Leslie and Pablo left Juniper Ridge’s Oakland headquarters with a big truck, two helpers, and a 10-hour drive up the Pacific Coast ahead of them. Their mission: collecting 11,000 pounds of conifers from the forests of Oregon.
Leslie had secured a US Forest Service harvesting permit for a legendary spot in the remote forests of Oregon’s southern coast. They’d be trimming boughs along precipitous mountain roads over four days, and camping under the stars at night. On the drive up to Oregon, Leslie and Pablo talked about the ominous warning they’d gotten from a forest ranger about illegal pot farms hidden in the Siskiyou forests that were supposedly guarded by armed men. “She said if we came across any plastic tubing to just turn around and walk the other way,” says Leslie. Leslie and Pablo, though, had more pressing concerns than violent pot farmers. The weather reports were turning ugly. By the time they crossed the border, the forecast had changed from light rain to thunderstorms. And the temperature was dropping. The first serious squalls of the fall were rolling in off the Pacific Ocean, and they were headed straight towards southern Oregon. “When those narrow mountain roads get muddy,” says Leslie, “they get dangerous. This was not good.”
Once a harvest is in motion, though, you do everything you can to see it through. On their first harvesting day, they managed to navigate the slick roads and found a beautiful grove of Cedar, Doug Firs, Incense Cedars, and Noble Firs. Clumps of bear grass sprouted up from the ground, and edible oyster mushrooms grew in the clearings. A perfect spot.
Decked out in their ponchos, they carefully trimmed the trees, laying the boughs in the back of the truck. It’s tough work under the best conditions. With sheets of rain coming down, it was especially rough. “Everyone usually has about four hours in them before they start to fall apart,” says Leslie.
For lunch, Pablo set up the camp stove and cooked quesadillas. The hot food revived everyone’s spirits. After several more hours of work, they were packing up and getting ready to go find a place to sleep for the night, when an expensive truck pulled up next to them. Four men dressed in spotlessly clean camouflage sat inside, staring at them. Leslie walked over to chat. “I could see a shotgun between the two seats,” says Leslie. “I asked what they were shooting. The guy said ‘anything that moves.’ “I got a little closer to the truck and saw he had a big, black pistol in his lap, with his finger on the trigger. His hand never moved and he never took his eyes off me.” “They had all their teeth and too much money,” Leslie said. “I knew they weren’t hunters.”
Eventually the truck drove away into the forest. Leslie was unruffled. “As long as Pablo’s with me, I’m not afraid of anything,” she says, laughing. “Except snakes.” A few minutes later, Pablo piloted the truck carefully down the mountain roads. They were headed to a nearby backwoods RV park, hoping to find a place out of the rain to pitch their tents. When the manager, Barbara, offered them the use of a single-wide trailer, they felt like they’d won the lottery. “I’ve never been so excited about staying in a trailer in my life,” says Leslie. “We just fell into this little family. One person emptied the truck. One person started dinner. We made soup using mushrooms from the forest. It was nice.”
After dinner, they drank beers, and relaxed in the warmth of the trailer, flipping between the two channels on the tiny TV and discussing the next day’s logistics. Then, at 7 AM the next morning, they were back at it: driving up those crazy roads, heading into the heart of that bright green, stormy wilderness. Three more days of work, then it would be time to drive 11,000 pounds of trimmings back to Oakland for distillation. And a much-needed hot shower.