My directions were simple to my appointment: Make a left off the single-lane freeway at the Big Oak tree next to Wild Frank’s Boulder (“there should be graffiti on it that says, ‘Class of 420’) after the gas station. Drive another eight-hundred feet and wait on the side of the road for a guy name Sod, who will escort me the rest of the way. Very standard guidelines for being shown a grow up in the Triangle.
Without phone service, killing time on the side of the road in Mendo County in a rental car could make one as nervous as a Koran maker in Florida, but after ten minutes of waiting, Sod, pulled up, asked me if I was me, and we were gone.
Sod is my friend, the grower’s neighbor.
After a few turns of the country road we were on, we turned right on a road that I swear wasn’t there a second ago. Like in Indiana Jones, where he has to take the ‘Leap of Faith,’ suddenly a ledge, a dirt-road appears.
I didn’t know why I felt slightly paranoid going to this grow. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. And besides, my friend who I will call, Mike, has a legal grow. But still, the drive up the mountain has me a little jittery. I wait while Sod unlocks the gates, then we both pull our cars forward then stop, while Sod gets out of his truck and relocks the gates behind us. I can’t tell how high we are on the mountain but my ears are popping. Sod’s small pick-up is lathered with road grime, pocked with indentations from the goat-climb it takes to go forward up the slope. I wonder if I’ll have some explaining to do as tiny pebbles are ricocheting off the rental vehicle.
Twenty minutes later, Sod points to an upper driveway where he leaves me with a wave of the hand. He stays to the left, going back to his cabin, after doing Mike a solid for him.
I pull into a graveled-circle that passes for driveways up here in mountain-country, right behind an ancient, burnt-orange railroad boxcar. There’s another small pick-up, almost identical to Sod’s and a smart little Prius. The main cabin sits perched higher some thirty feet away from the cars.
Walking the craggy, hard Earth trail between the boxcar and the cabin, some eight feet wide, making my way to the front entrance to the cabin, I turn the corner to see the greatest vista, the most beautiful view I’ve almost seen since coming to the Triangle.
I am not a church-going individual, but I dropped to my knees. The valley that must have been fifty miles deep, a seemingly bottomless gorge stretched across another fifty miles rising to a range of mountains that bordered the horizon. There had to be nine hundred shades of green on display. It was postcard perfect.
I could see why my friend, Mike didn’t want to leave his estate.
In my state of awe, my mind seemed to leave me, because in the next second I am hallucinating that there are Sirens or Fairies standing next to me speaking in a dialect that seems somewhat familiar.
“Daddy down in the grow, can I get you a cup of something? Or do you want to head right down there?” One of the hallucinations asks.
“I’m sorry; you’re still getting over the view, right? I’m Wendy; this is my sister, Sophie.” Silence.
Okay, this is really happening. Not a dream. For me, it is always like walking into another world when I visit Mendocino and Humboldt counties. I’ve been to many, many plantations, grows, gardens, patches, greenhouses, hot-houses, and mountain-side grows, but I still get blown away from the remoteness and the savage beauty that this area offers. It is no mistake why growers fear the police; it could mean losing all this-your land. I have yet to meet a grower that wasn’t willing to give up his or hers crop, if it meant not having to give up their property.
Wendy and Sophie look at me like I’m a shock-victim.
“Maybe we should go to the grow?” Wendy offers.
Sophie concurs. “Yeah, let’s get him into the Mule.”
“Yeah…sure…that would be good,” I mumble.
The next thing I know, I’m in the middle of two young women in their twenties, in what they call, the “Mulely.” The Muley is a four-wheel, off terrain gas-powered cart that many growers use to navigate their mountains.
I am trying to be cool in front of the two, young sprites, but the mountain trails has other plans for me. When the Earth’s floor dropped, I reached out like someone’s grandpa grasping for a handle from the heavens. I grab the aluminum roof for something to steady myself so I didn’t come off like I’m a city-dude. After spring-boarding off a dried fallen redwood, the Muley slides to a stop on top of a bull-doze plain overlooking a tiered garden. Below us, twenty-five Marijuana plants are growing like fat, tall Mulberry bushes.
The smell is intoxicating.
To see the Pot plants with the verdant valley as a background makes this City Boy cry with envy. I want what they got, I think to myself. This is heaven.
Mike is reaching through the plastic netting, gently pulling an exquisite purple, thick punta through the mesh as gently as a doctor delivers a newborn.
“Hey man, you made it,” Mike says giving a powerful shake.
“Wow,” I say.
“Now, you know why I don’t like to leave my cabin.”
“When you said it had a pretty good view…I had no idea. Man, this is unreal.”
“Unreal…yeah…but it’s a lot of work…” Mike says taking off his straw hat, wiping the sweat off his head.
The Two sisters jumped out of the high-performance golf cart once we stopped. They were like something out of an olde English school book. They sailed off the cliffs and banks of the mountain like they had skates for feet. In their hippie dresses and boots, they bob and weaved while tending their garden. Removing yellowed leaves, sticking a finger in the soil for water-content and clumpiness. I swear that Wendy could tell the Ph balance by just using her pinkie.
They swooned, laughed, picked at the plants around the plants while Dad showed me his operation.
“Didja notice the rather large rain-gutters on the cabin? That how I water these babies. All with rain water,” Mike says proudly.
That’s when I notice all the PVC pipes below us and all around in an interlocking system of irrigation. Shut-off valves and digital meters gopher out of the ground with one by two’s for protection.
“Check this out.” Mike leads me over to a small tree up on the plane. “See that hornet’s nest right there. Look around.”
There are about three or four nests around the grow.
“See, these hornets are our friends. They go right into the plants and eat the aphids, beetles, mites and all those other little fellas that can hurt a crop,” Mike says in his worn southern accent.
One of the reasons I was there, is because Mike has been telling me for a while now about his totally organic, harmonic garden.
“It’s really the girls. I’ve been in the Dope Biz all my life. Y’know wheeling and dealing. I bought this land about thirty years ago, without a thought of growing. I mean, just look for yourself. I wanted to retire on a mountain. So I spent the next thirty years on my knees working construction. Either project-managing small crews or humping it myself…where every I could find work. New construction, remodels, refurbish, re-do anything. Here, the Midwest, out East, whatever. All in the name of owning my own land up here. Man, I had the dream, and I had it bad. But about ten years ago I thought, everyone else is doing it [growing], why shouldn’t I? But it wasn’t until my daughters were through with high school, that’s when it all took off.”
“My daughters are healers. Really. They’re twenty-one and twenty-three and both of them have men and women in their thirties, forties, sixties and even some in their sixties who seek them out. No lie. Wendy knows her herbs and Sophie is right there, if she wants to be. Wendy is more active with healing, Sophie just wants to draw and write for now. They’re thinking of doing a book together. Wendy will write it and Sophie will illustrate, but it could easily go the other way. It just depends on what mood they are in.”
Then for the next hour or so, I was educated by two sisters who virtually would finish each other sentences unconscientiously and even more so when they became excited.
They almost cried in unison when depicting all the illegal grows that were happening right in front of us, in the valley and hillsides. Sophie pointed out that the illegal grows drain the water-supplies, killing the salmon and other water creatures. Sophie laughs, but it is a nervous laughter. Then Wendy furthered her sister’s argument, telling me about the destruction of the Earth’s mycelium layer.
In a basic hippie-way, mycelium is part of the fungus system and its vegetative parts that reach underground, basically, connecting everything. I’m simplifying, but mycelium is everywhere, or should be.
When growers drain the Eel River for water, or worse, dumped their chemicals and growth formulas into the river, killing the mycelium and in turn, causing the algae to get out of control. Once the river is pullulated, the animal life dies and the eco-system became fully out of whack. So there’s no more fish in the Eel River, and it don’t look like they coming back.
The beautiful vista isn’t so beautiful now, knowing that there were bad guys out there destroying the woods and the land in the name of Pot.
We headed back to the cabin with dad and his dog, Jagger, in the tiny bed of the Muley and me and the two sisters riding up front.
Back at the cabin, Wendy grinded some incredible coffee in an old-fashion grinder, like the kind my mother made chopped liver with, in the old country, where old guys like me come from. She asked me if I wanted honey with my coffee. Being a first time guest, she might have offered me some, ick, some white sugar, but I said, no honey, please, but if you have a little goat’s milk?
The two sisters darted off from the cabin after bringing Mike and I some joe-probably to either write some poetry or find the cure for cancer somewhere out in their woods…
“Mike, it really seems like you have the life here. Thanks for showing me your grow and inviting me to your cabin.”
“I wanted you to see a completely organic, sustainable operations. No chemicals, no illegal electricity, legal water. It can be done. But it’s a lot of work.”
“And it’s just the three of you?”
“What do you put in, fourteen hour days?” I recoil in asking.
“Sometimes. Sometimes longer. Some days are too hot to work, even getting up before sunrise. Because I’m growing the diggity-dank, there’s so much more work. Did you see my buds? They’re HUGE. Y’hear all that talk about how much more THC there is in buds these days. It’s true. That’s why we need the netting, to support the branches and buds. Sheet, in the old days of growing weed, like we did in the Midwest, the stuff grew like bamboo. Long, tall plants with stalks like hickory canes. Now with so much more THC, the weight brings down the plants, so you have to be right on top of these ladies, or Boom, a broken branch. Then I just lost an ounce or so.”
“Sounds like a lot of work,” I lie. After seeing Mike’s buds grow deliciously in the golden sun, all I could think about was the tasting WEED he was going to harvest soon. I would do anything to be able to have a place like this with those twenty-five gorgeous plants.
“It’s not only the hard work. Sod had a bear in his cabin a week or so ago. His gun was in the bedroom. It was the middle of the night and he came out to his kitchen because he thought he heard a noise. There was a black bear rifling through his refrigerator.”
“What did he do?”
“Nothing, his gun was in the bedroom. He sat in the corner on a countertop until the bear was done eating. Otherwise, Sod could have been the second or third course for Yogi.”
“Do the girls shoot?”
Mike just looked at me like I was wearing blue shorts and a white shirt with a smart, little blue bowtie.
“Yeah, of course. They’re both up for getting permitted for a concealed weapon. You have to know how to shoot up here. There’s bears, badgers, mountain lions, sheet, snakes as far as that goes. Not to mention, the Mexicans, the poachers, the fools that try home evasions. No, my girls shoot almost as good as they cook.”
“So, Mike…do you get paranoid living out here?”
“No, buddy, I’m not paranoid…I’m stressed,” Mike breathes out sounding more southern than usual. “I’m doing everything right. I’ve got my paperwork and permits to grow twenty-five plants. I’m growing some of the best WEED in the West. If you noticed on the last gate to mine and Sod’s area, we have our paperwork nailed to a board to the gate. Local law enforcement is cool with it, but what about the Feds. It is my civil rights to grow WEED as per the California constitution. I’ve got thousands and thousands and thousands tied up here. This is how the girls afford college. I’m paying for some others to get an education…”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“The problem is…everything is closing in. I want to grow more, but I don’t qualify right now for ninety-nine plants. But even so, I’m growing some righteous bud, organically, some of the best shit you’ll ever smoke, and the price is GOING down. People are still dying up here. We’ve had more people shot this year than I can remember from past years. Hell, there were thirty DEA agents in the hills last week busting one grower,” Mike says not so much as pissed, but feeling the pain. “Tell me, why do you need thirty DEA agents with machine guns searching the hills? We can’t be surprise or close our eyes when someone is shot. They say they are Mexican gang members. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Were you?”
We both take a few sips off of our coffee.
“Prop 19 is only going to screw things up. So, let’s say I can grow, but then it is illegal to drive the shit through Lake County. Where are my civil rights? I’ve been Okayed to grow? But I can’t put it into a truck and deliver it to the City?”
“How do you get around that?”
“You start a collective. Come out of the shadows; tell the cops and the DEA that you’re growing…”
“And see what happens…” Mike says going back to his coffee. “I mean, I only have about sixty grand, and thirty years of humpin’ and my family’s future tied up into this place. Yeah, I’m a little stressed.” Another sip of coffee. “But that’s the way it is until harvest. You never know…”
If you made it this far...Check out SF Weekly's Toke of the Town today by Steve Elliott and the website, www.RedheadedBlackbelt.com, Kym Kemp. Both of those guys are really right on with their blogs. Very informative.