Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 Last Annual Holiday Letter

The Colonel preparing soil in the hoop house 

The Last Annual Kretsinger Holiday LetterWinter Solstice, 2014      

Bothe became deeply distressed when, at age twelve he discovered that he and Adolf Hitler were born on the same day - April 20.  He had begun his study of astrology and Tarot by then and had a deep belief in fate.  He functioned under a dark cloud about this cosmic coincidence until as a teenager he tripped over the fact that the date of his birth - 420 - was police code for marijuana smoking in progress.  Aside from softening his angst about being born on the Fuhrer’s birthday, it supplied him with the new belief that he was fated to become a pot smoker.  His father and I did not embrace this as a comfort and the issue of pot remained a sore spot until this summer when we experienced a tectonic shift in the other direction - also in relation to cannabis.

Whereas Bothe was born on exactly the right day, the Colonel’s timing, with regard to cannabis, was all off.  Twenty five days before his birth, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Law, making cannabis illegal in the United States. The Colonel believes he may be the only adult in America who wouldn’t recognize pot smoke if he smelled it. He had never seen cannabis until July 16, 2014, when an old yellow Mercedes limousine pulled up in front of our house, and the driver opened the rear door to reveal the limo was full of potted plants.  The guy was dressed in well-worn work clothes and spectacles, a pair of reading glasses around his neck, and sunglasses stuck on top of his head in a nest of gray hair going every which way.  He looked to be in his fifties or sixties, but his face had the look of a six year old boy’s on Christmas morning.  This was Bill Althouse, with his 1979 Mercedes 300D rigged to run on hemp oil.  His license plates read “BIOFUEL”.  He claimed the car once belonged to Ferdinand Marcos, but now, instead of Imelda’s shoes, it was full of seventy one hemp plants. 

Hemp has been used by humans for as long as we have been involved in agricultural production.  It was considered such a staple of life during Colonial times, American farmers were mandated to produce a certain number of plants per acre.  While hemp was not actually outlawed under the Marihuana Tax Law of 1937, it was highly regulated.  The only time since the law was passed that permits for growing cannabis were granted was during WWII, when the U.S. Navy needed good old American-grown hemp rope for victory against Japan. 
The tax law was the culmination of a campaign waged by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics vilifying marijuana as a poisonous narcotic.  Despite its long and versatile utility to humankind, hemp was in the same plant genus as the “killer drug” and no effort was made to distinguish the psychotropic effects of smoking dope or smoking rope.  Interestingly, it was hemp that drove the demonization of pot.  Removing this historically beneficial crop from the country’s agricultural production benefitted a few of America’s wealthiest capitalists who had pulp timber and petro-chemical interests that produced such things as newspaper print and nylon, a newly developed synthetic fiber, all products that would fare better without the competition of hemp, which was cheaper and superior in all respects.   
Hemp is a renewable resource that can be used to make food, fiber, rope, paper, packaging materials, lubricants, detergents, car parts, clean burning biofuel, and medicine. In 2000 in Colorado, medical marijuana was approved for treatment of cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, muscle spasms, seizures, severe pain, severe nausea, sudden weight loss, and muscle atrophy.  Growing hemp helps regenerate soil and does well grown organically.  Its seeds contain fatty acids superior to flax and also has magnesium, zinc, and iron.   
The Colonel had been following the reintroduction of hemp for some time, when his friend Tom Delahanty, a fellow Marine and poultry farmer, introduced him to Bill Althouse, a renewable energy engineer and hemp revivalist. He is known in New Mexico for the sweet juicy strawberries and beautiful flowers he grows and sells at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. 
Strawberries aside, Bill was looking for certified organic farmers in Colorado, where cannabis was now legal, preferably with a greenhouse or high tunnel, to form a hemp growers’ cooperative and take part in an experimental project. We would be raising clones taken from a mother plant that had a low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – the stuff that gets you high) and a mutantly high level of cannabidiol (CBD - a non-psychoactive chemical compound).  Cannabidiol has been used with success in treating epilepsy in children for some years, to the extent several states where cannabis is illegal have passed laws allowing this certain strain of hemp, specifically for treating epilepsy. The CBD oil currently used is imported from China, where growing conditions and use of chemicals (e.g., pesticides) are unknown.
Bill’s project met the Colonel’s criteria as worthy agriculture.  It would be good for the land, the environment, the community, and had the potential of being lucrative.  Growing hemp plants build soil, aren’t thirsty, and if Bill’s nascent growers’ cooperative worked, and hemp production could be kept in the hands of the people, it would leave giant agri-business, pharmaceuticals, and fuel and utility monopolies in the dust. 
Hemp Limousine
Just in time for us to take possession of our new charges, Todd Grayson, an Alamosa designer and builder, was finishing our hoop house, a 2,000 square foot structure, both elegant and stout, like the Eiffel Tower.  Its purpose was to add a month or two at either end of the San Luis Valley’s ninety day growing season.
When Bill arrived in his botanical limo, Bothe leaned in to look at the plants and flashed us his butt crack.  And that’s pretty much the view we had of him for the rest of the summer.  Every morning we’d find him bent over, examining leaves, maneuvering a razor blade or tiny scissors down into the branches, using the manual dexterity and strength gotten from years of practicing card and coin tricks.  He got a little rusty with his tricks over the summer, because he spent his magic time on the hemp.
 Bill recognized Bothe’s immediate affinity for the plants, and knew Bothe would be the Plant Papa.  That is how Bill feels toward plants, loving and protective, especially toward these plants.  For the next two days while they planted the clones in the hoop house, Bothe stuck by Bill’s side, learning about the stages of growth, about trimming, propagating, watering, fertilizing, and how to make more clones as these plants grew.  
All the different strains of cannabis grow differently, depending on their purpose.  Hemp for fiber, for instance, can grow ten feet tall.  Ours, all female, were squat and bushy and as they matured, became crowded with buds, like some kind of alien being.  To harvest, Bill assembled a crew of experienced cannabis growers.  They sat at a picnic table in our garage for hours at a stretch, hunched over the tediously close-up work of manicuring sticky, resin covered blossoms.  The air filled with a thick, sweetly pungent odor.  “There’s a lota terpenes in this,” Catherine remarked.  She wore an apron that made her look like a 1950’s ad for Bab-O cleanser.  “That’s what gives it that smell,” she explained to me. Her gaze wandered off, as if following a falling star.  That’s how everybody who knows anything about cannabis talks, like they’re watching falling stars.

After a stretch of silence, Gavin, a young guy with dread locks and beautiful bronze skin told about making CBD oil for people with skin cancer.  “Their tumors just vanished, man,” he said.
I showed him the face cream and sun screen Margrit Thorne makes with our grassfed beef tallow and asked how I could render CBD oil to put in the cream. There came a torrent of technical information gleaned from their years of experience.  Something about “decarboxylizing - off gassing CO2 - CBDA becomes CBD - but, you get it too hot it’ll bring out the THC - you don’t want the THCeeez - you want the CBDeeez...dude.”
Bothe and Bill planting hemp babies
I really couldn’t follow what they were saying, but I was dazzled by a shower of shooting stars, smote with understanding.  I had not grasped the hemp project, thought we simply did not have time for it. Besides, it was usually spoken of in chemistry jargon, with a dash of legalese, in the kind of ditzy bravado reminiscent of the pot heads of my youth, all of which makes my mind slam shut. 
In truth, the root of my ignorance was a long held prejudice against pot, the result of the fear-mongering so long ago that outlawed a crop that could have meant sound and resilient modern development.  Where would we be had we been burning hemp oil all this time instead of petroleum and coal?
Further, it was pot growers who, using genetic selection had not only achieved more potent highs, but developed medical marijuana that could address a myriad of symptoms.  Until now cannabis research in the U.S. has been done by people like this crew in my garage – research that makes it possible for kids with epilepsy to have relief from their seizures, and people with hip replacements to get past their pain without oxycodone.  They funded their own work, worked in secrecy, risking arrest, often in places like my garage.  The research certainly hasn’t been done by universities or any other “respectable” research institutions, who would risk their federal funding. 
 Just before harvest, field agents from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service came out to inspect our hoop house. Since they had paid for part of it they wanted to make sure it met USDA specifications.  It far surpassed their measure, except they did not like our crop, which was, after all, still a Schedule 1 drug, in the same class as methamphetamine and cocaine.  It was a terrible blow and there passed several very tense days before we got word about what the outcome would be.  We weren’t as concerned about the possible loss of remuneration as we were for the future of the plants.  Would they be sentenced to die before harvest?  The Colonel had flash backs of flying Agent Orange onto Viet Namese jungles.
A few evenings later, long after dark, I came inside to find Bothe still at the farm. Father and son were sitting at the dining table, heads together, pouring over a garden supply catalogue.   “Hey, that one would work if we…”  They were looking at grow lights. 
Zen Rose, Radish Queen
“Did you hear from the NRCS folks?” I asked.  

“We sure did,” the Colonel said. “They think hemp’s good, almost as good as grass – the kind our cows eat. But, since we got USDA funds for the hoop house, we can’t do things that are against federal law.  We can still harvest,” he said, both men getting tears in their eyes.  “We just can’t get paid for it.  But, that’s OK.”
Bothe continued, “No more hemp until we change the law.” 
“But, we’re not going to Getmo,” the Colonel said brightly.  We’re going to grow vegetables!”  
 After much deliberation Bothe made his big move to Denver in October.  He went with his partner, Lares Feliciano, and thirty house plants.  They live not far from his precious Zen Rose.  So, he can take part in her regular daily life – go to her Girl Scout events, and school plays, and concerts, and ceremonies, go to the museum together  – and maybe plant some radishes, Zen Rose’s favorite thing to grow.

Have a sweet Solstice.  Enjoy the dark.  Be kind to that septic and it will be kind to you.