(Journey to Ixtlan)
Thursday, 29 June 1961
Again don Juan, as he had done every day for nearly a week, held me spellbound with his knowledge of specific details about the behavior of game. He first explained and then corroborated a number of hunting tactics based on what he called “the quirks of quails”. I became so utterly involved in his explanations that a whole day went by and I had not noticed the passage of time. I even forgot to eat lunch. Don Juan made joking remarks that it was quite unusual for me to miss a meal.
By the end of the day he had caught five quail in a most ingenious trap, which he had taught me to assemble and set up.
“Two are enough for us,” he said and let three of them loose.
He then taught me how to roast quail. I had wanted to cut some shrubs and make a barbecue pit, the way my grandfather used to make it, lined with green branches and leaves and sealed with dirt, but don Juan said that there was no need to injure the shrubs, since we had already injured the quail.
After we finished eating we walked very leisurely towards a rocky area. We sat on a sandstone hillside and I said jokingly that if he would have left the matter up to me I would have cooked all five of the quail, and that my barbecue would have tasted much better than his roast.
“No doubt,” he said. “But if you would have done all that, we might have never left this place in one piece.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What would have prevented us?”
“The shrubs, the quail, everything around would have pitched in.”
“I never know when you are talking seriously,” I said.
He made a gesture of feigned impatience and smacked his lips.
“You have a weird notion of what it means to talk seriously,” he said. “I laugh a great deal because I like to laugh, yet everything I say is deadly serious, even if you don’t understand it. Why should the world be only as you think it is? Who gave you the authority to say so?”
“There is no proof that the world is otherwise,” I said.
It was getting dark. I was wondering if it was time to go back to his house, but he did not seem to be in a hurry and I was enjoying myself.
The wind was cold. Suddenly he stood up and told me that we had to climb to the hilltop and stand up on an area clear of shrubs.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I’m your friend and I’ll see that nothing bad happens to you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, alarmed. Don Juan had the most insidious facility to shift me from sheer enjoyment to sheer fright.
“The world is very strange at this time of the day,” he said. “That’s what I mean. No matter what you see, don’t be afraid.”
“What am I going to see?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said, peering into the distance towards the south. He did not seem to be worried. I also kept on looking in the same direction.
Suddenly he perked up and pointed with his left hand towards a dark area in the desert shrubbery.
“There it is,” he said, as if he had been waiting for something which had suddenly appeared.
“What is it?” I asked.
“There it is,” he repeated. “Look! Look!”
I did not see anything, just the shrubs.
“It is here now,” he said with great urgency in his voice. “It is here.”
A sudden gust of wind hit me at that instant and made my eyes burn. I stared towards the area in question. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
“I can’t see a thing,” I said.
“You just felt it,” he replied. “Right now. It got into your eyes and kept you from seeing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I have deliberately brought you to a hilltop,” he said. “We are very noticeable here and something is coming to us.”
“What? The wind?”
“Not just the wind,” he said sternly. “It may seem to be wind to you, because wind is all you know.”
I strained my eyes staring into the desert shrubs. Don Juan stood silently by me for a moment and then walked into the near-by chaparral and began to tear some big branches from the surrounding shrubs; he gathered eight of them and made a bundle. He ordered me to do the same and to apologize to the plants in a loud voice for mutilating them.
When we had two bundles he made me run with them to the hilltop and lie down on my back between two large rocks. With tremendous speed he arranged the branches of my bundle to cover my entire body, then he covered himself in the same manner and whispered through the leaves that I should watch how the so-called wind would cease to blow once we had become unnoticeable.
At one moment, to my utter amazement, the wind actually ceased to blow as don Juan had predicted. It happened so gradually that I would have missed the change had I not been deliberately waiting for it. For a while the wind had hissed through the leaves over my face and then gradually it became quiet all around us.
I whispered to don Juan that the wind had stopped and he whispered back that I should not make any overt noise or movement, because what I was calling the wind was not wind at all but something that had a volition of its own and could actually recognize us.
I laughed out of nervousness.
In a muffled voice don Juan called my attention to the quietness around us and whispered that he was going to stand up and I should follow him, putting the branches aside very gently with my left hand.
We stood up at the same time. Don Juan stared for a moment into the distance towards the south and then turned around abruptly and faced the west.
“Sneaky. Really sneaky,” he muttered, pointing to an area towards the southwest.
“Look! Look!” he urged me.
I stared with all the intensity I was capable of. I wanted to see whatever he was referring to, but I did not notice anything at all. Or rather I did not notice anything I had not seen before; there were just shrubs which seemed to be agitated by a soft wind; they rippled.
“It’s here,” don Juan said.
At that moment I felt a blast of air in my face. It seemed that the wind had actually begun to blow after we stood up. I could not believe it; there had to be a logical explanation for it.
Don Juan chuckled softly and told me not to tax my brain trying to reason it out.
“Let’s go gather the shrubs once more,” he said. “I hate to do this to these little plants, but we must stop you.”
He picked up the branches we had used to cover ourselves and piled small rocks and dirt over them. Then, repeating the same movements we had made before, each of us gathered eight new branches. In the meantime the wind kept on blowing ceaselessly. I could feel it ruffling the hair around my ears. Don Juan whispered that once he had covered me I should not make the slightest movement or sound. He very quickly put the branches over my body and then he lay down and covered himself.
We stayed in that position for about twenty minutes and during that time a most extraordinary phenomenon occurred; the wind again changed from a hard continuous gust to a mild vibration. I held my breath, waiting for don Juan’s signal. At a given moment he gently shoved off the branches. I did the same and we stood up. The hilltop was very quiet. There was only a slight, soft vibration of leaves in the surrounding chaparral.
Don Juan’s eyes were fixedly staring at an area in the shrubs south of us.
“There it is again!” he exclaimed hi a loud voice.
I involuntarily jumped, nearly losing my balance, and he ordered me in a loud imperative voice to look.
“What am I supposed to see?” I asked desperately.
He said that it, the wind or whatever, was like a cloud or a whorl that was quite a way above the shrubs, twirling its way to the hilltop where we were.
I saw a ripple forming on the bushes in the distance.
“There it comes,” don Juan said in my ear. “Look how it is searching for us.”
Right then a strong steady gust of wind hit my face, as it had hit it before. This time, however, my reaction was different. I was terrified. I had not seen what don Juan had described, but I had seen a most eerie wave rippling the shrubs. I did not want to succumb to my fear and deliberately sought any kind of suitable explanation. I said to myself that there must be continuous air currents in the area, and don Juan, being thoroughly acquainted with the whole region, was not only aware of that but was capable of mentally plotting their occurrence. All he had to do was to lie down, count, and wait for the wind to taper off; and once he stood up he had only to wait again for its re-occurrence.
Don Juan’s voice shook me out of my mental deliberations. He was telling me that it was time to leave. I stalled; I wanted to stay to make sure that the wind would taper off.
“I didn’t see anything, don Juan,” I said.
“You noticed something unusual though.”
“Perhaps you should tell me again what I was supposed to see.”
“I’ve already told you,” he said. “Something that hides in the wind and looks like a whorl, a cloud, a mist, a face that twirls around.”
Don Juan made a gesture with his hands to depict a horizontal and a vertical motion.
“It moves in a specific direction,” he went on. “It either tumbles or it twirls. A hunter must know all that in order to move correctly.”
I wanted to humour him, but he seemed to be trying so hard to make his point that I did not dare. He looked at me for a moment and I moved my eyes away.
“To believe that the world is only as you think it is, is stupid,” he said. “‘The world is a mysterious place. Especially in the twilight.”
He pointed towards the wind with a movement of his chin.
“This can follow us,” he said. “It can make us tired or it might even kill us.”
“At this time of the day, in the twilight, there is no wind. At this time there is only power.”
We sat on the hilltop for an hour. The wind blew hard and constantly all that time.
Friday, 30 June 1961
In the late afternoon, after eating, don Juan and I moved to the area in front of his door. I sat on my “spot” and began working on my notes. He lay down on his back with his hands folded over his stomach. We had stayed around the house all day on account of the “wind”. Don Juan explained that we had disturbed the wind deliberately and that it was better not to fool around with it. I had even had to sleep covered with branches.
A sudden gust of wind made don Juan get up in one incredibly agile jump.
“Damn it,” he said. “The wind is looking for you.”
“I can’t buy that, don Juan,” I said, laughing. “I really can’t.”
I was not being stubborn, I just found it impossible to endorse the idea that the wind had its own volition and was looking for me, or that it had actually spotted us and rushed to us on top of the hill. I said that the idea of a “willful wind” was a view of the world that was rather simplistic.
“What is the wind then?” he asked in a challenging tone.
I patiently explained to him that masses of hot and cold air produced different pressures and that the pressure made the masses of air move vertically and horizontally. It took me a long while to explain all the details of basic meteorology.
“You mean that all there is to the wind is hot and cold air?” he asked in a tone of bafflement.
“I’m afraid so,” I said and silently enjoyed my triumph.
Don Juan seemed to be dumbfounded. But then he looked at me and began to laugh uproariously.
“Your opinions are final opinions,” he said with a note of sarcasm. “They are the last word, aren’t they? For a hunter, however, your opinions are pure crap. It makes no difference whether the pressure is one or two or ten; if you would live out here in the wilderness you would know that during the twilight the wind becomes power. A hunter that is worth his salt knows that, and acts accordingly.”
“How does he act?”
“He uses the twilight and that power hidden in the wind.”
“If it is convenient to him, the hunter hides from the power by covering himself and remaining motionless until the twilight is gone and the power has sealed him into its protection.”
Don Juan made a gesture of enveloping something with his hands.
“Its protection is like a…”
He paused in search of a word and I suggested “cocoon”.
“That is right,” he said. “The protection of the power seals you like a cocoon. A hunter can stay out in the open and no puma or coyote or slimy bug could bother him. A mountain lion could come up to the hunter’s nose and sniff him, and if the hunter does not move, the lion would leave. I can guarantee you that.”
“If the hunter, on the other hand, wants to be noticed all he has to do is to stand on a hilltop at the time of the twilight and the power will nag him and seek him all night. Therefore, if a hunter wants to travel at night or if he wants to be kept awake he must make himself available to the wind.”
“Therein lies the secret of great hunters. To be available and unavailable at the precise turn of the road.”
Thursday, 28 December 1961
We started on a journey very early in the morning. We drove south and then east to the mountains. Don Juan had brought gourds with food and water. We ate in my car before we started walking.
“Stick close to me,” he said. “This is an unknown region to you and there is no need to take chances. You are going in search of power and everything you do counts. Watch the wind, especially towards the end of the day. Watch when it changes directions, and shift your position so that I always shield you from it.”
“What are we going to do in these mountains, don Juan?”
“You’re hunting power.”
“I mean what are we going to do in particular?”
“There’s no plan when it comes to hunting power. Hunting power or hunting game is the same. A hunter hunts whatever presents itself to him. Thus he must always be in a state of readiness.”
“You know about the wind, and now you may hunt power in the wind by yourself. But there are other things you don’t know about which are, like the wind, the centre of power at certain times and at certain places.”
“Power is a very peculiar affair,” he said. “It is impossible to pin it down and say what it really is. It is a feeling that one has about certain things. Power is personal. It belongs to oneself alone. My benefactor, for instance, could make a person mortally ill by merely looking at him. Women would wane away after he had set eyes on them. Yet he did not make people sick all the time but only when his personal power was involved.”
“How did he choose who to make sick?”
“I don’t know that. He didn’t know it himself. Power is like that. It commands you and yet it obeys you.”
“A hunter of power entraps it and then stores it away as his personal finding. Thus, personal power grows, and you may have the case of a warrior who has so much personal power that he becomes a man of knowledge.”
“How does one store power, don Juan?”
“That again is another feeling. It depends on what kind of a person the warrior is. My benefactor was a man of violent nature. He stored power through that feeling. Everything he did was strong and direct. He left me a memory of something crushing through things. And everything that happened to him took place in that manner.”
I told him I could not understand how power was stored through a feeling.
“There’s no way to explain it,” he said after a long pause. “You have to do it yourself.”
He picked up the gourds with food and fastened them to his back. He handed me a string with eight pieces of dry meat strung on it and made me hang it from my neck.
“This is power food,” he said.
“What makes it power food, don Juan?”
“It is the meat of an animal that had power. A deer, a unique deer. My personal power brought it to me. This meat will sustain us for weeks, months if need be. Chew little bits of it at a time, and chew it thoroughly. Let the power sink slowly into your body.”
We began to walk. It was almost eleven A.M. Don Juan reminded me once more of the procedure to follow.
“Watch the wind,” he said. “Don’t let it trip you. And don’t let it make you tired. Chew your power food and hide from the wind behind my body. The wind won’t hurt me; we know each other very well.”
He led me to a trail that went straight to the high mountains. The day was cloudy and it was about to rain. I could see low rain clouds and fog up above in the mountains descending into the area where we were.
We hiked in complete silence until about three o’clock in the afternoon. Chewing the dry meat was indeed invigorating. And watching for sudden changes in the direction of the wind became a mysterious affair, to the point that my entire body seemed to sense changes before they actually happened. I had the feeling that I could detect waves of wind as a sort of pressure on my upper chest, on my bronchial tubes. Every time I was about to feel a gust of wind my chest and throat would itch.
Don Juan stopped for a moment and looked around. He appeared to be orienting himself and then he turned to the right. I noticed that he was also chewing dry meat. I felt very fresh and was not tired at all. The task of being aware of shifts in the wind had been so consuming that I had not been aware of time.
We walked into a deep ravine and then up one side to a small plateau on the sheer side of an enormous mountain. We were quite high, almost to the top of the mountain. Don Juan climbed a huge rock at the end of the plateau and helped me up to it. The rock was placed in such a way as to look like a dome on top of precipitous walls. We slowly walked around it. Finally I had to move around the rock on my seat, holding on to the surface with my heels and hands. I was soaked in perspiration and had to dry my hands repeatedly.
From the other side I could see a very large shallow cave near the top of the mountain. It looked like a hall that had been carved out of the rock. It was sandstone which had been weathered into a sort of balcony with two pillars.
Don Juan said that we were going to camp there, that it was a very safe place because it was too shallow to be a den for lions or any other predators, too open to be a nest for rats, and too windy for insects. He laughed and said that it was an ideal place for men, since no other living creatures could stand it.
He climbed up to it like a mountain goat. I marveled at his stupendous agility. I slowly dragged myself down the rock on my seat and then tried to run up the side of the mountain in order to reach the ledge. The last few yards completely exhausted me. I kiddingly asked don Juan how old he really was. I thought that in order to reach the ledge the way he had done it one had to be extremely fit and young.
“I’m as young as I want to be,” he said. “This again is a matter of personal power. If you store power your body can perform unbelievable feats. On the other hand, if you dissipate power you’ll be a fat old man in no time at all.”
The length of the ledge was oriented along an east-west line. The open side of the balcony-like formation was to the south. I walked to the west end. The view was superb. The rain had circumvented us. It looked like a sheet of transparent material hung over the low land.
Don Juan said that we had enough time to build a shelter. He told me to make a pile of as many rocks as I could carry on to the ledge while he gathered some branches for a roof. In an hour he had built a wall about a foot thick on the east end of the ledge. It was about two feet long and three feet high. He wove and tied some bundles of branches he had collected and made a roof, securing it on to two long poles that ended in forks. There was another pole of the same length that was affixed to the roof itself and which supported it on the opposite side of the wall. The structure looked like a high table with three legs.
Don Juan sat cross-legged under it, on the very edge of the balcony. He told me to sit next to him, to his right. We remained quiet for a while.
Don Juan broke the silence. He said in a whisper that we had to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I asked if there was something in particular that I should do. He said that I should get busy writing and do it in such a way that it would be as if I were at my desk with no worries in the world except writing. At a given moment he was going to nudge me and then I should look where he was pointing with his eyes. He warned me that no matter what I saw I should not utter a single word. Only he could talk with impunity because he was known to all the powers in those mountains.
I followed his instructions and wrote for over an hour. I became immersed in my task. Suddenly I felt a soft tap on my arm and saw don Juan’s eyes and head move to point out a bank of fog about two hundred yards away which was descending from the top of the mountain. Don Juan whispered in my ear with a tone barely audible even at that close range.
“Move your eyes back and forth along the bank of fog,” he said. “But don’t look at it directly. Blink your eyes and don’t focus them on the fog. When you see a green spot on the bank of fog, point it out to me with your eyes.”
I moved my eyes from left to right along the bank of fog that was slowly coming down to us. Perhaps half an hour went by. It was getting dark. The fog moved extremely slowly. At one moment I had the sudden feeling that I had detected a faint glow to my right. At first I thought that I had seen a patch of green shrubbery through the fog. When I looked at it directly I did not notice anything, but when I looked without focusing I could detect a vague greenish area.
I pointed it out to don Juan. He squinted his eyes and stared at it.
“Focus your eyes on that spot,” he whispered in my ear. “Look without blinking until you see.”
I wanted to ask what I was supposed to see but he glared at me as if to remind me that I should not talk.
I stared again. The bit of fog that had come down from above hung as if it were a piece of solid matter. It was lined up right at the spot where I had noticed the green tint. As my eyes became tired again and I squinted, I saw at first the bit of fog superimposed on the fog bank, and then I saw a thin strip of fog in between that looked like a thin unsupported structure, a bridge joining the mountain above me and the bank of fog in front of me. For a moment I thought I could see the transparent fog, which was being blown down from the top of the mountain, going by the bridge without disturbing it. It was as if the bridge were actually solid. At one instant the mirage became so complete that I could actually distinguish the darkness of the part under thenbridge proper, as opposed to the light sandstone colour of its side.
I stared at the bridge, dumbfounded. And then I either lifted myself to its level, or the bridge lowered itself to mine. Suddenly I was looking at a straight beam in front of me. It was an immensely long, solid beam, narrow and without railings, but wide enough to walk on.
Don Juan shook me by the arm vigorously. I felt my head bobbing up and down and then I noticed that my eyes itched terribly. I rubbed them quite unconsciously. Don Juan kept on shaking me until I opened my eyes again. He poured some water from his gourd into the hollow of his hand and sprinkled my face with it. The sensation was very unpleasant. The coldness of the water was so extreme that the drops felt like sores on my skin. I noticed then that my body was very warm. I was feverish.
Don Juan hurriedly gave me some water to drink and then splashed water on my ears and neck.
I heard a very loud, eerie and prolonged bird cry. Don Juan listened attentively for an instant and then pushed the rocks of the wall with his foot and collapsed the roof. He threw the roof into the shrubs and tossed all the rocks, one by one, over the side.
He whispered in my ear, “Drink some water and chew your dry meat. We cannot stay here. That cry was not a bird.”
We climbed down the ledge and began to walk in an easterly direction. In no time at all it was so dark that it was as if there were a curtain in front of my eyes. The fog was like an impenetrable barrier. I had never realized how crippling the fog was at night. I could not conceive how don Juan walked. I held on to his arm as if I were blind.
Somehow I had the feeling I was walking on the edge of a precipice. My legs refused to move on. My reason trusted don Juan and I was rationally willing to go on, but my body was not, and don Juan had to drag me in total darkness.
He must have known the terrain to ultimate perfection. He stopped at a certain point and made me sit down. I did not dare let go of his arm. My body felt, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I was sitting on a barren domelike mountain and if I moved an inch to my right I would fall beyond the tolerance point into an abyss. I was absolutely sure I was sitting on a curved mountainside, because my body moved unconsciously to the right. I thought it did so in order to keep its verticality, so I tried to compensate by leaning to the left against don Juan, as far as I could.
Don Juan suddenly moved away from me and without the support of his body I fell on the ground. Touching the ground restored my sense of equilibrium. I was lying on a flat area. I began to reconnoitre my immediate surroundings by touch. I recognized dry leaves and twigs. There was a sudden flash of lightning that illuminated the whole area and tremendous thunder.
I saw don Juan standing to my left. I saw huge trees and a cave a few feet behind him. Don Juan told me to get into the hole. I crawled into it and sat down with my back against the rock.
I felt don Juan leaning over to whisper that I had to be totally silent.
There were three flashes of lightning, one after the other. In a glance I saw don Juan sitting cross-legged to my left. The cave was a concave formation big enough for two or three persons to sit in. The hole seemed to have been carved at the bottom of a boulder. I felt that it had indeed been wise of me to have crawled into it, because if I had been walking I would have knocked my head against the rock.
The brilliancy of the lightning gave me an idea of how thick the bank of fog was. I noticed the trunks of enormous trees as dark silhouettes against the opaque light grey mass of the fog.
Don Juan whispered that the fog and the lightning were in cahoots with each other and I had to keep an exhausting vigil because I was engaged in a battle of power. At that moment a stupendous flash of lightning rendered the whole scenery phantasmagorical. The fog was like a white filter that frosted the light of the electrical discharge and diffused it uniformly; the fog was like a dense whitish substance hanging between the tall trees, but right in front of me at the ground level the fog was thinning out. I plainly distinguished the features of the terrain. We were in a pine forest. Very tall trees surrounded us. They were so extremely big that I could have sworn we were in the redwoods if I had not previously known our whereabouts.
There was a barrage of lightning that lasted several minutes. Each flash made the features I had already observed more discernible. Right in front of me I saw a definite trail. There was no vegetation on it. It seemed to end in an area clear of trees. There were so many flashes of lightning that I could not keep track of where they were coming from. The scenery, however, had been so profusely illuminated that I felt much more at ease. My fears and uncertainties had vanished as soon as there had been enough light to lift the heavy curtain of darkness. So when there was a long pause between the flashes of lightning I was no longer disoriented by the blackness around me.
Don Juan whispered that I had probably done enough watching, and that I had to focus my attention on the sound of thunder. I realized to my amazement that I had not paid any attention to thunder at all, in spite of the fact that it had really been tremendous. Don Juan added that I should follow the sound and look in the direction where I thought it came from.
There were no longer barrages of lightning and thunder but only sporadic flashes of intense light and sound. The thunder seemed to always come from my right. The fog was lifting and I, already being accustomed to the pitch black, could distinguish masses of vegetation. The lightning and thunder continued and suddenly the whole right side opened up and I could see the sky.
The electrical storm seemed to be moving towards my right. There was another flash of lightning and I saw a distant mountain to my extreme right. The light illuminated the background, silhouetting the bulky mass of the mountain. I saw trees on top of it; they looked like neat black cutouts superimposed on the brilliantly white sky. I even saw cumulus clouds over the mountains.
The fog had cleared completely around us. There was a steady wind and I could hear the rustling of leaves in the big trees to my left. The electrical storm was too distant to illuminate the trees, but their dark masses remained discernible. The light of the storm allowed me to establish, however, that there was a range of distant mountains to my right and that the forest was limited to the left side. It seemed that I was looking down into a dark valley, which I could not see at all.
The range over which the electrical storm was taking place was on the opposite side of the valley. Then it began to rain. I pressed back against the rock as far as I could. My hat served as a good protection. I was sitting with my knees to my chest and only my calves and shoes got wet.
It rained for a long time. The rain was lukewarm. I felt it on my feet. And then I fell asleep. The noises of birds woke me up. I looked around for don Juan. He was not there; ordinarily I would have wondered whether he had left me there alone, but the shock of seeing the surroundings nearly paralyzed me.
I stood up. My legs were soaking wet, the brim of my hat was soggy and there was still some water in it that spilled over me. I was not in a cave at all, but under some thick bushes. I experienced a moment of unparalleled confusion. I was standing on a flat piece of land between two small dirt hills covered with bushes. There were no trees to my left and no valley to my right.
Right in front of me, where I had seen the path in the forest, there was a gigantic bush. I refused to believe what I was witnessing. The incongruency of my two versions of reality made me grapple for any kind of explanation. It occurred to me that it was perfectly possible that I had slept so soundly that don Juan might have carried me on his back to another place without waking me.
I examined the spot where I had been sleeping. The ground there was dry, and so was the ground on the spot next to it, where don Juan had been.
I called him a couple of times and then had an attack of anxiety and bellowed his name as loud as I could. He came out from behind some bushes. I immediately became aware that he knew what was going on. His smile was so mischievous that I ended up smiling myself .
I did not want to waste any time in playing games with him. I blurted out what was the matter with me. I explained as carefully as possible every detail of my night-long hallucinations. He listened without interrupting. He could not, however, keep a serious face and started to laugh a couple of times, but he regained his composure right away.
I asked for his comments three or four times; he only shook his head as if the whole affair was also incomprehensible to him.
When I ended my account he looked at me and said, “You look awful. Maybe you need to go to the bushes.”
He cackled for a moment and then added that I should take off my clothes and wring them out so they would dry.
The sunlight was brilliant. There were very few clouds. It was a windy brisk day.
Don Juan walked away, telling me that he was going to look for some plants and that I should compose myself and eat something and not call him until I was calm and strong.
My clothes were really wet. I sat down in the sun to dry. I felt that the only way for me to relax was to get out my notebook and write. I ate while I worked on my notes.
After a couple of hours I was more relaxed and I called don Juan. He answered from a place near the top of the mountain. He told me to gather the gourds and climb up to where he was.
When I reached the spot, I found him sitting on a smooth rock. He opened the gourds and served himself some food. He handed me two big pieces of meat.
I did not know where to begin. There were so many things I wanted to ask. He seemed to be aware of my mood and laughed with sheer delight.
“How do you feel?” he asked in a facetious tone.
I did not want to say anything. I was still upset. Don Juan urged me to sit down on the flat slab. He said that the stone was a power object and that I would be renewed after being there for a while.
“Sit down,” he commanded me dryly.
He did not smile. His eyes were piercing. I automatically sat down.
He said that I was being careless with power by acting morosely, and that I had to put an end to it or power would turn against both of us and we would never leave those desolate hills alive.
He smiled benevolently. He seemed to have lost his fierceness; he even nudged me lightly on
“Eat your power food,” he urged me.
I began to chew some dry meat and at that moment I had the sudden realization that perhaps the dry meat contained a psychotropic substance, hence the hallucinations. For a moment I felt almost relieved. If he had put something in the meat my mirages were perfectly understandable. I asked him to tell me if there was anything at all in the “power meat”.
He laughed but did not answer me directly. I insisted, assuring him that I was not angry or even annoyed, but that I had to know so I could explain the events of the previous night to my own satisfaction. I urged him, coaxed him, and finally begged him to tell me the truth.
“You are quite cracked,” he said, shaking his head in a gesture of disbelief. “You have an insidious tendency. You persist in trying to explain everything to your satisfaction. There is nothing in the meat except power. The power was not put there by me or by any other man but by power itself. It is the dry meat of a deer and that deer was a gift to me in the same way a certain rabbit was a gift to you not too long ago. Neither you nor I put anything in the rabbit. I didn’t ask you to dry the rabbit’s meat, because that act required more power than you had. However, I did tell you to eat the meat. You didn’t eat much of it, because of your own stupidity.”
“What happened to you last night was neither a joke nor a prank. You had an encounter with power. The fog, the darkness, the lightning, the thunder and the rain were all part of a great battle of power. You had the luck of a fool. A warrior would give anything to have such a battle.”
My argument was that the whole event could not be a battle of power because it had not been real.
“And what is real?” don Juan asked me very calmly.
“This, what we’re looking at is real,” I said, pointing to the surroundings.
“But so was the bridge you saw last night, and so was the forest and everything else.”
“But if they were real where are they now?”
“They are here. If you had enough power you could call them back. Right now you cannot do that because you think it is very helpful to keep on doubting and nagging. It isn’t, my friend. It isn’t. There are worlds upon worlds, right here in front of us. And they are nothing to laugh at. Last night if I hadn’t grabbed your arm you would have walked on that bridge whether you wanted to or not. And earlier I had to protect you from the wind that was seeking you out.”
“What would have happened if you hadn’t protected me?”
“Since you don’t have enough power, the wind would have made you lose your way and perhaps even killed you by pushing you into a ravine. But the fog was the real thing last night. Two things could have happened to you in the fog. You could have walked across the bridge to the other side, or you could have fallen to your death. Either would have depended on power. One thing, however, would have been for sure. If I had not protected you, you would have had to walk on that bridge regardless of anything. That is the nature of power. As I told you before, it commands you and yet it is at your command. Last night, for instance, the power would have forced you to walk across the bridge and then it would have been at your command to sustain you while you were walking. I stopped you because I know you don’t have the means to use power, and without power the bridge would have collapsed.”
“Did you see the bridge yourself, don Juan?”
“No. I just saw power. It may have been anything. Power for you, this time, was a bridge. I don’t know why a bridge. We are most mysterious creatures.”
“Have you ever seen a bridge in the fog, don Juan?”
“Never. But that’s because I’m not like you. I saw other things. My battles of power are very different from yours.”
‘What did you see, don Juan ? Can you tell me?”
“I saw my enemies during my first battle of power in the fog. You have no enemies. You don’t hate people. I did at that time. I indulged in hating people. I don’t do that any more. I have vanquished my hate, but at that time my hate nearly destroyed me.”
“Your battle of power, on the other hand, was neat. It didn’t consume you. You are consuming yourself now with your own crappy thoughts and doubts. That’s your way of indulging yourself.”
“The fog was impeccable with you. You have an affinity with it. It gave you a stupendous bridge, and that bridge will be there in the fog from now on. It will reveal itself to you over and over, until someday you will have to cross it.”
“I strongly recommend that from this day on you don’t walk into foggy areas by yourself until you know what you’re doing.”
“Power is a very weird affair. In order to have it and command it one must have power to begin with. It’s possible, however, to store it, little by little, until one has enough to sustain oneself in a battle of power.”
“What is a battle of power?”
“What happened to you last night was the beginning of a battle of power. The scenes that you beheld were the seat of power. Someday they will make sense to you; those scenes are most meaningful.”
“Can you tell me their meaning yourself, don Juan?”
“No. Those scenes are your own personal conquest which you cannot share with anyone. But what happened last night was only the beginning, a skirmish. The real battle will take place when you cross that bridge. What’s on the other side? Only you will know that. And only you will know what’s at the end of that trail through the forest. But all that is something that may or may not happen to you. In order to journey through those unknown trails and bridges one must have enough power of one’s own.”
“What happens if one doesn’t have enough power?”
“Death is always waiting, and when the warrior’s power wanes death simply taps him. Thus, to venture into the unknown without any power is stupid. One will only find death.”
I was not really listening. I kept on playing with the idea that the dry meat may have been the agent that had caused the hallucinations. It appeased me to indulge in that thought.
“Don’t tax yourself trying to figure it out,” he said as if he were reading my thoughts. “The world is a mystery. This, what you’re looking at, is not all there is to it. There is much more to the world, so much more, in fact, that it is endless. So when you’re trying to figure it out, all you’re really doing is trying to make the world familiar. You and I are right here, in the world that you call real, simply because we both know it. You don’t know the world of power, therefore you cannot make it into a familiar scene.”
“You know that I really can’t argue your point,” I said. “But my mind can’t accept it either.”
He laughed and touched my head lightly.
“You’re really crazy,” he said. “But that’s all right. I know how difficult it is to live like a warrior. If you would have followed my instructions and performed all the acts I have taught you, you would by now have enough power to cross that bridge. Enough power to see and to stop the world.”
“But why should I want power, don Juan?”
“You can’t think of a reason now. However, if you would store enough power, the power itself will find you a good reason. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”
“Why did you want power yourself, don Juan?”
“I’m like you. I didn’t want it. I couldn’t find a reason to have it. I had all the doubts that you have and never followed the instructions I was given, or I never thought I did; yet in spite of my stupidity I stored enough power, and one day my personal power made the world collapse.”
“But why would anyone wish to stop the world?”
“Nobody does, that’s the point. It just happens. And once you know what it is like to stop the world you realize there is a reason for it. You see, one of the arts of the warrior is to collapse the world for a specific reason and then restore it again in order to keep on living.”
I told him that perhaps the surest way to help me would be to give me an example of a specific reason for collapsing the world.
He remained silent for some time. He seemed to be thinking what to say.
“I can’t tell you that,” he said. “It takes too much power to know that. Someday you will live like a warrior, in spite of yourself; then perhaps you will have stored enough personal power to answer that question yourself.
“I have taught you nearly everything a warrior needs to know in order to start off in the world, storing power by himself. Yet I know that you can’t do that and I have to be patient with you. I know for a fact that it takes a lifelong struggle to be by oneself in the world of power.”
Don Juan looked at the sky and the mountains. The sun was already on its descent towards the west and rain clouds were rapidly forming on the mountains. I did not know the time; I had forgotten to wind my watch. I asked if he could tell the time of the day and he had such an attack of laughter that he rolled off the slab into the bushes. He stood up and stretched his arms, yawning.
“It is early,” he said. “We must wait until the fog gathers on top of the mountain and then you must stand alone on this slab and thank the fog for its favors. Let it come and envelop you. I’ll be nearby to assist, if need be.”
Somehow the prospect of staying alone in the fog terrified me. I felt idiotic for reacting in such an irrational manner.
“You cannot leave these desolate mountains without saying your thanks,” he said in a firm tone. “A warrior never turns his back to power without atoning for the favors received.”
He lay down on his back with his hands behind his head and covered his face with his hat.
“How should I wait for the fog?” I asked. “What should I do?”
“Write!” he said through his hat. “But don’t close your eyes or turn your back to it.”
I tried to write but I could not concentrate. I stood up and moved around restlessly. Don Juan lifted his hat and looked at me with an air of annoyance.
“Sit down!” he ordered me.
He said that the battle of power had not yet ended, and that I had to teach my spirit to be impassive. Nothing of what I did should betray my feelings, unless I wanted to remain trapped in those mountains.
He sat up and moved his hand in a gesture of urgency. He said that I had to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary, because places of power, such as the one in which we were, had the potential of draining people who were disturbed. And thus one could develop strange and injurious ties with a locale.
“Those ties anchor a man to a place of power, sometimes for a lifetime,” he said. “And this is not the place for you. You did not find it yourself. So tighten your belt and don’t lose your pants.”
His admonitions worked like a spell on me. I wrote for hours without interruption.
Don Juan went back to sleep and did not wake up until the fog was perhaps a hundred yards away, descending from the top of the mountain. He stood up and examined the surroundings. I looked around without turning my back. The fog had already invaded the lowlands, descending from the mountains to my right. On my left side the scenery was clear; the wind, however, seemed to be coming from my right and was pushing the fog into the lowlands as if to surround us.
Don Juan whispered that I should remain impassive, standing where I was without closing my eyes, and that I should not turn around until I was completely surrounded by the fog; only then was it possible to start our descent.
He took cover at the foot of some rocks a few feet behind me.
The silence in those mountains was something magnificent and at the same time awesome. The soft wind that was carrying the fog gave me the sensation that the fog was hissing in my ears. Big chunks of fog came downhill like solid clumps of whitish matter rolling down on me. I smelled the fog. It was a peculiar mixture of a pungent and fragrant smell. And then I was enveloped in it.
I had the impression the fog was working on my eyelids. They felt heavy and I wanted to close my eyes. I was cold. My throat itched and I wanted to cough but I did not dare. I lifted my chin up and stretched my neck to ease the cough, and as I looked up I had the sensation I could actually see the thickness of the fog bank. It was as if my eyes could assess the thickness by going through it. My eyes began to close and I could not fight off the desire to fall asleep. I felt I was going to collapse on the ground any moment. At that instant don Juan jumped up and grabbed me by the arms and shook me. The jolt was enough to restore my lucidity.
He whispered in my ear that I had to run downhill as fast as I could. He was going to follow behind because he did not want to get smashed by the rocks that I might turn over in my path. He said that I was the leader, since it was my battle of power, and that I had to be clear-headed and abandoned in order to guide us safely out of there. “This is it,” he said in a loud voice. “If you don’t have the mood of a warrior, we may never leave the fog.”
I hesitated for a moment. I was not sure I could find my way down from those mountains.
“Run, rabbit, run!” don Juan yelled and shoved me gently down the slope.