"An Atmosphere of Dreams": Hemp, CBD, and Aromatic Landscapes in the Hudson River Valley

Authors: Chelsea Jack*, Yale University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Landscape, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: hemp, cannabis, farming, Hudson Valley
Session Type: Paper
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There is something in the air in the Hudson River Valley. Visitors traveling upstate from New York City have traditionally sought refreshment and asylum from urban life in this pastoral region. However, since Washington Irving published “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” two hundred years ago, the valley has not only captivated the American imagination as a transcendental place of “retreat” and natural abundance, but also as a “haunted” place that “breathe[s] forth an atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land,” where travelers “inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative––to dream dreams, and see apparitions.” In this paper, I read Irving’s famous legend alongside original ethnographic data collected about a present-day “dreamy influence” hanging over this enchanted region, “pervad[ing] the very atmosphere.” Travelers today driving north on Route 9 (which replaced the wooden bridge, that “object of superstitious awe,” where Ichabod Crane disappeared) might detect the unfamiliar, but unmistakable and heady, aroma of hemp––a recently legalized species of cannabis sativa bred to be non-intoxicating––growing alongside the road. Since 2015, New York has authorized hundreds of farmers to grow hemp for cannabidiol, or CBD, which is a potentially therapeutic, albeit controversial, compound found in cannabis. This paper explores “The Legend” (as a classic literary text of and about the Hudson Valley) alongside ethnographic interviews with farmers and consumers in the region to illustrate how and why this enchanting substance has filled the air, causing some to grow imaginative––to dream dreams.

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