The night was cool, and the sky was clear. Stars flecked the sky, and the moon rose above the wrack of mountains falling into twilight. And yes I’ve been reading a terrible lot of The Lord of the Rings, so you’re going to be dealing with lots of long winded nature imagery and intensive moon stage analyses.
I was walking up a hill with my friends-for-the-night—fellow backpackers I had met at the hostel—to gaze at the stars from the height of a hill outside Kaikoura, a small tourist town on the east coast of New Zealand’s south island.
Earlier on in the night, I had met several guys from Ohio, who were now ambling beside me. Their faces were shrouded in the dark, and the next morning, I would have a difficult time recognizing them, giving them one of those noncommittal “heyyy… you” and then awkwardly fleeing.
“Ahhh. Sweet New Zealand grass,” Ohio #1 said and breathed deep.
At first I assumed he was talking about the near-tangible aroma of the New Zealand scenery—the breeze from the sea, the prairie grass, the faint piney scent. But then I noticed he lit something and took a pull from something between two fingers.
He extended his arm, offering me some.
I almost shook his hand right then and there—not because I wanted some but because I had arrived. Yes, I had finally pulled in to a parking spot marked only for “cool kids,” and the thrill almost felt like being high—without, you know, the aid of green carcinogenic euphoria.
See, it’s a mindset left over from high school that only the popular kids smoke “the stuff,” which was referenced to in a whisper with indelible quotation marks floating in the air. The deep philosophical roots of said “essence of coolness” are of course shaky to the extreme, but such logical inconsistencies are, of course, lost to any average high schooler or any grownup still stuck in their teenage years (a sizeable number to be sure).
Hell, the cool kids were the only ones who knew how to get pot. When I was in high school, I would be damned if I knew who to ask or what to do if I had some. In a pinch, I probably could have smoked some grass—like the stuff you mow in the summer—and faked the whole “high part,” which doesn’t seem that hard to do. Spacey eyes, slow reaction time, ravenous hunger—that just sounds like me past ten o’clock.
I generally hung out with the AP calculus kids in high school, the kids who were high on smarts and generally low on any sort of social interaction. Girls were practically non-existent, conversation with attractive members of the other gender being in the realm of the Rubix cube with five layers—guys on Youtube knew how to do it blindfolded while playing a harmonica, but we were struggling past the second step.
High school, however, was ages ago—those same friends now have children, engineering degrees, or are somewhere in South Korea doing math stuff. And I’m in New Zealand with a bachelor’s degree in writing. And apparently, I have grown from my scribbling equation days—or I just looked more like a pothead—because here I was, being offered what people call “a doobie.”
Coming from Boulder, Colorado, which seems to be the birthplace of everything marijuana related, you’d think I would have tried weed sometime after my high school years or at least been offered it. But I’ve been mistaken far more as a supplier than a user. I’m not sure what conclusion I should draw from that, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s good.
And being from Ohio and knowing Colorado’s street cred, they must have expected that I would snarf the sucker like a hobbit and his Longbottom Leaf. And I’ve found it’s not an atypical assumption; Colorado’s reputation has spread far and wide, even to other countries.
The question of geographical location—where you’re from—has become a unique experiment then. In fact, it’s usually the first question—as if by country, we can easily sort out teams should there be an impromptu kickball match or drunken brawl, or who to immediately point at should the Cabernet Sauvignon go missing (the French guy obviously).
I, of course, answer that I’m from the United States and follow quickly by “Colorado.” A good thirty percent of the time no one has any idea what the hell that means; their North American geography being as well-versed as mine is of Africa, Southeast Asia, or South America.
Then I am left to educate them without the aid of map. A tattoo of the United States on my chest would be helpful to pull out in such a situation, and then I could flex and pull manly poses—you know, to attract the female kind. But unfortunately I would look like a hopelessly insecure creepo, and I’m not sure I could pull off the Arnold poses without some snickering from the target audience.
I fear to mention the Midwest—even though from a strictly geographical sense Colorado is in the Midwest—because that area is generally associated with conservative nut jobs and gay-haters. “Midwest” means this guy is going to be standing over my bed in the middle of the night, laying hands on me and praying to the Lord Jesus for a “true conversion experience” with this “sheep gone astray.” Shivers.
Instead, I make a hesitant box with my hands, which is supposed to represent America, and then realize that I can’t point without messing up the box, so I try to gesticulate enough with head nods to get my geographic location across. By the end, they’re more confused than they were at the beginning, thinking that Colorado is either by San Francisco or in western Canada. I sigh and finish by saying, “it’s somewhere in the west, kind of close to California but not really.”
A good thirty-five percent have vague recollections of Colorado as being that place where the mountains are, and five percent are American or Canadian and have their geography straight. The final thirty percent’s eyes visibly widen, as if I’ve hit some freakish nerve in their body. “Ohhhh… that’s the state that legalized marijuana, right?” And then they wink, maybe give me a slight nudge like I’m a vending machine and going to pop out a doobie for their pleasure (don’t ask me from where).
A good fifteen percent of these people treat me like an activist, someone on the cutting edge of awesome liberal policies. I just don’t understand it. It’s like we’ve transcended all of the other civil right inequalities in existence and so we’ve moved on to liberating plants that make you feel funny. Let’s just skip the gays, climate change, poverty… I almost expect them to start applauding me like Colorado has singlehandedly freed the slaves or given women the right to do something other than cook and do laundry.
Now, I’m not against the legalization, much to the contrary; we’re making paper cranes with hundred dollar bills and funding some mediocre education from all the tax money we’ve got. And I don’t care if you smoke marijuana, as long as you don’t stink up my personal space. But I just don’t get it. How did pot get to be such a big deal, such a measure of liberation and freedom?
All I know is that the stars from the top of the hill outlook were fantastic, and my newfound friends were laughing at any slight jest I made, which cemented me in my cool spot even more. Someone pulled out a Nalgene of hot chocolate that was passed around, and I felt all warm like a bear had enveloped me with a furry hug. I’m only too sure that the whole experience was loads better if you were high, but so it is; it was pretty beautiful without good ole’ cannabis too.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/