One time in my youth while on mushrooms in the woods of Iowa, in the middle of a cross-country trip out West, I came to a crossroads.


I had strayed from the group, mostly because I was afraid to sit in the tall grass where the snakes were.

I stood at the fork in the road, looking both ways. Down to the right there was a bridge that went over a brook. Off to the left, a path that went up over a hill. I couldn’t see very far down either of them. Perhaps the path up the hill led to a view,. Perhaps the path down to the bridge led to a waterfall.

I couldn’t stand to miss the waterfall or the view so that meant not taking a step in either direction. This lasted for a while. I thought about retreating back to the snakes and the grass but I’d left for a reason, so there I stood.

My mind got going and wouldn’t stop. Maybe there wasn’t a view. Maybe there wasn’t a waterfall. I’d wished I never got up, never put myself in the position to choose. I began resenting the fork in the road, the snakes for sending me here, my limited human abilities to only see so far. I was working myself into a panic and then I thought about how stupid that was – to be in a panic over a dirt road – but that only added to it. I was silly. I was failing. Everything was closing in on me.

And then…

From behind me, someone shouted, “Hey. Ground Control to Cliff!” It was some guy back in the snake grass. He was standing up so I could see him. “You cool?”

How long had he been watching? I couldn’t make a decision as to what to say so I threw up my hands.

He took two steps forward and cupped his hands around his mouth this time. “You okay?” He was genuinely concerned.

I looked around at the grass growing up to my knees, the rocks in the path, and the dirt on my shoes. The clouds were white again. The sun was there.

“Yeah,” I said, realizing I was back to making decisions. “Yeah, I’m good.”

“We’ll be here,” he said, pointing over his shoulder. Big smile, hand up, palm out. Then he sat down.

With a few words, he’d touched me in a place that allowed me to move again, like a friend touching a friend’s arm to wake them from a bad dream. Sometimes, that’s all we need: a person to sit on the side of the bed to touch us in the real world so we can pull away from the voices in the fake one.

I looked down both paths and decided to go right because it seemed like it would take me deeper into the woods.

Huh, I thought. I wanted to go deeper. And I began to whistle.