THE FIRELIGHT FLICKERS CRAZED CUTOUTS IN THE AIR. Where flames leap, darkness retreats, and also forms portentous shapes by its absence. Ali intends to instruct me in the way of the earth's antecedents to the accidents of science.
"A lot of us, my boyfriend the priest included, think it came from heaven. It's like God or some spirit gave it to us to make it through and make it matter, these wild times we're going through."
"Do you know the name of your manna?" asks Ali.
"Sure: acid, LSD."
"LSD, yes, lysergic acid diethylamide . . . but LSD-25! If it was found by mistake, your spiritual substance, after twenty-five experimental distillations of an isolated chemical compound, imagine how many more sacraments have not yet been reveled by such haphazard means!"
I don't know if the heat has been getting to my head, or if the training period Ali told me about has just begun, but I'm feeling a little strange here at dusk at the end of an arduous hike. The sun beat down on our progress over the mountain like a fist. My head literally pounded, but not in pain. Wet bandana dipped in the stream cooled my mind and made the bleating pressure a drumbeat for the otherwise silent trail.
Ali acknowledges my apprehensiveness with a knowing, turbaned nod. Sun glasses conceal a gaze that must be equally and oppositely absent and alert. All the way down from San Fran, the man has seemed in a perpetual state of meditation. And yet it was always he who sprang up immediately at the right stop or served several peso pieces to the peanut vendor as I simultaneously recognized I was hungry. He appears to fit in seamlessly, but obviously his extraction originates from other Indians than these.
"It's strange, of course," he speaks up in response to my thought, "but land moves just like man. Mexico is part too of my holy land, land of Lao-tzu and the Buddha, but it split off in the great shifting of the plates. The mystics knew and taught this well before Western scientists published it. And so Moctezuma grew nourished on the blood of a violent soil that was rent from the peaceful piece of my grandfather, my grandfather's grandfather. South America and Africa do much the thing. They even both resemble halves of the I Ching: yin and yang.
Coyote howls from somewhere else in the desert. He's thirsty for goat blood but a baying hound responds, keeps him off. It's the role of that heardsman's dog to protect in impossible conditions. Upward of a hundred grazing omnivores wandering, and all the dog can do is try to keep one side, then the other, from straying too far.
Ali's tinted glasses flash back outrageous shapes of the blaze between us, and something more: there am I, legs crossed Indian-style, but while in the right glass my reflection shines in the left I seem to balk, blinded by misfortune or some crime, eclipsed from the dark shadow of I-know-not-what presentiment.