It seems mostly like a dream to me now, the Emerald Triangle, even after so many vital years of my life spent there. When the Lookout first started getting read by people in other cities and states, I would often be accused of making up stories. The day-to-day goings-on of Laytonville and Garberville and Boonville and Eureka seemed fanciful enough, and the Wild West-like adventures of Spy Rock and Salmon Creek read like transmissions from another time or dimension. It was all real, of course, and there was so much more that I missed or forgot or thought it best to ignore, but it's mostly memories now, memories so strange and ghost-like that I find myself dragging out old photographs and magazines and keepsakes to assure myself that they really happened. Much of what goes on in the Emerald Triangle is invisible to the casual observer, even more so to the occasional visitor. A few shabby excuses for towns strung like dusty gewgaws along the sinuous curves of Highway 101, a sudden plunge into a redwood cathedral that punctuates the miles of clearcuts baking in the midsummer sun, some time-warp tie-dye hippies crossing paths with rednecks who wouldn't look out of place in North Alabama, beat-up old trucks and sleek SUVs that reek of marijuana dollars, and most people zoom through here in an afternoon and don't even notice that much.
Unless you know someone up there, there's no point in heading off onto the back roads. At certain times of the year, it would be very foolish to do so. You could drive for miles over bone-jarring tracks that masquerade as roads, and never see anything beyond clouds of dust and the occasional anonymous driveway. What goes on behind the impermeable curtain of manzanita and madrone and oak and Doug fir, you can only imagine, and you probably wouldn't even come close.
There are scenes of unbelievable squalor and unspeakable luxury, whole families living in windowless trailers and single potentates ensconced in redwood palaces. There are hardscrabble, hard luck Dogpatches and verdant oases where cool water splashes over polished stones beneath trees that were already old when America was being born.
And you can always go down to the sea, to the toytowns of Mendocino and Ferndale, to the sometimes brutally real towns of Fort Bragg and Eureka, to the staggering, almost frightening rock cliffs that look like eternity itself and yet every winter crumble to bits like so much papier maché. You can watch the fog and the rain roll in from a thousand miles away and swallow up the lights of Arcata and Trinidad and Point Arena until nothing is left but a dull golden glow to suggest that real human lives are unfolding and unreeling and unraveling somewhere within the murk and gloom.
You could write poems about it, songs about it, you could stand on a mountaintop high above it and cry your eyes out over the majesty and horror of it all, and still you wouldn't be able to put your finger on just what it is that makes this land a place apart from all others. I spent ten full years, and parts of many other years in the midst of it, and barely scratched the surface.