Originally published, with additional photos, in Arthur No. 35 (August, 2013).
CHEW THE LEAVES, GET IN THE TANK
Inside Baltimore’s T Hill, new kinds of experiments with Salvia divinorum are going on.
Text and photography by Rjyan Kidwell
SO I went to the west side to meet the wild shepherdess, the strong female power. I was able to meet her in the house called T Hill, formerly known as Tarantula Hill, now officially going full-time by the nickname locals have been using for years. It’s a bit of a legendary place, and not just around Baltimore. In Providence, Chicago, Denver, and beyond there’s reverent talk of this place. It started as a run-down three-story warehouse in a far-beyond-food-desert part of Baltimore, and in 2001 purchased and then rebuilt (twice) by Twig Harper and Carly Ptak, a couple who comprised Nautical Almanac, one of the most influential noise bands during that scene’s nascent period, but who, in recent years, have attracted an interesting community of more spiritually-inclined experimentalists around their home. Besides the occasional carefully-curated concert, its Esoteric Library [see Endnote 1] (which anyone was free to borrow books from) and the handmade sauna on the roof, T Hill is also known for being nearly destroyed in a 2006 fire and, utterly undeterred, rising again within months.
A few years ago, at a show in a different warehouse, I saw Twig [pictured above] in the kitchen with a jar of some kind of dark powder. It turned out to be something called yopo and he was inviting people to try it. Two at a time excited volunteers would sit down beside each other on a couch and inhale the powder. Then, for about five minutes or so, they would be enter some kind of pre-verbal (post-verbal?) state, utterly unresponsive to any attempt by others to communicate with them, interacting with something else none of us could see, but without leaving their seat. Moreover, these reactions seemed unique to each volunteer. I saw two of my friends sit down together—one of them, who I often refer to behind his back as Lord Byron, writhed and contorted as if he were riding an rusty rollercoaster after downing a liter of worms. The other guy barely moved at all, but giggled and smirked adorably, watching something that seemed to be hovering at eye level a few feet in front of him. I’d never seen either of them behave in a way anything like those naked exaggerations of their core personalities. I was impressed. Twig observed everything that happened in an amused but careful way and listened as everybody explained their perspective of the experience afterwards. His genuine curiosity about each person’s trip was clear. Personally, I was way too scared of what strange secret I might myself betray in that strange five minutes, so I didn’t step up to the couch. I’ve always regretted that decision.
When word on the street went out that Twig was doing something similar at T Hill with Salvia divinorum—as of right now, a totally legal, unregulated Mexican mint—I contrived a way to check it out, under the pretense of writing an article for Arthur. As you can probably guess, the plan worked like a charm.Continue reading