Aliases and Asses...
Names have been altered to shield the guilty. Not that many need shielding as there’s just the three of us. Me, Bottom, and Puck. My name’s on the story so abjuration is pointless. As such, just two names are being altered: Bottom and Puck’s.
Not that we’re guilty of all that much.
Arguably, a close reading and strict interpretation would suggest a flirtation with technical violations of California’s Uniform Controlled Substance Act.
Specifically speaking, Section 11054 (subsection a) (18); which speaks to the illegal possession, importation, buying, selling, trading, or giving away for the intention of cultivation of psilocybin.
To whit: We’re in possession of psilocybin.
To gain compliance with the statute, we decide to eat the mushrooms. It’s only right and it’s the law. For those who’ve never consumed hallucinatory mushrooms—they taste like ass.
This is our tale...
The need to get away saw us loading the car and heading for the forests of Northern California. A long holiday weekend was pressing down hard and our prior decision to make no decisions had left us in a lurch as regards viable options this late in the game.
By the calendar it’s America’s 229th birthday. Fourth of July weekend. Hot weather and clear skies are in the forecast and once we’re driving we realize that our plan wasn’t, particularly, an original one.
“Who knew people camped on the fourth of July?” Grouses Puck.
“I’m taking notes for next year.” I assure her.
We’d already driven past our first few options and had been disappointed by the results.
A local reservoir overflowed with motor homes, motor boats, recreational vehicles, and rednecks. A scenic stretch of river had been stretched remarkably thin with tents, tee-pees, and day hikers who were enjoying the scenery.
Like a wayward bombing crew, whose primary and secondary targets are obscured by cloud cover, we have no idea where to drop our payload. We press on, however. For the war effort.
“How now, spirit, whither wander you?” Puck inquires of Bottom who is doing the driving.
He promptly responds. “Over hill, over dale, thorough bush, thorough brier, over park, over pale, thorough flood, thorough fire, I do wander everywhere.”
Yeah, they’re drama nerds.
“So, um...Shakespeare?” I interrupt from the back seat before the cast has a chance to launch into the next soliloquy.
“Yes.” Replies Bottom. “Act Two, Scene One from A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream--.”
I interrupt again.
“Yes, I know that.”
I hadn’t actually known that. At least not all the details like the name of the play, the act, or the scene. I could tell from the flowery talk that it was Shakespeare though.
“It’s not a musical is it?” I ask warily. They’re aware of my aversion to musicals.
Puck fills in those holes that comprise my knowledge of Shakespeare. “Shakespeare didn’t do musicals.”
“Strike one up for the Bard.” I respond relieved. “I was just wondering if the tires can handle going over pale and through dale to get to the land of milk and honey.”
My knowledge of Shakespeare isn’t the only thing filled with holes. The road’s a mess. Asphalt had long since been replaced by gravel which quickly transitioned into crushed gravel before turning to dirt. By the time we got to it, it was regurgitated dirt.
As our camping options dwindled, so too, obviously, had the maintenance budget for the county roads we’d been traversing.
Bottom downshifts and spins the steering wheel as the front, passenger-side, tire pancakes into a rut which occasions the oil pan to meet Mother Earth with a resounding clatter. Something similar happens to the back of my head with the car roof as I realize that my seatbelt fastener’s only for show.
In response to his ministrations; the ageing car lurches to the left and howls back at the branches scraping alongside while rattling in protest against what’s, obviously, a breach of the Point A to Point B nature of their relationship. All the while its’ backside fish-tails sassily down the road.
Over the radio, the Grateful Dead exhorts us to Keep on Trucking...
“Oh sure, the tires should be fine.” Bottom assures me. “I’m more concerned with never finding a place to camp and dying in these woods.”
“Also a concern.” I concur musingly as I rub the back of my head.
I’m not really an outdoorsy kind of guy. I imagine our scattered bones being ravaged by wolves, bears, and caribou.
“It’s good to have options.” Opines Puck cheerfully.
“I would go with caribou—“I say before a shrieking sound interrupts my attempts to explain my reasoning.
The sound emanates from somewhere behind the Grateful Dead. Front of the car stuff. Engine stuff.
We clatter to a stop.
I’m not really a mechanical kind of guy. That said, or perhaps because of that, I’ve had numerous cars break down and, although I’ve no idea how to fix them, I can usually recognize what it sounds like when they break.
Clearly, we broke a belt. Or maybe an axle. Perhaps an engine part? As mentioned, I’m not really a mechanical kind of guy.
Truth is; it could easily be a cadre of turtles, wearing mukluks, and camping in the carburetor for all I knew. I can only assume that carburetor camping turtles, attired in mukluks, would sound a lot like any of those other problems mentioned: a broken belt, a bent axle, or a busted engine part.
I imagine the silky softness (that is) a caribou’s snout, huffing over my bleached bones...
We pile out of the car.
Bottom begins an immediate diagnostic of the vehicle. Puck pulls out a joint and lights it. After assuring an even burn, she hands it off to me. I puff for awhile and in an attempt to sound helpful, pass along some advice with the well-burning weed to Bottom.
“Do you think maybe it could be a cadre of turtles, attired in mukluks, camping in the carburetor?” I ask using my ‘car fixing’ voice. It’s my normal voice but just a little deeper. “I understand these Asian vehicles are susceptible to that type of thing.”
“Heroes in a half shell!” Puck calls out.
Bottom accepts the joint but rejects my advice while chuckling at the shout-out to the bravery of ninja turtles. He doesn’t let my ruminations slow him down, however, in the actual finding of the problem.
“Turns out, those were floor mats causing that problem.” He informs me from behind a wreath of smoke while continuing his search.
“Well, that’s a relief.” I say.
My attention moves to the possibility that lizards are maybe clogging up the fuel lines. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the problem is somehow reptile-related.
We’re equidistant between nowhere and next to nowhere. For those familiar with the area, it’s in the middle of nowhere. We found ourselves at the vast epicenter of a Venn diagram of nowhere-ness.
“Could we be more not near anything?” I ask while watching a lizard skitter out from under a nearby bush.
Puck coughs out her response along with a big hit of smoke, “Yeah. We could be in Tulare, California.”
I take the joint along with this heartening news. I also take a bit of back spray from the cough.
She’s correct of course.
For those who’ve never been, Tulare is located in the Central Valley of California. The Central Valley is widely considered the armpit of California and Tulare is the unattractive, festering mole in that armpit. I take solace in the comparison.
The lizard takes solace in the shade of a tire. Near the gas tank. I monitor (the) lizard’s activity to gauge his intentions.
As Bottom continues to move around the car, the lizard exhibits signs of obvious guilt and anxiety. My suspicions are heightened.
Puck pulls out a forestry map which clearly indicates that the road we’re on had ended about five miles earlier. Our part of the map is depicted as they depicted Africa prior to The Age of Discovery...an indistinct coastline with empty spaces crowding the interior.
We need to find a water source and a place to start a legal fire. That’s our only requirement for finding a campsite. Water, fire, and no assholes nearby, of course. There’s nothing worse than having to deal with an asshole, that you can’t see, when you’re thirsty.
The lizard moves to the inside of the tire. I adjust my position so I can continue watching him.
“Shouldn’t we be following north facing fungus on trees that face south as the crow flies?” I reason. “You know, to find water and frogs and such?”
Directions have never been my forte.
I note the precise moment the mental flash invades her cerebral cortex. That moment when she realizes, with near certainty, that if left to my own devices I would probably die out here.
Attempts to clarify my meaning, by flapping my fingers in a winged motion, don’t seem to help.
I look down. The lizard’s gone. Shit.
Bottom sticks his head out from under the wheel well. “Found the problem!”
He holds up the rock that had lodged up into the wheel well. It’s as big as a baby’s head. I feel vindicated in my lizard focus. Lizards like sitting on rocks. As Bottom did the majority of the leg-work, we reward him with the remainder of the joint.
As Good a Setting as Any...
An hour later we rolled into a clearing deep within the heart of the Stanislaus National Forest. A sign announces the location as California’s Bear Valley. It’s beautiful. The valley I mean...the sign’s pretty nice too.
Situated at about seven thousand feet, the valley offers a panoramic view of the upper montane alpine landscape. Vast stands of western junipers, various species of pines, and red firs spread out in a majestic arc before us.
Attached to the bottom of the sign is a smaller sign signaling a campsite three miles down a dubious looking road.
I note the obvious, “I don’t like the idea of an entire valley comprised of bears.”
“They do make nice signs though.” Counters Bottom. We all murmur our admiration for the skilled craftsmanship of the local Ursus americanus community.
Lacking any other option, we head down the road. In terms of the Forest Service issued road map, I estimated our current position to be somewhere near Zambia.
The campground’s charming and lightly populated. Only two of the available six spots are occupied with each campsite offering a picnic table and fire pit as amenities to the weary traveler.
Of our neighbors, the first campsite proves a boisterous affair of perhaps two dozen souls arrayed around a half a dozen tents. The adults are drinking and carousing while kids scamper in and out of nearby trees and bushes.
The other camp appears a more permanent affair. A 5th-wheel dominates a campsite that’s ordered with military precision. Symmetrical white stones line the path to the trailer and also serve as an honor guard circling the flag pole. An American flag greets us with a listless wave as a light breeze moves through the campgrounds.
Utilizing the public urinal doctrine of space and separation, we set-up camp as far away from both of them as we can.
In terms of putting together a campsite, Bottom and Puck have mad skills. Within fifteen minutes of arrival, the camp was taking shape and they had already assembled their tent, shade structure, shower tent, and a barbeque.
I, on the other hand, have used those fifteen minutes in an attempt to extricate my borrowed tent from its’ protective bag. That bag’s ripped in several places and so is the tent. Also, I’ve nearly impaled myself on what might be the tent pole labeled (4E) in the unhelpful directions.
I’m not really a coordinated kind of guy.
As my idea of ‘roughing it’ is a Motel-6 without Cable-TV, I’m heavily reliant upon Bottom and Puck for materials and expertise. I feel bad for ripping the shit out of their tent.
“You ripped the shit out of my tent.” Complains Bottom as he and Puck walk up.
I look up from the tangle of ripped fabric, bent poles, and incomprehensible directions. The rest of the camp’s fully assembled and ready for the party to begin. They were now organizing a wood gathering mission.
I was coming to the conclusion that these two could easily have knocked Rome out in a day.
“I do feel bad for ripping the shit out of your tent.” I admit.
They immediately take charge over the confusion that I’d made of the thirty-square feet of nylon and mesh. Like a finely honed machine, they move over the chaos with insect-like determination. It may have been my imagination but I believe that they were making clicking sounds.
Our camp chairs are deployed around a crackling fire and, with cold beers in hand, a growing sense of contentment settles in upon our little group.
I’m so relaxed, I feel as if I’d popped an Ex-Lax. I hadn’t of course. That would be an unnecessary complication, in the woods, just prior to taking hallucinatory mushrooms.
It was moving on late afternoon when the first emissaries from the other campsites came sniffing around.
First to arrive was a small group from the boisterous camp. Two adults and three children wandered over towards us after using the community spigot that comprised the campground’s sole water source.
In deference to the children, we hide the pipe and the open bag of marijuana.
Pleasantries are exchanged and the three of us breathe a sigh of relief after they leave. It’s not that we’re anti-social as a rule; it’s just that we don’t want to encourage anyone to come back around once we’ve eaten the mushrooms.
Some insanity is best not witnessed by strangers.
Soon after, the other occupant of the camp comes shambling over. He’s old. Somewhere in his eighties, maybe.
In deference to the old man, we hide the pipe and the open bag of marijuana.
Unfortunately, the thick aromatic smoke chooses to stick around for the meeting with the octogenarian. There’s never a stiff breeze around when you need one.
The walk over had greatly winded him and he’s gasping for breath. As his gasps are being conducted in the middle of our stagnant cloud of marijuana smoke, the old guy is set to get one hell of a contact high.
The three of us exchange worried glances.
He’s dressed in a khaki jump suit with a nylon gun belt cinched around his protruding stomach. The holster’s empty. Perched precariously upon his head is a ball cap that’s emblazed with a patch from the 304th Heavy Bombardment Wing. Sweat streams down his face from under the bill of the cap.
“Well, hello folks!” He manages to wheeze out after a bit. “Welcome to the campgrounds. My name’s Billy and I am the unofficial caretaker of this place!”
Puck vocalizes for the group. “Hi Billy! How does one become an unofficial caretaker of such a beautiful place?”
Billy’s answering laugh is a wet, squishy, sounding affair.
“By surviving sweet cheeks! By surviving! My wife and I would camp here all summer for...O’gosh...I reckon thirty-six years now. My Mable, she passed a couple years back, she did.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that.” I immediately commiserate before asking, “So the sign out on the road mentioned bears?”
Puck and Bottom cast disapproving looks my way over my short circuiting of the social niceties.
Billy’s quick to put me at ease, however. “We got bears but they’re up higher than us. Mostly we see deer and varmints here ‘bouts.”
I discreetly survey those tree branches that are up higher than us. Billy begins to openly survey the still wafting marijuana smoke that’s in front of him.
The three of us exchange worried glances.
“The 304th Heavy Bombardment Wing?” I get his attention by referencing his ball cap. “Was that part of the Eighth Air Force based in England?”
It’s as if I’d turned a light on behind the old veteran’s eyes. He appraises me openly before snorting derisively.
“Fifteenth Air Force out of Italy.” He corrects proudly.
The Fifteenth was a strategic force tasked with destroying vital Axis infrastructure in Southern Europe. Flying B-17s and B-24s, it performed admirably throughout the eighteen-months of its existence; but, was perhaps most famous for actions against the German oilfields of Rumania.
“Did you bomb the Ploesti oilfields?” I ask eagerly.
As a lover of history with a fascination for all things World War Two, I revel in the stories of the old-timers I have come across. Billy would be my third bomber pilot and the first to have flown those famous missions known as Operation Tidal Wave.
“We bombed the crap out of them sonny!”
“Fucking awesome.” I murmur in awe.
Bottom and Puck stand up and shift positions so as to direct Billy’s focus away from the (still) standing illicit smoke. I follow suit as I continue to engage Billy.
“Do you think maybe I could ask you some questions about your experiences before we leave?” I ask politely before qualifying, “Obviously, only if you would feel comfortable doing that.”
Not all of our veterans are comfortable discussing those things they did in the service of our country.
Billy looks down at his feet while hitching his thumb into his sans gun belt. The previous six decades seem to slip off and I envision him as a young man relaxing on the beaches of the Adriatic Sea in between flying harrowing missions against Nazi steel and oppression.
“I can do you one better.” He confides. “I kept a journal that you can read if you like.”
An historian’s wet dream.
“Here? Really? You have it here?” I ask surprised.
Billy nods. “I got it up in my trailer. You gotta be careful with it though.”
I assure him that I will treat it like the Crowned jewels if he were willing to make it available to me. With these assurances in hand, he advises me to come around in the morning. We bid him adieu and he begins the walk back to his trailer.
“Are you guys thinking what I’m thinking?” Inquires Bottom in a low voice after Billy rounds the bend. His answer is provided by our blank stares so he elucidates. “I’m betting that Mable is probably buried somewhere in these woods.”
Puck and I groan.
“Well I’m thinking it now, thanks.” I tell him as I jump onboard his morbid bandwagon.
The Trip Begins...
The dilemma is obvious. How does one impart the experience of a hallucinatory mushroom trip to the uninitiated when, if you have consumed them properly, you are far too fucked up to give a comprehensive accounting of your actions?
The philosophy of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stoner) applies.
In general, prior to launching into your mental voyage of self discovery, you want to make sure you have all of your ducks are in a row. Ideally you have a babysitter or two. We didn’t. As such, we’re forced to rely on prior planning.
We’re assuring that all the things we will need to stay alive are readily available and accessible. It’s not anything dramatic: water, cigarettes, more water, weed, several lighters, orange juice, and other sundry items. Once things get rolling, the less required higher, focused, thinking the better.
In addition to the physical, a certain mental girding is required as well.
There are certain realities that apply to ANY hallucinatory trip; primarily speaking, a lot of the shit you tend to see and hear are probably not even real. It’s rather the point of the exercise. Still, you would be surprised by the number of trippers who forget that fact halfway through the flight.
(That’s the expressed reason why they don’t allow tripped out maniacs in the emergency exit row of airplanes).
I pull out my contribution to the camping trip: The bag of mushies. It’s one of those heavy duty freezer bags that once held two ounces of freshly harvested psilocybin when I’d purchased it ten months earlier for the amazing price of eighty dollars.
Bottom notices the move and calls out, “There’s fungus among us!”
“Shout out to audio hallucinations!” Puck shouts out to audio hallucinations.
For his part, audio hallucination doesn’t acknowledge the praise. At least, not that we heard.
Psychedelically speaking, the previous ten months had been pretty active.
That fact is reflected by the single remaining stem that is sitting in the corner of the outsized bag. About the size of a fat person’s thumb, it’s a lonely sentinel which has been tasked with delivering the three of us to the “other” side.
“That’s what you have left?” Exclaims Puck disappointed.
Bottom looks on with doubt as I pull the scrappy little spore out of the bag.
I make my case...
“I understand that it doesn’t look like much but, as you know, at the VERY end of every bag of hallucinogens, magical elves sprinkle magical dust on whatever’s left and that makes it way more potent than normal.”
“I was unaware of that fact.” Bottom puts forth charitably.
“Bullshit!” Puck, uncharitably, calls out bullshit.
“No, no, no!” I say to Puck before turning my attention to Bottom and allaying his doubts. “Yes, yes, yes, it’s very well documented.”