Romancing Mary Jane: A Year in the Life of a Failed Marijuana Grower
by Michael Poole
Published by Douglas and McIntyre
256 pages, 1998
Walden Pond with a Decent Buzz
Reviewed by Kent Barrett
It is perhaps odd that a story that details the self-admitted criminal activity of a marijuana grower should be such a gentle read. After all, it is such a serious crime that the RCMP annually spends untold millions of our tax dollars to fight it by dropping Mounties (on slash-and-destroy missions) from helicopters onto little patches of cannabis hemp all over the province of British Columbia every summer and every fall. You'd think a dastardly drug trafficker would be more discreet, or at least would come across as sounding tough. But Michael Poole is anything but tough (though we expect he is at least hardy after a year of hauling tons of soil and water up into the mountains of the Sunshine Coast).
His story is that of a successful man who in his late fifties finds himself seriously burnt-out and unable to continue in his high-pressure career, who is deeply troubled by suicidal depression, and who takes the unusual tack of turning to farming for the benefit of his soul. Marijuana farming, that is. Green gold. Scythian tea. And so with visions of peaceful labor and fine profits dancing in his head he returns to his childhood home on the coast of British Columbia to tend his crops and document his journey back to self. And that's what this book largely is: his notes and reflections on the places he went and the critters and people he came to know during his year of adventure and bloody hard work. We meet several of his pot-growing mentors and a bear named Reefer, and are treated to many of his observations of rainforest wildlife.
Later in the day, walking in the green tunnel of alders below Number Three Garden, I hear the screech of a red-tailed hawk, and I stop to listen. The sound seems to be coming from low down in the dense foliage just ahead, not a place I'd expect to find a large hawk. Again and again it calls, then I hear a tiny bell-like sound at the end of each vocalization. As I move closer, there is a fluttering, a glimpse of upright crest and a flash of deepest blue. It is, of course, a Steller's jay, the greatest mimic in the western forest. The bird moves with sly furtiveness, following you unseen, appearing when you least expect it and speaking in strange tongues. Under the straight-down winter rain, its plumage turns nearly black, as if touched by the stain of melanism that runs through many of the species west of the mountains. Though these are characteristics of the supernatural beings who haunt the coastal mountains and inlets of Native imagination, the Steller's jay has no place in the Indian pantheon -- or at least none that I know of. The role of the conniving joker belongs to its close cousin, Raven.
As we follow Poole around the coast he shares his memories of places as they were when he was a kid, and often they contrast starkly with the way things are now. Degradation of the environment isn't only cosmetic, and the effects of it aren't conjecture or the result of the hazy childhood recollections of a pothead. The songbird don't just seem to be scarcer, their numbers are actually down 50 per cent since 1960 according to radar stations that monitor their flight. Poole's concern over things like this is obvious, but it's not an environmentalist's rant he gives us, as you might expect would come from a man who made documentaries for David Suzuki, but rather a quiet reminder.
There's also, not unexpectedly, much marijuana lore. Poole is a man who likes his pot and doesn't mind talking about it. We get lots of historical information on how American cannabis and the practice of cannabis farming have evolved over the last 30 years, and indeed much information on cannabis cultivation and the use of the plant worldwide over the last thirty centuries. He's clearly pro-weed in his outlook, but his proselytizing is so soft and reasoned he's managed to almost offhandedly produce the "Marijuana Explained" handbook you could give to your aged and conservative mother. You know, that eloquent published hardcover written by a grownup that you've been looking for since that afternoon behind the school when you were sixteen.
For those more interested in pot (or BC pot in particular) than personal reflections, toke up and savor the vicarious smells of the Purple Haze, Kona Gold, Skunk, Northern Lights, AK-47, Burnaby Bongoweed, the Mighty Mite and the host of mighty advanced and powerful others, then max out on the details of some of the most sophisticated indoor grow operations, computerized hydroponics and infrared-invisible farms in the world. Suffer with Poole as he agonizes over growing locations. Rage with Poole at the losses from thieves and cops. Experience the mosquitos. Celebrate with Poole when the first harvest comes in.
For those with a taste for a tale of self-healing and inner growth, Poole's story of his battle with depression and his search for peace will not disappoint. And the rainforest of BC, or what's left of it, is always worth reading about. Spread the herb, brother. | January 1999
Kent Barrett is a writer and journalist with ridiculous opinions on most topics. He lives alone in Vancouver, Canada with Land Rights, his cat, and Salmon Agreement, his Alsatian puppy.