The Emerald Triangle - Running Down The Mountain
In the story, Japhy, the fictional name given to poet and essayist Gary Snyder, introduces Kerouac to his first mountaineering adventure. Snyder brings Kerouac and friends up to Mount Shasta where Snyder and Kerouac alone climb Matterhorn peak. Without giving away the entire story, one of the most memorable scenes in the book comes when the two are "running down the mountain." Here is a widely quoted passage,
"Then suddenly everything was just like jazz: it happened in one insane second or so: I looked up and saw Japhy running down the mountain in huge twenty-foot leaps, running, leaping, landing with a great drive of his booted heels, bouncing five feet or so, running, then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail down the sides of the world and in that flash I realized it's impossible to fall off mountains you fool and with a yodel of my own I suddenly got up and began running down the mountain after him doing exactly the same huge leaps, the same fantastic runs and jumps, and in the space of about five minutes I'd guess Japhy Ryder and I (in my sneakers, driving the heels of my sneakers right into sand, rock, boulders, I didn't care any more I was so anxious to get down out of there) came leaping and yelling like mountain goats or I'd say like Chinese lunatics of a thousand years ago, (emphasis added) enough to raise the hair on the head of the meditating Morley by the lake, who said he looked up and saw us flying down and couldn't believe it. In fact with one of my greatest leaps and loudest screams of joy I came flying right down to the edge of the lake and dug my sneakered heels into the mud and just fell sitting there, glad. Japhy was already taking his shoes off and pouring sand and pebbles out. It was great. I took off my sneakers and poured out a couple of buckets of lava dust and said "Ah Japhy you taught me the final lesson of them all, you can't fall off a mountain."
Like his previous book On the Road, Dharma Bums is a story that inspired a generation of people to pack up their bags and move. In this case, most were hippies from San Francisco and other parts of the country. Folks caught up in the city life scene seeking transcendence. Over the following five decades, a small but steady migration of hippies transplanted themselves into an area now known as the Emerald Triangle; Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties in northern California.
In reality the hippies relocated amongst the entire mountainous region of the Sierra Nevada range. All the same, like the streams gushing down from the mountains in springtime, the hippie counter-culture runs exceptionally rampant down the craggy cliffs and canyons in this tri-county part of the state.
According to one local expert grower, the lush, steep landscape lends itself well to the growing of kind bud. As a result, the Emerald Triangle has become world renowned for the cultivation of marijuana. A recent Mendocino county-commissioners study found two thirds of economy is in one way or another related to the marijuana business. In Mendocino alone, marijuana is more than a $1 billion a year business.
I stopped by the office of the Redwood Times in Garberville, California recently and talked with the Editor and General Manager, Susan Gardner. I asked her about the mythology, lore and actuality of the Emerald Triangle.
She told me that many of the local residents had a mixed reaction to all this Emerald Triangle hoopla. There are some that would rather do without the stigma that comes with the pervasive pot culture. While others believe strongly that without the marijuana, the tri-county region would financially implode. With as much as two-thirds of the economy dependent on pot, it is easy to understand the argument.
Gardner told me that when the feds show up, they can come with as many as 450 federal and state agents in convoys of 200 plus cars. One such raid occurred just over a year ago, June 28, 2008. According to Eureka newspaper the Times-Standard, "Estimates produced by the FBI indicate authorities seized more than 10,000 marijuana plants, one vehicle, computers, more than $160,000 in cash and 30 firearms, including shotguns, handguns and fully automatic weapons....In total, 29 warrants were served across Humboldt County and the northern tip of Mendocino County." http://www.times-standard.com/localnews/ci_9697771
And so, after a two year investigation from the largest law enforcement taskforce in the United States, all they could come up with was 10,000 plants, $160,000 in cash and 29 warrants served. Those facts are worth repeating because it seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of dollars the marijuana trade generates in the region on any given year. Most agree that CAMP's work in the Emerald Triangle is essentially an exercise in futility. Yet, it is also easy to see how 450 federal and state agents showing up at your door can unnerve any small community.
I shared with Gardner a story from a couple of young surfer dudes I met up at the university town of Arcata in which they compared the Emerald Triangle to a "New Age Appalachia," and the pot growers to modern day moonshine runners during probation. She seemed a bit insulted by the comparison and politely informed me her community was not made up of hicks.
Nonetheless, Ms. Gardner warmed up to me and helped put things into perspective. She explained that most of the people within the area were essentially libertarians. In other words, they were land owners that believed they should be able to do with their land what they damn well deem fit. And that the federal government had no right to tell them what they could and could not do on their own land.
She also explained that many of the stories about pot violence in the area are overblown. In fact, there are very few incidents that Gardner said could be directly connected to the pot industry. The last death in the region she could even remember where marijuana was involved was in the summer of 2003. An 18 year old man named Sean Thomas-Butler Akselson tried to sell a pound of pot at Thorn Junction to three guys believed to be from the S.F. bay area. Apparently, these guys were later reportedly believed to be on a multi-state robbery and murder spree and have never been caught. http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03/n1301/a10.html?397
Other than Sean's death, Gardner couldn't come up with any other case that could be directly related to the marijuana. That in spite of the fact that the majority of the Emerald Triangle's economy comes from the illegal or quasi-legal medical marijuana trade.
Most people I talked to throughout the Emerald Triangle didn't seem to be concerned with the pot growers. In fact, when it came to the issue of drugs, their main concern comes from the insidious spread of crystal meth and the blight that drug has brought to the community. However, the meth problem in the tri-county area is not unlike what most of the country are dealing with. Around the Emerald Triangle, overwhelming majority of the people I talked to agree, The kind is fine, but the meth is death.
One of the Emerald Triangle's most outspoken marijuana activists is Tim Blake. Mr. Blake owns the 145 acres campsite/retreat just ten miles north of Laytonville, known as Area 101. A mountainous piece of land on the boarder between Mendocino and Humboldt counties, in the heart of the Emerald Triangle. Blake has a separate plot across the street were he lives in a small cabin. Over the last few years, Blake has been hosting holistic health and religious gatherings, trance parties, and most notably, Ganja Bootcamp and the Emerald Cup. www.Area101.org
Much like the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, the Emerald Cup is a competition that recognizes and rewards the best growers in the region. And like most involved in the competition, Blake is a cancer survivor and a passionate advocate for the medical use of marijuana. When I sat down with Mr. Blake he began our interview by listing his ailments and showing me huge scars on his body where the "melanoma ate right down to the bone."
We briefly talked about crime and violence in the area and he too disputed much if any of it being related to marijuana. Blake's own story with the restoration of Area 101 is a testimony to fact that pot can be healing while the meth could be life threatening. Here is an excerpt from an interview Blake recently gave to the local subscriber based publication The New Settler Interview, found in the summer 2009 issue,
"...this stretch of the woods was terrorized for years by a guy called Mad Mike who had been turned into a snitch after he was busted for speed....This guy Mike tortured people by hooking them up to the battery cables-he like to do that. He broke into my house repeatedly and took personal objects, old family photos... Once, stole my identity. Another time left speed-laced drinks in my refrigerator...Everybody was afraid of him. His nickname was the Anti-Christ...When I got this place (Area 101,) there were twenty-six crankers living here. The county called this the Home of the Night People."
To make a long story short, Blake spent $26,000 to clean up the place and kick out the meth heads. Over the course of next few years he had the old grocery store and gas station painted with murals depicting spiritual icons and brought in religious leaders of all faiths to "cleanse the space." Additionally, he filled the building and campgrounds with statues of Ganesha, Kwan Yin, Shiva, Jesus, and added UFO imagery, just for good measure. Blake want's Area 101 to become a site that is "dedicated to personal growth and spiritual enlightenment."
Blake tells me that just less than one hundred and fifty years ago Indians were rounded up by militiamen and massacred on the site. He finds it his calling to create a sacred space and restore the land back to where people can come and pay homage to the Native spirits that may still occupy the site.
Blake tells me his life was transformed by years of mediation, Chinese medicine, and marijuana. Which brings be back to the duality delivered in Kerouac's book Dharma Bums. In many ways, like the Chinese lunatic of a thousand years ago, Blake has embraced much of the simple life Kerouac believed could lead to transcendence. One could say, transcendence at Area 101 seems to be materializing.
While I do not believe Kerouac could have psychically foreshadowed the events which have created today's Emerald Triangle. His words certainly have inspired city life people to head up into the hills to live the simple life. However, many also brought with them the partying and excesses that would eventually resulting in both the feds showing up in 200 vehicle caravans to engaged in dragnets on entire communities and additionally the dark and desperate realities of crystal meth.
The question Tim Blake's story brings up in my mind is, why is the largest law enforcement task force in the United States focused on northern California's pot growers and not on the meth problem that has now infested nearly every large and small town across the entire nation?
With the recent Supreme Court decision allowing California's cannabis laws to stand and the new White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske declaring an "end to the war on drugs," by viewing the problem more as a public heath issue, not a criminal justice issue, there does seem to be a subtle yet important shift in perspective.
As a presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama called for, "shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public health approach." The new drug czar's recent statements seem to align with Obama's campaign speeches.
And this echoes much of what the marijuana activists have been saying for years. Regardless of the fact that they came to the same conclusions from entirely different angles. Most marijuana activists firmly believe in a public health approach to pot. They can spout out study after study supporting their position.
And the libertarian streak in them says that they should be able to grow their own medicine on their own land. They most steadfastly call for the decriminalization of marijuana. But, then again, these are the same folks that keep yodeling, "You can't fall off a mountain."
Tags: Norther California , Drug War , Emerald Triangle
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