Fawning on Flora

Article excerpt

Byline: PETE CLARK

ACOUPLE of days ago, I was writing in this column about the disturbing effects that vast quantities of cannabis can have on the mental health of a human being. Having watched Unthinkable: Jungle Trip (Sci-Fi channel), I have come to the conclusion that there are even worse things that could catch on in the modern world. Would you believe that in the forests that surround the Peruvian stretch of the Amazon river there are plants that talk to humans? I know that Prince Charles and one or two of his close friends talk to plants, but surely no one could believe that they actually talk back?

Piers Gibbon did. In fact, he was convinced of it. To his great credit, Piers cut rather a sympathetic figure as he set out on the first part of his odyssey to Kew Gardens. This was, it could not be denied, the easy part of the journey, but Piers was intent in presenting his credentials in the most austere light. He was no cheap seeker of cheap thrills.

He admitted to many experiments with hallucinogenic flora, but insisted that this was all in the cause of solving a conundrum which dominated his waking hours: he knew beyond doubt that plants spoke, it was just that he did not understand their particular dialect. And just to show that he had one foot in the real world, Piers admitted that he also wanted his name to be given to the rare plant that he was determined to bring back to Kew from those Peruvian forests. You'd have thought that a chap called Gibbon might have been a fauna man, but there you go.

It was at this point that this edition of Unthinkable became less a physical journey and more a metaphysical voyage into one of those hearts of darkness that we know lurk in the jungle, ready to consume Western man with its strange and potent spells. The camerawork was rudimentary, but this could have been a knowing nod to such low-budget movies as the Blair Witch Project.

As he drew near what he hoped would be, if not nirvana, then a source of some enlightenment, Piers began to get excited. He was talking of shamans. I was reminded of a time long ago when a chap in the next room to me at university would shoot out of his door every now and then to announce that Carlos Castaneda had seen the light and we must all go immediately to Mexico and eat cacti.

Piers's search for a shaman led him directly to a bloke called Alan who was, needless to say, American. Alan explained to Piers in a somewhat self-important manner that the most important factor in what they were about to experience was to get rid of the ego. …