“Tales of power”
The conditions of a solitary bird are five:
The first, that it flies to the highest point;
The second, that it does not suffer for company,
Not even of its own kind;
The third, that it aims its beak to the skies;
The fourth, that it does not have a definite color;
The fifth, that it sings very softly.
– San Juan de la Cruz, Dichos de Luz y Amor
A Witness to Acts of Power
An Appointment With Knowledge
I had not seen don Juan for several months. It was the autumn of 1971. I had the certainty that he was at don Genaro’s house in central Mexico and made the necessary preparations for a six – or seven-day drive to visit him. On the second day of my journey, however, on an impulse, I stopped at don Juan’s place in Sonora in the midafternoon. I parked my car and walked a short distance to the house. To my surprise, I found him there.
“Don Juan! I didn’t expect to find you here,” I said.
He laughed; my surprise seemed to delight him. He was sitting on an empty milk crate by the front door. He appeared to have been waiting for me. There was an air of accomplishment in the ease with which he greeted me. He took off his hat and flourished it in a comical gesture. Then he put it on again and gave me a military salute. He was leaning against the wall, sitting on the crate as if it were a saddle.
“Sit down, sit down,” he said in a jovial tone. “Good to see you again.”
“I was going to go all the way to central Mexico for nothing,” I said. “And then I would’ve had to drive back to Los Angeles. Finding you here has saved me days and days of driving.”
“Somehow you would’ve found me,” he said in a mysterious tone, “but let’s say that you owe me the six days that you would’ve needed to get there,
days which you should use in doing something more interesting than pressing down on the gas pedal of your car.”
There was something engaging in don Juan’s smile. His warmth was contagious.
“Where’s your writing gear?” he asked.
I told him that I had left it in the car; he said that I looked unnatural without it and made me go back and get it.
“I have finished writing a book,” I said.
He gave me a long, strange look that produced an itching in the pit of my stomach. It was as if he were pushing my middle section with a soft object. I felt like I was going to get ill, but then he turned his head to the side and I regained my original feeling of well-being.
I wanted to talk about my book but he made a gesture that indicated that he did not want me to say anything about it. He smiled. His mood was light and charming and he immediately engaged me in a casual conversation about people and current events. Finally I managed to steer the conversation onto the topic of my interest. I began by mentioning that I had reviewed my early notes and had realized that he had been giving me a detailed description of the sorcerers’ world from the beginning of our association. In light of what he had said to me in those stages, I had begun to question the role of hallucinogenic plants.
“Why did you make me take those power plants so many times?” I asked.
He laughed and mumbled very softly, ” ‘Cause you’re dumb.”
I heard him the first time, but I wanted to make sure and pretended I had not understood.
“I beg your pardon?” I asked.
“You know what I said,” he replied and stood up.
He tapped me on the head as he walked by me.
“You’re rather slow,” he said. “And there was no other way to jolt you.”
“So none of that was absolutely necessary?” I asked.
“It was, in your case.