All posts by Shepherd Bliss

How Falling Down Can Lead to Waking Up: Learning From Loss and Pain

The organic Kokopelli Farm has been my home, as well as my main work, identity, and love, for the last two-dozen years. Then I fell into a badger hole in the ground, covered by grass, on Jan. 15 this year. I crawled painfully uphill back into the house, as if I were a baby. This unwelcome anniversary will remain in my now 73-year old body and memory.

The fall plunged me into deep reflections, followed by life-changing behavior. “You must change your life” is a poetry line from Rilke that kept emerging as I spent hours each day in bed, no longer able to provide “the farmer’s shadow” with daily walks on the land, so essential to good farming.

Growing up is not always easy, even for elders like myself, closer to my death date than my birth date. Maturing can be sparked by a sudden, unexpected incident, like falling. What to do, other than feel sorry for one’s self? How can one turn an apparent loss into a learning experience and gain knowledge from it for one’s self and others?

I began by lightening my load. I decided to give away hundreds of books, DVDs, records, furniture, luggage, dog things, etc., which I had been collecting for decades.

“I call that ‘essentializing,’ commented Alexandra Hart of Transition Sebastopol’s monthly Elders Salon, which has been happening since 2010. “Aging makes one slower, so it means simplifying and seems to require letting go of stuff.”

“We’ve noticed in the Elders Salon that loss almost inevitably brings some kind of gain,” Hart added.

I’ve appreciated the smiles of friends and strangers as they load up books and other things, taking them on a journey into their lives and homes. I’m even asked to autograph some of the 24 books to which I have contributed, reminding me that I can at least still write, even though my body has been diminished. I can still grab a pen, which is how this old-fashioned writer starts every article or book chapter, only using the computer for revisions.

The fall, though deeply painful into my vulnerable knee and neck, became a blessing in disguise. Many friends brought me chicken soup, other food, and helped lessen my isolation. I listened to their stories of having fallen, being sick, and experiencing excruciating pain. I now appreciate even more living in the small town of Sebastopol with its caring community.

LOSS, IDENTITY, FUNCTION, AND CONTROL

“Loss can be conceptualized along three intersecting axes: loss of control, loss of identity, and loss of relationships,” writes Dr. Barbara Sourkes in her book The Deepening Shade: Psychological Aspects of Life-Threatening Illness.

My identity as a farmer has considerable importance to me. I farm most days of the year. After my fall, I have been unable to farm for weeks—such a loss. Among my losses have been many basic body functions and control. I have also had to change my self-image and body-image. Being more dependent on others than usual has been a stretch. I’ve had identities other than as a farmer, especially as teacher and writer.

I’m used to having a good, solid bowel movement every morning, on schedule, which I looked forward to. Yet for two weeks after my fall I had no bowel movements and lost 15 pounds, which is 10% of my weight. What a relief when I began gaining weight and had my first bowel movements, though they came out mainly as liquid.

“When I’m physically drained, I often don’t feel like talking,” a client told Dr. Sourkes. As an introvert, though also a public person, I sometimes feel the same. Some friends have worn me down by their needs to talk, talk, talk. “I’m all talked out,” I say at times, which can make me feel like the bad guy.

My fall dramatically changed my self-image and body-image. I now consider myself temporarily (hopefully) disabled.  I notice others with canes and am more cautions with my movements, which have been limited. As my friend David Goff writes, “Falling is scary.”

FRIENDS TELL THEIR STORIES

Instead of hiding my fears, I have been sharing them with friends, some of whom report their own stories. “You strike a familiar chord of vulnerability that we all face, especially in our later years,” observed body-worker Jeff Rooney. “I work with many people now older than I and a big theme is falling and fear of falling. People know from observing others that falling is often a step away from dying. A hip breaks and before you know it, the person is gone.”

Being in bed alone for hours can be boring, oh so boring. Add some pain and it can be even worse, with sleep being difficult. At times I have felt distant and even absent from this now-broken body.

“With my long illness I have had to reevaluate what I can do, which is tied to who I am,” writes my friend Janus Matthes. “Passing along our worldly goods is a positive action as we round third base.”

“I chose to embrace and not fight age and what goes with aging–less energy, more simplicity, enjoy what things truly feed my soul,” she added. “We are such a youth culture in this country. As I age, I realize we all have our day in the sun and hope the youthful generations take full advantage of their time on this most amazing planet.

“Reflecting on my upcoming April hip replacement and the 3 surgeries I’ve had in the past 4 years has put me through many changes and changed the way I look at life, see myself and look at the world,” said my neighbor Robert Teller. “It has taken me on many journeys, altered my life style, challenged my spiritual core and offered me an inner peace that I have not known before.”

One date stands out in my recovery: Jan. 27, which was my most painful day. I’ve never contemplated taking my life, except on that day. That extreme pain, accompanied by crying and screaming, educated me about why some people commit suicide. Fortunately, I had a strong painkiller. I took it reluctantly and was finally able to sleep. Blessed Be!

One means of taking some control of one’s life as a person feels loosing it because of sickness or something else is to do what I am doing here—write it down.

So what have I been learning from my fall and the subsequent shut-in? Now I know, in my body, that one day it’s going to all be over and now I am a step closer to death. I’ve been here before, in my mind, but now I feel it in my soul and in the core of who I am.

Humans are so “fragile,” my brother Steve Bliss recently reminded me about we two-footeds. I am actually now three-footed, since I walk with a cane, to stabilize myself, but that should eventually change. “Tomorrow’s a new day,” my brother reminded me, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote.

This learning experience is still evolving. So where do I go from here? I’m not sure. I feel suspended between the no-longer and the not-yet.

Or as the elder Doug von Koss recently quoted a Sufi saying, “We have three days to live, and two of them are gone.”

 

How Falling Down Can Lead to Waking Up: Learning From Loss and Pain

The organic Kokopelli Farm has been my home, as well as my main work, identity, and love, for the last two-dozen years. Then I fell into a badger hole in the ground, covered by grass, on Jan. 15 this year. I crawled painfully uphill back into the house, as if I were a baby. This unwelcome anniversary will remain in my now 73-year old body and memory.

The fall plunged me into deep reflections, followed by life-changing behavior. “You must change your life” is a poetry line from Rilke that kept emerging as I spent hours each day in bed, no longer able to provide “the farmer’s shadow” with daily walks on the land, so essential to good farming.

Growing up is not always easy, even for elders like myself, closer to my death date than my birth date. Maturing can be sparked by a sudden, unexpected incident, like falling. What to do, other than feel sorry for one’s self? How can one turn an apparent loss into a learning experience and gain knowledge from it for one’s self and others?

I began by lightening my load. I decided to give away hundreds of books, DVDs, records, furniture, luggage, dog things, etc., which I had been collecting for decades.

“I call that ‘essentializing,’ commented Alexandra Hart of Transition Sebastopol’s monthly Elders Salon, which has been happening since 2010. “Aging makes one slower, so it means simplifying and seems to require letting go of stuff.”

“We’ve noticed in the Elders Salon that loss almost inevitably brings some kind of gain,” Hart added.

I’ve appreciated the smiles of friends and strangers as they load up books and other things, taking them on a journey into their lives and homes. I’m even asked to autograph some of the 24 books to which I have contributed, reminding me that I can at least still write, even though my body has been diminished. I can still grab a pen, which is how this old-fashioned writer starts every article or book chapter, only using the computer for revisions.

The fall, though deeply painful into my vulnerable knee and neck, became a blessing in disguise. Many friends brought me chicken soup, other food, and helped lessen my isolation. I listened to their stories of having fallen, being sick, and experiencing excruciating pain. I now appreciate even more living in the small town of Sebastopol with its caring community.

LOSS, IDENTITY, FUNCTION, AND CONTROL

“Loss can be conceptualized along three intersecting axes: loss of control, loss of identity, and loss of relationships,” writes Dr. Barbara Sourkes in her book The Deepening Shade: Psychological Aspects of Life-Threatening Illness.

My identity as a farmer has considerable importance to me. I farm most days of the year. After my fall, I have been unable to farm for weeks—such a loss. Among my losses have been many basic body functions and control. I have also had to change my self-image and body-image. Being more dependent on others than usual has been a stretch. I’ve had identities other than as a farmer, especially as teacher and writer.

I’m used to having a good, solid bowel movement every morning, on schedule, which I looked forward to. Yet for two weeks after my fall I had no bowel movements and lost 15 pounds, which is 10% of my weight. What a relief when I began gaining weight and had my first bowel movements, though they came out mainly as liquid.

“When I’m physically drained, I often don’t feel like talking,” a client told Dr. Sourkes. As an introvert, though also a public person, I sometimes feel the same. Some friends have worn me down by their needs to talk, talk, talk. “I’m all talked out,” I say at times, which can make me feel like the bad guy.

My fall dramatically changed my self-image and body-image. I now consider myself temporarily (hopefully) disabled.  I notice others with canes and am more cautions with my movements, which have been limited. As my friend David Goff writes, “Falling is scary.”

FRIENDS TELL THEIR STORIES

Instead of hiding my fears, I have been sharing them with friends, some of whom report their own stories. “You strike a familiar chord of vulnerability that we all face, especially in our later years,” observed body-worker Jeff Rooney. “I work with many people now older than I and a big theme is falling and fear of falling. People know from observing others that falling is often a step away from dying. A hip breaks and before you know it, the person is gone.”

Being in bed alone for hours can be boring, oh so boring. Add some pain and it can be even worse, with sleep being difficult. At times I have felt distant and even absent from this now-broken body.

“With my long illness I have had to reevaluate what I can do, which is tied to who I am,” writes my friend Janus Matthes. “Passing along our worldly goods is a positive action as we round third base.”

“I chose to embrace and not fight age and what goes with aging–less energy, more simplicity, enjoy what things truly feed my soul,” she added. “We are such a youth culture in this country. As I age, I realize we all have our day in the sun and hope the youthful generations take full advantage of their time on this most amazing planet.

“Reflecting on my upcoming April hip replacement and the 3 surgeries I’ve had in the past 4 years has put me through many changes and changed the way I look at life, see myself and look at the world,” said my neighbor Robert Teller. “It has taken me on many journeys, altered my life style, challenged my spiritual core and offered me an inner peace that I have not known before.”

One date stands out in my recovery: Jan. 27, which was my most painful day. I’ve never contemplated taking my life, except on that day. That extreme pain, accompanied by crying and screaming, educated me about why some people commit suicide. Fortunately, I had a strong painkiller. I took it reluctantly and was finally able to sleep. Blessed Be!

One means of taking some control of one’s life as a person feels loosing it because of sickness or something else is to do what I am doing here—write it down.

So what have I been learning from my fall and the subsequent shut-in? Now I know, in my body, that one day it’s going to all be over and now I am a step closer to death. I’ve been here before, in my mind, but now I feel it in my soul and in the core of who I am.

Humans are so “fragile,” my brother Steve Bliss recently reminded me about we two-footeds. I am actually now three-footed, since I walk with a cane, to stabilize myself, but that should eventually change. “Tomorrow’s a new day,” my brother reminded me, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote.

This learning experience is still evolving. So where do I go from here? I’m not sure. I feel suspended between the no-longer and the not-yet.

Or as the elder Doug von Koss recently quoted a Sufi saying, “We have three days to live, and two of them are gone.”

 

What Happens at a Death Café?

Putting the words “death” and “café” together may seem unusual. In the United States, many of us ignore our own pending, inevitable mortality. Many Americans do not accept that they will surely die, much less talk openly about it with others, especially strangers. On the other hand going to one’s favorite café is something that many enjoy. Being in a café setting talking about death may not seem inviting, yet it can be invigorating.

Death Cafes began in Europe. More than 5,400 monthly Death Cafes now exist in over 52 countries. Initiated in 2010 by John Underwood in London, they began in Sonoma County, California, soon after that, with various facilitators over time.

Adults of all ages are invited to sit around tables, share snacks and tea. They talk about their experiences, hopes, and fears at Death Cafes around the world. The basic idea is to create a comfortable, informal, and respectful environment, where people can talk openly and candidly.

Tess Lorraine has been facilitating them monthly since 2014 in Santa Rosa and began offering them in Sebastopol this January on the third Friday of each month, 3:30 to 5 p.m., at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center. They are open to all adults. The Santa Rosa gatherings happen at the Fountaingrove Lodge on Saturday afternoons.

“Increasingly, as we age, conversations happen regarding degenerative and life-threatening diagnoses,” said Lorraine. “The cost of denial is that we lose the opportunities for the wisdom, growth, and healing that can occur when we share authentically. Our death is our final frontier and our lasting legacy.”

In a Sonoma Death Café monthly newsletter Lorraine published the following Ancient Celtic Wisdom poem:

Be a full bucket, drawn up the dark way of the well.
Something lifts you up into the light
and shows you your wings.
A full cup is set before you.
You taste only sacredness.

According to the deathcafe.com website, “At a Death Cafe people gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Our objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’…There is no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action.”

“A Death Cafe is a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session,” the website continues.

Death Cafés are not a place to proselytize, seeking to convert others to one’s beliefs about death and dying. It is a place to tell and honor one’s stories, as well as to hear different perspectives.

Death Cafes offer a structure and format that encourage conversation. Laughter is not unusual, especially as people get to know each other and feel comfortable enough to share in a safe, facilitated environment. Death Cafes are one indication of growing death awareness here and elsewhere in the U.S.

“For everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…,” according to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk “Thich Nhat Hanh had a beautiful way of putting it when a little girl asked him if he’d decided what he’d be in his next life. He said maybe a little dust, and some soil and a bit of the sky, a cloud, a flower, and perhaps other stuff. Then he said ‘oops,’ he had to be careful or he might step on the flower, if he wasn’t being mindful and laughed,” according to Deborah Thayer.

Many indigenous cultures are more death aware than the dominant American cultures. For example, this reporter lived in Mexico and appreciates that country’s annual Day of the Dead celebration, where families go to graveyards at night to honor their ancestors. It is still my favorite holiday. I have attended them here in Sonoma County.

A deep connection exists between love and death. As the poem “For Those Who Have Died” by Chaim Stern starts “’Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch.”

For more information and to get on the monthly email list for Sonoma County Death Café meetings: tesslorraine@mac.com.

Rural Petaluma Neighbors Challenge Cannabis Industrialization

Sonoma County, California — “No Pot on Purvine” read a catchy flyer appearing in a rural Petaluma neighborhood in Northern California, announcing an October 8 meeting. It almost got cancelled, because of the rampant wildfires, so some people did not make it. However, 30 concerned citizens attended.

“We live in rural West Petaluma, and are spearheading a campaign to keep our ag. and open space just that,” arrived an email to a group called Preserve Rural Sonoma County, which maintains a website and Facebook page. “We are up against a big money cannabis operation with sights on land purchased on our rural Purvine Road. It calls for acres of indoor and outdoor Cannabis cultivation and processing, which will impact our water, safety, security, traffic, etc.,” wrote Ayn Garvisch.

Garvisch hosted the meeting at her home across the street from the large grow. Three other articulate women joined her at the front of the crowd– Britt Jensen, Phoebe Lang, and Autuym Condit. Participants were asked to sign in and a large table displayed the site plan and communications with the county. The owner of this contested cannabis grow at 334 Purvine, who lives in San Francisco, showed up at the meeting with a few people. He was not invited and was not allowed to enter, since this was the first meeting of the group.

It was a family affair, with one person being 14-years old, and another mentioning that he began living in the neighborhood in the 1940s, as well as sweet dogs welcoming visitors with their playful energy. The issues at hand were serious, yet the laughter among friends and people meeting for the first time was contagious. One couple has already paid a substantial retainer to an attorney. So the group has both an activist and a legal approach.

Following are notes this reporter took:

“Water is a big issue, since we do not have much water in certain parts of this neighborhood. Some of us have shallow wells, which would be compromised.”

“The Water Quality permit will be key and could be hard to get. They will have to keep their run-off on site.”

“I don’t want the traffic, drugs, thieving, guard house tower, triple barbed wire, and 24-hour surveillance. This scene will look like a prison.”

“We should demand an EIR (Environmental Impact Report). The cultural resources of this area and the historical nature of a 150-years-old barn and chicken houses are also important,” said Autymn Condit.

“The advice we received from another local group, Petalumans for Responsible Planning, was that an EIR report would stall the project and catalog all environmental and cultural resources in the area. There are many cultural resources and history connected to Purvine Road that the County is unaware of.”

“We are guinea pigs for the County’s forthcoming cannabis policies. It has yet to be determined if their current restrictions on water use and water quality address the tangible effects of such an operation for years to come.

“Our property values would be likely to go down once this operation has been established, which may draw other pot growing operations.”

“We want to keep our neighborhood as beautiful countryside and for food agriculture, rather than have it industrialized.”

“This differs from the small operations that have been happening.”

“We have to prepare for a protracted struggle.”

“One of their applications says they will have 5 workers, whereas another says 15. Purvine is a narrow, windy road, so this would be a traffic nightmare, leading to increasing accidents, some potentially serious.”

“A current tenant at the site, a school teacher, is being evicted, thus taking an educator of children out of the community.”

“The owner lies. He says it is only a weekend home and organic farm. Then they tore down the historic chicken houses.”

“We’ve researched who the owners are, and they have lots of money.  I do not expect them to back down.”

“We have to be ready for a protracted struggle. We need to become a royal pain in their back.”

“A benefit of this is that we will get to know our neighbors better.”

This initial meeting accomplished many things, including the development of an email list of concerned citizens and creating a neighborly feeling among participants. Next steps include a neighborhood picnic and displaying lawn signs.

The group has started a letter-writing campaign to 2nd District Supervisor David Rabbit and others. One such letter includes the following:

I have many concerns about this industry’s impact on our area’s water quality, availability, safety and traffic. Furthermore, I believe that the proposed plan would contribute to increased theft, odor, and would have permanent effects on the cultural and natural landscape of the area.

More information on the challenged website: 334 Purvine Rd.

file parcel 022-230-018 the dropbox link follows:

Neighborhood website:

Cannabis Cultivating Re-Visited

 Sonoma County, California.

Readers of this reporter’s August local and national articles on un-permitted cannabis growing expressed both appreciations and appropriate criticisms. Their feedback has made me aware of how complicated this issue is.

I am a patient at Peace in Medicine, a dispensary here in Sebastopol, California, and appreciate its CBD cannabis. It is essential to this 73-years-old person, as it is to other elders and those with a wide variety of health issues for which cannabis is an appropriate plant medicine.

Cannabis can be more healthy than some of the chemical medications to which people get addicted; it is better for one’s health than alcohol. Medications such as opioids can drastically worsen one’s health, create addictions, and even cause death.

“I got my cannabis card not to get stoned, which I am too old to do,” commented businessman Andy Cohen. “I use CBD topicals, as well as tinctures, because of my arthritis and gout. It works better than Tylenol or Ibuprofen. It doesn’t damage my liver or put a hole in my stomach.”

This article seeks to promote dialogue among cannabis growers, users, critics, government officials, and others. Participants in the expanding cannabis business have educated me about some of the complications, especially with respect to applying for permits and how expensive they are.

I support cannabis growing by locals on appropriate sites that do not damage water use by humans, other animals, and plants or harm nature in other ways. Such operations provide good agricultural employment for people. These small farms literally “keep families afloat,” as one cannabis farmer expressed.

Cannabis Growers and Allies Speak Up

I have visited small and medium-size cottage cannabis operations and been informed and impressed by responsible growers. Among the things they said are the following:

“The legalization of marijuana has opened a Pandora’s Box, which will have many unintended consequences.”

“We started growing high CBD medicinal cannabis for my cancer. We could not find it anywhere and realized we needed to grow it ourselves to insure purity and viability for my health. Unfortunately, we will also quit after this year’s harvest because of the severe and expensive regulations of the county. It’s heart-breaking that this vital medicine is being capitalized on and forcing intelligent, experienced growers out of the market.”

“I understand your frustration and anger with the recent opportunistic, irresponsible “wildcat” growers you are encountering, but I think it is a mistake to lump them together with people who have devoted their lives to improving marijuana strains and who feel strongly about the benefits it provides.”

“An impediment to getting small growers to apply for permits is that marijuana is still illegal as far as Federal law goes. Long-time small growers fear that by applying for permits they will become sitting ducks when and if the Feds decide to hold raids. Given the current political climate, this is a reasonable fear.”

“Mom and Pop cottage growers are being marginated by corporations.”

Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War is a recent book by Jonah Raskin. In a September article in the AVA (Anderson Valley Advertiser), from Mendocino County, he writes the following: “The cannabis story is a story of freedom and incarceration, a rags-to-riches story, as well as a tale about American capitalism, which will capitalize on anything and everything that’s profitable. Weed brings in big bucks.”

Sonoma County–along with the nearby Northern California Mendocino, Humboldt, and Marin counties–are the four largest growers of cannabis in the U.S. We are experiencing what some call the “green rush of capital” and the “corporatization of cannabis.” Multi-national corporations from outside that show little or no respect for the local environment or communities concerns many locals.

A Sept. 10 New York Times article on Mendocino County reports that investors from Russia, China, Jamaica, Mexico, and Bulgaria are involved in marijuana growing there. Seven times more marijuana apparently is exported from California than used by the local market.

An estimated 5,000 cannabis cultivators exist in Sonoma County. That number may expand, since growing cannabis only became legal in 2016. Yet as of Sept. 12 only 115 cannabis applications had been submitted. The Aug. 31 deadline to submit an initial one-page application was extended to Oct. 31, with the complete application due June 1, 2018.

“We want to see more cultivators coming out of the shadows and into the light,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “The solution is to bring all these growers into compliance,” said cannabis attorney Omar Figueroa. “A crackdown doesn’t work. We don’t need more prohibition. We need regulation.” 

Neighbors Complain About Un-permitted Grows

Various people contacted this reporter about incidents similar to the two unpermitted operations here in the Blucher Creek Watershed, which I previously reported that neighbors were able to get shut down. They were environmentally destructive and problematic, especially to families with young children. Our Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association connected other nearby neighbors to the correct code enforcement officer, who got unpermitted cannabis grows removed.

“In our rural residential neighborhood a stop work order was issued last week to the owner of an operation, but the grow and the work toward harvest continues. People are camping on the property in at least one trailer,” said one neighbor.

“There is no septic or legal electrical power or plumbing. The only water source is a man-made seasonal pond that dries up by this time. A non-permitted road was cut through the entire eighty acre parcel up to the top where there are at least six large grow houses, each approximately one thousand square feet in size,” he added.

“We are concerned for our wells and springs with regard to the clear cutting of so many trees and then shoving them off the ungraded dirt road, which will likely turn to sludge as the rains come. Everyone in this once peaceful neighborhood is mindful of our water supply and use; we all work to maintain our shared dirt driveway. We are painfully aware that two of the largest and extremely devastating fires in California history were caused by illegal grow set-ups such as this one in our tiny neighborhood,” he concluded.

Among the positive responses to our interventions to support our rural neighborhood have been the following: “The neighbors’ actions inspire me to rouse from my ‘it’s inevitable’ victim attitude toward possibly illegal cannabis operations. Taking action against rule breakers has nothing to do with whether we ourselves are cannabis consumers, or how we feel about the burgeoning pot culture,” wrote Randi Farkas.

“With the legalization of cannabis, it’s important to move towards county policies of accountability on everyone’s part, including growers, lawmakers, code enforcement, clearly articulated zoning laws and neighbors not looking the other way, but holding their neighbors accountable. I voted yes to legalize cannabis growing. I did not vote yes to support black-market businesses that suck the life out of our communities,” wrote Roberta Teller.

It is important for governmental agencies and members of our communities to come together to ensure that we continue to enhance our economy, while keeping the integrity of our neighborhoods and environment in tact.

As one successful rural activist said, “Public exposure is what gets the attention of elected officials.”

 

Cannabis Cultivating Re-Visited

Sonoma County, California — Readers of this reporter’s August local and national articles on unpermitted cannabis growing expressed both appreciations and appropriate criticisms. Their feedback has made me aware of how complicated this issue is.

I am a patient at Peace in Medicine, a dispensary here in Sebastopol, California, and appreciate its CBD cannabis. It is essential to this 73-years-old person, as it is to other elders and those with a wide variety of health issues for which cannabis is an appropriate plant medicine.

Cannabis can be more healthy than some of the chemical medications to which people get addicted; it is better for one’s health than alcohol. Medications such as opioids can drastically worsen one’s health, create addictions, and even cause death.

“I got my cannabis card not to get stoned, which I am too old to do,” commented businessman Andy Cohen. “I use CBD topicals, as well as tinctures, because of my arthritis and gout. It works better than Tylenol or Ibuprofen. It doesn’t damage my liver or put a hole in my stomach.”

This article seeks to promote dialogue among cannabis growers, users, critics, government officials, and others. Participants in the expanding cannabis business have educated me about some of the complications, especially with respect to applying for permits and how expensive they are.

I support cannabis growing by locals on appropriate sites that do not damage water use by humans, other animals, and plants or harm nature in other ways. Such operations provide good agricultural employment for people. These small farms literally “keep families afloat,” as one cannabis farmer expressed.

Cannabis Growers and Allies Speak Up

I have visited small and medium-size cottage cannabis operations and been informed and impressed by responsible growers. Among the things they said are the following:

“The legalization of marijuana has opened a Pandora’s Box, which will have many unintended consequences.”

“We started growing high CBD medicinal cannabis for my cancer. We could not find it anywhere and realized we needed to grow it ourselves to insure purity and viability for my health. Unfortunately, we will also quit after this year’s harvest because of the severe and expensive regulations of the county. It’s heart-breaking that this vital medicine is being capitalized on and forcing intelligent, experienced growers out of the market.”

“I understand your frustration and anger with the recent opportunistic, irresponsible “wildcat” growers you are encountering, but I think it is a mistake to lump them together with people who have devoted their lives to improving marijuana strains and who feel strongly about the benefits it provides.”

“An impediment to getting small growers to apply for permits is that marijuana is still illegal as far as Federal law goes. Long-time small growers fear that by applying for permits they will become sitting ducks when and if the Feds decide to hold raids. Given the current political climate, this is a reasonable fear.”

“Mom and Pop cottage growers are being marginated by corporations.”

Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War is a recent book by Jonah Raskin. In a September article in the AVA (Anderson Valley Advertiser), from Mendocino County, he writes the following: “The cannabis story is a story of freedom and incarceration, a rags-to-riches story, as well as a tale about American capitalism, which will capitalize on anything and everything that’s profitable. Weed brings in big bucks.”

Sonoma County — along with the nearby Northern California Mendocino, Humboldt, and Marin counties — are the four largest growers of cannabis in the U.S. We are experiencing what some call the “green rush of capital” and the “corporatization of cannabis.” Multi-national corporations from outside that show little or no respect for the local environment or communities concerns many locals.

A September 10 New York Times article on Mendocino County reports that investors from Russia, China, Jamaica, Mexico, and Bulgaria are involved in marijuana growing there. Seven times more marijuana apparently is exported from California than used by the local market.

An estimated 5,000 cannabis cultivators exist in Sonoma County. That number may expand, since growing cannabis only became legal in 2016. Yet as of September 12 only 115 cannabis applications had been submitted. The August 31 deadline to submit an initial one-page application was extended to October 31, with the complete application due June 1, 2018.

“We want to see more cultivators coming out of the shadows and into the light,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “The solution is to bring all these growers into compliance,” said cannabis attorney Omar Figueroa. “A crackdown doesn’t work. We don’t need more prohibition. We need regulation.”

Neighbors Complain About Un-permitted Grows

Various people contacted this reporter about incidents similar to the two unpermitted operations here in the Blucher Creek Watershed, which I previously reported that neighbors were able to get shut down. They were environmentally destructive and problematic, especially to families with young children. Our Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association connected other nearby neighbors to the correct code enforcement officer, who got unpermitted cannabis grows removed.

“In our rural residential neighborhood a stop work order was issued last week to the owner of an operation, but the grow and the work toward harvest continues. People are camping on the property in at least one trailer,” said one neighbor.

“There is no septic or legal electrical power or plumbing. The only water source is a man-made seasonal pond that dries up by this time. A non-permitted road was cut through the entire eighty acre parcel up to the top where there are at least six large grow houses, each approximately one thousand square feet in size,” he added.

“We are concerned for our wells and springs with regard to the clear cutting of so many trees and then shoving them off the ungraded dirt road, which will likely turn to sludge as the rains come. Everyone in this once peaceful neighborhood is mindful of our water supply and use; we all work to maintain our shared dirt driveway. We are painfully aware that two of the largest and extremely devastating fires in California history were caused by illegal grow set-ups such as this one in our tiny neighborhood,” he concluded.

Among the positive responses to our interventions to support our rural neighborhood have been the following: “The neighbors’ actions inspire me to rouse from my ‘it’s inevitable’ victim attitude toward possibly illegal cannabis operations. Taking action against rule breakers has nothing to do with whether we ourselves are cannabis consumers, or how we feel about the burgeoning pot culture,” wrote Randi Farkas.

“With the legalization of cannabis, it’s important to move towards county policies of accountability on everyone’s part, including growers, lawmakers, code enforcement, clearly articulated zoning laws and neighbors not looking the other way, but holding their neighbors accountable. I voted yes to legalize cannabis growing. I did not vote yes to support black-market businesses that suck the life out of our communities,” wrote Roberta Teller.

It is important for governmental agencies and members of our communities to come together to ensure that we continue to enhance our economy, while keeping the integrity of our neighborhoods and environment in tact.

As one successful rural activist said, “Public exposure is what gets the attention of elected officials.”

Neighbors Shut Down Illegal Cannabis Grows

Sonoma County, Northern CaliforniaOne of the United States’ top four cannabis-growing counties is Sonoma County, California. In 2016, it became legal for adults to consume marijuana in California. One of the nation’s first dispensaries, Peace in Medicine, was founded here.

Disclosure: I’m a Peace in Medicine patient in small town Sebastopol. CBD-rich cannabis improves my health. I support legal cannabis growing that follows the rules and does not endanger creeks, wildlife, or neighbors, especially children.

Cannabis is a front-page story in our daily Press Democrat. “Environmentalists say proposed cannabis grow rules fail to protect wildlife,” headlines an August 9, 2017, article. It reports four groups faulting state rules for “failing to protect imperiled species.”

“The Center for Biological Diversity, a national conservation nonprofit,” the article continues, “and three allies filed a 36-page comment alleging numerous shortcomings in the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s draft report on the proposed standards for growing legal marijuana.”

Among the threatened wildlife are foxes, eagles, owls, bobcats, raccoons, fishers, and others. The harm comes mainly from eating poisons or rodents killed by toxins. A huge amount of water is needed for marijuana plants; it is often taken illegally from nearby streams and huge wells, compromising both neighbors and wildlife.

“Sixty percent of all cannabis grown in the country comes from four California counties: Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, and Humboldt,” reports the July 4 issue of the region’s weekly Bohemian. Its support for cannabis includes headlines like “Off the Booze…and on the weed” and “Joint Venture: Wine and pot mergers are coming.”

The corporate wine industry has already purchased most of the local vineyards and wineries here in Sonoma County, displacing food farms and driving up land and home prices. Many locals have left for less expensive places and more privacy away from the massive tourism taking over the county.

“California’s cannabis industry is conservatively valued at $7 billion,” according to the Bohemian. Meanwhile, “the state’s grape crop is pegged at about $5 billion.” According to executive director of a cannabis industry trade group “70% or more growers will stay in the black market or find something else to do.” That would be many illegal sites.

Visiting an Illegal Grow Operation

A food farming neighbor here in Blucher Creek Watershed, Lari Adams, emailed this reporter August 7 that a new neighbor had just bulldozed a huge area to construct large cannabis grow buildings. We immediately visited the site—now a disaster to many life forms dependent on that water, including listed endangered California freshwater shrimp, much wildlife, vegetation, and humans.

“What we saw was jaw dropping.  Land cleared, all the topsoil pushed into the creek bed,” wrote Adams.  The environmental consequences will be long-lasting and hard to remedy soon, certainly not before the coming rains that farmers and others depend upon. Then plastic, silt, and sedimentation will wash into the stream, choking and polluting it downstream.

“Landscaping filled the tributary, so needed for flood protection. A 100-foot building replaced what three days prior was a virgin field.  Three more large building sites were cleared, and the topsoil pushed into the riparian zone.  Miles of plastic, barrels of chemicals, fertilizer piles, and marijuana plants arrived. We actually stood there mouths agape! How can this happen?” added Adams.

He contacted the Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association, which researched the parcel and moved promptly into action. No permits existed for this devastation. The violation was reported to various government officials and agencies, including County Supervisors David Rabbitt and Lynda Hopkins. They responded promptly and effectively.

“Illegal grows are a huge concern, environmentally and socially,” wrote Supervisor Hopkins. “Unfortunately they give the folks doing the right thing (going through County permitting processes and growing in appropriate locations) a bad name,” she added.

Neighbours Push Back

On the next day, representatives from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, the county’s Permit and Resources Management (PRMD), Supervisor Rabbitt’s office, and the Neighborhood Association met at Adams’ farm. The government officials visited the grow, and shut it down. Though the buildings are gone, the damage will be long lasting.

The new owner then put it up for sale, at a higher price, though to remedy his abuse will likely take years and thousands of dollars. We reminded his agent that a full disclosure was necessary; he took the “For Sale” sign down, though he did not take the listing off line.

Another neighbor showed the neighborhood group an un-permitted grow nearby. The group also managed to get that operation shut down. “Weeks ago, huge earth-moving equipment came onto the property that adjoins us, graded a large area and began to construct a massive greenhouse for commercial cannabis, all without a permit,” said Patrick Ball.

“Families with children live on both sides and across the street. We are on wells and worry about the massive amount of water a commercial cannabis operation consumes. If this is allowed on the large scale intended, we will have lost the safety, peace, and well-being that makes our neighborhood such a wonderful place to live,” Ball added.

“Country life shared with neighbors, wild animals that we see daily, domestic animals that we dearly love, and the habitat that we enjoy has been one of life’s greatest rewards,” writes Judy Logan, who lives nearby. “We must steward our land and water and be sensitive to endangered creatures to continue this lovely gift bestowed upon our hearts.”

Hundreds of such un-permitted cannabis operations are popping up around the county and elsewhere, especially in Northern California. This endangers food farming, as well as the environment and neighborhoods.

“I voted to legalize medical cannabis because I value its medical benefits,” writes Roberta Teller. “I hoped that instead of unregulated growers with unknown, questionable agricultural practices, legalization would guarantee a high quality product and consumers and members of the community would be protected from unsavory business operations,” she added.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case. We have a Cannabis Board filled with people from the industry. I know of a case where a realtor falsely advertised a property as agricultural in hopes for a quick sale to the next illegal grower,” Teller said.

“Land is being fenced off, fences are getting higher, animal habitats are being compromised and newly installed security cameras are spying on us. We need Sonoma County to step up to the job of regulating this already spiraling out-of-control Industry,” she concluded.

To cannabis growers out there, please do it the right way. Growing should not only benefit you financially, but also the environment, its many critters, and neighbors. The Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association watches cannabis growing carefully.

Growers without permits should avoid the Blucher Creek Watershed, which has a cannabis watch group with neighbors willing to work to shut you down, unless you have the necessary permits.

This group does not oppose appropriate, permitted cannabis growing. “I’m so grateful that medical CBD cannabis is now available,” wrote Alexandra Hart, co-founder of the neighborhood group. “It provides my 78-year-old arthritic body almost instant relief with no side effects, save a little, quite pleasant buzz. The speed with which the greedy are taking advantage without following environmental guidelines and neighborliness is distressing. Our human greed may well cost us our planet.”

Neighbors Shut Down Illegal Cannabis Grows

Sonoma County, Northern CaliforniaOne of the United States’ top four cannabis-growing counties is Sonoma County, California. In 2016, it became legal for adults to consume marijuana in California. One of the nation’s first dispensaries, Peace in Medicine, was founded here.

Disclosure: I’m a Peace in Medicine patient in small town Sebastopol. CBD-rich cannabis improves my health. I support legal cannabis growing that follows the rules and does not endanger creeks, wildlife, or neighbors, especially children.

Cannabis is a front-page story in our daily Press Democrat. “Environmentalists say proposed cannabis grow rules fail to protect wildlife,” headlines an August 9, 2017, article. It reports four groups faulting state rules for “failing to protect imperiled species.”

“The Center for Biological Diversity, a national conservation nonprofit,” the article continues, “and three allies filed a 36-page comment alleging numerous shortcomings in the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s draft report on the proposed standards for growing legal marijuana.”

Among the threatened wildlife are foxes, eagles, owls, bobcats, raccoons, fishers, and others. The harm comes mainly from eating poisons or rodents killed by toxins. A huge amount of water is needed for marijuana plants; it is often taken illegally from nearby streams and huge wells, compromising both neighbors and wildlife.

“Sixty percent of all cannabis grown in the country comes from four California counties: Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, and Humboldt,” reports the July 4 issue of the region’s weekly Bohemian. Its support for cannabis includes headlines like “Off the Booze…and on the weed” and “Joint Venture: Wine and pot mergers are coming.”

The corporate wine industry has already purchased most of the local vineyards and wineries here in Sonoma County, displacing food farms and driving up land and home prices. Many locals have left for less expensive places and more privacy away from the massive tourism taking over the county.

“California’s cannabis industry is conservatively valued at $7 billion,” according to the Bohemian. Meanwhile, “the state’s grape crop is pegged at about $5 billion.” According to executive director of a cannabis industry trade group “70% or more growers will stay in the black market or find something else to do.” That would be many illegal sites.

Visiting an Illegal Grow Operation

A food farming neighbor here in Blucher Creek Watershed, Lari Adams, emailed this reporter August 7 that a new neighbor had just bulldozed a huge area to construct large cannabis grow buildings. We immediately visited the site—now a disaster to many life forms dependent on that water, including listed endangered California freshwater shrimp, much wildlife, vegetation, and humans.

“What we saw was jaw dropping.  Land cleared, all the topsoil pushed into the creek bed,” wrote Adams.  The environmental consequences will be long-lasting and hard to remedy soon, certainly not before the coming rains that farmers and others depend upon. Then plastic, silt, and sedimentation will wash into the stream, choking and polluting it downstream.

“Landscaping filled the tributary, so needed for flood protection. A 100-foot building replaced what three days prior was a virgin field.  Three more large building sites were cleared, and the topsoil pushed into the riparian zone.  Miles of plastic, barrels of chemicals, fertilizer piles, and marijuana plants arrived. We actually stood there mouths agape! How can this happen?” added Adams.

He contacted the Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association, which researched the parcel and moved promptly into action. No permits existed for this devastation. The violation was reported to various government officials and agencies, including County Supervisors David Rabbitt and Lynda Hopkins. They responded promptly and effectively.

“Illegal grows are a huge concern, environmentally and socially,” wrote Supervisor Hopkins. “Unfortunately they give the folks doing the right thing (going through County permitting processes and growing in appropriate locations) a bad name,” she added.

Neighbours Push Back

On the next day, representatives from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, the county’s Permit and Resources Management (PRMD), Supervisor Rabbitt’s office, and the Neighborhood Association met at Adams’ farm. The government officials visited the grow, and shut it down. Though the buildings are gone, the damage will be long lasting.

The new owner then put it up for sale, at a higher price, though to remedy his abuse will likely take years and thousands of dollars. We reminded his agent that a full disclosure was necessary; he took the “For Sale” sign down, though he did not take the listing off line.

Another neighbor showed the neighborhood group an un-permitted grow nearby. The group also managed to get that operation shut down. “Weeks ago, huge earth-moving equipment came onto the property that adjoins us, graded a large area and began to construct a massive greenhouse for commercial cannabis, all without a permit,” said Patrick Ball.

“Families with children live on both sides and across the street. We are on wells and worry about the massive amount of water a commercial cannabis operation consumes. If this is allowed on the large scale intended, we will have lost the safety, peace, and well-being that makes our neighborhood such a wonderful place to live,” Ball added.

“Country life shared with neighbors, wild animals that we see daily, domestic animals that we dearly love, and the habitat that we enjoy has been one of life’s greatest rewards,” writes Judy Logan, who lives nearby. “We must steward our land and water and be sensitive to endangered creatures to continue this lovely gift bestowed upon our hearts.”

Hundreds of such un-permitted cannabis operations are popping up around the county and elsewhere, especially in Northern California. This endangers food farming, as well as the environment and neighborhoods.

“I voted to legalize medical cannabis because I value its medical benefits,” writes Roberta Teller. “I hoped that instead of unregulated growers with unknown, questionable agricultural practices, legalization would guarantee a high quality product and consumers and members of the community would be protected from unsavory business operations,” she added.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case. We have a Cannabis Board filled with people from the industry. I know of a case where a realtor falsely advertised a property as agricultural in hopes for a quick sale to the next illegal grower,” Teller said.

“Land is being fenced off, fences are getting higher, animal habitats are being compromised and newly installed security cameras are spying on us. We need Sonoma County to step up to the job of regulating this already spiraling out-of-control Industry,” she concluded.

To cannabis growers out there, please do it the right way. Growing should not only benefit you financially, but also the environment, its many critters, and neighbors. The Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association watches cannabis growing carefully.

Growers without permits should avoid the Blucher Creek Watershed, which has a cannabis watch group with neighbors willing to work to shut you down, unless you have the necessary permits.

This group does not oppose appropriate, permitted cannabis growing. “I’m so grateful that medical CBD cannabis is now available,” wrote Alexandra Hart, co-founder of the neighborhood group. “It provides my 78-year-old arthritic body almost instant relief with no side effects, save a little, quite pleasant buzz. The speed with which the greedy are taking advantage without following environmental guidelines and neighborliness is distressing. Our human greed may well cost us our planet.”

Japanese American Internment Remembered

The Japanese American Citizens League held a “Day of Remembrance” at Sebastopol’s Enmanji Buddhist Temple on Feb. 18 in Northern California. Around 200 people marked the 75th anniversary of the incarceration of over 120,000 innocent West Coast Americans of Japanese ancestry in internment camps during World War II.

“They were accused of a crime, sentenced without trial and locked up,” wrote organizer Jodi Hottel in the local daily newspaper. We “hope this reminder of the fragility of our civil liberties will prevent anything like this from happening again.” The event was titled “Protecting Human Rights: Solidarity in Diversity.”

“We are firm in our resolve that this will never happen again,” declared Marie Sugiyama, now 81. She was interned and opened the panel of six speakers of diverse ethnicities. She described the guard towers, barbed wire, and searchlights of her childhood.

“A great injustice was done to Americans,” Sugiyama added. Over 30,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military, helping defeat German fascism and the Imperial Japanese Government.

That Japanese Government had spies in the US, who failed to recruit any Americans of Japanese ancestry. No Japanese American was ever tried for being a spy. The internment was based on racist fears and lies, which the new president continues to propagate, especially against immigrants and Muslims.

“We need to be guided by those ‘better angels’ President Lincoln spoke about,” said journalist and historian Gaye LeBaron, the panel moderator.

“We have an important task—to protect civil rights,” declared African American attorney and civil rights pioneer Charles Bonner. He detailed three ways to do so: direct action, legal action, and legislative action. “We need to sue people who hurt people. This is the beginning of a movement.”

“Our community is experiencing real fear,” said panelist Denia Candela, a dreamer and community activist who emigrated from Mexico. She described the uncertainly created by Trump deporting people, often separating parents from their children, and his positive references to the internment camps. “We need to have each other’s backs,” she contended.

“Mother Earth feels what we are going through. She’s shaking and saying ‘Wake Up!’” said 66-year-old Native American public health administrator Cecilia Dawson. “It feels as if we are fighting again for what we were fighting for in the sixties.”

The final speaker, Mubarack Muthalif of the Islamic Center of North Marin, began with the Islamic blessing and greeting: “May peace be upon you.”

“I tremble about what this administration might do,” he continued, voice choking with emotion. “The Muslim registry is like the Nazis making Jews wear the star of David. We moved from being citizens to being suspects. Our mosques are attacked.”

“How many of you are willing to break a law to protect a Muslim, immigrant, or other threatened person?” asked David Hoffman of the Interfaith Council of Sonoma County from the audience.

Attorney Bonner responded, “Any unjust law needs to be broken. We have to organize. When we do so, Trump will fall.”

“We Jews and Muslims must work together. There are more of us than them,” added another member of the lively audience, to much applause.

“We have to resist with love and compassion. Like hornets, if they attack one of us, we need to swarm,” attorney Bonner declared.

“We are all Americans—no matter what color or faith we are. An attack on one person is an attack on all of us,” added another person.

Participants were informed of future meetings in the California towns of Sebastopol, Petaluma, Cotati, and Santa Rosa, where City Councils and faith groups are discussing issues such as sanctuary cities, the Standing Rock water protectors, and how to work together to build a mass movement of resistance and defiance.

Before and after the Enmanji Temple meeting people conversed and collected signatures on petitions, thus helping build a community of resistance. The “It Won’t Happen Here” petition already has over 4000 churches, other groups, and individual signers.

“This has been an amazing afternoon,” concluded moderator LeBaron.

Such events occurred around the West Coast in Japanese American communities. “I was at the Remembrance Day dinner, an annual event put on by the Merced/Livingston Japanese American Citizens League,” Cynthia Kishi of Sebastopol wrote.

“Mas Matsumoto, the farmer who wrote the book Epitaph of a Peach and nine other books, spoke. He talked about how important it is to speak about the incarceration in light of Trump. He addressed the power of personal story,” Kishi added.