Pollan, M. 2001 The Botany of Desire, pg. 113-179. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York
I can remember a hot summer day when my friend and I were walking down the street, and we came across a tent with an older gentleman who was sitting in a folding chair at a plastic table. I thought to myself, “oh it’s one of those silly ad booths”, the kind you come across every now and again.
The man speaks up, “Hey fellas, can you sign this petition I have here?”
I look at him, and I ask, “What kind of petition?”
“Oh It’s a petition to legalize marijuana in our wonderful country.” he replies.
I then ask, “Why should I sign the petition?” and he had no response. He just sat there staring at me as if he was trying to think of a convincing reason for me to sign his paper and then to simply move on with the rest of my day as if it meant nothing at all.
I received no response to my question that day, and I am still searching for the answer. Why do people desire intoxication so much that they would go out on the street and ask for signatures with little to no prior preparation or thought of why they may be doing it in the first place. I feel that remembering that man’s vacant stare that day helped me understand that there may be no obvious answer to why humans desire this type of thing.
I don’t currently use drugs other than a daily heap of caffeine and the occasional pain/illness relief you can buy over the counter at your local grocery store. It’s not that I am anti-marijuana. I don’t have anything against the people who choose to use it either (hell, some of my best friends are regular users), but I simply don’t seem to have the same type of desire to set aside reality for a bit and enjoy life from a different perspective. Personally, I feel it is a waste of time and money, to be honest.
Pollan’s chapter 3 of Botany of Desire discusses the history of humanity’s relationship with marijuana and the trip on which we have taken each other. Pollan is a terrific story-teller. His story spanning pages 122-124 in which he details how he scrambled to hide his forbidden plants from the law had me laughing hysterically the whole time. His writing is done in such a way that it really captures his emotions and helps you feel the anxiety that he felt when the unsuspecting wood cutter transforms into the town sheriff. He sets the stage for this chapter well with this piece, captivating the reader’s attention by showing that he has personal experience with the plant and the wonder of why he ever planted those seeds that produced nothing but a high heart rate and a feeling of panic.
I recall Pollan’s earlier statement in this book: “Plant’s are nature’s alchemists” (pg. xix) I feel that this topic is where this statement really shines. The plant-related biochemistry that most people recognize and have at least some knowledge of (I hope) is the biochemistry of drugs. The effects that some of these compounds have on animal bodies and mind is truly amazing and fascinating. Not only do humans desire these plants to feel tingly and euphoric, but we desire them for their practical uses as well. We owe a lot of saved lives to plants that produce these substances from soil, water, and a touch of starlight. Hopefully people will never lose sight of what a wonderful kingdom Plantae really is.