Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
About those fireworks...

Ellie Mae or may not...

Ellie Mae or may not...
In through the out gate...

Rattler relocation

Rattler relocation
Snakes are beautiful critters.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
"Let us bee happy in our work..."

Summertime

Summertime
Nothing says summer like zinnias.

Pink Yarrow and carnations

Pink Yarrow and carnations
Life on the farm

HappyDay Farms grows it better.

HappyDay Farms grows it better.
Home-grown by HeadSodBuster

Where the living is easy

Where the living is easy
Garlic drying, with our newly painted water tank in the background

July magic

July magic
Artichoke-strictly for ornamental purposes

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Do It Yourself


Whereas you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, old dogs can still learn new tricks on their own. Last year I planted more than 200 tomato plants, in a total of five different locations, and had fair to middling success. You can’t plant more than 200 tomato plants without experiencing some success, the sheer volume enough to overcome any and all logistical challenges.

Pints and half-pints of tomato catsup
What would be a complete success? My ongoing goal is to be able to furnish enough Heinz tomatoes, so that HappyDay Farms can sell them by the lug at market(s). If there is a lot of tomatoes, then they can be sold at a bulk rate, making them more accessible to more customers. I’m hoping that folks will take the plunge and want to make their own marinara sauce, salsas, and even-gasp-their own catsup.

How many tomatoes come in a lug? A lug is measured in pounds, so twenty pounds of tomatoes constitutes a lug. Last year my Heinz tomatoes were plentiful but small. This year the plants are already half again bigger than last year, and we still have plenty of vegetative growth still to go. I expect the fruit to be correspondingly bigger. Either way the customer gets the same because weight determines the amount, but if the tomatoes are bigger, then there is less work to obtain identical results.

I have been asked if I will provide recipes for the different sauces I process, and I will tell you unequivocally that not only will I furnish recipes, I will take you step-by-step through the entire process. I have been putting up tomatoes since 1974, and have never considered it work. I consider it a recreational activity, doing what I love and reaping the benefits on top of it all.

Smaller than table-size, Heinz tomatoes are meaty-not juicy.
By making available something that is quite doable, I hope to ignite the fires of discovery within the community. If I can provide the proper tomatoes, with recipes, and then guide folks through the process, I think it would be a lot of fun. I will also be able to help sidestep a couple of potential disasters, as far as the process itself goes, to keep you from making the same mistakes I have made in the past.

When I prattle on about “proper tomatoes” for sauces, I mean ones that are ideal because they are a meaty tomato, with a much smaller proportion of juice, compared to the Ace variety. I used to use Ace tomatoes for sauces, but they have to spend far longer in the stockpot, cooking down, than the Heinz and that can impact the taste severely. 

In order to improve upon “fair to middling success,” with my crop this year, I tackled issues from last season one at a time, beginning with the caging of every single one of this year’s plants. Caging is a process which allows the plant to grow up within the confines of a circular wire enclosure. The main purpose is to keep the tomatoes off the ground, and the cages achieve this goal. Cages can be made out of range fence, construction wire, or any kind of wire that is able to stand up without collapsing.

A year ago I had plenty of materials in the form of construction wire and discarded range fence, but just the notion of having to construct all those cages left me paralyzed. It is one of those pesky symptoms of a mood spectrum disorder: the inability to start a big project because of the overwhelming nature of the task.

I
The tomatoes were a mess last summer...
n my delusional frame of mind, I tried something new in the form of netting, using bamboo and the occasional t-stake to support the netting. I had visions of grandeur that the tomato plants would grow so tall and full, that they would fill up the netting accordingly. 

All that happened was that the plants sprawled out over the ground like so many sun-bathing beauties at the beach. The netting was hopelessly overmatched by the weight of the plants and the whole thing was a disaster. The worst was having to harvest tomatoes from ground level. Even picking the big Ace tomatoes was not that big of a deal, but harvesting the cherry tomatoes? 

Not work for the faint of heart or weak of back.

In expanding the rows in the orchard this year, I expanded the problem because I still needed cages more than ever, and now I had raised the ante.  I did, however, have a plan of action which called for a measured approach to the challenge, one that required the work to be done over several weeks’ time. 

By paring down the job to focus on one row at a time, maybe twenty cages, I managed to avoid the bog-down of getting overwhelmed. And as soon as I had one row done, I was eager to add to that accomplishment. The end result is that all of my plants are caged and responding beyond my wildest expectation. 

I also had to decide whether or not to use the commercial cages that I still had from last year, and decided I would since the Heinz plants have never grown as big as the Ace. I am regretting that decision even as I write, because I have never grown Heinz plants as big as this year's are. This is good information, though, because it will help for next year's planning.

Another of those challenges from last year was insufficient water, early on. I supplemented them with additional water by hand, long enough to note the improvement, and then approached HeadSodBuster about my observations. He agreed that more water was needed, and even went so far as to set the timers so that water was delivered twice a day. Instead of 25 minutes of water once a day, the tomatoes were receiving 18 minutes at a time, twice a day. 

This year, so far...
It was too late to do anything about missed opportunities last summer, so I made the best of what all that I produced in the orchard. I did, however, take notes so that I could avoid the same pitfalls this year. Additionally, HeadSodBuster came through in early June, after I had planted, and upgraded my water system. This included replacing the existing half-inch line with three-quarter-inch, to better deliver more of the nectar of the gods to the emitter systems at each watering.

I upgraded the soil in April and May, by adding thirty heaping wheelbarrows of home-grown compost to it, my own special blend that I work on year-round. I also added the nutrients provided by HeadSodBuster, but did not add rice hulls this year. In the past we have added rice hulls to help break down the clay content, which helps aeration, but after several years of amending the soil with the hulls, it is infinitely more workable.

Finally, I abandoned all of last year’s efforts with gopher traps, and tried the electronic approach instead. I was initially stunned when the gophers struck within a week of installing it, hitting the two closest tomato plants to the beeping device. It was as if they were saying, “That’s what we think of your puny efforts to stop us.”

Jay working with me last year.
I lost around twenty of my 200 plants last year to the little varmints, so I was prepared to lose 18 this year out of 185 plants. So far, I have lost seven, and feel as though I am way ahead of the game. By now the plants are so big, most gophers would be overmatched, so we’ll see how it all plays out.

My cherry tomatoes are going to start ripening soon, with the Heinz not far behind. I do not expect the Ace until late August. I will keep you informed on the progress of the tomatoes, and maybe you can focus on gathering jars. You can reuse rings if they are pristinely clean (no rust) but you cannot reuse the seals. So start stocking up on all three components so that you don’t get caught staring at empty voids on shelves in August, when everyone is thinking the same thing.

HappyDay Farms is in the ‘Ville on Mondays, at the farmers’ market at Albert’s. We are also up at the Gravel Pit Market on Bell Springs Road on Thursdays. Make plans get better acquainted with making your own tomato sauces, and your winter will be that much more enjoyable in years to come.
Oh, yeah. Coming to a farmers' market near you, soon...








Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Is There A Doctor in the House?


Living on a mountain as I do, I am well aware that I am generally behind the times. That being said, at what point in time did it become normal to conduct long distance health care, as in, you don’t actually see a doctor-you, “video-conference?”

I missed the memo and therefore, the boat.

The Ukiah VA ain't fancy, but it is in Ukiah, not SF.
The last time I had been to the Ukiah VA for treatment, was sixteen months ago for my annual physical, which I have faithfully followed through on for the last fifteen years, ever since I turned fifty. You may be wondering, if the physical is annual, why sixteen months instead of twelve?

A funny thing happened when I called in March this year, to schedule my once-a-year maintenance check: I was told that my primary health care provider had saddled up, and moseyed on to greener pastures, leaving me bereft of a doctor. For some inexplicable reason, this seemed to throw a huge monkey wrench into the whole proceedings.

When I called in March I had spoken to someone I had never dealt with before named John. After he explained about Doctor Mulligan moving on, I told him I would try and cope, if he would just hook me up with another doctor so I could do my thing.

He said it wasn’t as easy as that because there were no other doctors on site that could squeeze me in. Whereas at first that might seem a personal problem for the facility, it ultimately became my personal problem. John wanted to know if I would call back at some undefined point in time in the future?

I said, “Sure thing, Bro!” and signed off, leaving matters in the hands of the gods. I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that sweet Gluten-Free Mama, checking in with me recently, asking idly why I had not yet been for my annual physical.

Busted. 

I explained about the greener pastures and the logistical SNAFU, and my sweetest of apple blossoms nodded in full comprehension of what was coming down.

“Dr. Mulligan left? That’s too bad. I really liked her. So you need a new doctor. Call them up-things are bound to have settled down by now. After all, it’s been four months.” Let’s see now: How many months in real time, is four months of army time?

In lieu of flowers, please send coffee...
I called back to the clinic and this time I talked to someone else I had never conversed with before. Her name was Ann and she was most pleasant. When it was determined that I did indeed, now have a doctor assigned to me, I asked her for the earliest possible appointment in the day, even if it meant waiting longer on the calendar than normal for this to take place. Nine o’clock was the time I was given for the 16th, which was this past Monday.

Ann had told me that my doctor’s name was Cheng and that I should arrive for my nine o’clock appointment at 8:30. I did her fifteen minutes better and rolled in at 8:15, figuring it couldn’t hurt. As it turned out, it didn’t help either. In fact at 8:55 a woman came out of the front office and announced that the computers were down, and that if we had been waiting longer than ten minutes, we should speak up.

I moseyed up to the front window, and told Ann that I had been waiting forty minutes, so could she check things out? At 9:15 I was ushered back into one of the patient examining rooms, to have my vitals taken. I chatted with the nice nurse as she recorded my temperature, pulse rate and blood pressure.

She asked if I had tele-videoed before, and I said no. What she really asked was if I had video-conferenced, but processing oral information is my reverse claim to fame-I can’t do it. The subject of the tele-video came up again, and I informed the nurse that if at all possible, I would prefer to skip the film. She looked at me blankly.

She left and I waited a few more minutes until she came back, and told me that it was time to move to the other room for the televideo. I hesitated, as in I didn’t move. “I thought I didn’t have to watch the film,” I said, at which point she asked, “What film?”

“I don’t know! You are the one who keeps talking about a video.”

“No, not a film. Video conferencing. You know, when you talk to Dr. Cheng, but she’s in San Francisco.”

That woke me up. “My doctor is not here? She’s in San Francisco?” When I received confirmation, I stated flatly, “There is no way I am talking to a television. Just take my blood and I’ll be on my way. I don’t need to see a doctor.”

The nurse looked troubled. “I’m afraid you can’t have a blood draw if you don’t see the doctor.”

“See the doctor? How am I supposed to see the doctor when she’s in San Francisco?” I had her for about the blink of an eye, before she responded, “No one can have blood drawn without a doctor’s order.”

“But this my annual physical-why do I need to see a doctor for a routine blood draw?” 

As she vacated the premises, I looked at the clock: 9:30. At 9:40 I stood up, gathered my backpack and water thermos and strolled out into the hallway, heading for the EXIT. The whole thing was crazy. I wasn’t interested in teleconferencing with anyone, and I really didn’t even care about the whole physical-I was just going along with the program. 

On cue my nurse was back, her face registering nothing as she took in my departure mode. “I was just heading out,” I began, hoping my disarming smile would smooth matters out. “I have to tell you, this talking to a television is problematic for me.” She listened sympathetically. 

I plunged on. “I know it’s not your problem, but talking to a TV is never going to happen for a guy with a mood spectrum disorder. I have decided that I don’t even care about the blood draw. My temperature, pulse and blood pressure are all good to go. That being the case I’ll just be on my way. I will come back next year.

Oh. Boy.
She seemed to come to some sort of decision, even as we stood there in the hall, and she told me to follow her. We went into the room where the nice nurse always does the blood draw. I looked at my nurse questioningly, and she motioned me into the chair and went to talk to the vampire nurse.

I recognized her from past visits, and when my gal had left, I went so far as to greet her the way I always do, “All right! I am in good hands now. Every time I have ever had blood drawn, you have done an awesome job.” 

She did her thing, I asked what was next, and she said to check out with the front window on my way out.

I’m not sure why I did not have to see a doctor, after all, but I do know this: I had only been home an hour when Ann called me and informed me that I have an appointment in twelve days with a real live doctor, at the clinic.

Not that Dr. Cheng, down in San Francisco wasn’t live-she would have been, and in color too. I just don’t think the stethoscope would have stretched that far.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

"No One Got Killed"


The premise that “good people disobey bad laws” is where I started five posts ago, and the same premise will see these chronicles to a conclusion. As hard as it is to go in this direction, I have been known to ponder the “What-if?” possibilities, had the government chosen to simply prosecute me for cultivation. 

What if there were no land-forfeiture action? Might I have sought a different route than the Pro from Dover, thus saving myself beaucoup bucks? What if I got convicted of growing 33 plants, because there was no additional incentive to delve more deeply into the case, as the land-seizure provided?

Romeo (Laurel) and Juliet (Ariel)
Off the top of my pointy little head, slides the realization, that I would not have been employed by the Laytonville Unified School District for seventeen years. Good people who have been convicted of cultivation, are not allowed to teach in California public schools. 

How many good people have been prevented from teaching because they chose to grow cannabis? How many people were growing for the benefits of the medicine, most likely for personal use, and got busted because of the jerk down the road with the big grow?

I could go on asking [rhetorical] questions all night, but for the moment, I will just wonder what it would have been like, had I not been allowed to teach? Regardless of the impact on my family, in terms of finances and insurance, what about the impact I had on the middle school?

For good and for bad, I brought a Victorian flavor with me when I rolled into town, no pun intended. The irony of me and cannabis for the first five calendar years I taught, is that I abstained. That’s 1,825 days, but who’s counting? Of course, I have no idea how many days the five years constituted.

Once I was hired in the summer of 1990 to teach in the middle school, I stopped all cannabis consumption. My fear was drug-testing, even though the district never tested me once, the whole time I taught. However, because of litigation in the Wellsprings Educational Collective conflict, I feared that the same person who brought down the little school on the mountain, would turn me in as a dirty cannabis user. 

So I stopped an adult lifetime of self-medication for five years. I did not know it was medication at the time; cannabis just made me feel good. When I was diagnosed as bipolar II, in 2012, a lot of puzzle pieces no longer had to be beaten into place. Saying “the pieces all fell into place” is always going to be a stretch for mental illness, but at least I understood my lifetime use of the gentle giant of all herbs.

I went from June of 1990, when I was hired on at the middle school, until Halloween, of 1995, when I attended the annual party at Kenu’s home, up here on the mountain, without using cannabis. Most everyone who lived in the vicinity of Kenu’s spot, looked forward to this event. On top of that, our home is within twenty minutes’ walking distance of where Kenu used to live. We walked to the party one year, before I started to teach.

I remember because our golden retriever Hazel showed up. Gluten-Free Mama and I were inside, while the three boys rock and rolled with their homies in the night air. With the bonfire raging there were plenty of folks enjoying the festivities outdoors.

One of these outdoors individuals cruised through the room where we were, asking if anyone owned a golden retriever. Apparently the bowzer was holding three kids hostage outside. GF Mama and I looked at one another, and I jumped up and staggered out to see what was up.

Hazel was “protecting” the boys, which meant she wasn’t going to allow anyone near them. Who knew Hazel could growl so menacingly? Whistling and hollering out her name, I rushed over to where the commotion was happening, and whisked our girl home, vowing to do a better job of socializing poor Hazel. 

Taking the middle school position as I did in 1990, meant that five years had passed since the helicopter had landed in the field below our house. More than four years had elapsed since the the land seizure action had been dismissed. How many people out there knew about my brush with the Law?

And would they care? 

I suppose the answer to the last question must be that they did not care. It has always been my experience that when it comes to public schools, unhappy parents are not hesitant to share their dissatisfaction. Publicly. Loudly. Insistently. In unison with other disgruntled parents.

Had there been parents out there who were concerned about my presence in the system, I can guarantee you that they would have let their feelings be known. All of the kids who were in Wellspring Collective ended up going through the middle school.

Most of them were at the benefit for GF Mama and me, and rocked out to some quality music, provided by Indiana Slim, BabyLee Goodyear, Bear and of course, Michael. There were others but their names have slipped through my colander-brain temporarily. 

Meanwhile, if you were in Paul’s and my program in the middle school, you were involved in a full-length Shakespeare production, that went two full quarters of the school year. You either acted, painted sets, or even a couple of years there, made costumes. All students were part of the play in some way; they had to be because towards the end, the production, it overflowed into the classroom.

As elementary students, these middle schoolers had already seen as many as four of these middle school productions, their teachers signing up for day performances, and taking them over as a class. We used to set up the octagon-shaped classroom as though it were a “theatre in the round.” We took out the tables and classroom chairs, and brought over chairs from the multi-purpose room. We put black plastic up on five of the eight sides of the classroom, with the other three being sets, and covered up the skylight, so that it was pitch-black inside the theater, even in broad daylight.

This put the spotlight on the lighting system, designed and put together by Jessie, a parent, back in the early days. There were four halogen lights, arranged strategically across the top of the stage, and controlled from a central panel. When all the kids were seated-and only then-the lights engineer would cut the brilliant halogen bulbs. 

There was always a gasp from the munchkins when the lights went out, already excited to see their older sibs in the play. The sudden darkness produced quite the reaction. 

As hard as it is to fathom, the students who did the lights were the ones who were most likely to struggle staying focused and on-task in school. Yet these were the very ones who always relentlessly pursued this part of the productions.

How I would try to discourage them. “You will not only have to read this play, in its original language, you will have to know it better than you do your girlfriend’s phone number. You will have to follow along every time we practice, so that you know when to do the lights, and you will have to come to four night performances.”

“We know. We know,” they would say. They always applied in pairs.

“You will have to keep up your grades which means not missing homework assignments.” That was sure to stop them.

“We know. We KNOW!”

We’re talking some of the squirmiest kids on the block, and they excelled beyond all belief, shocking teachers, parents and even their peers. They never let me down. And I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that, if they messed up during a performance, their own peers acting in the play would have killed them.

No one got killed, community packed our theater each year, and there are a whole lot of Laytonvillians out there who know a lot more about the Bard, than they are telling. 

Gluten-Free Mama made costumes every single year, both creating them from clothes bought at flea markets, and also designing and sewing countless costumes over the years. We had over two hundred costumes of all shapes and sizes, when we left teaching.

So yes, I had some influence on the middle school,and I haven’t even started to talk about diagraming sentences. I added to what Marianne Loeser already had in place, and together we made Shakespeare a legitimate part of the campus culture. 

How different would the middle school have been if I had not been on staff? What would I have ended up doing, if I didn’t teach? And how many different times can you look back and wonder, “What if?” before you decide to give it a rest. 

Good people disobey bad laws, but that does not make them bad people. With a little bit of luck, and with the services of a good lawyer, even the shadiest of characters, like this old hippie, can get a job in the school system.

After all, no one ever got thrown in gaol for reciting Shakespeare.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Community


This is the fifth of a series dealing with the War on Cannabis, of which I am a veteran. I fought the Law back in the mid-eighties and I won a battle, but it was to take more than thirty years before the war finally ended-for me.

When Uncle Sugar released me from the Big Green Machine, in October of 1973, I moved into an apartment in Covina, down in SoCal. In the nine months I lived there, I existed in a vacuum, as far as other tenants in the complex were concerned. I waved and said howdy occasionally, but I never invited anyone to have coffee with me, nor did I ever sit down with a neighbor and quaff a cold one.

Baby Lee and Indiana Slim at the benefit
I mention this because as close to one another as we lived, a wall only separating one apartment from the ones on either side, you would have thought there would be some sort of connection. I guess no one ever came up a cup of sugar short for a recipe, or needed an infusion of half-and-half for morning coffee.

I can’t say for sure if it was just a SoCal thing, or if it was the apartment-complex thing, but it still seems almost macabre to be that removed from those folks who make up your most immediate community. In contrast up here on the mountain, where one’s closest neighbor may quite possibly be a quarter-mile away, the sense of community is infinitely better established.

I think back to the early days when Gluten-Free Mama and I had only been up here a year or so, and we were visited by a good friend from San Jose. Richard came up on his BMW motorcycle and spent a couple of days, marveling at the transition we had made. 

As he got organized, bringing in from outside, the things he would need during his stay, he also brought in the keys to our car. “Hey, you probably didn’t realize you had left these in the ignition, so I brought them in for you.”

I laughed. “Actually, Richard, we leave the keys in the ignition on purpose. What if one of our neighbors needed to borrow it, and there were no keys?” He did not know if I was joking or not. “Seriously?”

“True story. We don’t worry about slicky boys. I know they exist; I know we are vulnerable in such a remote spot, but I can’t be worried about that. If I were, I would not have a back door to the house that does not lock.”

So being as remote as we are, five miles up a dirt road and off the grid, how does this community thing work? How can folks who live so far apart from others, have a better community thing going than neighbors in an apartment complex?

My parents, Pauline and Robert, and Rex.
For starters, by definition, folks who have pulled up stakes and relocated off the grid, are more independent overall than folks who are content to dwell in an apartment complex. Like so many ants or bees, all occupying individual cells, apartment dwellers have no inherent need to extend their social boundaries. They exist within their own individual worlds, and have less incentive to interact with others.

Hill folks, on the other hand, living off the grid in remote areas, have any number of reasons for connecting with neighbors. From carpooling for school, to concerns over wildfires, to shared-road expenses, to gathering for Sunday softball games, the reasons for getting to know your neighbors are numerous.

When word of our land-forfeiture misfortune got out, the response was truly overwhelming. Beginning with a benefit at Michael’s house, the outpouring of support not only came in the form of moral support, it came in the form of monetary donations. 

Bart
Even 33 years later, I can remember how generous our community was in the time of our greatest need. At the benefit Bart handed us a thousand dollars, money he had either donated himself, or rallied other community members to contribute.

We got donations from neighbor Rex, John and Beth, John and Marbry, Will and Kat, Joe and Karen, Bear and Sharon and others I have managed to let slip from my pea brain. These are community members who saw an alarming precedent being set, and they wanted to disrupt the process.

Just think of it as offering a cup of sugar, to someone who needs it in order to bake the cookies.

Finally, there was Michael, who lent me ten large, as casually as he might have tipped the waiter well, for exceptional service. We did not bother with the formality of paperwork. I was able to repay him the following summer, a mutually beneficial arrangement if ever there were one. Michael’s generosity, in letting me to work off the debt, was huge in allowing Gluten-Free Mama and I to regain some sense of normalcy, whatever that is.

If you think this is an isolated example of how community works up here on the mountain, I will tell you it is not. A number of years ago, when a friend I know wanted to pick up a 20-acre-parcel, he went to a long-standing member of our mountain community to seek help.

Slim and Bear
Without asking any questions, and with no paperwork involved, many ducats changed hands, before proceeding on to the bank, to complete the transaction. The figure is inconsequential; how much does twenty acres cost now, if you are paying it off in one lump sum? The point is, this is a level of community that defies comparison. And this is only half of the story.

The other half is that a long-time friend got wind of this whole operation, and had a conniption fit. It seems his feelings were hurt that someone other than himself was asked for the loot.
So perturbed was this dude, that he insisted the money  be returned to the original party (with an agreed-upon service charge), so that he himself, could provide the money for the land. On top of it, he was insistent that there be no discussion of interest. It seems there were other debts being settled here.


If you have never been fortunate enough to have been embraced by a community, then it may be hard to swallow the tale I have spun. On the other hand, if you have, then you know my story goes down like a shot of aged, Irish whiskey: smoothly and with a warmth that can’t be beat.

Tomorrow: That’s a wrap…








Thursday, July 12, 2018

Out of the Maze


This is the fourth of a series dealing with the War on Cannabis, of which I am a veteran. I fought the Law back in the mid-eighties and I won a battle, but it was to take more than thirty years before the war finally ended-for me.

Q: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a liar?

A: The pronunciation

Q: How are an apple and a lawyer alike?

A: They both look good hanging from a tree.

Q: How does an attorney sleep?

A: First he lies on one side, and then he lies on the other.

Q: What’s brown and looks really good on a lawyer?

A: A doberman

How can you tell when lawyer is lying?

A: His lips are moving.

There are so many lawyer jokes readily available, it’s enough to make you wonder if there isn’t some basis in fact, for the bad reputation that lawyers have. That being said, I have minimal experience with lawyers, so I have formed a different opinion: Lawyers come in all shapes and sizes, and have just as broad of a band when it comes to integrity.

When Gluten-Free Mama and I were ushered into the office of Ron Sinnoway, located up in Miranda, we had no idea what to expect. What kind of sleight of hand was our lawyer going to pull, to get us off the proverbial hook?

With the number of plants being more than reasonable, compared to most busts, we went into the meeting thinking that there must be some way we could jostle some facts around, to find the best way to take care of business. For instance, what if we just said it was for personal consumption?

So sue me; I smoke a lot of dope.

Or what if we went in and said that the plants were being grown on my land, but that they were not just mine? Say some other family members stepped up and took responsibility for some of the plants so that it did not all fall on me and GF Mama? How would that impact our case?

What if we said something completely different? Like we were growing for someone else, blah, blah, woof, woof? 

What if? What if? What if? Obviously in the couple of days that had crawled by between the raid and our meeting, we had had enough time to get our brains churned up to a royal froth. And hey, what did we know about marijuana and the law? We figured that’s why we were paying the Pro from Dover.

“Pro, do your thing!” Gosh, it sounded so simple! What happened instead, when I started off like an outboard motor without a muffler, was that Mr. Sinnoway put up his hand as if he were directing traffic, and I was about to crash head-on into a GreyHound bus.

He was smiling, so I wasn’t alarmed. “Hold on. Despite what you have seen in the movies, I must make one thing perfectly clear: Whatever you tell me came down, is what we have to work with. You can’t come in and tell me one thing, and then change your story.”

Oh. 

The air suddenly removed from my hot air balloon, I felt I were on the verge of dropping out of the sky. My face must have given me away because he went on to clarify the direction we were going. “Here’s the way it works. You can say anything you like if you preface it with ‘supposing that…’” 

He went on, “For instance, supposing that you and x number of family members got together and decided as a unit to do this thing, but the gig just happened to be on your land. We might discuss an approach, IF this were the direction we wanted to go.”

My jaws were already flapping before he once again put his hand up in the “Stop!” sign.

Mr. Sinnoway continued, “Or, if you were growing for an independent party, one who was not involved, then you would give me all the pertinent facts, et al. You see where I’m going with this? Now, if you are prepared to go into detail at this point in time, I will start taking notes. If, on the other hand, you need to get all of the facts in order, then we can have this discussion at our next consultation.”

There was plenty to get straightened out as it was, so our time was not wasted. We just needed to get our act together. The reality was that until such time as there was a trial, we did not have to sweat the story. And the more time that went by, without any sort of complaint being filed against me (the land being in my name), the more we began to realize that the government was not interested in putting me in jail.

No, it just wanted my twenty acres and my home.

For 273 days we existed. In November SmallBoy was born, and for a minute or two we forgot about what was swirling around us. We celebrated the Holidays, and life was almost normal. That spring I worked with my partner, Rob, on some kitchen cabinets and a counter, a job that was pretty innovative, but that left us financially destitute.

Somewhere in there, Mr. Sinnoway informed us that his paralegal would be out on-site, and that we should be prepared to show him around the “crime scene,” my phrase, not his. Exactly what he was looking for was not evident, but in an effort to get as clear of a picture as possible, the paralegal snapped lots of photos, took copious pages of notes, and eventually discovered the path that led us out of the maze.

Speaking of [black Arkansas] apples hanging from the tree.
The facts: We grew in several small plots in the middle of a thick manzanita grove. Since there were only 33 plants in all, there was only one spot with more than a half-dozen. In that little area were two big redwood boxes, each about three feet deep. One was triangular in shape, simply because it conformed to the lay of the land. 

Besides, if three built-up sides of redwood would hold a vast amount of dirt, why would you need four? There may have been a dozen or so plants in this area, so the boxes were substantial in size. The paralegal duly noted all that he saw.

Another fact that contributed to the background is that the lay of the land is anything but flat. Hilly, with winter waterways running always downhill, it is impossible to determine where the boundary line(s) might be.

The paralegal wanted to see it all, so after visiting the grow-site itself, located perilously close to the boundary lines, we sauntered a short distance over to my absentee neighbor's spot, to the south. Imagine the paralegal’s surprise when he was in the garden of this neighbor, and found another redwood box in the form of a triangle.

Lest you think this is some sort of bizarre coincidence, let me hasten to inform you that the same person built both boxes. I know because I was there; the absentee neighbor happened to be one of my brothers. All of this was duly noted-without comment-by the paralegal, in his yellow legal notebook.

The triangular-shaped boxes were the key to our escape from the net. Because of the close proximity of the grow-site to the boundary line, and because of the presence of the second uniquely triangular-shaped grow-box on a neighbor’s land, the lawyer requested that the land-forfeiture action be dropped.

Lemon ogre
In order to have continued the case, Attorney-General Peter Robinson would have had to send his own surveyor up to the property, in order to establish either the invalid nature of the lawyer’s claim, or the reverse. Mr. Robinson was unwilling to do so and that was the end of it.

We never had to actually have our story together; I never had to turn myself in or have my fingerprints taken and the closest anyone could come to associating me with any crime, was the article in The Ledger, the one which misspelled my name.

You can make lawyer jokes from now until forever, for all I care. I paid more than double the original value of my land to Mr. Sinnoway, and allow me to assure you, I did it with a smile.

Tomorrow: Drop a pebble in a pond…






Wednesday, July 11, 2018

CAMPed On


This is the third of a series dealing with the War on Cannabis, of which I am a veteran. I fought the Law back in the mid-eighties and I won a battle, but it was to take more than thirty years before the war finally ended-for me.

For nine months to the day, we existed in a world of hurt, crushed under the weight of the knowledge that unless the lawyer could pull off a miracle, we were going to lose our home and twenty acres of land. 273 days. Gone was the disbelief that the government would never do something so extreme, for something so inconsequential: seize our property for a paltry 33 cannabis plants.

"Reefer Madness" is having your home seized for 33 plants.
We did not consider ourselves criminals for growing cannabis. Outlaws, possibly, but no more so than putting up a cabin, without having gone through proper channels at the county level. Heart don’t stop, Mildred, but we were dwelling in sin, without building permits.

If ever there were a time when we might have felt isolated from the outside world, this would have been it. That being said, it seemed almost automatic that Gluten-Free Mama and I gravitated to Michael’s spot, taking the boys along as though it were a day like any other day.

Michael was more to me than an employer. In the fifteen months or so that I had been working for him, first on the crew that built the addition to his home, and then more on my own, we had grown close. As we first built a deck surrounding the addition, and then sided the new structure with wood shingles, we had had plenty of time to contemplate the universe.

Just mention the word, "purple," and see spirits rise.
Gentlemen farmers, was the term Micheal often used. “We’re gentlemen farmers, Markie,” he used to quip. “We work hard and we know how to live life.” I agreed with him completely, even with those pesky 40 hours, more or less, that I put in each week also being a gentleman carpenter. 

We sat around in the shade out on the deck, and hashed the matter over.

“The whole thing seems so surreal to me,” I said, “but then, I wasn’t there to experience the joy of the helicopter.”

“It was just so loud,” responded GF Mama. “BenJamIn was scared and I was trying to get over to Pauline’s, and the burrs were so bad. I’m just going to throw the socks I was wearing away.”

I couldn’t even imagine how terrified she must have been, and how hard going overland was, carrying a fifteen-month-old, and being five months along. It was to be a long time before poor BenJamIn could hear the sound of a helicopter, without having a twonky attack, as we used to refer to wig-outs. And there was little we could we do, except give him hugs and reassurance and feel bad for him. Oh, and more than a little guilty.

I admit it; I was in shock, still. “What’s next, Michael? I mean, I know we need a lawyer, and all that, but then, what’s next? What are we supposed to do?”

“There isn’t anything to be done, Markie. The fact that you weren’t there, works in your favor because they’re sure not coming back to your house. Too many busts to do that kind of followup. They’ll let you know soon enough what they want, believe me. All we can do is wait.”

“I can’t believe they’re trying to take our house. Hey, charge me with cultivation, let me do my time, and let’s move on. But seizing my land? Is nothing sacred?” 

It was a rhetorical question and it hung in the air the way the sound of the distant helicopter, still working Cow Mountain, where so many of our friends had their homes and gardens.

“And where am I going to get the loot to pay for a lawyer?” This was also intended to be a question without an expected response, but to my surprise, Micheal jumped all over it.

“Don’t be surprised, Markie, if the members of this community want to chip in and help you out. After all, we all run the same risk. If we stand by and say and do nothing, we may find ourselves in your shoes-tomorrow.”

Michael was every bit the gentleman farmer to me; he made it abundantly clear that same day, that he would back me financially every cent of the way. We could work out the minor details later, but the cash would be forthcoming directly. All we had to do was let him know how much.

“What I hope is that this whole thing doesn’t end up in The Ledger,” I remarked, alluding to the local paper run by John Weed, the precursor to the local rag out of Laytonville. All I need right now is to have the whole world know I’ve been CAMPed on.”

The reference was to the [infamous] task force, California Against Marijuana Planting, a unit consisting of numerous agencies working together to eliminate cannabis. Imagine how much of a dent in the homeless population, these agencies could have made, had they chosen a different focus for their energy.

Unfortunately, it being Monday, there was still time to insert the item-on the front page-for Wednesday’s edition of The Ledger. I took no solace in the fact that the article spelled my name with only one “L,” in O’Neill.

The Ledger told of CAMP’s role in my bust. Just the mention of that acronym was enough to make the hairs bristle on my neck. CAMP was more than just the sheriff. We were treated to incidents such as the one which took place at Davy’s spot, early one morning, when he and I were sitting at his kitchen table, sipping mugs of steaming coffee. The air suddenly began to first vibrate, and then positively churn. A noise louder than thunder, almost overcame as us we stared open-mouthed out the window. 

The land behind the house, maybe thirty or forty feet back, dropped away sharply. Now, rising out of this canyon, an alien presence of unimaginable proportions, was a helicopter. In its ascent, it paused as it got level with the house, and we stared into the eyes of the pilot who was operating this insidious threshing machine.

The pilot leered at us-at the horror in our faces and our transfixed state-and then he smiled, broadly. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, at our expense. Meanwhile, the coffee in our cups was in danger of vibrating out of their respective containers, the air rattled around so hard.

There is much palaver about domestic terrorists these days, what with the Republican Party still in power, but back in the day, we had our own brand. They were paid ten dollars an hour to traipse around the countryside and eradicate cannabis, and they derived much pleasure from their work.

Like Radar O’Reilly, we were honed into the sound of choppers in the distance. 

As we tried to get a handle on the day’s events, sitting on the deck at Michael’s, immortal words were uttered: “We’ll all laugh about this in ten years, you know.”

It’s been 33 years now. When does the laughing begin?

Tomorrow: Escaping the net




Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Price of Poker


This is the second of a series dealing with the War on Cannabis, of which I am a veteran. I fought the Law back in the mid-eighties and I won a battle, but it was to take more than thirty years before the war finally ended.

Campaign Against Marijuana Plantings, speaking of
domestic terrorist groups. 
We’ve all had rotten Mondays, but none will compare with that of July 23, 1985, the day the police helicopter came out of the sky. When the bird set down in the field below our house, about 500 feet away, Gluten-Free Mama did not wait around to find out what they were selling. Five months pregnant with SmallBoy, she picked up 15-month-old BenJamIn, grabbed almost three-year-old HeadSodBuster by the hand, and booked it up our quarter-mile-long driveway.

Knowing the helicopter was discharging a crew of invaders lent wings to her feet, but what GF Mama did not know was whether or not ground vehicles were involved. Not wanting to meet any law enforcement personnel coming down the driveway, she went two-thirds of the way up, and then cut across, overland.

She was aiming for my folks’s home, located two parcels over, maybe a fifteen-minute walk under normal conditions. There was nothing normal about this trek, with two terrified toddlers and her being five months along, not to mention the fact that she did not know how many men had landed, and where they had gone.

Er, I wasn't there, actually, but I'm reasonably certain that
this is the chopper that came out of the sky. Yes, it must be.
It goes without saying that the parents were acutely aware of what was going on, the whirlybird having landed in the field between our two homes. It was also apparent that the marauders had no interest in their spot. 

Why authorities were interested in the 33 plants in the manzanita, was not quite so apparent. Was it because they were just working the area, and we were in their path? Was it the reasonably easy access? Or could it possibly have been because there was a home on this parcel, one that made land forfeiture a distinct possibility?

In an era not that far removed from cannabis being grown in fields like corn, there were still plenty of big grows occurring. The reality was, however, that these were grows happening in the middle of nowhere, with there being no assets on-site to sweeten the pot.

Additionally, still on the front burner was the fact that a couple had been busted a short distance up Bell Springs Road the previous fall. They had had their property and home confiscated in like manner as us, for fewer than 100 plants.

We had been following the case already, and had been quite shocked to learn that the couple in question had decided just to bail out. They had only purchased the property the previous year, did not have that much invested, and took the course of least resistance. This was discouraging news in the ‘hood.

Having bought my parcel in 1975, for the ridiculous price of $8,000 ($400 per acre) I had been making payments for ten years already, with only three years to go. $67.00 per month may sound like peanuts, but twenty acres of land-with a 2,000 square-foot house, was not. There was no way I was bailing out.

Though there was no lock on the front gate, we found that it had been kicked open. We faired better with the front door of the house, because GF Mama had not bothered to lock it, and they had not kicked it in. Besides, there was no lock on the home-made, back door anyway, so why bother locking the front door?

Affixed to the post to the left of the destroyed front gate, was a land-forfeiture notice, informing us that our home and twenty acres were now the property of the federal government. We did what any normal, petrified people would do: We hired the Pro from Dover, Ron Sinnoway.

Unearthed at an archaeological dig,
studies indicate this book facilitated
communication in the old days.
We didn’t know the first thing about any local lawyers, so we went to the Yellow Pages and let our fingers do the walking. “Specializing in marijuana cases,” read Ron Sinnoway’s ad, and he was open to meeting with us immediately. 

Located up in Miranda, we opted to drive Bell Springs Road to Garberville, rather than double back down the five miles of dirt road to the highway, only to turn north again. When we arrived for an early morning [free] consultation, we actually met with Mr. Sinnoway’s partner, Ron Perlman, who had a young child on his lap the entire time. 

Rather than be put off by the presence of the child, we were comforted by her, and the meeting went well. Mr. Perlman told us up front that land seizure was a serious matter, but that he felt confident they could do the job for us. All of this was conducted in the congenial and informal of manners, including the matter of cost.

He told us up front that it was going to be an expensive proposition, because the entire matter of land seizure was relatively new, and as such, would require time. We assured him that the money would be forthcoming, and we walked out the door.

It seems the price of poker had gone up. After all, what was $17,500 anyway? Just a number, I guess, sort of like 33, the number of plants my pops and I had in the ground.