“At the start, I was a guerrilla grower because I didn’t have land of my own,” he said. “I grew it in a creek bed in direct sunlight; I had to walk a mile or so to get to the site. I pumped water out of the creek and visited the garden every three to four days. I made enough money my first season to move out of my dad’s house, rent my own place and buy a car.”
One day in August, Pancake picked me up at my house and we drove together for about two hours to reach his garden, 1,600 feet above sea level, and also above the highest level of fog that rolled in from the Pacific. Before we left my place, I had shown him my pot, but Pancake was unimpressed. True enough, it wasn’t exactly commercial-grade.
Pancake and his brother were growing on a 40-acre parcel that their father owned. When I arrived, I noticed the American flag at the gate and another flag with the words “Don’t tread on me.” Pancake explained: “We’re libertarians—we believe in states’ rights. We want the federal government off our land and out of our lives.”
For protection, they had a few guns, but they mostly relied on two ferocious watchdogs, Nightshade and Mugwort. The dogs never took a liking to me, and I did not mess with them.
All around the hills and valleys, their neighbors were growing marijuana; the two brothers knew about these nearby gardens because they routinely scanned the landscape with binoculars and the gardens popped up—especially at the end of the season, when they were the only green around. “I was relieved to know my neighbors were growing,” Pancake told me. “That meant they had their own and weren’t going to poach my plants.”
Outlaw grape growers existed side by side with the pot growers in these parts. The grape growers did not bother with permits from the county and did not follow county rules and regulations; it was too expensive. Even if the grape growers were caught and fined, it would be less expensive than paying the necessary fees for the vineyards. In addition to marijuana, Pancake and Rye grew vegetables and fruits: tomatoes, basil, pumpkins, apples, blueberries, grapes and corn. They had a grove of olive trees for olive oil. They installed solar panels for electricity and pumped water from a spring down the hill to a large tank uphill; gravity then delivered that water to their plants. Self-sufficiency was their goal, and they were getting there quickly thanks to marijuana. Before long, their enterprise would be sustainable.
Their garden wasn’t out in the open, and it was nowhere near as obvious as some others I’d seen. It was located on a steep slope with southern exposure, and it received bright sun in the afternoon late in the season, when it counted. The plants, grown from seeds, were grouped together so thickly that I felt like I was in a jungle whenever I walked through them. In my 30 years in the pot scene, I had never seen so many plants packed together in one place. As the season wore on, Pancake and Rye thinned out their jungle; the 10-foot plants spread out, filled out and shot up toward the sky with thick, beautiful colas.
During the harvest at Pancake and Rye’s farm, we listened to the soundtrack of a compelling documentary called Grass. Narrated by Woody Harrelson, it covered the history of cannabis and was being broadcast on KPFA, the listener-sponsored radio station in Berkeley. Suddenly, the voice of Fiorello LaGuardia, the legendary New York City mayor from the ’30s and ’40s, filled the room in which we were manicuring.
“The people of the United States do not want it enforced,” he said. “It,” of course, was the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that LaGuardia opposed, much as he opposed Harry Anslinger and the rest of pot prohibition’s fakery. After Grass, KPFA ran a program about John Lennon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his birth, with lots of Lennon’s music.
We smoked homemade hash from a water pipe, and I was really stoned once again. I manicured merrily and listened to the trimmers tell stories about marijuana raids, thieves who were caught, and enforcers who returned stolen pot to fai__ mers.
I asked Nomo, one of the trimmers, whether he had voted for or against legalization. “I like the way things are,” he replied. “I don’t want marijuana to become corporate, and I don’t want to be part of any fucking system for the regulation of marijuana. I want pot to be taxfree, government-free, with free access to information, free seeds and freedom for drug offenders. Even if it were to pass in California, Uncle Sam would still knock on doors, arrest us