Into the Emerald Triangle

Travels with OC potrepreneur B. Lucky to California's marijuana breadbasket

*    *    *

In the midst of a vast forest 20 miles farther north, Lucky steers around a steep curve, the river 200 feet below a cliff to our right. He's blowing pot smoke out the driver's-side window as we careen around the bend, pushing 70 mph. A police cruiser is parked on the opposite side of the freeway. Lucky lifts his foot off the accelerator slightly, puts the bong back in the holder and keeps driving. Thirty seconds later, he screeches to a halt in the gravel on the side of the road.

"Man, I have to wake up," Lucky says, yawning, and suddenly, it's apparent we're not being pulled over.

Let there be more light
Nick Schou
Let there be more light
Key word: Drugs
Nick Schou
Key word: Drugs

Lucky sprints back and forth on the roadside until he feels alert, and we continue north. We pass a hardware store that has a dozen or so trailer-mounted generators parked out front, all of which are going to power greenhouses. The rain, which had cleared up a few hours earlier, begins to fall again. In a forlorn parking lot on the other side of the freeway, a drenched hippie sits on a stool, hawking large Bob Marley and Hello Kitty blankets.

Soon, redwoods with trunks large enough to drive through are towering on either side of the road, blocking out the sun. Farther along, dingy trailers, overgrown with weeds, stand guard over small, tent-covered marijuana plots just yards from the freeway. As we climb uphill into the mountains, the trees become thinner, replaced with typically golden California grassland. A large, red barn crowns one of the hilltops. There's a late-model Ferrari parked next to a satellite dish and an array of radio antennas.

After zigzagging up and down the backside of a steep mountain, we reach a fern-covered ravine that narrows at a wooden bridge crossing a shallow creek. Waiting for us at the gate is Dave, a recently divorced horticulturalist from New Jersey who jumped at the opportunity to earn a handsome salary living on a pot farm. As is his ritual, Dave is ending the day the same way he started it: taking his two powerfully built Dobermans on a walk around the property.

Dave shuts the gate behind us and follows us up to the main house, which, along with the property and the greenhouses, is owned by one of Lucky's best friends, a pot smuggler from San Francisco named Anton. Like Lucky, he has spent most of the past two decades moving untold tons of weed to the East Coast. Besides smoking pot all day in massive joints rolled from the excess trim from last year's harvest, Anton's job is to cook meals and make sure the fridge is packed and the house is running tight.

At dawn every morning, Dave walks his two dogs and waters the plants. He spends most of the rest of his day tending to individual plants, ensuring each one is healthy. By the time they're ready for trimming, the number of workers on this farm more than quadruples with hourly workers, and the population of the Emerald Triangle itself explodes with an army of trimmers that spends weeks manicuring marijuana branches into ounce after ounce of shelf-ready buds. Until then, it's just Anton, Dave and Anton's brother Zach, who's permitted to leave the house only once a week to play golf. He practices his swing each evening by smashing balls into a large tree at the edge of the clearing.

"I've been here since March," Zach says. "It's a great spot, a great way to get out of the rat race, I guess." He also enjoys kayaking down the river in his free time, but there's never much of that to go around and even less once the summer growing season starts.

"It's beautiful up here," Zach says. "A beautiful prison."

*    *    *

The chain saws shred the morning silence shortly after breakfast, followed by the sound of the generator powering the wood chipper parked near the cabin by the river. For the next several hours, everyone on the property, with the exception of Dave, grabs fallen tree branches and tosses them in the chipper, which creates mounds of mulch on the edge of the clearing. The work stops when the drizzling rain, which began midmorning, turns to a downpour. It resumes after lunch, when the sun pokes through the clouds and once again burns off the mist.

Although it's messy, difficult work, everyone's stomach is stuffed, and nobody complains. Last year's crew was another matter entirely, Lucky recalls.

"Some of those guys were just a bunch of fucking whiners," he says. This place is five-star. I mean, look at the house—it's got showers, it's got cable, it's got wireless. What more do you need? A lot of people working up here are lucky to be living in tents all summer and shooting food out in the forest to survive. That crew didn't realize how lucky they had it. Now, they're calling back, trying to get jobs for this summer and being told they aren't needed."

According to Lucky, it takes two to three experienced trimmers all day to trim just 4 pounds of marijuana. That's why, at harvest time, the Emerald Triangle is swollen with hippie kids from all over the country eager to cash in on the hourly wages, knowing full well they'll get to smoke marijuana the entire time and, if they work hard, end up with a nice bonus, like an ounce or so of weed.

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