Recently when walking in the woods above Point Arena, my pal Michael and I heard hammers banging away. We followed the sounds and came upon a clearing and a construction site. Rob, the foreman, and two Mexicans were building the visitor’s center for “Better Place Forests.” As the website for the company proclaims, “Create a family memorial surrounded by natural beauty. Spread ashes beneath a personal, permanently protected memorial tree.”
Of course, you have to buy a tree in the forest and the biggest of the trees aren’t cheap. An old redwood could set you back $36,000. A young tan oak would be a lot less. It struck me that, as the cannabis industry is dying a slow and painful death in places like Point Arena, Gualala and Manchester, a new industry is busy being born.
Call it the burial industry in its latest incarnation which the muckraking reporter, Jessica Mitford, exposed as a scam in The American Way of Death,which earned her the ire of the funeral business in the U.S.
“Find your forest,” the website for “Better Place Forests” proclaims. “Dramatic bluffs, seaside meadows, and ancient groves await.” But if you’re dead and your ashes are buried at the foot of an ancient redwood why would those bluffs and meadows matter? Mitford would have to write a new chapter in her classic.
Rob, the foreman, was born and raised on the Mendocino Coast. He put down his hammer for a few minutes and explained that many of the marijuana growers who had lost their livelihoods weren’t much good on the construction site. He had grown up with them. “They arrive at 10 a.m. and leave at 2 p.m.,” he said. “I don’t feel sorry for them. They have had a good long run.”
A bit further on, we stopped to chat with a longtime marijuana grower who had built his own house in an area he called “Mayberry LSD,” on a dirt road he referred to as “Red Tag Road.” Call the grower Foxx. And listen to his stories. “I always wanted to be legal, but now that we have legalization it has ruined the economy unless you are huge,” he said. He added, “We violated rule number one which says, ‘You never invite the man.’ Well, we invited the man.”
Foxx explained that old school growers were selling their property and getting out of Mendocino. Not Foxx. He had salted away a pile of money, paid taxes every year, he said, and made up invoices to cover himself. Once he was almost arrested while driving ten pounds of weed to Idaho. “I was gin-soaked,” he said. “But I passed all the sobriety tests they gave me, made it to Idaho and sold the load for $4,000 a pound.” Yes indeed, he had a good long run and he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself.
Foxx looked back at his own past and observed, “I thought we were going to change the world. Now, the Trump people are on a mission from God to get rid of everything progressive.”
In Point Area, my pal Michael and I heard a lot of griping at the Sign of the Whale where the bartender said, “There’s no more money to launder.” He added, “We lost the restaurant, Uneda, because there’s no cash economy anymore.” A barfly who had had way too much to drink waved his arms about and shouted, “They killed all the mom and pop operations. I hate all the supervisors.” He said he was now working in construction but wanted to go back to what he really loved: growing weed.
At the air conditioned library in Cloverdale, I went online and did additional research on “Better Place Forests.” There I was told I could “Lock in 50% discounted pricing,” and that “We offer payment plans as low as $50 a month.” When I called Foxx and gave him the information, he wasn't interested, nor was my pal Michael. Jessica Mitford would have signed up if only to find out the real story about “Better Place Forests.” I might borrow a chapter from her book, Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking, and do what she would have done. But don’t expect me to spend $36,000 for a redwood tree where my ashes might be buried. Too bad marijuana plants aren’t perennials. If they were I’d want to be buried under the biggest pot plant in the woods.
(Jonah Raskin is the author of MarijuanaLand: Dispatches from an American War.)