Monthly Archives: September 2011

It’s different up here.

It’s different up here.

By Mikal Jakubal

Times have changed, no doubt. Last week, a member of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and a sheriff’s sergeant testified in a Santa Rosa courtroom on behalf of two men charged with transporting pot through Sonoma County. The defendants are employees of Northstone Organics, a permitted medical marijuana collective in Mendocino County. Yes, you heard that right: the sergeant testified for the defendants. These two men were stopped on two consecutive days in what was a clear case of intentional surveillance. It’s unclear why Sonoma County law enforcement would prioritize intercepting an operation that is merely passing through Sonoma County en route to its Bay Area delivery route, nor why they’d intentionally provoke neighboring Mendocino County, throwing down a de facto challenge to the validity of Mendo’s medical pot permitting ordinance.

"Purple Diesel"—a little something to spice up an otherwise all-text post.

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Weekend marijuana weather forecast: Broken branches with a chance of mold.

Weekend marijuana weather forecast: Broken branches with a chance of mold.

There are such things a aviation weather reports for pilots, nautical weather reports for sailors and so on, so why not a special weather product tailored to the pot industry? The KMUD daily weather reports already include the exact length, down to the minute, of daylight—an important factor in when pot goes into flower.  Special mold, wind and rain alerts could be issued, along with regular data on daylength, temperatures, humidity and so on.

That would require some drastic changes in federal marijuana policy, given that NOAA  is federally-funded. In the meantime, you don’t have to be a shaman or clairvoyant to read about the rain predicted for this weekend. Blame global warming or chem trails or a HAARP conspiracy or chalk it up to “shit happens,” but it looks like we’re in for another crop-thrashing early rain. Most pot on the Northcoast is nearing harvest, with buds swelling in the warm fall days. Early strains have already been cut, dried and trimmed, while the later-finishing varieties are two to six weeks out. For those, there is enough water-retaining bud on most plants to over-tax branches. We had a similar situation last August. At that time, flower clusters were much less developed, but the rain still shattered unsupported plants.

Well-prepared growers have their plants well-staked or caged or netted already, but many will be scrambling to tie things up before Saturday night’s predicted rain. It doesn’t matter if it is only a couple tenths-of-an-inch; the bud will hold the water in its tight flower-cluster structure until the branches give way. It doesn’t help that the rain is predicted for the middle of the night. If it were daytime, growers might go out and hand-shake buds during the day, only staking any that threatened to snap.

Add to this the threat of Botrytis mold and powdery mildew from all the extra moisture and it’s going to be another stressful harvest for some people. I like to mention these problems to counter the notion that pot growers don’t have to work, don’t have any risk of crop loss and thereby are somehow greedy and lazy. No one will deny that it is the highest-paying agricultural work you’ll ever do, but it’s also easy to lose an entire year’s work and investment virtually overnight to mold, ripoffs, “hermaphrodism,” bag mold or law enforcement confiscation if you’re operating in the black market and get busted. Unlike soybean or apple farmers, there is no crop insurance for weed.


Fire one up.

Fire one up.

Donated tub of pot trimming supplies at volunteer fire department auction

As I’ve probably mentioned already, I’ve been on the Briceland Volunteer Fire Department for over 10 years now. (My first day of EMT training was September 11, 2001, in fact.) Yesterday evening, during our regularly-scheduled bi-monthly training meeting, the discussion about fighting fire in the urban-wildland interface was momentarily disrupted as everyone turned to watch out the open station doors as a pickup truck full of marijuana plants drove westward down Briceland Road. I had my camera, but it all happened too fast to get a shot. After a few seconds of snickers and admissions of “I’ve done that,” by a few members, we continued on with the evening’s training.

Speaking of the fire department and pot, we recently had our annual 9/11 fundraising party at the Beginnings Octagon in Briceland. Beginnings is where this community has many of its smaller, more intimate gigs. Folk singers, small benefits, marriages, memorials and so on fill the space nearly every weekend.

Among the fundraising activities was a silent raffle and among the items donated by local businesses was a set of pot trimming supplies. Included were two clip lights, a hanging dry-rack, Fiskar’s floral snippers, a locally-made herbal hand cleaner for removing hash from fingers, a box of plastic contractor bags and a couple other things I can’t quite identify in the photo. I’m sure there must’ve been a box of turkey bags in there somewhere. If you don’t live here, looking at the contents of the bin in the photo might be a bit baffling. It would be a good subject for a guessing game along the lines of that ’70s game show “What’s My Line?” Here, it’s a standard kit and it would take two seconds for anyone to name what you did for a living.

The pot culture and economy pervades and shapes every activity here. It seems redundant and self-evident to even say that. It’s just what we do.

Ever since and forevermore

By Mikal Jakubal

This post from two weeks ago was about a woman in Redway who has been feeding ravens and now claims someone is poisoning them. Her solution is a bit, um, wacky, to say the least.

The post generated a few comments, one of which I’ll excerpt below because it got me thinking about our relationship with those birds.  The comment excerpts:

By providing (ravens) with an artificial food supply she encourages them to congregate in unnaturally high numbers…. In the best interest of these wild creatures we can help keep them wild by not feeding them and keeping garbage and compost secured in tightly covered cans and bins.

True on the one hand, regarding ravens being wild animals. And true also about securing trash from other wild animals. On the other hand, ravens can also be thought of as one of our commensal species—in the literal sense of the term, “sharing table” or “sharing food”—who have cohabitated with humans for countless millennia. They thrive in our disturbance, eat our leftovers and provide us amusement through their antics. Sharing food with ravens, whether out of hand or incidentally when they raid our dumps, continues an inter-species bond stretching back into evolutionary eternity. Ranging throughout the holarctic, they figure significantly in mythologies as diverse as Native American, Christian, Scandinavian and North African. The human/raven bonding through shared food is ancient and deep. It is no accident that many of us feel compelled to feed them.

It is likely that ravens migrated to North America over the Bering land bridge about the same time as humans. It would not be at all surprising if we came here together, since following our camps would be a natural behavior for ravens. (Ah, a bit of searching turns up the fact that there are two different groups of ravens, one that has lived on the West Coast for 2 million years and the other that came over the Bering land bridge contemporaneously with us.)

I think we all too often fall into unnecessarily rigid or overly-generalized rules of behavior with regard to animals. If, in a given place and time, there is a specific reason to not feed ravens, then we should not do it. But, in general, we are co-adapted and get along quite fine. While they can live on their own, they’re quite happy and healthy living with us and sharing our table as well. Given the duration and durability of our bonding over food, it is not really accurate to say that feeding them constitutes an “artificial food supply.” In fact, eating our toss-offs is quite the natural thing for them to do.

Should this woman or anyone feed them in Redway? Meh, I dunno. Ravens were here eating our food when the Native people were the only human inhabitants. They were here when the European settlers moved in and they’ll be here in a thousand years, no matter who is or isn’t here.

Labor Day in Whale Gulch

Labor Day in Whale Gulch

By Mikal Jakubal

Whale Gulch Labor Day party at Four Corners.


One of my main documentary peeps lives in the Whale Gulch community, possibly the most remote region of the SoHum area, straddling the Humboldt/Mendocino County lines on the ridge above the ocean. You get there via a winding, one-and-a-half-lane mostly-paved road with blind corners and no shoulder. Deer and other wildlife, falling trees, landslides, boulders, mud, flooding, fog, rain, pot holes and vehicles driving on your side of the road are normal hazards. Though located in Mendocino County, people from “The Gulch” use Garberville, in SoHum as their town. When they go to town.

You probably won’t find yourself in this unlikely somewhere unless you go looking for it. The only indication you’ll have that a “there” exists will be the bulletin board at Four Corners and the Whale Gulch school, which you’ll pass a bit farther on. You’ll know you’re almost there when you see the sign on the treacherously-slim, serpentine, one-lane road with steep drop-offs that warns “Road Narrows.”

There is no green sign welcoming you to Whale Gulch, no store, no gas station, no post office or zip code, no rows of houses, no street lights or stop signs. And yet a vibrant community three-generations old lives all around, in homesteads intentionally out of sight, tucked into the comfort and insulation that this remoteness provides. This land is steep and rugged; the forests, dark and often foggy; the dirt roads snaking into the hills, unmarked and muddy or dusty, depending on the season. Large fences obscure the lives of those who live within eyeshot of the road. You may see the occasional helmetless, unlicensed ATV rider out on the road, going somewhere with an air of purpose. Slow down to let them pass or use turnouts when you can, because they will be going faster than you.

Like most of these hermit-ish hill communities, it is rare to see more than a handful of people out together in public at any one time. It takes an emergency, a funeral or a big party to bring people together. While disasters and funerals are ad hoc affairs, each place has its regularly-scheduled parties and gatherings. Elk Ridge has Sunday potluck/music/volleyball games during dry weather. Ettersburg has Sunday softball games. Salmon Creek has a famous Halloween party. Other places have similar weekly, monthly or annual events, often held as fundraisers for their neighborhood hill schools or fire departments. Especially at harvest, pot is the most common topic of conversation, followed by the weather and gossip.

After the Whale Gulch community center building burned down ten years ago, the intersection informally known as Four Corners has become the community gathering spot when they need a large, open area for events in this otherwise steep and forested landscape. The annual Labor Day picnic and barbecue is held as a fundraiser for the Whale Gulch Volunteer Fire Department, one of many such “bake-sale fire departments” that provide the first response in remote areas like The Gulch.

While Four Corners is an official Mendocino County road, the event goes on without a permit. Traffic can still pass slowly through, once the kids with their chalk and toys, the dogs and the random clusters of chatting people with plates of potluck food lazily clear the way. This event is emblematic of the community spirit that pervades much of SoHum, despite the isolation. It gives it it’s unique “placeness.” Food is mostly potluck—and good! In addition, there is a huge table of deserts and a barbecue churning out heaping pans of chicken that I could smell a quarter mile down the road as I approached. The donation jar was stuffed with cash—though mostly $20s, not the $100s you might have seen ten years ago. They made the intersection into a community center for the weekend like they owned the place.

Which, in a certain sense, they do. There is virtually no law here. The Mendocino County Sheriff would have to drive an hour and a half from the nearest small town in Northern Mendocino to get here. There is no County Roads crew here on Saturday and they wouldn’t care in any event. The Highway Patrol only comes here when called to a real emergency, especially on a busy holiday weekend. So, the road belongs to the people.

In sixteen years, this was my first time at this event. I came partly out of curiosity and partly out of hope to shoot my doc participant at just this sort of community event. While I’m formally done with principal photography, I’ve realized that I still need some pickup shots of participants being involved in grass-roots community events. I ended up not being able to shoot today, but did have some great food and caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while. I’m usually not much of a meat eater, but smelling that chicken for a quarter of a mile, I couldn’t resist. By the time I was leaving at dusk, some musicians were talking about where to set up. I was told the party will go into the night. In the morning, everyone will come back and there will be a big breakfast and more events throughout the day. And then it will all be packed up till next year. If I hadn’t already committed to working on the film at home tomorrow, I’d get up and go back. Maybe I still will.


Along the road from Four Corners to Whale Gulch, not far from the “Road Narrows” sign, a small, brushed-out clearing in the trees affords a zen glimpse of the ocean from the high ridge you’re on. Not a gaping picture window or an observation tower with a 360-degree view, but a narrow slot, more like a rifle port. Enough for a passing glimpse. The ocean, like the community, is always there, behind the trees and hills, visible only when the brush is occasionally cleared.

I see my film very much like this little clearing. It will be a sliver-thin window into a rich and complex world. My intention is not to try and bring you up to the bell tower to see the city spread before you like a map, nor is it to expose anything or to remove the mystery. If anything, you should come away with a deepened sense of mystery, or maybe awe, at this place. You will realize that there is no map to see. Hopefully you’ll also let go of every misguided stereotype you ever heard of about the Humboldt community and pot growing and come to understand why people feel so much is at stake.