Life on a Humboldt cannabis farm during harvest season
In 1996 Californians passed a Proposition called
215 that allowed a citizen to go to a doctor to get
certified as demented enough that a federally
banned vegetable substance known as a "Joint" is the
only remedy. The Doctor gets a hundred dollars. The
Citizen gets a number, a little patch, and if things go
a certain way during the Bush Obama changeover, a
free ride to a Special Federal Camp.
The distinction between State's Rights and Federal
Law has led to some lively debates, most notably
"The War of Northern Aggression" (1861-1865), after
which it was deemed that, in spite of the Constitution,
Feds make the Laws and States shut up. So sorry
California, weed is still illegal in the US. This has
created a situation where Growers, thinking they can
cultivate legal weed behind their Prop 215 permission
slip, get robbed by Federal Agents. The Grower can't
call the Sheriff, and the number at the UN is always
If the production of weed were legal, trimming
weed in Humboldt would be a lot like the seasonal
job of stomping wine in France. It is not legal, so
trimming weed in Humboldt is like cooking meth in
Kentucky. What can I tell you about going to work
on a weed farm that the Grower, The Trimmers and
The Landowner won't kill me for? Soft criminals are
especially tense about getting put in cages by men
For the sake of this story I will posit that every
Grower is, due to certain skill sets and predilections,
essentially the same kind of guy. All Growers have
three shitty houses but don't live anywhere in particular;
all Growers are trigger hippies who learned all
Growers have a truck, a dog and an ex-girlfriend
with an axe to grind; etc. I don't know if crime makes
cliches come true or if it's the other way around, but
I would guess that a variation of the following drama
is acted out in remote camps across Humboldt every
year at harvest time.
The first nights at the camp were the loudest nights.
It was rumored that a Mexican gang was pistol whipping
and robbing growers around the valley. So the
neighbors would let off a shot, and we'd follow suit,
letting the theoretical Mexican gang know that the
whole mountain stood in a steady state of readiness
or madness. It had yet to dawn on me what was fishy
about the Mexican gang rumor because after a day of
cop watch reports and terrible music on radio station
KMUD, my brain was washed of all sense. I was ready
to believe anything.
The main camp consisted of a reclaimed meth
trailer, an outdoor kitchen and a drying shack made
of some found wood: exactly the same as one of those
tobacco shanties you see slouching haphazardly
around the South, except it reeks of skunk. Outside
the drying shack was the kitchen: a freestanding
gas jet normally used to fry turkeys, a Coleman two
burner camping stove and a gas grill, all covered by
an elegant tarp roof. The living room was comprised
of several wonky chairs arranged in front of a fire pit
cut into the road leading down to the green house.
I considered myself lucky to be passing a bottle
around out in the woods while the stars skated
around the sky. The dirt road out in the middle of
nowhere was easy street compared to the economic
uncertainty of the real world down valley.
The Grower sang "All we are say-ing/ is stay on
your land" to the tune of "Give Peace a Chance" while
merrily blasting a fresh faced pumpkin away with
his service .45. The jack-o'-lantern's bright eyes and
toothy grin provided almost a half an hour of joy
before his brief candle was snuffed. I let the tragedy
ride as I was outgunned and, judging from the
Grower's marksmanship, underserved.
In the course of an evening the simmer of pistols
graduated into salvos of "deer rifles" gilded with small
arm glissades until the show of force spent itself leaving
only a lonely nine pop-popping out an echo in the
valley below. The percussion movement was in a magnum
key and provided great comfort to all Growers
within earshot, but it like totally freaked out the hippy
masseuse/trimmers and their fat vegetarian mutts.
The Grower had set up a three-season R.E.I. tent in
which I was to sleep and guard the fortune flowering
in the lower greenhouse despite all the best efforts
of voles, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting
(CAMP), the Department of Justice, the California
Highway Patrol, the California National Guard, meth
heads and the natural enemy of any grower: The
Eventually I drank enough to decamp to the tent
hidden in the scrub. The natural camouflage that
made it hard for helicopters to spot also made it
hard to find at night in my whiskey shoes. Using my
superior sense of direction and a flashlight I was able
to fall in one direction consistently until I fell onto
something which proved to be my tent. Anticipating
the character erosion of the untold riches I'd soon reap
for this work, I got in the tent and fell asleep quickly. I
dreamt of a white owl, big as me, hooting in the halls
of a great library.
Sometime later I woke to the sound of something
breaking sticks and mumbling. Mexicans?
Ex-Girlfriends? I had no way of telling as I was pistol
deaf and blind under the rain fly. Remembering
from Spanish class that Mexican gangs never leave
witnesses to warn the others that a Mexican gang is
coming, I jumped out of the tent, butt naked, hoping
for the element of surprise. My flashlight beam froze a
fawn and her mother, cracking their pistolwhips.
And so I slept the rest of the night fitfully, for the
camp was set up on a well-traveled deer trail.
Dawn was cold, as the sun couldn't penetrate the
redwood canopy. Getting out of a warm sleeping bag
to shiver in the long shadows is always a matter of
will and black coffee. As I trudged up the hill to the
kitchen in the main camp, I paused at one of the few
breaks in the thick forest to catch a glimpse of the
one view allowed from the hidden hollow, out over
the Humboldt fog wreathed at the base of the dry
brown hills below.
The Trimmers were already at work with KMUD
on the camp radio as I put a pot of water to boil on
the blue jet of the turkey fryer. All the Trimmers were
strong women with independent streaks that render
them unemployable in the real world. They are the
Grower's New Girlfriend (of course), a Lesbian Couple,
and some badass cafe au lait chick from L.A. with
Jimi Hendrix hair. The Lesbian Couple were pros,
never missing a minute of trimming at the standard
rate of 250 dollars per pound. Years of scissorwork
had wizened their eyes back in their heads so they
looked like two little possums futzing with the weed.
The L.A. Trimmer and the New Girlfriend were new to
the trade, so they took time to eat breakfast.
The only accepted topics of conversations in
Humboldt are what's your sign, what you can't eat or
what dream you had. I told them about the white owl
because I'm obviously an omnivorous Scorpio. The
femme of the Lesbian Couple allowed that white owls
were "harbingers of good fortune" while her girl stole
my coffee water to make oatmeal for her dog.
We had to listen to KMUD radio for the
Community Safety and Awareness Report provided by
The Civil Liberties Monitoring Project who watched
for any big moves by law enforcement. Paranoia
becomes more insidious when framed by the destitution
of listening to "Legalize It" for the eleventy
We had been listening to terrible music for days
when, finally, they came on the radio and announced:
"This is KMUD with a Citizen's Watch Report. There
are three police trucks with ATVs on the back heading
up Goose Creek Road. Okay? Repeat: citizens
watch has just got a call from a concerned citizen.
They said they were heading up Goose Creek Road
about three minutes ago."
"That's our road," the Grower's New Girlfriend
The Lesbian Couple seem nonplussed but the L.A.
Trimmer and the New Girlfriend got up and started
worrying, ready to run.
The Lesbian Couple shrugged. "It's a long road."
The sound of helicopters thundered over the valley.
The Grower burst out of the reclaimed meth trailer:
"Didn't you hear the radio?" he asked, throwing water
on the fire, sending up a big puffy smoke signal. The
helicopters passed over, on to bigger things.
The Grower's actions were strange because he
had all the Propostion 215 Medical Marijuana cards.
The rule of thumb was that the local D.A. won't bust
for less than 99 plants and the local sheriff won't do
anything the D.A. doesn't like. The Grower also said
that he thought a mom and pop operation like ours
was unlikely to be busted, but then the Grower also
thought that his Ex-Girlfriend was going to be cool,
and that hadn't stopped her from showing up and
acting like a maniac.
The pale face and bipolar dart of the Ex-Girlfriend's
eyes gave her that early Manson Family brio. Her
pants were belled around her feet so she walked on
heels, her greasy straight blonde hair parted in the
middle. You could see the vein in her forehead jump
when she yelled at the Grower, screaming at him for
two hours meaner than a soap opera. And then she
left. We all breathed a sigh of relief and laughed at
what had been a tense situation. Then she came back
and caught us laughing.
"Ha ha, I'm real funny huh? Don't you ever fucking
laugh at me." She got in my face and I agreed with
her, wanting no part of it.
"You got that, sister?" She called the L.A. Trimmer
"sister" because she's kind of black, like brother
Obama. "Don't ever laugh at me. Do you know that
you're trimming my weed right now?"
The L.A. Trimmer shot back, "Then you know that
you should be here doing the work instead of standing
around fucking me up." It is dangerous to pull a
Trimmer out of the focus required to sit and snip in a
lopsided camp chair all day.
"Lets just talk about what's on my plate, sister."
"I'm not your sister," the L.A. Trimmer shot back.
"Yes, you are. And I will call you that, sister. Let's
talk about what you got on your plate."
"This ain't Oprah. Fuck around and call me sister
again. See what happens."
The Ex-Girlfriend's eyes bulged and she threatened
to do what everyone told her she should have done
a long time ago. Leaving just what that was to our
imaginations. And then she left. We laughed, quietly
this time, lest she return.
The Ex-Girlfriend's sudden appearance cast a pall
over the camp and the Growers excuse of "Don't
worry about her, she's just insane" was little comfort,
considering what she could do with just a phone call
to the right Law Enforcement Agency. Soon every
plane in the sky was Feds.
So the Grower delivered the boilerplate pep talk for
skittish pot camp employees:
"Law guys won't, as a rule, follow anyone into the
woods for fear of booby traps. So, just hit the woods
and they won't follow you. I'll show you the escape
route, but you won't need it."
The escape route followed the extension of the deer
path where my camp was and then ran downhill over
a series of fences and through a gullywash where you
can't stop running or else you'll slide and fall. Then
over a fence and though some poison oak only to come
out at the Landowner's contraband greenhouse.
"Then you go out to the road and act like you're
there to see what the helicopter is circling about."
"Helicopter for us?"
"Or a plane. I guarantee that when CAMP comes
it will be with a spotter. They come in low and circle
around in what they call a death spiral."
Since we were in the neighborhood, the Grower
thought this might be a good occasion for me to meet
the Landowner, who was as stereotypical as the rest
of the cast of characters on the farm. The Landowner
is invariably a man living in the woods alone because
some heartless wench has stolen his crops every year.
The problem is so prevalent that many growers who
still mess with women insist on blindfolding their
dates before bringing them back to their camps. Some
even have a no girlfriend rule, having given up on
wenches in general. This leads to a culture almost as
devoid of women as hip-hop. Which is why guys like
the Landowner happen.
Our Landowner is one of the old school growers,
and looks every bit of it: six-five, 270 pounds, about 60
with a shoulder-length bowl cut tied down with a bandanna,
"Magaritaville" wifebeater, flannel shirt, Daisy
Duke shorts with his balls hanging out, tube socks
and high top chucks. He is known to be a bad man.
The Grower is essentially a sharecropper to the
Landowner and owes him 35 percent of the harvest
take. So The Grower and The Landowner traded market
rumors from town of "panic pounds" selling for
eighteen hundred dollars, way below the accepted Pot
Farm Bureau Co-Op price of three thousand. Could
these jumpy carpetbaggers make the bottom fall out?
Could it be that this whole weed-costing-as-much-asgold
thing is just another California bubble?
A girl wearing rubber boots and a peacoat and a
white dude with dreadlocks waved to us.
"This guy, he's a good trimmer."
"A dude that can trim?" said the Grower.
"Yeah, he has a wife," the Landowner offered by
way of explanation. Everyone knows men can't trim.
It's one of those patriarchal generalizations like white
men can't jump or girls can't skate which proves
itself true often enough that even Proposition 8-types
Back at the camp the Grower spent his time doing
bong hits, marveling at how he must have at least 40
pounds of good weed (though he was afraid to tally
it up and know for sure just yet). He was living the
dream between calls from the Ex-Girlfriend.
The Grower would hang up his cell phone and
update us, "There she goes threatening me again. I
wish she would stop it."
"What's she saying?"
"Oh, she's like she's going to come up here and kill
all of us," he'd laugh, drinking the neck off a bottle of
Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" report played
tape of some fool reporter getting stomped by a cop
horse at the RNC. This made the Grower mad enough
to subvert the dominant paradigm by getting around
to harvesting some more weed. Without "Democracy
Now" getting Northern California hippies motivated
is like herding cats, if cats went everywhere with
fickle untrained dogs.
The Grower took me and his dog Mystre back up
to the greenhouse. He cut plant tops and placed them
on strings. Then I plucked the emblematic sevenfingered
marijuana water leaves until my latex gloves
were gunked with pollen. Yes, the buds were all those
marijuana words like "crip," "juicy" and "dank."
Go get a glossy weed porno at the 7-11 if you want to
read jargon about the architectural intricacies of a
bubba OG kushtop because I'm over it. It's a weed. It
shouldn't cost as much as gold or put people in jail.
I hauled the buds from the greenhouse to the drying
room and hung them on strings to cure for trimming.
Back and forth for many days and nights. Days
burned away into weeks. I don't know how long I was
up there. Time wasn't really my trip anymore. The
monotony of country life wears the chat out of you.
The group droned on, glued to the radio, stopping
whenever the helicopters passed too close.
Things happened. They must have. The Grower
and I would get drunk and shoot the place up to keep
the camp safe from maniacs. We got good at running
the escape route at night drunk as hell because … I
forget why. Oh yeah, because it proved good training
when the Grower went to town and the Ex-Girlfriend
showed up and the shit hit the fan.
I was enjoying my role as the cook early one
evening, bribing the Trimmers with hot chai and fried
turkey swiss sandwiches when the Ex showed up.
"Where the fuck is The Grower? "
"He went to town."
"When is he going to be back? "
"We don't know."
"Okay then, I guess I'll wait."
The Ex-Girlfriend took the strangest spot in the
area, up at the top of the firepit dug into the road. The
Trimmers did their best to not feel threatened as The
Ex-Girlfriend lorded over them, seething.
"Why don't you go wait somewhere else?" said the
The Ex-Girlfriend, being used to the way hippies do
things, said "Bet you won't come up here and say that
in my face because, bitch, I will pounce on you, I don't
care if you do have scissors in your—"
The L.A. Trimmer, being used to the way they do
things in L.A., leapt from her seat and flew up the
bank into a flurry of girlfight. She went upside the
Ex-Girlfriend's head and knocked her down.
"Who's a bitch now?" asked the L.A. Trimmer.
The L.A. Trimmer walked away from the tussle
with just a patch torn out of the shoulder of her long
johns. The L.A. Trimmer took the cigarette proffered
by the now smitten lesbians and lit it up while the
Ex-Girlfriend peeled herself up from the dirt.
"Try and cuss me again," said the L.A. Trimmer.
"I want a do-over," the Ex-Girlfriend mumbled. "I
"Better get out of here before I teach you some
The femme lesbian Trimmer told the Ex, " Can't
you feel that this energy is not working here right
The Ex-Girlfriend was dazed enough that I could
herd her down the road, shooing her like a stray cow
every time she wanted to turn back. The road fell off
steeply from either side and there was nowhere for
her to run back but through me, and doubting the
quality of my mercy, she trudged on. I felt like a man
taking a dog for that final walk.
The Ex-Girlfriend got to the fence where her
brown car sat, blocking the gate. The final steps to
her car had the ring of resolution in their heels as
she grabbed her cellphone and dialed. I walked back
nonchalantly until I heard her on the phone telling
someone directions to the camp
"Going, yeah right on Goose Creek, the third pullout
on the right with a no trespassing sign…I have
been assaulted… yes, I am still here now."
I ran back to the camp, calculating how far we
were from town. The Lesbian Couple and the L.A.
Trimmer were eating chips and salsa and reliving the
"She called the cops."
"But she was trespassing."
I grabbed the weed out of the drying shed, hoping
that my drastic action of taking $40,000 of weed and
stashing it in the woods might rouse them to action
but when I got back they were still eating salsa.
"She was assaulted on a pot farm. If she tells the
cops, they'll take everyone to jail and sort it out with
They chew more slowly as they cogitate.
"We can't leave by the road because she's out there
waiting. So we need to button up and get suited and
booted. Get ready to run and maybe even sleep in the
We gathered up whatever incriminating evidence
was lying around, pulling the old half bloomed plants
up from the greenhouse and tossing them into the
woods. Then the New Girlfriend rolled in, with fresh
dents in the hood of the truck.
"That bitch is crazy."
We arranged with the New Girlfriend to meet us
on the main road by a particular sign because my cell
phone's battery was due to run out soon. I got together
a day pack with a change of socks, water, emergency
bivvy blanket, flashlight, knife, heavy jacket, warm
hat, sleeping mat, chocolate, laptop computer and
20 pounds of marijuana in six black plastic garbage
bags, and slid down the hill on the escape route.
"Listen for a minute."
Me and the L.A. Trimmer could hear the
Ex-Girlfriend barking at the Grower, but could not
make out what she was saying. An airplane buzzed
the valley. Was it coming for us? I took the weed and
hid it in the apex of a gully in a dry creek bed by placing
ferns on top of it. Then I turned and walked away,
leaving a year's worth of the Grower's work hidden in
We walked quiet as spiders on the redwood duff to
the Landowner's house, listening for sirens, planes or
the chop of a K9 unit dog in pursuit. The Landowner's
shanty came into view. I had my doubts about
approaching the house unannounced, as Landowners
are known to keep vicious hounds. Plus it was his
shotgun that had provided the contrapuntal thunder
to the valley. The sun began to set. An owl hooted. It
occurred to me that there is nothing so tragic as an
The L.A. Trimmer and I went up to the road so as
to approach the Landowner's house the way a normal
person would (if there were any normal people in
these parts), holding our hands up, yelling the his
name over and over again.
The house was a free-form corrugated tin burrito
structure that used to be a greenhouse. It had the
look of a camp hastily erected and then lived in for
years. The Landowner was inside watching television
even though his old hounds were at the door barking.
"Ah, The Ex-Girlfriend came back and one of the
Trimmers beat her ass."
"Well she deserves whatever beating she gets."
"What's the best way to get her out of here? The
Ex-Girlfriend is still up on the road," we paused and
listened. Half a mile away and we could still hear her
"She probably called the law," I added.
The Landowner looked over my shoulder at the
L.A. Trimmer, who had tucked her hair away under the camouflage hood of
"Well you could take the ridge back up," the Landowner swept his arms
at the ever darkening forest, "or, if you let me catch the dogs, I'll
give you a
The Landowner peeled the tarp off a derelict Chevelle in the yard.
"This car is real life," he said. The Chevelle was modified with a homemade
gearbox of shiny sheet metal riveted in under the dashboard. "I take
the door panels out and run this fucker all the way to the East Coast every
year." He turned the key and the car farted up a cloud of blue exhaust and
then roared. His dogs jockeyed for position on his lap as the Chevelle spit
gravel all the way up the steep road.
The L.A. Trimmer hid in the back under a blanket as we swerved past the
gate where the Ex-Girlfriend was still parked. She ran into the road frothing
at the mouth, beating on the Landowner's car and screaming "This man
"Jeezus. It's about time for her to leave the county," said the Landowner.
He took us to the two-lane road and dropped us off at the sign where we
agreed to meet the New Girlfriend. A cop, a fire truck and an ambulance
screeched around the curve with sirens lit.
We called the New Girlfriend to tell her that we made it. The Grower took
the phone from the New Girlfriend.
"Where is it?"
I tried to tell him where the stash was. It was hard to communicate
because he was worried. Worried that the raccoons would get into the
weed. Worried that the meth-head neighbor might find a year's worth of
work and sell it for nothing. Then the Grower would have to kill everybody
to prove a point.
"It was down that cut bank by the stump, take a right and contour across
the hill until you hit a creek bed, under some ferns."
"Yeah, okay. When you get to town, get your truck off the road. You know,
cops look for dirty trucks coming off the back roads."
The description of a Trimmer "sister" with a hafro and ass-kicking legs
had the cops out in droves. I got the L.A. Trimmer tucked into a hotel off the
main strip. We tried to clean off the three weeks of woods and waited for
the Grower to run the gauntlet into town. Finally he showed up, filthy with
fingernail scratches all around his neck.
"I couldn't find the truck and figured you'd left town with the weed."
"I left it in the bush, like I said. And you told me to hide the truck."
"Well, I looked for the weed out there for a while." This time the innuendo
was harder to miss.
"I guess it is, if you're here." The Grower sat down heavily and produced
a bottle of whiskey from his jacket. I noticed that he had his pistol tucked in
his belt. He poured us all drinks.
"Shit, me and the Landowner thought you were long gone with the weed
and the truck."
A flash of regret must have registered on the faces of me and the L.A.
Trimmer because the Grower laughed at us.
"Tell you what, have a drink. And live it up, goddammit!" he yelled, slinging
Johnny Walker Blue all around on the carpet. "If you're gonna get into
the game you got to live it up, because when they come through that door
it's all gonna change."
We spent the night drinking and watching windows, talking business
with the Grower in a room full of suitcases and guns. The love of easy
money has been the ruin of many a poor boy and by morning you know I
So call the cops and tell them to bust me. Tell them that I'm coming south
right now with some of that dank Humboldt OG babyshit trainwreck
kushywushy. Tell them they can't miss me. I'm on the 101 with a dangerous
Trimmer from L.A. right now. I'm in a white van, a dirty blue Toyota truck
and a sedan with hollow doors. Doesn't matter what I'm driving, really.
Throw up roadblocks, pull everybody over and let the courts sort it out.
Then bust everyone ordering pizza after ten o'clock. Bust all the turkey bag
buyers. Get those skinhead pigs from Riverside up in a helicopter to look for
dangerous flowers and send these growers indoors where they belong.
Do every bit of that zero tolerance shit and let's get this weed price
up from the price of gold to the price of platinum because I'm trying
Dave Reeves has a short story titled "Bottle to Throttle" published in the Two
Letters Collection of Art and Writing. Also he is expecting to have a movie he
co-wrote with Larry Clark called Shame in production by March, but understands
that everyone in this town lies to him about shit like that so he will jump
through hoops like a little trained dog