Thursday, November 12, 2009

When good trips go bad

It's a bit late in the year for psychedelic carousing, but we had a bag of mushrooms and the November day was a mild one. So after consulting some maps and deciding which patch of nature to revel in--I voted for the lush grounds of Fermilab, but my companions somehow didn't like the idea of tripping adjacent to the world's largest particle accelerator--Yony, Dewayne and I got on the Metra train and headed for the Morton Arboretum, in suburban Lisle. Ah, the Arboretum! Such an evocative name! I could picture it already: mynah birds gliding through the mangroves, the air thick with enchanted puffballs, a family of woodland sprites bathing in the reflecting pool, and in the center of the park some sort of stately pleasure-dome.

Dewayne and Yony were already tripping by the time we got on the train; my transformation would not begin for another half-hour hour or so. On arriving in Lisle, I proclaimed myself Chief of the expedition, being at present the soundest of mind and steadiest on my feet. It was a bit of a hike to the Arboretum, longer than we expected--the mangroves must not be far now, but what was with all these strip-malls and gas stations, these superhighway overpasses? At length we spotted a swath of wilderness; it must be the Arboretum, we concluded, though I privately felt the place looked somewhat dumpy--just a bunch of trees, and they didn't even have any leaves on them!

We entered through some sort of back gate--the "servant's entrance", Dewayne joked. Well, this was not so bad after all. The roar of the highway quickly receding, we found ourselves in a dense and silent wood. I've always found a leafless forest rather depressing, but everything was now painted with psilocybin's magic brush, and the trees swayed with melancholy tenderness. We walked for some time, and came across a little meadow, where the last rays of afternoon sun were spilling across pillows of tall grass. Though I didn't see any pleasure dome, it seemed a pretty enough spot to rest, meditate, smoke some weed.

In one part of the meadow, the earth was a blanket of charred, tangled grasses, the result of some sort of controlled burn. It had an eerie, postapocalyptic beauty, and I took out my camera and began shooting away. Yony and Dewayne were on the other side of the meadow, reclining in a sunny thicket of grass, looking much like wild beasts at rest, and I began shooting them as well, fancying myself a celebrated nature photographer, on assignment in some African savannah.

You've taken mushrooms, no? They're a splendid drug--not so much wrapping the world in gauze, as pot or opiates do, as providing sweet, transcendent clarity. The psychedelic vision is rarely delusion at all; it is truth amplified. The trees and grasses seem miraculously alive and breathing--as indeed they actually are. At length, each of arose and wandered off according to his own whims; Yony took off running, I sat by a brook and contemplated Eternity, and Dewayne sat on a log examining fallen leaves:Poke fun all you want at the drug-taker's childish stupor, but there is in fact great beauty in a fallen leaf, and each one is so utterly unique.

Soon it was twilight, and we began to head in the presumed direction of an exit. The underbrush had quite recently been burned--some of it was still smoking!--but it had been burned with great precision, and a winding border demarcated the burn zone. We followed the smell of fire until we came across the firemen themselves, dressed in bright haz-mat suits, resting by the side of the road. Sadly, they could offer only dry, technical answers to our fevered questions about the burns and how they worked; there was little for the metaphorically-inclined mushroom-eater to walk away with.

Further down the trail, we came across a banner reading, Animal Houses: A Whimsical Adventure! A Wild, Woodland Romp! Not the types to pass up a whimsical romp, we excitedly followed the signs to what was ultimately a glorified playground, where kindergartners were goofing around in oversize squirrel dreys and fallen logs. One of the animal houses did capture our collective fancy--an artfully-constructed, 20-foot raccoon den:
But the sun was now truly setting, the air growing chilly, the mushrooms beginning to wear off, and it was time for us to head home.

A short ways on, we encountered a woman standing by the side of the road, next to her car. She was short and plump, draped rather gothically in expensive black scarves, and was, as we approached, visibly upset. "Have you seen boy about this big?," she implored us, in a thick Slavic accent. We had not. "My boy, my eight year-old son, he is autistic," she explained. "He does not talk. He wandered into the woods, I don't know, somehow, and I cannot find him." Our trip was taking a sudden, heavy turn, but we kept our heads cool. Yony offered to call the rangers. "I already tell somebody, they are looking for him," she protested.

We offered to go off looking for the boy ourselves, and she pointed us in the general direction of his disappearance. There seemed to be little we could accomplish--it was late-dusk and we had no flashlight--but what choice did we have? An autistic child was lost in the woods, probably scared to death. "There's something fishy about all of this," Yony interjected. The woman's story, it was true, did not quite add up; how could she have let her autistic son just wander away? Why did she bring him to the woods at dusk in the first place? Why was she dressed like a Bulgarian noblewoman in mourning? And why was she so relatively nonchalant, when most other mothers would have been screaming and wailing? "I think she murdered him," Yony speculated, his imagination racing.

We gave up our aimless wandering and returned to the woman, who was now busy speaking with a ranger on a truck. A police car had arrived, the sure signal for users and possessors of drugs to beat a quiet retreat. So we headed once again for the exit, a mile or two down the road, walking in the dark and cracking jokes to dispel the creeping horror which the boy's disappearance had invoked. The child's position, were he in fact lost in the woods, was bad enough, but we ourselves were in a bit of a pretty pickle; as we neared the exit, more police cars and sheriff's vehicles were streaming in, searchlights blaring, and three unwashed young hoodlums walking down the side of the road, disoriented and with heads full of drugs, seemed sure to arouse suspicion. "This," Dewayne commented ominously, "Is like a bad novel."

It got worse. The entrance/exit was a brightly-lit archway; beyond this was a four-lane highway with no sidewalk or shoulder to walk on. We had no idea how to get back to the train station, and no means to get there if we did. Panic began to set in; a helicopter had arrived. Needless to say, this was precisely the sort of situation that the psilocybin-user wants to avoid--stranded and lost in a suburban forest preserve, surrounded by police helicopters and fully-armed paramilitary personnel. They'd drag us into the station; FBI agents would arrive within hours, demanding to know where we'd hid the boy's body. Our guilt would be assumed. We'd be tried in a kangaroo court, and sentenced to death by hanging. I tried, in vain, to get Yony to at least ditch his remaining drugs.

It was Dewayne's brilliant idea to call a taxi. I have never in my life called a taxi--the idea is utterly foreign to me. But after a quick call, we were told our salvation would be arriving in about 20 minutes. If we could fend off the slavering dogs of the Law for 20 minutes, we'd be whisked off to safety. These would prove to be 20 of the longest minutes of our young lives. Each passing sheriff stared us down with the eye of death. Yony scrambled into the bushes to bury his mushroom residue. I called my dear friend John Bellows, to get some sober advice and hear a reassuring voice. "I don't want to freak you out," I began. "But we're in a bit of a weird situation. We took some mushrooms today, and..."

Our taxi arrived, and its trunk was searched by the police. Satisfied that it contained no bound-and-gagged autistic child, we were free to climb in and make our escape. What an overwhelming feeling of relief and liberation! Back in Lisle, we dropped into some shitty bar-and-grill for a sorely-needed beer. Word of the fiasco over at the arboretum had not yet spread to Main Street. Drinks were on special for $1.50 apiece, and our train back to the city would be arriving in half an hour. We took a collective deep breath.

The missing child didn't make it onto the 10 o'clock news, nor was he in this morning's paper. At this point we can only hope and speculate--perhaps he was merely playing hide-and-go-seek in the raccoon den, and enjoyed a tearful reunion with his family. As for me, the next time I take hallucinogenic drugs, I'll do so in the cozy pastures of my own backyard, which offers its own sort of mystical pleasures.

No comments :

Post a Comment