Who is Wade Davis?

Wade DavisIn a nutshell he is the real deal. For the full profile check the Wikipedia  entry for Wade Davis .

There was time when Natural Scientists (Anthropologists, Botanists, Geologists, and Explorers) were the heroes of their day. This was before rock stars, politicians, computer geeks and celebrities usurped their place in the pantheons of significant individuals. In the 1700’s the botanist Sir Joseph Banks, besides his academic contributions to the world of science, was noted for his ground breaking discoveries while tripping around the world with Captain James Cook. He is still remembered to this day, especially by me because I grew up in a suburb in Sydney Australia named Bankstown. And who can forget Charles Darwin and his voyage of discovery that ultimately led to the publication of his Origin of the Species? His revelations and speculations are still rocking the world. His theory of Natural Selection is still denied and hotly debated. And yet despite the fact that it is only a theory it is still the cornerstone of our basic understanding of the natural world. Yes, in another time and place Wade Davis would be right up there. My first hand knowledge of the man is only through his book, a book that I have recently re-read, One River – Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest. This book was Wade’s personal immersion in the legacy of Richard Evans Schultes a Harvard Scientist who virtually invented the science of Ethno-botany. Ethno – what? I know it sounds a little strange but Schultes in 1936 was the first man to really investigate the peyote cultures of the North American Indians and the role of hallucinatory substances in the ethnic societies of Central and South America.  Schultes was no office bound academic he was very much a field scientist who was not above sampling the products of his investigations. He spent many years collecting, cataloguing and exploring. In this day of super-expeditions his equipment and mode of transport would be considered spartan, if not foolhardy. Pants, shirt, pith helmet, penny loafers, a hammock and his collecting gear was about all he carried. He walked, canoed, rafted and, very rarely, flew all over the Amazon basin. Wade Davis and a fellow student Timothy Plowman retraced some of Schultes travels and by doing so have become part of the legacy. Unfortunately Tim Plowman died in 1989 but Wade continues on in the tradition. The book is a fascinating look at Schultes legacy through the modern eyes of two of his students. It is full of interesting observations of today’s attitudes, including the misguided attempts to eliminate the coca crops in South America, our basic misunderstanding of the role of the coca chewing by tribal societies, the misguided efforts of Evangelical missionaries, and the impact and history of natural rubber harvesting in the Amazon basin. The book is a little weighed down by technical botanical names but despite that it is definitely still on my short list of books that demand to be re-read. On a different subject but one that is just as interesting as the Amazonian book is his Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest. This is also another “must read”. I believe both books are available in the Cranbrook Public Library.

So, if you want to see and hear “the real deal” Wade Davis will be at the Key City Theatre on Monday night – see the poster below.


And the “real deal” it turned out to be. Not only because of Wade’s lecture but also because of Joe Pierre’s retelling of the Xtunaxa creation story. A wonderful tale that gave context to our familiar geography and place names. Of course Wade took us way further afield than the Kootenays. He delved into the legacy of the ethnobotanist  Richard Evans Schultes and a very different way of looking at our essential humanity. He explored why we should care about the environment and indigenous societies and perhaps we should explore alternative ways of doing things. Accompanied by a wonderful collection of images and a spirited delivery of tales that are from, literally, off the map, this must rank up there as one of the most entertaining and informative evenings in quite a while. Wade must have been better known than I thought because the The Key City Theatre was as about as full as it gets.  If you ever have another opportunity to hear this extraordinary individual then treat yourself. You will not regret it.


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