Once Is A Lifetime

“What would you say, Barnaby, if I told you I’d popped a little LSD before coming out on our walk today?”

“I’d say, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out, you dirty old hippie.”

Elsie laughs.

That’s nice. Laughter’s been a rare commodity for her since her husband Phillip took ill and died in quick order earlier this year. Requiescat in pace. That’s all she wrote.

“Do you really disapprove, Barnaby?”

Now it’s my turn to laugh. I’d like to think I’m not the exacting, disapproving type. At least, aspirationally. I strive for absolute acceptance. Besides,

“What if I told you, Elsie, that I too microdosed before our walk?”

This stops her, surprised, evidently. This surprises me in return. I stop.


“Why are we just now talking about it then?” she asks.

“What do you mean?”

“If we’ve both been microdosing for our walks, why—”

“Walks?” I interrupt. “As in, plural? Are you telling me, Elsie, that this is a regular occurrence on your part, microdosing for our walks? How long has this been going on for?”

I smile, turn, and continue along our way, informing Elsie back over my shoulder that my microdose of choice is psylocibin, extract of the mushroom, as I understand it. It felt more organic to my earthie-crunchie, under-informed sensibilities. Nature’s own psychedelic. LSD too hands-on man made.

It didn’t have to make sense. That was the entire point.

“LSD feels more like cutting loose to me, Barnaby,” Elsie says, catching up and falling into step. “More outside my comfort zone, yeah? Mushrooms struck me as too risotto. Does that make sense?”

It doesn’t have to. That’s the point.

My intended response. If I actually responded. Which I may have. I’d moved on.

“That tree, Elsie,” I pointed at a… at a… Horse chestnut, I believe it was, still flowering, still smelling like… mating season, to put it delicately. “Can you count the exact number of leaves on its branches?”

She looks over at the tree as we approach it, slowing slightly, sizing it up, assessing, possibly beginning a leaf count.

“Can you?” she asks. “Or are you just messing with me? You can’t count the leaves. That’s not what this does.”

We stop near the tree, instinctively, I believe, upwind, in order to be free of the not particularly pleasing scent, according to my olfactory valuation, and I begin to explain to Elsie that since I’ve got a little of the fungi onboard I’ve been empowered with the ability to tap into the mycorrhizal network running throughout the ground below us, enabling me to individuate to such a degree that—

“Oh, hush,” Elsie says to me with a dismissive wave. “Just look at that tree for a minute. Silently. Noting, but keeping your thoughts to yourself.”

We do just that.

There’s no glow of the phantasm, as our indoctrination might have warned us of. No otherworldly hum or buzzing. No discernible ghost in the machine of our existence. At least, not at this dose, which is the point. No abrupt overturning of the proverbial applecart.

There’s just…

That smell of the Seed. Pervasive, regardless of where we stand. The possibility of fecundity.

(Nice. If I do say so myself.)

The chestnut tree is, at closer and continued inspection, teeming with life. A group of squirrels, at least three, but they’re in pursuit of one another, around, up and down, the trunk, disappearing into the leaves along the branches and then reappearing at impossible spots somewhere else in the crown. If indeed it’s the same squirrel. If there are just the three which looks highly unlikely at this point.

“Do you know what they call a group of squirr—”

Elsie hushes me.

“Inside voice, Barnaby.”

A scurry. That’s what. A scurry of squirrels. Perfection, wouldn’t you say?

Birds, in and out of the tree, coming and going. I do not know my birds although I was told recently that ‘birding’ is experiencing a participatory boom. The pandemic, perhaps? Outdoors. Keeping a distance something of a prerequisite. Could also be we’re all just getting older, easing into that gentle physical activity phase of life.



The staccato song of the cardinal. No. Not song. Call. The staccato call of the cardinal. Much better. And the almost imperceptible rolling r build to it.

The cardinal has two broods per season, apparently. I do know that. Not much time for parental doting. Hatch `em. Feed `em. Teach `em to fly. And out you go. More siblings on their way. Siblings and competitors. There’s a long winter ahead.

I read somewhere (for some reason, not that there’s anything at all wrong with idle curiosity) that songbirds, songbirds proper, not callers like cardinals, but canaries and their ilk, their brain undergoes extensive rewiring as they come into and then exit mating season. An amazing percentage of the neural network simply reworks itself as it develops a song to entice a mate. To sing for its supper, so to speak. Then, disentangles itself at season’s end, and reassembles and regroups for the silent molt.

The so-called bird brain.

We could certainly do with some of that brain rewiring ourselves.

Maybe we do.

Maybe that’s what we’re doing right now, here with our microdosing. Gently rewiring the schematic, at least temporarily, like the songbird. Prod ourselves to sing a little more. Construct pleasing sounds to attract the admiration and appreciation of others.

“The leaves on that tree, Barnaby,” Elsie breaks the silence between us. “The green. Are you seeing a G Major or C Major key?”

I refocus my attention toward the leaves without even pausing to consider the nature of the question. (That comes afterward.) I can’t really feel the sound of the green as the pink of the tree’s blossoms fully capture my 100% attention.

“I want to say it’s a G Major but wonder if that’s because green starts with g, so I’m drawn that way instead of what it really is, C Major.”

“I can’t distinguish, Elsie,” I confess. “I’m absorbed by the absolute pink of the flowers, the blossoms.”

“Huh,” is all Elsie replies.

Pink, this pink, strikes me as utterly unnatural although, how could it be, garish as it is right here, right there, so flagrantly out in nature. What sort of pollinator is it looking to attract, this brashly obstreperous? The colour of candy. Cottoned-on candy.

“That’s a D Minor, I’d say,” Elsie tells me. “Splenetic, wouldn’t you say?”

I wouldn’t, no. Splenetic? Pink? If I’m going with one of the humours, I’d have to say… well, the spleen is associated with black bile, melancholy, old age, the earth. So, no. But where does pink fit into Hippocrates 4 Humours? It doesn’t. Not really. Unnatural, see?

“That’s why we associate pink with girls, don’t you think, Barnaby?”


Is it?

I’m not following.

“On the surface, all headline grabbing, bold with little depth, little variation. There’s pink and there’s pink. As soon as you try to alter it, even the slightest, it simply becomes a different colour. Pink is exactly what we think it is.”

I’m not sure I agree but, colour is as close to a purely subjective topic as you can get, isn’t it.

Elsie turns and begins walking along the path again.

“Pink is for girls. Easily identifiable and simple to pigeonhole. Your pinks are pretty much all the same. You boys, you get all your shades of blue, don’t you. Navy. Indigo. Admiral. Cerulean. Azure. Teal. Denim. Arctic. Berry.”

Bubblegum. Magenta. Fuscia… But we’re not really talking about that right now, are we.

“But if you look closely enough, Barnaby,” Elsie says, “pink sings in D Minor. D Minor, yeah? That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

She stops again and turns to look back at the chestnut tree, turning her head slightly, cocking an ear toward it. I stop and wait, looking at the tree too. Now, all I can see is the green of its leaves.

Nodding her head slightly, Elsie turns and starts to walk again.

“Yep. That’s a D Minor alright.”

I fall into step beside her and we continue through the park, still listening to the tree music. At least, I imagine Elsie is. I remain steadfastly tin-eared.

“Do you think it’s a weakness, Barnaby,” Elsie says after a long, easy pause, “to search for something to try and feel better?”

To feel better? To feel differently? To see differently. Different. Differently.

The grammar eludes me at the moment. But in these moments does grammar matter? We’re looking for a different grammar in these moments, surely. And don’t call me, Shirley.

“Better’s always in perspective, isn’t it,” I venture. “Better than. Better than this. Better than that. Better than what? Maybe what we’re doing isn’t about trying to feel better but trying to figure out the what.”

“The what?”

“The… What is it that I’m not seeing? The… What is it that I’m missing. The…”

“What is this beautiful house?” Elsie gently lilts.

“Letting the days go by,” I sing, “let the water hold me down. Letting the days go by, water flowing underground.”

“Into the blue again,” Elsie duets, “into the silent water. Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground.”

“Same as it ever was,” the two microdosed old hippies sing in relative unison. “Same as it ever was…”

Same as it ever was.

Pretty much the exact opposite of the point I had been trying to make.


We were singing.

“In the key of D Major,” Elsie informs me. “Neither the green of the leaves nor the pink of the flowers. ‘The key of triumph and Hallelujahs’, according to Schubert.”

The key of triumph and Hallelujahs.

Amen to that.


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