Thursday, July 31, 2008

That Old Entheogenic Protocol

I'm going to bet that most of you are too old for this to matter--old as in experienced. But as something not nice just happened to a friend of mine, I thought I'd take the time to put it down here, just in case there are some younger readers who might not know these simple things about sharing medicines. And I don't mean prescription medicines, though those could just as easily be included here.
And if this doesn't relate to you, it might be something some of your kids might need to hear. It's written for them so pardon the tone.

A friend of mine just called to relate the story of how she was recently dosed at a very hip event in New York City. She was working the event when someone gave her some chocolate. Half-an-hour later she thought she was getting a good contact high, but when it persisted and grew immensely stronger she realized she’d been dosed.
And the hosts were not sympathetic. No one took her—by now having a very bad trip as well as being lost in her anger over being unwittingly dosed—aside and tried to calm her down, no one sympathized with her. No one even gave her a glass of water. From what she told me the essential response to her wretched condition was "Well, it’s your karma. Deal with it." Which she did, over the next 18 hours.
Now dear kiddies, I’m going to take a minute as an elder—that means old guy who’s been hanging around a long freaking time—and go over a couple of ground rules for entheogens and pot cookies alike. Call it stoner protocol 101.
First rule: Never dose anyone without them knowing what you’re giving them and how long it will last and what the effects are likely to be. No fuggin exceptions! No game playing with pot cookies ("Hey, man! You know what I just gave you? You’re gonna be real high pretty soon….") or chocolate covered shrooms ("Try one of these, man; they’re delicious..."), LSD or anything else. This rule is the heart of old-fashioned hippie consciousness. If people want to expand their consciousness and you’ve got a tool that can help them, fine. If they don’t, then don’t sneak ‘em something to get your rocks off. People who do that need their own consciousness expanded.
Second rule: If someone you are with is having a difficult time, help them deal with it. That means when your best friend’s wife is crying in a corner because everything looks like spiders to her, you don’t stand in front of a light and make spider shadows with your hands. It means you sit with them and very calmly ask what’s wrong. Listen to them. If they want their hand held they’ll tell you. Don’t just assume they want you to put your spider hand on them. Just be there and get them water, or a banana to calm them down a bit. And if you have to sit there all night and lose your own buzz over it, that’s cool. You’ll get another chance. And you’ll have those good karma points too.
Third rule: Each one, teach one. That’s what was printed on the buttons they put in each seat back in the old Filmore East in Greenwich Village in New York (along with buttons that read Pass It On) and what it meant was respect. Respect for the medicines, respect for your friends. You’ve done something someone wants to try? Walk them through the experience. Make it joyful for them.
Last word on this: Remember that no one gets their consciousness expanded when they’re fearful or have been surprised by a ‘gift’ of being dosed when they were not open for it. And the point of the whole thing is to expand consciousness, right?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Richard Evans Schultes Interview

Mentioning Schultes in the last entry brought a couple of voices asking for me to print the interview I did. Unfortunately, I don't have the full transcript of the many hours we spoke together any longer and don't have time to re-transcribe it. But I do have this version that was published in High Times magazine sometime in the early 1990s. It's pretty abbreviated and basic, but at the time I thought it was important to get some of the basics of what he had to say out there. So I did and here it is:


by Peter Gorman

Often called the Father of modern ethnobotany, botanist, explorer and author Richard Schultes is the Director Emeritus of Harvard’s famed Botanical Museum. Beginning in 1940, Dr. Schultes spent a total of 17 years in the Amazon, mostly in the remote regions of Colombia where he investigated and collected the medicinal, edible and toxic plants used by the Kofan, Witoto and other indigenous groups. He is the recipient of dozens of awards for his pioneering botanical work, among them the Cross of Boyaca—Colombia’s highest honor—and The Gold Medal of the World Wildlife Fund, presented by Britian’s Prince Philip. Additionally, he has authored and co-authored numerous books—including two written with LSD synthesizer Dr. Albert Hofmann—among them Plants of the Gods—Origins of Hallucinogenic Use (Schultes and Hofmann; 1979, McGraw-Hill, NY) and The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of Northwest Amazonia (Schultes and Raffauf; 1990, Dioscorides Press; Portland, OR).
Now 80 years old, Dr. Schultes, the father of three grown children, continues to work at the Botanical Museum two days a week, is concentrating on finishing several book projects, and is hoping to make one more trip to his beloved Colombian Amazon.

HIGH TIMES: Let’s start with how you came to be an ethnobotanist?
RICHARD SCHULTES: Well, I’m from an old New England family, and when I was growing up one of my uncles had a farm up in what was then a small town, Townsend, Massachusetts. I spent the summers up there, helping in the haying, and I began to collect plants. I don’t know where I learned that you pressed them, but I pressed them in big encyclopedias. Then I began to learn what the vernacular names of the plants were and as I got older I learned that they had Latin names—which didn’t mean much to me until I studied Latin. So I always had an interest in plants.

HT: What did you study in school?
RS: Well, I did my undergraduate thesis on peyote. I went out to Oklahoma with an anthropologist, Weston LaBarre—who was then a graduate student at Yale and later became famous writing several books on peyote—and attended four or five all night ceremonies and tried peyote with the Indians. We spent time with three or four different tribes, mainly Kiowa. Anyway, I collected some peyotes and brought them back and did a little chemical work on it.

HT: Were you the first to do chemistry on the peyote cactus?
RS: No. But I’d had several courses in organic chemistry and I just became interested in it. I’m ashamed of it now because it’s very complicated and I was just a beginner at chemistry.
But in writing my thesis I became interested in a misconception that had taken hold in relation to peyote and the sacred plant of the Aztecs, Teonanacatl. William Safford, an ethnobotanist—I think he was with the Smithsonian—had said in 1916 that the Aztec’s Teonanacatl must have been peyote. Which did not fit in with my knowledge of botany because peyote is a cactus and cacti do not grow in high wet forests, while Teonanacatl was undoubtedly a fungus, a mushroom which doesn’t grow in deserts. And so I went to Mexico hoping I’d be able to see this plant, Teonanacatl, and I ended up doing my thesis on the useful of plants of the Mazatec Indians.

HT: Did you ever find Teonanacatl?
RS: Yes. I was able to bring back one identifiable species of this mushroom they were using, Panaeolis sphinctrinus, and in 1941 I published a paper in the Harvard Botanical Museum Leaflets identifying that one species as Teonanacatl. Of course, thanks primarily to the work of Gordon Wasson and the Mexican mycologist Gaston Guzman, we have since learned there are about twenty-four species used by the Shamans of Oaxaca.

HT: Did you get to do the magic mushroom with the Mazatec’s?
RS: No. I hadn’t tried it. I only had a couple of specimens.
But I fell in love with Oaxaca and thought I’d probably work all my life there on the flora.

HT: What changed your mind about continuing to work in Mexico?
RS: Well, after I’d gotten my PhD, I had two jobs offered to me: biology master in a private school in New England and a grant from the National Academy of Sciences to go to the Amazon to find out what plants the natives used in making their curare .

HT: Why was the National Academy of Sciences interested in curare?
RS: Because in late 1930s, scientists had isolated a chemical from one of the plants used to make curare called tubocurine, which was just becoming very important in medicine. It’s a muscle relaxant that’s now used in any good hospital before deep surgery. Now the Indians make many different kinds of arrow poisons so the Academy wanted to know as much as possible about the different plants they used. So that was the job I took. I took a plane down to Bogota in 1940 and worked out in the field on that project.

HT: How did you first go into the jungle?
RS: I first went in with Indians who lived along the base of the Andes mountains in Colombia, some of whom spoke Spanish. So I had an entree. And as I went farther inland I got Spanish speaking Indian boys who spoke the language of one or two of the tribes and that way I got in among them.
But they certainly knew I was there before I did, because the grapevine from one tribe to another is much more efficient than Western Union. So even some of the people who hadn’t had any contact with outsiders knew I was in the area and what I was doing.
I spent a lot of time with the Witotos. I did quite a bit of work with them and also with the Kofan, both of whom make a number of arrow poisons from different plants.
Later when I heard about the outbreak of World War ll I thought I would be conscripted, so I made my way back to Bogota and went to the US Embassy there. But instead of conscripting me they told me to go back into the jungle and try to stimulate the production of rubber. This Bostonian who’d never cut a rubber tree, but I’d been with the Indians nine months at that time so they assumed I had learned all about that.

HT: And how did you do?
RS: Well, I gathered a lot of material from species that had been known from the last century, and I also discovered one new species of dwarf rubber tree. It’s an endemic species, only found on one mountain in the Amazon, a mountain that has many unique plants on it. It’s recently been made a protected biological area. This is the mountain that’s been named for me.

HT: I didn’t know there was a mountain that had been named for you. What’s it called?
RS: Mesa Schultes. Mesa means table. So it’s Shultes’ Table. Before that I had a cockroach I collected in the Amazon named for me, and I thought that was a great honor. It’s the genus called Shultesia. But I’ve come up from cockroaches to mountains.

HT: There are a number of plants with your name as well, aren’t there?
RS: Oh, yes, about two hundred and ten species. Plants are frequently named for the collector. A number of my plants are also named for the Indians who use them. That’s also very common among botanists, to use geographical or tribal names.

HT: What’s the process of collecting a plant?
RS: The first thing you do is take a cutting of the plant and press it between sheets of newspaper in a plant press so that you can identify it later. Fruits and flowers are very helpful here, we always try to get them. Without this, what we call the herbarium specimen, you have nothing.
The second thing you do, if you want to later analyze the plant’s chemicals, is to take a wide mouthed plastic jug and put some 70 percent ethyl alcohol into it and then cut the plant in half-inch pieces and put the pieces into the alcohol. The alcohol—provided you use ethyl, and not methyl or booze—will not change the chemical composition of the substances. If they are leached out, they will be in the alcohol which the chemist will have. Actually it’s much more easily worked with that way than if the chemicals are in the actual plant material. That’s the only way to collect.

HT: And how did the Indians feel about your collecting their plants?
RS: The Indians are wonderful natural collaborators, because they are so interested and knowledgeable about their flora. Everyone was always interested in why I wanted this plant or that plant. The fact was, I wanted it because they used it. If they asked me why I wanted something, I made up a disease we use it for—I’ve invented more diseases than we ever had, so they think we’re a good deal more decrepit than we actually are. And then they’d often say "You can’t use that plant for that. That plant is for treating earaches," or something like that. That’s how I’d find out how they used it, you see?

HT: How many medicines have been made from the plants that you’ve taken?
RS: Very few. There’s one that’s called yoco which has a very high content of caffeine which is now used to reduce obesity. I also have a couple of things in Sweden that are being looked at, and several that the American company Shaman Pharmaceuticals are looking into. But American companies, until recently, have looked down their noses at plant chemistry. They have no interest in it.
I’m glad some of them are starting to take notice because when you consider that the Amazon has 80,000 species of higher plants—and Indonesia, Southeast Asia, or Africa have at least that many as well—well, this is a tremendous chemical storehouse.

HT: Did you ever need an indigenous medicinal remedy?
RS: No. I really never got sick in the Amazon except for malaria and I always had chloroquine for that. It was always the first thing I put in my briefcase.
It’s generally very healthy there. There’s tuberculosis and leprosy, which is very common, but that can be controlled if you have soap with you.

HT: There’s an African shrub called Iboga plant, which is used, among other things, to stop people from obsessive behavior. It’s currently being looked into by the National Institute of Drug Abuse as an addiction interrupter. I’ve heard stories that ayahuasca is sometimes used similarly to treat alcoholism. Have you heard that as well?
RS: No, I haven’t, but I’m convinced that some of these so-called drugs will have side effects that can be used in certain diseases or conditions. For example, one of the big problems that exist among American Indian tribes is that so many of the young people become alcoholics. Many of these people stop drinking when they go to these peyote ceremonies, and I’m sure its not only religious teachings in the ceremonies, but the weekly taking of peyote that’s helping them as well.
But most of these things have not been properly looked at by medically oriented people. Some of the chemicals in them have not been investigated at all. And chemists take the chemicals that we get out of these compounds and change them to make semi-synthetic compounds. The possibility of making something that may have a special effect is enormous. That’s what i think when I see these forests burning up or being cut down in Brazil. It’s a crime against humanity.
One of the best Brazilian botonists has written that he calculates less than one percent of the Amazonian flora of Brazil has been even superficially looked at by chemists. And so imagine what we are destroying in the Amazon alone! Thousands of species that we’ll never be able to analyze and many of them we don’t yet even have botanical names for.

HT: What can be done to save this knowledge of the people’s whose native regions we’re so quickly destroying?
RS: Civilization, our culture, is advancing with every road, every airport, every commercial company after wood. And with missionaries, tourists and others who are coming into contact with primitive peoples and, while not purposely maybe, certainly destroying their cultures.
This is one of the things I’ve argued for: ethnological conservation. We’ve got to preserve the knowledge of these peoples. For example, one of my former students and best field men, Dr. Michael Ballick, is taking as much time as he can from his job at the Botanical Gardens in New York to work in Belize where there are three or four old medicine men; if they die all the knowledge of what they’re using is gone. He has a woman there who speaks their language who works with these medicine men and he goes down three or four times a year and she gives him the notes. It’s a wonderful thing. All that will be saved.

HT: Once we’ve saved their knowledge, how do we make sure that the indigenous people from whom it comes get their fair share?
RS: There’s a lot of discussion about that and many drug companies have agreed to see that some help, whether its financial or some other way, gets back to the tribe. Where I worked, money would be useless, absolutely useless. They don’t need money. It would have been much better for me if they had since I had to pay them in things and had to carry all the stuff down into the jungle. But in many other places where they can use money, money can be given to the tribe or some representative of the tribe.
In the case of Shaman Pharmaceuticals, they have set up a special sub-branch of environmental conservation, The Healing Forest Conservancy. And they’ve agreed that if they make any money from any of the things they get from the Indians, that they will give back to the group in some way or another. Either by sending a doctor there, or sending money if they can use it, or sending a bright young boy out and giving him a year or two in school somewhere. There are many ways of doing this.

HT: And how do we save the environments of these peoples?
RS: This is another thing I argue for: botanical and environmental conservation. In many places, especially in Brazil, commercial interests are bringing in all sorts of mechanical material and cutting not only the trees they want, but taking down every twig. The pictures that you see from Brazil are horrendous. I’ve seen them cutting everything down and letting it dry and then setting it afire, and then, of course, nothing else grows. What we’ll have is a great extension larger than the United States, of desert scrub, small plants and trees. You’ll never get the forest taking over.

HT: Is the same true in Colombia?
RS: No. Thanks to the lack of much white penetration and thanks to the rapids and the rivers which make navigation with boats impossible on all but the Putumayo River, the destruction is only by Indians with axes. They cut enough to get their food, period. They don’t take down a thousand acres at a time.
They work those clearings for five or eight years until the land doesn’t give any more crops, and then they move. And in those small areas the jungle takes back over. Which it doesn’t when you cut large areas.

HT: Isn’t a large part of the problem the population explosion, particularly in the Third World?
RS: I have long thought that the number one crisis facing the world is population. For every child born it means a few inches less soil for food. And the way we’re destroying the forests and agricultural land, we no longer have the luxury to procreate the way we have. You have to make people aware, particularly in a place like Colombia, that after two or three children they have to stop.
Now the Colombian government was doing this with medical advice, and then the Pope comes in there, the first stop of any Pope in the New World—and Colombia is a very Catholic country—and he berates the government for this. He should stay over in Rome and leave governments alone. But he said this was a terrible thing to do and most of the ordinary Colombian people, being so strongly Catholic, believed him. Fortunately the government didn’t. They’re still doing it.

HT: Let me ask about your vision plant experiences. Tell me about using ayahuasca and virola snuffs with the indigenous people. You must have had some extraoradinary experiences...
RS: I wouldn’t call them extraordinary. With virola snuff you don’t usually have same effects that you get with ayahuasca. I have taken peyote in ceremonies with the Indians, and ayahuasca, and with both of these I get color reactions. But I never had visions and I don’t see things, although I know that many people do. With peyote, for example, or mescaline, many people see things from our culture. And the Indians, with ayahuasca, see huge snakes and jaguars and in some cases, if they have been indoctrinated to think they can, they see other-world spirits, or the spirits of their anscestors. But I have never seen anything except color. If you remember Walt Disney’s Fantasia, the first thing is a color interpretation of Bach’s Tocata and Fugue. That’s the closest I can tell you of my experience with peyote and with ayahuasca. I see vague things like clouds or smoke of different colors going across my field of vision, but I’ve never seen anything concrete. I think this is mostly a psychological difference; that these people expect to see those things. As a scientist, I don’t expect to see them.

HT: You’ve had a long relationship with Dr. Albert Hofmann. How did you two meet?
RS: I met him in a conference in Berlin. I knew that he was interested in the work of Mr. Wasson on the intoxicating mushrooms. That was when Wasson was just beginning that work. So I said I’d been in the Oaxaca area and knew a little about them. And that struck up a friendship. We boycotted a lot of lectures and just sat and talked. And after that we wrote two books together. We’re great friends.

HT: Did you ever do Hofmann’s LSD?
RS: No. I always told him I didn’t want to because it wasn’t a natural thing, it was a synthetic. And because of that I had no interest in it.

HT: What about Gordon Wasson, the mycologist?
RS: Well, I went to the Amazon right after Mexico and I hadn’t been home for two years during the war—I was getting rubber out—and when I finally got home this banker called up from New York and said "I know of your paper in which you identified one species of mushroom as Teonanacatl. I’m going to go down there because this is very interesting to me. Can you give me some names?"
Well, I didn’t know anything about Wasson, and I told him it had been several years since I was last in Mexico but gave him the name of a doctor, Dr. Reko, who worked in Oaxaca and who’d been interested in these mushrooms too. So Wasson went down to Mexico and got in touch with this doctor who set him up with names of people to see.

HT: Wasson and yourself later became good friends, didn’t you?
RS: We became very close friends. He even had an honorary appointment in the Harvard Botanical Museum, because even though as far as science goes he was an amateur—in the best sense of the word, a lover of knowledge—he was doing research that no one else had done. And publishing it. He published I think six or seven books in the 22 years he had an honorary appointment.

HT: Did you ever get to use the mushrooms?
RS: No. Because I never went back to Mexico. I would have had I been with Wasson on one of his trips, as Albert Hofmann was.

HT: Is there any truth to the stories that Wasson kept them around for his guests....
RS: I don’t think that’s true. He gave most of his specimens to the museum here. You can see them in our lecture hall in bottles.

HT: What about datura? Is that something you’ve used?
RS: There are six species in the Andes of South America, and a number of the Indians do use it, alone or with other hallucinogens. But I would never take a solanaceous plant.

PG: Why not?
RS: The scopolomine and atropine which they contain are very very toxic alkaloids. And not only that, the concentration of these alkaloids in a single plant can vary from one season to the next and very often from one day to the next. In any event it’s too dangerous to fool with. I wouldn’t do it.

HT: What are your feelings about drug use in our society?
RS: I am concerned with the excessive use of drugs like marijuana and cocaine, but I don’t know what you can do about it, especially cocaine. Coca, you know, is harmless when used by the Indians, who chew the leaves of the coca bush. But that’s quite different than processed cocaine. I’m sorry about what Colombia is going through now, with their drug problems. But who’s responsible? We are. If we didn’t buy the cocaine or Europe...well now Japan is buying it. They’re having a terrible problem there.

HT: I’m not a fan of cocaine either. Marijuana, you and I might disagree on...
RS: I don’t necessarily disagree with you on that, except I think it’s got to be controlled in a motorized civilization. The effects of marijuana differ with different people and at different times with the same person. But there are two things it always does, and in the beginning when you don’t feel too woozy you don’t recognize them: It distorts the sense of time and of space, both of which you absolutely need when you’re driving.
But I do think they should decriminalize it. I have been to court many times to testify for these young kids who were caught sharing a marijuana cigarette with a friend and they want to put them in jail and make a real criminal out of them. What a travesty of justice.

PG: You’ve joked about being the guru for the psychedelic generation. Did you and Wasson and Hofmann ever sit around and laugh about being the trinity of psychedelia?
RS: Well, yes. We were all in a meeting some years ago which Jonathan Ott put on in San Francisco, and he had all sorts of experts on hallucinogenic plants there. The peyote man, Weston LaBarre was there, and Albert Hofmann and myself and Wasson and many other people. And we naturally thought it was funny, all of us there in our suits and ties, not looking like gurus at all. Well, I’m not a guru and never thought about myself that way.
I used to lecture down there in California during the hippie days, and I think many people were disappointed when they saw me. They thought I would look like Allen Ginsberg or something.

HT: Despite your conservative appearance you really did usher in the psychedelic revolution, the three of you. Shultes, Hofmann, and Wasson...
RS: I don’t think I did, but altogether I suppose you could say we did. Actually, I think Mr. Leary did more than any one of us in ushering in that.

HT: Do you regret your part in bringing the idea of vision drugs to the Western world?
RS: No. I don’t. Not at all. I never have.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Richard Evans Schultes

Here's a small story about Richard Evans Schultes, the father of modern ethnobotany--man's use of plants. He was, of course, the head of Harvard's Ethnobotanical Museum until his death in 2001, and he was an astounding botanist. More than that, he was a great great explorer. He was in Colombia doing research on plants in the early years of World War II when he was called to the US Embassy in Bogata and told that his job for the war effort was to discover new sources of rubber so that if the Malaysian rubber plantations were cut off from the US by the Japanese we would still be able to make warships and airplanes and big guns and so forth. Even now, all sidewalls on tires on cars in the world are made from natural rubber and all airplane tires are made from natural rubber, and if someone ever put the rubber tree plague in the Malasian rubber plantations it would bring all world travel and all war to a halt, as big guns, all aircraft, and all vehicles depend on natural rubber and Malaysia is the only source for it in the world.
That's another story and it belongs to the great botanist and writer Wade Davis.
But Schultes, at the behest of the US government, found over 8,000 species of rubber trees that could be used in a pinch during the war. His efforts were never really needed as the US maintained control of Malasia's rubber production during most of the war.
But Schultes did a lot more during his time in the Amazon, and one of his interests was the use of hallucinogenic plants. Prior to his work in the Amazon he'd studied the use of peyote among native Americans with Weston LeBarre and he was the one who turned on Wasson to Marina Sabina and the magic mushrooms in Zacateca, Mexico. And during his time in the Amazon he came in contact with Yopo, the magical snuff used by some northern Amazonian tribes, as well as Ayahuasca, the vine of the little death, a brew made from a vine and some leaves ubiquitos to northwestern Amazonian healing on several levels.
But he'd never admit that he indulged personally. He wrote books about magic plants and general plants but he always stayed away from saying he'd personally partook.
Until an interview he did with me in the mid-1990s.
I'd gone to his offices in Harvard's Botanical Museum and done a wonderful eight-hour interview and taken some pictures for High Times. But the pictures were dark. So I had to drive from New York City to Harvard a second time a week after the first interview. And on the second drive Chepa, my wife/ex-wife, joined me.
When I arrived he said he was too busy to have new pictures made. But I insisted and he, at about 86 or 88-years-old, begrudgingly opened his door. The minute he did he saw Chepa and said she reminded him of some Colombian women he'd known 50 years earlier. And so he and Chepa had a 12-15 hour conversation about everything under the sun, including his use of ayahuasca, which I taped, with his permission, while I took the photos I needed. He simply fell in love with her. He laughed, they both laughed. They told stories about Amazonia and let me into only a part of the conversation.
And when the day was done, Mr. Schultes had finally told the story of using ayahuasca and of falling in love with Colombian Indian women during his years in the deep jungle.
And it was a personal but wonderful story. And it made the interview fantastic. And it could not have been done if Chepa had not been there. He simply loosened up around her. And as far as I know, that's how we know that the brilliant father of ethnobotany, actually drank ayahuasca.
And that was a wonderful interview to do.
So when I'm reading something today about Mr. Schultes and ayahuasca that's supposed to be new, there's a part of me that laughs and says to myself: 'If only that writer had had a wife named Chepa with him. He wouldn't have had to take years to get the answers I got in just two days."
And I don't say it with arrogance. I say it knowing how lucky I was. For all our issues, all the times she thinks I wronged her and I know she wronged me, Chepa also came through more times than I can count. So just in case I have not given her her due on this blog, here's some points. She made an old man who'd kept his secrets melt with her smile. And not with bad intention: Neither of us knew they were secrets.
So this one is for you, Chep. I hate you but I love you.
You still got points with me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Just Loving My Kids

So I got home yesterday and am still wondering if I have a job at the paper I work with. I blew a rewrite in Peru--my plane was delayed in Miami and there is no computer availability there for rent, got to Lima very very late, to tired to work; got to Iquitos next day and discovered there was a nationwide strike called for the following day which meant I had one day to outfit for nearly 10 days all the goods, dry goods and fresh vegetables needed for 23 people plus a party for 60, so stalled the rewrite thinking I could do it after I finished provisioning, but then time went by and by the time I got to the computer, about six PM, with the story going to press at 8 PM, I fell asleep at the computer until 10, when the computer place closed down. So I never did the final rewrite, leaving my boss in a horrible bind. I knew the story was good, no real holes to fill, no errors, but still, when I was the boss, that was the sort of mistake I fired people for. So I'm getting home not knowing if I have a job or not and understanding both ways: one error every five years, let him off the hook. Or: One error every five years, maybe that's the start of a trend. Fire him. So I still don't know.
What a preamble, eh?
And when I got home yesterday, two days late, my Madeleina wasn't here. She's still with my ex out at the new boyfriend's place in Iowa. Been there for weeks and won't be home for another few days. So to say I came home feeling weak and then got weaker without a hug from my daughter, due here three days ago, is an understatement.
Ah, but then there was Boots, the wonderdog, the blind watchdog who played with me for an hour. And then Marco came home from work and he, at 19, if you can believe it, came in and hugged me and then simply sat in my lap like a kid and had me hold him for 15-20 minutes. And right now Italo, my oldest at 22, came in an hour ago from working on his car at Chepa's house, all hot and sweaty and angry from working on hard steel on a 105 degree day out in the sun and he asked me questions about all sorts of things, then asked if he could take a nap on the couch behind this computer, which is where I sleep. Or try to, at night. And now he's sleeping behind me and I feel like a crazy and wonderful dad. And Madeleina called me today and said she had the best time going on her first jet-ski and I'm proud of her. She'll be home soon. But the boys, the boys who are really men, they surprised me with their overt affection. And Marco, right now, Marco who has only been working for six months but who had just won Stock Person of the Year for the Brookshire's store he works for, is out at the Texas Motor Speedway getting his award and later tonight he'll find out if he was voted Stock Person of the Year for all of Texas. Either way he's a winner. And Italo starts his college scholarship in two weeks.
And in the oven there's a chicken cooking Peruvian style, to be served with good garlic rice, red beans and bacon, broccoli and a jungle guacamole. That's my recipe, with two 2 lb avacados (smuggled in from Peru, but in very plain sight of Customs, who let them fly) mashed to pulp, mixed with diced sweet red onion, garlic and tomatoes that are all cooked in olive oil with a couple of lemons, then a bit of salt and pepper. It makes for a good guacamole in the woods.
So here I am with one kid affectionate enough to sit in my lap like he was four-years-old, and another sleeping on my couch/bed behind me.
That is something I am in wonderment about.
These have been a series of very intimate entries. I will get back to humor and stories soon, but right now I'm full of medicine from the jungle that's making me very vulnerable to my emotions. I hope you all don't mind.

The Dreams Sometimes Have It

Okay, without making too much of a fuss, and knowing that this tidbit isn't entirely true but is probably sometimes true--and knowing that it's entirely more than anyone could care about--here goes.
I was taking a little nap after going through several hundred emails this morning and in this dream this guy I know from India comes up to me in Peru as I'm walking down the street. He launches into this great plan of his which has me paying him a lot of money and I said I couldn't afford the plan, and certainly couldn't afford to pay him what he was asking even if I could afford the plan.
And he turns and says, "Not now. Now you don't have to do the plan. Just pay me now and we'll do the plan later." And then, before I can even protest that that's absurd, he shouts, "Or at least give me enough money for lunch you rotten idiot! Don't you understand anything?"
So I reached into my pocket to grab a few bucks for his lunch when he suddenly runs two steps ahead of me, turns and says: "You're a fucking drunk who wants to know everybody's business in Iquitos!"
Well, of course that was a stunner and hurt but is sometimes right--and then I thought, 'hell no. I might be a bum but I don't care about anybody's business. Not my style.'
And though I hadn't said that out loud, the fellow runs further ahead, steps behind a large, buttressed tree and begins throwing rocks at me. "You want to bet that's what everybody thinks of you?"
And then I caught a rock, looked into my hand to see if I really had it, and woke up.
So much for my nap.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

You've Got a Story Coming

Okay, I just returned from my third trip to Peru in the last three months and I am freaking exhausted. I could not have had better guests, a better crew--I am the luckiest guy to have a team like I have, no fooling--or better anything except a slightly better Peter Gorman living in my skin. But forget that. For now, at least.
And I'm way too tired and jet lagged and have nasty spider eggs in one leg that are feeling like they'll soon open up and need some flesh to devour on the way out into open space and are really beginning to itch like mad to go into things tonight. But in the interest of fairness should anyone be reading, one of you wrote me today saying they were concerned that I'd had that little heart attack a month or so ago and then had gone to Peru and had not written anything on the blog in nearly a month. So if anyone else out there had the same thought, then thank you for your concern. But no, it was just me being selfish and not wanting to face email from home while I was in Peru. It's so hard to cut myself in two that way. I hardly even call home anymore when I'm gone, just a message on the phone now and then. Not because I don't love my kids and Chepa's new kids and so forth, but it's hard--and I've written this before so I won't bore you--to try to be the dad when I'm about to get on a boat and head out two hundred miles into the Amazon. I'm still a dad, I just can't do anything about the latest crisis. Anyway, same reason I don't go on the blog. I'm there, not here. So it's not like I've forgotten you, just that I'm busy doing other things. And if I were cooler I would know better how to integrate both sides of this life, but I ain't so have nearly quit trying.
But I think I'll have a story or two to tell in the next few days, so for those of you who remain patient, I'll try to get out something interesting. How's that for a deal?
I will say one thing, a personal thing, here. I think I got all the love any kid could get when I was a kid. But somehow, nonetheless, I still manage to hate and abuse myself a good deal of the time. My fault. And today I came home to several hundred emails, and among them was a request to marry two friends of mine next month in Colorado, someone simply saying they'd dreamt of me; someone wondering how the last couple of years had gone and so forth. And at some point, reading those letters, I just broke down and cried. And cried. And if somehow I could understand and integrate the fact that the work I do--and I do not mean that arrogantly at all, okay--but that my investigative reporting, or my occasional public speaking, or my work with people in the jungle, really has a positive effect on people, well, then I would be more well rounded and maybe abuse myself less. Because while there was all this love coming my way, I read the letters and felt unworthy. And then I got one letter from someone whom I've never even met, someone who wrote me for some advice a couple of years ago, and they said my general advice hadn't fixed their lives (I promise I never said it would) and so I was part of a scam to keep them down. And that letter, written by someone I hope gets what he/she needs/wants, but accusing me of something I had absolutely nothing to do with, somehow took up more space in me than all the letters saying the work had helped them. And I was later at Walmart, trying to fill the fridge that was pretty bare, when I wondered why the heck I'd given that person so much space and the people who meant me well so little?
I've been working on that one for years. I thought I had it but I don't. Time to keep working, eh?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

My Back Yard

It's Saturday night and I've already posted once today, as well as having written the front end of a huge feature story that was due yesterday and will be delivered tomorrow as I leave on Monday. I'm full of life and living and have been all week. Almost a little too much: I was doing math calculations on an invisible chalk board in my head during one dream last night--related to how I can possibly offer the 8 1/4 day tour I'm doing starting Thursday for the price I'm doing it--I can't--when I woke just because the numbers were confusing me and I heard myself saying, as I was waking: Can't you just wait till I wake up to do this? I'm supposed to be having dreams now, not doing trip math!!!
Remember I told you I thought the little heart attack had at least a little to do with reliving conversations, and rewriting conversations, with my guests at 4 AM? Well, now you know I also do the math....AM I NUTS OR WHAT??????? I mean , I know it has to do with my being a freaking potato for a year, and with smoking 2 packs of smokes and being 20 pounds overweight and drinking too much whiskey, but then none of that would hurt a body if that body was working out, drinking a gallon of good water a day, sweating twice a day and eating wonderful fresh food--with lots of fresh garlic, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, broccoli and asparagus, as well as fruit--daily, which I do.
At least that's what I think. I mean, I think you're supposed to strain your lungs to make them strong. But that only works if you're playing handball, riding a bike 10 miles fast every day, walking 5 fast miles a day....and those are things I have not done in 6 years since we moved to Texas where none of that is freaking available because there are no sidewalks, bike paths, parks or anything else anywhere within half an hour drive of my house. My excuse, forgive me.
But this week, I did take the doctor's order and I worked out every morning and evening and I am sitting here drenched for the third time today in sweat. Wonderful, cleansing sweat. Full of salt and impurities and junk my body was holding onto for no good reason sweat.
That's cause I was in the yard. Now it's only an acre and a half. So it's a big yard but about 1,000 acres short of a ranch here in Texas. And about 100 square miles short of a ranch in Nevada or Wyoming. Still, it's broken into several distinct areas, has maybe 25 trees at least 100 years old, two little bridges across a run-off creek that is dry at the moment, a chicken coop, a huge fire pit, a wild corner or two, two fantastic lawns that are a perfect and wonderful Ireland, I was sitting on the tree swing after I'd moved most of the tree and the branches that me and Italo cut the other day from the yard to the fire pit and cleaned an area of the creek--maybe 5 by 30 foot, of reeds by hand and then re-nailed the boards on the larger bridge and I was thinking: Thanks, God. Thanks spirits. Thanks, trees. Not just for being alive but for having this to look at from a tree swing set with 1-inch cotton rope. I miss New York. I miss my family, my friends there, my routine, my stores, my restaurants and especially sidewalks, riding a bike, handball courts everywhere, my handball partner Earl, and Central Park and the free concerts, the huge trees, the secret places me and Chepa, and before her me and my girlfriends used to use to make a little love, do a little dance and so forth (Whoa! Nellie! That's way to much information!!!!!! That should be on a need to know ONLY!!!!!)
And then I'm sitting in the tree swing, the hammer hanging out of my back pocket, my stomach hanging over my belt (I hate you and am getting liposuction if you don't reconsider and get back inside the belt soon you stupid little show off!!!) and I'm thinking, Thanks, everybody. Thanks for giving us our own little central park. It ain't the ritz, but I don't know if I'd trade this yard for any yard I've ever seen. It's just that fantastic.
Okay, give me one of those 1,100 square mile ranches in Nevada and I'm changing my tune, but you get my point: This place is so beautiful and I'm so freaking lucky to have wound up here for this time.
And the sun was dropping in the sky and I remembered a fire we had in the pit just last month before I went to Peru, and some friends had come in from far away places and we just sat by the fire all night in wonderment of it all. Life is so rich, so fantastic. Not easy. And especially if you make problems for yourself like I have, but still, so wonderfully rich. I must have seen 100 kinds of bugs and been bitten by 35 kinds of ants while pulling out the reeds. So what? The stings didn't matter, the variety of life forms did! They were wonderful to watch! Some bit me with tail stings, some with little head clamps; spiders glommed me and I don't know how they bit. But that they were all so vibrant and alive that they were protecting their little Central park, the park I was eliminating, was fantastic. I mean, it's like talking with the power of the universe to be outside and be me in my yard tonight.
And I still havn't lost an ounce and am still a fat pig. But this week, me and that yard have made love like new lovers and she has been enthralling and I have been amazed.

A Quick Note on Intent

On a forum I sometimes post on there has been a raging and boring debate recently regarding whether the forum should permit discussion of plants other than ayahuasca, or whether by sticking only to ayahuasca the DEA will be less likely to begin coming down on people for it. I've stayed out of the debate because, as noted, it's boring. But then this afternoon, the fellow who started that debate suggested that ayahuasca was, in the end, only a plant, not a plant spirit, and that its power came from the chemicals it had within the plants used in its brewing.
I couldn't disagree more.
And here is what I wrote in response to such poppycock:

I believe when you say it is only a plant you are not recognizing that plants have will, desire, intent and soul--however one defines soul. I think stones do as well, as do tea cups and lampshades and everything else in this universe and probably a million other universes as well. Just because we cannot communicate with a lampshad--or at least I can't yet--doesn't mean it doesn't have a life spirit. And plants, in particular, have life spirits that allow them to put out 5-foot root sections in very short order when a riverbank falls away and they begin to topple. That indicates will to live. Intent. Desire.
Harder to see that in a desk, I know, but still, just the fact that whatever made that desk or went into making it has its beginning at the very beginning of time, at the creation of the universe--just as you and I do--I'd think most anyone should give the desk the benefit of the doubt.
With ayahuasca, I don't think the chemicals have a darned thing to do with anything. Maybe they're good at the beginning when the colored lights begin to go on. But having done ayahuasca for a long time now, I often only need to smell it to have a full blown--I mean full blown--experience. I have had them at home without seeing or even smelling ayahuasca, and those are not flashbacks, those are push-forwards. My oldest son has had them and the last time he did was more than a year since he had done ayahuasca. Born in the Amazon, he of course was introduced to it as an infant, with a blessing of a drop on his crown; then later on his lips. And at 12 a full cup as is the custom of the locals in certain parts of northwestern Amazonia. But to have a full blown experience, a wonderful, healing experience out of the blue more than a year since his last experience...well, I'd be hard pressed to chalk that up to a very minor chemical present in minute doses in two ounces of something he drank in Peru a time ago. No, I attribute that to the will of the plant. And I think the plant never leaves you. I think once you have opened that door to those other worlds, it can never close again. It never should close again. And when the plant feels you need to learn something, well, I think the plant will willfully give it to you, whether you ingest it or not.
And that's a good thing because she's such a wonderful teacher.
As for her being feminine: Well, the vine is certainly considered feminine. And to balance that, the chacruna used, if done well, will all be male chacruna--identifiable by the tiny spikes on the back of the male chacruna leaf that the female doesn't have. So the medicine is both female and male, traditionally, though the vine is certainly female.
Maybe I'm wrong, of course, maybe plants don't have will or intent. But when you see a 60-foot tree get its footing on the riverbank torn away one night and you return the next day to see that that tree now has two 10-12 foot long root sections going out into the river and holding it up while the tree behind it has suddenly produced five branches that are sticking out forward and have wrapped themselves around the falling tree's trunk, well, that to me is will and intent and action based on intent. Just take a trip up any river in the Amazon. You won't see it happen but you will see that it happened. To me that's very obviously will to live, desire to live, will to help a friend and so forth.
So if you think ayahuasca is chemical in nature, I'll respectfully disagree.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Medicine, the Medicine

There are days and there are days. Yesterday and today I received 11 emails from former clients who've been on trips to Peru with me. I've only had about 100 clients altogether over the last 11 years, so that represents a huge percentage. And I was sitting here with my kid Italo--my fantastic kid Italo, the brave, the courageous, the decent--and he was looking over my emails and he knew three or four of the people who'd written me, people who had been on trips with me and him, back 10 years ago. And he was astounded: Dad, how do these people even remember you? That's a long time ago...
And I respond: Yeah, but the medicine we give them keeps working. Forever. It's good medicine. You've had it, You know...
Yeah, but I'm Peruvian. I know it keeps working but does it really keep working on them? On white guys and women?
It's good medicine. I can't explain it any better than you can. I just think that once you open certain doors they never close again. And through those doors come threads that some people pick up and find valuable to their lives.
I guess so. I know what you mean. I just didn't think the average white person born in the US would get it.
They wouldn't. But then the average white/black/Spanish person born in the US isn't coming on my trips.
You can say that. If I didn't know how to do canoes at night and you sent me out to the river in a dugout canoe at night, I'd probably kill you. Man, that's scary. Fun, but scary. That thing goes over, you're lucky to get out alive.
That's why I tell them not to move. I don't want accidents.
But what if there are?
Oh, hell, Italo, I don't know. I hope I can swim out and save them.
But if it's a big anaconda?
Oh, man, don't even got there. These are guests, after all. THey don't even want to think about that.
But do you?
All the time. That's why there is always an extra canoe and a loaded shotgun at camp. We hear the word, the scream. we'll be there. Me and Juan.
Do you really have the guts to do that?
I fail at half the things I try in my life. That's not one of them. A snake is just a snake. I'm used to them. I've never been afraid of them and I'm just lucky I guess.
What if you don't kill it and it gets part of you?
Man, you're thinking about my worst nightmare.
So you're sometimes scared?
Not in real life. But in my imagination, I'm scared all the time.
Okay. Just so I know you know fear.
More than you know, I know.
Thanks, Dad. I'm gonna start the barbeque now.
Cool. Thanks for being my kid. You make me strong. I love you.
You got a couple of ranks coming in the next life dad. That's what we're preparing for in the next life, right?
What are ranks?
Accomplishments. You're doing okay, dad.
Thanks, buddy.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nasty Feedback

For some reason, last night I got a letter from someone whom I worked with on a story about the county in which I live. It was one of those forwards and was sent to probably 20 or 50 people and I don't have any idea why I got put on the list. The letter regarded Barack Obama and was one of those "Would you want this man president?" and then had maybe half-a-dozen sentences allegedly extracted from his book. They were, of course, the most volatile sentences in his book, when taken out of context. And they all smacked of fear and racism, urging people to consider that Obama was essentially an Osama, that one Muslim was another Muslim/Christian; that Obama would create terrorism here in the US and that we shouldn't vote for him.
If it hadn't come from someone I knew in a different context--someone who had run into this county's legal system and been steamrolled by it--I would have just tossed it. But coming from someone who has been buried by the white establishment--and who herself is white, but poor white--I got snippy and responded that people who sent this sort of drivel were fear mongers and perhaps mentally challenged. And I also asked to be taken off the list.
Well, man did I get a quick response. More than 10 of the people on the list have written me to note that I'm quite rude and that Jesus could save me, or that I should be run out of the county, or that I must love n.....s, and so forth. I answered a couple with the notion that Jesus, as a black man or Jew would have looked like a Muslim, and that I certainly do love everybody and that no, I wouldn't be leaving the county any time soon. And then I didn't respond to the rest.
I would have done the same if the letter denigrated John McCain in a similar fashion. Part of me gets irked at racism. At stupidity. At playing to fear. I don't like it. I guess I don't like it because I know it works and I've seen its results. You can get a crowd worked up and the next thing you know there are riots and someone gets killed or neighborhoods get set on fire. I remember seeing those awful KKK photos of lynchings and seeing those hanging black men in newspaper photos as a little kid in the 1950s. I remember listening to people shout at Jackie Robinson for being black as late as 1956 at Ebbets Field and watching my father stand up for him with the drunken racists in the stands. More recently, I watched our nation plunge into war in both Afghanistan and Iraq largely by fear mongering based on racism. I have friends fighting over there now because of that.
I don't go for racism. And getting that letter from someone I've defended, someone I've tried to help exposed me: I assume we're all on the same side these days, at least on that count. And I guess we're not. And so I felt stupid, and I felt ashamed that I was included on a list that would promote racism. So I responded fiercely but stupidly.
And I got some nasty feedback and might have my house set on fire today. Hopefully that's just hyperbole. But man, I wish this country would grow up already. We've got people running for president here. We've got a couple of choices that might make a small difference in the direction this country takes for a few years. The choice we make really oughtn't be made on six lines from a book written very honestly several years ago. Just as the choice shouldn't be made by denigrating the suffering that McCain went through as a POW for several years. The choice should be made on things more meaningful.
Anyway, wanted to get that off my chest. Please don't send me those sorts of missives.
Good morning all, have a fantastic day, heah?