High Times

A Trip to the Woods

We’d heard stories about acid heads being carted off to psych wards, but we’d also heard of the transcendent experience

Jake and I met right after his roommate left for the weekend. He locked the door behind me and put on the Grateful Dead. "St. Stephen" was our anthem, a song that released us from the daily brain crush of boarding school. Then he cracked his bureau and pulled out a "Zap" comic book, opening it delicately on the bed, as though it contained something priceless. Right there in the middle of an R. Crumb panel was a sheet of blotter acid.

"How should we do this?" Jake asked.

St. Stephen with a rose, in and out of the garden he goes. Country garden in the wind and the rain,
wherever he goes the people all complain.

We were both first-timers and a little nervous about where the blotter would take us. We'd heard stories about acid heads being carted off to psych wards, and leaping off bridges and eating the flesh off their hands. But we'd also heard of the transcendent experience, the new perspective on meaning and life and the universe.

What pushed us past our nerves was our certainty that acid needed to be taken at least once. We were children of the '70s who romanticized the '60s, so tripping was a right of passage. Jake and I had a cabin deep in the woods that we'd inherited from the graduates who built it. Far from campus, it was peaceful, beautiful and filled with dry wood. We didn't have to be back until assembly at 6:30 p.m., so we decided we'd "drop" and go there for the day.

Stephen prospered in his time / Well he may and he may decline / Did it matter, does it now / Stephen would answer if he only knew how.

Taking it was easy, like chewing paper. I found it hard to imagine that something so tasteless could produce life altering visions, but as we pushed through the shin-deep snow toward the cabin, collecting kindling for the fire, the woods around me became vivid, alive. The bare trees reached for the sun, celebratory. Star bursts exploded off the snow. A searing blue sky wasn't just beautiful, it held truth and love and promise. I flicked my fingers in front of my face. Their movement left colorful traces. Clearly, the blotter had kicked in. "Are you getting this?" I asked Jake, smiling. "Totally," Jake said, and laughed.

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Wishing well with the golden bell / Bucket hanging clear to hell / Hell halfway twixt now and then / Stephen fill it up and lower down and lower down again.

The cabin warmed quickly with the fire. We huddled against the stone, stared into the flames and talked about the meaning of this and the meaning of that, and the how and whys of being. I'm guessing it was deeply shallow philosophy that seemed deeply deep in our glow-state.

And then a long silence took hold; suddenly, the fire had life, and vibrancy and language. The crackling logs drew us into a conversation just this side of perception, an exchange about the orientation of our souls among the greater elements of the universe. Or something like that.

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Lady finger, dipped in moonlight / Writing "What for?" across the morning sky / Sunlight splatters, dawn with answer / Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye

Eight hours later, we emerged into the dying day, still buzzed, and glowing from the warmth of the fire.

"That was insane," Jake said, smiling.

"Crazy," I agreed.

But as we started back, the sun sank, casting an alien blue light. The cold bit hard, and the black trees clattered noisily in the wind above us. Corn snow found its way into our boots. Nature that had earlier seemed so welcoming now seemed hostile, predatory.

When we got to the road, a man waddled past us in an enormous parka, his big red face studying us from the depths of his hood. He seemed to look at us forever before he said, "Better button up."

Jake and I looked down and saw that our coats were open. We zipped up and continued down the hill toward school. I felt a deep chill. And then clouds rolled in, blocking evening sky. Suddenly, darkness seemed like a frozen blanket, crushing the breath out of me. And it was at this moment that the lower half of my body walked away from me. My legs suddenly seemed to belong to someone else walking just ahead of me.

"This is getting weird, Jake," I said.

"Don't even say that," Jake advised. Later that weekend, Jake told me that his legs had deserted him, too.

Did he doubt or did he try? / Answers aplenty in the bye and bye / Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills / One man gathers what another man spills.

The warm lights of the school buildings provided no comfort, only the anxiety that I'd freak out, be expelled, and live the rest of my life in a refrigerator box.

"Maybe we shouldn't go to assembly," I said.

"We gotta go. They're taking attendance. You'll be fine."

Jake's theory, I found out later, was to keep everything positive. Don't give in to negative thoughts. That theory worked; the cold blanket lifted as I entered the bright assembly building with my fellow students. Greeting them, I felt like a sage, experienced (as Jimi said), an intrepid survivor of deep space exploration.

"You OK?" Jake asked.

"I'm great," I said, and we mounted the steps for the theatre.

St. Stephen will remain / All he's lost he shall regain / Seashore washed by the suds and the foam / Been here so long, he's got to calling it home.

Ours was a theatre in the round, seats angled steeply to a highly polished stage where our headmaster stood at a podium beneath yellow lighting. The rest of the theatre was dark. Jake and I took seats in the top row. As the headmaster spoke, I started to feel my body. My face was hot. My fingers ached. My feet tingled. And then my face got hotter. What was going on?

Duh, this was my recently cold body adjusting to the warmth of the building, but because I was fucked to the heavens on LSD, I thought my face was melting. And then I thought all of me was melting, like Wicked Witch of the West melting. At the end of assembly, my seat would contain only my smoking parka. I shut my eyes and tried to push the thought away. It wouldn't budge.

My heart pounded. Sweat filled my coat. I was definitely melting. Finally, I opened my eyes again, and looked at my hands. Yes! They were intact! And then, just beyond them, I saw a gaping abyss that fell away to the stage, except that the stage was no longer a stage with a headmaster, it was a fire, yellow flames licking the darkness. I tried to blink it away, but each time I blinked the fire just got a little smaller, and a little smaller, until it was the size of a quarter, nearly lost in the abyss.

And then I felt the abyss pulling me out of my chair, into the blackness, into the pit of the universe, into the darkest part of myself ... into the psych ward. I shut my eyes again and somewhere, somehow found the thought that saved me from a full on freak out: "Step away from the edge, dumbass."

Fortune comes a crawling / Calliope woman, spinning'that curious sense of your own / Can you answer? / Yes I can, but what would be the answer to the answer, man?

Uh, suffice to say, I never took acid a second time.

Tags: memoirs