Red, White, Blue—and Green

Reflections of an independent young man

He doesn’t want me to use his real name. His employers might be unhappy to read about his adventures in the marijuana world, though he knows that weed is as American as cherry pie. Let’s call him “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” or JLS.

What makes his story compelling to me is that he hated the cannabis culture that surrounded him all through his boyhood. Born in 1987, he has lived and worked, most recently as a landscaper, in Sonoma County. For much of that time he didn’t smoke pot, though his dad, who was a big-time grower, would leave pot, rolling papers and joints on the kitchen table for JLS to use at his leisure. Most teens would be in heaven. Not JLS. But enough from me.

Here’s JLS himself:

“My childhood smelled like pot. My dad grew bushy plants 10 to 12 feet tall. My decision not to use weed was a form of rebellion. I was a kind of plant: happy eating pizza and playing dungeons and dragons. It wasn’t until my dad moved away from Sonoma that I began to smoke. That was in my 20s. By then, I was greatly overweight. Marijuana helped me lose many pounds and get healthy, though recently my use has slowed. I no longer have to be stoned to enjoy a hike. I’ve always had a deeply ingrained work ethic. My European ancestors were peasants and farmers. Like them, and like my father, I have a green thumb. My birthday present when I was five was a shovel.”

Eighteen years later, JLS still uses a shovel to dig holes and plant trees on big estates. He drives a tractor, removes weeds from gardens and spends most of his days outdoors in the sun, the wind and the rain.

What he would like now more than anything else would be to own property in Sonoma County, but he can’t afford it. He’s critical of the fact that grapes are nearly everywhere, that agriculture here is dependent on one crop and that diversity in the fields is largely a thing of the past.

“When people ask me what I would like,” JLS says, “I tell them, ‘To live here 60 years ago when land was affordable and you could farm and make a living.’”

Meanwhile, he keeps his thumbs green, makes landscapes beautiful and earns enough money to pay the rent and buy food. Hey, he’s not in paradise, but it’s not too shabby a life, either. Happy Fourth of July, guy.

Jonah Raskin is the author of “Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.”
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