Strange Times in the Triangle: The Woman Walking in the Snow

We’re all mad here including the photographer.

The Emerald Triangle is my favorite place on Earth. It’s a mecca of luscious green redwood forests teeming with psychedelic mushrooms and dark green ferns that spread all the way to the ocean shoreline with no crowds, no traffic, and some of the finest cannabis in the world. I crash-landed there when I was a young man and spent the better part of a decade drifting from farm to farm, attending school occasionally, and eating [really really really good] acid with hill people of yesteryear. 

Some of them were penniless vagabonds who owned, in totality, one pair of overalls and two pairs of Chikamasa scissors. Some of them were real-life millionaires who had barrels of cash buried all around their properties. Some of them were immigrants, from every country all around the world. My roommate at the time used to love having sex with foreigners and musicians and foreign musicians so she’d invite entire groups of them to stay at our apartment, rent-free I might add. I remember one night I came home late, super drunk and tripped over a Bulgarian man sleeping on my living room floor who very politely offered me some ketamine as an apology for tripping me but that did not make up for finding his other two companions asleep in my bed.

I had so many good times in that apartment. I met so many random beautiful people who all came through Arcata to spend their hard-earned money when they got off “the hill” at the end of harvest season. The money was still decent for the trimmers and cultivators back then. Almost everyone I knew worked three or four months nonstop out of the year and spent the rest of the year in either Hawaii, Tulum or Costa Rica. All the businesses in the small rural towns littering the triangle thrived with cash infusions from their owners’ respective grow ops, not to mention the trimmers needed somewhere to drink after a hard day’s work. 

Those fuckers partied like no one else I’ve ever met. I once attended a 200-person full-moon rave party in the absolute middle of nowhere on top of an actual mountain. When I say the middle of nowhere I mean we were 45 minutes up a dirt road that originated from a death trap two-lane highway two hours away from anything resembling a city. To this day I’ve never experienced anything quite that fun. I fried on LSD and MDMA all night long until morning came and everyone howled at the blood-red rising sun at the top of their lungs. A nearby wook offered me a “chip shot” and I wasn’t sure what that even meant when I agreed but he poured a shot of Fireball into one of those tortilla chips shaped like little bowls for dipping into beans. He assured me it tasted great only to cackle hysterically when he saw the look of disgust on my face when I realized it was a cruel ploy to get people to chew shitty liquor. He also gave me a line of ketamine as an apology. 

I could tell another 100 stories like that but modern attention spans and statutes of limitations being what they are, I’ll just assure everybody that you’ve never been to a more wonderfully weird place than the Emerald Triangle. To this day it’s almost entirely populated by weirdos, hippie freaks, hill wooks and gun-toting weed growers. All of the above are generally some of the kindest and most generous folk you’ll ever come across. That said, I’m not here to tell stories of sunshine and shroom rainbows. There are enough legends about the triangle floating around that all sound the same. I don’t need to add to them. There’s another side to the triangle that doesn’t get talked about as often, a darker more sinister side that lurks behind the towering redwood trees, miles and miles away from anyone who would ever say a word about it.

I’ve worked in a lot of different areas around the triangle, mostly in Trinity and Humboldt County. I worked one or two farms in Mendocino but I didn’t get down that way as much. The bulk of jobs I worked were in Southern Humboldt County, which is essentially a dense jungle of redwood trees littered with a few small towns here and there (and we’re using the word “town” super loosely here because sometimes that word refers to a singular building). One job in particular I worked was essentially one or two hills over from “Murder Mountain” which is not the most dangerous area of the triangle in my opinion but it’s also kind of a moot point because you don’t earn a name like Murder Mountain without racking up a few…murders. There are definitely plenty of good people living up there too but I have heard that some of the more wild inhabitants of the area smoke these cartridges made of a hellish mixture of meth and live resin called “Twax” pens. I’ve never tried one but they come in different flavors and I’ve heard blueberry is a pretty dank option as far as meth cartridges go. 

I won’t say exactly where I was or even the nearest town for reasons that will become clear but for all intents and purposes I was even more in the middle of nowhere than ever before. I accepted an invitation to go trim on a farm roughly 3-5 hours from civilization up a dirt road blocked by river floods half the damn time, not to mention any street signs that might indicate where we were headed were rendered unreadable by bullet holes. I was young, I was super naive and I had been kicked out of school for not showing up so I had nothing better to do than convince my girlfriend at the time to load up her 1989 baby blue Ford Econoline camper van with propane and propane accessories and go trim until we developed arthritis. 

For a while, it was all fun and games out there. We showed up on the back end of Fall and it was breathtaking. We woke up underneath 100-foot redwood trees every day and opened the van doors to an ocean of clouds beneath us while we fried bacon and smoked big blunts of fresh OG. We trimmed all day with folks from every walk of life you can imagine. Everybody swapped stories until it was time to go back to the cabin and drink to keep warm. We played cards, ate mushrooms, I even got my Playstation up there for a while until I killed the van battery and had to stop.

The van’s name was Francis.

As with most good things, the fun didn’t last very long. The winter came and it was harsher than expected. We were camping in the snow and rats kept wiggling their way into the communal fridge to eat our food. Meanwhile, one of the main employees was stealing all the good weed so we were trimming a bunch of powder mold and garbage, making piss-poor money and getting interrogated by the owners who were beginning to notice their returns dwindling. We never took anything other than some personal smoke but it’s still pretty scary being a million miles from anything and trying to convince a heavily armed hair-brained hill creature that you aren’t trying to rip him off. 

We also started noticing odd shit around the mountain. Everyone had heard rumors about some of the neighboring properties and what they’d get up to. There were also rumors about the couple we worked for, but other than [both of them] fraternizing with the employees I don’t think they got up to much. They appeared to be good people at the end of the day. I can’t say the same for the neighbors though. 

Now, admittedly, I used to take a lot of Xanax so I’m not exactly sure when this next part happened but I’m pretty sure it was around the same time I was living there in the van. Doesn’t matter. One day, we were heading to town for a supply run and the road down the mountain was super curvy so you had to go 15 mph the whole damn way down and pray the Eel River hadn’t flooded the road at the bottom or you’d have to go all the damn way back up. We were about halfway down the mountain listening to some scratched-up Ween CDs and smoking poorly-rolled Backwoods when we saw her. 

A woman was walking barefoot on the road, with a glazed look in her eyes like she was not there at all. She looked and walked like a zombie and I can’t remember what she was wearing but I remember it wasn’t much and it was snowing outside so we tried to flag her down and see if she needed help. I’m not exaggerating when I say I shouted at her from five or six feet away and she didn’t even look at me. She just kept walking so we just kept driving. About a mile down the road a man in an honest-to-god tuxedo waved our car down and asked if we had seen the woman in question. We pointed sheepishly in the direction we had come from and he took off running without another word. 

It dawned on us at that point what we had just witnessed and to this day I’m still not 100 percent sure but we had heard enough rumors about human trafficking operations in the area to have a pretty good idea that the woman had escaped from one of the houses we’d heard about, only to presumably be recaptured by the man in the tuxedo. When I say human trafficking I’m talking high-end sex slavery trade like some real-life Taken shit, only no one gets rescued by Liam Neeson. This is just what I’m assuming based on what I’ve been told by people who have spent their lives up there and that’s all I could think about the entire rest of the way down the mountain that day.

I tried to put the woman out of my head but a few months later we were having drinks at the bar in town and an adorable old man petting a cat bought me a couple whiskeys. He told me he believed in me and it really felt like he meant it. As we were leaving, a friend pulled me aside and said “Don’t talk to *****, ***** sells people.” Apparently, he was an actual lunatic who hired speed freaks to steal equipment from one farmer so he could sell it to another and such. The guy’s dead now anyway so fuck him. One of these days I’d like to find his grave so I can piss on it. 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg in the triangle. There are members of every organized crime group in the world operating out there. There are properties that can only be reached by helicopter. There’s a goddamn Scientology headquarters made out of stone that has three zebras living in the front yard. It used to be four but one of them got shot in cold blood for reasons that were never publicly released. When I say some of those men and women living in complete solitude are richer than God himself I am not lying or exaggerating even a little bit. They have the power to do anything they want to and no one is there to tell them no.

A dear friend of mine posing for a picture with the zebras, which was a terrible idea considering he was trespassing and there were two fully grown bulls sitting just to the left of the picture.

Serial killers have been caught in the triangle and not just one. So many murders and missing persons cases go unreported or unsolved, especially on the Native American reservations. I’ve heard rumors of LSD labs, poppy fields, farms that operate using forced labor, farms that kill their workers at the end of the season, and not that this is all that sinister in comparison but farms that pay women twice the money to trim naked. There’s even a small town supposedly populated entirely by Nazi families who hid out there after the war, fucked, and made a bunch of little Nazi children who grow thousands of pounds of mids every year. 

I’m not trying to paint an image of the triangle as this super dark and dangerous place, it’s just a place people go to be left alone and people opt to be left alone for a lot of different reasons, some sinister some not. The grim reality, however, is that most of the sinister activity I’m describing was financed or at the very least overshadowed by illegal cannabis farms at the end of the day. 

Before anyone crucifies me for saying that, I’m bringing it up for a good reason. I’m not anti-black market, I actively root for the black market but I know deep down in my soul that the only way forward is the direction we’re already heading in. Legal weed ruined a lot of things for a lot of people and I want to acknowledge that before I continue advocating for it. A lot of good people lost their life savings because of legal weed. A lot of good people were murdered when the prices dropped and the bottom feeders started getting desperate. The triangle became a different place virtually overnight when Prop 64 passed and so began a long, painful process of death and extinction.

I say extinction because an entire way of life is indeed extinct. The trimmigrants don’t come to the triangle anymore because there are no jobs for them to work. The small businesses in the hill towns that thrived under prohibition have once again become struggling small businesses in rural America. In my last Weirdos piece, I chose to blame this on corporate Chads profiting off the hard work of the legacy market and I still do in a way. But for this piece I wanted to illustrate that as much as I lament the way legal cannabis was structured, as much as it makes me sick to my stomach to reduce a plant I love so much to numbers on a spreadsheet, if cannabis legalization prevented even one single person from getting trafficked into sexual slavery, that means we did the right thing. 

Now I want to be clear. All the good people who just want to grow weed and be left alone without all the regulations and bullshit have a fair bone to pick and I respect their side of things when they refuse to play ball with the legal market but I also want to make the argument that as the spotlight on the triangle becomes brighter and as the obscene amounts of cash begin to dwindle, it gives us an opportunity to put actual resources behind law enforcement efforts to combat true evil lurking behind the redwood curtain. Up until now, no matter whose fault it is, law enforcement in that area has been inundated and entirely too preoccupied with chopping down plant canopies when the properties right next door are up to way sheistier shit. 

As far as the rollout goes, no one can deny legal weed has been a mess. All the legacy growers got bent over the barrel and shown the 50 states (very heady reference). Everyone got fucked, it happened, I acknowledge that. But in twenty or thirty years, cannabis will be another boring-ass regulated and mature market and the triangle will have evolved into a much cooler version of Napa Valley. Whatever scum is left lurking in those hills won’t be able to operate with the level of impunity they have thus far and they will stand a much better chance of rotting in prison when law enforcement manages to get it through their heads that chasing their tails chopping down plants is nothing more than a silly distraction from crimes against humanity. 

If I had concrete proof of any of this, I’d offer it but these are the rules of cribbage. Lord knows I’ve tried in my capacity as a journalist. I reported the woman to the sheriff years later and interviewed him asking if anything like this had been reported in the area and I got a whole bunch of non-answers and buck-passing. Essentially he told me nothing like that ever gets reported so they’d have no way of knowing. I also pestered the local FBI offices and human trafficking groups for months and never got a single response. All I know is there are far too many rumors and far too many bodies floating around those hills for the sheriff to tell me it’s all gravy. It’s not fucking Bigfoot, it’s human beings.

All of this being said, I would like to challenge two very distinct groups to two very distinct things. 

  1. To my fellow cannabis industry professionals: we, myself painfully included, need to stop being so nostalgic about the “good old days” because at the end of the day that comes from greed. I would love nothing more than to make money hand over fist again but in doing so, we were allowing a much greater evil to grow right under our noses. We cannot abide this any longer and we must intentionally move forward into the legal market together. We need a much more even playing field before that can happen, but our hearts need to remain in the right place here. We owe it to every nameless person buried in those hills to maintain a better perspective at the very least.
  2. To the federal and local law enforcement agencies operating in the Emerald Triangle: you are doing a piss poor job and my proof of that is the poster at the Willow Creek rest stop filled with pictures of all the unsolved missing persons cases. My proof of that is the former Trinity County Sheriff walking off the job for months and still collecting a salary. My proof of that is the woman I saw that fateful day and everything I’ve heard and seen during my decade in and around the triangle. We need actual law enforcement presence that isn’t paid to look the other way. We need effective undercovers to go in with the sole intention of flushing out only the worst of the worst with orders to leave the people alone who are just growing pot and trying to make a living. Do your fucking jobs, because by all indications you’ve allowed egregious human rights violations to happen on American soil for decades, period. 

I will always look back on the wonderfully wild times I had pre-legalization with a tender fondness that I know deep down will never fully go away. It was a special place because of what it was, and that’s what makes writing this so difficult because I know that the beautiful place I experienced had to die for progress to be made. As much as I know I’ll roll my eyes when I drive through Humboldt in twenty years and see all the stupid touristy weed shit, I’ll feel much better telling my kids there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore. I’m not sure I could honestly say that to them even today. We’re on the right track, but we need to keep going. 

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