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Last spring, Patrick Lange removed an ornate Persian urn from a shelf in his 1920s-era hacienda and carefully poured the contents of the small container on a table. He stared at the powdery mountain before him. Then, using a spoon and knife he went to work, dividing the chalky, off-white substance into nearly a dozen separate piles. Satisfied that every pile contained an equal amount, he then set about packaging the individual mounds in paper envelopes he would later surreptitiously slip to friends.
Although Lange looked to be in the midst of some sort of illicit activity, the clumpy powder over which he labored was not illegal.
This is not to suggest that his covert ritual was entirely without drug overtones. The packaged white powder was not heroin, cocaine or crystal meth. Instead, the bindles held the cremated remains of Lange's life partner, a counterculture Calamity Jane responsible for nearly single-handedly turning Phoenix on to pot in the late 1960s. And, who, in the process, unwittingly helped mainstream the illegal weed that, despite its popularity, would continue to sow the seeds of crime, controversy and chillin' more than 30 years later.
Following a six-month bout with lung cancer, 59-year-old Christie Bohling -- free spirit, hell-raiser, dope smuggler and arguably the most enduring figure to spring from the local hippie movement -- sprang off this mortal coil on April 24.
The Valley's Queen of '60s Counterculture Cool couldn't have asked for a more fitting send-off.
The Sunday afternoon following her death, during a celebration of her life, dozens of friends came to a bittersweet realization: With Christie Bohling gone, the joint would just never be the same.
Of course, the joint -- at least as Bohling had savored it during pot's mid-'60s salad days -- hadn't been the same for a long time. No longer merely the puff of preference for subversives kicking back to Ravi Shankar tunes, smoking pot has long since taken root in the American mainstream and, as an act of rebellion, is now only slightly more defiant than hoisting a beer. Easy Rider's Captain America has become Fast Times at Ridgemont High's Jeff Spicoli and the multi-dysfunctional family headed by Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Now enjoying a retro renaissance among young music fans, the venerable vine is celebrated in the chart-climbing reggae tune "Because I Got High," a paean to singer Afroman's comic misadventures while stoned.
In an age when one U.S. president has admitted to smoking (albeit, not inhaling) marijuana, a time when TV sitcoms have abandoned accidental ingestion of pot brownies in favor of the comedic possibilities of inadvertent Ecstasy dosings, and an era in which head shops routinely share strip mall space with video rental stores, it's difficult to remember when a simple "roll-your-own" could create a firestorm of controversy.
But that was hardly the case during Christie Bohling's heyday, a period mirrored in the flashback-like memorial service at The McNasty Brothers' Ranch, a remote spread in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. Reminiscent of a hippie requiem, circa 1969, the celebration of Bohling's life also served as a reminder of how far her beloved bud -- once the underdog of the horticultural community -- has come in the past 30 years. At that time, a Lifemagazine article reported that 12 million people -- mostly college students and an epidemic number by standards of the day -- had sampled the evil weed.
It's a safe bet that many of those early day experimenters were present at Bohling's unorthodox send-off. Instead of a sea of dark-suited mourners dabbing at their eyes, attendees at this service -- many sporting loud Hawaiian prints, flowing peasant shirts, tie-dyed tees and graying ponytails -- drifted into the surrounding desert, where they reminisced about Bohling's escapades over communal reefers.
Near the guest book, where funeralgoers might usually expect to see floral tributes and cherished keepsakes, were unconventional souvenirs documenting a life so extraordinarily loopy it might have been lifted from a Tom Robbins novel.
A favorite brandy snifter, once used by the deceased to quaff her morning Courvoisier, contained a small quantity of precious hemp-based oil. Guests -- including a correspondent from High Times magazine who flew in from New York to cover the event -- were urged to anoint themselves with the exotic balm.
A nearby gold frame held a yellowing 8-by-10 glossy of Bohling, dating back almost 35 years; in the photo, a blonde, barefooted woman in capri pants is engaged in a heated argument with a couple of cops on a Phoenix street corner.
And in another frame, a collection of electric-hued labels paid homage to the late entrepreneur's outlaw business acumen. Bearing names like "OD Imports," "One-Toke Red Eye," and "Mesilla Valley Madness," these are the labels with which Bohling proudly (or, as some might argue, "brazenly") marketed kilos of high-grade marijuana she helped smuggle in from Mexico during her days as a cannabis commerce kingpin.
As a leading light of the Valley's marijuana galaxy, Christie Bohling followed her own star. Talk to Bohling's friends, many of whom have known her for 30 years or longer, and a portrait emerges of a larger-than-life personality who zigged when the rest of the world zagged, a shrewd businesswoman who had one hand on the pulse of Phoenix's flower child community and the other on a cash register ringing up sales on the other side of the law. In short, sort of a Southwestern version of Janis Joplin, right down to an untamed mane of auburn curls, a taste for booze and a gravelly voice -- a raspy souvenir of a four-pack-a-day Marlboro habit.