Thank Earth You is a memoir by Armand Daigle about his transformation from cubicle slave to a free-spirited creative force. In last week’s chapter, he embarked on a camping trip with three good friends — his wolf pack — and downed a heady brew of psilocybin mushrooms.
This week we share the next chapter, All the Butterflies, in which the mushrooms take effect! Armand calls it “the most important campfire in my twenty-eight years of existence.” If you like what you read, you can buy Thank Earth You here.
On our late afternoon descent, a phalanx of purples, dreams, triangles, oranges, and jellyfish races above us, fanning out from one horizon to another, never to be seen again. But riding in on the coattails to begin the opus of daylight is a new angelic horde of labyrinthine patterns and entangled rapture that’s destined to give the wolves yet another rich, chromatic performance. And soon after, the ever-succulent climax will be brought on by the halved sun in a fast shrink, wishing us good luck and good evening along the way.
As we make it back to camp, Diego looks to have one foot in the animal realm with the other about to join. He and Cyrus sprawl out in lawn chairs over cracked and burdened dirt while Antonio and I plop down on a blanket freshly rolled out yet already littered with handfuls of spiny burr. Antonio says it’s a good time to be acquainted with our guide for the evening, so he asks Cyrus to read the medicine card. I’m not sure why they picked Armadillo earlier, but it will certainly pave the way for what comes for me tonight. I wonder what I would be engrossed in right now had that card not been read, or if I had missed this trip. Would the same experience be waiting for me, just a little further down the road, or was this instance, this combination of elements just right that it could only happen this way?
The finer details have been coming up more and more. Maybe subtlety is an acquired taste with older age, or maybe I had been so wrapped up in my cubicle and timesheets filled to the brim with Post-it notes and coffee grounds that I couldn’t see beyond the daily tasks and liquid motivation. Ever since I quit, all these little nuances now have the ability to set the tone for the rest of the day. It was hard to shift my focus during the Big Rush, but now when I sit back and just be for five minutes, the subliminal flow never ceases to surprise. If I pay attention, if I really concentrate on living and the incredible amount of events it’s taken to get to any given situation, every moment can harbor childbirth, a Las Vegas win streak, the crunching of a bull rider’s spine, a disastrous breakup, your mother and father fighting, fire crackling, a deaf girl hearing her voice for the first time through technological means, golden love. It’s somewhere down in there, you just gotta sift through all the layers.
Water slipping through rocks in the rills, a convoluted root system all around us, and a clean, flat floor for the future flames — this is the setting for what will wind up as the most important campfire in my twenty-eight years of existence.
There’s a girl I know who makes her scratch from painting murals for local businesses and spaces for children. Though it’s in her personal collection that you’ll find the real gems: old couches busting with white stuffing that are stacked and strewn about the yard, the smudged piano with angled sharps and flats left out in the rain, and the splattered and dripping wedding dress and tuxedo in filled-out frontals with no man or woman underneath. There’s a bed, a dog, the everyday, the unsung constants of our lives. There’s a beauty she brings out in the mundane, and she’s one of the happiest people I know.
Having found the Armadillo medicine card, Cyrus apologizes beforehand if his mouth becomes a bowl of gravy and mashed potatoes. As he stares at the card, Antonio looks up at the sunset clouds whipping into each other like white and yolk, while I gaze entranced at the plaid blanket beneath me—reds and greens ebbing and flowing into and out of each other. Cyrus maintains his silence, piquing our interest. He rubs his stomach and fingers the bottom button of his shirt, working to conjure energy. He tries to breathe out gently, building up his strength. He’s still just sitting there in preparation while butterflies dance inside me, their wings gliding across my midsection in a frenzy of Rorschachs in flight.
Finally, he lets out a long sigh and begins: “Armadillo wears its armor on its back, its medicine a part of its body. Its boundaries of safety are a part of its total being. Armadillo can roll into a ball and never be penetrated by enemies.
“What a gift it is to set your boundaries so that harmful words or intentions just roll off. Your lesson is in setting up what you are willing to experience. If you do not wish to experience feeling invaded, just call on Armadillo medicine.
“A clue to how to proceed is to make a circle on a piece of paper and see it as a medicine shield. In the body of the shield, write all that you are desiring to have, do, or experience. Include all things that give you joy. This sets up boundaries that allow only these chosen expediencies to be a part of your life. These boundaries become a shield that wards off the things which are undesirable to you. The shield reflects what you are and what your will is to others on an unconscious level. Outside of the shield you may put what you are willing to experience by invitation only, for example a visit from a long lost relative, or criticism from friends, or people needing handouts. . . .
“How you react in any circumstance has to do with your ability to be objective. You cannot be objective if you cannot tell where the other person’s personality stops and where yours begins. If you have no boundaries, you are like a sponge. It will seem as if all the feelings in a room full of people must be yours. Ask yourself if you are really feeling depressed, or if this feeling actually belongs to the person you are talking to. Then allow Armadillo’s armor to slide in between, giving you back your sense of self.”
Cyrus pauses and cracks his back and neck a few times.
“Man,” Antonio says. “And that’s just regular Armadillo, right?”
“Yes, sir. Now here’s Contrary Armadillo. ‘Go ahead, roll up and hide. This, sarcastically, is the message of reversed Armadillo. You may think the only way to win in your present situation is to hide or to pretend that you are armor-coated and invincible, but this is not the way to grow. It is better to open up and find the value and strength of your vulnerability. You will experience something wonderful if you do.
“Vulnerability is the key to enjoying the gifts of physical life. In allowing yourself to feel, a myriad of expressions are made available. For instance, a true compliment is an admiration flow of energy. If you are afraid of being hurt and are hiding from feeling anything, you will never feel the joy of admiration from others.
“The key is in allowing Armadillo to help you to stop hiding and to use Armadillo’s armor to deflect negative energies. In this way, you are able to accept or reject any feeling, action, or energy flow without having to hide from it.
“The underside of Armadillo is soft, but its armor will protect this softness if the boundaries are in place. Hiding from your true feelings and fearing failure or rejection will amplify your need for cast-iron protection. You have the power to rid yourself of these doubts and to touch the deepest part of beingness. You will know you are doing the right thing. Whether it is communicating, or painting, or surfing—the creation belongs to you. The only real rejection is in not trying break out of the armor you have used to protect yourself. Is the armor now becoming a jail, and your fears the jailer?”
The moon is not empty; it’s about to overflow and our modest creek-side plot is the only receptacle to dump into.
“It’s cool, man,” Antonio laughs. “We got you. We all doin’ the damn thing together.”
“Yeah, I just want to enjoy this with you guys and relax,” Cyrus says. “I just want to live.” And with that, the wild man turns simple. Five words of no more than four letters each pierce through me like slender, agile wings knifing through the sky. After his words soak into the camp, Cyrus puts the medicine book away with the sun, making way for night to be born all around us.
It couldn’t have come at a better time because under most circumstances I never want to vomit in the eyesight of my friends. I’ve already warned the guys, “I’m a puker, so don’t worry if I sneak off somewhere in a hurry.” I also like to retch in exotic or intricate locations. I figure, if I’m going to do such a foul, violent act, I might as well do it in a provocative setting that has some sort of visual pleasure. So with the butterflies whispering of evils in my stomach, and knowing the food exodus will be freak-out-free, I begin to survey the surroundings.
Night has taken a fast, firm hold over this anxious camp. We’re nestled up against a shaggy, meager cliff, lined with saplings, bleak briar, and the dead foliage that will soon become the sacrificial kindling. A low, hissing waterfall in the distance, chilling water slipping through rocks in the rills, a convoluted root system all around us, and a clean, flat floor for the future flames—this is the setting for what will wind up as the most important campfire in my twenty-eight years of existence.
The creek bank? No.
Behind the cave? Too far.
Up near the bluff? We’re all downstream.
A group of three tree trunks seemingly growing out of the same hole in the ground? That’ll work.
I’m all systems go as Diego starts to talk about girls and living vicariously. I excuse myself and bound up the hill, through thorn and root, agitating the evil inside me, excited for the relief I know I’ll feel when I deliver my brooding darkness unto the mouth of life. I make it to the throng of trunks, brace my increasingly rotund body with the two close ones, and look down upon nature’s nexus to find a receptacle of dirt and grub.
After a few vicious convulsions, the murk and poison wells up from my stomach and froths out of my throat into nightfall, tasting like the whites of orange peels on my lips, both surprising me and not. Another rush shoots up inside of me and comes forth with a hint of bubble-purple that slides down the bark. I wonder if these trees have ever felt this experience before.
I empty myself a few more times, each heave waking me up more and more, bringing my senses to novel levels of acuteness. But then I look down to see only a small puddle of semi-digested matter in the gorge—mostly orange, mostly disappointing.
“That’s it?” I feel cheated, like I had so much more to offer, but I’m thankful for what did come out. I’ll leave the rest for later.
I notice that my jeans are rippling under my hands. I’m not sure where the holes begin or end. My skin feels jean-y. My jeans feel skin-y.
My friends’ voices break up my conversation with the three trees and the pit they make. I wish I could cuddle up in this bosom for longer, but the butterflies have taken a nap, and it’s time to return to my fellow wolves.
I rejoin the animal to find heavy smoke floating in front of Diego’s face, his cigarette puffs carrying lessons with them, each smoke cloud a piece of advice. He offers me one but I decline even though it smells so damn good. Instead, I grab a water bottle, and because dried puke is the worst, empty it all over my face while Diego talks of his life experiences with humans that are penis-free. The oldest of the group, and the most grounded, he speaks in a stream of anecdotes and on-the-mark banter after every pull of his magic stick.
“Because you don’t want to have sex with her, you will have sex with her. And I shall watch you. I shall watch you free your penis inside of her.”
As he puffs wisdom all over our faces, I weigh the idea of him being one of the main characters in our next project. With his shaved head, brown skin, small eyes, and almost elegant demeanor, he looks right at home in this forest, offering mini-enlightenments like a giant turtle in meditation, sucking on a pipe with eyes semi-sedated.
“You know, back in the cave, no one really painted females. That’s a damn shame. Us males hogging all the history. Even now, you see it with the Bechdel test.”
“Ah . . . wait. What’s it again?” Cyrus asks.
“A work of fiction’s gotta have a Sabrina and a Jenny. To pass the test they gotta talk to each other. And it has to be about something besides a man and his honey buns.”
“That’s right,” Cyrus says. “And how many pass?”
“Maybe half. Man. I’m so tired of Hollywood being such a gigantic sausage fest. I mean, we know everyone’s degree of separation from Kevin Bacon but—”
“Hey! Watch yourself!” I say. “I love you man, but Kevin Bacon’s performance in Tremors is absolute poetry.”
“I know it is,” Diego says. “You’re right, you’re right . . . But how many times have you heard a plot where three guys fight over an airhead? The men carry the story while the girl just sits there being all pretty. But she’s more than that. She’s passionate, smart, independent. She’s a bearer of life!”
“Womens is such beautiful creatures,” Antonio says.
“You’re damn right,” I say. “I think we’ll see a powerful woman come to lead us. And soon too. I’m not Ray Kurzweil or Punxsutawney Phil, but ‘dreams do not lack—’”
“Oh my God!”
I make it to the clearing, and a commanding spotlight bathes me with unabated, long-distance connection. It’s as if the moon has pushed its way to sit in front of the clouds, to shine only on this small stretch of land.
We all swivel in unison toward Antonio, but he’s already sprung up and jogging toward his girlfriend’s car in a low and awkward bustle. Twenty or so yards away, he settles into his perch behind the vehicle: elbows on the hood, butt sticking way out, hands supporting his face—a weird position to see anyone assume. He sits there like a mischievous thespian, almost hiding behind the car but captivated by something in the distance.
“What’s over there?” Cyrus shouts.
“The moon,” he says. “It’s so vivid. Look at it, playing with them clouds. Look-look-look-look-look.” He giggles to himself, and then giggles harder. “Guys, guys, guys . . . giggling has four g’s in it.”
Antonio’s giggling starts my own and soon my abs are tearing apart. On his left, Diego gazes at the moon, then looks back to Antonio, in playful, judging bewilderment.
“Why are you standing like this?” Diego asks.
“I . . . I don’t fucking know, dude!” Antonio says. “Just look at the moon. Don’t look at how I stand. It doesn’t . . . These things don’t matter now.” Antonio buries his head in his hands as his giggling continues, and I pat him on the back in reassurance before I go on my hunt.
Up ahead before the main road, there’s a clearing that I decide to make my way for because sometimes I can become a perfectionist and Antonio’s view just isn’t cutting it. A few of my friends say I’m hard to please, to which I reply, “only during times of absolute necessity,” and while the subtle game between the moonlight and the tree branches is great, right now I need to get as much sun-moon juice as I can, to feel that full reflective power. No offense, Antonio. A wolf has his needs.
I awkwardly dash along the creek to get out from under the canopy, almost tripping on brighter and brighter objects because the moon is not empty; it’s about to overflow and our modest creek-side plot is the only receptacle to dump into.
I make it to the clearing, and a commanding spotlight—complete with the dull gray parts inside—bathes me with unabated, long-distance connection, the power of which leads me to squint in the night. It’s as if the moon has pushed its way to sit in front of the clouds, to shine only on this small stretch of land. And in my periphery, I notice everything around—the creek, the short precipice, the woodland in the distance—is lit up like a carnival; it might as well be day.
“Can you believe we landed on that thing?” Cyrus asks, scaring me into a full body flinch. His face a few inches away from my shoulder, even the lunar reflections in his eyes are intense. “Like, one night, a couple dudes were looking at the moon and the louder one asks his friend, ‘Jes’ how much you wan’ bet we gon’ walk on that moon up yonder? A hunderd? Two hunderd?’”
“Aw, hell, Skeeter,” I say, playing along. “I reckon it’s the moonshine talkin’ ’gain. Nah how in the hayl you figgur we gon’ do that?”
“Oh, that thar’s easy. All we needa do is get that ole UFO over’n Roswull, load ’er up with some kerosene, whip us up some o’ dem science fiction suits and helmets, and we’d be offta that ole rock up thar in no time.”
“Yer crazier’n a shithouse fly, Skeeter. Even crazier’n a road-runnin’ lizard. . . . Well, I needa go drain this here lizard, if’n ya catch ma drift.”
“If’n you jes’ peein’ ’n’ ain’t pukin’, then tha’s all right I guess. Catch ya on down that trail, but I tell ya what boy . . . we gon’ walk on that moon. Yessir. You can bet your purdy white ass on that.”
I’m not sure why we acted the first-moon-walking conversation out as hillbillies, but gosh darn it, that’s how it came out. And when that happens, you run with it. You run with it until them cows come home.
Cyrus joins the others back at the campfire and I find a good spot to take a leak. Out over the edge of the flat, this weird appendage hangs off my body. There’s nothing elegant about it, is there? More ridiculous and silly than necessary as an evolutionary device. And if I’m being honest, when you’re way down in the rabbit hole, he’s a bit hard to work with because you can’t feel the difference between him and your hand. Instead, you struggle with this singular, shape-shifting mass in front of you, trying to get it to do the distinct movements you want. It makes it a problem keeping your hands and pants dry, so I go hands-free; accuracy just isn’t worth it out here. But after getting all this out of the way, the hardest part is that I can’t tell when I’m finished. With the developing minutiae going on around me, it’s tough to concentrate on what should be automatic bodily functions. So much so that a full bladder and the closing off of my urethra aren’t isolated feelings. But what is a man to do besides sucking it up and winging it?
I’m about to commit when the bogs and loblollies start whispering of the catastrophe that once happened along the length of this brook. Back before humans were humans, but not before Tommy the Amoeba, every tree was trampled and uprooted around this old quagmire by something big that came through the basin.
I start peeing, but as I feel the rush and release of urine, a wave sneaks up on me and kicks in hard, spurring me to blow the more stubborn bulk of my last meal out into a semi-circle beside my feet. Ah . . . there’s the rest of it. Standing up straight again, my eyes roll and slide around my head and my body becomes loose, galvanizing my senses again and lubricating my cells. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been a habitual back, neck, and knuckle cracker since I was twelve or thirteen years old—something I’m sure will catch up to me in the future. For me, this gives my joints a rest, as if not just the mind but the body, too, expands and makes room for all of those muscles inflamed with stress. With the extra space, I arch my back and my neck so that my hair falls on my trapezius. My neck curves forward and my shoelaces catch my eye, reflecting electric in the beam of the moon. But no . . .
I look up and I’m not here anymore. Here on earth, I mean.
“I just want to live.” Five words of no more than four letters each pierce through me like slender, agile wings knifing through the sky.
Jeffrey—the spry fur ball—isn’t used to the warmth and scampers past the car into the leaves at the base of the cliff face, trying to find a cold patch. My apologies, little guy. We’ll try to find you a cold swell here, soon.
The Jupiter sky becomes electric and amplified, meaning the wolves are in for a long, graphic evening. Cutting midnight blue and sharp across the terrain, the hue from earlier isn’t strange anymore. And the stars shine arc flash white, especially after all the Jupiter aircrafts have gone home, running hot from their daily commute. Palpable is a weak word for the intensity level so far. Already, I realize things aren’t gonna be normal the rest of the night. This trip won’t be either.
My stream turns to droplets—my cue to do the ritualistic shake dance.
Wait, am I done? I can’t tell. My hands are wet. Wait . . . are they?
I just have to trust my muscle memory and tell myself that I don’t really care. This is how it’s supposed to go. I tuck in and try to zip up, but my jean zipper laughs at me with infinite teeth. I pull up and up, but there’s no satisfying stopping feeling. I struggle for a bit longer and manage to zip the loose flap of my boxers halfway into the teeth.
I walk back giggling, not totally sure why, but back at the campfire, the guys are waiting for me with the craziest grins. Cyrus is as far back in his chair as he can be, running his hands through his hair and licking his lips. I’m so glad he came. A group of four is always a good number to have when you’re out here in the singular mass; it really balances everything out.
Diego and Antonio lounge, too, as if they’ve just punched the clock after a long life’s work, making the prospect of resting my legs seem so enticing that I give it a try.
Damn. It’s beyond my wildest dreams. It’ll take a miracle or all the energy of the universe to get me up again.
We all feel the first draft swirl in. Antonio says it’s time, but to Cyrus, our Eagle Scout, it’s not the time at all. He’s as present as can be, just not capable of the task we need to have happen. Antonio looks him over and gets it—telepathy levels and the hive mind now approach measurability. He nods, gets up, and starts without Cyrus. Log, kindling, stick teepee, more kindling, matches, smoke, magic breath, first few sparks, more magic.
Fire. Sweet, miraculous, enchanting, recapturing, holy dip-my-body-in-eternity fire. El Fuego. What would life be without it? It wouldn’t. Not in this universe. Everything revolves around it. It’s the Prime Mover, the Destructor. For the next five hours, it’ll have me fully invested. It’ll wrap me up and care for me—like a mother.
It will also be my end.
Cyrus reflects on the moon. “It’s like a bounce board for the earth,” he says.
With beads of sweat on his forehead from his great deeds, Antonio is sitting back down when I notice that my jeans—preferring a more fluid appearance—are rippling under my hands. I’m not sure where the holes begin or end. My skin feels jean-y. My jeans feel skin-y. I know Antonio and Cyrus are saying something about the moon, but I’m captivated by the activity on Jupiter. I hope Jeffrey’s all right. Poor little guy. He must be burning up. I look over my shoulder, back to the moon.
The surface filters are gone, but I try to remain plugged in.
“Man, the moon is like . . . what are those fabric discs you use to reflect sunlight off of?” I ask. “Like in a photo shoot?”
Antonio squints at me. “You mean a . . . bounce board?”
“Yeah, it’s like the moon is one huge bounce board aiming at earth.”
Cyrus and Antonio look at me, trying to cover up their confusion. My mind catches up and I finally realize why.
“Oh, that’s what you just said, huh?” Cyrus and Antonio stop holding in their laughter. “Damn, I’m sorry, dude! I’m sorry, guys. I’m a little uh . . . well, you know.”
We sit in a rare stretch of silence as the rest of the kindling burns through, but the main log is playing hard to get and left mostly unscathed. Somehow, Diego can still move, and does something about it, disappearing into the forest to search for more wonderful tree fingers. Bless you, kind sir. I’ve been focusing on the fireplace for only a few minutes, but it plays out like forever in my mind, until a want for heat is all I know now because I’ve forgotten all about the moon.
I swear I hear beating drums from somewhere beyond the streamlets when I see light from the jungle as Diego emerges fast from the woods with clumps of fuel in his hands. In front of him, a loud spectrum of times to come illuminates his amble. His headlamp shapes him into a space-age, apocalyptic survivor, returning from the long journey of foraging for leaves, twigs, and time to rekindle my now cold heart.
He feeds the smoldering log, leading jagged light to burst from the sanctum, and in this time of renewed warmth, I reach my ultimate being.
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