Aaron*, (Not his real name) whom I’d known since college, a man who knew my parents at least distantly, is now one of the few elders in my life and therefore one of the few I would trust in the way we trust elders and family. We talk and are honest with one another but are not close, not co-dependent. We know each other. We’d been in touch while he moved around different states, cities attempting to find himself. But he returned to the Bay Area talking of working through his PTSD, his retirement, his issues.
He began to find healing for his anger and issues thru psychedelics, it being a huge help to open him, relieve him. Grief is the cork that keeps anger in the bottle. I know this well. And it was to him I revealed I’d never taken mushrooms before. He couldn’t wait to put me on.
He asked me to get to Lands End by 11am Saturday. Two buses and a train and just as I arrive he texts me that I would probably arrive first and to wait for him at the Inn on the corner. Grab some coffee, he said. I didn’t. I skipped my modest breakfast and decided to remain empty, open.
Just across from me on the awning of the Inn, a huge crow cawed loudly. Its voice rattling like screws were loose. Then, another crow landed next to him, bent towards the first crow and seemed to scream into its face: I’m back now, so shut up.
It had been a minute since I’d seen Aaron and I didn’t recognize car. I jumped in and he flipped a u-turn then pulled into the parking lot and stopped. He reached in the backseat and pulled out a book bag
He passed me a re-used bottle of Vitamin water. “I washed it with bleach real good this morning,” he said.
He then pulled out a baggy with several mushrooms and my name written on it in marker. “Its $25,” he said, then insisted I chew them up real good and swallow them.
I went to it. It wasn’t as awful as some described it. Earthy is the only verb I’ve heard and the only one appropriate. Clean earth, not dirt.
“Its important to not have any fear,” he said. “To not be afraid.”
I shrugged. One, then another. We got out of the car and he kept pushing me to finish. “It’s warmer than I thought,” he said. He’d asked me to dress warm and wear good shoes for hiking. I was warm but the sky cleared to a blue polish. It was a four star day. We walked up the path where several boys stood in a huge circle holding instruments. I chewed up another and washed it down with a swig of water. He glanced over at me and saw the baggy in my hand as if I were digging for trail mix.
“Dude, put that away.” We’d just seen a security detail pull into the lot and turn casually.
As we passed the kids, each with a drum, another instrument, something else, He approached and asked who they played with. “Boy scouts,” the tallest one finally answered. He smiled and encouraged them and didn’t dwell. We bounced down the steps.
“Did you play any instruments?” I asked.
“Drummed a little bit before I got into the Air Force.”
As we walked up the path, he suddenly asked how I was, how the poetry was. This surprised me. I’m used to listening rather than talking and wasn’t ready. I stammered, thinking. “I’m good,” I said. “I just read at SF State a couple of days ago. A superb reading, the students and everybody was really loving. It was nice. Its prep for a busy month of readings coming up.”
“You sound like a professor.” He said. “You get paid for this?”
“Um, yeah.” I said and told him and nodded approvingly.
Several people scattered along the path which surprised him. “All these sight-seers, man.” He said. “I know what it is. Its Saturday. I’m used to walking here from the V.A. on like Tuesday, Wednesday when there’s nobody around. Here, let’s go.”
He turned left into the bushes.
There was a modest footpath worn there spotlighted by the sun. I followed him down through a canopy of trees and bushes, exposed roots for steps. It was steep. He bounded down the hill talking back to me though many of his words were lost. I followed him to a narrow path beneath low trees. I was clumsy in heavy Timberland boots which I failed to remember are intended for stepping over debris in the street not rocks and mud. He ducked through a pathway then went up an embankment, passing a human nest—full of stray articles of clothes, and a couple of Safeway bags.
It wasn’t cold enough and I began pouring sweat. I followed him cautiously, realizing I wasn’t quite ready to negotiate this steep, muddy embankment. At one point he turned back and looked at me. “Respectfully,” I said gentle, friendly. “I’m not sure why you’re making this so complicated.” He remained several feet ahead then stopped at a cliff and pointed down towards where he wanted to be — on the rocks at shoreline. But the rocks were framed by exploding waves of water. “The tide’s in. I didn’t think about that.”
We backtracked and found another route to get closer to the shoreline. This steep hill led directly to a beach. He got to a muddied four foot cliff then jumped down to the beach which was rocks and a couple of pieces of driftwood and two empty water bottles. I stood motionless at the cliff and could not force myself to leap down onto the rocks. “No fear,” he shouted back to me. I wasn’t afraid, just: concerned. The mud was as soggy as cereal. My shoes felt like moist towels and I wasn’t confident about climbing back up. Above me I kept hearing helicopters.
I could not push myself further. I realized right then, I didn’t trust him that much, not here at least. I’d known him at least 20 years. And I guess a breakfast of mushrooms was one thing. But this…
The ocean rolled in confident and aggressive. He stood at the shore, took off his backpack, produced a notebook and sat down on a rock. I stood above the beach watching for a long time before relaxing and sitting on an exposed root.
Aaron pointed out a seal free floating in the swelling waves. Holding his pen, he appeared to wait for instruction. He asked me to bring a notebook, which I did, though I didn’t touch it. After a few minutes, he never wrote anything. I watched the water.
He then stood, crossed to the far side of beach behind a wall of rock and disappeared. I began cooling off from sweating and took my knitted skullcap from my pocket and put it on. I snapped pictures.
He came back, but this time his body language changed and he appeared engaged in conversation. He appeared to be listening. I averted my eyes suddenly, as I realized what I was seeing was too private, too personal.
I did not join him on the beach because he was not alone. The beach was a kind of stage and he owned the entirety of it. He crossed back over to the other side of the beach and stood within a rock crevice, about the size of a phone booth. He coughed.
He turned towards me at one point and shouted, hard: “You still don’t feel nothing?” I was sitting still. I shrugged, told him I felt good. I’m okay.
He paced. He turned in circles. He took off his jacket and pulled up his hoodie. He was busy; involved, talking. I then realized, he invited me here, but didn’t need/want me with him. That was why he bounded quickly up and down the hill, only partially acknowledging I was still there. He came for a meeting. He came to work.
I turned my attention to the waves. I began seeing the water on an almost cellular level, a dense collection of bubbles. A green cord of water rolled towards the shore, greyed and broke open bright as milk, then tumbled over and over itself. I could see the layers of water stacked like icing on a cake. I looked down at the sand, saw minor traffic line of ants and wondered if I’d been sitting on a nest… and didn’t care. I looked over at him again, now hooded, his body convulsing like a rapper on mic.
I became hungry and drowsy. It felt very much like the first time I’d smoked weed, but NOT. I looked over at Aaron again, who was busy. I wanted to leave, I needed to walk. I didn’t want to distract or worry him, looking for me to find me gone. But we were both adults. I came here on the bus for the trip. He didn’t owe me anything else. And looking at him, I wasn’t sure who was going to come back up the beach to meet me. I didn’t want to talk to either of them dudes.
I turned and climbed up the embankment. I was surprised that I could retrace my steps, but, Jesus, I was high. I stopped and looked up at a grove of trees. A heart of light pulsed through the leaves and branches and I snapped photos. All around me were rug-wide areas of clover, most with little silver caps of water. I looked at the exposed tree roots, the clover, the bushes, and everything pulsed and blinked. I hugged a tree, put my ear to it and heard a silence I expected from deep space. The bushes acknowledged me. I was led directly back to the walkway. I gave thanks.
I walked until a couple stopped in the middle of the path, looking up. I looked too, wanting to see the ocean from father up and it appeared a glitter-bombed fabric fluttering in the wind. There were several shades beneath its skin, all like spots on an animal. The ocean was very much alive and breathing.
I then looked up to where the couple ahead of me looked, and saw a hawk drifting in circles, so close I could see its cocoa-brown collar of feathers blending into its breast feathers then fading into darker browns and blacks along its body and wingspan. It circled exactly above where I stood and I watched it until it make two distinct laps like a personal halo, then vanished behind me.
I made it to the bus stop, though part of me did want to stay. However, the part that needed rest could have leaned back and floated mid-air. I felt heavy. I had a two hour journey home and started it. I finished the water, and sat in back of the bus, relieved. Every time I closed my eyes… well, no spoilers. But I made it to Salesforce tower—MORE RELIEVED—and once I touched the escalators, part of me wanted to turn towards the bright yellow-jacketed security guards and shout: “Mushrooms, N*gga!” but thank god I didn’t.
1) I texted him on the bus ride back that I was okay. He texted back: That was THE most powerful trip I’ve had in my life. He wondered if I’d ate the whole bag. I did. We had a great follow up talk on the phone next morning.
2) Now I understand how and why this is used ceremonially. Why its done under supervision. Why its necessary to be outside. I understand his insistence that I “set my intention” with it as he handed me the sack. This isn’t ‘dope’, its intelligence. Spirit medicine. One must always be cautious with anything smarter than yourself. Yeah, I get it.