The religious and sexual possibilities of forest here in upland Southeast Asia, aside from a visionary rubric of the ascetic ideal - being lost, mastering fear and magic and so on - can be understood in terms of the sensory cacophony that the environment is made up from. The endless forms and colours of semi-deciduous broadleaf, the dizzying perfumes and stenches, and a soundscape so rich and dynamic in timbre even within its quite separate genres of birdsong, insects, frogs, water and trees. This forest, this mountain, is also covered in decayed and rotting anthropomorphic secrets because the apparatus of the state is limited in its reach here. Traditionally the forest has offered the lowland natives of this territory a degree of privacy unavailable in their actual living spaces or elsewhere. It cultivates the illicit. I pick a matt-purple insect off a rubbery leaf and it shoots a thick jet of coppery urine across my arm, and I'm provoked by the sexual implications of it. This work should be classified as part of the MOUNTAIN CRIMES genre.
The experiences with altered states got weirder from there—and some of them made me think, again, of the tree. Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary ecologist whose research at Southern Cross University, in Australia, is supported by a million-dollar Templeton grant, has made the provocative argument that plants are conscious and intelligent. In her book “Thus Spoke the Plant,” she writes that drugs inspired her to look for unstudied capabilities in plants, such as the ability to remember or to communicate through sound. “If you are opening up yourself, there’s more space to allow for strange things to emerge,” she told me. “Isn’t this what scientists should be doing? Asking strange questions and seeing what they find?”