Cactus Blossoms, photograph by Suzanne Cottrell

Messaging Plants

As I rolled to the side to stand up, a giant Croton leaf landed on my head. It wasn’t a tender green leaf; it was naturally aged in burnt orange and caramel brown hues, with many prominent veins and a few jagged edges. I handled it cautiously, thinking it might crumble or break. But no, this leaf had aged with dignity, fully intact, with several distinct holes perforating the whole, yet sturdy enough for close scrutiny.


I rose from a mat on the floor of the Nature Center, where I was attending a retreat hosted by a human potential practitioner. We had just individually snorted a liquidized Amazonian wonder plant called nicotiana rustica, a tobacco-based medicinal used in ceremonies by indigenous peoples. The proceedings, directed by our guide, were as familiar to me as the Electric Kool Aid Acid Tests of Ken Kesey in the 1960s, when you were “either on the bus or off the bus.” On the potentially sinister side, indulging in this experiment also resembled the cyanide-laced, Flavor-Aid, suicide-in-camaraderie induced by Jim Jones at Jonestown a decade after Kesey. I had to decide for myself what this invitation to partake was meant to be, and I decided it was worth the risk. So, of course, I was one of the first to line up for the intake. I was determined to make this nicotiana hit more akin to visions of my favorite flower, the vibrant blue Morning Glory, than to the shadowy purplish “Deadly Belladonna,” touted in horror movies.

Our guru poured the mahogany-colored liquid he had extracted into my left hand, and I took several deep snorts, some of the nicotiana leaking into my throat, bringing to mind the cocaine-laced-with-quinine that, once in my youth, I had ingested to bad effect. I noticed that when people spilled or leaked the nicotiana liquid, it looked like blood, but it tasted strongly of nicotine. Lying back down on my mat, I noted the coughing and clearing of throats all around.

When the burn had cooled, I relaxed and stared up at the overhead fan-and-light contraption, which I imagined to be a beautiful flower, its center a guiding light surrounded by spinning blades resembling petals. According to the leader, I was about to receive a message from the nicotiana and I was game for the exchange. 

Seemingly on cue, outside the Nature Center, which was open on all four sides, strong gusts of wind whirled and thrashed the branches of the tall surrounding jungle vegetation. I asked the nicotiana and the surrounding plants to send me a message, and very quickly two messages came through.

The first message was, “That guy is crazy.” I suppressed a grin, as I understood this to mean not crazy like Charles Manson or anything evil, but more like Tim Leary in a white tunic blessing our acid tabs at a “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” event. Or like Allen Ginsberg chanting in Golden Gate Park at the great Human Be-In of January, 1967: both ritualistically weird to the uninitiated, but familiar and good if you were all in.

The second message that came to me was a paraphrased Woodstock refrain, “You’ve got to get back to the garden.” I knew that message was about me in the 1960s, when my life was filled with flower power, love, peace, and hope. And I  realized that’s the way to get out of that political- or Covid-induced feeling of having fallen through the looking glass with no escape. And that’s how, with clear vision, we can defeat nihilism. I got up from the mat and took my Croton leaf along to remind myself to carry on persisting and aging with dignity and strength. 


Author's Comment

Like its tidal rivers, New York City perpetually surges and flows with a diversity of people, places, and experiences. My life has been defined by travel and activism. I like my music gritty and soulful, and there is always a song in my head and a pen in my hand, whether I’m delivering medical supplies to Cuba or trekking the mountain jungles of Laos to converse with Buddhist monks in training.


A Year Without Men
Stories of Experience and Imagination.
by I.D. Kapur
It’s 2054 A.D., and the world needs a rest from men. Women have developed a novel solution, and the men can’t wait to leave. When my taxi driver tells me he has bullet wounds from the Russian police, speaks five languages, and is teaching at Harvard, I start taking notes. After the funeral, a widow loses all her married friends. Then karma sends flowers. “Indra Kapur writes with clear insight and an acute sense of humor. The stories in A Year Without Men are varied, clever, and often delightfully surprising! Cue me rubbing my hands together with glee.” — Katherine Longshore, author of the Gilt series. “The stories in A Year Without Men create a powerful sense of place with rich sensory and emotional detail. Characters are appealing in their humor and the compassion they inspire. I want to meet these people and be there with them! Some endings surprise us, and others give us a satisfying sense of the inevitable playing out. The stories have a depth of reality that makes them unforgettable.” — Ann Saxton Reh, author of the David Markam Mysteries “Mickee Voodoo is a very entertaining parody of a “hardboiled” detective story in the mode of Chandler, Hammett, and, more recently, Robert B. Parker…witty banter ensues with the detective cracking wise in a colorful idiom both in dialogue and narrative…delights in wordplay…very clever, and is quite funny…Kapur is a talented and skillful fiction writer.” — John DeChancie, author of The Skyway Trilogy and The Castle Perilous series. Available from Amazon or on order from your independent bookstore.


Reared in Eastern Kentucky near the Licking River, Karen Beatty served as a Peace Corps Thailand Volunteer in the 1960s. She trained as a trauma-informed counselor for veterans, firefighters, and police officers. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Eureka Literary Magazine, Snowy Egret, and Books Ireland, and she was recently featured in Mud Season Review. Karen’s first novel, Dodging Prayers and Bullets, will be published in summer 2023.

Suzanne Cottrell writes poetry, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction. She’s the author of three poetry chapbooks: Gifts of the Seasons, Autumn and Winter & Spring and Summer, and Scarred Resilience, as well as a hybrid book, Nature Calls Outside My Window, A Collection of Poems and Stories. She is an outdoor enthusiast and retired teacher, who enjoys reading, hiking, gardening, photography, and Pilates. Go to ArtsMart to purchase her work.


  1. what a neat piece. The writing pulled me in immediately and there were so many beautiful phrases – naturally aged – burnt orange and caramel brown, ; suicide in camaraderie – lol – whirled and thrashed. Such descriptive and poetic writing. an so funny. I enjoyed reading this! Congrats !

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