(The following is the introduction to Caleb Calhoun’s new journalistic work This Ain’t California. The book chronicles three months of living off the grid on a working pot farm in the wilderness of northern Maine. You can follow along on Caleb’s adventures here to see behind the scenes video, conversations with the characters in the book, and to keep track of his progress.)
“Fuck it, fuck it, FUCK IT! Calm the fuck down. This ain’t California,” Boone exclaims to the back of our heads as four rookies to the east coast scene stare at the sky.
“That last one was moving real slow,” Cherise mutters, but Captain Unholy just scoffs at her as Boone retorts, “Well figure it the fuck out.”
There is hard-pack dirt and gravel as far as the eye can see and a tangled web of extension cords running from generators and into all sorts of previously mobile shelters. Stella Blue, an indigo colored 1990 International school bus dominates the hippified skyline perfectly matching the color of the torrid, bluebird sky above it. Everywhere you look are empty beer cans with holes from a variety of calibered weapons in them.
And goddamn it sure is hot for being this far north.
Before the sound of the third chopper’s rotors has even died away Boone unholsters his 45mm and empties a clip into the raspberry bushes. If that makes anyone uncomfortable no one lets on. He is as hard as the oft trampled dirt under our feet and not a shade cleaner.
It’s the summer of Covid, and with no desire to remain in Asheville to weather out the heat hiding from an invisible virus I’ve absconded to an undisclosed location in Maine to shoot guns, grow pot, and write, with my ride-or-die of going on fourteen years, a blue heeler named Gonzo. The same Gonzo whose wanderlust got him locked up in the dog equivalent of county jail last night, but then again, who could blame him here? When in Rome.
But this ain’t Rome. It’s some bizarre deadhead Mainer paradise or purgatory, I’m not sure which – the kind of place that is one step away from heaven and one step away from hell and that leans a little to the left or the right most days. It’s the kind of place that could be considered active proof that time does not exist. A place where visitors often see VISITORS, where the dogs outnumber the humans and where you are guaranteed to be in the sights of someone’s rifle – their beer setting on the roof of the bus beside them – at least every other day.
Towering over it all like a block of granite is Boone. Inscrutable, immovable, iconoclastic – Boone grew up in the projects of Baltimore learning to sleep through the gunshots and hustle his way through life. Throw in an early love for The Grateful Dead and countless spring, summer, fall and winter tours and he has accumulated nearly as much respect from Hells Angels and Deadheads alike as warrants from the five-oh. After nearly 20 years of flying signs and slinging sheets he found himself in a position to take over 57 acres of wilderness, and without hesitation zig zagged his way to our country’s uppermost eastern peninsula, taking care to avoid those states in which he is legally less than welcome.
So here we are, a sausage fest of misfits and miscreants, hiding from the noonday sun in the sliver of shade provided by the buses and chasing 151 with white claw and bubble hash. There are no women to speak of, at least not yet, though Boone assures me this will change once the plants begin to flower, so we make cow-shit tea, top the plants, cut stakes and carry water forever with the stench of manly body odor and the pleasant aroma of fresh marijuana coming from the garden.
The average day starts around 6:30 with a long walk to the outhouse. From there it’s time to water or shake the plants, making sure the leaves are dry and checking each for rot, bugs, or other defects. By 8 we are congregating at the buses cursing the rising sun and eating bacon and eggs cooked over an open fire.
How long we tarry there is dependent on any number of factors including weather, the level of hangover from the night before and even just the whims of the day. There is no end to the work that is left to do, so the best plan is just to do as much as you can and leave the anxiety to the chittering chipmunks.
There are trips to be made into town for gas or booze or groceries or lime for the shitter. There is water to fill down at the well and carry to the campsite and satellite gardens. There are weeds to pull, machines to fix, trails to build, firewood to chop, babies to transplant, animals to care for and legwork to be done to make sure the product finds a home and completes the cycle from cash-crop to currency.
By the heat of the day everyone is already exhausted, so one person is left behind, rifle in hand to guard the property, while the rest of the camp goes swimming and fishing. Guard duty is something we take very seriously, and with good reason. While concern about “Ze Federalis” is not nearly as high as it would be at a similar outfit on the west coast the truth is that for what the east coast lacks in federal law enforcement it more than makes up for in meth-heads, tweekers, rippers and pirates.
The population density of the right coast, even in a place like Maine, makes it a hotbed for theft. It’s just a short couple of hours from Massachusets to just about any farm in middle Maine, and there are plenty of would-be gangsters looking to make a quick buck. So, baking in the sun I take my turn atop The Other One (a second GMC bus) in an easy chair that has been hoisted up there specifically for this purpose. I lay the 38 Special in my lap, the 30-30 across the arms, and stand the 17 shot repeating 22 long rifle beside me.
A man looking to take information for the census drives up the road, sees me in full regalia, and decides that perhaps this house doesn’t really need to be counted. As I watch him back slowly down the collection of ruts and tree stumps that we like to call a driveway, I gander at the skyline. Every fucking tree that could be logged in this state has been, so the woods are a collection of young, slender birch, maple, and fir trees. The rolling hills and sandy soil remind me of the Upper Peninsula, the sunrises and sunsets last for hours.
I hear the wheels of Sister Maggie’s car at the end of the drive, come to drop the boys back off along with some homemade chili and a couple packs of American Spirits, and I train my scope on the dogleg about 90 yards out. A few seconds later they are in view, but I keep the scope up anyway, watching for signs of trouble. Convinced that everything is copacetic I lower the rifle and scramble down over the hood.
There is of course, more work to be done, more plants to be watered, more tops and bottoms to trim, more generators to fill, but then it’s time for chores and family dinner. On a great day we have chili or some other gift provided by one of the Dead Mamas in the area. On a good day we have bass from the river or rabbit shot in the garden. On a bad day we eat ramen noodles with veggies from the field out of grimy bowls with dusty, crusty forks.
Boone dumps gasoline on wet logs in the fire pit and we banter, argue, and occasionally roughhouse. Sometimes blows are thrown. Sometimes pistols and knives are unsheathed. Never is anyone seriously injured. At these times it has an old west mining town type feel to it. The age-old too much masculinity and too few whores problem. Trust is tendered and trashed in seconds, dogs feeling the surge begin to tussle in the background, fear and adrenaline remind you that your heart is still pumping – fast.
Then it settles again. The errant learn their lessons or kick rocks down the road while those that remain talk shit and take target practice. A bottle of liquor is produced from god-knows-where, a 27th or 28th joint (but who’s counting) is passed around, and more gasoline is dumped on the fire. Bobby croons about “stealing women from their men” and UFO’s dart across the darkest night sky you have ever seen. Someone eats a ten-strip and someone else decides to journey with them. Hours pass and slowly those least elevated make their way to their bus, or camper, or tent, or bando as mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds appear from the woods.
Then BANG. BANG. BANG. Just passing out you are awakened again by the sound of your friends, high as giraffe pussy on LSD, shooting rifles down the road at the old satellite dish, and you smile and roll over with a contented sigh. All is currently right with the world.
Caleb Calhoun is an author, poet, and journalist who makes his full-time home in Asheville, NC. He is a founder of Humans and Poetry, The Asheville Slam Poetry Team, Get On the Bus, and the editor and lead writer for Rosman City Blues (print only). His novel Moon Steel Drivers will be available at bookstores nationwide in 2021.