The sun fell on the hills again, the same way it falls every night. Falling off myself, a stranger passing through another town, another rented room. Taking stock of all we’ve taken in and everywhere we’ve been.
We are in Montana for a week now after a couple weeks in the deserts of Colorado and Utah, back home to Washington briefly before we headed off again, a long drive to a resort town called Whitefish with gondolas and beckoning mountains, the reassembly of family traditions they call reunion.
Today hiking up the trails with Dawn’s 24-year-old nephew, discussing the nature of loss and the role of drugs in its reconciliation. MDMA, DMT, ketamine infusions, psilocybin, LSD. We crisscrossed the avalanche runouts and dirt roads to keep on trail through the forest, spotting marmots sunning themselves on the rocks. Swatting horseflies as we stopped in the shade to rest, surveying the hills in the distance as we climbed.
He carries a pouch of Kratom powder and adds it to his kombucha bottle. Keeps a sleeve over one arm where he just had some new tattoos applied to protect the ink from the sun. The Kratom is a mood enhancer and helps with pain, though I’ve only tried it once and it gave me odd dreams. I am looking to sharpen my perception of reality naturally I said and declined his offer.
There are one or two times that really stand out, with the drugs. The kind of experiences that transform you he said. His dad (Dawn’s brother) died at 57 from a brain tumor. It came on quick, about a two-month window and he was gone.
Chase got debilitating pain in his pelvic seat for months, the kind of pain that burns like bad diarrhea 24/7. He competed as a body builder but had to stop as the pain interfered with his training and he got tired of having to consume 6,000 calories a day, eating pounds of chicken breast every two or three hours.
He describes the one experience on mushrooms where he imagined an elevator shaft with tiny workers chipping away at debris that had accumulated along the inner walls, thereby opening the shaft. He felt a wave of sadness coming, as he had not been able to experience the grief of his dad’s passing and so he went to his bedroom and closed the door. The sadness overcame him and he went fetal, then felt himself popping out of the back of his head and floating above his body. He then thought, “he’s going to be alright,” referring to himself (his fetal body, that is) in the third person.
And then he imagined a light on the ceiling coming from a geometric pattern, and began feeling sensory memories from his youth. The smell of his grandmother’s perfume, the unique sound his deaf grandfather made, a kind of grunt. The texture of his childhood dog’s fur. The light surrounded him with these sensations and let him know he was loved, in this way. And when he broke from the spell, his palms were cut from where his nails had squeezed into his skin, his eyes swollen from sobbing, but he felt released from the balled-up tension and grief, he felt healed.
In another example he’d gone into an orange portal and seen his dad there, his dad just fully himself, though he’d passed, and they were connected at the head through a double helix. His mom appeared too, though because she is still alive she was just beside him without the helix. And he was himself as a child again at a desk in a school classroom struggling but they reassured him he could do it himself, he would be alright.
These are remarkable stories, and I could see why they would make you a proponent of psychoactive drugs for therapeutic use, but I am coming from a place of utter distrust and contempt for the movement to normalize cannabis and related drugs, having experienced their negative effects on our daughter Lily and friends of hers, whose young lives were nearly ruined, whose families have gone into significant debt to help repair the damage, kids who have literally lost their minds and nearly killed themselves.
I am grateful I don’t have recent loss to work through and the temptation to reconnect with the dead this way; I’m conflicted over the extent to which it is a natural vs. supernatural act, the latter feels like it comes with a kind of monkey paw curse. I would like to train my mind to have experiences like that without drugs, though I don’t know if it’s possible. I have to believe it is.
Yesterday I ate the last of Lily’s oats. She had some food left over from wilderness therapy and the sentimental part of me (the frugal too) couldn’t throw it out, though it was just oats, tortillas, and trail mix. In fact I carried bags of all three with me throughout Colorado and Utah, as a way of trying to share in her experience by eating what she ate for so many days.
I mixed the oats with hot water and cinnamon, then added sliced bananas and strawberries, flaxseed, coconut flakes. They would eat the oats with a spoonful of peanut butter, powdered milk, and gorp.
At the graduation ceremony they gave each of the kids a dot or two of cedar oil on the insides of their wrists as a way of helping the students remember their time in the wilderness more vividly, in a more sensory fashion. I found and bought a bottle of the same oil myself, so I could too.
And so we have these memories, implied or explicit, to carry us through our days and connect us back through smell and sound, through pictures and familiar tastes. We are blessed by our senses and I feel alive and renewed by the smells in the morning pines and the feel of fresh air on my face. The love that no matter where I go is always here.