There was an era, once, when you could strike out into the countryside in the fall without much more than a bindle full of clothes and find the means to pay your own way. Little farms all over the country needed help harvesting, and you could go help out in exchange for a hot meal, a place to sleep in the hayloft, and maybe a few dollars. I haven’t done the research to find out how easy it actually was for the old-time hoboes to find a place to do that, but however easy or hard it was to find a farm to work on then, I guarantee it’s harder now. Engineers have created a machine for practically every crop there is. Hoboes have been mechanized nearly out of existence. People who might have worked their ways around the country if it were a different time now hang out downtown and ask for spare change.
But there is still one crop that needs itinerant work. Up here in the Trinity Alps of northern California, wanderers of every description and from all over the world coalesce on a few small towns, thronging the coffee shops and bars and sidewalks, all to try to help with the harvest. This is the Emerald Triangle, where weed reigns.
It’s estimated that California produces five million pounds of marijuana per year, stuff that makes its way all over the country. And all of it, before it goes to whoever’s going to smoke it, has to get trimmed.
Weed, freshly cut from the plant and hung to dry for a week, is an unruly mass of tiny leaves mixed with hairy flowers and twigs and stems. Your discerning stoner only wants the pure buds; everything else just makes the smoke harsher and more dilute. And this is where the modern-day hobo comes in. They find a grower, ride out into the boondocks to their farm, and sit at a table in front of a tray full of buds, from morning into night, breaking each one down into the optimal size and trimming it into a nice handsome shape. A decent trimmer will go through an entire pound of buds in a day, a really good trimmer two.
People come through here to make their entire savings for traveling for the next year. You can come out of the Emerald Triangle with thousands of dollars.
But that’s not as easy as it once was. And that’s because pot is winning. It’s getting legalized all over the country, state by state—and as a result, people are pouring in to buy land wherever a decent crop can be grown. Land prices in the mountains of southern Oregon and northern California, and the mountains of Colorado, have shot up tenfold or more. The market is flooded. And the growers can’t get what they used to for their crop. That pound that a trimmer trims in a day would once fetch up to $5,000, but these days it might only get to $800. If you’re well enough connected you can probably still find $2,000 or even $3,000, but the game has changed and it’s much more difficult. So growers can’t pay their trimmers the $200 a pound you could once find. Now it might be half, and they’d pay even less if they could find any trimmers who would work for that kind of peanuts.
Even so, Misty and I have come through to do it. We’d been traveling off of my savings, but as I kept an eye on my account, I noticed that we couldn’t do that forever. We’re starting to work on making this trip pay its own way.
Some people come to this area with connections, with a job already lined up. We had none. So we joined the drifters. Once we got to the approximate right area of California, we basically just hitched around at random, and asked each person who picked us up where they thought we might find work. Which is how we ended up in a tiny town, enfolded by mountains on all sides, with autumn oaks turning vivid yellows and oranges, and crowds of drifters everywhere. We were lucky: some people hang around the area for a month or more looking for work, but once we got to a town that felt right (which, admittedly, took several days to find), we got hired within a day. We woke up, went to the coffee shop, struck up a conversation with someone outside the entrance, found out they were a grower, then found out they didn’t have any work, but their friend, who had just come out of the coffee shop while we were talking, did need a couple people, and thought they might take a chance on us.
And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last couple weeks here: a bit of trimming, a bit of odd jobs. Our grower is a very nice person who cooks amazing meals for us. We sleep camped out under a canopy on a hill with an amazing view of the valley around.
You may be unsurprised to know that I’m being very moderate with my consumption of the crop (“Sparing, some might say,” as Misty puts it). I’ve never been much of a toker; it mostly just makes me fall asleep. But hey, it’s legalized in this state, and you won’t find it any fresher, so I’ve been enjoying a little of it. But I’m really here for the work, not for the weed.
We’re not sure how much longer we’ll stay here. It’s a beautiful October here, but the thing is, you would barely know it, because we trim inside, and only see the sun during breaks. We also go a little nuts sitting down all day long, and can feel carpal tunnel setting in from scissor-handing all the time. We’ll probably keep on adventuring further down the road within a couple weeks.
Speaking of breaks, we’re on a rare half-day because our grower’s gone to a different town for the evening, and I’m eager to seize the daylight while it’s here. So I’m going to wrap it up here and go on a walk with Misty.