There’s this story of a seven year old Florida boy with Down’s syndrome who hardly talks but expresses himself admirably with gestures and sounds his relatives understand well, but during one of his favored walks with his father in the swamp forest near their home in Citrus County, Lukie stands still, listens carefully, looks intently in a certain direction, moves his arm in a high arc as if indicating something huge and makes excited noises, but to his father these utterances and gestures are new, he does not understand his son, and when on subsequent walks the same performance repeats itself a few times, he is baffled, until a National Geographic program on tv shows a herd of elephants and the boy dances around excitedly making the same noises and gesture. He has seen elephants where his father saw only swamp forest. Citrus County wás the abode of elephants in prehistoric times when early native hunters were after them. Even an immaculate mastodon skeleton chipped by spears has been unearthed. Lyall Watson suggests the ‘elephantness’ has never left the place.
I was reminded of British writer Mark Shand who traveled India on the back of an elephant, Tara, a sensitive and intelligent female he bought and saved from the hands of a barbarous owner who had starved her. Decades ago I translated his book ‘India by Elephant’ and two wonderful details spring to mind. In Orissa Tara gets very agitated and refuses to cross a wide plain, so they have to circle around it, a detour of many hours. Later Mark learns that the plain has been the scene of an atrocious battle between rivaling kings centuries before the advent of the British, a bloody event in which numberless elephants of their cavalries were massacred. The second takes place when Shand, who after weeks of toil and the instructions of a nimble mahout has mastered the art of steering Tara by kneading her neck muscles with his toes, has trouble with an ascent because Tara zigzags like a drunk. After being scolded twice, Tara stops, picks up a handful of pebbles with the business end of her trunk and puts them on the flat of her head for Shand to see. The pebbles are mean and sharp and it was the elephant’s way of explaining her zigzagging to avoid the painful stones.
There was this five year old English girl who after a walk with her parents during which she had witnessed horses jumping in a field, upon coming home took a piece of paper and a stick of charcoal drawing with a few quick strokes what she had seen, like an under age zen master. The drawing was amazingly perfect as if from a seasoned artist, the exact movement of the animal captured in a few black strokes. And so she drew all she saw, little jewels of precocious mastery. There should have been a bright future for the girl, but she needed special education; she was a dreamer given to incessant staring out of the window in class. ‘Thanks’ to special education the girl learned to read and write, averagely, but her strange gift withered. The last time she manifested it, was during a lost moment in class when she was 13. Distractedly she noticed the condense on the window next to her desk and with a few quick strokes of her forefinger drew a golf player about to hit the ball in a perfect stance that radiated motion. The condense ran and dried up; it was the last drawing she ever produced, making Lyall Watson wonder about the desirability of special education in cases like these, substituting a precious gift with a few mediocre skills. During the interview he suggested that society wasn’t about to change until keen attention is paid to school kids staring out of the class room window all day. I enjoyed that comment, for at school I have stared out of windows a lot and whatever caught my passionate interest happened in my girlfriend’s bed and after my school days were over.
There was this office computer churning out all kinds of programs and images after hours whilst the plug was out of the socket. It was noticed by a cleaner and verified by a camera. There are people in whose hands every electrical appliance breaks down; reversely almost any big firm has an employee whose presence alone is often enough to repair a crashed computer. There was this English lady who dialed the number of her son in law in Birmingham but by some fluke got connected to astronauts in space, a technical hitch in the communication system that was thoroughly examined but never explained. There have been cars that of their own accord overrun their owners, not by accident, but several times as if making sure the driver is dead, and in all the examined cases the victims had been notoriously hateful towards their automobiles. There was a lowly old Amazonian Indian in Brazil who cured cataracts with a rusty knife. Even imprisoned for unlawfully practicing medicine the cataracts lined up before the jail house and because guards had been cured as well, the patients had access to his cell and he continued to help hundreds of people. Tony Ekpoa, as he was called, did not mind one way or the other. ‘Outside I do this, inside I do this, no difference,’ he offered. There is Watson’s morbid conclusion that one in every thousand deceased is not really dead when buried or cremated, based on the flaws of the established methods of death detection, gruesome reports of grave clearers and historical research. There is the shaman of the tiny island of Butari-Tari in the Pacific who at a certain date calls the porpoises from the sea. There is the little known fact that enormously bulky sumo wrestlers in Japan, when they turn their backs to the mat, their careers and national renown, use the same discipline that brought them their masses in reverse and become ordinary, unrecognizable, standard size citizens in a matter of months. There is such strong evidence that the attraction between male and female is purely biochemical and olfactory (mutual pheromones perform a lecherous dance with each other long before partners become aware of the attraction), that perfume manufacturers spend fortunes on finding the secret chemical of allure, Chanel5 so far coming closest. There are very few weird phenomena in the world of anthropology, zoology, paleonthology, geology, environmental studies, biology and marine biology – in all of which Watson held degrees – or related fields that have escaped his scrutiny and after some extensive research he even established that in households where poltergeist phenomena (like randomly flying objects) are rife, often a young hysterical female adolescent with a hell of a lot of pent up anger is present, or less frequently, some heavy emotional issues in the familial atmosphere are at stake.
Among the most likeable of people I know I have a special weakness for the curious and therefore eclectic minds. There was no limit to Lyall Watson’s curiosity, he filled over twenty books with it’s fruits and a lot of the titles served to attract masses of new information from readers all over the world supplying him with a wealth of research material from which he could choose as he pleased to create his next wonderful study of the poetic beauty of the hidden life on this planet, changing my own outlook in life to the extent that these days there is much less in this world I reject out of hand than earlier in life.
Watson had an insatiable curiosity for the unexplained, in so many words becáuse as a boy he had been raised by a black shaman, before he excelled in school and at the university. He studied shamans in all corners of the world and they seem to have at least one thing in common. They all state in one way or the other that needing a specific herb for a specific patient, they wander off into the wild and ‘are guided by the spirit’ of the plant, usually finding it pretty quickly by instinct alone, even in the wrong season. He also found that shamanism is rarely hereditary and where it is, it is usually bogus. He marveled at the existence of an adult shamanistic system even in Madagascar that had been populated for a meagre eight centuries, way too short for an effective system of healing to develop by trial and error. There must have been something to the spirit of the plants, or maybe a form of intuition that one can not rightfully claim as his own and therefore calls a spirit or God, one’s own personality or ideas being conspicuously absent in such moments.
The second experience that blew Watsons mind to the extent that he never published any of it, took place when living in Ireland, already wealthy and widely read, still financing and conducting his own researches. He was called by an American biologist in Hawaii, who asked him whether he had any experience with psylocibine, the active ingredient of a small mushroom growing preferably on untilled pastures on a mixture of clay and sand, grazed and shat on by cows or sheep. Precisely the sort of land Watson lived on.
The American colleague convinced him to ingest one kg of freshly harvested mushrooms and see what happens. One kg seemed like an atrocious amount, but the American swore no harm would be done, as he and many of his friends had done the same. He would not reveal what would happen but asked Watson to report back afterwards.
‘For what I experienced I have no frame of reference, so I never published it. Besides no one would believe me, so I saw no point,’ Watson said to me.
Apparently three quarters of an hour after ingesting the last of the mushrooms, Watson found himself without transition in a world where nothing was like anything he had ever seen on earth, even in fairytales. He was clear minded, thought straight and nothing impaired his vision. He saw life forms incomparable with any life form he had studied on earth, and he was a specialist. He was purely a viewer, there was no communication, as if he was invisible. After three quarters of an hour he was back in his cottage in Ireland as if a film that had taken up all of his consciousness had been switched off as suddenly as it had appeared. When he phoned his colleague in Hawaii, the man replied: ‘Yeah, that’s what we all experience here. But how to describe a color no one else has ever seen?’ He suffered no ill effects.
The admittedly vague hypothesis Watson had to offer was that this ‘civilisation’ had managed to inscribe and program the genetic makeup of the mushroom and send it off into space like a concealed video message. Mushroom spores have been known to survive interstellar travel on or in comets, in fact there is evidence that part of the natural world was colonized this way, including the outbreaks of mysterious pandemics like the plague, as suddenly disappearing after it’s rampage on earth as it had appeared, and more recently hiv.