Mythbusting the “Back to the Land” Movement
The time has come to set the record straight about one of the most pervasive myths about Humboldt County. I knew I had to take on this subject when I read Kieth Easthouse’s coverage of the recent “Environmental Cannabis Forum” held at the Mateel Community Center recently. At the forum, Tony Silvaggio, an HSU professor with the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, sited, as a factor in the increasing environmental degradation associated with marijuana cultivation…
“The children of the back-to-the landers who first started growing pot in Humboldt’s backcountry tend to be more materialistic and consumer-oriented – and less concerned about the environment than their parents.”
Yeah, blame it on the kids. Surely, those idealistic “back to the landers” with their tiny, hand built eco-sensitive scrap-wood cabins and their 20 year-old trucks, who grow just enough marijuana each year to pay their property taxes, support their favorite environmental and social justice organizations and maybe, if it’s a good year, put some new tires on their old truck, couldn’t be responsible for destroying our watersheds, could they? No, that kind of “back to the lander” has nothing at all to do with the environmental damage wrought by the marijuana industry, mainly because that kind of “back to the lander” doesn’t exist in Humboldt County. At least I’ve never met one. That kind of “back to the lander” is a mythological beast, like leprechauns, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
You might think of a “back to the lander” as someone who abandoned the exploding plastic inevitable of American consumerism, for a simple life close to nature, but “back to the lander” means something entirely different in Humboldt County. The reason we call Humboldt’s dope-yuppy Baby Boomers “back to the landers” is because of what they do. They grow marijuana, sell it, use the money to buy stuff, and then they haul that stuff, back to the land.
From what I’ve seen, I’m sure a Humboldt edition of the reality TV show Hoarders would shock most American consumers. I’ve seen some really ridiculous stuff in people’s yards around here, like airplanes without wings,
…speedboats without engines,
…Italian sports cars overgrown with poison oak,
and a seven-foot-tall fiberglass caricature or a dachshund’s head that once festooned the facade of a long defunct fast food franchise.
I know where there is a padlocked, windowless building, way out in the sticks, packed to the rafters with antique pinball machines that don’t work, celebrity look-alike dolls, still in their original packaging, boxes full of fake vomit and rubber dog poop and 15 cases of 30 year old Harley-Davidson brand wine coolers.
Once, while digging in a garden in Humboldt County, my shovel hit something hard. I dug it out, brushed it off, and found myself holding a black statuette of a bird, that I immediately recognized as The Maltese Falcon from the old Humphrey Bogart movie. I kid you not, I dug up The Maltese Fucking Falcon in a Humboldt County garden.
Do you remember The Maltese Falcon? The Maltese Falcon is a movie about an object, so immeasurably valuable in itself, that people willingly sacrifice their lives in order to possess it, only to discover it worthless as it crumbles to pieces in their hands.
Finding The Maltese Falcon, chipped and scratched, in a Humboldt County grow scene seemed appropriate, even perfect for the culture I encountered here. I had no interest in keeping it. I asked my landlord, a gray-haired boomer, of course, about it. Of course, it was his. He told me it was expensive, and that he bought four of them. He told me how much he loved The Maltese Falcon and how inspiring he found the idea of owning an object of immeasurable value. Again, I kid you not. That is a true “back to the lander”.
I know another “back to the lander” who has at least 20 aquariums, no fish in any of them, but if he finds an aquarium at a good price, or one of unusual shape or size, he will immediately buy it. I know a “back to the land” woman who has at least 50 ornate glass and brass overhead electric lighting fixtures strewn about her land even though her house has no electricity. There are barns, sheds, outbuildings and trailers stuffed to the gills with books, records, clothing, stereo equipment, musical instruments, dishes, pottery, art, antiques, and memorabilia of all kinds, scattered all over Humboldt County, “back to the land” Baby Boomers responsible for all of it.
Do you ever wonder what happened to all of the bowling balls and pins from all of the bowling alleys that went out of business in the last 20 years? I’ve seen piles of them, big piles of bowling balls and bowling pins, deep in the woods, on a rural parcel in Humboldt County. Don’t ask me why.
And don’t get me started on the rolling stock. If it has wheels and an engine, some “back to the lander” collects them. They don’t fix them, or restore them, or even try to keep rats from taking up residency in them or forest duff from burying them, but they do collect them. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, go-carts, quads, scooters, vans, Rvs, buses, ambulances, Zambonis, hearses, street-sweepers, cherry-pickers, rock-hoppers, forklifts, bulldozers, backhoes, jeeps, amphibious landing craft, armored personnel carriers, and railroad locomotives, you name it, and some “back to the lander’ bought one, dragged it out into the woods and then lost interest in it.
I’ve offered to help some of these people clean their junk up and get it out of the forest, in exchange for allowing me to stay on their property while I did it. They all looked at me like I just offered to help them dispose of a sack of solid gold Krugerrands. They tell me how rare and valuable all of their stuff is, and how much money they paid for it. Then they tell me how much money they want for it, and how much more money I would have to pay every month for the privilege of living in their junkyard. So, mostly, they live alone on 40, 80 or 160 acres, while they bury themselves in, rapidly deteriorating, consumer-grade junk.
The Baby Boomers are the most materialistic generation in the history of humanity, and Humboldt’s “back to the lander” Baby Boomers are the most insanely, and I mean pathologically, dysfunctionally, psychotically, coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs, insanely materialistic Baby Boomers I have ever met. I find it really hard to imagine how their kids could possibly top them.
True, the children of the “back to the landers” do like their pickup trucks, which cruise conspicuously all over town, but I think the younger generation gets a bad rap, because a lot of them would like to own land themselves. In order to do that, they have to buy it from those “back to the landers”. The “back to the landers” have a formula for determing the value of their land. First, they multiply the price they paid for the land originally, by 10 or 15. Then they add up how much they think all of the crap they’ve dragged onto it, would be worth, if there were anyone on Earth stupid enough to buy it. They then double that number, and add it to the asking price.
So, while the “back to the land” Baby Boomers were able to buy land for $20,000-$30,000, and sold the marijuana they grew on it for $3,000-$4,000 a pound, their kids are buying land for $300,000-$5000,000 and selling their pot for $1,000-$2,000 a pound and spending $10 for every 100 pounds of “back to the lander” crap they haul to the transfer station. Yes, the younger generation may be responsible for a lot of enormous water-sucking, forest-clearing mega-grows, because they really need the money, but as far as the materialism goes, their parents, Humboldt’s “back to the land” Baby Boomers still reign supreme.