This story was written by Jo from @ozma.autonomy
This story is in some ways a very sad but ultimately a beautiful one and I hope you will soon understand why. With the legalization of marijuana on its way, there are many great things happening. And I very much believe in the fluidity of mankind however the black market that the Triangle once ran on is now in danger and too many of us existing in this bubble believe it is the last tie to the old world. Every last one of the guerilla growers, old timers, and hippies that moved out to those hills did it to “throw away their papers and build them a home”. We sought out this world to live like real humans again and we did it with exhilaration. Running from the feds is a sure shot way to get your heart pumping but living in the thick of the woods with mountain lions and wild boar is an even better way to feel alive.
The heyday of this world is on its last thread, I caught the tail end of a 40 plus year era to say the least. My first year there were parties- parties for birthdays, parties to end trim scenes, and of course the largest hill Halloween parties I’ve ever laid eyes on. Oh, scenes, this is what we call our work teams. Scenes on the medium ranches average out at about 15-20 folk and I’ve seen scenes that have had up to 75 people, which is absolute chaos. Living in tents and cars with no phone service and rainy season, oh it makes for a messy party. There was a lot of chaotic fun in previous times because we were all making money, in abundance, perhaps even in excess. Those who lived on the fringes could come out there and for once they had choices. Get some cash and blow it doing what they always do or focus on working and pave their way for a better time. There is luster that drew all of us in and for some it was never really about the money, it was about all the experiences that revolved around the mentality that dwelled there. We are outlaws.
The story of how I found myself transplanted from east to west coast is a lengthy one so I’ll give you a short version: I’m from a small town in PA, I moved to NYC when I was still young and naive. I found myself getting mixed into a whole mess of fun and strange adventures there. For a period of time, I became a dominatrix. This was the first time in my life I was able to make a comfortable income without stressing where my money was being spent, I invested in my jewelry tools at the time and it brought me to where I am today. Although that shortly backfired as this line of work was much more work than a lifestyle for me it ultimately drained my sanity. Fast forward and I meet my now ex, this person lived in a van on the west coast mostly in Northern California. We met when I drove across country with a group of friends and began a long distance relationship that ultimately moved me west and restarting my life. There they introduced me to the wonderful world of Island Mountain. A primarily off grid cannabis community, dispersed among the King and North Coast Mountain ranges, very closely intertwined with some cattle ranches.
I prefer to look at this person as a metaphor for all the unstable and wild things I once experienced in my time out west. They may have introduced me to a lifestyle that will always have a huge part of my heart but in this wild west there is much to be said of the characters that dwell in those hills, myself included. Many of us being outcasts, outlaws, hillbillies, artists, international travelers, and those who think outside of “the box.” Those of who refuse to conform to societal norms and even some that don’t know how.
The particular area I began working in is called Island Mountain. There’s a road that scoops up from the 101 in Mendocino County and drops back out on the other side in Humboldt County. Half that road is gravel and dirt, drive up it 45 minutes and there is another dirt road that forks off, from there you drive another 30 minutes and you will find yourself nested in all three counties; Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity- The Emerald Triangle. There lies an old Dodge van with a triangle painted on its side, it has been there for sometime rusting away, getting shot at, and now remains on a property owned by a notorious group of growers.
The area just north of there, Alder Point is referred to as murder mountain. Its name stuck thanks to the mischief that the tweaker ranches perpetuate, the annual burned up vehicles on the side of the road, missing people, and of course the deaths- however the name stemmed from a dark history of the land. Outstretched in that mountain range lies Spy Rock, Blue mountain, Jewett Point, and other landmarks that carry native history. The second last house on one of those deep rooted dirt roads rests what I was told was the old sheriff’s office where they brutally executed Native American People that were uprooted from Covelo, or Round Valley. Yes, it’s another story of the plight of the indigenous people and it’s truly a horrific one. Yet, there is beauty in their history as from what I understand many of their stories are still carried by word of mouth in the region. In some areas you can spot arrowheads along driveways and wooded paths. So far I have only found one that was complete, they used a stone called chert to carve the arrowheads and the land is rich in the material. I adorned it in a cuff bracelet which I keep with me everywhere. I keep it to remind me of the tragic past of those who had to suffer, of the authorities that came to harm the indigenous and the ones that followed to cut crops and ruin more lives.
The hills and valleys run deep there, so deep that a friend once told me about a 70 foot waterfall down a ravine which we were standing above when he spoke about it. He said he hadn’t seen it in at least 15 years and I wouldn’t be surprised if no other humans have either. Mostly because you can’t just casually hike those mountains. Land is either owned by pot farmers or cattle ranchers, and either of those parties won’t hesitate to shoot unwarranted company. Among that the land is vast, full of wildlife, rampant with wild boars, mountain lions, rattle snakes, scorpions, and more. This gives me some hope that much of it will lay untouched by humans.
There’s still a simplicity that resides in that world and I have full faith that those who desire it will always know where and how to find it. Most of the scenes I’ve worked on I was isolated for weeks at a time with no phone service and a small group of people. When you’re in a bubble so small surrounded by nature, living in structures that were once people’s homes, one might be able to focus in on the details. Things like a rusted wind chime that was hung up and never got taken down because it’s so remote things don’t come in and out of those places easily. Or vehicles that break down and never get towed away because what’s the point when no one is there telling you what you to do? It can just sit there to rust and someone like me will come to call it a memory.
It’s grounding to be so isolated you find beauty in the most mundane things. For these reasons I found it suitable to escape the outside world and delve into the cannabis one. I’m sad that the old times are changing, I’m sad to leave, and even though the changing tides are here to benefit the environment I’m still sad that the taxation is destroying the lives of people who once found a way to escape. The beautiful things that some sought out are now under attack, the OG growers and free spirited are being chased away. Trust me when I say I know there are many ignorant people that reside in the old cannabis industry, there are bad people with disregard for their environment everywhere. I’m not upset about the womanizers and violent people of that hill getting pushed out, however I’m disgusted with how the government has systematically shuffled all sorts of people around since the beginning and continues to negatively affect those with good intentions especially that of the natives who truly belong to this land. I don’t want to get into this too deeply because it’s a discussion that is lengthy and deserves more space but if you’ve ever purchased weed from a small dealer (dime bags, eighths, ounces) how the heck do you think it got there? A lot of inner city youth and often people of color were and are still targeted and charged for crimes related to weed. Between the urban youth just trying to make ends meet there are people shipping and driving that product, the brokers, the people managing the scenes (trim moms & their trimmers), the growers who get targeted federally, and long before that are the people who were pushed out of their land and onto reservations. Legalization eases that up for many people but it also steals the thunder from the ones who once fought tooth and claw to grow and distribute this plant. Really, think about the people who are now benefiting from legalization and the ones who were in it from the start might still be serving time. Oregon farmers are typically middle class white dudes who made it to the top. It’s rare to meet a farm owner that has a darker skin color and this is something I believe we should put some thought into.
I can say this with confidence as I am a friend and employee of a farm who has done things on the books, in the open, and paid so much money to get permits yet the law found it suitable to come in and cut their crops and point guns at a new mother holding her babies. It’s the price that some pay for freedom. All that cruel behavior aside I still come back to the faith that those who care will find ways to keep going in a thoughtful manner. It’s certainly a rocky road in the cannabis industry and all the stories I have up my sleeve confirm that many of the people who float in and out of it are lost or just having way too much fun. The people who are still thriving to stay are the ones who are holding onto a sustainable life because they love it. In this world I’ve been a drifter and needing stability is the reason I purchased my camper. Being a creative and designer/owner of a jewelry company, I need a way to escape the virtual world as much as possible yet make an income that supports my endeavors. So, I sought out work in the marijuana industry and found myself calling the heart of the Emerald Triangle home for the last few years.
Living in the modern world can often be tiring. Well, at least that’s how I feel. Living in one place for too long, viewing the world through a screen, and not being able to reach the tangible are all fears of mine. Ironically enough this screen may be the only way for me to reach you. Although I am the type of person to lock myself away for extended periods of time, I also desire the extreme of socializing. It truly feels like much of humanity has lost touch with being able to do things in person. We have a number of apps on our smartphones that literally reduce, if not end face to face communication. At times it makes some of us incapable of being able to have genuine connections when we do encounter real interactions.
Going about life in this manner is completely tiring, in a different kind of way. More often than not, this is not rewarding to me. It feels as if my accomplishments through transactions and interactions on a screen aren’t quite real. Tangibility is a driving force in my life, although I believe in the astral version of ourselves very much, I do love to exist in my physical form and aim to be present as much as possible. So, making something out of physical material, collaborating with others, and fixing things on my own time are all things that I deem rewarding. Even if I am exhausted after doing so, the whole damn experience is what’s truly worth it.
As a trimmer, who are people that can come to a hill with virtually nothing and leave with so much. Trimmers don’t have to invest a lot. It could range anywhere from a cheap Costco tent and a pack of clothes to living in a set up camper as I do. Trimmers get fed on scenes, often times there were people cooking for them, sometimes scenes even had dj’s. When things ran smoothly the trim mom might pop in and bring you snacks or beers to keep you motivated, maybe even a bump of cocaine. Trimmers get grid locked often without phone service for weeks at time which when working which means they don’t need to spend money if they aren’t going anywhere, are fed, and ‘housed’. All you had to do when the money was good was dedicate a month or two of your life and you were free to roam the rest. Year after year trimmers came back with bells and whistles ready to converse with all their globe trotting friends to plan their next venture. Because of how much money everyone was able to pull in and although most lived in the thick of the woods with off grid power and a cold shower, they were able to live a fairly plush life; eating healthy, gorgeous views, psychedelics and drugs at their fingertips, excess cash money to spend after leaving… it was what lured many in because out in the rest of the world people struggled to make ends meet. Those hills grew bizarre and incredible fairy tales for all of us. It gave us a whole different kind of freedom. With this sense of freedom diminishing in the changing tides it has debilitated some of those who once thrived in their individuality and their seat of their pants attitude.
Not only was this line of work lucrative for someone who functions like me (an off beat- sometimes unstable-fleeting for a new adventure kind of human) but it also seemed like one of the only options for myself to make a comfortable income in a short period of time. Of course I know that art is necessary and the fun I chose to have are valid and healthy, however I know that this country makes it insanely difficult for many of us to live comfortably in this economy. The person I am and the knowledge I believe in allowed me to dive in and ride out this curious journey.
Now that the dust is settling I had to figure out a way to transition back into the rest of society. So resting inside of my rig is a tiny home and a mobile studio for my jewelry. Among all the chaos I’ve enjoyed through the cannabis culture I still had one thing on my mind and that was to always be creating jewelry and art. I had to keep my craft moving through that world without losing sight of it yet, I had to be in that world to support my craft. I found the ideal way of having the best of both, of many worlds. Although I don’t spend all my time in Humboldt county like I used to I still take trips with my rig, Abbey, and I can always pack up OZMA (autonomy) to ramble where I desire on four wheels. It’s my stability when I feel the fleeting tendencies I’ve had. I’m coming down from all the running and staying put but I will never give up the desire to explore new places because of having once lived such a freedom driven life.
Although making loads of money in short periods of time might be appealing to some folks, there is a whole other luster to this life that only few will be able to experience. Photos of these mountains will never do it the justice of being able to stand on a hilltop in the middle of the night with the entirety of the Milky Way visible and the scent of hundreds of thousands of marijuana plants growing across miles of dusty dirt roads. There is an energy to these places, rich with native history that I hope will never escape the destruction that humanity imposes by building unsustainable structures on and trashing it with excessive waste.
Those dusty remote roads, strangest of strange people, and all the adventures those four wheels took me on will forever be foundational to my creative endeavors. Those mountains are inspiring to say the least. My creativity relies on freedom, my freedom inspires the process, and the process returns a story which are the things I create and present as OZMA (autonomy). I hope we all learn to do the things we love consciously, with passion, and good intent. I hope we all sit down and respect the history of what brought us and our possessions to be where they are now. Those twenty dollar dime bags that were getting hustled on the streets of Chicago by young black men who are now being wrongfully punished by a racist system… it all came with a heavy price from beginning to end. So please, be conscious of the process and where your role is on this green earth, have respect, and have fun! “Go easy, step lightly, stay free”