The people who live up here in the redwoods are notoriously known for being incredibly tight-lipped as a community. That’s what happens when generations of farmers are forced to live for decades under the radar. You learn not to talk.
You don’t ask what Tyler’s dad does for a living. If two women in the produce aisle at the market are chatting about some kind of lights and how much square footage they’re reaching, you keep walking, keeping your thoughts to yourself. There’s a shell of new greenhouse that’s being built off of Indian Bend Road but no one’s going to mention it until someone else does first.
That’s the way it is in the Emerald Triangle. It is just like the Number One law of the streets. You keep your mouth closed at all costs. Loose lips sinks your mouther-effing grow faster than drawing the DEA a map. You never know who might be around listening. Who might be smart enough to put a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together?
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You talk about the weather, because everyone depends on it. Maybe how the Giants are going to do and if they can repeat. After that, there’s a couple of “Uh-huhs” and “That’s cool,” some head nodding, but the conversations hardly ever really go deeper than that. Especially from early April to the end of November when most decent folks are busy with, well whatever folks who live north of Cloverdale in Northern California are busy with.
Nobody talks, except at breakfast…
Out towards the coast off of 101 North on the Old Timber Run Highway, about 30 miles in, there’s an ancient Quonset hut that’s the color of a rained-on dead body. Leftover from the logging days, this old sheet metal half-pipe has been serving lumberjacks, robber barons and now, camouflaged hippies the best country breakfast and workingman’s lunch that you’re ever gonna find.
Three sisters, now in their sixties, run the joint with their mother, called “Granny Waitress,” who at 89 is in the back hand-washing dishes at the sink. If you want the best pie, best eggs, and best country sausage, you go to the Billtown Café.
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There’s no sign out front proclaiming its existence. It’s locals only. If you want to have a breakfast that you literally can’t finish, you go to the Billtown. No matter how full you are, Granny Waitress is going to still ask you if you some home-made apple pie or maybe even a goat’s milk parfait.
It’s that kind of a place.
It’s also the one place in all of the Emerald Triangle where locals feel comfortable to talk.
Charlie Hamilton smells the milk before adding it to his coffee, and then says nonchalantly, “I think so…I don’t know, what ’bout you?”
“I don’t know either, in one way I got to plant. In another, I don’t want to give people cancer,” Gobie Lewis sighed.
“What cha gonna do? Plant tomatoes?” Stump Roddendale laughs while stuffing a tube of apple-rosemary sausage into already filled mouth.
“Why not? With all the foodies in the Bay Area, all of sudden locally grown veggies are back in. My old lady got more for her heirlooms then we got for our Blue Cheese. Why not tear it all down and start over with veggies, apples, and all the other good stuff we can grow that’s legal. It would be a lot less headaches.” Charlie knocks his coffee cup on the table for exclamation before taking a
“The ground’s still radioactive. Cannabis. Tomatoes. We’re so screwed,” Gobie commiserates rubbing his whole wheat toast into the sad smile of over-easy eggs.
“That’s why indoor is better,” Marty Larsen’s boy says. “We don’t use soil. We just need our lights and we’re good to go, man. You guys and your organic talk…now wha’ cha gonna do? I mean, we’re gonna take over.” The boy straightens his stained Arcade Fire baseball cap father back on his skull with a smirk on his face the size of a billboard.
“He might be right, Charlie. Indoor might be the way to go,” Gobie said agreeing with the new information he heard wiping his mouth with his sleeve.
“Naw, I’m not going backwards. It’s clean green organic for me or nothing. I’ve been doing this so long that I got it down to no carbon footprint. My rain catchers are full. I’ve had my dirt now for a month. It’s been covered. Stuck my hand into it yesterday. Still as warm as nun’s breast. Sorry Granny,” Charlie’s eyes goes up respectfully as he acknowledges Granny Waitress.
Granny squeezes by the tables as she brings three slices of pie the size of pizza wedges to the guys at the counter who’ve never heard the words Weight Watchers in their lives.
“This is medicine. I’ve got more than 10 folks who need my pure green bud. They don’t need any more cancer. And I’ll be damned if I’m the one who’s gonna give it to them,” Charlie says remorsefully slinking back into the chair sipping at his refilled cup.
“Y’all are nuts,” Arne Isaacs tells the group, not looking at any of them. Of the five tables in the Billtown, Arne sits at the one table off to itself out of the range of the square of the other four tables, reading the Ukiah News-Journal.
Twisting his ample body around, Arne cleans his teeth with his purple tongue while he educates the group.
“Here’s the deal. Indoor growers. Where do you think power comes from? Without a nuclear grid to draw from, we’re going to need more electrical power. That means you indoor growers are going to be pulling massive amounts of power from our already over-worked electrical grids. And if that use becomes too obscene, and by that I mean, if the local power-companies-that-be realize that all you little long-haired punks are stealing their power for free. How long do you think that will last?”
Arne maneuvers his chair a little to the left.
“Right now you can’t trust any information that’s coming. The EPA, Japan, our government, their government, we’re in uncharted waters, folks. If someone says they know what they’re talking about, chances are they don’t.”
Arne turns around and grabs the scratched glass of water from his wooden table.
“The one common element to all of this…is water. They found trace amounts of 131 in Boston, in Houston and of course, the Bay Area. It was going to happen. Just like financial global markets, we’re all connected.” Arne laughs. “I said that for the youngsters.”
Holding the glass higher he says, “Yep, we’re all living from the same one glass of water. Whatever happened in Japan, if it’s not already here, it will be. It probably going to get worse and it will…people are going to get sick. But in terms of the land, the soil, the dirt; you’re okay. You’re worried about the Hard Rains that gonna come? That same water is going to reach your indoor grows. It’s already in our water tables and aquifers. You can’t hide from nature. She’s gonna win every time.”
Two of the sisters leaned on the counter while Arne spoke.
“I’m planting. Some may say I need to. I don’t. But I wouldn’t if I thought my crop was going to do any damage or cause someone any pain. I’d rip up the whole grow and become accountant, maybe not that bad, but I wouldn’t grow. The sun is always best. You can’t beat it. Indoor, with every hit you take, you’re smoking that junk that you put into plants that supposedly gives you bigger, better buds. You know the Feds and the FDA doesn’t check that stuff under combustible circumstances. They check it at room temperature when it isn’t active. You think that’s safe for people?”
Arne pauses and says before he turns back around to his breakfast and paper, “All I know, I’m growing and some of my neighbors are too.”
“But some aren’t too, right?” Gobie added nervously.
“That’s their right too, Gobie,” Arne states, barely turning his head sideways.
“So wha’ cha’ gonna do Charlie? You gonna plant?” Gobie waits for Charlie’s answer at the edge of his seat with the back two legs of his chair off the ground.
“Well, Arne’s word has always been good around here. So I take those words to heart. But I got to tell you, there’s a fellow who moved into the old Sheppard place out on Route 19 and by that old deceased Conoco station. I bet he been there for ’bout a month. He came up from some city and I heard him talking the other day. Boy, was he an expert on tsunamis, radiation, iodine, the efficacy of the EPA and who you can trust and who you can’t. He’d been in town about a month.”
Charlie started to reach for his wallet, letting Gobie and the rest know that he wasn’t going to say much more than this.
“Now, that new fellow isn’t much different than a lot of people I hear talking now. It seems like everyone in the last month went to nuclear fission school or something. Everyone’s an Einstein. Arne’s right; these are uncharted waters. I had my soil checked. It was good. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m on a waiting list for a Geiger counter.”
Standing at his chair, Arne says, looking around the room but not at anyone squarely, “The reason some of us can grow legally is because of the passage of the propositions that this state has OK’d. It all started with patients. The reason we had propositions in the first place is because people who wrote and directed those propositions were all patients. They were victims. Victims of cancer, HIV, MS, Vietnam, Nixon, and they needed medicine that our government wasn’t going to give to them. We are in uncharted waters but we have a paddle, compass and a Geiger counter, at least hopefully soon. I’m planting because I think it’s safe. If I didn’t think it was safe, I wouldn’t.”
Before Charlie reached the screen door, Gobie rang out, “But it’s good we’re talki
ng about it…right…Charlie?”
ng about it…right…Charlie?”
“Yeah, Gobie, its good we’re talking about it.”
And the door slammed shut.