the mainhouse. “Two winters in a tent.”
Taking the Volcano bag back from Dalena, I whistled knowing that even though Cali really doesn’t get snow on any kind of regular basis, this is wet and cold country in the winter months. California’s not always a good party, think Donner.
“So…when was that? When did you arrive here?” I asked not only wanting to know how long she’s been doing this, but…how can I say this? I can’t. Maybe Dalena will answer it for me. That’s the way it is in the country, think a question, and wait for the cosmic answer.
“I came into all of this somewhat late,” Dalena says with a sweep of her hand over her property. I had lived in the City for many years. I came up here with my then boyfriend. He hated the climate. In those patchouli days, we ate rice and beans, washed when we could, and tried to grow dope. He didn’t care for the lifestyle,” Dalena says in mock amusement, showing a dab of her dry humor, “and I loved it. I ended up staying.”
Dalena takes a gentle hit off of the almost deflated bag. Not liking the lack of smoke in the bag, she gets up to refill it. Wrapping the bag around the Volcano’s mouth, she pushes a button to pump in more of her stash.
“That was forty years ago. So that makes me seventy, if you were wondering.”
I can’t say I was eyeing Dalena, but she is a very striking woman. In her layered cotton threads she is very fit and energetic like most of the people I’ve met out here. I bet one of the reasons is she’s forever doing little chores as we speak. I think this unofficial interviewing makes her a little uneasy. Not only speaking to a stranger, but also so candidly.
I think that it is also a part of country living, having chores, keeping the homestead moving and safe. A couple of deer approach the deck as Dalena brings back a bulging bag of smoke the size of the balloon the Wizard used to get back to Kansas.
“Would you like to see what I do?” Dalena asks in a very polite way. One never asks a grower to see their crop. It just isn’t done. To be asked to be shown someone’s crop is a great honor.
“Yes, please,” I say grabbing my notebook.
Pt. 2 Tomorrow