I finally got to see Murder Mountain, the Netflix docudrama miniseries about the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez and the subsequent recovery of his body by the “Alder Point 8.” The film crew was in town for most of last year putting it together, and they hired me off the street to act in it, so of course I was excited to see myself on TV.
I enjoyed Murder Mountain. I thought they did a great job, and it includes some of the best images of Southern Humboldt’s natural beauty that I’ve ever seen. The series seemed quite slow getting started. I’m sure they could have told the story in two hours, and they included quite a lot of really boring footage of cannabis farms, but they also included lot about this community and it’s history. The series paints a broad portrait of Southern Humboldt, and a cannabis industry in transition, as the backdrop for the Garrett Rodriquez story. Every picture hides much more than it shows, but I am impressed by how deeply they explored this community and how well they told the story. I thought they told it accurately, with sensitivity and more than enough context. Most of the people I watched Murder Mountain with also seemed favorably impressed.
Of course, anytime anyone writes or produces media about the ugly sordid shit that really goes on around here, the knee-jerk reaction of locals is: “How dare those ‘yellow journalist’ outsiders come here to tell sensationalized stories about the bad stuff that happens around here!” According to these people, no one, except people born and raised here, have the right to report on anything that happens here, but when you ask those truly local locals, they all tell the same story: “It’s beautiful here. The people are cool, and everything is groovy. Now mind your own business!” Whether it’s a piece of investigative journalism about human sex trafficking, an expose about environmental destruction wrought by the marijuana industry, or my opinion column, for that matter, whether or not they’ve read it or seen it, a lot of people around here will automatically tell you that it is all just “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.”
It surprised me that I didn’t hear more of that about Murder Mountain. I think a lot of people actually recognized that the producers of Murder Mountain went out of their way to get the story straight, and to present it in context. Murder Mountain sure doesn’t make us look good, but it tells the truth. Murder Mountain shows us a side of Southern Humboldt that usually remains hidden, and that no one around here wants to face, in a way that is hard to deny.
This time, it’s the Sheriff’s Department that is crying foul, and warning us about “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.” They feel they were misrepresented in Murder Mountain. They claim that the filmmakers tricked them into believing that the show was going to be about the marijuana industry, not about Garrett Rodriquez.
Sorry guys. I don’t buy it. I will admit that Murder Mountain does not make the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department look good, but it’s the fact that Garrett Rodriquez’s murderer remains at large despite the community’s heroic efforts to recover his body, that casts a pall over the HCSD, not the documentary treatment. More than anyone else, Sheriff Honsal and his deputies, who must have all signed release forms, should know that anything you say, in front of a camera, with a microphone hidden in your shirt, will be recorded and used against you in the court of public opinion. If Murder Mountain embarrasses the HCSD, it’s not because of what they said on camera, it’s because of what they failed to do when they weren’t.
We should also note, however, that the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez, or the dozens of other people who have gone missing, or been found murdered here in Humboldt County, did not prompt much public outcry, locally. We didn’t have rooms full of angry citizens demanding that the HCSD get to the bottom of this prolonged rash of cannabis industry related homicides and disappearances that happen around here all the time. We didn’t have any public meetings about that problem at all.
No, it wasn’t until a skinny kid from Fortuna shimmied underneath a locked security door and stole some bongs from a head-shop in town, that the folks of Southern Humboldt got up off their asses and filled the gymnasium of the Redway School. Those angry townsfolk didn’t complain about unsolved murders or disappearances in the hills, they complained about poor people smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and generally looking ugly in front of their businesses in town, so you can’t completely blame the Sheriff’s Department for prioritizing their resources accordingly.
Despite all of the self-delusional happy-talk we like to tell ourselves about our community and the cannabis industry, Murder Mountain offers us an honest mirror that reveals how our community looks to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty picture, but that’s not the photographer’s fault.
I love cannabis, and I love being around cannabis plants, but it only takes a few to make me happy. If I only have a few, I enjoy every minute I spend with them. Farming, even cannabis farming, amounts to a lot of tedious, backbreaking work in the hot sun. That I don’t need, but a little patch of my own suits me nicely. When you love plants, and spend time around them, they communicate with you and you build a relationship with them. I think this is especially true of cannabis. I know that a lot of people around here understand this and have cultivated a deep spiritual relationship with the cannabis plant, so this will not be news to them.
When you spend time around cannabis plants, they communicate with you. When they pop out of their shells they crawl around like babies and grab onto everything. Once they get a good grip, they stand up and become little seed-leaf toddlers, and then before long, Kapow! Cannabis plants explode with growth in their vegetative stage. You can feel that energy and vitality if you spend time around them then, and I think that amazing vibrancy and biodynamic growth inspires a lot of young growers to make a career of cannabis.
I’ve seen a lot of disaffected young people who previously showed very little interest in anything, become very excited about their cannabis crop. They build a relationship with the plant and feel the power it exudes. They see its rapid, exponential growth, feel that vigor in the air, and pretty soon they start to believe that they can “make it big” with cannabis. That’s just one way that cannabis communicates with people in general, but cannabis plants also have individual personalities, and right now I want to tell you about a cannabis plant that broke my heart.
She began as the only viable seed from the previous year’s harvest. As a seedling, she grew more vigorously all of the other store bought seeds I planted. By the time I transferred them to 6” pots, I had a few seeds I had started, a few clones, and her. She was still ahead of the rest of the class. When it came time to transplant them to big pots to grow full-term in the sunshine, she had peers, but she still stood out, so she got the largest pot in the best location.
She loved the sun and immediately got huge. By August, she had grown to about 6ft tall, but her girth swelled to 8ft across. She was enormous and beautiful and just beginning to flower. As the summer wore on, she matured spectacularly. Flowering cannabis plants are sexy. They get all sparkly, so they have a twinkle in their eye, and that sweet seductive aroma just calls out to you, and before long, it becomes overwhelming and you start to fear it will attract unwanted attention. By September she was covered with huge, heavy, stinky, sticky buds. As Fall wore on, the buds added highlights of purple and the crystals became so thick that the whole plant looked glazed, the way trees get when the rain freezes on them.
The question of when to harvest is always tricky. It is tempting to harvest early, just because it smells and looks so good, but buds get a lot heavier in those final days. However, as the buds get heavier, denser and fatter, they also get more and more likely to attract mold, so you watch your plants carefully as you countdown to harvest, and you pay close attention to the weather. An early rainstorm or the first sign of mold usually motivates me to harvest, but that year the weather cooperated, and while some other plants developed mold, she showed no sign of it. She just kept getting stickier, stinkier and heavier.
I don’t think I ever let a plant mature that completely before, but one morning, late in October I approached her and I was not at all prepared for what I saw and felt. She was crestfallen. She had given up, and the defeat destroyed her. I could see it; I could feel it. She had done everything that she could to snare some pollen. She had grown big, fast. She made millions of sparkly sticky flowers, and when that didn’t work she made millions more.
She was her mother’s only daughter. She should have had thousands of sisters, but she was the only one, and all she wanted from life was to produce millions of sons and daughters of her own. She knew she had not produced a single seed, and she was exhausted. She had done everything she could do, and she had failed. I could feel her anguish and it broke my heart. I felt awful. I cut her down, dismembered her and hung her up to dry.
She was my best plant, and her flowers grew bountiful and huge, but I felt ashamed of what I had done to her. I felt ashamed of having tortured her in that way, and it seemed an unnecessary cruelty. I felt ashamed that a relationship that I found so gleefully delightful, was so deeply unsatisfying for her. It didn’t stop me from smoking her, and she produced some of the finest cannabis flower I have ever smoked, but the taste was bitter-sweet. I’ve never felt quite the same about sinsemilla since then.
Since then, I like finding seeds in my weed, and I’d like to find more of them. Seeds tell you that your pot comes from happy plants, and each of those beans is a little bundle of cannabis happiness for you to spread around. Seedy weed is happy weed, and happy weed, makes people happy. It may not make you rich, but it will make you happy.
I still remember how much you disappointed me, Humboldt County, when you voted for Measure Z the first time around. What a ripoff that was! Schemy SoHum dope yuppies got their puppet, Estelle Fennell to craft a ballot measure that would sucker gullible NoHum liberals into voting to make Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna and McKinleyville retailers, not to mention Humboldt’s working poor, pay for forty new Sheriff’s Deputies to act as bouncers and security guards for the phony businesses in Garberville that launder their drug money. That diabolically sleazy maneuver took Chutzpah, but that’s how SoHum’s dope yuppies decided to flex their political muscle.
You fell for it hook line and sinker, Humboldt County. Do you feel safer? Are there less drugs on the street? Have they eradicated the homeless? No! We have more violent crime, more murder, and more drugs, and the housing crisis has only gotten worse since Measure Z passed, but now law enforcement has gotten hooked on this money that we never should have given them in the first place.
If I told you that the solution to your affordable housing crisis, drug epidemic and general social dysfunction was to recruit high-school seniors ranked near the middle of their class, give them firearms training, lots of weapons, bullet-proof body armor and a license to kill, and then send them out to look for trouble in your neighborhood, you’d say I was stupid and crazy, but when Estelle Fennell calls it a “public safety initiative” somehow it seems like a good idea to you. You’ve heard the old saying: “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”? Well, what do you think every problem looks like if your only tool is a gun? Remember this the next time they tell you that more cops is the solution to anything.
I saw Sheriff Honsel and DA Flemming out begging you to vote for Measure O. They can’t tell you that they’ve accomplished anything with the millions of dollars that Measure Z dumped in their laps. All they can say is that they can’t live without it. What could they say? Could they say “Without Measure O we will be able to arrest, prosecute and convict even fewer of the murderers responsible for the many unsolved homicides in Humboldt County.” Is that even possible? As far as I remember, nothin’ from nothin’ still leaves nothin.’
In reality, This sales tax, Measure Z turned Measure O, was never about “public safety.” This little trip to OZ was a vicious and regressive tax scheme designed to make the poor pay for their own brutal oppression. If you recall, Measure Z was part of a strategic offensive conducted by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to drive poor people out of the county with a campaign of violence and harassment carried out by a small army of new cops. While encouraging voters to pass Measure Z, the Board of Supervisors also passed a number of cruel, draconian, and ultimately unconstitutional county ordinances designed to criminalize poverty.
One of these ordinances prohibits sleeping in Humboldt County unless you own a home here. Another prohibits people from asking for help. Measure Z was supposed to pay extra cops to enforce these stupid, cruel and unconstitutional county laws. Since then, these laws have proven unenforceable. Instead they have attracted expensive lawsuits that challenge their constitutionality, so now we pay cops not to enforce them, while we pay lawyers to defend them in court.
I think it’s funny that Measure Z, designed by pot farmers and business retailers in SoHum, to drive poor people out of Humboldt County, will now, as Measure O, just make Humboldt County a more expensive, and even less competitive place to buy and sell cannabis, or anything else for that matter. Now Measure O will make the pot farmers and retailers poor so they can see how much they like it. What goes around comes around, and it don’t get any more round than Measure O.
Bad people voted for Measure Z because they are bad people. We have more than our share of them here in Humboldt County, but too many good people voted for Measure Z because they were stupid and gullible and got hypnotized by the words “public safety.” In the spirit of civic responsibility and selfless generosity, they voted for Measure Z, which, much to their chagrin, then unleashed a wave of government sanctioned violence against the poor in Humboldt County. Don’t fall for that bullshit again! When politicians tell you that they are doing something because of “public safety,” you should know that they intend to screw you.
Politicians don’t give a fuck about “public safety.” “Public safety” is a fig leaf that politicians use to cover up something ugly. They passed Jim Crow laws for “public safety.” They made cannabis illegal for “public safety.” Mandatory minimum sentences and Rockefeller Drug Laws were all about “public safety,” and they always use “public safety” as the reason to violate your civil rights whenever you get mad enough about something to go out and protest. In political double-speak, “public safety” really means “police state.” A vote for Measure O is a vote for endless war against the poor, and endless subsidy for SoHum dope yuppies. It’s a vote for violence, oppression and economic apartheid, not to mention, the economic ruin of Humboldt County. You can’t afford to make the same mistake twice, Humboldt County. Please vote NO on Measure O.
Recently the Southern Humboldt based true crime docudrama “Murder Mountain” debuted on the Fusion Network. I can’t wait to see it myself, but I don’t have a TV, and I don’t know anyone who gets Fusion Network. So far, all I’ve seen is the one-minute trailer, but the show looks pretty good to me. I’ve heard people around here complain that it seems “sensationalized,” but that seems to be the pat response any time anyone draws media attention to any of the unseemly things that really happen around here.
Some complain about the title of the series, but people around here have called the Rancho Sequoia subdivision “Murder Mountain” for at least as long as I’ve lived here, and we call it “Murder Mountain” because things like the disappearance and murder of Garrett Rodriquez keep happening there. The Garrett Rodriquez story really is dramatic, and I’m sure they tell it dramatically in the series, but I don’t think they exaggerate the story. They don’t have to. The truth is dramatic enough. On the contrary, I think we have, as a community, become desensitized to the crazy shit that really goes down here. We’ve learned to look the other way, or dismiss it as normal business as usual. I’m actually glad for the series because I always wondered about that case.
The information we got in the local news left me with more questions than answers. For weeks we heard pleas from Garrett Rodriquez’s family, asking the community to help them find their son. We knew they hired a private investigator and that he was talking to people in the area. Then one night, a truck drops a man off in front of the Garberville Hospital ER with multiple gunshot wounds. The wounded man claimed he was kidnapped at home by eight masked men all wearing camo fatigues who shot him and drove him to the hospital.
The next day, Garrett Rodriquez’s body was recovered. At the time, KMUD’s Terri Klementson’s report on the Local News suggested some connection between the kidnapping/shooting, and the recovery of the body, but no details emerged about how the events were related. No arrests were made and no one pressed charges. That was the last we heard about the murder of Garrett Rodriquez. Until now.
The producers of Murder Mountain really dug into this case and got the whole story from the people who were there, and the truth of the matter is even more interesting than I had imagined. I think the story reveals something of the humanity of this community, as well as the brutality of it. I won’t spoil it for you. In fact, I can’t spoil it for you because I haven’t seen it, but I did, along with a lot of other people from SoHum, get hired to act in it.
In that capacity I got to participate in the re-creation of those events, and talk to someone who was there when it happened. Acting in Murder Mountain answered all of my questions about the Garrett Rodriquez murder. I suspect that watching Murder Mountain will do the same for you, and the truth will surprise you.
I was reminded recently of a peculiar event that took place at the Mateel Community Center a couple of years ago called the “Community Values Conference.” A group of cannabis entrepreneurs wanted to use the term “SoHum Community Values” as a marketing tool to promote and distinguish their fine cannabis products. I attended to remind them that, while they still had a great concert hall, SoHum offers very little in terms of community services.
We had, and have, an extreme housing shortage in SoHum, but we have no shelter or services for people without housing. At the time, we had a rash of brutal assaults, mostly against defenseless elderly disabled men who had nowhere to go, and local social media sites dripped with hatred and vitriol aimed at our unhoused population. I wanted to see what kind of values statement the people whose kids beat a helpless old man into a coma and left him lying on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood could come up with.
Besides that, we have several homicides every year, where young people come here to work, but instead, someone kills them and buries them in the woods. Those bodies are rarely found. Arrests and convictions are much rarer still, but law enforcement continues to find egregious environmental destruction at grow sites all over SoHum. People around here don’t bat an eyelash about any of it. If not human life and the natural environment, one has to wonder, what do these people actually value?
At the event, we worked through a series of exercises where we pulled a bunch of positive sounding platitudes out of our asses and reassembled them, according to their popularity, into statements of incomprehensible happy-talk. I can’t recall any of these statements, but I do remember that they seemed quite unmemorable at the time. Still, I think I recognize what the organizers of this event hoped to highlight about their community, and why they might think it would be good for business.
I say “their” community, because of the difference between SoHum’s cannabis growers’ community, and the SoHum community at large. SoHum, as a whole, remains as alienated and fractured as any rural American community, and we’re not likely to agree on much, including values. However, one segment of our community enjoys a rare degree of acceptance and comradery. For cannabis growers, SoHum is a very special place.
In most of the country, cannabis growers tend to live very isolated lives. Because of the stiff criminal penalties for commercial cannabis cultivation, growers have to be very careful about who they allow into their lives. If you grow weed in Kansas, you might not know another grower. They don’t have highly specialized garden supply stores in Ohio, at least not in my town, and you couldn’t just drive across town to pick up a tray of rooted clones. If you grow pot almost anywhere else in the country, you do it all yourself, and you do it all alone, and the more you grow, the more isolating it becomes.
I didn’t know anyone else who grew their own weed until I started working with Mass Cann, where I met a number of other, also very isolated, growers. We compared product and talked about cannabis incessantly. It felt great to meet kindred spirits and I learned a lot about growing weed that way. When I got here, my background and interest in cannabis helped me make friends and find employment. That doesn’t really happen anywhere else, at least it didn’t back then. Here in SoHum, cannabis unites us and brings us together, and that’s a rare and powerful thing.
Over time however, this cannabis-centric culture developed it’s own character, but it also developed a mythology about itself. During the War on Drugs, it was important to portray growers sympathetically, in order to garner public support for their cause. We cultivated the myth of “mom and pop,” the original humble hippie growers, but in reality, secrecy shrouded the whole industry, and we ignored, and accepted, a lot of bad behavior in our own community. We learned to turn a blind eye and keep our mouths shut about the dark side of the industry and what happens here.
Also, people began to conflate the value of cannabis to society with the price of cannabis on the black market. People started to believe that growing cannabis didn’t just pay better than other kinds of work, but that it was worth more. In reality, the value of cannabis to society depends on it being cheap for the consumer. Paradoxically, the more cannabis costs, the less valuable it is, and the less benefit people derive from it. Of course, the quality of our cannabis here in SoHum is so legendary that no one could possible exaggerate it further, but we will continue to try. All of this tends to inflate, in our own minds, the value of what we do here.
In this way, our shared passion for cannabis, coupled with the industry’s culture of secrecy and our own need for acceptance, skewed our perception of reality. We learned to ignore what was really happening around here, and started to believe our own bullshit propaganda. We also forgot that the community of cannabis growers is not the community of SoHum, and that the community of SoHum is not society at large. We’ve lived in this bubble of unreality for a long time, because cannabis growers had real money, and anyone who wanted any of it had to suck up to them and tell them what they want to hear.
Today however, google Earth deprives growers of their secrecy while legalization slashes their income. Growers can no longer afford their own reality, and the people around them are less likely to afford it to them. The bubble of unreality is collapsing. There is certainly a value to community, and it is something to celebrate, but an insulated community can lose touch with reality, and money is the best insulation in that regard. I think it’s really tragic that cannabis culture here in SoHum has been so warped by the dynamics of the War on Drugs. You could call it the “fog of war.” The cannabis community remains reluctant to face reality here in SoHum, and because of that we will likely endure a very difficult transition to legalization.