Timing is on my mind as the first Monsoon drizzles fall like a massage on my incontrovertibly red neck here in the high desert of the Funky Butte Ranch. In particular, I’m noticing something in the final lunar cycle before this book I’ve written about the last days of the North American Drug War hits bookstores and e-readers. What keeps popping up, especially now that I’ve started giving advance interviews for the publications that have longer “lead times,” is that one of my projections about the situation at publication time, like all expectations, was almost totally wrong. I mean, I could hardly have made a less accurate prediction.
And this, people, is a very good state of affairs, in my view, if you’re a sustainably-minded patriotic parent. I imagined that once I’d finished my work (and the work would be the same regardless of my perception of response: research and report as I see it from the front lines of the Drug War, not omitting the ubiquitous and considerable humor always to be found in the trenches of any war) I’d be exuding, in my interviews, a sort of semi-apologetic, “Listen, before you say anything, let me tell you why I’ve just dedicated upwards of two years of my professional life to researching, ya know, what the coming Drug Peace might look like.”
Instead, to generally quite educated and up to date interviewers (this week Stanford Magazine and Irish National Radio), I hear myself saying, in reply to the obligatory “Yes, but the people who want to fight on another 40 years, spending a trillion of our dollars for 1% results would say…” question is, “If you don’t recognize that America is about to get stronger, safer, healthier, richer and better educated about the whole realm of intoxicants (especially long utilized and comparatively benign medicinal plants) as the Drug War ends, then you’re behind Kansas and Indiana. You simply aren’t paying attention to economics, health research, or the facts on the ground. But I know a book that may enlighten you.”
Turns out America, and I mean mainstream America, heartland America, God-fearing America, where I raise my children, dodge coyotes and twice a day face a herd of goats very close to my own intelligence level, is not just totally ready but in fact quite eager to end the War on Drugs. For the good of the country. Having heard almost nothing but support in red and purple states, I’m no longer hesitant to discuss the subject of the coming Drug Peace in any company.
Once my preliminary research convinced me that the topic was important enough to move my family adjacent to the cannabis fields of Northern California for a year of study amidst the conflicting sounds of bumblebees and helicopters, my principal concern upon revealing the results to the world was, “Professionally, would I be Woody Harrelsoned (stigmatized for a topic mainstream journalism, politics and religion didn’t yet consider top-tier-important)?” My confidants were mixed on that one, but one, it turns out, particularly astute friend said, “Didn’t hurt Michael Pollan.” Indeed two years of time (and polls, and Pat Robertson) have shown the zeitgeist is there.
So what I’m saying is, where my predictions were off was not in the realm of my own conclusions following research on the front lines of this war. It was in the realm of everybody else’s. I thought I’d have to explain why the topic of Too High to Fail matters. Instead, every time I tell someone what the new book’s about, I feel, as I put it in an earlier Dispatch, like a marathon running being given water and back pats as he closes in for the lead.
Hence the whole topic of timing, in this case, blessedly fortuitous timing, has been crossing my psyched RADAR screen almost every day this summer. American publishing is, for the moment, one of the last industries that requires a substantial lead time between inspiration and realization. Which is to say, it’s been nearly two years since I wrote the book proposal for Too High to Fail. There was simply no way for me or for my publisher to know Americans would be polling, as I type these words, at a record 56% in support of ending the War on Drugs – and that number is climbing (it’s 80% in support of medical cannabis legalization, and the 56% is up from 49% a year ago). In other words, I had no idea I’d be preaching (or at least providing what I hope are the humor- and adventure-laden facts) to the converted.
And I ain’t complainin’. There’s going to be so much less background to explain at live events! In fact I’m just sending out big thanks to you, Zeitgeist Gatekeepers, for smiling on a release date for this book (and its offshoots in other media) about which I had almost no control. I’m not sure where you dwell, Mainstream Mindset Minders, but you somehow manage to do your job even now that there’s more than one Walter Cronkite broadcasting your decision. I don’t know how you do it. Maybe it’s in the Wi-Fi frequencies. But whatever you’re doing, it’s working. Keep up the good work. Collect your bonus.
Meanwhile, this literary zeitgeist appreciation is, if not getting lost in, seamlessly blending in with the forty two other flavors of appreciation I experience every day here in the remote canyon wherein lies the Funky Butte Ranch. A prominent one from before breakfast (in fact before sunrise) today came when my four-year-old joyfully announced the discovery of the year’s first ripe walnut. Woke me the heck up, in fact. Hooray local living. The message for me was about Climate Change in this high desert ecosystem: Drought? Sure. Still bountifully and generously giving land? You bet. Eminently survivable. Even for a greenhorn of a neo-Rugged Individualist like me.
But I’ve even had cause to wonder of late just how green my horns in fact are. Indeed bigger picture on the appreciation scale, I had an important moment in my solar-powered Organic Goat Herder career last week. Round about dusk, I had occasion to feel a feeling, while unloading several tons of organic alfalfa hay at a neighbor’s so unfamiliar that I didn’t exactly have a name for it at first. Now, upon a few days’ reflections, I think of it as “growing into my (hemp) cowboy hat.”
Which is to say, I think I might actually have kind of learned to live here in this gorgeous valley. I mean, ya know, if box stores go away. The first clue was my decidedly atypical lack of profound injury at the end of unloading day: evidently hay stacking is a matter of ergonomics and vertebrae feng shui.
The second hint was that I noticed I now think nothing of stashing my water bottle in a pile of oldish goat poop nuggets, if that’s where the shade is. And really hammering home this fun new “fitting in with the locals and maybe even being one” sensation were the terse words of grumpy old rancher Pat as she passed around beers to the bunch of sweat-soaked cowboy hat-wearers once the last bale was stashed next to a brand new litter of kittens: “Nice working’ with ya today,” she said to me. I’m pretty darn sure she was looking at me. Fairly sure.
This was a woman who, three short hay harvests prior, had abruptly ejected me from conveyer belt duty (this frightening device carries the bales from the truck up into her barn) like a Trump apprentice when I (admittedly) seemed to throw half the bales too far up the rubbery, rickety belt, and a good portion of the other half in the dirt in front of the finicky machine.
With those few words of kindness, accompanied by distant lightning emerging from a part of the violet spectrum never before visible to me, a month of triple digit tension, in fact three quarters of a decade’s suspicion that I’d always be a greenhorn, were gone. Evaporated into the suddenly moist atmosphere. I felt as though I were being baptized. Or, more culturally accurately, I felt like Jacob, finally outsmarting Laban and talking ownership of his goats. I was being dubbed a rural New Mexican – after only seven years study. I knew this lifestyle was a better decision than medical school.
Quite literally the next moment I nearly caught a mis-tossed grapple hook in the jugular, and then my work glove got embarrassingly stuck in a piece of bailing wire I was bringing to the recycle bin, briefly tipping over my beer. But that’s just part of my four decade-long reminder that if I lose physical contact with acute humility for even a second I generally get smacked down immediately by a universe with little tolerance for excess ego. Luckily I was distracted from too much of the requisite (and who’s to say whether accurate?) self-doubt by two emails that buzzed impatiently out of my phone before I was half done with my beverage. “Excuse me,” I said to Pat and the rest of the group, few of whom had smart phones.
I blew hay dust off the expensive device and checked the messages. One was a neighbor, asking if I wanted in on an elk hunt he was planning. “Yes,” I typed. “Thanks!” The other was a note from my colleague, a producer at the Conan show, asking if I was available to appear as a guest a week before publication time. I plonked my up an adjoining hay bale, examined the nursing, shut-eyed kittens, took a sip of ale, and sighed with satisfaction. “Yes,” I replied. “Thanks!”
I like Digital Age Neo-Rugged Individualism. I think Tommy Jefferson would, too. Thunderstorm lullabies one day, joking around with Andy Richter the next. Goat milking the next. I’m into it. I just hope the broad palette of wildflowers soon to emerge in the Funky Butte Ranch meadows, the offspring of this nascent Monsoon season, will arrive before I’m off to the coasts and then the heartland, to speak to you folks about why America will be stronger, safer, healthier, wealthier and even more creative in the coming Drug Peace era.