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  • The summer before my last year in college I had a near miss with the Sherriff’s Department. I had gotten out of Lewiston, Maine just as fast as I could after my freshman year. I picked Bates College in part for its academic calendar. The second semester ended in early April and I packed my backpack, stuck out my thumb and was out on the island the next day.

    In early April the island is quiet. There is still ice where the snow drifted and stayed along the shadowed edges of the spruce forest. The song birds bide their time, know full well not to trust the fickle New England spring. After the three floors of beer drinking, pot smoking, rock and rolling, play the same song over and over and over, let’s flood the hallways freshman in Paige Hall, it was heaven.

    I stayed in my parent’s house with a long list of jobs written out in great detail in my father’s angular, pointed print.

    I was to tear out all the old interior lath and plaster walls and ceiling downstairs so we could renovate when the rest of the family arrived. I had apple trees to plant. Wood to cut. A garden to start.

    And ...

    My father asked if I would grow some pot plants. He and my grandmother wanted to give it a try.

    When I showed that sentence to my roommates and the guys across the hall there was a total and admiringly reverent silence.

    Man, said Jeff. That is cool.

    We spent the last two months of the semester testing weeds and saving seeds. The guys were all biology majors and they were not about to let me do this haphazardly.

    The first week on the island, I walked the shores and collected plastic bleach bottles and other containers to use to start plants. I put tomato, pepper, and melon seeds between damp paper towels to germinate in the oven where the pilot kept them warm and happy. In with them went the plump round speckled seeds so carefully winnowed from bags of Columbian Gold.

    (A note here on cannabis cultivation: Cultivars and methods have, I hear, changed dramatically from those very innocent days in the late 70s. So if any of you know more and are shaking your heads at our dismal horticultural expertise, come on, it was 1977. A bag was $25. This was all so long ago.)

    On warm days I carried my seedlings out to get a touch of sun. When the wind came out of the north and it grew grey and chill or when frost threatened, I carried them in again and set them on shelves and table tops in the kitchen. The room was green and lush by mid-May.

    That was when Carl walked in. He had come to ask if I wanted a job painting trim on a house out on the southern end of the island.

    Sure, I said. And after he had left I convinced myself that marigolds and tomatoes and cannabis all looked pretty much alike.

    My brother showed up a bit before the rest of the family and we worked like dogs to prepare the new garden. We dug it out and screened the soil. With all the rocks out, the level dropped by about a foot so we hauled seaweed and earth from the forest and whatever other soil we could scrounge. We cut spruce poles and made a neat little greenhouse and in went the plants. Tomato, pepper, melon, squash and 10 little reefer plants set in among them.

    All that summer we tended the garden. We buried the fish guts after every fishing trip. We carried bags of seaweed, we mulched with hay.

    We trooped down daily to measure them. They grew inches a day.

    Down in the little log cabin we discussed their finer points endlessly. But everywhere else there was a studied silence. My father kept a vague yet proprietary eye on them, my mother only spoke of the tomatoes and corn and melons.

    And they grew and grew and grew.

    By August they were pressing up against the roof.

    We cut the plastic off added poles and extended the roof another four feet. The greenhouse didn’t look cute anymore, it looked lopsided.

    And they grew and grew and grew.

    My parents left later in August.

    Make sure you save me some, said my father.

    We nodded.

    By the end of August we went ahead and just cut the plastic completely off the roof. The tops of the plants poked through, dark green, vibrant and growing.

    In early September, Claire came with what looked like her new boyfriend and someone else. They left, she stayed. It was warm and school wasn’t going to start for a week or two.

    One afternoon we washed each other’s hair on the front porch looking out at the Town Road.

    You want to smoke, I asked.

    She did.

    We walked back to the roofless greenhouse to pinch a bud.

    The plants were gone.

    I found where they had been dragged and we followed the trail of dropped leaves. Past the house, along the road, down to the shore.

    Benjy, Phyllis stood on her porch looking down at us as we sniffed out the trail, picking up leaves here and there.

    I looked up.

    Benjy, are you looking for your plants?

    I didn’t know how to answer that.

    The Sherrif was by a minute ago. They took your plants in his boat.

    That answered any questions I had.

    Summer was over and we both knew it. I packed up the house and we took off. I ran clear back to Bates and dove into classes and keg parties and everything college.

    In my battered black photo album there is a bad photocopy of the smiling Hancock County Sherrif holding up a plant. It towers above him. The article comments on the other marvellous horticultural specimens in the green house.

    The plants appeared well tended, said the Sherriff. You’re not going to see bigger plants than this.

    My father never fails to tell the story when he has new company and I’m there for supper.

    I still squirm and feel the anxious sweat mixed with pride. The lessons I learned that summer I learned well.
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