The Selected Quirks of Madjag

The Madjag Chronicles were compiled as memoirs and mental snapshots of my experiences during the 1978-1982 guerrilla growing years in Madjag Canyon and beyond. Importing weed from Mexico, lining up connections with the Colombians, and living for months in Jamaica to set up a 1/2 ton Ganja flight were some of my subsequent adventures. In recent years I have been a medical marijuana grower, a pollen chucker, and an Admin/Moderator for several online cannabis forums.

Medicine Voice

A long time ago, it is said, a tribal woman dying of thirst in a Mexican highland desert found small, plump cacti growing beneath the shade of a creosote bush. They were round and dome-shaped and had no needles or sharp thorns of any kind. She could use this plant to survive, she thought. Gratefully she fell to her knees and harvested a few of these green beauties for the life-giving moisture that she needed so desperately. It was soon revealed that they had an inner, fleshy texture full of liquid.

The liquid was bitter yet quenching considering her plight. Any liquid would do or she would die. As she laid upon the ground and felt the watery juice fill her stomach, the young woman said a prayer and thanked the Earth Mother for her guidance and care. She felt her body revive and harvested a dozen more for the precious liquid that made her whole again. Yes, now she would live and see her clan soon. Her life was once again filled with energy.

But what was this? The energy that began to fill her arms and legs and had made her eyes see clearly again was much more powerful than any she power she had felt before. She knew what her everyday life felt like and this was far beyond any feeling she had ever experienced. Soon she felt she was flying and could see her family and clan in the distance, sad for her disappearance, crying out in pain. How was this possible?

She thought that perhaps she had poisoned herself. The plant teachers in her family warned of dangerous herbs, injurious flowers, potent roots, and smelly mushrooms that could take a life quickly, or worse with great pain over many hours. What if she had, in her suffering and thirst, betrayed her own life?

Minutes seemed like hours and hours passed like seconds. The young woman slowly gained strength and could stand. Her thoughts still flowed effortlessly from a different place. Then, as if in a burst of light, some sort of grace swept over her and she knew she this new knowledge could free her people as it had done for her. She realized that she must bring this gift to her People. Once more she let the shaky power force her back to the ground as she let the vivid dreams take her to new places. Tomorrow, she felt, she would be ready to travel in her earthly body.

If you’ve shared in the ingestion of natural power plants, be it the sacred Cannabis herb, Ayahuasca, San Pedro, Psilocybe mushrooms, Datura, poppies, Hawaiian Baby Woodrose, Amanita, Peyote, Iboga, Salvia, Yopo, or any of the many others like Phalaris Grass, then you might find the Indian woman’s experience very familiar. I know that I have on more than one occasion. Plant powers are the simple, natural doorway to another view of life.

During my early years in the Verde Valley in north central Arizona, Peyote developed a special significance for me. I had done LSD approximately 25 times over the course of a 1 ½ years while in college. Some trips involved over 1,000 mcg of pharmaceutical grade lysergic acid so I was no stranger to altered worlds. Indeed, sometimes I had deep misgivings that perhaps I had screwed up my world and had lost my way. I had been places that had totally shifted my view of daily experience once I was back. Some sacred meaning had evolved in me, so I thought, and that’s good, right? Or was I just fucked in the head? Good questions, but how would I know the answer? Ah yes, as my grandfather the professor would say, time will tell….

I met the two Princes of Peyote individually and later learned of their shared connection with the family of the Navajo Road Chief who had helped build hundreds of sweat lodges throughout the west. The first Prince was born and raised in Cottonwood and had strong ties on the Navaho Reservation. The first Prince was so low key you’d have thought he was yogi hooked on meditation and not one of two of the largest distributors of Medicine in North America or for that matter, the entire world. He moved slow, measured, and blended into the fabric of “small town” perfectly. Very few words left his mouth and even fewer persons ever got him to talking more than a “yes” or ‘no”.

The Dineh, known to most of you as the Navajo, have the largest number of Native American Church members and are the folks that regularly import huge quantities of Peyote from Mexico and the borderlands of Texas using a genuine US government import license. Usual pick-up truck loads back then ranged between 200,000 and 400,000 buttons of the fresh (rarer) or dried (usual) cactus that resembled either flattened vegetable discs, when dried, or silver dollar-sized buttons, green of course, dome-shaped with fuzzy hair tufts protruding out in little spots when they were fresh. User/street abuser stories revealed incorrectly that these tufts contained strychnine and were the reason you’d vomit fairly quickly after eating the repulsive-tasting little gem. Scientifically, the spiky tufts had a stomach irritant, it’s true, but a poison like strychnine, no. Remember smoking banana peels? Who told us that story? Donovan?

For the first time in my life I now had unlimited access to an organic plant that had the power to majorly alter consciousness. My previous psychedelic dance with acid made me anxious to compare the natural world’s offerings in order to better understand my life’s deeper meaning. I was hoping that Peyote would have a different teaching, one more in line with the natural world. LSD couldn’t be the end-all could it? Hey Mr. Leary, have you had some button tea?

Mescaline, Peyote’s primary alkaloid, had been made famous by British author, Aldous Huxley, in his trailblazing book The Doors of Perception. This recently discovered chemical was frequently the focus of writers when speaking about Peyote and other cacti extracts. Still, mescaline constitutes roughly only 60% of the total chemicals within Peyote and many of the other alkaloids have never been fully investigated or studied. Like the many terpenes in weed, these additional elements harbor properties that make this lively cactus much, much more than a mere mescaline trip. Peyote had a long spirit history in the desert southwest and Mexico and was intimately tied to native shamans and inner seekers. Its healing powers were intimated though never fully elucidated. You had to experience it for yourself, just as it should be.

Over the next few years I journeyed with the Medicine maybe a dozen times thanks to the first Prince. It’s truly difficult to explain how bitter and vomit-inducing the tiniest taste of Peyote can be, like merely sucking on a small, fresh piece. Swallowing a big bite of button followed by a few more chunks leads to far more distasteful consequences. You will feel a twinge inside your gut that you’ve never felt before unless you’ve had a strong case of food poisoning. You’ll shiver, too, quivering all over, and that foul taste will mean nothing compared to the explosive electric current silently overcharging your batteries. I know there is no realistic comparison to offer and no clear explanation of what the taste portends. Let’s just say “do it” and find out for yourself.

The Rez clans make tea and concentrate the button’s power into small, distasteful gulps. Participants in the Rez meetings step outside the Lodge frequently to empty their guts. For disguising the one-of-a-kind taste, I have tried peanut butter, Cheezits, flour biscuits, flour, and fruit juice, but none of these substances have a chance. Some hippies I knew ground up dried buttons and capped the powder into gelatin capsules. It took hours and hours to grind the dried buttons into powder, cap up 10 buttons equivalent for each participant, and then swallow them all with giant gulps of water. Still, the participants said it worked well enough to skip the puking for the most part. Only Peyote enemas, though, can bypass your stomach and take you straight to “Go” without stopping at “Jail”, with absolutely no stomach complaints. The hip lady I knew who testified for this technique had a much friendlier view of her Medicine journey than those who were doubled-over for the first 30 minutes wiping their faces. It’s the only way to go she said.

Many years had passed since those early days and though I made sure to journey with Medicine at least once every few years thereafter, I had let five years pass without partaking. My good friend in Phoenix had called and wanted to come down to Bisbee where I was living at the time. I suggested that in addition to going for an overnight campout that we also make it a Medicine journey since he had never experienced Peyote before. “Splendid,” he said. “So be it,” I added.

I had recently stocked up on buttons because I had moved to Bisbee for a year to care-take a friend’s house and to explore the high-grade turquoise market. The open pit and the many tailings piles still had plenty of colorful veins running through the geology and “dumpers” would sneak in at night and bring it out to sell or use in their own jewelry. Bisbee Blue Turquoise had the unique “Zat” color that brought top dollar on the market. Zat was the perfect blue, baby.

I had been mulling around ideas about how I could ingest a decent dose of Peyote while avoiding the vomit issues. The enema method didn’t appeal, and it looked like a concentrated tea would be the next best way. I wanted Johnnie to have a good dose and journey, so drinking funky tasting tea or chewing bitter, foul-tasting cactus just wouldn’t fly. He’d probably bail.

I had a lightbulb moment just then. I was staring at my Champion juicer on the kitchen counter and knew what was coming next. That’s right, I’d juice the fresh buttons. Better yet, I’d clean them meticulously first, removing all the stomach irritant tufts so that the juice would be pristine Peyote liquid. Voila!!

What a beautiful color it was. When I finished juicing, I held the glass quart bottle up to the light and gazed at the vibrant emerald green liquid. I knew it held dreams and I was walking into new territory just thinking about drinking it. Whew. I had juiced somewhere between 45– 50 fresh and semi-fresh buttons of different sizes. Some small, perfectly round buttons were known as “Star” buttons and were the size of a Brussels sprout. These were young buttons, perhaps 9-14 months old. Others were plump and round, about the diameter of a small lemon, and dome-shaped, probably about 30-40 months old. None of this batch had roots still intact, stretching 2”-5” from the smooth, green button on top that represented the above-ground portion of the cactus. I wished that there had been a few rooties since they were easy to plant and maintain. With a decent root they could yield a nice family of plants within a few years if they were well-tended. All in all, I was ready for Aravaipa and ready for Johnnie.

When my friend arrived in Bisbee we hit the road quickly. It took a good 4 hours to get to the east entrance side of Aravaipa Canyon just pass Klondyke, Arizona. Even back then the BLM required permits in order to limit the number of people in the canyon at any given time and thus to enhance the visitor’s Wilderness experience. We skipped a visit to the Klondyke BLM office and went straight to the east-side Aravaipa parking lot. We had all we needed for enhancing our experience on any plane and planned to camp a bit off the beaten path so we wouldn’t get any surprise visitors crashing into our campsite and into our magnified minds. The thought of saying hi to some English tourists, or for that matter, trying to communicate with any other human being, was strictly out of the question. And to chat with the BLM ranger checking permits? Uh, no.

Our plan was simple and we didn’t discover until many hours later that it was also deeply flawed. We planned to set up camp, drink our juice, and wait for the full moon which coincided with that night. “The canyon will be so bright and easy to hike even without our flashlights in hand”, we thought. We figured that since most of the canyon ran east-west this made total sense. What a gas it would be. A night-time exploration!

There were no other vehicles at the east side parking lot and it was two hours or so before sunset. This pretty-much guaranteed that we’d see no other folks tonight unless they had hiked about 11 miles in from the west side or had been dropped off by friends to hike in from the east side. After blasting 30-45 minutes down the main trail we moved off-trail toward the cliffs and settled into a stashed, little open space between the towering Sycamores, the Cottonwoods, and the lower canopy of an ancient mesquite bosque that was accompanied by an understory of dense shrubs. It was the ideal campsite in our expert opinions. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, as we were about to leave the parking lot, as a little sign of perhaps what was to follow on our journey, some desert Trickster had left an object semi-visible behind one of the parking lot boulders. For some reason we were drawn to that big rock and tucked behind it found a small glass bong attached to a full-on gas mask. Method: you slipped it on, lit up, inhaled, exhaled, and breathed it in again on your next inhalation. Oh Yeah.

We set out our tarps and sleeping bags and made a nice fire ring complete with milk crate-sized flat rocks to sit on. The temp in the canyon on that perfect October night was ideal for hanging out with only a long-sleeve shirt for warmth. Later the cooling effect would beckon a light sleeping bag. Back then we didn’t have to deal with mosquitos in the riparian canyons where there was no standing water. We never carried tents and only had Army surplus emergency tarps to tie above us in case of rain. Sure there were earthbound scorpions, fire ants, and snakes to consider, however that was the tradeoff and I’ll take it any day. Arizona has no ticks either because it’s too dry and there are not enough deer to serve as the primary vectors. I’ve had only one tick in 47 years of camping and bushwhacking Arizona. I must have passed through the same dry brush moments after a deer had wandered through and dropped a tiny souvenir, a tick. In Aspen, Colorado, years earlier, I had 6-10 ticks on me after maybe only an hour or two of crashing through the mountain bushes. No thanks.

As the sun set and long shadows floated up the canyon walls, the time arrived for the boys to take their Medicine. Johnnie had shared a similar experience (he thought) when a year earlier we had both swallowed a nice dose of pure mescaline sulfate crystals during a campout along the wilderness stream in Madjag Canyon. He was gearing up for something in the same department this night and I could see how eager he was to have his first organic button journey. Just to be clear, he’s Johnnie and I’m Johnny. That’s a story in itself, but it kept our real names out of the news.

I pulled out the carefully insulated quart bottle of emerald juice from my pack and opened it. One deep whiff and I knew that tonight’s precious liquor would truly be exhilarating. It would make the previous methods I’d used seem like struggling. And I was right….at least for me. For Johnnie it would be entirely different matter.

We took our first sips and looked at each other in amazement. It was still mighty bitter, but the subsequent urge to puke was gone. The liquid stayed down. We could easily (relatively) swallow big gulps as long as we took a minute or two break in between them. As we continued, taking equal turns at the bottle, we soon had 2/3 of the juice down the hatch. At this rate we’d drink the whole bottle and definitely be on our way.

It was getting dark so I kept stoking the fire with small branches and twigs in order to keep the light on our little world until the moon was beaming down. Johnnie had quietly laid down on his sleeping bag, face down, while I was gathering dry sticks scattered in the cliff shadows. When I returned I had to figure out how he was going to finish his share of the dream juice while in his new position. I soon figured out that he wasn’t going to be moving anytime soon, let alone having another sip. I asked him to make sure and received no answer. Oh well, I couldn’t let the juice warm up and spoil so I drank the last 1/3 over the next half hour and settled in for a night of surprises.

Surprise, surprise indeed. The moon was at a low angle for most of the night and never shed an ounce of light upon us directly until somewhere around 3 am in the morning. Instead it lit up the upper cliffs, then the lower cliffs, and finally the tree tops immediately above us. Our fire was the only light in that deep hole of darkness and the idea of a hike seemed remote. We had erroneously thought that the moon would be drifting vertically above us for most of the night when it was actually just the opposite. When it was finally above us, I was long down and drifting in and out of consciousness, flat out in my fluffy Holubar sleeping bag. Johnnie stayed in his original position for the next 12 hours, face down on his bag, drifting off in an inner world of dream and exploration.

I’d ask him a question like, “Hey man, let’s go for a night hike by flashlight. Let’s check out the creek”. There would be no answer, no recognition that he heard me at all. He never moved and I would be amazed when suddenly 5-10 minutes later, when I least expected it and was gazing into the night sky or into the brilliant flames of the fire, a voice from the ground level would answer suddenly with, “No”. I’d snap back and say, “How about something to drink? I have some ice cold water for ya”. Nothing, then 5 minutes later I’d hear, “No thanks”.

I had so much energy building up inside that my body took me for a walk. I stoked the fire so that there would be enough wood for maybe 20 minutes of firelight before it hit the coal level and lost flame. Cool, at least when Johnnie awakens he won’t still be in the dark hahaha. I stood up and headed through the brush toward the main canyon trail so that at least I wouldn’t be totally stumbling through the dark undergrowth if I hiked for a ways. Once I found the trail I discovered that it had no moonlight either and was almost as difficult to see as it was when hiking off-trail. I started down the path and came upon a good stretch that was level and free of big ankle-buster rocks. For some reason my body had to run, I think to burn off the energy that had built up like a fire from within, so off I went, trotting down that flat section of Aravaipa trail.

As I continued jogging at an easy pace, I closed my eyes. Thinking back I can’t believe I took the risk. Branches sticking out into the trail’s edge, potholes, rocks embedded in the trail, and those night-time hunters, rattlesnakes, were all possibilities. Better yet, how about running off the trail just slightly and into a good-sized cactus or the spears of an Agave or Yucca?

Once again the spirit of Peyote was real Medicine and let me see with my feet. My eyes were easily tricked in the shadows of that  dark night so it’s not far-fetched to say it; my feet guided me by feeling the trail.

What seemed like a long run was suddenly over and I was back in my body, back to my mind. I stopped and listened to the night sounds, the crunching of small mammals stepping through the bushes, smaller creatures moving in the grasses, owls hooting softly in the distance, doing their call-and-response drill. I felt full, complete, and my run had settled my body. I was deep in my thoughts and frozen on that spot for many minutes, drifting, thinking. Who was thinking? And what was this voice inside me talking about anyway?

On a journey like this you can reach out and touch things, but is it you that’s touching or is it merely the body whose eyes you’ve borrowed to witness this splendid show? The senses you’ve chosen to identify with seem slightly to the left or right, definitely not in the center. You can tell that they don’t give the full picture of what’s going on, in fact you might have to close down some of those senses in order to feel peaceful, or at one.

That’s what the Medicine does, I believe. It short circuits some senses while amping up others. It spins your typical balance far off level, real far. And it gives you an inner voice that you don’t quite recognize. Is it mine? And then there’s that other voice, the hollow-sounding one that emanates from your lips when you try to talk. Well, the voice is one of those delicious Medicine surprises.

The offbeat western film, Young Guns I, was released in 1988 and featured a now-famous Peyote scene. Cowboys on Peyote with pistols and shotguns, not the recommended protocol for your first Medicine journey, however that was the script. But get this: the vocals in that sequence that were laid over the actors’ real voices were like Peyote dub. They use a dreamy, deep, drawl of a voice, a 78 speed LP for a 45 LP scene. I don’t know who was the consultant for the movie, but damn they got it right! It was the voice that surprises the body it came from and someone involved with the script had eaten Peyote before, I’d bet.

The inner Peyote voice is the teacher. It’s the voice that follows and narrates your journey all day long. It questions and has the answers as well. It’s not even comparable, thankfully, to the inner dialog and Judge that we share through most of our waking hours. On a journey with mescaline sulfate, psilocybin, or LSD, the daily, inner dialog is profoundly absent. You get the bells and whistles, the bending of light and the supple beauty in all forms, such great visuals, but no inner dialog voice. The voice you hear with Peyote is at once your own and simultaneously another’s. Perhaps it is our own wiser self, who knows? For whatever reason, it goes with the experience and I was glad once again to be within its presence.

Eventually I crashed out and spent the remaining early morning hours drifting between worlds, dazzled by the shapes around me that were transformed by the full moonlight that had finally shone directly upon our camp. I fell asleep for a few hours and awoke to Johnnie sitting by the fireplace as if nothing had happened, carefully stoking the morning warm-up fire. My previous Peyote experiences had revealed to me that when you awaken from your first sleep after a Medicine journey, your mind is clearer than the day before you ate the Peyote.

Johnnie was no exception. Bright and alert, he greeted me and asked what actually took place last night. I told him, “I know what happened to me; what happened to you?” He gazed peacefully toward the cliffs that were literally vibrating in the morning sun and looking back said, “Johnny, I had the weirdest dreams.