Thursday, February 26, 2009
A Green Mountain State
Vermont is a remarkable place. If you have not visited, I can't recommend it highly enough. The quality of life is stellar. Most of what you have heard is true. I brag to anybody who asks about the fact that there is no traffic, very little crime, no billboards, good schools. My daily commute takes me through the kind scenery that most folks only get to visit - pristine winding rivers, mountains jutting up about me, rolling hills and farm fields separating the mountain range we reside in from Lake Champlain and the surrounding valley where my office is located.
It has taken me years to uncover all that Vermont has to offer. Like many before me, my early years here were spent going to the real tourist spots - Ben & Jerry's, The Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, Stowe - all heavily trafficked and well enjoyed destinations. Subsequent years found me exploring the natural wonders of the state: mountain biking, hiking, days at the lake. Wildlife is often available in abundance for observation.
The benefits of this beautiful environment are not lost on Vermont residents. People just love the place. The lifestyle is laid back, with endless possibilities just beyond your door. It really doesn't suck.
But much like an onion, there are layers to be peeled from the surface of a community before one truly becomes aware of, and familiar with the subtle nuances that tell the entire story. Stick around long enough, keep the peeler working and you just might discover why Vermont is referred to as the Green Mountain state. Use Google to search for Vermont's second largest cash crop and you'll save yourself the years I invested in discovery.
The place is loaded with weed. If you ever wondered what happened to all the hippies, wonder no longer. I've found them, and I'm convinced that they are hiding in the hills, poised to rise again to glory. There is a plethora of Birkenstocks, VW vans, and peace signs to behold. The town of Woodstock, Vermont is just fifty miles from our home. People sit around campfires and talk about their feelings. Interpretive dance involving unshaven female armpits occurs with merciless frequency. The hills glow in a series of very small fires every night, and potato chips are consumed in mass quantity.
It stands to reason, therefore, that it was only a matter of time before I had a close encounter with a Mary Jane fan. In order to unwittingly further my education in things green, I moved in right down the street from one. An ardent fan, his days were spent researching all things marijuana. His appearance was part hippie, part mad scientist, long hair and bloodshot eyes bearing testament to his pursuit of, well...nothing, as is the case with most burners. Since he almost never left the house, I considered him relatively harmless.
This consideration was proven quite wrong in a series of events that I will try my best to remember, a series set in motion by a phone call I received one autumn night not too long ago.
Neighbor: "Dude you need to come to my house right now, this is not cool!"
Author: "What is not cool?"
Neighbor: "I don't have time to explain just come NOW."
I did. I grabbed Sola and a flashlight and ran down the street to see what had peace corps all wound up. As we made our way up the driveway I shined turned the light to the house, and what I saw had me running as fast as I could to get to the occupants. I was convinced the house was ablaze, and Sola picked up her pace to match mine as we landed on the front porch. I half expected the doorknob to burn me as I burst through the front door, Sola still at my heels.
We forged ahead through the haze and found our neighbor and his Golden Retriever despondent on the living room floor. I was without my cell phone and could not see my way through the house to find a landline. Plumes of smoke bellowed from the kitchen as I shook the two of them, desperate to see any sign of life. I dropped the flashlight, and Sola took a step back as both my neighbor and his dog opened their eyes and started laughing. It took forty minutes to stop them.
Once their gigglefest subsided, I forced an explanation from my less than present neighbor. He had taken a shot at horticulture over the summer, and as the days shortened and frosty nights approached, he had harvested his his baby. He explained to me how he had dried his plant, and stripped the leaves from it for the purpose of making brownies and cookies of a different kind. He layered these leaves on baking sheets and placed them in both of the dutch ovens in the kitchen (without turning them on) and left them there to dry for more than a week while he tended to the buds and stripped away the stems.
Experts say that pot impacts your short term memory, and here was a man on a mission to prove them right with a bullet. He had imbibed, and was hanging out with his dog while playing online poker. He was in the midst of a moderate winning streak when the hunger bug bit. He placed his laptop on the kitchen counter and scrounged for food between poker plays. Once he decided on his dinner he fired up the oven and returned to the living room to give the ongoing poker match his undivided attention.
Cheech and Chong had nothing on this guy. In a matter of minutes his cooking stash was incinerated, and the house was bursting at the seams with smoke. It was this disquieting scene that Sola and I found ourselves in the middle of - for just a little too long. As neighbor Chong surveyed the damage in the kitchen I started to become lightheaded. A quick look at Sola confirmed my fear- her eyes were drooping and she kept asking me where the water bowl was, which was odd considering that dogs don't talk. I wished my neighbor luck in my newly discovered slow motion voice, and Sola and I stubmbled home in the dark, purple elephants and unicorns in hot pursuit.
Both of us passed out. Mrs. Author and I shared a laugh over coffee the next morning as I conveyed the details of the previous evening's smoke show. The cobwebs cleared from my head as the day wore on. I ate like a horse. Our routine resumed.
Sola was changed.
I had not considered the risk, but it was becoming clear that some of that flower power had rubbed off. The first ominous sign: the attack of the bead curtains. Every doorway was adorned with noisy strands, some strung with seashells, coconut shells, heart shaped glass beads. Entry and exit to and from each room was announced with a loud rattle. My tacky radar was lit up like my neighbor's brain.
It went downhill quickly from there. I returned from work one evening to find the stereo on 10, Led Zeppelin rocking the house to it's foundation, Sola waving to and fro with the wall of guitar noise. Nigel and Truffles observed, nonplussed. They had pulled pillows from the couch to their ears and were nursing substantial headaches by the time I found the volume knob. As the music silenced, all that remained was the methodical tap of Sola's paws on the floor as she continued her dance, the music still playing in her head. I ushered her in to the dog room and closed her in for a bit to let her sober up.
I was baffled. I'd never heard of dogs spending time at the Betty Ford clinic, but I knew that I'd better figure out a solution rather quickly. Sola was embracing the culture too readily. I had kept her away from the Golden down the street to eliminate peer pressure. Mrs. Author and I had shown her scared straight videos from the pound - the images of Rotties being hauled out of Cadillac Escalades in cuffs, and Bulldogs doing time for possession apparently having little effect.
I asked Nigel to go check on Sola, but he came flying back to the couch, Sola angrily screaming "I can quit any time I want, stop snooping Magnum P.I.!" The dog room door slammed shut with a bang.
Nigel: There were piles of cash everywhere and it reeked of incense.
I waited a few hours for her to calm down. I continued the mental struggle for an appropriate course of treatment as I cracked the dog room door open to check on my little wayward corn nut.
A truly terrifying poster adorned the walls.
Sola rattled her way through the bead curtain again, passing me and running down the hall, out of sight. I made my way back to the living room to find her playing Rock Band on the Wii, singing White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane at the top of her lungs. "Feed your head!" she bellowed, and I truly believe she was in the song. It was all wrong, and remained so for months.
My car was the last straw. I walked out of the office the other day, laptop and keys in hand, twenty minutes late as always. I hadn't been punk'd as much as I'd been "pimped."
Fearing serious hooker traffic, I made a commitment at that moment to end the fierce addiction and reclaim my little girl. I was dangling dangerously from the end of my rope, and I needed to save her at any cost. That night Mrs. Author and I huddled with Nigel and Truffles and share our plan. Once all had it memorized we dispersed - Truffles to the kitchen, Mrs. Author keeping an eye on Sola in the back yard as Nigel produced her rolling papers. We were done in less than five minutes, and Sola was none the wiser as she returned to her spot on the couch.
At seven that evening we were watching news of the financial meltdown when Sola had a meltdown of her own. We heard the flick of a lighter in the dog room followed by a series of coughs that evolved in to a consistent dry hack. Sola came rattling back at us through the bead curtain, demanding an explanation. "Someone raided my stash. This isn't my stash, someone replaced it with garbage, where is MINE?" We tried to talk her down, but addiction is as strong as it is ugly, and she wanted no part of it.
I explained that we loved her and that we all needed her to be healthy and well, and free of her demons. Mrs. Author told her that we missed the Sola we knew. She held up a defiant paw and ignored us. I asked Nigel to produce the evidence. He handed it over and I threw it on the table in front of her angrily.
Sola: I quit I quit I quit I quit!!!!!!!!!!
Nigel: You smoked catnip, you'll never live this down in the dog community.
Truffles: Anyone seen my Joaquin Phoenix beard and glasses?
Sola: I have quit, but as you may have noticed, corn nut is one of my nicknames. You all should really click this button to help me with the transition back to reality. Just keep on clicking into oblivion...feed your head!