We loved each other, but not like Neruda or the telenovelas said we would. We had been engaged, and we had split up. When he realised my favourite extracurricular activity was breaking faculty professors’ hearts, he got his revenge by coming to a party hand in hand with another girl, and I decided to get out of his life.
That’s when everything might have come to an end. Only neither of us really wanted to discover the world without the other. The telephone continued to ring every evening at the usual time until after months and months, I finally picked up.
We apologised to each other. Our mutual feelings of relief were immediate. We started chatting about everything, even the silliest things. Neither of us could discover a song, a film, or a book without telling the other about it immediately. We talked for hours trying to find the Meaning, an elusive creature that we sometimes managed to catch a glimpse of. We longed to find the key to we didn’t know what, but we felt sure it would become clear to us as we talked.
One evening, he phoned as I was about to go shopping with my mother. His voice sounded far away and metallic. He was calling from a phone box. He was so excited even my mother could hear him yelling through the handset.
I got the impression this was going to take some time, so it was best for my mum to go on her own.
“I have found something. Something wonderful.”
“A flower,” I repeated to show him he had my attention.
“You wouldn’t believe what it can do. You’ve got to come, but like now, right now.”
He had tried all the drugs. I, at the time, being more interested in sex than stimulants, had simply accompanied him on his pilgrimage with each of them.
“Where are you?”
“In San Agustín del Mar.” I burst out laughing. He was more than six hundred kilometres from town.
“Get away with you, you nut job! When are you coming back?”
“I’m serious. Come here. I have saved you some wild blackberries.”
“I can’t. I have to write my thesis, remember?”
“Oh, you’ll write it, believe me. I’ve seen you finishing it, but you have to see the flower. I don’t know how to explain it to you.”
I was suddenly worried he had melted his brain. What if he was having a bad trip? What if this call was the result of delirium or paranoia induced by who knew what chemical cocktail? Should I call his mother? She scared me.
“Tell me something,” I said in an attempt to gauge his mood, usually a balance between madness and sanity. “Are you about to turn into a surfer, eat flowers, and never come back? Do you need me to come and help you?”
“Don’t worry, I’m fine. But you have to come, it’s important. I need you to help me understand something, I’m not just asking you because you’re a biologist.” His tone showed it wasn’t a real emergency, but still …
“A near-biologist who also doesn’t quite make the grade,” I reminded him. Apart from anything else, it had been a long time since I had been in the field.
Then the ghostly voice of the operator fluttered in with ours, indicating the call was about to end. He didn’t say anything else, but he knew I couldn’t resist emergency phone calls because I had to know what was going on. That was my drug.
“We’re about to be cut off! I’m at the lodges at the top of the mountain. Be careful.”
We were spoiled children, but I would be lying if I said inside we didn’t have fertile terrain, ready to be seeded. We were living with our parents during that intermediate stage between graduating and becoming unemployed. We were more than lucky and used the money available to feed our vices: pirated films from the cinephile at the flea market, albums, concerts, parties, and books. That’s how we spent our time, making the most of our reputations as good students. Instead of studying, we immersed ourselves in music for whole afternoons, staring at the ceiling, or we surfed the net (when no one else was using the phone line) to find out more about obscure groups on Yahoo! like controlling waking dreams. We would reach out a hand and take it for granted that we would be allowed things like unplanned journeys. It wasn’t such an absurd expectation, many universities organised “revolutionary tourism” with the naive idea of helping the natives, so our parents felt it was a stroke of luck that we were more selfish and cowardly than other students. Spending nights in mountain lodges rather than joining Zapata’s revolutionaries on the front line made them happy, but only because when they were young they hadn’t been hippy enough to know the main reason people went to San Agustín del Mar was psychotropic tourism. To convince my mother to let me go I had to make her some fairly unrealistic promises.
“As soon as I come back I will graduate.”
“That’s not the point. It hasn’t even been a month since you came out of the hospital.”
“But I’m fine again! I’ll look after myself.”
“The last time you said that you spent the whole night collecting samples in the rain. Don’t make me say how long you were in hospital again.”
Her level of overprotectiveness, though understandable, was oppressive, like a weight on my chest. In the end, I got her permission on the condition I wouldn’t leave my medicines behind and that Claudia, the point of our trio’s scalene triangle, came with me.
“If she doesn’t come, you can forget all about it. She will keep you both in line, and anyway, she deserves a holiday because she has already graduated. Above all, she won’t let you let yourself go,” my mother said, rubbing salt into my wounds.
We spent the first four hours of the trip chatting and laughing, but during the last three hours to San Agustín del Mar I felt sicker than I ever had done before, perhaps a taste of the dizziness lying in wait for me.
The old truck, that as passengers we were sharing with chickens, bails of grass, and crates of produce, started clambering up a road full of hairpin bends. Sucking on a lemon didn’t help. I didn’t even feel like I could put new batteries in my mp3 player to distract myself with music. I closed my eyes and curled up, leaning against Claudia in an attempt to stop the nausea. When we arrived, the pure cold air and the view over a sea of clouds brushing the tops of a multitude of pines helped me feel a bit better.
We quickly found where the lodges were, but Ekar wasn’t there. From the gestures we exchanged with Epifania, the owner of the place, we discovered he was actually staying there and that he had gone on a hike with Toribo, her husband, on a hunt for los niños del agua.
Claudia and I took a walk along the village’s main street, we had some non-magic mushroom soup, quesadillas, hot chocolate, and eggy bread. The ladies in the restaurant complimented us on our appetites and warned us that perhaps we had eaten too much if we wanted to take a trip later. We walked through the forest as the sun was about to go down. Above this, we were told, was like a land of mists, but if we followed the silvery course of the river down the mountain, the climate would change to become almost tropical, where, as if it were a promise made by the sea itself, the land was rich with plantains and coffee plantations.
“How are you feeling?” Claudia was worried my bronchi wouldn’t survive the freezing humidity of the mist and the walking.
“Wonderful.” Sometimes I had to lie and say everything was fine, but this time I wasn’t. Little by little I began to feel like I could breathe better than I ever had before, I was holding the perfume of the netleaf oak (Quercus rugos) and the brightness of the pine resin (Pinceae) and its needles scratching the spread of clouds beneath us, in my chest. An absurd idea flashed through my mind. Perhaps I had died in the hospital and this—the two of us in this place—was heaven.
Ekar was thinner but euphoric as always. His long lashes cast shadows over the dark circles under his eyes. When he came back from the hike, we threw ourselves at one another and hugged enthusiastically. The sun set and the fiery sky framed our silhouettes reflected in the window. I took a photo of our reflection with the camera I had never learned to use properly in all my years of studying and told myself I would handle it carefully. But they were only good intentions. Nothing we experienced in those days could be captured in a static, two-dimensional image, out of time and touch.
Ekar took us to the kitchen. The mushroom harvest was spread across Epifania and Toribio’s table—los niños del agua. I recognised the legendary Psicolocybe mexicana I had seen so many times in books, but I had never realised how intense the bluish colour concentrated inside them was, like coagulating blood from another world. There were lots of them, damp and dark, different shapes and sizes.
Toribio explained the differences between the various types: the Maestros and the Derrumbes, the Pajaritos and the San Isidros; he told us how rain and leaf coverage, or horse and cow manure led to their predictable but strange birth. He asked us if we knew how we were supposed to take them, what we would experience, how long the trip would last, and all the rest. He hinted that neither he nor Epifania celebrated the rites, they simply gathered the mushrooms and offered hospitality to whoever wanted to use them.
“Does having asthma make any difference?” Claudia asked.
Toribio said taking them might possibly cure me. Epifania started making me a cup of tea she promised would do the same thing. “To tell the truth, it needs to be done properly with someone who knows what they’re doing,” he continued. “I can identify them, I know how much to eat, and how much not to, but this isn’t the knowledge. The person taking the mushrooms needs someone to accompany their spirit. It is important, but no one gives it much thought.”
“The people who offer you a package with a sauna, scrub treatments, and a hallucinogenic trip just don’t get it, that stuff is all rubbish. I understand them, but they don’t fool me, that isn’t the knowledge. Not that I know anything about anything either. Come, I’ll give you a sweatshirt so you don’t get cold,” said Epifania, and I followed her.
In the meantime, Ekar was helping put various quantities of different mushrooms on Mexican pepper leaves for the organisers to take to their guests: eight Pajaritos, three Derrumbes, and two San Isidros for the group in lodge 6; mushroom tea, the gentlest way of taking them, for the daddies’ boys in 4, and so on.
“Don’t forget, there are some pigs around,” Toribio warned. He was not, of course, talking about the farm’s animals.
“If anyone says anything, tell them it is not forbidden here, that here it is a part of our culture. Be careful,” Epifania advised us when we went back into the kitchen and she offered roulades for dinner. Naturally, Claudia and I accepted because we had come to realise we were in for a long night.
But we were wrong. The forest’s chorus was singing at the top of its voice. We sat down on the patio. I was amazed by the number of stars we could see—brilliant dots of white blanked out every now and then by the tousled tips of the pine trees. Ekar took the blankets from the beds to cover us. Then put something in the palm of my hand, that in the moonlight, looked like a shrunken person. It was the flower. Its petals were wilting; he must have picked it a few hours ago. Despite this, its colour, mother of pearl striped with electric blue veins, was still visible.
“Sniff it,” he suggested.
I breathed in. It had a complex smell with many layers. I sniffed until I sneezed. It reminded me of luxury fragrances composed of many aromas and varying notes. But these fragrances only become perceivable with time, whereas the flower’s essence was, let’s say, simultaneous. There was the scent of vanilla and dust, of sand and musk, of the damp of a cave, of salt and blood.
“It smells of …”
“It makes no sense.” I handed it on to Claudia, who sniffed too. I found the right words as I watched her dumbfounded expression. “It smells like time.”
Ekar’s eyes smiled. It was the exact answer he was expecting.
The other guests interrupted us to say hello and invite us to have a beer with them. They were gently inebriated, but not from mushrooms. Some of them were dancing, others were juggling flaming torches, another pair were playing some game, I’m not sure what.
The smell of kerosene and smoke made Claudia worry about my asthma, so she suggested we moved away from there, even though shortly after Toribio came out to ask them to put out the fire. Didn’t they realise we were in the middle of a forest?
Ekar told us that on his first day here, they had gone out early to gather mushrooms. Toribio had shown him the perfect place to find them—where the cows grazed, leaving plenty of excrement behind them.
“It’s poetic that portals for your consciousness rise from cow pooh,” Ekar admitted, with a kind of imaginary reverence towards the cows.
When those loveable ruminants had permitted him to gather the mushrooms, he had shared them with Toribio. He had decided not to wait half an hour for their effect to kick in, but to walk along the river, watched by the cows he now knew so well. At a certain point, he heard someone calling him and had plunged into the forest on his left, certain this was the right direction. The voice had called him by name, he said.
“But obviously it didn’t call me Ekar. It was calling me—my presence, the temporal combination of the things, the flesh and ideas that are me. There are so many things I don’t know how to explain to you.”
It was a tree that had been calling him.
“I don’t know what it is called, nor its taxonomy,” he said, “but I know who it was. I would recognise it amidst all the trees like I would recognise you in the middle the crowds in the Pino Suárez underground station.”
“What did it say to you?” Claudia asked him.
“It said hello.” He started laughing at how absurd it sounded. “We chatted for a while about lots of things, I’ve already forgotten most of it. What I do remember is that I began to think about you.” He looked at me. “That was when you showed me the flower.”
He nodded. “It was like we were there together and I could touch you.”
I watched dawn come on my own, wrapped in the sweatshirt Epifania had given me the night before. The wind was blowing. The clouds were agitated, like ocean waves. My friends were both sleeping with their faces towards me, pink in the reflected light,
When Claudia and I had our rice atole for breakfast, Ekar had already put our moderate doses of psilocybin safely in his bag. I put my mobile and inhaler in my waterproof coat’s pocket—my parents had insisted I bring both in case of emergencies, (their euphemism for “in case you get sick”). The phone wasn’t even on. It was no use for anything because neither Ekar nor Claudia had one and there was no trace of a signal up here, anyway.
We followed our friend along the path down towards the river and the cows. They seemed like good companions to start a trip with, so we lay down where the left side of the forest started.
Ekar opened his backpack and removed the Mexican pepper leaf parcel containing los niños del agua. We were cheerful, but also serious, showing respect for the occasion in a way that would have made Toribio and Epifania proud.
Two men appeared from behind the trees. We hadn’t noticed them there, even though we were a pair of chilangas who lived in a constant state of alert, and Ekar was used to the constantly suspicious surveillance of the authorities who were always trying to catch him with a little weed to find him guilty of something.
The bastards. Police. They were both wearing dark glasses and had pistols in their belts. Their hands, resting on the guns, were covered in rings.
“What is going on here, son? Are you exposing your girlfriends to … Give that shit here, for your own good.”
Having grabbed the parcel of Mexican pepper leaves he stuck it down the back of his trousers.
I was disgusted by the fact that they were talking to us the same way lascivious drunks giving inappropriately fatherly advice do. Claudia was staring at them. If she had been standing up she would have made them become shorter.
“This activity is legal here, part of local customs and traditions.”
The bastards laughed. I could see the cows behind them growing alarmed.
“That might be true in your hotel, mamacita. Here, it’s a different story. Stand up darling, let’s see what you’ve got.”
Ekar, who was already standing, gave them his bag.
“This is everything we have. May I speak with you in private? This isn’t their fault.”
They rummaged around in the bag, made fun of the little money we had with us, left the contents in place, and like thieves threw the bag behind them, towards the cows.
“Is this all? This is jail time, you fucking junkies. Where do you keep the weed? C’mon, give your friend a hand. Where has he hidden it?”
One of them grabbed Claudia’s arm. His action filled me with anger. I stood in front of them, shaking. The cows were watching us, and for some reason, this gave me courage.
“Here. This is expensive medicine. My mobile too,” I said, as I handed him both things. It was a childish negotiation, pathetic, but the bastards’ eyes were shining.
One of the reddish cows was coming closer slowly. I looked at Ekar and knew he could see it reflected in my eyes. The men had their backs to it. So did Ekar, but I could see he knew. The cow sped up, Ekar took Claudia and I by the hand to pull us in the opposite direction to the accelerating animal.
One of the policemen yelled with shock. They jumped out of the way just before the beast ran into them. The man who had grabbed Claudia tried to draw his pistol but didn’t when the animal began to charge and lowered its head to attack them. They were both scared of a domestic animal that was angrily protecting us, or perhaps the policemen were worried they’d find trouble with the farmer. Whatever the reason, they began to leave. As they scrambled away, scared off by the 700-kilo animal still following them, they didn’t stop throwing threats at us.
“If this shit doesn’t clear, little girl, we’ll be back for you.”
“Go on then, drug yourselves up till you drop, stupid fucking kids.”
The man threw the Mexican pepper leaf parcel to the ground. The cow didn’t take its eyes off them until they were out of sight, then stayed and grazed where it was briefly before going back to the others. We all hugged and cried. Then we laughed.
The feeling that Ekar had known what was about to happen hadn’t left me, and I told him so.
“I only knew we were going to be all right. But I should have been more careful,” he said, confirming my suspicions.
“How will we cope without your medicine?” Claudia was more worried about it than I was.
I undid the parcel. The mushrooms were still there, whole and innocent.
“These mustn’t be taken without a guide,” I said. “We should take this as a lesson.” I put them back firmly in the bag. Then Claudia pointed into the forest.
“Aren’t those the flowers?”
“Yes. That’s the tree. There are more than last time,” said Ekar.
“Let’s go and see,” I said, hoping to cheer us up.
The wildflowers were at ground level. Their perfume came to us in short gusts as if the ground was exhaling it. The petals were almost iridescent, a colour I had never seen on a flower before, streaked with an electric blue that I presumed was the same psilocybin the mushrooms contained.
Ekar lifted his gaze and greeted the tree, many of whose branches crosshatched the sky.
“Abies religiosa,” he said. “It’s an oyamel fir, over a hundred years old. A beautiful specimen.” We paid it our respects. Its canopy towered above us, ascending into the sky.
“We didn’t take the mushrooms, but it looks like the flowers are dancing,” Claudia said.
“Why did you pick the flower, Ekar? Did you do any research on it?”
“I ate it. Nobody knows anything about it. I asked everybody and they all told me that what I experienced must have been an effect of the mushrooms. There aren’t any shamans for this, I swear.”
“But what did you experience? I still don’t understand,” Claudia asked him.
I knelt in the grass and bent over to see them close up. Inflorescence: three centimetres, dentate leaves. They were pretty, strange, and yes, it looked like they were dancing. I stretched out a hand to pick one and … bum! The flower closest to me exploded with a strange noise. Its pollen flew into my face and my mouth, which was open in surprise and laughter.
“What was that?” Asked Ekar
“I think your flower friend confused me with a bee. Like the nometoques flower! It wants me to take its pollen somewhere else,” I said, laughing euphorically, full of that unusual odour.
“Your face is covered in blue dots!” Claudia was laughing too. “It’s like light blue pollen. The smell is really strong.”
“I can taste it too.” My was mouth was filled with an acidic taste. I started drooling. I stood up but felt dizzy and nauseous. When I lifted my eyes towards the canopy of leaves, which seemed to be projected into infinity, I noticed it was talking to me, with my presence, the combination of things, of flesh and ideas I temporarily am. I knew how old it was, how much it knew about movement, he, who to my human eyes, looked static.
Part of me realised what was happening. This same part perceived how Ekar and Claudia were looking at me, halfway between fascination and worry.
“You don’t have to eat the flowers. Touch them. You only need to get the pollen on you.”
I got closer to the grass and spoke to the tree. Its language was slow and whispery, and, like mine, relied on air, on breath.
It made me understand various things about patience and perspective, about the multiplicity of the lives within mine, him and his ants, me and my bacteria. I put my hands on the ground and noticed something was happening to my skin—it could feel the slightest pressure, warmth, or touch.
Every blade of grass, every crumb of earth. I could hear the voices of Ekar and Claudia who had lain down beside me. I took my hands away from the ground and reached for theirs. I felt their fingers, recognised them, and my heart skipped a beat. My friends were there, alive. Nothing had happened to us. I held their hands very tightly and brought them to my chest, it was then I understood the most sophisticated evolutionary function of the hand was not manipulating tools, but the ability to intertwine with those of other people.
“Thank you for keeping your heart awake,” Ekar said to me.
I turned my head to look at his face, and in that instant, I realised, in every cobweb and in all its music, how many faces the forest was home to. When my gaze reached his eyes, I heard the nearby spring, I could have sworn I could hear the singing of the underwater animals, and my heart woke even more because we were understanding things together.
My cheek adapted perfectly to the hollow of his other hand, it was nothing to do with size, but the moment, the precise moment the hand-form occupying space encountered the cheek-form, close to each other in that space, in that moment.
I decided to leave that perfect synchronism, the synchronism of touch, alone, because I realised the nature and extension (the ephemeral eternity, infinity in a second) and my body mourned. But that which I am thanked it, kissing my friends’ knuckles; and I turned, curious, ready to continue my discoveries, to try the air that had so often denied me sufficient oxygen. It tasted of honey, flowers, fur and moss, manure and grass. With the tip of my tongue, I kissed its strange inhabitants. I asked it not to abandon me, but the oxygen told me it couldn’t make me that promise.
I could feel the heat of the Earth on my back, the infinitesimal movement of the tectonic plates. It warmed my legs, stomach, and head. My hands wanted to plunge into the rock like melted lava, I knew it was possible, but it would take so much time, and to do it I would have to disintegrate into the humus with the earthworms.
I stood suddenly because I felt the desire not to die, not to vanish, and I felt sorry for myself as I realised this was what I sought in all my crazy relationships, in sex, and I let go of a little of my fear of vanishing. I felt Claudia’s generous hand reaching for mine. I heard her even before she spoke to me.
“Are you all right?”
I turned my face to answer her and found earthworms, busy, admiring; sparrows up high, conversing amongst themselves in the tree canopies; the tree, congratulating itself on our friendship triangle.
“I’m fine.” My eyes met hers and I noticed how she and I were two puppies in a pack. We ruffled each other’s hair, we bit each other’s legs, we established our sisterhood in dog language. Ekar laughed like a child, knowing we were dogs, in that moment the time of one of us was that of all three. We were children laughing hard, and we always would. Even though we were who knew where in the forest, the only thing we had to do was link our hands.
I asked a very big stone, or rather, it asked me, to dance. I don’t know for how long I fluctuated in the air before falling, but Ekar grabbed me and we spun a number of times.
“Let’s dance with the rock, to its rhythm!” I said, and falling with Claudia, all three of us came to understand something more of geological time. Our mouths filled with the taste of metal oxide, mud, and sulphur. Other temporal sensations suddenly began to arrive, like a new sense that we were capable of experimenting in who knew what part of ourselves.
It didn’t appear clearly as an event unfolding before our eyes, there weren’t any scenes or anything like that. It was an intuition, we felt it was a fact that was about to happen. The most important revelation was that we could share it if we touched, and winding our hands together we could decipher together those bitter, sweet, or sharp flavours. It was a conversation based on the senses. We were certain we would find the meaning by conversing and that we would do so with our whole bodies, these radio telescopes made of skin, hormones, and bone.
We fell asleep, holding hands, in the middle of the forest. We had the same dreams, but woke up a number of times, the effect of the flowers coming and going, washing over us like waves in a rising tide. The strongest wave came at midnight. The white light of the stars broke into seven colours, humming gently in the background. We noticed that between one star and another there were fines lines, filaments of a cobweb of light and matter and gas and time. Little by little connections were revealed to us, the weave of past and future events, and we realised the brightest filaments were merely potential futures, possibilities that might change. There was no conviction or sentence, only mutating and multiple probabilities. What eudaimonia.
Nevertheless, most of those visions and intuitions were terrible. It was a breathtaking spectacle to see that in reality everything was connected, an immense gift—it implied embracing the fullness of compassion. We realised that our skin separated us like the outline of a drawing divides a character from the background of a comic, but on the other hand permitted heat, the essence of things, to permeate through it.
“Even the bastards are part of it,” we thought at the same time as we wound our fingers together with infinite sorrow because the bad guys would never be touched by the peace and magnificence embodied by a cow. In short, everything was connected: violence, pain, injustice. In order that courage, friendship, and laughter could shine out like supernovas from behind them. Everything propitiated perpetual movement and the birth of the flowers. Including our own minds, but we would understand this better with time.
We were late going back because I ended up measuring a pair of specimens of the flower. We returned thrilled and starving. Toribio and Epifania offered us what they had eaten: tlayudas with beans, meat, and cheese. We told them, incredulous that it had all happened that same day, of our run-in with the police, about the way the flowers worked, of the heightened reactivity of all the senses and the matter of time. They didn’t really understand what we were saying, but then it wasn’t even all that clear to us either.
“There must be someone who knows about this,” Claudia and I insisted.
“The only thing I’ve ever heard about the flowers, since I was a child, is that it isn’t wise to play with them, nor with toloache nor floripondio, nor with any of the others.”
“In any case, we need a guide.”
“What if now it’s you who should be the guides?” said Epifania. “Anyway, I was thinking that …” She came out of the kitchen bringing a cushion cover embroidered with the words “Let providence protect you” surrounded by flowers like ours, sewn with coloured threads in an attempt to emulate their iridescence. She gave it to us.
The next day we could feel there wasn’t much left of the hypersensitivity the flower had given us. We went to the beach in Ekar’s wreck of a car straight after having taken a warm leave of Epifania and Toribio.
“We will see each other many more times,” Epifania assured us. “A little flower told me.”
However, providence hadn’t finished with us yet. Renewed waves meant we had to stop frequently along the way. We couldn’t keep track of time as each new wave washed over us, leaving us stunned when faced with the fact of being alive, capable of synchronising ourselves with the various melodies of existence. Along the way we listened to OK Computer and Vespertine, perturbed but happy; and when we no longer felt like who we were before, those with the names we called each other by before all of this, we put on Rock en tu idioma Vol. I y II and yelled and danced.
The ocean scared us. It was a sensory excess that transformed into absence, like death. Its voice was magnificent and the pressure the water exerted on our skin was as pleasant as the moist warmth of one body making its way into another with desire. We lay down on the sand, hands intertwined to receive messages from the sky and the sea. First, we witnessed some probable futures for the three of us, then our weave extended to become part of the possibilities for the whole of humanity.
“Don’t look,” Ekar said to me suddenly, as if we were watching a horror film. With his free hand, he stroked my head and rested it on his chest. The understanding of what was happening to us wasn’t in our vision, but in our union, our touch, therefore it was inevitable for me to realise the crushing probability that I would die long before either of them. Claudia hugged me. It fell to me to console them, because I’d known it already, before meeting the flower.
It took a lot of inner courage to watch the very probable agony of the Earth, the illness, the physical and spiritual pain of millions of people, the fires, the disappearance of many animals, and the world’s green areas. The wave of providence ended. We walked along the beach and, as a sort of consolation, we saw some turtles coming and going from the sea to lay their eggs.
We were immature and without a guide, but we had been given the seeds. The flower had used me like a bee. I had to spread its seeds and make sure they germinated in other places.
On our way back, the waves came further apart, allowing us to get back to our everyday selves, and even forget what had happened a little before the next tide arrived, announced by the smell of time. Instead of writing my thesis, I investigated if this providence had ever appeared in some historical archive, but there was nothing about this species. It seemed strange (and sad) that any knowledge about the flower was lost or destroyed. There had to be something somewhere.
I made providence the centre of my research. I changed topic and advisor. It didn’t disappoint anyone particularly because, on the face of it, this was a species that had never been recorded before—a flower of the Balsaminacae family, genus Impatiens, as I had suspected (Though I had been wrong about the psilocybin. It was a different substance I was going to have to carry on studying). I wanted it to be true. I was happy and believed in the rest of our experience, and I told my new advisor about it all without leaving anything out.
I was lucky because she was receptive, even though she was frank with her advice. “If you want to carry on studying this, you’ll have to be discreet. Stick to describing it. Create a simple protocol. Be very precise when you talk about the psychoactive part: It produces this effect, and this one, observable and quantifiable in this and that manner.”
“Will I be able to do that with the perception of time?”
She looked at me compassionately.
“My advice is don’t try to explain how it influences the consciousness, say nothing that doesn’t sound like natural science. If you do, they won’t let you continue. Believe me. Do you want some more advice? Don’t do the research alone. Look for people who are already observing what you want to understand.”
It wasn’t long before I had proof of just how right she was.
When I talked about it, people asked me why I called the plants entheogenic and not hallucinogenic or narcotic. I explained the terminology created by Wasson et al in 1979 that recognised their use in rituals (etheos, internal god), but they interrupted me saying “that aspect isn’t part of your work.” The road ahead looked long, even though, in a more or less arbitrary manner, we were able to register the plants as Impatiens synchronica, not for the temporal perception I wanted to highlight, but using the handy pretext of its flowering cycle that was connected to the reproductive cycle of a type of beetle. Providence also had an annual cycle in our bodies, our other consciousness flowered in us every year.
I graduated only to realise I knew nothing. I found it fascinating to think entheogens worked like chemical keys, turning on latent, rather than extraordinary, processes of perception, even the brain looks for these substances within its own organism as if they were essential. This idea, which had obsessed so many people before me, was silenced by legal restrictions, not only because of its transformative and destabilizing power but because there were those who used this kind of knowledge to create narco-empires of trafficking and death, causing the opposite effect.
It seems as though our bodies were made for living this experience, it just needs to be set in motion. Through the master plants (including providence) nature is constantly renewing its promise—anybody can have the internal god. Taking these substances must guarantee some evolutionary advantage. It’s no wonder so many cultures have used them in rituals for centuries.
I asked Epifania for help in finding spiritual masters who could guide me and I met some of the people she suggested. Ekar, Claudia, and I had seen places that psychoactive tourism had already turned into sad spiritual markets. The main roads full of ads offering a shamanic version of self-help through mushrooms, ayahuasca, and peyote.
It was something obvious, but we only understood it in that moment—to reach the wise people you had to get to know people well, become known by them, and in some way deserve the gift of consciousness, just like it was before those illuminations were uprooted from their context. I didn’t discover anything that hadn’t already been said. The pre-Columbian cultures had developed technologies of consciousness, perfecting the instrument through attentive observation, experimentation, verification, and transmission of the knowledge. This was a precious science, without quantifiable results. It took a lot of effort to destroy the world for which this wisdom had been modelled—it was almost extinct
It seemed that no one knew anything about Impatiens synchronica. It was as if the flower had bloomed in this century out of nowhere.
I took it to various masters. Some of them consented to try it to help me to create a kind of guide, a journey route that could show other people how to proceed. Interestingly though, the result wasn’t so different from existing rituals for other substances, and they overlooked elements that for me were fundamental: navigation through time, communion through touch.
When I asked their advice for experimenting with it fully, one of them simply shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Maybe this flower now belongs to your time, not mine.”
Time passed. Claudia, sensible as always, dedicated herself to building a tranquil life and home where she could welcome dogs, cats, and the people dear to her. Ekar became a lawyer (and Buddhist), he married and had children. Even now we found time for each other in the middle of all this productivity, the blockages and downpours of the city to meet up amidst the tides of providence, take each other by the hand, and understand together that which we knew by intuition would happen, and find, in the most remote possibilities, ways of moving forward. We came down from our rituals joking. We called it the “shamanism of friendship.”
Despite bad health getting in the way of field trips, I continued to conduct research into the composition of the flower, its cycles and effects, like when and where the seeds sprouted, disobedient (or obeying climatic change) in all latitudes as if they were an urgent biological telegram.
It was clear that the world was unravelling, it could be seen in the Biology and Earth Science departments, eternally ignored Cassandras, but at the same time, in parallel with the academic discussions, an underground interdisciplinary group was forming around the environmental emergency and entheogens. There were people from the faculties of Medicine, Chemistry, Anthropology, and Physics, all sharing information and experiences. They didn’t know about Impatiens synchronica. I shared my knowledge, for science it meant nothing: it dealt with time without equations, chemistry without formulas, consciousness without studies on brain waves. To my surprise, they welcomed my words with curiosity and pleasure. They were as tired as I was with the limits set by scientists, they offered approximations, data, and hypotheses that opened up possibilities.
“It is not nature’s fault if it is infinite. It is our fault because we want to limit it to only that which can be quantified,” said one of the researchers who’d had a piece refused on nano-neurology in which she speculated on the quantistic possibility that psychedelic substances (as the radical materialists of the group preferred to call them) were molecular machines capable of enhancing the synapses to light speed. This could allow us to perceive time, matter, and the universe itself at all of its levels of complexity. They were theories that would have irritated anyone except us. Vegans, rabbis, shamans, theologians, and artists joined the group. We made sure we criticised everything that smacked of New Age, although we admitted the contradiction of what might seem like crossover.
I yearned for the next tide of providence to share all of this with Ekar and Claudia, but the combination of gradual deforestation, ferocious rains, atmospheric pollution, and the ever more aggressive mutations of seasonal virus strains had suddenly fenced in the entire population, especially the biologically imperfect like me.
Open-air life and human contact had become lethal.
The restrictions on movement had become more and more severe.
Rather than meeting the public’s most urgent health and supply needs, new problems emerged that needed to be dealt with: devastation of nature, accelerating loss of food sources, mental disorders caused by isolation, and the decreasing world population.
The four horsemen of our apocalypse.
Even though I knew my announced death was closing in, that it was only a question of time, fear overtook me. What’s more, I was going to experience the last tide of the flower alone.
I felt I had failed as a scientist (I had never managed to make others listen to the warnings, or enable my knowledge of a flower to improve the world), as a human being (a predatory species that praises beauty even as it annihilates it) and as a person (I had dedicated my life to trying to understand, but there was so much solitude and I didn’t feel the peace I had always desired).
The telephone rang. I knew it was Ekar even before seeing his name on the screen.
“It’s time! Have you felt it already?”
His voice triggered the molecular machine, the annual blooming of providence, but we couldn’t smell it yet. As we waited we discussed the fear and anguish I was feeling.
“Help me understand,” I asked him in a strangled voice.
“We cannot be separated if we are one thing. We are divided for a while by our skin, nothing else. This is what the flower, the tree, the cow, the stars told us, I mean, this is what we said to each other … don’t you remember?”
Then I remembered and the implications seemed clear—two particles, however far apart they are in time and space, can influence each other in a simultaneous synchronised way. If everything is connected, then shouldn’t we be able to reach each other, condition each other, touch each other? To have the certainty, even just before dying, that solitude does not exist?
The smell appeared as if in reply.
“I’m about to add Claudia to the call, are you ready?”
We were three forms of existence encapsulated in a radio telescope of skin, hormones, and bone. I searched in ephemeral eternity, the internal infinity of a second, this moment of time, the precise instant in which those hand-forms occupying their space encountered other hand-forms. Claudia’s voice intertwined her fingers with mine and Ekar’s, and together, laughing hard in the forest of the world, we understood the restrained hope, the evolutionary advantage, the providential miracle of the synchronism of touch.