In 1996 I made a birding trip through Mexico from Juárez on the northern border with the US, across sand-dune deserts, up volcanoes, through the mountains, all the way through Chiapas near the Guatemalan border, and that story, with some of my own bird drawings, is online at

About a month ago a fellow wrote to me because he'd read my chapter about crossing Oaxaca's Sierra Mazateca and passing through the town of Huautla de Jiménez. That's where a special kind of sage grows, he told me, a real pretty one, Salvia divinorum, and he had greenhouses and wanted to grow it. Would I please go back to Huautla, collect some seeds and send them to him, and he'd pay me real well.

It'd been hard getting to Huautla and the people there hadn't struck me as very welcoming. In fact, very unlike nearly every other Mexican village I've been in, I got the distinct impression that Huautla's folks wanted me out of town fast. Drugs, I assumed. I did leave and I told the fellow with the greenhouses that I didn't want to go back for any sage.

The man became so persistent about the project that I did some Googling. Turns out that Salvia divinorum is big business now in the hallucinogenic trade, and is known as Sally-D on the streets. Salvia divinorum traditionally was used ceremonially by the Mazatec people. Apparently it no longer grows in the wild as a self-reproducing species. It's found only in a few Mazatec gardens, and some seeds or sprouts might be worth quite a bit. In some US states it's illegal.

It sort of rubs me the wrong way that, after being out of economic circulation for so long, when a money-making offer finally comes my way it's inviting me to get into the drug business. I'm against drugs -- most legal ones and all "mind-expanding ones."

The thing I have against mind-altering drugs is that they distort the whole beauty/spirituality scene. The user feels as if he or she is having deep insights even though there's no new information developed. Users feel artful without having mastered any art. I've been around enough tripping people who thought they were participating in something profound to know that they weren't being profound at all -- were, in fact, indulging in the grossest mediocrity. They were just reacting to sensations inside their own heads and those sensations distorted reality while making the users feel good about themselves.

How does this line of discussion relate to the war to save Life on Earth? It's relevant because it's hard enough to get a fix on reality even when your head is clear. When drugs are added to the mix it becomes even much harder, maybe impossible. And to fight this war to protect Life on Earth, we need to have clear minds, know what the problems are, and be smart enough to come up with solutions.

Also, I regard it as an affront to the Universal Creative Force when someone thinks they need drugs to feel in awe of something or just to feel good, instead of merely looking around and seeing the grandness of Nature right before them.

Aren't the stars enough to blow the mind, or grass in the lawn? Isn't the stuff of subatomic physics mind-stretching enough? Isn't the fact that there are trees, rocks, music, love, and evolution enough to keep us agog, inspired and reverential before the Universal Creative Force for a lifetime?

That guy wanting me to sneak some Sally-D seeds to him just didn't know who I am, and how hard I've worked to get my head so that I can see things relatively clearly.

No way Sally-D is going to screw up this life.