It's harvest time in the Hudson Valley. In autumns of yore, that would have entailed rustling up a frolicsome crew to go apple picking, heading to a favored pumpkin patch in Linus-like pursuit of an ideal squash, mulling some wine, or cooking vast cauldrons of sauce from the annual overabundance of tomatoes and freezing meal-sized Ziploc bags of the stuff.
(Now I've been told that canning is a much more efficient way to preserve fruit and vegetables than jamming a freezer so full of tomatoes that a man can't even fit a bottle of vodka in there like a civilized person. But I'm afraid of canning, deathly afraid in fact, because I'm sure I'll screw it up somehow and murder an entire dinner party with a botulism-laced puttanesca. According to the Centers for Disease Control, reported botulism cases in the US are exceedingly rare—only 110 per year—so perhaps my anxiety is ungrounded. However, the Department of Health and Human Services has this to say on the matter: "Improperly canned, preserved, or fermented foods can provide the right conditions for the bacteria to make the toxin. You cannot see, smell, or taste the toxin [my emphasis], but taking even a small taste of food containing it can be deadly." While everyone might die during dinner, at least the flavor of the puttanesca will not be compromised.)
While the autumnal traditions of bygone days are not forgotten—the apple pie does not bake itself, as Great Aunt Wilhelmina used to say—in our household, the first whiff of cool weather now brings with it fevered anticipation of the big weed whack: the cannabis harvest. We're growing marijuana, you see. Lots of it. In pots on our back deck. Big plants, taller than a tall plant should be and thick with buds. It's our second season, and we're very excited. (We used to get this giddy over tomatoes: gazpacho, pan con tomate, etc. Once we move on to cultivating hallucinogenic mushroom spores, I'm sure we'll feel similarly blasé about pot plants.)
And just so you know: It is illegal to grow weed in New York State. According to the letter of the law—the law being the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) of 2021, signed by dearly departed Gov. Andrew Cuomo—homegrown marijuana is not allowed until the first adult cannabis dispensary has been open for 18 months. The first legal dispensary, Housing Works Cannabis Co., opened in the East Village on December 29 of last year, which means legal growing won't start until somewhere around June 29, 2024. As everyone knows, this has stopped absolutely no one, just as a lack of dispensary licensing has not halted the illegal pot shops in New York City from popping up like so many, well, weeds. (In April, Gov. Kathy Hochul estimated that there were 2,500 black market storefronts operating in the five boroughs.)
If for some bizarre reason you do want to stay on the right side of the law, despite the fact all your friends and neighbors are green thumbing it, know this: You're allowed to cultivate a total of six plants, consisting of three mature and three immature plants; up to 12 plants per residence. And you're allowed to process and store—"securely" according to the MRTA—up to five pounds of weed at home. Oh, and wait until after next June to get started. (A hypothetical: What happens if I "accidentally" grow more than five pounds of weed? Let's say I grow six pounds, what then? Will there be collection facilities set up in our communities—I'm thinking something akin to a used clothing drop box—where we can deposit excess tonnage? Will there be spot home inspections by the Weed Police?)
We're growing three plants this year. Their names are Lady Rossmore, Hildegard, and Edwina, collectively known as the Girls. (And yes, we're sure they're females; it says so in their email signatures.) We're currently a tad anxious about the Girls, as marijuana plants want to be kept pretty dry once they start budding, and it's been raining all the time. In high-moisture conditions, bud rot can set in, and that's no bueno. So we find ourselves clustering the Girls as best we can underneath a shade umbrella and then running out to shake them of excess water once the rain stops. We've become quite invested in the well-being of these plants. I wish I could say the same for the bougainvillea or the Japanese maple.
And here's the mystery at the heart of it all: We don't even get high. (I had originally written "we don't even smoke pot," as smoking was the way, nearly the only way, to get high since time immemorial, since aliens came down and built the Pyramids and gave weed to the Egyptians 4,000 years ago.) I used to get high all the time, multiple times a day, when I was in my 20s. I don't think there was a thing I did where I wasn't high. School, work, church, dentist: I did it all high. Family reunions and final exams. Making bongs out of household items? I was a regular MacGyver. Stealing screens out of all the faucets? Guilty as charged. Bongwater coffee? I drank it. (Not recommended: zero out of five stars.) A man whose goal in life was to get high in all 50 states: Not me, but I roomed with that guy. Where are you now, Dan Goodfriend? I hope you're still out there chasing your elusive dream.
And then one day I just wasn't into anymore, like Hacky sack. I can't explain it. Now, with the frisson of illegality gone, it doesn't seem nearly as cool to get high either. Outlaws don't buy vape pens. It seems way cooler to obsess over a few plants. And the weed doesn't even need to be canned. It just sits in jars without killing anybody. And there's room in the freezer for the vodka.