THE BORDER LIFE
 

An expanded account of the Nogales bus station encounter between Castaneda and Don Juan - Journey to Ixlan, Chapter One

"I understand you know a great deal about plants, sir, " I said to the old Indian in front of me. 

A friend of mine had just put us in contact and left the room and we had introduced ourselves to each other. The old man had told me that his name was Juan Matus. 

"Did your friend tell you that?" he asked casually.
"Yes, he did."
"I pick plants, or rather, they let me pick them, " he said 

We were in the waiting room of a bus depot in Arizona. I asked him in very formal Spanish if he would allow me to question him. I said, "Would the gentleman [caballero] permit me to ask some questions?" 

"Caballero, " which is derived from the word "caballo," horse, originally meant horseman or a nobleman on horseback. 

He looked at me inquisitively. 

"I'm a horseman without a horse, " he said with a big smile and then he added, "I've told you that my name is Juan Matos." 

I liked his smile. I thought that, obviously he was a man that could appreciate directness and I decided to boldly tackle him with a request. 

I told him I was interested in collecting and studying medicinal plants. I said that my special interest was the uses of the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote, which I had studied at length at the university in Los Angeles. 

I thought that my presentation was very serious. I was very contained and sounded perfectly credible to myself. 

The old man shook his head slowly, and I, encouraged by his silence, added that it would no doubt be profitable for us to get together and talk about peyote. 

It was at that moment that he lifted his head and looked me squarely in the eyes. It was a formidable look. Yet it was not menacing or awesome in any way. It was a look that went through me. I became tongue tied at once and could not continue with the harangues about myself. That was the end of our meeting. Yet he left on a note of hope. He said that perhaps I could visit him at his house someday. 

It would be difficult to assess the impact of don Juan's look if my inventory of experience is not somehow brought to bear on the uniqueness of that event. When I began to study anthropology and thus met don Juan, I was already an expert in "getting around." I had left my home years before and that meant in my evaluation that I was capable of taking care of myself. Whenever I was rebuffed could usually cajole my way in or make concessions, argue, get angry, or if nothing succeeded I would whine or complain; in other words, there was always something I knew I could do under the circumstances, and never in my life had any human being stopped my momentum so swiftly and so definitely as don Juan did that afternoon. But it was not only a matter of being silenced; there had been times when I had been unable to say a word to my opponent because of some inherent respect I felt for him, still my anger or frustration was manifested in my thoughts. Don Juan's look, however, numbed me to the point that I could not think coherently. 

I became thoroughly intrigued with that stupendous look and decided to search for him. 

I prepared myself for six months, after that first meeting, reading up on the uses of peyote among the American Indians, especially about the peyote cult of the Indians of the Plains. I became acquainted with every work available, and when I felt I was ready I went back to Arizona.