By Nancy Brier
Lauren and I toss down our bikes, shade our eyes with flat hands. “This is a good spot,” she says, and we start to pick.
“You get the high ones, I get the low ones, right Mom?” She squats, scanning thorny branches for clumps of purple.
Blackberry juice trickles down my arm, sticky and sweet. Lauren, crouched on the pavement, looks up at me, and laughs, her lips already stained, her bucket empty. “Put some of those berries in your pail,” I chide, “or we’ll never have enough for pie.”
Summer is in its final glory, the sun still warm but not too hot. Pear pickers drop skinny ladders in nearby orchards, the last of the soft fruits to be harvested. But there’s another crop ready to pick too, the crop that keeps me up at night, its fragrance hanging in the air wet and pungent.
My husband and I moved here from the Bay Area as soon as we learned I was pregnant. Entrepreneurs, the two of us worked all the time in those days building businesses and transforming worn out properties into beautiful living spaces. We liked our life but knew it would be impossible to maintain with a baby in tow.
One day, he found a walnut orchard on the internet. “How hard could it be?” he asked.
We sold our business and moved to a town we had never heard of in a place far away from city life.
Lake County has the largest natural lake in California, the cleanest air in the nation, spectacular mountains and small towns untouched by consumerism. We bought the orchard and a run down farmhouse with space to spread out.
Our walnuts flourished, but within a few years, that other crop did too.
Within the past several years, people have flocked to Lake County from all over the country to grow pot, and the cleanest air in the nation started to smell.
“I think you have a skunk problem,” a visitor said to me tentatively while he was visiting our home. I had to explain that the skunk he smelled was pot.
When I did a Google search, I counted 47 outdoor pot grows in backyards that surround our home. More cultivation takes place in doors. In fact, PG&E, our energy provider, said that Lake County uses three times as much electricity as an average community this size.
Growers come here because the climate is perfect for cultivating their crop. A patchwork of local, state, and federal laws ensures that pot will be a lucrative commodity for years to come. And law enforcement in this rural, mountainous area is stretched, a guarantee that only a fraction of rule breakers will get caught.
Some people think of pot as a victimless crime. But living here has taught me that it comes with guns, dangerous dogs, other drugs and lots of cash.
A mile from our home, a young man was shot dead on a Christmas morning, one pot farmer robbing another. Emergency vehicles raced past our house, and my husband and I exchanged glances as our little girl and her elderly grandmother, thankfully unaware, opened gifts by the tree.
Ten miles away in the other direction, a teenage girl was imprisoned in a small box at a pot farm. And on the other side of our county, a woman was killed in a car crash as deputies sped to the site of a grow.
Pot has made our little community dangerous. When teenagers ride their horses down Main Street to get cokes at the corner store, I marvel at the old fashioned charm all around me. But when I see other teenagers with vacant stares and marijuana leaves emblazoned on their tee shirts, I see a different picture.
The most dangerous time is during harvest, when that valuable cash crop is poised to be turned into cash.
Home invaders broke into our neighbor’s house but found a frightened, elderly woman. They had the wrong address; the pot they sought was across the street.
Are we next?
Lauren and I plunked berries into our buckets, talked about the kind of crust we’ll make for our pie. “Let’s grind up chocolate cookies,” Lauren suggests, “or make a criss-cross pattern with short bread.”
I smiled, but my eyes were trained on the slats in the wood fence that divided our berry patch from a field. Tell tale bright green jagged leaves shined brilliantly in the waning sunlight.
I hadn’t realized that our berries were a fence board’s width away from a pot field.
“I think we have enough now,” I said, walking toward our bikes.
We pedaled home and set our buckets down on beautiful new countertops. Pink sunlight streamed in from perfectly placed skylights, and my favorite color palate surrounded us in our spacious refurbished kitchen.
Lauren and I decided to go with a cobbler, buttery and delicious, the last thing we baked in that fabulous oven.
Nancy Brier lives with her husband and daughter. They recently relocated to Palm Desert, California where they are restoring their new desert home. Find her at: www.NancyBrier.com